A/N: This is for you, aoi_hana72. You know why and I'm really sorry. Thank you so much for being so kind to me.
Yours for an Hour
by Hic Iacet Mori
He needs a wax job.
"For my car," he clarifies, as swiftly as he can without appearing to do so. The jade gleam remains wild, a forest up in celadon flames. He resigns himself to innuendos. She has a slew of them, perhaps a book or two.
He won't be surprised if she reveals she's a porn writer in disguise.
"Freudian slip," she sings gleefully, with the joy of a child catching her elders in a wrongful act. She has a nice voice, he acknowledges silently, in a place so secret even he can't find it, so elusive he's not sure if he thought it at all. He taps his finger on leather, does not listen but hears. He stares straight ahead and sees pink candy flosses floating on his periphery. He almost snorts at the thought of tasting those silken cherry strands—they probably taste like dye.
He can hear her still, unfortunately, because she's just warming up. He inwardly groans—she can sing so high she can shatter his sensibilities, just a second shy of his shattered eardrums. She never knew this, of course, just as no one else did—it's a weakness, he believes, allowing someone know they can get to you, crawl under your skin. Friends are liable to do that and more than most, disappointingly, they can take advantage of you.
The way he did—does—by staying by her side.
He remains her friend and borrows her life—she's full of them, he thinks, inside and outside. Pink fluff of cotton candies, held by a child in delight with chubby lips smacking, yellowed teeth tingling. Eyes the green of spring, snow melting against its warmth. Skin of peaches and cream, a hue of light rose. Smile sparkling in her lips, in her voice, in her eyes.
Haruno Sakura, his friend—She Who Is Alive.
She sits beside him and she glows, more so because of his slip (it's not, he wants to say, but it's too much trouble so he lets her sing). Not perfect, never perfect (like me, he admits), but full of life, love for life, the way he can never be.
(he wonders how he can live and feel nothing inside)
She's teasing him—her grin is reminiscent of a canary-fed cat. It flashes, battles the afternoon light, white against rouged lips—her mouth reminds him of another friend, a woman almost like her. Full of life too, like her. Of fire crackling like her fiery red hair.
"You're not paying attention, are you," Sakura comments. He glances at her, sees slight annoyance and light traces of hiding humor—it's a good look on her, he thinks. Better than admiration, even better than infatuation.
They have come a long way.
"Fine then." She crosses her arms, white against her red blouse. Her breasts push up, his eyes follow without thought. It's a marvel, he thinks, what years can do to you. He feels a strange sort of pride at how grown-up she is now.
Did he grow up in anyway?
(except for down there, of course)
"So when do you plan to have that—" her eyebrows wiggle, disturbing and pink, "—wax job?"
His eyes slide to her and see her face shining with expectation. He lifts a shoulder, his shrug. It's a chore, not worth dwelling over. It just happened to be a thought he had spoken into words.
(they say words bring to life and maybe, he wants that life for himself)
Sakura frowns. He shouldn't have said anything, he realizes belatedly. She's a doctor, a surgeon—bring any problem to her, be it big or small, and she tries to do something. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't, but her hands need to leave a print, a healing mark or two. She's a doctor. She wants to help.
She once thought he needed her help too.
(he's not sure if he doesn't)
And it's a marvel she stays with someone as uncaring as he is, someone who won't be bothered to lay a caring hand on a crying boy in a park. He's not a heartless person but he's not kind either. He just gets on with his life as he sees it fit—just like everybody else.
He presses on the brake, his mind catching up with the unconscious actions of his body. She unclasps her seatbelt, a free hand opening the door. Before she exits, she leans back to him and drops a kiss on his cheek. Her hand touches his, leaving a light weight. Her smile lights up the green fires of her eyes.
In the quiet late afternoon, Sakura glows with life.
(in that secret place he yearns for life like hers)
"Ja ne, Sasuke-kun," she trills, and life leaves along with her flighty shadow. He sits inside his car, a model he doesn't care to remember (only things of importance require the intimacy of a name), and thinks if it's coincidence that his close friends are vibrant and colorful and brimming with what he lacks.
He snorts and drives away.
Sasuke doesn't believe in coincidence but he doesn't believe in fate either.
I'll make your world better in just one hour! Believe it!
He rolls his eyes in the safety of his car. He flicks the card to his passenger seat and thinks of childhood accidents that can make someone spout nonsense like that.
His eyes stray. Wander to the side. Get caught in the trappings of engraved orange madness.
What an idiot.
Sasuke sips on his tea, listlessly perusing the paper's content. He's rich, he doesn't need to work—he doesn't need to read, doesn't need to do anything at all. But this must be done (because others aren't as rich as him and he pretends not to have thought of it), so he takes off his glasses, squeezes the ridge of his nose, cranes his neck from side to side, and sips another cup of tea. With his right hand he picks up his glasses, with his left he picks up his pen. He works.
It's nothing extraordinary.
He reads, and he signs. Sighs. Takes another paper. Frowns at the content, skims, smirks when he reaches the end. It's a threat to pull out and he writes instructions on the margin, deadly disapproval condensed into sinister bullet points. He doesn't care for greedy swines. Let them eat swill.
He glances to his left and does a double-take. It's the last sheet, the last piece of work that needs to be done. He looks forward to an early sleep as he reaches for it, already anticipating the soft down of his pillows, the warm comfort of his duvet.
The doorbell rings.
(he hears nothing nothing nothing nothing...)
He remembers his car in the garage and the wax job he wants. He remembers Sakura with her lively eyes and warm hands and soft kiss. He remembers the card with the number and name.
He stands up and heads to the door. He bids early sleep goodbye.
With a tired sigh, Sasuke reaches forward.
The door flings open.
For 1.023 seconds, his heart forgets to beat.
Blinded, enlightened, under millions of twinkling stars, Sasuke calls him Life.
7.10 seconds later and he remembers to breathe.
"Evening!" Life exclaims. He eyes the blond hair (so soft it looks, the unbelievably yellow sun, spiking on his head in unruly excitement) and the blue eyes (midsummer sky looking into his, wide and open and endless, full of bright promises) as he stands calm (terrified, knowing he will be consumed by such vivacity), waiting for the other to settle down (please). There is too much energy from the man and he suspects it will wear him out.
(too much too much of everything, and he thinks he's too old to try to describe someone too much with such fanciful frivolous metaphors)
Life extends a hand, friendly, professional. He takes it (reluctantly) with a strong and firm grip, shakes it once, lets go (he thinks he's too dark and he doesn't stand a chance, that his skin is so pale and plain while Life glows like burnished copper, soft and malleable, leaving currents with a grip), and steps outside, closing the door behind him. Life follows.
He wonders how it feels to follow for once.
(he wonders if too much tea inebriates at all)
Life chatters about the weather (dry, humid), the people (nosy, troublesome), the city (polluted, crowded), the world (dying, tired). He stays silent, acts indifferent but listens. Life sounds like a child with his droll observations, a child with a rough voice and a hoarse barking laugh.
(it hurts his ears and it reaches his chest)
"Shut up," Sasuke growls lowly. Life pauses then looks at him. Leans close, closer still. Smiles back in the face of his frown, suddenly as much an adult as the child he's been seeing.
(it hurts his eyes and it reaches his chest too)
Life has no personal space and he refuses to step back. He never backs down and Life must learn that early on. "You're probably tired," Life tells him, voice rough still but lower now, a note or two or three. Sasuke scowls. He's not a child and he'll not stand for such treatment. "So just say what I've to do and I'd leave you alone, yeah?"
(he can't breathe, he needs his space back.)
"Get your face out of mine," he orders (pleads, his voice softer than intended, because he's conserving his breath because he can't breathe), his eyes narrowing into slits (too bright, they hurt, the adult-child's smile). Life tilts his head, thoughtful, and takes a step back—and another, and another, rubbing his nape with a sheepish smile.
Sasuke glares at Life and walks ahead, stops on his destination and freezes by the shadows. He presses a button and his garage door opens. "Car," he says curtly. Points at his black car of whatever expensive brand, points next at a steel door of whatever expensive content. "Tools," he utters in the same inspiring cadence.
Life nods, looks amused. Points outside, to the unlit distance, with a somber face and glowing eyes. "Lawn," Life announces. Points at a place further in the dark, obscured by the shadows of nocturnal beings. "Motorcycle," he declares.
(he had never known skies to dance or to sparkle with secret smiles)
A chuckles escapes without consent, surprising a guffaw from the other man. He glares.
Sasuke turns around and leaves with his back straight. He still has a paper to pore over. Unlike idiots, he can't afford to whistle while doing so.
(paper, he thinks, and he smothers another inappropriate chuckle)
His lips purse together.
He sips his tea to overcome the whistled note that left his lips.
The wax job is decent, he grudgingly admits. Looks even better, this afternoon, as he cruises on the highway with sun spilling through his window, groceries at the back and a fresh tomato in his hand with a big chunk missing. He takes another bite. With a hand on his thigh he steers, almost languidly, a sleepy kitten batting a roll of black yarn.
(a kitten sounds nice, he hadn't had one ever.)
Another bite. He looks forward to his salad. The tomato's unbelievably delicious right now. He wonders if it's one of those genetically modified crap. Perhaps he should buy more...?
He stops at a red light and waits for it to change. There, yellow. Green, soon. Why isn't there blue? he wonders. Blue is a nice color. It signifies wisdom, peace. Soothes the eyes, pacifies raging emotions. Road rage might become nonexistent at a blue traffic color.
(he thinks in passing that a blue tomato would be the most calming food in the world)
The light changes and he shoots forward, a daredevil with an accelerator stuck. He relishes the sharp sting of the cold wind on his face, and he remembers a road trip to nowhere when he was young and inquisitive. He feels as carefree now, not having to work home today—he only ever brings papers during Wednesdays, after letting those that aren't urgent accumulate for the rest of the week. Tonight he is free and he can watch all the movies he wants. Indulge in mint ice cream, drink lots of green tea.
His brows furrow. Or maybe not. Too much tea seems to intoxicate, if the other night is an indication. Maybe something else?
He starts in surprise and blinks—it's suddenly dark and the air is stale. He looks around, his eyes adjusting, and notices he's inside his garage already. His engine is dead and he shrugs off his seatbelt. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing.
He makes his way to the door, pauses and looks back. His car gleams in response. The wax job is really good. Perhaps he'll have another one for next month because he can.
Too bad, Life is an idiot.
Sasuke whips out his mobile phone. It's a nondescript black, strictly for personal calls. He does not take business calls—he has a pool of secretaries for that and an executive assistant who whispers in his ear when the concern is a true necessity. His company chauffeur has more numbers in his phone than Sasuke himself does.
He looks down at the screen, tightens his lips. Two weeks after planning a monthly car wax, he presses a series of numbers from memory alone.
His lawn needs mowing.
Under the persimmon tree, Sasuke passes by—in his hands he holds a bundle of letters, probably bills he will order his assistant to settle for him tomorrow. He forgot to take his mail earlier and with nothing urgent to do, he decided to go out and retrieve them.
He hears a humming sound and his footsteps slow. He stares straight ahead as he eyes a figure in his periphery. His eyes stray until his neck turns without consent. Until he is looking back, until his body is turning. Until he stops.
Life hums another tune as he cleans the gutter.
Sasuke frowns at his feet. His brows set with displeasure, he walks ahead, counting the steps as he does, stopping short when Life gives the smallest of gasps.
Within the shadow of his patio, he sees Life jump down with a dead bird cradled in his hand.
Broad shoulders in orange tense as if sensing a nosy watcher. Sasuke swiftly enters his door and shuts it silently behind him. Ordered by a power he does not understand, he tiptoes to a curtained window and lifts off the drape at the corner.
Life begins to kneel, slowly, before the persimmon tree. His head drops forward. His hair almost touches the hands cradling the bird, then his head rises up with his eyes shut to the heavens. Sasuke blinks, curious at the sight—wonders if Life is praying, wonders why.
(will the bird fly up to carry the prayer?)
He shivers. It's not cold.
(or will the prayer lift the bird up to the sky?)
He leaves the window after the bird is buried.
He calls up a friend, a man with hair that reminds him of Life's unflattering jumpsuit. He asks for instructions and listens attentively—writes down notes, asks, clarifies, writes again. He hangs up minutes later with a grunt of stunted gratitude.
Three hours go by and the birdhouse is finished.
Sasuke erects it behind the persimmon tree.
The glasses sparkle like sugar dusts on an excited gamine's hair. Before a shining window stands Life, hands akimbo, a pleased expression on his face as he flexes his muscles in mockery of a wrestler.
Looks entirely too sweet, Sasuke thinks.
(the window is what he means, the window looks sweet)
Sasuke sees Life as a mischievous little fox, knowing eyes and naughty smiles when the latter catches his reflection on a sugar-dusted glass. He looks back, unruffled and cool (shaken, uncertain), and holds out his hand.
This is the first time he catches Life before leaving.
Life turns around, eyes curved in embarrassment. Waves a hand and scurries past before he can so much as grunt, appearing by the beaten motorcycle parked outside his house. Wearing his helmet, Life raises his hand with a wave once more. The white grin is visible from his darkened patio.
Sasuke does not chase. His door closes just as a roaring sound fills the night.
He watches from the window, paper bills in hand, as Life leaves again without getting his pay.
Six unpaid hours, one for every two weeks.
Life will get what he deserves yet, Sasuke tells himself.
"Stupid, don't you think?" Life grunts, soot on his irked face and irrepressible hands, down on his knees as he gathers the defiant mounds of ash. He sneezes and dust flies up, adding to the gray matting down the yellow of his hair.
Sasuke looks away, grunts back in answer—he has forgotten what Life is talking about. Life talks a lot even though he doesn't say anything back, as if he has this innate fear of silence that he must fill with words always.
(it's annoying but he tolerates it and he doesn't ask himself why)
"It's really uncool, is all," Life continues as he ducks back into the fireplace, his voice echoing within. "Just 'coz a guy feels awkward around gays doesn't mean he's a homophobe. But y'know what annoys me more?" Sasuke remains silent, it's rhetorical. "People who say that homophobes are probably secretly gay. It's media's fault, I tell you! They made this—this stereotype of a guy who hates gays because he's secretly gay, y'know? I mean, sure, it happens, but not all the damned time!"
He gives a noncommittal grunt. Why is Life spouting this nonsense again?
"I'm not a homophobe, I'm tellin' ya," Life adds. "I'm a fan of as-long-as-you're-happy-and-not-at-the-expense-of-anyone-go-for-it. I just felt real bad for this kid, see, and I gots to do something!"
(got, he wants to say, but he didn't and he doesn't want to ask himself why too)
And then he remembers. When Life entered his house, the first time since that evening thirteen weeks and six days ago, his eyes had landed on a bruise swelling a whiskered cheek. And Life began rambling.
(he hadn't noticed the whiskers before)
And rambling still.
"—citizen arrest on those punks," Life concludes, standing up. He pats his hands down his jumpsuit, on his feet two bags of ashes. Sasuke feels a second of shame and looks up. Twin blue (skies, like skies) stare down at him and he doesn't stand up. He's too comfortable in his chair (and staring up at blue).
"Hn," he says, because he doesn't know what else to say.
"Wow." Life smiles, a corner of his mouth tilted up (like an inverted rainbow with one higher side, maybe because the pot of gold is on the other side—and he catches himself and thinks he needs Nietzsche, fast). "You're really emotionless, are you."
Sasuke considers being offended.
(he's good in split seconds and now he considers)
Blue eyes lower behind flickers of dark yellow, and Life scratches a hip while looking away from him. "Anou sa... I mean, you're kinda—really private, with your emotions. I know you're not emotionless," Life laughs and Sasuke forgets to consider (it's a nice laugh, he thinks), "it just came out wrong. I think—you don't know how to open up?"
A small frown creases the noble white forehead and Life smiles, embarrassed, and takes the two bags of ashes. Sasuke stands up and steps aside, letting Life pass through. Behind the broad orange back he feels awkward and a bit angry, and so he walks faster until he is ahead, leading the way, in control like he always is.
When Life throws the bags away, Sasuke grunts and Life follows. He points to a room and the other nods, quiet, and goes inside. Life comes out later with a wavering smile—his face, his hands, his hair smooth and clean.
(he thinks Life looked better a few moments ago—ashy hair and sooty face and dusty hands and loopy smile)
They walk to the door, a tandem in silence. He holds out his hand and Life waves again. The blue are noticeably looking somewhere else and Sasuke is peeved.
He grabs Life's hand and presses the bills, his silence demanding, forceful. Life twists and curls the pale hand around itself, not accepting but not rejecting. He feels a moment of confusion at the strangeness of it all.
(there are only takers and givers so where does he put Life?)
"I'm sorry," Life says, so sincere and direct, even as the skies are grayish with the weight of held rain. Sasuke nods once and the rain leaves for another day.
(and when did he start referring to Life's eyes like that?)
Sasuke stands by the threshold until the other man reaches his ride. He quickly turns back before Life could raise his hand. He goes inside and closes the door, his hand shaking on his chest.
(it feels entirely too warm, this thing protecting his heart)
Sasuke is frustrated. His hand slams on his desk before he can think about stopping it. His assistant rushes in, eyes wide with phone in one hand, the other hand balancing a laptop with its cord still swinging. He spares a second to wonder how she expects to type whatever command she expects from him. He swiftly dismisses it with a clench of his jaw.
He leans back on his chair and drags a hand over his face. Between his fingers past the agitated woman, the open door, he sees his secretaries with their heads lowered further. He hears the tap-tap-tapping of fingers hitting keyboards falter, again and again as his eyes stay on them.
His hand drags down and he swallows a sigh.
He inspires respect and awe, not fear from his employees, and he prefers it that way. Today, however, everyone walks around him with blatant fears in their eyes, afraid to set off his notoriously hidden temper. He had come in today in a whirlwind of irritation, and while it is rare to see him so close to boiling anger, no one is keen to see the sparks in his eyes fly to his hands. The things he does in a black mood are urban legends in his conglomerate.
To the cowering woman, he grunts and waves a dismissive hand. His eyes fire demands to be left the hell alone.
"Are you certain, Uchiha-sama?"
Sasuke glares and his assistant scurries away. He feels a moment of annoyance for his lack of self-control. He hears the door shut softly. He sighs.
He fishes out his phone and presses speed-dial 9. The other line picks up and his shoulders imperceptibly relax.
He needs to have his pool cleaned.
Life slips out from under the persimmon tree, in his hands held a familiar wooden construction. Sasuke is standing on the patio and by his mere powerful staring, he allows his presence to be known.
Life looks up. Coughs and forms an embarrassed little smile. "Er, I don't mean to be a dick or anything," he starts, holding the birdhouse by its stand, "but I think this'd look better standing here, y'know, where it's seen by everyone? Birds would find it easier and this birdhouse's one of the coolest I've seen and I think others would think so too. People, I mean. Not birds. Well yeah, birds' eyes are more complex than people and they could see so much better but... yeah, other people would appreciate it better. Not that the birds would insult this or something! They'd probably think it's a super birdhouse or a mansion-thingie for them. They'd probably look for Jacuzzis and stuff."
Life is babbling and it's quite endearing.
(I made it, he wants to say, but it sounds like currying Life's acknowledgment when he doesn't need anyone's at all)
"You're smiling," Life suddenly says. He blinks in surprise and he feels it, suddenly, his mouth higher on the corners, a cheery little smile. He abruptly pulls it down. He feels caught without his clothes and it's all manners of humiliating.
(he feels a moment of sympathy for the foolish vain emperor, a moment of hatred for the honest little boy)
Life shakes his head, eyes so brilliant Sasuke can see them in the dark. "I think you should smile more," he declares, and Sasuke half-expects to hear trumpets blaring, angels descending. He clamps down a snort and he watches Life plant the birdhouse in front of the tree with one forceful push. And then Life is straightening up, lifting his fingers in a now-familiar salute with two fingers pressed together.
(like two people meant to be)
Stupid. Stupid stupid.
"Night yo!" Life calls out in a bubbly morning voice.
(he thinks it's crazy how he feels more alive before he sleeps)
He lifts his mouth to form a curve, purposefully lifts the other side higher. He frowns, disgruntled, and throws the mirror down his pillow. Why is he doing this anyway?
Sasuke picks it up barely a minute later. Raises the mirror to his face and thinks of the happiest moments of his life.
(he sees a small wooden house with space enough for three birds, sees the brilliant afternoon sunshine and the overwhelming blue skies)
He didn't even know he has a dimple on his left cheek.
"You smell like a dog," Sasuke says the second after opening his door. Life gives him a flat stare and steps inside, removes his dirty uggs and places them on the shoe rack.
"And a good evening t'ya too, bastard," Life mutters. Sasuke starts and turns to him, blinking at the crude epithet. He pauses in confusion at the playful little smile and notices deep red scratches on Life's sheepish face.
"Did a dog attack you?" he asks, half of his mind already in his medicine cabinet—he can rival a pharmacy with the pills and tablets and solutions he have. Sakura makes sure his stock is taken care of and she makes it a point to check every two months.
His assistant takes care of transporting the lot where it is needed.
Life shrugs, pulls on a pair of worn gloves from out of his many pockets. He raises up a hand to stroke a reddened cheek absentmindedly. "Work hazard," he answers by means of explanation. Sasuke thinks no work is worth being scratched like that. "Kiba calls to have me clean the doghouse every month. Akamaru just got excited."
Akamaru, Sasuke figures, is the demon with the sharp claws. The scratches look really red and he wonders (worries) if they can get infected. Does he have anything for that?
Life's eyes are soft with fondness (like clouds, maybe, because skies aren't as soft, because the idea of blue clouds is oddly attractive and damnhemustbedrunkonteaagain). "The old dog's with the vet the last time I cleaned."
What does he say without cursing the dog until it died?
Life shrugs again, lifts up intense blue eyes to look into his. Sasuke doesn't know what to think.
(wonders if it's possible at all)
"D'you know that when a dog humps you, it means it wants you to be its bitch?" Life asks with a serious expression. He replies with a blank stare that conveys more in its darkness than in words. "It's true, I tell you!" Life insists. "It's trying to mark you submissive, see. Now when a dog comes to you, ears flat and whining and walking like some hungover guy with wet pants? Means it thinks you're dominant and it's trying to submit and stuff."
(so should he hu—toomuchteadammitdammitdammit)
When his mouth remains closed and his expression remains blank (and his mind struggles to do the same before his features change), Life throws both hands in the air. "It's true!"
"I don't like dogs," he says quietly. His eyes widen beneath his hair as the last word leaves his mouth. Sasuke looks down his carpet, pretends he didn't say anything.
(empty minds aren't good, is what he thinks almost miserably)
His head shoots up when he feels a pat on his back. Life is grinning, as if he had just said something so ridiculously profound and inventive at the same time. "I kinda thought that too," Life tells him. "You look like a cat person."
He starts to say he doesn't like cats either but he doesn't say anything.
(and it isn't because the conversation is asinine, or because Life's smile might disappear)
"So where's the broken shower tap?"
He orders three large bottles of topical antiseptics. It seems his stock isn't as complete as his friend thought it to be.
He stops by a pet shop on his way home, watches by the glass pane as two kittens bat around each other. The chubby black kittens have bright blue eyes, and Sasuke thinks he might just be a cat person after all.
(he really shouldn't be entertaining such shallow notions)
"Catharsis is bullshit," Life grumbles beneath the sink, his voice loud to carry over to where Sasuke is sitting. He hums, indifferent, as he peruses another document. He muses about swimming and wonders if it'd be nice for a lap now. The words on the paper seem to be having fun.
"Think about it," Life goes on, grunting in between. "We're told, Hey, buttercakes, don't bottle it up, let your anger out! Punch a pillow, scream, strangle a book, whatever! Just let it—all—out! Feel me?"
Sasuke thinks Life's twangy soprano is quite impressive. "They tell us we'll feel good and shit—and we do feel good! The thing they forget to tell us is, it makes us want to get more pissed!" Life exclaims.
He hears shuffling and a series of muffled yelps, and Sasuke smoothly goes back to the papers on his kitchen table. He sees Life crouching before the sink after one short glance, a left forearm over a thigh, the other hand twirling a wrench in imitation of a baton girl. Sasuke relaxes the tension in his shoulders he didn't realize had set in.
"Ever been pissed?" Life asks after a moment. Sasuke raises his eyes and whatever Life saw in them must have answered his question. "It used to be my habit, y'know. Getting pissed." (the skies look so faraway right now) "I tried punching trees to un-piss off lots of times... but the thing is, it didn't make me less pissed. It just made me more pissed. The rush is just so—addictive, that I just became more and more pissed off and I started throwing punches at anything I can literally get my hands on. Even other kids. I seriously love fireworks, man, but that kind? Not good for them."
(he tries to remember what gives him such rush)
Life snorts. "And y'know how we are, all of us. When something makes us feel so good, we want to do it again. And getting out that anger felt so so good that I did it a hell lot of times."
(he tries to remember what makes him feel good)
"Landed me a few months in juvie, that." Life gives a sort of soft laugh (he thinks of butterflies, for some reason, and the sound of their wings, and they flutter within him and the rush feels good). "I became worse. There're lots of things there to piss you off so I started taking it out on the bars and the tables and the beds. But that's the thing. When you 'let it all out,' you're just opening yourself to let more in. Anger's a powerful thing. Makes your blood boil and your air rush and your muscles shake and stuff. It's like—like—" Life snaps his fingers, "—wanting to hold the mic on karaoke night, feeling so nervous that you didn't do so good, then finishing the song and getting this high that makes you hog the mic and you sing again. Ever sang karaoke?"
Sasuke just stares. The analogy doesn't make sense.
(He had in fact, once. All By Myself. He destroyed all the evidence.)
"Hah! You did!" Life exclaims, pointing at him like the rude child he is. Something buzzes in his ears. Blood, rushing there to betray his inner reactions.
(the rush feels so good)
"Made you want to sing again, yeah? Even when you didn't want to sing the first time?"
(So he did sing again. Two Less Lonely People in the World. The same evidence was then burned after being thoroughly destroyed.)
"It was hard to stop, na?"
(So Sakura had to use her hidden strength to pry the mic from his fingers. It was her fault for forcing him. At least he got to pulverize her digital camera.)
"That's how it is. Catharsis's like smoking to control your smoking, y'know? Even research backs it up." Life stands up, winces, and shakes a leg as he speaks fluent curses—Sasuke finds it a useless skill but he listens nonetheless. Life shakes his other leg and, satisfied, raises his head and flashes a cheeky smile. "If you see a monk hurling a candle on a patron, tell me, 'kay? Betcha it'd be hard to find. Monks don't do the cathartic shit."
Life stretches his arms and Sasuke looks away.
(the sight is making him nauseous with those pesky little flutters)
"Why were you so angry?" he asks suddenly. He is taken aback by his own question but Life doesn't notice, too busy replacing the tools back in his box.
"I thought the world's full of shit," Life answers, directly and honestly. He places the toolkit on the table, taking care to place it farther from piles and piles of documents. Sasuke appreciates the consideration with a glare at his table. "When you've gots no one and everyone hates you, you tend to think that."
Sasuke doesn't know what made him say his next words.
(The downcast blue eyes? The slightly trembling fingers? The blinding glare of fluorescent over the nest of yellow strands? The distant little smile that has no business being there?)
Perhaps he'll never know.
"My parents were killed."
Life starts, raises his head.
Sasuke collects his papers and leaves them in one pile beside the toolkit. Stands up like a true leader, Life following behind him, and heads to the door. He takes an envelope out of his pocket, white and uncreased, holding it out to the other man for the nth consecutive night.
Life takes his hand and pulls him forward in a hug.
"I saw it," he almost says.
(it's not because he thinks the hug might last longer)
7: 05 pm, his clock announces. Sasuke resumes pacing, a noticeable path on his carpet. He doesn't care. He needs to think of something to do or he might just go insane. The clock is annoying him so much.
7: 06 pm.
He growls, takes out his phone. Presses speed-dial 5, the easiest number to reach. The line connects and he stands still, getting more and more impatient (because his confidence is faltering).
A deafening rush of wind shrieks in his ear.
"Oi!" Life yells. He abruptly leans away from his phone, winces at the noise and the ringing echoes in his ear. He sticks a finger in his ear, shakes it. Life's voice blares from the device."Whatcha need me for?"
Sasuke's mind races and decides in a split second. His feet carry him to his bookcase. The carpet muffles the sound of books toppling down.
"Arrange my books in alphabetical order tonight," Sasuke answers. He watches the last book fall. Kicks the books around for good measure.
"Sorry dear!" His heart stutters (from shock at the loud noise), his eyes widen (from shock at the damned noise) "Can't hear ya! I'm ridin' the motorcycle!"
"Alphabetize my books tonight," Sasuke repeats, louder and more forceful (over the loud pounding of his heart lest the idiot can hear it).
"Can't!" Life yells back. "Someone's snagged the last two hours! Is it cool if I do it tomorrow?"
He looks at the clock, doesn't see anything. It doesn't annoy him anymore.
(Life's time does not belong to him alone)
"Oi? Sorry 'bout the slip... Bastard?"
"Come over next Monday and clean my spare room."
He shuts the connection.
Sasuke orders his assistant to ship him a new bookcase. He sends her an email list of all the books she has to buy.
He spends the rest of the night making a list of things to do in his house.
At 8 in the evening, Life comes to Sasuke's house to work for one hour then leaves with a small wave of his hand and a cheery smile on his face. The orange pockets weigh the same as Life roars off into the night.
It's beginning to frustrate him.
"Heya, bastard," Life calls out. Sasuke tilts his head to show that he's listening, his eyes glued to the show he hadn't been watching for the past minutes. Life enters the room and plops on the floor beside his knees, looks up at him with a serious expression.
The sounds from the television punctuate the silence in the room. He continues to watch the show and Life continues to watch him. His urge to hide his face behind a throw pillow is getting stronger and stronger—as is the urge throw it at Life-the-idiot and demand that he stop bloody staring.
(his mind is beginning to delude him that he actually likes it)
"Sit on the couch, moron," he murmurs without heat, the insult not sounding like an insult at all.
(it sounds like a nickname, even, but he doesn't do nicknames)
"You look like a dog," he adds scathingly, trying to make up for his earlier tone. Life rolls his eyes but complies anyway, sitting a distance from him in the couch fit for five. Life wipes his hands on his jumpsuit and Sasuke stares ahead (because Life fits so well in his couch and he might accidentally say it).
"I won't be around tomorrow," Life tells him. He takes an unconscious sharp intake of breath and glances at Life. Life's eyes are glued to him—Sasuke holds the gaze because he is a man and an Uchiha and he doesn't back down.
(he's a man, dammit)
"I have a date."
(a bloody man)
Sasuke blinks owlishly. What does he say? Good for you? Who's the unlucky person? What did you promise in return? Did you say you're dying?
"We eat out once a month, see," Life says, his mouth forming a soft smile. Sasuke turns back to the TV, a clear act of dismissal. He finally realizes he's been watching wrestling for the past fifty-five minutes.
"You don't have to explain," Sasuke cuts off. He's not interested.
(... that much)
"I'll just pull two hours the next day to make it up to you. That good?" Life asks. He doesn't need to look back to see them blue eyes, shining of quiet lake in the peak of noon—a notion he found fascinating one afternoon of strange thoughts. It's not quiet, he had thought staunchly—daring that secret place of fanciful thoughts to disagree—never quiet when Life is here, never quiet where Life is.
(he feels unnerved that he knows just by hearing how Life speaks)
"Whatever." He shrugs, not in the mood to be anything. Sasuke is feeling numb all over again.
Life exaggerates an exhale of great relief. "Whew! Thank you so much, bastard!" Life then leans back and sighs in bliss. He bites the childish urge to kick the idiot from his couch. "Ahhh, so comfy! And ooh, I've watched that fight! Batista wins the title. The Animal prevails!"
Sasuke shoots a displeased look that Life doesn't notice. "Thanks again, bastard. Means a lot to me," comes the soft murmur, taking him by surprise. He takes a deep breath. He can feel the words climbing up and for once, he lets them go.
"Does she mean that much to you?" he asks in a dull tone.
Life's eyes closes and he takes the chance to look back. He doesn't even try to stop himself this time. "Yeah," Life replies, a peaceful expression on his face. Sasuke thinks it's a good look, wishes he had put it there. He realizes his thoughts and tries to shake it away.
(men don't think of useless things)
"She's a cool old lady."
Even if he now admits Life actually looks kind of ni—
Life opens his eyes and his own quickly dart to the TV. The referee is counting and he fails to see who's pinning who.
"A cool old lady," Life repeats, slowly, and he listens with more interest. "She hardly sees her grandchildren. Her children hardly visit her and she's always at home." Life looks up at his ceiling, a touch of melancholy around him. He wants Life to look away from that whiteness making him sad. "Chiyo-baba got my number from my man Deidara. Called to ask me to take her to dinner."
Life's eyes brighten, falling down to catch his. He feels a vindictive urge to give his ceiling the finger. "She scared me the first time, actually. Thought she died on me while I was downing my third Coke. I gots so pissed when she started laughing, I left her to pay." His mouth quirks and Sasuke shakes his head, disbelieving (that Life's eyes could be so bright and blue). "Not my shining moment, I know. When we got over it, I tried to pay her back but she wouldn't take it. Said I'm the only person to show worry in a long time." Life tilts his head to the side, looks at Sasuke with a sad smile. "Made me feel bad for her."
(and it feels wrong to see suddenly, the sadness in that smile, so much he wants to strike it out of the idiot's stupid face)
"She doesn't need your pity."
Life's mouth pulls into a frown, the skies flashing with blue lightning.
(he prefers this frown, this face, this bald-faced truth)
(better than that smile that wasn't a smile)
"Pity is a useless emotion," Sasuke goes on, his voice deliberate and detached. "It helps no one and the one who receives it feels no better about it."
Life jumps up to his feet, trembling slightly from where he stands.
(he wants to gather those fine tremors and feel the sparks in his hands)
"I know that!" he growls. "I'm not saying I pity her! I jus—!"
"Feel bad for her?" Sasuke cuts in as he slowly stands to his feet. He's taller, had known the fact since the first time they met, and he uses it to his advantage as he stands imposing before Life.
(but all he wants is to pull Life down the damned comfy couch, sit far from each other and just enjoy the silence of rowdy wrestling night)
"I feel bad for her," Life starts, taking a calming breath, "because I would've done anything I could to make her un-say that." Takes another deep breath, an avalanche on the brink, the kick of the stone that begins the snow rolling—or perhaps the deep breath is the spread of sand that calms the surging tide? "I feel bad for her because, even though we have fun for one hour every month, she goes back to bed hoping that her family comes to visit her. I feel bad for her because she's hanging out with someone who wants the same thing she does, and I feel bad for her because she's stuck with me."
(don't feel bad, he wants to say, you shouldn't have to feel bad)
"So you do pity her."
(and it hurts quite a little how much he wants Life to see that)
"Damn it, bastard! Will you listen?"
(and it's more than terrifying that he wants to be the only one to show that)
"Follow your own advice, idiot," Sasuke snaps. He doesn't even understand what he's saying anymore. Does it matter so much? "Why did you put up this strange business of yours? Is it because you feel bad for people like her? Us?"
(it does matter)
"No!" Life explodes.
(so so much)
(and that's what he doesn't understand)
"Because I want to, okay?"
(why does he care?)
Sasuke snorts. "Then take the old lady for a date because you want to, not because you feel bad for her. Being taken on a date out of pity will not help her any."
(and it won't help you, he almost says, bites his own tongue to stem the words, it will tire you and you'll stop caring and you'll become like everyone, like me)
Silence settles heavy in one great swoop. Life's expression slowly changes, a myriad of feelings in intense blue eyes—eyes that slowly brighten up like the atmosphere in the room, in a silence punctuated by wrestlers' curses and the wild crowd's screams. Sasuke takes a deep breath, conscious of his own struggle—how the air is suddenly sparse, rare, how it's hard to squeeze in for his lungs. And then he stiffens in the face of sun rays breaking from gray skies—for that is what it is above anything else, Life's conflicted features breaking into a smile.
(he admits, finally, that Life's smile hurts because it's too beautiful to see)
"That's a really cool thing to say, bastard," Life remarks, still with that gorgeous smile. Sasuke smirks, his chest burning, and leaves the room to get himself a glass of needed water.
(he doubts the ocean can wash away that much light in a lifetime)
He returns, five minutes later, with a glass in his hand, and he walks Life out of the room and out of his front door. He swiftly locks it and switches off all his light, climbs to his room, on his bed, with his heart beating in his ears.
If he sleeps with a dimple on his left cheek that night, no one was around to see.
When Life demands his confession to the crime of putting a cash envelope inside an orange-and-black helmet with obscene red claw stripes, Sasuke simply scoffs and points at the toilet (previously broken) in one of his many guest rooms.
Cool old ladies deserve movies with their dinners.
Sasuke stumbles on Life with eyes intent on a picture. He coughs and the other starts, turning around with a feather duster clenched tight between his teeth. He raises an eyebrow and indicates the silver frame with a head tilt.
Life spits out the duster and rubs his nape, sheepish. Raises the frame face up to his direction for him to see.
He nods and looks away, steps forward to claim the object with eyes averted all the while. His hands graze with a brown one, work-roughened, and he feels a slight shame over his slightly softer ones innocent of manual labor.
(and he feels a slight jolt at the contrast of their hands)
"He's gone," he says, because it takes him off the thought of how warm Life's hand is.
(it doesn't but there's nothing wrong with giving it a try)
Life nods, slowly, speaks in a voice no less normal and he's grateful for this concession.
"You miss him, don't you."
He prepares for the bitter ache—
"He saved me."
—but all Sasuke feels is numbness.
(why does he tell Life these things when his friends don't even know them?)
"I think he misses you too, bastard."
He knows what is coming and he doesn't stand still to wait for it.
His arms open wide.
(and he makes a wish, in that secret place, that they are wide enough to catch the sunlight raining from the skies)
Embracing Life, embraced by Life, Sasuke thinks no words had ever rung so true.
(because the cold fingers around his heart had all but disappeared)
He feels Life's surprise and he wants to slap himself.
(why the hell does he say these things?)
He looks at the card late one night, traces the name embossed in gold with a hesitant finger. He places it back in his wallet after a minute of rumination.
Sasuke is not ready to call Life by his name.
(even if it's all he ever dreams of at night as of late)
"Kinda busy right now so leave a message before the to—toooooooooooooooooooooot! Oops, you lost your chance! Haha, kiddi—toooooooooooooooooooooot! Gotcha 'gain!"
There is a deep furrow between his eyebrows, getting deeper and deeper as seconds pass by.
Sasuke presses speed-dial once again and holds the phone to his ear. He fixes his assistant a pointed stare. She hurriedly places a stack of folders on his work tray, scurrying out after to do any mouse proud. He glances at his watch. Half an hour before lunchtime.
"Kinda busy right now so leave a me—"
He sighs. Closes the connection and his eyes. He abhors doing this but—
He stands up, nervous, and watches the world from his view. Is Life down there among the faceless humanity?
Two minutes and thirteen seconds later, Sasuke sends his message.
'Change my light bulbs.'
(I want to hear your voice)
White face expressionless, he stares down at the boy. The boy grins brashly up at him. The lights are working, he notes. They don't seem any brighter, he notes again.
(it's fixed, he knows, at the same time that it's not)
The boy raises an index finger, slides it below his nose in a cheeky act. The dark eyes are smug, glinting like the pair of goggles resting over hair of spiky brown. Sasuke had been initially doubtful of the boy but the boy declared he was sent in place of Life—and he relented, albeit reluctantly.
Studying the boy closer, Sasuke is reminded somewhat of Life. The boy can even compete in noisiness except he's not much annoyed by Life's chatter. This boy just prattles on and on about girls and games, new girls and new games.
At least that idiot Life tries to make some sort of sense.
(and makes him laugh inside without trying so hard)
He holds out his hand, wordless. The boy shakes his head and steps back, grinning. "Oyabun said not to take anything," the boy says. He looks for any hint of rebellion, regret, in the smug dark eyes. He finds none.
This boy is really sent by Life.
He sends the boy on his way and his eyes, searching, lingers on the birdhouse under his persimmon tree.
"Peace out, Uchiha!"
Cool white and blood red and that distinct shade of blue.
(I want to see your eyes)
He sits down on the couch and takes the remote control with smooth ease. Beside him, a man with pale hair glares, purple eyes flashing while making to grab for the device.
"Damn it, Sasuke! I was watching that!"
He gives his friend a cool blank stare, waving the remote away with a mocking white hand. Cursing still, his friend, Houzuki Suigestu, crosses his arms, slouches on the armrest and glares first at him and then at the screen.
"You're a turd."
He passes the popcorn bowl in pacific response.
"Seriously. You just got me over here so you can make me fucking regret not staying damned home to watch my kickass shows. Bitc—ow! Battery!"
Sasuke folds the leg he kicked his friend with beneath his thigh. He watches the news without watching. The voice throwing curses in his ear are too low for his liking. Not too cheerful. Not too rough.
"—for-nothing assholes! They prob'ly burned the place themselves, those stinking juvies!"
He turns to Suigetsu. A word has caught his attention and he listens for more. Said man snickers, catching his apparent interest. "All-knowing Uchiha obviously got no damned clue. The juvie house near my place got burned five days ago and no one's wanting to do anything 'bout it. 'Cept some crazy guy but he'd prob'ly get tired of it. So now that you're fucking listening, there's this double-D I bounced into—"
It's been five days since he last saw Life.
(I want to see your face)
Standing under the glare of a mini-convenience store, Sasuke fishes out his phone. He feels his breath come fast as he listens to the ringing sound, the manifestation of his heart being a damned pain in the rear. He takes a deep breath and sifts for calm between air molecules. They evade him.
A block across him without the hindrance of traffic, he sees a man pause to look down. He's been watching this man for the past half of an hour.
Pick up pick up pick up, his mind chants. He darts past the shadows of imposing dark buildings, until he reaches the charred remains of a chinaberry tree. He hides behind its proud burned trunk. The ringing is shrill in his ear.
Before the tree, before him, Life takes a deep breath and lifts up his left hand. Through the tinted windows, Sasuke sees what's happening.
(he almost wishes he doesn't because he's not prepared for its reality)
Life rubs the hand across his eyes, dragging it down to run beneath his nose. It uncurls to press against quivering chapped lips, as if mere pressure is enough to stifle the soundless motions. His right hand drops the hammer and takes out a phone from his pocket. Sasuke sees him take another deep breath.
(he does the same and the same air, the same air flashes like LED in his mind)
The line picks up.
He inches to his left, seeks for the right angle from where to see Life without being seen. In his ear, Life is laughing. With his eyes he watches a gloved hand wipe tears rolling down scarred cheeks.
"What, ya missed me?"
"Tch," Sasuke scoffs. Life chuckles as if he just delivered the funniest joke in the world. His own lips twitch. He leans his forehead on the trunk and licks his dry lips. His throat hurts.
(from the laughter he almost laughed or the cries he almost cried?)
Life cradles the phone between his shoulder and ear. Raises both hands to swipe at his tear-stained face.
(those hands should be his and he wants it so much to be true)
Sasuke clears his throat. "You sound runny," he comments casually before smirking, allowing it to carry over his voice. "Are you crying?"
(I cry too, he wants to say)
Life's shoulders are shaking. "Of course not!" the voice yells, indignant. "Just gots me a cold, bastard!" A sniffing sound. "See? Sniff-sniff? Heard that?" A short laugh. "Not everyone's perfect like you, your highness."
(I stumble and I fall and I lose someone and I cry too)
"Drink lots of water, loser," Sasuke says. He wants a glass of water himself. His throat is burning so much and the heat is climbing up to his eyes.
(it's been a long time since he cried but he remembers clearly how it feels)
"Sure, sure," says the cheery voice. He realizes he wouldn't have known those silent tears just by listening to Life. His chest tightens at the thought. "So whatcha want Konohamaru do for you? Or did you call to complain or something? Brat can be a pain some—"
(it feels painful all over, a live throbbing ache—from your eyes to your nose to your throat to your heart, all the way to what you refer to as your soul)
"I want to make sure you're okay," Sasuke says honestly. He sees Life's shoulders freeze.
(it eats you up and he thinks that Life shouldn't be eaten like that)
And then the blonde head throws back with a heartfelt laugh.
(he smiles and knows the laugh will haunt him in his dreams)
"You've no idea how great that made me feel, Sasuke," Life says, and it is so sincere and grateful and happy that Sasuke feels his eyes sting. In his chest his heart stirs, a tenderness he had never felt before.
(I want to see your smile)
A coffee mug leaves a ring of brown stain on a folded newspaper. Sasuke returns to his room to retrieve his reading glasses, failing to hear one of the latest news for the day.
"—ree died when the juvenile detention center burned down last Friday. Last night, a mysterious donor left the equivalent amount of one million dollars to Umino-sensei for the burial of the three victims and the reconstruction of the center—"
He reenters his kitchen and slips on his glasses. He bites on a piece of toast and resumes reading the headlines. He blinks at a picture and rights his vision.
It's not that idiot.
(I want to see you)
He raises his curtain and watches the night turn.
It's not the first time he missed Life.
He hears the doorbell ring. He stands frozen in his room, waiting to hear if it's real or imagined. He feels something burgeoning within him when the doorbell rings a second time.
Sasuke casts a fleeting glance at his vanity mirror, and his hand presses down his immaculate clothes. He is wearing his usual blue and white ensemble, but he thinks he's dressier than usual for someone in shirt and khakis. They're brand new, for starters.
The doorbell rings a third time.
He races to the stair and almost slips, grabbing the banister at the last moment to right himself up. He glares at his offending socks and slows himself down, a bored look firmly on his face when he reaches the landing. He casually strolls to his door, takes a moment to slip on his house slippers, and runs an awkward hand at his hair still slightly wet. He flings the door open.
(his heart races so fast it's probably out of the city now)
"Huh. That took longer," Life comments across from him. He looks at Life, a bit awestruck. How hadn't he noticed, really, that Life looks good in his orange jumpsuit? Can eight days change a person that much?
His hands feel clammy and he wipes them down his thighs. Life is looking at him with a curious expression and he wonders faintly why he feels so damned nervous.
"Er, going out?"
He shakes his head, slowly. Why is Life just standing there? Doesn't the idiot have something else to say?
(perhaps, I missed you?)
"Ah, sorry. You kinda look dressed up. Thought you're going somewhere."
Sasuke feels awkwardness well inside him, on its heels a spike of ire. "I just came in," he lies instead, grits the words between his teeth. He steps aside and Life comes in, passing by him. His breath comes short as he reigns in his irritation.
Life is nodding as if what he just said makes sense. Clear blue eyes turn to him and he finds himself short of breath once more (not from anger, or frustration, and he knows because it's not new). "So what d'you want me an hour for?"
(this disappointment is, though)
His eyes blank out and his mouth opens. Before he can say anything, Life gives him a thumbs-up and a grin. "By the way, bastard. You're a sight for sore eyes."
(somewhere far away his heart is doing stupid little cartwheels)
He rolls his eyes. Turns away before his smile can be seen.
(this feeling, it's not new at all)
Hugging a pillow to the chest with cheeks warm with giddiness is such a girly reaction.
So Sasuke thinks as he presses his nose to his pillow, all gruff and manly and damn fine Uchiha, curling to his side to hide a dimpled smile.
Dark eyebrows rise in disbelief.
"Trufax," Life says, chuckling, with his right hand raised. Sasuke is captivated. He had never met someone who worked with the dead before. Except Sakura, of course, but she doesn't really count.
(and what does trufax mean?)
"What made you change your mind?" he inquires in a carefully uninterested voice. His papers before him had lost his attention a minute ago—or minutes ago, since that time that Life entered his house. The idiot doesn't need to know.
(Life needn't know some things that he thinks about him)
Life's eyes take an unfocused look, and there appears a sad smile on his face. "When I had to do it for a friend I haven't met in years." Blue eyes are touched with the softest of regrets. "Haku and I met in the center. He gots out earlier but he always kept in touch. When I did, I didn't."
Life turns away, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows audibly. Sasuke thinks of apples. Succulent red apples bobbing up and down in water.
"He died protecting the guy who took him in."
Sasuke has no idea what to say.
Life's hands begin moving again, scrubbing inside the oven absentmindedly. "I love the mortuary, y'know. Makes me feel peaceful, calmer. Formaldehyde in the air relaxes me. But," he shakes his head. His sun-yellow hair flies around and Sasuke thinks of liquid gold, "after Haku... I can't look at my instruments and not remember him.
"I spent more time with the dead when I should be living it with people precious to me," Life says ruefully. Flashes a lopsided smile (a smile he likes to see). "So I quit. Now I'm here with you!"
Sasuke raises an eyebrow, scoffs. Life must be careful of every word he says. "How do you earn money when you refuse to take it?"
"Ye of little faith!" Life mocks, before shrugging his broad shoulders. "I dunno, it just comes one way or another. I mean, sure, I don't have anything on me but I can still pay the bills. Life finds a way to give me what I need just when I need it," he ends with a bright smile.
"What if it doesn't?" Sasuke insists.
"Then it doesn't," he replies simply, as if it doesn't matter at all. And perhaps, to Life, it really doesn't. "I'm not afraid to go with nothing. I've gots nothing before. It's not new."
Sasuke narrows his eyes, finding it hard to grasp with his mind. How can anyone live like that? Is Life really serious about this? People aren't as kind as Life seems to think. "What if you have nothing to eat? It's not that simple. "
"But it is," Life says, eyes shining with earnestness (and he thinks of cloudless skies and hints of eternity). "Besides, if I look around—harder than usual, of course—there's always something to eat. I've never gone hungry since I began this business, bastard," he declares proudly.
No, it can't be that simple. "How can you call this a business when you don't accept payment?" Sasuke asks, frustrated.
Life just grins. "Business also means concern, yeah? I do what I do because it's concerns me. Because I make what you need my concern."
(he tries not to dwell on how pleased those words made him feel)
Life's head tilts to the right. "Why're you so worried, anyway?"
Sasuke glares. He's still trying to perfect the art of speaking without his skin betraying his thoughts.
"If you're worried 'bout what I eat, the others feed me," Life says helpfully over his stoic silent glare. "Like before I gots here? I was over at Ayame's. She makes really great ramen."
Dark eyes flash.
(he makes a new list—)
"And after this? I'm swinging by Shizune's to give her pig a bath. She likes to pack me bento so I can eat it for breakfast the next day. Oh, and Tenten made me her special sweet and sour pork for lunch tomorrow. Shino gave me takoyaki for snacks before that too. I still have rice from Shikama—"
"Are you done?" he snaps. He feels pissed. He worries over the idiot and the ingrate eats off someone else?
The utter callousness!
Life blinks in surprise at his thunderous black look, glancing at his watch to look away from the eerie crimson glower. Sasuke takes a deep breath and his features return to normal, placid white.
"Oh. Wow, time flew so fast," Life says, chuckling awkwardly, withdraws his hand to push the oven lid close. He gives a wry grin at his distorted reflection. "There, you gots yourself a funhouse mirror in your kitchen. Anything else? Same time tomorrow?"
"No," Sasuke grunts. "Come early."
A surprised pause. "... You mean—an hour early?"
"What else do you think?" he growls.
Life frowns. Sasuke takes another deep breath to reign in his temper. "Someone's grouchy," Life mutters, before raising an uncertain eyebrow. "So—I'd be here from 7 to 8 tomorrow night, instead of 8 to 9?"
"Alright, if you say so." Life scratches his nape with a doubtful expression. "No one's asked for that time tomorrow yet so—"
Sasuke throws an impatient glower at the oven. Life throws his hands in the air and whines about demanding and moody bastards.
"Anything else, master?"
(if the title had pleased him, it is only for him to know)
"The newest batch, Uchiha-sama."
Sasuke ignores his assistant as she piles another dozen on his table. He leafs through the glossy pages of his tenth cookbook, pores over with the focus of a scientist on the crux of discovery. He scribbles a series of kanji and sticks the Post-It note on a page, closes it to reach for his eleventh.
It's never too late to take up a new skill.
He slams down the lid and swallows a scream—he suspects a blood-curdling banshee's screech will escape his throat. He throws a potholder with angry force, watches it sail outside his open kitchen window, a motley arc in the night. The doorbell rings.
Damn damn damn damn damn damn damn.
To his surprise, he hears the door swing open immediately followed by a fast set of footsteps. His anger delayed by his initial surprise turns to rage and he's ready to unload at the unlucky intruder. Said intruder, though, heads directly to his double oven cooker, leaving his kitchen doors swinging in their hinges. Before he can so much as hiss or execute a furious flying kick, the first knob in the stove is switched off.
His eyes widen in surprise and all traces of anger disappear.
"You burned your rice," Life comments, turning to him in explanation. "I smelled something burning so I gots here as fast as I could. Sorry for not waiting, I thought maybe you're conked out or something."
Sasuke is reclaiming his unruffled composure. "Hn."
Life shrugs and looks around the kitchen, seeing it fully for the first time. Sasuke feels hot embarrassment climb up his chest as blue eyes got wider and wider. Broken egg yolks on the table. Oil spills on the floor, forming lumpy doughs with flour liberally dusting the marble. Vegetables, crushed beyond recognition, littering the sink with juice running down its length. Torn plastic and bent metals.
He had been quite frustrated.
Sasuke feels his ears heat up when amused blue eyes land on him. His breath hitches when Life takes a step to him. He shrinks back in reflex when a hand appears before his eyes. He feels an intense jolt when a finger touches a fringe of his hair.
Life's nearness disconcerts him and his heart pounds in response.
"You've gots rice bits on you, Chef-san."
Sasuke blinks slowly.
"Whatcha do, roll around in it?"
He scowls and bats the hand away, a light pink dusting on his cheeks. Life laughs good-naturedly, ignoring his dark glare, and continues to remove the rice bits from his hair. He growls when Life starts pretending to eat each rice bit, a chimp grooming its baby, and raises his hands in laughing surrender at a dark dark glower. Sasuke yanks at his hair before finally stalking off to clean himself. Blue apron lands carelessly on the food-laden table.
Sasuke returns minutes later to Life cleaning his kitchen. He feels guilt at how he acted, though he knows he's justified in his actions under the circumstances. The idiot started teasing after all and he had been clearly annoyed to begin with. Still, he knows Life meant no malice with it.
And Life's not supposed to be doing this either.
"Tch. Shouldn't have, loser," he mumbles. He looks outside his window, uncomfortable. It's the most apology he can say and he despairs at his worthless pride.
Life looks up at him beneath messy strands of yellow, smiling in profound understanding and acceptance. His heart leaps in his chest at how Life had so quickly gathered what he meant.
(it's like this, isn't it)
"Don't mind," Life says. It's cool is what he hears. It was petty and all's forgiven is what he understands.
(looking underneath the underneath and understanding each other)
With a last sweep of the table, Life straightens up and heads to his pantry. His brows furrow when Life ties a rag around his torso.
(accepting despite the moodiness and the ugliness, the baiting and the cursing)
He forces his smile down.
(learning what the other lacks and not giving a damn)
"So what are we making for dinner, Chef-san?"
(offering what the other has and making it last)
He smirks. He can allow himself that much.
(it's like this)
"Uwa! I've never had spring rolls before!"
(it's not the first time he's felt this for Life)
The spring rolls are a frenzied explosion of tastes that would leave a person wanting.
They are bitter like ashes, charred and itchy to the tongue, their wrappings burned to a crisp and oily to the touch. The sauce is runny and he is disturbingly reminded of mucus—he thinks it tastes like one too. Life declares it an adequate substitute for muriatic acid.
(They shouldn't have been throwing flour at each other. Or running over eggshells. Or flinging salt and sugar everywhere. Or plain having fun.)
Regardless, it is the most delicious spring roll Sasuke ever tasted.
"Did you always want to be a businessman?"
Sasuke pauses in thought. His eyes are narrow as he mulls over the question. He puts down his pen and his hands close on top of the other as they hover on his chin. His thinking pose is always impressive, he imagines. "I wanted to be a judge," he replies seriously.
Life gives him an admiring look. He stifles the uncanny urge to shift in his seat. He had received admiring looks before but with Life, it's different.
(because Life is different)
"Wow. That's so cool. Like in crime shows, na?" Life's head tilts in another question, waving a hand. "So what happened?"
He lifts a shoulder. "It's a boy's dream. I just wanted a gavel." Sasuke smirks when Life chuckles. "I also wanted to be a pirate for the parrot."
Life is laughing now and he feels so good about himself. He settles on his seat and watches the other guffaw.
(he feels like a lamp, all warm and glowy, and he feels like a moron, all dumb with metaphors)
Sasuke loves it when he laughs.
"Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!"
His heart hurts when he hears it.
"I must be huntin' treasures 'cause I'm diggin' yer chest!"
(it's not the first time his heart hurt in a terrifyingly wonderful way)
Sasuke knows it is so wrong to replay it over and over in his head.
"Care fer a swabbin', purty laddie?"
He rolls over and shivers again.
He takes a deep breath. Lets it out. Grits his teeth.
He hears the chatter of the idiots in the other room—idiots Haruno Sakura, Rock Lee, Akai Karin, Houzuki Suigetsu, and Yukino Juugo.
Waves of laughter punctuated by screams from the women. A raucous guffaw announcing that Suigetsu is very, very happy.
A muffled speech that fails to be tamed by the walls—Lee proposing for the nth time. Murmurs that are more felt than heard, the low timbre of Juugo's voice.
The doorbell rings.
His eyes widen.
Only one person rings his doorbell at this time. Sasuke races to his door in time to see Sakura open it, with the air of one who owns the land where his house currently stands.
He wants to strangle her.
He feels a heavy weight sink to his stomach when Life breaks into a delighted smile.
It may not be such a terrible idea, Sasuke thinks, to have those idiots over once in a while. So long as they do it with his knowledge, of course. He loathes surprises with a passion.
He pads down to his kitchen and his eyes land on a pot.
"I noticed you like tomatoes."
His finger traces a ribbon. The red lace bounces on a tomato, curls gently on a green leaf.
"Happy birthday, Sasuke."
His mouth tilts with a smile and he breaks off a fruit. He takes his first bite.
(sweet, like that smile, shy and scared and so much like his)
This is the first time Sasuke sees Life out of the familiar orange jumpsuit. He thinks Life should wear more jeans and fitted shirts.
(he thinks Life is beautiful and it's not the first time)
"Ah, just came from a date."
Sasuke feels the world stop.
It's true, he thinks, what they say about revelations. The world slows down and everything becomes nothing until, with fading white noise and a final blurry spin, it stops. All in a span of one broken second.
(because it just stops making sense, what living is supposed to be)
"Bastard, what the hell's wrong with you?" Life yells, fed up with the ruthlessly cold resentment flung into his direction. Sasuke is insulted that Life dared ask him that.
(and even more pissed that he has no right to be)
"Look, if you're pissed with what I'm wearing, fine," Life continues, blue eyes alive with fire of one suffering unfair trials. His finger is jabbing at himself and Sasuke sees words. He inwardly frowns, puzzled.
... 'I'm with this bitch'? A dog paw print?
"If you're insulted, I'm sorry, okay?" Life rubs at his face. "Damn you're so prickly tonight!"
What kind of an idiot wears that on a date?
"What kind of date did you have?" Sasuke grunts in question.
"Finally he talks," Life says in a melodramatic voice. An annoyed stare gets him grinning in obvious relief (Sasuke thinks it's kind of cute but he's not off the damned hook). "Hinata's boyfriend Kiba was taking her for granted. So she asked me to take her on a date and we brought her dog along, 'coz we know he walks his dog in the park during that time. He saw us, remembered she used to be all over me, and then I left them to talk it all out. I checked before I left—they're making out like they'd die in a minute."
The cool old lady, he can understand, though he himself won't make it a monthly habit to date a grandmother. But this—?
"She asked you to take her out? For the one hour?"
Life gives him a perplexed look. He wants to punch it off. "I meant what's in my card, bastard. You can ask me to do anything in one hour, so long as it's not indecent, not immoral, and not illegal."
He nods. A slow smile begins to curl on his lips and he turns around to hide it. He'll remember that.
Forty-five minutes of chilling silence later, the world begins to turn.
(because everything with Life makes perfect sense to him)
"What are you staring at?" Sasuke bites out. The sweat dripping down his forehead, his temple, his nape, makes his hair stick uncomfortably to his skin. He feels unaccountably self-conscious and it irritates him so much.
(he feels so ugly and it shames him)
Life shakes his head, his eyes unreadable as his smile. "Nothing." Hands him a towel which he snatches with ill-humor. Wipes it at his face, uses his hand to pull his shirt far from him to wipe at his sweaty chest. He pulls at his collar and wipes at his neck.
He glances to his left. He feels annoyed (disappointed) that Life is looking somewhere else.
"I'll make an orange shake," Life suddenly says. Sasuke grunts back, not caring. Wipes at the perspiration on the back of his neck. The hot flush of his skin irks him so much.
"Just take off your clothes," Life throws carelessly. Pauses.
Sasuke eyes Life, incredulous. He tries for a glare.
(in his mind he panics)
"... Or not," Life says after a tense moment. Returns to the pot of crabs and boiling water as he whistles a disjointed tune.
Despite the heat, Sasuke smirks. He doesn't miss the awkward smile, the light coloring of whiskered cheeks.
(perhaps panic is uncalled for)
"Anou sa, do you know that the largest crab in the world is the Japanese spider crab?"
(perhaps a bit of jubilation is)
"Wear something nice," he orders over the phone.
"Like flouncy skirts and corsets?" Life retorts.
He marks an incorrect phrase on the contract, his smile apparent in his voice. He feels so good right now and his lips won't stop twitching.
"Kinky, idiot, but try not to impress me too much."
Sasuke chuckles as Life sputters in denial.
(it's been ten months since Life first made him laugh)
He stands on a hill overlooking the city. He hears the whistling of rockets and the crackling of stars. He sees the explosion of light in the dark slate of the sky. He senses the excitement from the throng gathered afar.
Beside him is Life and Sasuke feels so much more.
His black eyes land unerringly on the upturned face, all the colors forming glorious figures above them and in those eyes. The blue are alight with a child's pure marvel, glazed with delight at each exquisite firework, pupils dilated as they try to swallow colors and lights. Pink lips are parted as they gasp with wonder. Cream and orange yukata adds to the unearthly glow.
(Life is so gorgeous and it hurts so much to see)
"Beautiful..." Life whispers. Over them explodes a ring of bright red and gold.
He agrees, completely.
(there's no use denying a truth)
Beside him is Life and Sasuke can watch him forever.
"The hour is over," he says calmly. He ignores the tightening in his chest as Life slowly turns to him.
(and he holds his breath because it's all he can hold onto right now)
"Can we stay longer?" Life asks in a quiet voice, turning up to the silenced skies once more. "I like it here."
"Hn," he says, because there is nothing else to say.
(except 'til death do us part, but that's mighty ambitious even today)
(and he holds Life's hand because it's all he wants to do)
It is ten months, two weeks, and three days since Life entered Sasuke's world. An-hour-every-two-weeks deal had turned into an-hour-every-week one, then an-hour-every-three-days, until it became an hour every day. And Sasuke craves more. So much more.
"How long are you doing this?" he asks.
Life raises his head. He is cleaning out Sasuke's closet, something Sasuke finds comforting and right. And poetic, he admits to himself. He feels a bit sheepish that this thought is a conscious one, not thought of in that elusive secret place. He can blame no one but himself for the cheesiness now.
It's also the first time Life entered his room.
He tries not to let the knowledge excite him that much. With the frightening speed by which his heart beats, it is futile.
"'Til I'm done, 'course."
He shakes his head. His hair, longer at the sides, whips across his cheeks. He is pleased when blue eyes, glazed, follow the motion. He's not vain but Sasuke knows the contrast of black strands with blue tints across lily white skin is more than pleasing—is in fact irresistible to some idiot he knows. He learned this when he caught Life staring, through the reflection of his window, at the hair sticking to his nape on a humid autumn evening.
(it's not the first time either)
He clears his throat, amused. Those blue eyes snap to him with surprised attention. He doesn't try to hide his smirk—Life glares at him with a childish pout. "I mean this," Sasuke says, his hand sweeping the air before him. "Your business."
Life's blue eyes become reflective. "I'm not sure." He sits cross-legged, his arms crossing over his chest as his chin drops in thought. "Y'know, I started this 'coz I want to give back. To all of the people who helped me, changed me into the me you see now. But," he raises his eyes to dark ones, "it's not the same, y'know? Those people—they helped me without asking for anything in return. So I thought I'd do it for everyone else and not ask for anything back.
"I want to change the world, bastard. I've been dreaming of it since I was a kid. At first, I thought I'd change the world so I can have my parents back. Then I said I'd change it so I can have new parents. Then change it so I can do what I want. But I thought I have to be powerful first.
"The thing is, I didn't have to be. I just have to do what I can. So I decided to change the world, one hour at a time. I'd like to think that someone's life got better 'coz of me. Hell, I'm not really sure. But I won't stop, I guess. The world's gonna change yet and I'd have a part in it."
And Sasuke is struck by the sharp ache in his heart. It grows and grows with each of Life's word, stretching and reaching out until the tip of his hair to the tip of his toes feel that wonderful pleasurepain of being alive. Everything of him is humming with life—his blood sings in his veins, his nerves sizzle with excitement, and he thinks this is how it feels.
And he realizes, past the constricting warmth in his chest and the suffocating heat in his throat, that he had felt this burning desire to grin, this burning need to cry. This burning want to live.
He had felt alive with Life before too.
And his eyes, stinging and open and unblinking, takes in his first unhindered sight. He sees the gorgeous vision of Life sitting cross-legged on his floor, surrounded by odd socks and dust bunnies frolicking in his room, his chin on his chest with eyes almost crossed in whatever thought his mind is trying to think through. It hurts, Sasuke thinks, and this is the price of life.
And for Life—Naruto—Sasuke is willing to pay it.
Uzumaki Naruto looks up. There is confusion, there is shock. More importantly, to him, there is the life Sasuke sees whenever he thinks of Naruto while looking in the mirror.
And Naruto, with soft blue eyes framed by messy yellow strands, gives a lopsided smile.
"The first time I saw you, I didn't want the hour to end."
Sasuke smirks back.
(he had thought of that a lot of time too)
"This room can fit another," he says. He inches closer and elbows the sitting idiot.
The smile stretches into a grin.
"I just got kicked out this morning."
Sasuke still doesn't own every hour of Naruto's day. It's a fact he accepted even before the idiot moved in.
"Na, Sasuke, are we making spring rolls? Been craving for it! I also noticed we're out of milk. Want me to get it?"
As long as Naruto goes home to him, that is more than enough.
"Hn. The kittens drink too much."
The doorbell rings.
He hears it and runs. Embarrassingly desperately so.
(he doesn't really care)
With shallow intakes of breath, Sasuke reaches forward.
The door flings open.
For 1.023 seconds, his heart forgets to beat.
Blinded, enlightened, under millions of twinkling stars, Sasuke calls him Mine.
7.10 seconds later and he remembers to breathe.
Yours For An Hour, the plain card says. Below in smaller letters are a name and number, larger letters in orange declaring a mission. There are folds in the edges and creases in between. The images in watermark are almost completely gone.
Sasuke tucks it back into his wallet. He pauses at a picture of Naruto and him.
He takes it out, flips it over. And right in his car as he waited for his pink-haired friend, he smiles.
Yours for every hour of your life.
He needs a wax job.