Influenced By: Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and the Draco/Hermione fanfic Bring Out Your Dead by riptey.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto
Chapter 1: The Manor
Sakura Haruno was taking a break from things.
This was something she'd spent the past seven months telling herself as she moved nowhere in life. At age twenty-seven, Sakura had just passed her medical boards, ending her residency at Konoha General. Growing up, Sakura was a gifted child, and throughout her years in school, she was medical prodigy. She'd been offered several jobs all over the country to study under some of the world's most celebrated neurosurgeons, but after everything that had happened, Sakura felt as if she had lost her drive. After all the drama with Shikamaru and with Ino and with her mother, Sakura took a much needed vacation, deferring her career-turning opportunities and somehow ending up as the personal caretaker of Madara Uchiha.
She never thought geriatrics was for her. Old people were like small children for Sakura Haruno. Those were the two sections of the hospital she avoided most. Something about the utter fragility of these dependant people who looked at her with eyes so full of desperation made Sakura uncomfortable.
But Madara Uchiha was different. For an old man, he was quite strong. Sometimes when she was with him, she truly wondered what it was Itachi Uchiha saw that made him think his grandfather was in need of a caretaker. While the housekeeper might have been necessary, Madara certainly didn't need any aid moving about the Manor and he always refused when she said she had to feed him or give him his baths. As pathetic as it sounded, the old man made Sakura rather apprehensive. Despite Madara's greying hair and wrinkles, there was something about the hardness of his features and just how keen his senses were that made Sakura feel like there was more to this man than Itachi let on. Her employer had described his grandfather as "peculiar," but Sakura found that Madara was more than that.
Currently, she was running late.
It was a Friday – one that Sakura had told Itachi way in advance that she would be taking off due to personal reasons. He was certainly obliging and requested that she come back in the evening, which Sakura had no issue with. Sakura worked with Madara every day. Routinely, she would arrive at seven in the morning on Mondays and leave at six in the evening on Fridays when Itachi would arrive back to the Manor to stay with Madara for the weekends. Until then, she had her very own room and en suite in the Manor. Then on Saturdays and Sundays, Sakura would come at ten and stay until five. This particular weekend was different, however. Itachi had generously requested that they alter her schedule that week to accommodate the time off that she needed. While Sakura hadn't quite told Itachi about the happenings in her life and why exactly she would be away, she had a feeling he knew just why she needed the time off. He granted her Monday to Friday evening off and asked only that she come back Friday night before Kushina locked the gates and stayed until Sunday night.
Sakura glanced at the digital clock and cringed, noting that it was 5:58. She knew how the housekeeper felt about time and dreaded the lecture she would get when she arrived at Uchiha property. Sakura pressed harder on the gas and prayed there were no cops around. Or other cars. Making the wipers move faster, Sakura leaned forward for a better view of the road. She supposed her speeding and this monsoon weather were hardly a good combination, but she'd suffered a lecture from Kushina before and that was never fun.
Seeing the trees near the Uchiha gates, Sakura slowed down and turned right. She drove past the gates and down the long driveway. She put her car in park between Kushina's red sedan and a black car that she'd never seen before. She shrugged it off, figuring that Itachi must have gotten a new car. Seeing Kushina on the porch with an umbrella in one hand, her bag in the other, and an irritated expression on her face, Sakura cringed. She exited her car and ran to the porch.
"I'm so sorry—"
"You're late, Miss Haruno." Sakura shivered, but she wasn't sure if the chill came from having gotten soaked from her quick jog from her car to the porch or if it was from Kushina icy expression. "Have I not already explained to you how my shift works?"
Sakura had the decency to look apologetic. "I'm really sorry, Kushina. I was just—"
Kushina held up a hand to stop her, but the woman's expression was enough to tell Sakura to stop talking. "Miss Haruno, I arrive to the Uchiha Manor each and every day at six in the morning, at which point I will unlock the gates for you or Itachi. I stay for the day, during which I cook and I clean. After dinner is prepared, I leave it in the kitchen for you or Itachi to serve to Madara. Once it is six in the evening, I should be at that gate—" She pointed to the end of the driveway "—locking the gates for the day. Do you know what time it is, Miss Haruno?"
"6:06?" Sakura replied. She knew the question was rhetorical, but she couldn't help being a smartass. Really, Kushina could have left a full five minutes ago had she not spared her the lecture.
"I really am sorry," Sakura said, truly meaning it. But Kushina didn't care for her words.
"Mr. Uchiha is currently in the dining room with his dinner," the housekeeper informed her. With a final glare, the older woman went down the porch stairs and entered her car.
Sakura watched as she drove just past the gates, where she exited to bring them together and lock the doors before driving away entirely. Sakura couldn't help but release a relieved sigh as she entered the Manor. Kushina was a nice woman, but when her departure time was not met exactly to the second, she became utterly irrational. Sakura had seen her ignore Itachi's apologies enough times to know how strict the woman was.
"Mr. Uchiha?" Sakura called, walking towards the dining room. On most Fridays, she would set Madara up with her dinner before leaving him with Itachi. She hadn't seen Itachi's car, however, so it was safe to assume he had left before Kushina. But then again, his other car had to be the one on the driveway, so where on earth was he? That didn't matter, Sakura decided. She just hoped he had given Madara his dinner. She'd been helping the old man long enough to know that he liked having a set schedule.
When she heard no reply, Sakura sped up her pace to the dining room. She skidded to a halt at one end of the table and was relieved to see Madara seated at the opposite side. His plate was empty and he was wiping his mouth with a napkin. He looked up at her and frowned.
"It is 6:08."
Sakura's calm expression faded and she could only roll her eyes as she approached Madara. "My apologies, Mr. Uchiha," she said. Sakura paused, noticing Madara's seeing-eye dog that looked suspiciously like a fox seated beside his master. "Hey there, Kyuubi," she greeted, bending down to pet the animal. She smiled when he leaned into her touch and licked her hand. Feeling Madara's eyes on her, Sakura glanced back up at him. "What would you like to do this evening, Mr. Uchiha?"
The old man pursed his lips. Sakura could see the frustration on his face for having to depend on another person.
"Have you done your exercises for the day?"
Madara scowled. "Of course I have, you silly girl."
"Would you like to watch some television?"
He raised an eyebrow at her, answering the question silently.
"Hm. Well why don't I bring you to the library?" Sakura suggested. Like her, the library was Madara's favourite part of the Manor.
Madara only nodded once before Sakura gently looped her arm through his to help him maneuver through the halls. The Uchiha Manor was a rather large complex with three storeys to it and best described as T-shaped. Its entrance was located at the point where all the Wings met. The East Wing contained Madara's old study, the library, a few bedrooms that hadn't been used in years, and a number of rooms Sakura had never cared to look through. It overlooked a withered garden full of overgrown weeds in the back. Sakura supposed that once upon a time, it was a beautiful thing, but it wasn't Kushina's job to care for the plants and Itachi never hired a groundskeeper so that particular sight wasn't a very pleasant one. In the front, towards the East Wing was what Sakura deemed as the garage where many of Madara's older and prized vehicles were. Opposite of where they were currently walking was the West Wing that contained the kitchen, the first smaller dining room, the second more extravagant dining room, a number of storage rooms, and one room used for entertaining that held a grand piano. This last room faced the front of the Uchiha property, giving a glimpse of the ivy-covered stone walls surrounding the land until it came to the forests, also part of the Uchiha property. Lastly, there was the North Wing, that contained the master suite belonging to Madara, and a few other unused bedrooms, save for her own and Itachi's.
Along the walls of the Manor were numerous portraits and tokens of the Uchiha family. On the way to the library were a number of paintings, featuring Madara the First, the man that had apparently built the Manor, followed by his own brother who he had claimed as his heir for whatever reason. Before Sakura could continue reading the other names that had only just then caught her attention despite her months with Madara, the old man struck up a conversation.
"Do you like Shakespeare, Sakura?"
His deep voice almost made her jump. It echoed throughout the darkening halls of the Uchiha Manor, reminding Sakura of the stifling silence that came with her job. Sakura smiled at her charge. "I certainly do, Mr. Uchiha."
"And which play is your favourite?"
Madara stopped his staggering in his surprise. He turned to her, a look of astonishment on his face. "An interesting choice," he murmured before pulling her forward. "I was expecting something more along the lines of A Midsummer Night's Dream." His lips curled at his own joke and Sakura refrained from replying. "But Titus Andronicus is quite the play to stomach."
"I like Tamora," Sakura admitted shyly.
"And why is that?"
Sakura shrugged. "She's very… cunning. She was driven and smart. Her first speech made an impression on me early on in the play, I suppose."
"She was an admirable character indeed, despite being the antagonist. Very cunning. And certainly, she really did choose each of her words wisely."
"And what's your favourite play?"
Madara used his free hand to stroke his chin as he thought to himself. "My favourite would have to be King Lear."
"Oh?" Sakura looked at him curiously. She had expected something like Macbeth to be his choice, not something about a foolish king and his troublesome children. "And why is that?"
He only smirked to himself. "I suppose it just hits a little close to home."
She frowned in confusion. She opened her mouth to question him but they had arrived to the library where Madara shrugged her off and walked inside on her own. Noticing his cane leaning against the desk, she considered scolding him for having left it there.
"You'll need to take Kyuubi for a walk," Madara said as he settled into his favourite chair. "The monster has been itching to go outside all week, but Itachi is too much of a brat to take him out."
Sakura suddenly perked up. "Oh, yes! So did Itachi get a new car or something?"
Madara looked at her curiously. "What?"
"There was another car when I got here. I figured Itachi got a new car." From what she could tell about the younger Uchiha, he had expensive tastes. Why else would he have hired a would-be surgeon to care for his grandfather?
Madara only continued to frown at her. "Itachi has been gone since this morning, Sakura." He rolled his eyes and reached for one of the books on the table. Sakura had been going through everything in the library to find all the ones in Braille for him to read now that his eyes were deteriorating. As his fingers skimmed the page he was on, he snorted. "Perhaps I'm not the only one with bad eyesight."
"But…" Sakura cut herself off lest she look even more foolish. "I was probably just imagining things."
"The weather is quite terrible right now," Madara reasoned. They both looked outside. Although the rain had finally stopped, it was still quite windy. And Sakura could see that the sun was almost fully set. She would have to take Kyuubi out immediately, lest he run away into the foliage behind the House and she have to search for him in the dark. "Make sure you give Kyuubi a bath tonight as he'll most likely return to the Manor covered in mud." The old man made a face at the prospect of his dog caked in dirt, prompting Sakura to roll her eyes. It wasn't like he could actually see when Kyuubi was a mess, much less when the floor was spotted in his muddy paw prints.
"Sure thing. Is there anything else you'd like me to do before hand?" she asked. "Would you like me to bring you your tea?"
He always had a cup of earl grey at seven, but Madara only shook his head. "That will be all, Sakura. I shall retire at nine. You may return then."
Sakura nodded one last time before walking out of the library.
"Kyuubi! Where are you, boy?"
The dog had been following her and Madara on the way to the library, she knew, and last she saw he had continued crawling towards the end of the East Wing.
When there was no sound from the dog in question, Sakura could only sigh. Taking care of Kyuubi was something Sakura certainly was not trained for. Caring for a human being was something she could do in an instant, especially when that care involved cutting things up and stitching them back together. However, animals made Sakura a bit wary. She remembered the time that Shikamaru proposed they get a dog when they first moved in together, as if living in the same place wasn't a test to their relationship as it was. That particular request had been met with a blank stare and a few beeps from her pager as they unloaded their boxes from her Jeep. She snorted at the memory. Maybe that's why he cheated on her. She didn't like animals.
"Yes, Sakura. Exactly that," Sakura mumbled to herself. But she knew better.
Her issues with Shikamaru had nothing to do with disapproval towards pets, although she didn't hate them all. At that, "hate" was a strong word. She supposed that if she absolutely had to have some kind of pet, she would want a cat – something that she didn't have to walk or take too much care of. A cat would have worked well with her hectic schedule. She snorted. A cat would have worked much better with her hectic schedule than Shikamaru did. If she were entirely honest, she would admit that his affair with that other girl had nothing to do with distaste for animals, but her recurring absences. Really, she didn't blame him for cheating. Sakura was much too career-oriented to deal with a significant other. She just wished he'd broken up with her properly.
She gritted her teeth. "Get over it, Sakura."
Why was she even thinking about this stuff?
That was the only problem with the Uchiha Manor. As long as Kyuubi wasn't barking, it was always so quiet in the House. Madara used his words sparingly, Itachi only made small talk when he was around, and Kushina wasn't particularly fond of doing things that didn't involve her housekeeping duties. Thus, all Sakura had time to do was think.
All Sakura ever really did in the Manor was go over all the reasons Shikamaru cheated on her, how she could have saved Ino, and what she could do to help her mother.
She sighed. Annoyed with the depressing direction of her thoughts, Sakura tightened her grip on the lamp in her hand. The Uchiha Manor was an old house that relied on its numerous windows that made up a fair portion of the walls to allow natural light. However, since it was quite late, Sakura had to rely on a rather old-fashioned lamp to guide her. Although there were small tables every ten feet or so with their own lamps on top, Sakura didn't want to waste electricity when there were only two people in the massive structure. She neared the foyer where she would be crossing over to the West Wing but paused when she reached the family portraits again.
From what Sakura had learned when Itachi had given her a tour of the Manor when she was first hired, these portraits were of the men that came into ownership of the Uchiha Manor. The first portrait was of a man that looked very much like Madara and even shared his name. Next to him was a man named Izuna Uchiha. Izuna was followed by his own son, and after a number of portraits Sakura came to a man named Fugaku Uchiha, who she assumed was Itachi's father. The man resembled Itachi with his strong jawline and stern features. Sakura could see the resemblance quite well with Itachi's own portrait hung right beside Fugaku's. She stepped closer to inspect the intricacies of Itachi's portrait and nearly jumped when her foot collided with something.
"Dammit," she cursed, clutching at her chest.
Sakura crouched down to see what she hit and a frown marred her face when she realized it was another portrait wrapped in brown paper. Sakura lowered her lamp to the floor to free her hands. She gently lifted the tape holding the paper down so that she could reseal it afterwards. When the paper finally fell away, Sakura couldn't help but gasp at the lovely new portrait. This particular one featured another man that Sakura thought it was safe to assume was an Uchiha. Like all the men before him, he had the classic ivory skin framed by dark hair. What caught her attention was the pitch black eyes that stared out of the painting. The man looked to be about her own age, if not perhaps a few years older, confusing Sakura. Why was his painting with the row of owners of the Uchiha Manor? While Itachi wasn't too young to be a father, the man in the painting couldn't possibly be his son.
Who was he then?
Sakura's musing was interrupted when she heard barking coming from the foyer.
Releasing a relieved sigh, Sakura rushed down the stairs to get to him. If she had to search the entire Manor for the dog, she definitely would have gotten lost. Although she had been working for the Uchiha for four months now, she still didn't know the House as well as Kushina did.
"Hey, boy! Kyuubi!" Sakura yelled, getting the dog's attention.
Kyuubi turned her way and immediately ceased his barking. Sakura smiled at him and sat down on the foyer carpet, not quite caring about how silly she probably looked. She played with the dog's orangey fur, allowing it to curl into her warmth.
"What's the matter, boy?" she asked. She didn't quite expect a response, but felt mildly alarmed when Kyuubi immediately moved away from her to start scratching at the front doors. Sakura frowned when Kyuubi looked back at her in the midst of his pawing as if he was expecting her to understand. "What…" She stepped closer to the door and Kyuubi sat back. She got it. Sakura smiled at Kyuubi and patted his head. "What is it? You think someone's out there?" Sakura asked.
Only when the words came out of her mouth did Sakura feel a shiver run down her spine.
In her head, the notion that someone was on the front steps of the Uchiha Manor seemed laughable. The Manor was rather far from Konoha, the closest city to it. One could certainly walk to it, but driving was the more practical method. Even so, Kushina locked the gates each and every night as a strict rule. No one could have possibly been outside unless they came before Kushina locked up, so there was no reason for her to feel her stomach sinking in dread.
"You're acting like an idiot," Sakura mumbled to herself. Sakura was a grown woman. Sakura kick-boxed in her spare time. Sakura had nothing to fear.
Steeling her resolve, Sakura undid the many locks and latches that kept the two front doors secured and was anticlimactically greeted by absolutely nothing.
She couldn't help but chuckle. "See?" She felt Kyuubi brushing along her ankles and heard him whimper. "Don't worry, Kyuubi."
Everything was fine. The gates at the end of the driveway were chained shut, her car was still in its usual place at the base of the stairs for the porch, and the black car from earlier— Sakura's eyes widened. She frowned. The black car she'd seen earlier was gone. She stepped onto the porch, walking from one end to the other and looking all around the vast land that made up Madara's property. It was getting darker but she could still see well enough under the full moon.
"I could've sworn there was another car," she murmured.
Maybe Madara was right. Maybe her vision was just getting as bad as his, she thought wryly.
Sakura stepped back into the house and shut the doors behind her. She redid all the locks and latches and pet Kyuubi's head. There probably wasn't another car. She probably saw wrong in her fear of Kushina's wrath and the stress of dealing with her mother earlier that day. She crouched down beside the dog and smiled at him.
"I'll just take you out for a walk in the morning," she whispered to the dog conspiratorially. "It'll be our little secret." She winked before shrugging. "I mean, the rain is definitely going to pick up soon and it's way too dark outside to do anything, so we'll just play around tomorrow, okay?" The dog simply wagged his tail and Sakura chuckled. "But I think you need a bath, Kyuubi."
The two trotted up the stairs and towards Sakura's room in the North Wing where she preferred to wash the dog since as he was her responsibility for the most part, she kept his products in her own washroom. As a result, they were too far away to notice the way the lock on the knob turned to undo itself, implying someone on the other side had a key. Immediately afterwards, the five other latches moved on their own, allowing the front doors to open up wide. The strong winds blew in and the growing storm boomed loudly behind the latest addition to the Uchiha Manor's few inhabitants.
The man at the door smirked.
It was time to claim the House as his.