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sne_mod ([personal profile] sne_mod) wrote in [community profile] sn_exchange2010-08-17 01:31 pm

for anohana_acc

For: [profile] anohana_acc
Title: lack the luster
Rating: R
Summary: He has a knack for flipping relationships around like pancakes, all the while teaching you how to grow a garden.
Warnings: wine and cheese, I-wrote-this-while-listening-to-Lady-Gaga, sexual situations, flowers and bulbs, school!AU, snapshot writing, ‘Poe’ yay. >///>
A/N: For the lovely [profile] anohana_acc. Hope you recognise your prompts; find it fitting to your taste, &c&c. It’s all yours, honeybunny. ♥
Mod note: Reminder for the author/artist of this submission, please do not reply to comments signed in, if you want to reply anon commenting is enabled.


--



I have a garden of my own,
But so with roses overgrown,
And lilies, that you would it guess
to be a little wilderness.


i.

So here’s the truth: what surprises him the most about the new apartment is the small plot of land that sits in the back-lot. That summer, it gathered earthworms and dandelion puffs by the pound, sifted particles into the wind and whisked-up topsoil lighter than a bay leaf sitting in his mid-morning tea. Sometimes it would blow drifts of dirt over the building walls, leave the picket fence on the corner of the alley looking like it had just crawled out of bed from a mid-afternoon nap and a walk in the woods. Other times, he would see a raccoon or the neighbourhood stray place pensive paws near the soil, near it and never exactly over it, so then he would try to imagine standing there himself, in the middle of the Earth next to a sun beneath the clouds in between the skies.

And for the most part, it would work.

“It’s a fire hazard,” the landlord tells him later, “The other tenants, they keep complainin’ about it, so ’m getting it removed next week. Never harmed nobody, the land we got here. Dunno why there’s suddenly sucha big fuss over it now.”

“I see,” he says, and the old man grunts something else about fire escapes that he doesn’t catch.


>>

But it’s a nice place.

It’s a nice place, the realtor had told him during the open house. A public shower station ten meters away from the parlor, a public shower station and a shampoo stand next to the pool (which simply translates into nobody gives a fuck about it but I’m trying to find something impressive to say)—A PUBLIC SHOWER STATION, Uchiha-san, you should really go and take a good look for yourself! And there’s a boom box next to it that doesn’t suggest death by electrocution, not in the least, do you see it? I’ll remind you again: there is a public shower station and a boom box and –oh, look here– a set of deck chairs that will probably wedge splinters the size of my thumb into your ass if you even think about squatting down.

“I see,” he says, and the realtor beams. The beam blinds his eyes. “I see.”

“You see? It’s a beautiful piece of property, isn’t it?” The man says, scratches the bald patch on the back of his head, half in wonder and half in despair at being the single most dullest organism given oratory abilities that Sasuke has ever encountered, “And the pool, I mean, it’s some pool, isn’t it?”

Some pool,” he agrees, and before either of them can think of anything more useful and less obfuscating to say, he snatches up the forms and signs the housing contract on the spot.

The keys to the new apartment weigh down on his palm.


ii.

So here’s the truth: It could have been the perfect place. Nobody gave a fuck, but it could have been the perfect place. The showers didn’t host spiders and the neighbours only threw parties during spring breaks and summer festivals, beer pong and kinky debauchery strictly after eleven-thirty pm. The air didn’t smell like some cheating scumbag’s aftershave; there were no Dining Hall Grandmother types on crusade and no bossy tenement rulers patrolling the hallways and no petty children jamming their fingers into your keyholes and no pregnant mothers being carted off to the hospital at three in the morning. So it wouldn’t have mattered to him, if the double-sized mattress could only fit one, if the kitchen nook had barely enough space for a single barstool, if the laundry line wasn’t even long enough to stretch out two pairs of jeans.

It could have been the perfect home.

For two people in the world, it could have really been the perfect home.


>>

He doesn’t get up in the morning the next day, stays in bed and unplugs the phone jack from the wall, cracks open the lithium-ion in the battery compartment as a precaution. Keeps his mouth screwed shut and his eyeballs trained on the thick drapes covering Heaven, smelling the boy-next-door crooning to Europop and hearing the water droplets tumbling down his forehead and shoulders. Swimming, that’s what he’s doing. He’s swimming. He’s swimming in a blue ocean, schools of fish are slipping between his toes and between his arms and under his belly and he’s just nicked his skin on a mound of pink coral. He’s dipping, treading, crawling, falling. Glory is clawing at his throat; Fame is gnawing at his right foot. And for every increment of five minutes that goes by, he wonders how much farther the sun has sunk in the sky, how much more of his life has spun out of control. He thinks about rejecting emails and ripping up the invitations signed by hand, thinks about remembering why he’s still here, thinks about the last radio broadcast and the football players on TV, thinks about a lot of things and decides that he’s not really sure what he’s supposed to be doing, not anymore and really not ever, so he gives up and starts tearing out pieces of his hair.

He’s really going to stay here alone forever, isn’t he.

The first strand of his hair is kind of long and sickly, bleached from the sun and brittle like bark on a deciduous tree. Hair you could probably see growing on the back of a pop idol’s head, a rat’s tail or on a belly button, hair where you’d last look to find it. The shampoo Naruto had bought him in February had obviously not achieved the effects of what it had claimed. Cheap mass production, stock-exchange celibates, Marketing for Dummies, faith in capitalism and taxes; that was what had brought Naruto down. And so this piece of hair reminds him of the last time he’d been under the sun, High School Reunion and picnic tables and acrylic paint and somebody feeding him watermelon from a plastic spoon, when Hyuuga Neji had called him a vampire (he had no evidence), when Haruno Sakura had announced the date of her wedding ceremony (she had no right).

(She had no right. She had no right to tell them like that, like it wouldn’t matter if she was going get married and Sasuke wasn’t, she had no right to announce it out of the blue and pretend that the rest of them would just go along with it. That Naruto wouldn’t have told her to keep quiet about their plans. That Ino wouldn’t demand to pick out a dress for her. That Kiba wouldn’t have started thumping her on the back and crowing something about introducing a bridesmaid for him, that Neji wouldn’t discreetly ask if she could possibly wrangle himself a bridesmaid, as well, that Lee wouldn’t suddenly sprint across the lawn with tear ducts the size of water fountains, that Sasuke wouldn’t fucking allow it.)

The second strand is darker, hair that looks more like his, but still too light. Brings him back to the days when he’d gone for spontaneous with half a bottle of Karin’s Violent Violet Hair Streak. And then Naruto had told him he looked more punk than pretty, and too punk to hang out with the rest of them, that if he didn’t dye it back he’d probably end up impotent and gross after college.

I’m going to Todai, he’d shrugged.

Me too, so don’t brag, Shikamaru says, blows a ring of smoke into the air.


iii.

His brother left notes for him when he went away for work in the evenings. I’ll be home by six. Boil the eggs on the top shelf, the one Thursday said, while Itachi was out on the night shift at the family diner, Recite the lines that I picked out for you from your textbook. I’d like to listen to you when I come home.

And he would. He would sit down with his textbook and he would run his index finger over every printed line on the page, sound the English syllables out and taste them in his mouth, lock the verses of the poem down tight in his head (he even remembers them, today and now), and when the time would come for Itachi to listen to him recite, it would be late, the stars would have been in the sky for four or five hours, there was work tomorrow, clean dishes in the rack, laundry hanging from the lines, and his brother would be fast asleep on the couch. He was always looking out for other people.

The flowers are wilting. Pick up some lilies for mom, the one on Friday would say, while Itachi was wheeling in dirt from the flower shop.

Always looking out for other people.


>>

The first time he had noticed Uzumaki Naruto, they had been in grade three. He had just finished being praised by Kurenai-sensei for his perfect attendance record and stellar grade report, last week’s perfect score on the math test and yesterday’s victory at the science competition, and now he was trying to tell her why his parents could not spare any time from their busy schedule to come to his award ceremony (he didn’t mind, really; it was the time of day when he’d still believed that his father would come to next year’s, and next-next year’s when he didn’t come to next year’s). And he had only just begun to warm up a little to the half-truth about his brother’s foreign exchange program at Yale Law School (he had been accepted), when the rude-mouthed little boy stalks into the room, four-feet-three-inches of sun and shine in a rubber ball glowing neon lettering and orange-hued humiliation, slams his fingers down on the nearest desk and demands for a different semester grade.

Now, Uzumaki Naruto was a not as much of a dangerous character or a delinquent or a class clown as he was an attention-seeking brat, one who could not hold his own against Sasuke, and as such he could only resort to petty things like challenging people to competitions as a means to prove his self-worth. There were the card games and poker chips that had landed Naruto in detention and lectures for gambling. There were the Pokémon balls and hopscotch stones, jump rope with the girls and counting the clouds with Shikamaru. None of it character-building, all of it pointless.

So Kurenai-sensei asks him, “Sasuke-kun, will you do me a favor?”


iv.

When he’s walking home from school in the afternoon, Sasuke decides that he doesn’t believe in the makeshift ideals that young kids perpetrate in this day and age. He doesn’t believe in it much like he doesn’t believe that his brother would drop out of high school to join a biker gang. His father had kicked apart the local police station with complaints and surefire lawsuit exploits. It was a game of Find Uchiha Itachi or Have Your Heads Cut Off and Nailed to My Wanted Poster. And he was just about to confirm this decision by way of self-evaluation and maybe recording it in his diary of lucid dreams, when he hears the loud voice piercing the back of his skull.

“Sasuke! SASU-KEE!!”

What a loser, he thinks. He would ignore it, of course. Such a situation called for no audience, no congressional nomination. Uzumaki Naruto was not worth Uchiha Sasuke’s time, similar to how the minute hand doesn’t stop in the middle of the clock similar to how every girl would bat their eyelashes at Sasuke and stick out their tongues at Naruto similar to how everything went smoother for an Uchiha and never quite as well for Uzumaki. Facts of life, that’s all they were. Uzumaki Naruto should have learnt these before tacking himself like an octopus to Sasuke every time they crossed paths.

(Uzumaki. He was such a smug little idiot, wasn’t he?)

“SASUKEE!! Aren’t we going to your house?”

He swivels around on his heels. This must be a new development of idiocy. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Uzumaki yells. He must only know how to yell. “I said, aren’t we going to your house?

“Why in the world do you think you’re ever going to be allowed inside my house?”

“Because!” Naruto rolls his eyes (like he had any right to do that), “Kurenai-sensei told you to teach me algebra, right? Then I have to go to your house.”

“Uh. No way.”

Naruto jumps in front of him. “What the hell? You have to!”

“I thought you didn’t like to study.”

“I don’t,” Naruto mumbles, “I don’t. But. I’m going to be held back this year if I don’t study. And I’m going to be the very best, that no one ever was!”

Sasuke blinks. That no one ever was?

“Not my problem.”

“You have to,” Naruto insists, and he tries to walk forward but Naruto blocks his way, to the right and to the left, duck down and jump up and oh, forget it.


>>

Sasuke is the one who throws the first punch. Naruto follows soon with a kick and another punch, and then they’re off, two elementary school kids rolling in the mud, grappling for hair and ears and zippers and trying their best to knock out teeth and pretending they know how to fight like the pro-wrestlers on TV. Sasuke grabs for Naruto’s foot and kicks him in the butt as hard as he can. Naruto doesn’t give up, either, makes to buck as hard as he can until Sasuke’s fingers are loose, and then he’s aiming punch after punch against Sasuke’s stomach. They pinch and bite and claw until there are little strips of Sasuke’s skin in Naruto’s nails and Sasuke can taste Naruto’s blood in his mouth. Roll onto the sidewalk and onto the grass and back onto the sidewalk like two spinning Pokémon balls.

At last, Sasuke’s hand comes up to the top and the shirt rips open with a loud fwip, and suddenly Sasuke can see the exposed torso of Uzumaki Naruto, rib-cage sticking out and skinny, almost too skinny. And then he sees the spiral-shaped scar, wobbling up and down against Naruto’s bellybutton with every gasp of breath the boy took. The spiral was purple in shades, yellow at the fringes, several inches wide. He manages to catch one last glimpse of it before Naruto snatches his ripped shirt back up from the ground and bundles the fabric against his skin.

“What was that?”

“N-Nothing,” Naruto mutters, presses his shirt against his belly tighter.

“Nasty bruise you’ve got, there. Did your daddy get angry again?” He murmurs. So maybe he’s not exactly sure what he’s saying, but he’s heard some of the older kids say it at school. Naruto, on the other hand, jumps up liked a wary animal.

“Don’t—don’t say that,” he frowns, wipes blood from the corner of his mouth with a dirty sleeve, glares at Sasuke like he was being forced to eat worms, “Don’t you dare say that again. My dad is nothing like your dad. My dad is awesome. D-Don’t you dare go telling lies to Kurenai-sensei or anyone else. I’ll beat you up if you do.”

Naruto? Beating Sasuke up? Now that was something he’d never of heard of before. What a silly notion. And perhaps Sasuke would like to murder his brother in his sleep, as well. What an idea.

“D-Don’t you dare.”

He pretends to consider it. Naruto’s credibility, as far as the school administration was concerned, was neither reliable nor desirable, kind of like the durian-flavored coconut milk that no one wanted to buy at the grocery store, even when all the chocolate milk had been sold out. Sasuke liked to drink milk. The cartons at the supermarket contained enough bovine growth hormone for him to grow another inch taller if he had really put the effort into drinking milk. “Okay,” he finally says, registers the look of surprise on Naruto’s face and stuffs a small laugh back down his throat, “I’ll keep quiet. I’ll help you with math, too.”

Idiot’s face lights up like a CFL light bulb. “Aw, thank you, Sasuke! Man, I never expected that you’d—”

“On one condition.”

“Condition?”

He nods.

“W-What do you want from me?” Naruto asks, scrunches up his brows. It’s not a particularly attractive look, he thinks, the way Naruto looks right now. Not at all. His mouth is this weird squiggly shape, and his eyes are all squinty. He probably needs glasses.

“Heh.”

“Heh? What do you mean by that, Sasuke?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Sasuke says, sits down on the ground, smug. He’ll say it with a smirk. He’ll say it with conviction. It will be the conviction to end all convictions. His conviction will venture into lands unexplored by previous convictions.

“Well, what do you want?”

(It ends up tumbling out of his mouth like a wooden top, kind of slurred and half-demanding.)

“Be my slave.”


>>

One of the principle requirements of a successful garden is the fertiliser. Many seasonal gardeners and ecosystem-enthusiasts prefer the method of compost, but the fact remains that most of the general populace has trouble navigating through earthworms and moldy shit—it makes purchasing garden-center fertiliser seem like the reasonable thing to do. (It’s probably because of this that the inventor of garden-center fertiliser now drives around in a Jaguar and owns several mansions around the world.) Because with compost, you have to know all the tricks and tips. Because you’ve got to be garden smart, as well as weather and earthworm and biodegradable smart. Because there’s a certain precision to layering the fertiliser pile just right; the brown biodegradables must achieve a specific thickness and flexibility, in ratio per square-centimetre to the green biodegradables. The soil cannot be too moist or too dry, the solid chunks of filler can’t fluff too high, either; it becomes a fire hazard. Compost is like rocket science. Some people get it, some people don’t. Naruto had been able to keep a cactus flower in full bloom on his windowsill for over three weeks. The dandelions in Sasuke’s backyard are dead by the end of three days.

But here’s the truth: when it all comes down to it, the flowers bloom or they wilt. That’s the way it goes.


v.

The next summer, Itachi climbs out from over the fire escape during the night and they never see him again. His parents leave the front door open for three nights and three days, driving around in the dark and shining flashlights in every single dark corner of the city, and by Friday morning they are in the newspaper headlines, Mother and Father of Two Shot and Left to die in a Ditch near the Kanzaki Highway. In the middle of the night, all of Sasuke’s plans are abruptly thrown out the window. Now he’s in mourning, now he’s wearing black armbands and trying to remember the days when he could have seen his mother smile, now he’s crying in the dark underneath his blanket at the foster home and doing his homework by himself.

Plans for Naruto as a slave are postponed for three months, but when he turns eight years old, Sasuke decides that the first thing he wants Naruto to do for him as his new slave is to clean his room up. And maybe a younger Naruto had pitied him, but he hadn’t realised it then, and he would probably never have admitted to it now.

“There’s nothing to clean here,” Naruto squats down on the tatami and leans forward on his knees, “You shouldn’t trick people like that.”

Sasuke frowns. “What do you mean, there’s nothing to clean? Look at my books. All of them are out of order. And the closet. None of the hangers are facing the correct direction.”

“What is the correct direction, then?”

He rolls his eyes. “The side facing my mirror, obviously.” It was the way his mother had always done it.


>>

The fact remains that, even with garden-center fertilisers, there are many different types to choose from. At the garden center, the salesperson is prone to recommending either what is two for the price of three or what is gastronomically expensive; they are very taken into informing you of the positive effects that your garden will achieve. But any good shopper (or any expert gardener) knows that you can’t trust the salesperson, not even the one from Home Depot. You read the packages, poke one of the loose packages open when no one’s looking and weigh the material in your hand. Tactile sensory is the only way to affirm authenticity. The expert gardener doesn’t have a green thumb more than the rest of the world; they only possess a more sensitive thumb.

(But here’s the truth: in reality, Sasuke doesn’t need the fertiliser to stabilise the growth of his garden, much like he doesn’t need Naruto in order to stay sane.)


vi.

The apartment was his. No matter what became of it, what kind of flood or fever or fire, he had signed the deed and the lease and his company had paid the insurance. He had a roof to live under, a nice set of tenants who did not complain if he stumbled in drunk and crawling on all fours; he had a nice television set nice conventional oven nice stainless-steel stovetop nice wardrobe nice cabinet of hard liquor nice wall to fuck girls into. He lived a nice life. He had a nice salary. It was all very nice.

The apartment was his.

The next morning after the rain, he decides to buy some lily seeds at the garden store.


>>

It starts in the counseling office, of course. Unhinged American woman by the name of Mrs. Perky shows up one day to give the second-year students a presentation about American culture and Japanese influences, sexual connotations, and the next thing you know she’s whipped out a stash of her favorite Made-in-Japan adult videos, waving them about in every curious high school student’s face. Jiraiya-sensei and Kakashi-sensei race towards the podium for confiscation, and then suddenly someone recognises That Body and Those Eyes, and so the rumors start. A whisper in the hallway, notes passed during fourth period calculus. By the end of the day, none of them can take it anymore.

“He’s a porn star?” Naruto says first. “Like. An actual porn star.

Here we go,” Shikamaru sighs.

Sasuke doesn’t look up. “I wouldn’t know.”

“Seriously,” Kiba chimes in, “A porn star? A PORN star?

“Shut up. I don’t know.”

“What kind of acts does he do?” Sai asks.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Sakura slams a fist into his back.

“How could you not know?” Naruto says, “Your brother’s a fuckin’ porn star and you didn’t even know. I don’t believe it.”

Sasuke shrugs. “I haven’t talked to him in seven years. Think I would know anything about a loser like him?”

“He doesn’t sound so loser to me,” TenTen grins.

“Bet you have a whole collection of his videos at home or something.”

“Aw man, Sasuke, you’ve gotta show us!”

“I don’t believe it,” Naruto repeats.

Sasuke puts down his book.


vii.

His brother drops by in the middle of winter finals, wearing a haughty glare and what looked like an amphibious shark for a partner. There’s a screech of rubber on asphalt and a click on the lock of a machine, and then Uchiha Itachi, the boy who has been dead to him for eight years is knocking on Sasuke’s window at midnight, lips pursed and eyes slanted against the light in the room and the smell of posthumous decay that’s never quite settled apart from the house. Another minute of scuffling and taps against the window pane, and Sasuke’s all but ripped his curtains in half and torn down the window, taken a fistful of Itachi’s heavy coat in one hand and a butter knife in the other. He’s about to bring his arm down, but Itachi’s partner catches his wrist easily with one finger and one thumb, grins an unsettling grin before he twists Sasuke’s palm around a sixty-degree angle, a sharp pain shoots up to his elbow and it takes all of Sasuke’s energy to keep from howling out loud in pain. The two of them cross over the ledge of the window without another word.

“Hello there, little brother,” Itachi says, and he doesn’t even look at Sasuke when he’s talking, preferring to survey the room and the desk and the bed stand and the chairs in the corner of the walls. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Why are you here,” he manages to spit out, gasps a little when his fingers accidentally brush against the bruise on his wrist.

“Kisame, didn’t I tell you not to hurt him?” Itachi turns to his partner, “Look what you did. Let me see your wrist, Sasuke.”

“Fuck off.”

Itachi shrugs. He circles the bedroom instead, inspects the drawers and the lime on the walls before he finally walks back into the hallway towards their parents’ room. Before he can take another step, Sasuke bites back the jolt in his arm and lunges forward, tackles his brother against the floor.

“DON’T YOU DARE GO IN THERE.”

Kisame spares no remorse for Itachi’s little brother. He pulls Sasuke off of his partner’s back like a piece of lint. “Dang, Itachi. Is he always such a twitchy little fuckwit?”

Itachi brushes himself off and says nothing.

“You’re bound ta get off on something, Itachi’s little brother. Itachi himself, he was in a few of those films way back with me, you know. Made a million yen off of those.”

“Kisame,” Itachi folds his arms across his chest. “Don’t corrupt him. My little brother is barely sixteen.”

Shark boy shrugs. “So? You started when you were thirteen.”

“Buy yourself a lily,” Itachi tells Sasuke, “I’m going to go away, now. Don’t try to find me.”

“I’ve somethin’ for you too, kid,” Kisame grins. He reaches into the backpack slung over his back and he hears the sound of paper ripping, “How’d you like to see some of our best films?”

Sasuke looks away. “Do whatever you want.”

On their way out the front door, Kisame stacks a pile of sex tapes and old gravure idol magazines by the doorjamb while Uchiha Itachi pretends not to notice, bikini specials and summer clothing lines and Hard Gay for kicks. Later, Sasuke discovers an envelope buried under Kisame’s porn magazines. Counts the contents up in his head and arrives at three million yen in paper bills, wrapped together into a neat stack by a single coiled wire. Itachi hadn’t even bothered to leave a note.


>>

“Sex.”

“Sex?”

He sighs, “Third base? Like, when people hook-up and kiss each other a lot. They don’t just lie down in a flower field and stare at each other the whole time, you k—”

“I know what sex is!” Naruto retorts. “I’m not stupid.”

“Then do it.”

“Why?”

“Just do it. You’re not allowed to ask any questions.”

“Okay,” Naruto finally says, “I’ll do it.”

“You’re my slave,” Sasuke snaps, because it’s the excuse to end all excuses and it’s been like this for the past eight years, painkillers and killjoys and messy handshakes aside. “You don’t have a choice.”

“…I think I need the practice anyway, for Sakura-chan.”

“Shut up and take off your pants,” Sasuke says, “You don’t have a choice.”

You don’t have a choice.


>>

“It’s the Telltale Heart,” Shikamaru says. His voice travels from all the way across the lawn. “That’s why the domestic animals won’t go near it. You’re probably stepping over somebody’s bloody entrails. Ode to Jim Stark, The Old Man’s Hour Had Come, et cetera et cetera.”

“That’s bullshit,” Sasuke says, waves off the cigarette smoke that curls up into his nostrils. It’s all bullshit. “Didn’t know you took such unhealthy interest in urban legend.”

“Heh,” Shikamaru says, and Sasuke frowns.

The silence stretches between them. Through another horizon between the grounds and the pavement, over the street and into the laundromat owner’s daughter before the wind starts blowing the laundry back into their place and Sasuke looks back down at the tulip seeds in his palm. Tulips are annual blooms. They come in once a year, and the first time they flower is the last time they flower.

“Not an urban legend,” Shikamaru says to the clouds, “Madmen know nothing.” And he blows one last smoke ring into the sky.


>>

(They’re in his house. They’re in his house, in his room, on his bed and Naruto has his fingers wrapped against Sasuke’s dick, and neither of them cares because the world doesn’t care; Naruto doesn’t care because he’s never cared. If this was what made it pleasurable, then Sasuke’s had worse. He shrugs it off, thinks about the open window and cosmic theory and flying and anything but this anything but this anything but this, then Naruto’s fingers travel the distance between the two of them and wrap around Sasuke’s cock again, strokes long and hard and hostile and fumbling, grazes against the soft skin on underside of his balls. He hisses, fists a hand into Naruto’s hair and feels a bead of sweat roll down his brow. Fingers brush against the tip of his shaft and he bites back the moans under his tongue, clamps his lips together and thinks about girls and tits and rubbing against girls and their tits. Thinks about anything except what he wants. So that he can only watch. So that he can only watch the slow flush that sweeps across Naruto’s skin, the nauseous slip of air that floats like a cloud between his thighs, slow and methodic, and now he’s stroking and pushing a finger into himself, his fingers work against the knots within his own body and he wonders what they’d feel like, marring Naruto’s skin, under his skin, into his eyes.

He realises how much of a big trap he’d pulled himself into. This was not what he wanted. This was not what he had dreamed of seeing. He didn’t need Naruto to tell him how he felt. He didn’t need this, never.

“I want to,” Naruto breaks the silence with a whisper. His breath trembles and he digs fingers deep into the mattress, swallows another shallow breath, “I want to kiss you.”

This was a joke.

“Why do you want to kiss me?”

It was all a joke.

“I-I don’t know why.”

His lips tighten.

“Then don’t.”

Stupid fucking joke.)


>>

They don’t talk much about it afterward.


viii.

On the last day of school, Naruto gives away the second button his school uniform to Hyuuga Hinata amongst cheers and whoops that carry down the corridors of the high school, big bad slaps on the back from Inuzuka Kiba and spontaneous cartwheels from Rock Lee. Kurenai-sensei gives Sasuke a warm hug and a sympathetic smile, tells him he’ll kick all of his Todai professors in the ass. Asuma-sensei rubs the back of his head with a small smile and a curt nod, hands over Sasuke’s term papers; hundred percents and untarnished grade point averages. Guy-sensei congratulates Sasuke on finishing as a finalist in the National Math Competition with a messily-laid speech about crushing the morals of That Last Fierce Samurai in the final match. Kakashi-sensei gives him a wink and a smart pat on the butt.

“It’s the last day of school,” Naruto smiles at Sasuke, “So my term’s up, isn’t it? Serving as your slave and whatever. Wanna hang out with us? Ino’s been bugging Shikamaru since Winter Break about going to that new karaoke bar in Roppongi. And there’s like, this new p—”

“I’m going home to pack.”

“What? What? Where are you going?”

“Does it matter?”

Naruto pauses, stares at Sasuke cautiously. “Well, no. Not really. I guess not.”

“Then don’t ask.”

He doesn’t meet Naruto’s eyes, leaves him there instead, scatters the rest of his memories along the tiled floor of the school hallway. He’s moving out tomorrow and boarding the flight at three in the morning. He’s moving out tomorrow and he’s never looking back.

(You don’t even care, he can only think, you don’t even care you don’t even care you don’t even care)


>>

Forty-five minutes into the bachelor’s party, Sasuke feels the headache coming on, the nasty bit of vomit that he had been holding back, a chunk of fruit dislodging from the back of his throat like a sardine from a can. He doesn’t need this, fuck, he really doesn’t need this. Naruto’s being carried across the shoulders of several tall and rather impressive brunettes, riding on the aftermath of three vigorous beer pong death matches. Someone’s purple silk sock is hanging from one his ears (maybe it’s his own sock, Sasuke isn’t very sure) and he’s giggling. Giggling like he wants to keep giggling forever. It’s sickening.

He waits for the best opportunity to catch Naruto off guard, and it isn’t too hard when a dancer named Shisui coaxes Kiba into a stripping contest. The mood of the party turns and frays at the edges, and without another look back, Sasuke drags Naruto aside and into the bathroom. Slams a stall door against the wall and kicks the water basin until the taps are wobbling from the lip of the mirror. The lights blink and tilt until they flicker off, and now both of them are washed in a bluish black, bluish black like the scar on Naruto’s belly. Sasuke pulls at the lock on the door. Stupid drunken ass.

“W-What’s wrong, Sa-Sasuke?” Naruto slurs, slumps over against his shoulders until he’s whispering whisky into Sasuke’s ear, “W-Wanna fighter me? H-Hah? You wan’ fight? You wan’ fuck with me? C’mon, I dare you to fuck me.”

“Fuck you,” Sasuke narrows his eyes, and before he knows what he’s doing, his hands are curled into the Naruto’s jacket and he’s tired, he’s so fucking tired.


>>

So Naruto asks her, “Will you marry me?”

“Will I?” Sakura says, “I wonder. Am I standing in for anybody else? Do you really love me?”

“I…Yes.”

Sakura brushes her knuckles against the ring, attempts to look past her own misgivings about Naruto while simultaneously entertaining the thought of a wedding dress on her shoulders, pale pink sash around her waist. He’s changed since school. She’s learned new things about him. Some of it’s made her dislike herself for hating him for so long, most of it just made her love him once or twice, like the way he doesn’t hesitate to bring about his own death and how he would have been willing to give his life for her in the middle of the street.

(Am I the stand-in? Do you really love me?)

Yes, he’s answered, and she realises that he’s letting her decide. He’s too reckless, that’s all it is.

So here’s the truth: what makes them both sure that this is the right decision, is that she doesn’t ask which question he’s responding to, and he doesn’t bother to clarify. She’d rather pretend that she knew him well enough to realise that this wasn’t going to go anywhere, that she had better things to read in the newspaper and far-reaching ideas to run by her friends. What she doesn’t know can’t hurt him. What he doesn’t say will never reach her ears. And it won’t even matter that he would have answered a different answer, every time.


ix.

“What is this?”

“It’s shampoo.”

“Why the fuck are you giving me a bottle of shampoo, Naruto?”

“There’re lilies on it. See it? You like lilies. You’ve always liked them.”


>>

So here’s the truth: the moment Sasuke’s mouth presses against Naruto’s, the standstill regains its balance. Your transactions are complete and the world spins and spins again, petals twirl in the lazy summer sun, blades of grass congregate in the shade and the laundry on the clothesline remembers to dance in the wind. The movie theater had not been a very encouraging place to sit around in, neither had the secret garden he had constructed. The party outside the bathroom was still in its twilight-zone, and for next five minutes, Inuzuka Kiba takes over as Sakura’s groom and in the end, people leave the party several inches thick into their inebriation. No one suspects anything.

They break apart gasping for breath, puffs of vodka and whisky and cheap sake in hazy heat and a poor imitation of reality. Naruto’s lips are impossibly red, even in the dark, and Sasuke grapples for the lapels of his jacket, throws himself against the wall and against Naruto recklessly, reaches for the buckle of Naruto’s belt. It’s already undone.


>>

Just as he’s about to kneel down next to the dirt and dig a three-by-five centimetre hole into the ground, a police car pulls up against the side of the road and Yamanaka Ino jumps out from the passenger seat. She flashes him a badge and a curt voice that he’s never heard from her in his entire life.

“Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Shibuya District, Homicide Squad. We received a telephone tip this morning. Shove off and get in the car if you have nothing better to do, Sasuke. There’s the dead body of an 85-year-old woman buried beneath your ass.”

Beside her, Shikamaru lets out a sharp breath. “See what I mean, Ino? There are a million things wrong with the Uchiha, and this is just one of them.”


>>

“W-We’re stopping this.”

“No we’re not.”

“Such a bastard, aren’t you?”

“I hate you too. Now shut the hell up.”

This time, Naruto throws the first punch, but Sasuke doesn’t fight back.

“Fuck you. I’m over this.”

(And when Naruto’s long gone, Sasuke finds himself whispering the words. I found a perfect place. A place for us to live. There’s a public shower station and a shampoo stall next to the parlor next to the pool and a boom box and deck chairs and a quiet little back-lot where you can grow flowers and smell cat fur and pretend it’s raining when it’s not and see the stars and listening to crickets chirp and kiss your boyfriend and bury your heart. It’s a nice place, Naruto, it really is. It’s a really nice place.)


>>

“Did Europe treat you well?” Sakura asks him. She sits opposite him with her ankles crossed under the coffee table, one hand cupping her chin and the other stirring sugar cubes into her drink.

He swallows dry. Suddenly wants to reach out for her hand and feel the distance for himself. She was the missing link, he realises now. She’d been here, all along. She’d been swinging from the tangent line a hairbreadth’s away from the lip of their connection, the one with hot glue for a heart and enough of an open mind to hold them all together until the very end. He wants to reach out and brush her hair out of her face and take her hands into his and tell her. Wants to take her out to dinner some time and ask about everyone. Wants to tell her that he still cares. We’re not too far apart, Naruto, we really aren’t.

“Yeah,” he says instead. “Yeah, it did.”


x.

So here’s the truth: Uchiha Sasuke loves Uzumaki Naruto as much as Uzumaki Naruto loves Uchiha Sasuke, but neither of them will have or would have admitted to it, much like the politicians in the street will accidentally forget to nod to their political opponents, yakuza gang members forget to acknowledge the no-regret-life sidewalk performers, flower ladies and the human trafficker near the corner of the intersection.

The most important thing that he realises, when he had moved into the apartment with the empty plot of soil in the back-lot, was that, when the time had come for the lilies to bloom, it had passed them by.


>>

So Naruto asks her, “You okay?”

Sakura pats the pillow by her head, lies down flat on her back and stares at the holes on the ceiling plaster. To the sky and the stars above her head. “Never been better.”

On his wedding night, he slips out from her bed and onto the roof, feels the dry wind slip like a midsummer’s fever across his cheeks, the last trickle of a green stem unwind from his grasp.

On her wedding night, she sleeps with a folded lily petal by her side.

In his apartment next to the empty back-lot, Uchiha Sasuke has a dream about sitting on a park bench. He is waiting for the garden to bloom.




When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.






quote the first was from a poem by Andrew Marvell. quote the second is a Chinese proverb.


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