Team Hebi had long since disbanded, each going their separate ways. Suigetsu was the head of the black market and weapons trade in Kirigakure, it had been told to him that Juugo was dead, and he knew nothing of what became of Karin. She had attempted to stay with him a bit longer then the others, but he dismissed her, telling her he desired none of her presence, which she took in the worst way.
Things were quiet now, peaceful, the way he liked it. He was a loner, staying on the outskirts of a small village on an island to the immediate south of Water Country. It had only been a few years, and Sasuke found himself lounging on a low branch next to a rather small creek, twenty one years of age. He had grown quite taller, almost six foot five now, his hair was a little longer then it had been when he was the leader of Hebi, but he had maintained it, not wanting it to grow out in fear he might look in the mirror one morning and see Itachi. Not that he could still hate him after hearing the truth from Madara, but he found it would still frighten him.
The fight had been such a long time ago, and yet it played over in his mind daily. Never before had he regretted such a thing so much. At the time, Itachi’s death was a triumph that he had strived for since he was a boy. The glorious taste of victory was ripe in his mouth, and his lips set in a relieved smile as the rain fell upon him….And then he learned of Itachi’s truth.
His family’s annihilation had not been his brother’s selfish choice, but the village leaders’ fearful strike at a sovereign, and influential clan that threatened a coup de ‘etat and the sparks of a potential war. He understood this, but still the anger flared in his chest and he couldn’t help but hate Danzo and the elders for the task they had thrust upon his brother. Itachi, who was a peace, family, village loving man who did not deserve not one part of the life he led, but it was his love of peace that made him complete the mission he was given. He had not wanted war, or any kind of conflict that would put the village, the village that loved so much, in danger and so he was willing to do whatever he was capable to prevent that.
Itachi was a doomed soul, one who had never been given a real chance at living a normal life, being thrown un-wantingly into the political affairs of an perturbed, corrupt village, becoming nothing more then their spy, their pawn. However, he had not completed his mission to the latter. He made one mistake, left one end untied.
Sasuke. Out of all of their other family members, even their parents, it was Sasuke that he could not bring himself to kill. Because his life meant more to Itachi then even his precious village that he would kill anyone for, anyone but his little brother.
This crushing knowledge had humbled Sasuke, making him see the errors of his ways, but by the time he had learned the truth, it had been too late to save his brother from his own hand. Having Itachi’s blood on his hands was definitely not something Sasuke was proud of.
Sasuke sighed and opened his eyes, lowering himself from the branch and walked over to kneel by the creek, brushing his fingers over the cool water, gazing at his reflection. Pale skin, deep black eyes and black hair shining blue stared back him, yet he did recognize himself. His identity was something he had lost long ago. He was still Uchiha Sasuke, but only in name. Who was Uchiha Sasuke? Who was the man behind the mask? What kind of person lay in those dark depths he had yet to climb out of? An answer was something he had never been able to find, not even within himself. Only raw emotions lied there, loneliness, emptiness and numbness.
He nothing and no one. The other members of Team Hebi had moved on with their lives, leaving the past where it lay, but that was something Sasuke found very difficult to do. All he did was live in the past, go over and scrutinize every slip-up he made, thought of things he could’ve done better, cursed himself for every stupid mistake he could’ve avoided. Despite denying it to himself for many years, he stopped second guessing himself. He was going through massive bout of self-pity.
But why shouldn’t he? He, who like Itachi, had never been given the chance to live a content, normal life. He hadn’t gotten to grow up and laugh with his teammates, become a Shinobi that his parents could be proud of, get married and be able to look into the audience and see his mother and father’s smiling faces, and then hear them congratulate him and his wife numerous times while his mother grinned brilliantly at him, her eyes misty and his father nodding his silent approval and giving his blessing to the two of them. He had never been given the chance to hear his children run about in the garden or the house laughing playfully, or tug at his robes asking him to play some new game with them, or teach them a certain jutsu.
No, he had gotten none of it and for that he pitied himself. As Sasuke gazed down at the man he did recognize, a distant question floated into his mind.
What would you have done?
Madara’s question rang in his head from those old memories and he asked himself again, what would he have done if he had been in Itachi’s position? Would he have done it? Still, even after all this time, he had no answer. He could honestly say that he did not know what he would do if he had been the elder brother and Itachi had been the younger. Would he have done things exactly as Itachi did them? No? He was different from Itachi, but only because his family’s death had made him as he was. He had no way of knowing who he would’ve become if things had not happened the way they did and Sasuke tried not to think about it.
Abruptly, a flash of silver passed his eye, traveling through the current of the creek and he stood to follow it, suddenly interested in finding out what it was. He walked along the bank of the creek for a time, his eyes following the small glint of silver that flowed with the water. Just as it caught on a rock that jutted out of the creek and Sasuke moved to catch it, a stick flowed by, taking the silver with it into someplace that Sasuke could not see because of brush and trees.
Annoyed, he maneuvered his way through and broke from them, finding himself on the bank of a beautiful lake lined by glittering fall that circled the lake in a half-arch. The soft roar of the small waterfalls and the bubbling of the creek flowing into the lake soothed Sasuke, calming his pondering mind.
As Sasuke admired the beautiful scene, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and despite the calming, serene air the lake emitted, his hand flew directly to the katana that was strapped to his side out of habit, but upon seeing the source of movement, he lowered his hand and stepped back into the shadows of the trees.
It was a woman. She walked leisurely, and gracefully out of the woods to pause and kneel by the bank running her fingers through the water as Sasuke had only ten minutes before.
She wore a simple clean white gown that reached just below her knees. It wrapped around her chest, leaving her shoulders bare and hugged her body comfortably. No jewelry adorned her neck, fingers or wrists and no blemish marked her olive skin. Her hair was the color of midnight, resting well past her shoulders in thick, voluptuous waves. She wore no shoes on her dainty feet, but as Sasuke noticed this he also saw a thin silver chain circling her ankle.
There was something warmly fascinating about her. She moved with a lithe grace, and had a pure, natural air about her that drew him to her.
Before he even knew he was walking, he found himself only a couple of feet from her, but she didn’t show any sign of acknowledging his presence and so he stopped where he was. He longed to say something to her, but the words would not come.
“You live in the village?” She suddenly asked breaking the peaceful silence. Her voice was rich and bell-like. One of the most beautiful sounds that had ever graced his ears, and he nodded before saying “Yes.” In a low tone.
She nodded lightly, but kept her eyes on the water, a small smile on her full lips.
“I see. But you are not from around here.”
He blinked a couple times, asking himself how she could know that. He had never seen her around the village before, and surely he would’ve noticed her. She had a glow to her that he doubted he would’ve passed up.
“N-no. I’m not.” He told her in the same light tone, and she nodded again.
“I figured as much. I’ve never heard a voice quite like yours in all my days in our tiny village.” She said, slowly cocking her head to the side.
“What do you mean?” He asked. He was genuinely confused. She had never heard a voice quite like his before? What did that mean?
“You have a different voice from all the other villagers. It’s shielded, guarded and strained. It shows me that you are lonely, that you hide your life away so that no one can see. It tells me that you have perhaps done some things that you are not proud of. We all have things that we wish we could change, but you Stranger, have more then the rest.”
She got all of that from only his voice? But before he had time to process what she had said, she straightened to her full height, which was a good head shorter than his own and turned to look at him.
He was awestruck by her beauty. Her skin glowed with health and color, her lips were the color of rose buds and the lines of her face were smooth and soft with perfection. Only one thing marred her beauty, and all confusion he had before vanished.
Her eyes weren’t a deep brown, or pale blue as he expected. They were glassed over, misty, and clouded with fog.
She was blind.
Now what she had told him about his voice had made sense. She didn’t see his blank, expressionless face, or tired eyes. She could only hear his voice, and he had never knew it showed that much about him. But of course here was a girl who had probably been blind her whole life, and grew to become a master at analyzing the voices and sounds that surrounded her. Whereas a normal person would not recognize it when they heard someone speak.
She did not look him straight in the face, but instead slightly to the right. Her eyes were cloudy, but they held a great amount of life and color in the metaphorical sense. She did not seem to be bothered by her impairment in the slightest and she regarded him with a soft expression.
“You are in pain aren’t you?” She asked him softly, still looking slightly off to the right. “Your voice holds many emotions that many here do not have. But I can also see that you have a very strong, warm heart despite the steel that encases it. The underlining of it in your voice is faint, but it is there.”
She didn’t gaze at him in pity or confusion, but deep understanding and compassion and a strange feeling swept through his stomach. Her situation may not have been on same level as his own, but they both had something that set them apart from the rest, something that they could never repair.
After a few seconds, her eyes lowered and she said: “I don’t know who you are, or what you’re going through Stranger, but I can see and understand the pain that you hide in your voice and the only advice I can give that may help is that time will not heal all wounds as you might want it to,”
After pausing for a second, she clasped her hands behind her back and turned to look un-seeing at the distant sun-set, the glow of the sun setting off beautiful brown and black highlights in her hair.
“But you must learn to make the best of what you still have. I cannot tell you that what you might be dealing with is easy to live with, but I can tell you that moving on is possible, no matter how deep the wound.”
He looked at her with a curious, soft expression, taking a deep breath and letting his guard fall. That was something he hadn’t done in years and it surprised him how easy it was. “How do you know all of this?” He asked her in an equally curious and soft tone at which she smiled at. Even her smallest smile lit up the oncoming darkness and ignited a warmth in his chest that he hadn’t felt since he was a small child in the arms of his mother.
“I can hear it. Most say the eyes are the gateways to the soul, but for me, the voice is the door to the soul. People don’t tend to mask their voices to the degree that they mask their face or their eyes which can easily deceive, but the voice is much harder to control.….I’m not describing it very well at all am I?” She finished and I nodded reflexively before remembering that she could not see it.
“No, you described it very well. I know what you mean.” He replied, turning to look at the last rays of the sun as she was.
Just before they disappeared behind the trees, she turned to him once more.
“Well Stranger, it was a pleasure to meet you, but I should get back home.”
The warmth in his chest dimmed, and he didn’t want her to go, but if he voiced this, it might scare her. They had, in face only just met….but already he felt a kind of connection with her. He was drawn to her like a fly might be drawn to a lamp and he didn’t want the feeling of warm calm that he gave her to go away.
“Oh, yes of course, but it’s gotten fairly dark, will you be okay walking alone?” He asked, and instantly regretted it.
He expected to become cross at him for making a slip-up about her sight, but she only gazed at him in amusement and then laughed.
“It’s always dark. Day or night makes no difference to me. I’ve traveled the path so much that finding my way will be no problem, but you are welcome to join me if it’s my safety you worry about.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her casual dismissal of his mistake, and said in reply: “Yes, it’s probably going to bother me if I don’t see you home safely. It’s only polite.”
She smiled at him again with that soft warm expression, but something else shown in her eyes, and he knew that she probably heard something in what he said, but didn’t wish to bring it up.
And with that she walked slowly and surely to the path that broke through the trees, her hands still behind her back.
“You’ve lived here your entire life?” He asked her quietly after a few moments of silence.
“Yes,” she replied. “I’ve never been away. My parents never thought it safe to show me other places, they said it would be too hard since I didn’t know the terrain…but I always told them I could use one of those sticks to feel my way around.” She said the last part with sarcasm and he laughed lightly with her.
He frowned at the next question that popped into his head, but decided to ask it anyway, hoping she wouldn’t take offense to it.
“And you’ve been….ah….blind all of your life as well?” He asked and she stopped, turning her head so that her face looked at him, but her eyes looked at the ground.
“You don’t have to be afraid to ask questions like that. They’re only questions after all. I don’t mind”
He nodded, and said “Alright.” Not knowing what else he should say and she went on as they continued to walk through the forested path.
“No, I haven’t been blind all my life.” She told him, and then looked down, sadness in her expression, and he instantly felt bad for asking her despite what she told him. “My eyes used to be green. I was about seven when I woke up one morning and found that I couldn’t see.”
“You’re vision just disappeared just like that?” He asked, sorrow filling in the pit of his stomach. She nodded in response.
“We never found out what caused it. My parents took me to every doctor and medic they knew, even Tsunade of the Legendary Three, but none could find a cause. It was just gone, no reason, no explanation, just…a random occurrence.”
“Do you miss it?” He asked her, hearing the sympathy in his voice and she sighed before nodding.
“I miss a great deal. I miss being able to see all the colors of the world, the faces of my friends and family….but the thing I miss the most, is reading. I used to love to read and now I have to be read to.” She told him and then sighed again and looking up at the sky riddled with twinkling stars.
“I miss looking up at the sky at night and seeing the stars and constellations. The only way I can tell if its day or night is I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, but cannot see its light….oh but I’ve gotten used to it. It’s normal now, but yes, I do miss it.”
He felt a great empathy for her. He also knew what it felt like to lose something you loved very much, but she had moved on, accepted and the made the best of her misfortune in a way he never could before. However now, after meeting her, he suddenly found that moving on didn’t sound so hard.
After a few more seconds of quiet walking, another question dawned upon him and he was surprised at himself for not asking it before.
“What’s your name?”
She smiled again, “Urema, Amaya. And you Stranger?”
She had a beautiful name, and he grinned widely. The first real smile in how long?
At this, she stopped again, this time her head lifted and eyes wide. “You’re Uchiha Sasuke?” She asked in a hushed tone.
“Yes,” He replied, fear threatening to grip his stomach. What must she think of him for her to asked him in that tone? Just what had she heard?
“You have been through much, from what I have heard of you.” She said and spun around round, her eyes scanning his face that she couldn’t see, her expression troubled and her hands clasped to her chest.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He told her, putting a hand on her arm. He hadn’t meant to touch her, but she didn’t flinch, or move to push his hand away.
“The villagers speak badly of you…but….but they’re wrong. I don’t see any of the evil or darkness they tell of. Just a…troubled, lonely person looking for his place in the world.”
He could’ve hugged her. She had probably heard terrible things about him and the things he had done, yet she didn’t use the villager’s judgments to influence her own. She made her own observations of him and decided on her own who she thought he was, and she was dead on.
“Yeah,” he said, dropping his hand from her arm, and he saw her flinch only in the slightest, but from what he didn’t know. “You’re right. I lost my path a long time ago and I’ve been wandering for a while, trying to find a place where I can make a life, but….until now….I had a very hard time finding it.”
She gave him a small smile and said: “Well, Uchiha Sasuke, you have a place here, if you’d like to stay.”
He nodded again, felt his skin tingle when she reached up a lightly put her fingers to his face.
“Forgive me, it’s a habit.” She said when he tensed and she pulled her hand away quickly, her cheeks flushing light pink and her eyes downcast.
“It’s fine.” He said, and decided to be bold and grab her hand, placing it lightly on his face once more, keeping his own warm, callused hand on her soft, cool one.
Instead of pulling away, she smiled. “You are very different from the way people describe you Sasuke. Even someone as blind as myself can see that.”
He lowered his head, and her hand fell from his face, but he moved catch it before it fell to her side.
“Things change as time goes on. Even a chance meeting in a forest by a lake can change things drastically. At least for me.”
Ayame closed her eyes for a few seconds and then opened them again, giving his hand a squeeze. “I’d have to agree with you. There’s a light in you, a light I didn’t think I’d ever find.”
As they walked silently down the path that led to the village hand in hand, Madara’s question drifted into his head once more.
What would you have done?
Could he have killed his family? The answer was no. There was no way he’d ever be able to kill the people he cared for. He wasn’t Itachi, not even the well-being of a village meant more to him then those he cared for, Ayame had made him see that and as he looked down at her he couldn’t help but smile.
He hadn’t been given a chance at a normal, happy life, but instead it had found him.