"It's about my brother."
My brows shot up in surprise, Sasuke never spoke of him, even after he killed him. I didn't push, he never brought it up, and that was fine with me.
"Itachi," I spoke the deceased brothers name in something close to a whisper, as if it were a bad word. "What about him?"
There was strain in Sasuke's face, and for a moment I thought he was going to forego telling me all together. The look on his face was pained, guilt ridden, the same look he had on his face months ago when he had first come here.
"He...wasn't who I thought he was." I was lost. The statement itself was pretty obvious. From what I gathered of the Uchiha prodigy, no one truly knew what kind of person he was. He massacred his whole clan without a second thought and left his younger brother alive for the sole purpose of what, exactly? To torture him for the rest of life? Well if that was his intent, he certainly accomplished it. The mere thought of Itachi pissed me of. A part of me wished he was still alive, so I could kill him again.
The Uchiha, seeming to sense either my sheer confusion or my angry inner dialogue, decided to elaborate on his previous statement.
"My brother is a martyr, not a murderer," Sasuke spoke this heavily, as if this was something he struggled with for quite sometime. I, on the other hand, was on the verge of exploding. What had happened in the past three years for Sasuke to have such a change of heart? "At least not the sadistic murderer he's been branded as."
"What are you saying, that he didn't exterminate the whole Uchiha clan?" Sasuke flinched, as if my words had physically hit him. Not because he was offended, but because those events all those years ago still haunted him to this day.
"He did." A look of anger flashed across Sasuke's face, "But he was acting under orders."
"Orders? From whom?"
Sasuke's fist was clenched so hard that I was sure he was about to draw blood. "The village elders."
Nothing could have prepared me for that answer. Suddenly everything I thought I knew about anything flew out the window. "What? But why? I don't understand. Why would the village elders want to exterminate one of their own? It just doesn't make any sense."
The look on Sasuke's face was dark and distant. If I didn't know that his anger wasn't focused on me, I would've been worried.
"The Uchiha's were staging a coup, and Itachi was tasked to deal with it himself."
I said 'what' one more time, maybe even more than once - I don't know. I was so confused by his words. All of this was such a revelation, completely twisting the narrative that I had grown up knowing over the years. Uchiha Itachi was an evil sadist who killed his clan for shits and giggles, and left his brother alive to torment him, period. End of story.
This was...negating history.
"Who did you hear this from? Did Itachi tell you this to before you killed him? How do you even know it's true? It sounds totally crazy - I mean you have to realize that right? It's insane." I felt like I was babbling, too many questions, and not enough answers.
"I know. But it's the truth." He looked like he had struggled with this 'truth' for a long time. There was a look on his face that told me the insanity of his words wasn't lost on him. I believed him. I believed that he believed that it sounded crazy too. It didn't make any sense. This was a fact that he had lived with for most of his existence and to have that reality twisted into...this, well, it must be life altering.
There was one thing that I felt was certain in his life: his hate for his brother and his goals as an Avenger. To have those certain things taken away from you, well, what do you do after that? What replaces that?
"Well, who told you?"
"A man. His name is Tobi. He's a member of the Akatsuki." He answered, but I still felt like there was something here that I was missing.
The Akatsuki? "You mean that criminal organization that Orochimaru used to be apart of?" Sasuke nodded yes. "What makes you think that he was telling you the truth? They're criminals. There had to be an end game there." We were criminals too actually, I briefly thought about how I shouldn't be so judgemental.
"I'm certain his end game was recruiting me for his cause." Sasuke had a thoughtful look on his face. "Besides, I couldn't ignore the evidence. The things he told me, they couldn't just be coincidences."
"His cause?" Why would some stranger tell Sasuke the truth about his brother without nothing to gain? He wouldn't. People don't do things for no reason, there is always a purpose. But what was the purpose here? It didn't make any sense to me whatsoever until I realized that the only reason why this stranger would share this information would be to...incite action. He also must've held a pretty large vendetta against the Leaf. "He wanted you to take revenge, he wanted an ally. That's why he told you."
Sasuke nodded, a ghost of a smile pulling on his lips. He was impressed that I had put it together so quickly. "Precisely."
"Why didn't you?" This was an answer I desperately wanted to know. One of Sasuke's great vices was that he had a very vengeful personality. This was obvious, and probably a gross understatement on my part. If this Tobi's plan was to tell Sasuke the truth and hope that he would reap vengeance upon the Leaf for making his brother commit such a heinous crime, he was spot on. In fact, it was absolutely genius. Completely despicable, but genius. Sasuke was highly intelligent, but his ability to rationalize under the influence of his hate was piss poor. The conditions were more than perfect. Technically, this plan should have worked. So why didn't it?
"I don't know." He shrugged, "Other things mattered more to me." He glanced at me briefly before looking away, his vision focused on the window behind me. "That doesn't mean I wasn't furious - I was - I am. I was so consumed with my own anger I could barely function." That dark look returned to his face, brow furrowed, there was undeniable anguish, fury. "I just don't think, my brother...would want that."
Woah. Apparently people did change. I was so terribly astonished about his reasoning that I nearly screamed. Who would have thought that the great Uchiha Sasuke, notoriously known for his grudge keeping, would just...let it go? Well maybe I shouldn't put it that way, he still looked absolutely livid. Every time he seemed to think about that happened just now, it looked like he was in physical pain. But still, the fact that he chose not to relapse into his retributive justice mode, spoke so loud.
I slowly eased myself into his lap. I made sure the sheets continued to cover my torso, as I wrapped an arm around his shoulder and kissed his temple affectionately. "I'm proud of you. I guess age really does do wonders, huh?"
"Not for everyone." Oh, so he could still make jokes even after such dark subject matter, OK. "Get some rest, you have an early morning."
"Right." I nodded, my head still reeling from everything he had just told me. Never in a million years did I think that he was hiding something that big from me. I wasn't mad no, not even close. I was happy that he trusted me with such a revelation, with such personal details about him and his family. "You know, there are still so many things about this that you have neglected to explain."
"Another time." I gave him a skeptical look. "I promise."
Here I thought what I had to tell him would put a permanent strain between us, I never thought that we would be stronger.
I removed myself from his lap and my head happily hit the pillow. Sasuke resumed his position behind me sandwiching me under his right arm, his grip even tighter than before.
When I awoke, it was just before first light. I hadn't had the chance to pack anything last night, and I needed to make quick work of it before I left that morning. I let out a large yawn and stretched, wincing at the pain of my muscles. Sasuke wasn't what you would call...gentle.
As if on cue, the Uchiha walked in carrying a tray that suspiciously looked like food. He set said tray on the bedside table before taking a seat on the bed.
I looked at the tray of food hungrily, my stomach growling as I smelled the delicious contents. But not before looking at him questioningly, "did you actually make me breakfast?"
What does he mean, sort of?
I took another look at the food on the tray and noticed that it was food from the tea shop's kitchen. Midori's kitchen. My eye twitched when I realized what Sasuke had done.
"Midori is going to kill you."
He smirked, "What she doesn't know won't hurt her," he lifted the tray again and set it on my lap, "Now eat."
"Alright, alright." I began breathlessly stuffing my face, not realizing how hungry I had been until the food had been right in front of me. I was grateful that he had brought me something to eat although his methods may not have been the most...honest. Especially considering Midori's unwarranted hospitality. Then again, Sasuke's never quite been the moral centre between the two of us.
Sasuke tossed me my dressing robe when I asked for it, suddenly feeling uncomfortable being in the nude while he sat there fully clothed. Besides, I had to start packing because I was expected to meet my squad in a little under an hour.
I rose from my seat on the bed and rummaged through the closet for my old backpack. A puzzled look crossing my face when I realized it wasn't where I had left it. "Hey Sasuke, have you seen my old backpack? I could've sworn I left it right here…"
"Don't waste your time."
My head popped out of the cramped closet, "Huh?"
"I already took the liberty of packing your things."
I blinked, "You...did?" Sure enough, my old dusty backpack was sitting beside the apartment door, ready to go. "Wow, I should leave all the time if you become this useful...it's a miracle." I uttered in mock awe.
The Uchiha smirked, "No, I just wanted to save myself from having to watch you run around like a chicken with no head."
I inspected the pack that he had prepared for me, ensuring that everything I needed was in fact in there. Knowing Sasuke though, it was everything I was going to need and more. And I was right. Rations, first-aid, clothes, maps, a sleeping bag, weapons, water, food pills, everything I could possibly need. Hell, even that sash I wore around my head was in there. It was damned impressive.
However, it was funny seeing all the effort he put into filling my backpack when he only ever packed the bare minimum for himself. Clearly he wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed; and that if I ever encountered a problem out in the field, it definitely wouldn't be because we had a shortage of supplies. I suspected that was his way of contributing to the mission, even though he couldn't come.
"Well then, in that case thank you for sparing me a stress-free morning without my head."
I took the duffle containing a standard Sand-nin uniform that Gaara had given me before I left his office yesterday, and put it on. The dark long sleeve shirt and the khaki flak jacket fit me surprisingly well, and pants felt about the same. I flexed my arms and tested my mobility in the uniform, not being used to wearing such a thing. Even when I was an unofficial Sound shinobi, I never donned a uniform.
I peered into the bottom of the duffle and caught sight of one last item. I pulled out the light piece of fabric and examined it. It was a white linen mask, somewhat resembling a surgical mask - except much more structured and form fitting to a face for long wear.
Of course, Gaara wants me to cover my face. The Iwagakure shinobi would recognize me in a heartbeat if they saw me, and of course it would be better if the squad I was working with didn't know they were collaborating with a known criminal. Fair enough.
I stood in the bathroom, staring at my unsure reflection in the mirror. It was amazing what a few articles of clothing could do. I went from a wanted criminal to respectable Sand shinobi in just a few short moments. And for a fraction of a second when I saw my reflection in that mirror, I became unburdened. Unburdened by the events of my past that had shaped me into the person I was today. Free from my duty, free from the horrible things I'd done, and from the truth of my ugly nature.
But, it was only for a second, and what I wore was only a costume. Only good people got to escape their pasts that easily.
Sasuke had moved to stand behind me in the mirror, his figure nearly towering over my own. He too stood with a dubious look on his face, as if seeing me in the uniform suddenly made my leaving real. Although he had been preparing for my departure all morning, it seemed as if the irritation he felt last night came bubbling back.
"This is stupid, I can't believe I'm letting you do this." Sasuke furrowed his brow so intensely, it looked as if he was in physical pain.
"You're not letting me do anything, I'm a big girl remember? I make my own decisions." I straightened out my sleeves and adjusted the jacket's collar.
Sasuke inhaled deeply. "You're being selfish."
"Um, if we were to evaluate the person between us who is the most selfish, pretty sure it wouldn't be me."
"Stop making jokes, this is serious." His brow was furrowed and his mouth was in a grimace, "It may be easy for you to throw your life away, but what would I-" he struggled to finish his sentence. But it didn't take a genius to get the gist of the words he attempted to utter.
What he was trying to say was that he needed me. For all his brute strength, genius, arrogance and jaw-dropping talent, the great Uchiha Sasuke needed me. Me. Some Iwagakure reject who got kidnapped out of her own backyard only to end up getting her family killed because she didn't know her place. That girl. I didn't understand then, and I still didn't now.
I looked away from his reflection in the mirror and turned around to face him.
"Look, I'm sorry," I spoke taking hold of his arm, "but if it makes you feel better, I'm scared as hell."
He remained silent and purposely avoided my gaze.
"The moment I leave those gates I'm at the mercy of Gaara and his Sand shinobi. But I need you to remember that I'm not some useless waif Sasuke. I can fight my own battles, ok? So I am going to come back - if not for me then to make your life a living hell. Keep that in mind."
He finally looked at me at that, and I knew then that I had talked some sense into him. Somewhere in there he remembered all those times...
"Anything goes wrong and I take out all of Suna high command."
The faintest shadow of a smile played on his lips before he walked over to the window and positioned himself through the threshold.
"And where are you going?"
"The gates." I let out an exasperated sigh and before I could comment further, he interjected. "I'm going to watch you leave."
"Ugh - fine." There was nothing more I could do except roll my eyes at his stubbornness. He wasn't going to budge on this one, there was a finality in his voice this time and it wasn't going to matter what I said to him. He wanted to see me off (albeit obviously not in plain sight) for his own peace of mind. It annoyed me, yes, but I couldn't ignore the fact that it meant that he actually cared.
He told me that he was going ahead of me. Presumably to scope out the area before I arrived, and mostly to put an end to his paranoia. I lingered at the apartment for a while after he left, not knowing when it was the next time I'd see it. It was a small place, nothing impressive, but it was cozy - it was home.
I was going to come back to it.
A/N: Ok, so from here on out, we're going to be away from the Sand village for a bit. But I promise you, we'll see the plot unraveling even more while we're away. SO KEEP READING, and hopefully I'll be back with another chapter next week. Thanks for your feedback and theories, drop a review and lemme know what you think :)