Lucia and I had met each other right before Itachi killed my parents and the rest of my clan. She was a girl from Italy who happened to live right outside the Uchiha residential area. Her parents had died, and she had come to be with her only living relative, a snarling old man who she loved wholeheartedly.
We had met when she bumped into Itachi and I as we walked from the pier. She muttered incomprehensively as she brushed herself off. "Sorry. Is that how you say it?" The girl said in broken Japanese, just barely understandable. Her big hazel eyes and long black hair wasn't uncommon, but her dark skin tone immediately caught my attention. "Oh, are you the girl from Italy?" Brother asked, helping her stand.
"Um, can you speak slower? I don't know this language very well." Her voice was unusually rough and low compared to girls my age because of her origins.
Itachi repeated the question, even though it was obvious she was. "Oh, yes. My name is, uh, Orlando Lucia. Nice to meet you."
Her unusual behavior and difficulty with the transition from the rowdy Italian ways to the more proper Japanese made it extremely hard to forget her. We weren't friends immediately, but when we did see each other, I couldn't help but laugh at the girl who knew nothing about how to be normal. However, I got along with her much more easily than other people outside of the compound did. She didn't expect anything from me like everyone else, and I was the only one who seemed to think of her as a human being, not "the foreigner."
When Brother turned on our family and slaughtered the lot of them, she understood my loss more than anyone else did. Lucia was the only thing that kept me from just fading away. She kicked my butt out of bed and made me laugh with her peculiar phrases and speech.
The day I was supposed to go off to my first day of school after break, she woke me up. "Hey, sama-Sasuke, get up! Don't want to be late for school!" I received a swift kick to the side of the head and was slammed into a wall.
"Ouch, that hurt! And it isn't sama-Sasuke; it's Sasuke. Even if you used Sama, you add it to the back of the name. Jeeze, you've been here a month and you still don't get it."
She frowned and threw some clothes and toast at me. "Your language is so formal and confusing. You have, like, 15 different things that you add onto a name. Where I'm from, you use Senor, Senora, or Senorina if you use anything at all!" Then she started ranting on in Italian quietly.
Lucia's uncle, the old man, had signed her up for the Academy. I had tried to convince her that she had not the first idea about what she was about to do, but she just shook her head and smiled. "I don't know exactly what being a 'shinobi' is, but Uncle says it is the thing Mom and Dad did back at home. They taught me a few things too. I just can't think of a way to say it that you could understand."
Despite my warnings, she followed me into the classroom and took a seat beside me. When our sensei started asking questions, she answered them in a very confusing and roundabout way, but was completely right nonetheless. "You call it different things, but yeah! I know that stuff easy!" She grinned toothily as I gasped in shock.
And that was how it was. Lucia just integrated herself into my life. Years later, she continued to be the only person I let see me smile.
I am 14 now, and a genin ninja. Lucia really wanted to be in my group, but I was stuck with that annoying pink haired girl and the bumbling idiot of the class who always wears a bright orange jumpsuit. Lucia was the second best, so we couldn't be together since they needed even teams. She had to move between the groups of genin and chunin as a replacement.
"Guess what, Sasuke-kun! Come on, guessguessguess!" She yelled almost incoherently as we walked back towards home.
"What is it now?" I asked in turn, not really into it. I was still mad at Naruto for making us screw up the mission I had just came back from.
"Party pooper. It is almost time for the fair!" She sang, turning around me in circles. Then Lucia started humming a tune that she must have learned in Italy. She never sang out loud in front of anyone, including me. Rarely did Lucia even speak in Italian comprehensibly. I never asked why, and she never told. People had asked her to teach them songs in Italian or even just phrases, but she refused. I thought it was because remembering things from her old home brought back painful memories of her parents' deaths. Although, when she went on a rant, she would slip back into her native language. So I had picked up a good amount of curses. But that was all.
Oh yeah. The fair is coming up soon. Lucia is going to drag me to it, of course. And that means I have to dress up. Damn.
"When are we going shopping for clothes? I need to find a good excuse for that day." I asked. Every year, we had gone shopping together for clothes since we had to dress up fancy. And every year, it had sucked royally. For some reason, however, a small part of me looked forward to it. A very, very small part.
Lucia scowled and walked ahead of me. "This year, you have to go shopping by yourself. You never give me any feedback on what I try on, so I don't know if I look like crap or not. So I'm going with some girls this time. And you always try to ruin the surprise for the gifts." That same very, very small part of me felt somewhat neglected. It had become a tradition, no matter how grudgingly I took part in it.
"Fine. At least that means I won't have you badgering me to try on everything at every single store." Then we parted when we got to her house.
The presents were a tradition for the whole village. You gave presents to your loved ones on the day of the fair. Unfortunately, my family had been slaughtered just weeks beforehand. So I had been alone in the empty halls of my house. Lucia had come over and handed me a little cake. She still hardly knew any Japanese, so she just thrust it in my hands and left. I hadn't understood what it was for until I looked at the date on the calendar. Every year since, we had exchanged gifts.
Each year, she switched more and more gifts with people. This year, I guessed she had to get something for at least 15 besides her uncle's and mine. Nevertheless, I always got something special, something different than what she got the others. One year, she made me a wooden dummy by hand that had moving joints and stuff so that when I threw kunais and shurikens at it, it would move. Another year, it was a bunch of scrolls with fire jutsu that came from Italy. She never got me the stupid little things that I got her.
The next day, I headed off to the market square. There were hundreds of vendors who came especially for the fair that had set up extra tents in every available inch of the area. I went to my favorite store to buy clothes. Even though Lucia made me go to every store, we always ended up here. So I thought of simplifying the process and just started and ended here.
I bought a kimono with the Uchiha symbol on the back. The family who owned the shop had been selling to the Uchiha family for generations, so they still had the clan's symbol in stock. The outer layers were a plain blue that I usually wore, and the inner layers were red and white.
As I left the store, I thought, Lucia is still angry with me. I ought to get her a nice present for a change to calm her down. Besides, I do feel somewhat bad that she always gets me something awesome. The more I thought about it, the more my head began to hurt. I couldn't think of anything that she would like. Shurikens and kunais? No…she has enough of them. A huge map of all of the countries in detail? No…I got her that last year for her birthday. Maybe I'm coming at this the wrong way.
At the same time as I thought that, I passed a stall with necklaces, bracelets and perfume for girls. That's it! I've been getting her things that I would get a guy friend who is a ninja. I should get her something for a girl! Ugh, how could I be so stupid. Lucia is obviously a girl.
I blushed at the thought. Over the past couple of months, I had been noticing the looks guys had been sneaking at her. She was definitely pretty. No longer was she the clumsy foreign girl who seemed to trip over herself. Lucia was now a mysterious and strong woman among the pasty, weak girls her age. UGH! Don't think that, damn it! I mentally cajoled myself. I don't need her. I'm an avenger; a girl would just complicate things. And it isn't like I think of her like that.
The rest of the day was spent searching through stall after stall and shop after shop for a present she would like. After hours of searching, I finally found it. I bought it and had it wrapped right then and there in a small black box with a silver ribbon.
The next day was the day of the festival. I walked over to Lucia's house and knocked on the door a little while after lunch. "What do you want?" The old man asked when he slammed the door open.
"I wanted to see when Lucia wants to head out."
A voice rang out from down the hallway. "Come on in, Sasuke-kun." I did, pushing past her uncle who sneered at me, though didn't argue. He may dislike me and everyone else in the village, but he loved his niece who reminded him of his homeland. So he tolerated me for her sake.
"I'm in the shower!" She called through a door.
"I just wanted to know when we would be heading out today." I repeated.
"If it's okay with you, could I meet you at the stage before the first performance? I want to do a couple of things before we meet up." I shrugged and agreed. It wasn't like I could freak out about it. We were still meeting up, after all.
"You promise that you will be there before the first performance?" She yelled over the water.
"Yes, I promise. " She still didn't seem to be convinced.
"It is my favorite day of the whole year. I want more than just a plain old promise. Do the one we did when we were kids." Lucia opened the door a bit, just enough to get her pinky through. I wrapped my pinky around her wet one.
"I promise I'll be there before the first performance. Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." I chanted, feeling like a five year old.
"And no crosses count," we both said at the same time.
Then I left to get ready myself. Once I was done, the sun was getting ready to set so I rushed over to the stage. The sun was going down right behind it, and the last pink and orange rays lit up the sky. Damn it, I'm gonna be late. Thankfully, I got there just in time. I tried to find her in the dense crowd, but it was impossible to see. So I just made my way to the front, hoping that Lucia had the same idea.
An announcer got in front of the microphone and started saying in his overly enthusiastic voice, "Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you all are having a good time?"
There was polite clapping and cheers of 'Yeah.' He continued. "Our opening act is from someone who hasn't performed on our stage before. Her unforgettable melody is in a language that most will not understand, but the meaning of the song is obvious. Please welcome, Masquerade!"
A girl in an red, cream and orange kimono came onto the stage. Her dark brown hair was half up and half down, held in place with a clip. A matching half mask covered her eyes that shown with a mischievous light.
She bowed courteously and said into the microphone with a slight accent, "Tonight, I would like to dedicate this song to a dear friend of mine. He has gone through hard times in his life that he didn't deserve, and will surely never forget. But I hope that one day, he will find the happiness and peace that he ought to have." The girl looked at me knowingly, then faced forward.
A lone piano began to play softly in the background. Her voice rang a bell in my mind, but I forgot it the moment that she began to sing in a low, haunting tone. The words were fluid and slow, like the ebbing tide. Softly and smoothly, it was traveling through the air. It sounded both sad and beautiful at first, and Masquerade's movement showed it. Her eyes were mournful and she gripped her heart with one hand as she gestured with the other. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. The song called out to me with astounding strength. People around me had tears in their eyes. They held their loved ones close to them as the girl continued. But somehow, I knew it couldn't be so tragic. It couldn't just leave us with heartrending sadness.
Slowly, it began to change. A light of joy filled her eyes as the piano got higher in pitch. Ever so slightly, she joined with the change, and grew obviously happier. She opened her arms to the audience as if to wrap them in her elation. Unconsciously, I joined with them, smiling and happy because this girl was happy. Her voice climbed just a little higher, and she held a note for so long that I thought she would burst. And then it ended, followed with a moment of utter silence.
The crowd went wild! They clapped and screamed their praises at the girl on the stage. They threw flowers and kisses her way through the air, all the while applauding her. "That was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard!" I heard a couple say beside me. The girl didn't say another word, just bowed respectfully. Before she walked off the stage, she made a slight gesture with her head, indicating to me to follow. For some reason, I did, walking down a path towards the back.
I just barely caught a glimpse of red through a copse of trees. I followed almost at a run. But I wasn't able to catch that fleeting bit of cloth. At last, I saw her under a weeping willow beside a tiny trickling stream. The light of the moon shown down, casting shadows that looked like ghosts around her.
"Do you have anything to say?" Masquerade asked, and I realized I was staring. "Um…well… I've never heard anything like that. What language was it?"
A giggle rose into the night air. "Are you sure you don't recognize it? You should." I stood there, dumbfounded, and shook my head. "It is Italian, silly."
"Oh, like Lucia mutters all the time. I don't ever really listen when she rants, since I can't understand it. Oh, damn! I forgot I was supposed to meet her at the stage. She'll freak!" I turned to run back to the meeting place when another laugh burst through the air.
"You don't know who I am, do you?" she said, still trying to fight back her chuckle.
"No, I don't. But I got to go! I promised her I'd be there, and I don't want to ruin her favorite day." I started to take a step, but she grabbed my arm.
"Trust me, it will take forever for the crowd to dissipate. I'm sure she…" Another giggle, "Wouldn't mind if I stole you for just a minute." Masquerade let go of my arm.
"Fine. But just a minute. What do you want?" At that point, I just wanted to get out of there and find Lucia. She usually had a list of things she wanted to do, and I wanted to make sure we got through it.
"You really like this girl, don't you?" She asked, looking me straight in the eyes.
"She is my best friend. Of course… If this is all you want me here for, I'm…" I began, but she cut me off.
"Okay! Okay! I just wanted to know how you liked the song. You…remind of the person I dedicated it to, and I really hope he liked it." She turned away from me and leaned against the willow, lightly touching the ever-swaying branches.
"Um, I'm not really one to judge music, but I thought it was great. That guy would be stupid not to love it, especially if it was for him." I spoke the truth. It was kind of weird saying it, but I thought I would never see the masked girl again. So might as well be honest.
"Oh, what a relief! And just one more thing."
"What is it this time?" I asked, frustrated that I was being held again. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was excited to go and see Lucia and have some fun. Lately, I'd felt ignored, and wanted to make sure our friendship stayed firm. It was the only thing that kept me grounded.
"Are you sure you don't know who I am?" Masquerade repeated, and I gave the same reply.
"No, I don't! I'm sorry if I'm supposed to, but I think I would have remembered a girl with dark skin, brown hair and who spoke Italian!" My mind rushed, thinking of excuses that Lucia would buy. No one would believe that I talked to this girl.
"You seem certain about this. Just close your eyes, and I'm sure you'll know who I am when you open them." I complied, not even thinking about what I was doing.
A pair of arms wrapped around me and I heard the faint whisper of "I knew you'd come. You've never broken a pinky swear." I gasped as I opened my eyes.
The unmasked Lucia pulled out of the hug, looking at me with a playful grin. I just stood there, flabbergasted. She laughed and laughed until she clutched her stomach in pain. "Oh, god! You looked like you were about to wet yourself when you thought about being late. I wouldn't have hurt you that much."
I stammered, "Why didn't you tell me you were going to perform? And why did you put on a disguise?" I felt like a total idiot. Why hadn't I recognized her? She was probably one of the only Italians in the whole country.
"Because I wanted it to be a surprise! I just couldn't think of anything to get you for your present this year. I was plum out of ideas. Then I thought it would shock you if I sang. You've wanted to see me sing for years. Don't deny it. I know when you are curious about something even behind your poker face. And I dressed up because I didn't want people to recognize me. But I honestly thought you would."
It took a minute to sink in. "So you got over your stage fright so you could surprise me for my festival gift." She nodded.
"So that means the person who you dedicated it for…was me?" I asked, a little confused.
Her face became serious, and she put a hand on my shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. "All that I said was true. You are the best friend that I have ever had. You helped me get over my parents' deaths, though you may not even know it. Then you went through something a thousand times more difficult than I did, and I couldn't really help you. I want to take the pain and the horrible memories away, but I can't. One day, I want you to be happy. That is my only wish."
I smiled, knowing that she told the truth. The pain of the memories she brought up welled inside of me, but I brushed them aside. "Thank you. " I couldn't really think of anything else more eloquent to say. "I want to give you my present now. Close your eyes."
Lucia jumped up and down in glee, almost tripping over the fancy kimono she was wearing. I pulled out the box and opened it, setting it in her outstretched hands. "Okay, open your eyes."
She gasped in turn as she saw the decorative hair comb in the tiny box. The actual comb itself was made of ivory painted a shimmering gold. In glass on top of it, there were 5 red hibiscuses; one large one in the middle and two smaller ones on either side. They were connected and held to the comb with thin strands of golden glass that looked like spider threads.
"Its incredible…" she whispered almost to herself as she delicately picked it up and turned it in the moonlight. "How did you know hibiscuses were my favorites?"
I shrugged as she continued to look at it in wonder. "I just thought that you would think it was pretty. So I got it. That's all."
"Could you put it in my hair for me, Sasuke-kun? I'm so afraid I'm going to drop it and break it!" She breathed, handing it to me. Lucia turned around and I slid it into her wavy brown hair at the point where she had it clipped. Then I grabbed her arm and walked her over to the stream so she could see how it looked in the reflection.
"Wow. I didn't know I could look good, but it is so gorgeous it must have rubbed off on me." She said, dead serious.
I shook my head and looked at her. "No. You're wrong. Lucia, you've always beautiful…" I stopped, cursing my abnormally loose tongue. I was letting my feelings get too out of hand. I am an avenger. I can't let a girl ruin that. Even if it is Lucia.
She turned to look at me, but I couldn't look away. "Really?" She asked, her gaze boring right into my heart.
I nodded because I couldn't even speak. Then she wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me down the inch to her level. "This is the best gift anyone has ever given me. I love it. I'll cherish it for the rest of my life." Then she kissed me on the cheek and blushed bright crimson, pulling away from me. I stood there in shock.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me. Don't think anything of it." Lucia practically begged, tears making her hazel eyes even brighter.
I couldn't take it anymore; I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into my arms. When she looked up at me questioningly, I kissed her softly. She jerked slightly as I did, but when I went to pull back, afraid I went too far, she deepened the kiss. Her lips were soft and warm, just like I had imagined them to be.
Finally, we pulled apart. Neither of us spoke a word. No confessions of undying love or saying we wished to be together forever. We didn't need to. The two of us just stood there by the stream under the boughs of the willow.
At that moment, I knew that the song wasn't just dedicated to me; it was my life. Just like it, there was an awful grief could never be forgotten. But it had a happy ending, just like Lucia wished.