Chapter One: Spoils of War
"Spoils of war?"
The careless tone of Lord Fugaku's words made the slave's lower lip curl downward slightly in both anger and shame, but she kept her eyes lowered upon the stone cobble of the courtyard where they belonged, digging her dirty finger nails into her calloused palms until they filled with blood.
"Yes, sire." the young captain replied, resentment ringing clear in his voice for the pathetic lot he was presenting to the Uchiha lord, as he reached behind himself and tugged her forward by her sleeve. "Gifts from Lord Madara for your household, in appreciation for your loyalty and years of service."
"I see." she heard Fugaku muse quietly, before speaking up. "I am, of course, most grateful to my lord, Uchiha Madara... You must extend my thanks to him."
She then heard the Uchiha Lord take slow, purposeful steps toward his gifts before coming to a halt directly in front of her. Her pulse pounded painfully within her ears as a long moment stretched out between them. She dared not even breathe.
Without a word, Fugaku outstretched his hand and tilted her chin up in order to evaluate her better, and she found herself staring into the dark abyss of his black eyes. His touch was not gentle, but not nearly as rough as other hands that had held her in the past.
Defeated as she was, she watched with an unyielding gaze as the shinobi took his time to study her. He was a dark, once handsome, stoic man with tired eyes and face worn out with lines in his brow and the corners of his mouth. Though he said nothing, she knew he found her adequate enough. She had been looked at by enough men in her life to know whether or not she was pleasing to their eyes.
However, her pretty face was not enough to distract him from the yellowing bruises and rosy burn marks that plagued her skin, and the tarnished kimono that was covered in soot and filth.
She wondered if he want damaged goods.
"Your name, child?" he asked.
"Sakura." she answered softly. "...my lord."
"Fitting." he replied, his eyes trailing pointedly over her long, tangled tresses, the same shade of cherry blossoms in the spring."...You'll be more than suitable." he concluded, before releasing her and inclining his head toward the guard behind him. "Take this one to Kurenai." he ordered. "I want her to be healed, cleaned, and in decent clothes by dinner."
Sakura felt herself passed over to another while Fugaku moved on to evaluate the middle-aged cook that had been standing beside her.
She felt a strange relief at passing his inspection. While he had accepted her like he would have a secondhand horse, she wouldn't have to go back to that captain or set foot back into that terrible wagon.
The attendant led her through the threshold and into the great house. The girl found her turquoise eyes rising in silent awe. While the mansion was traditional, the interior was rich with the unique colors of red, black, and white reoccurring in the cushions and curtains, contrasting beautifully with the dark oak from which the home was constructed. It was vast and artistic, with priceless artifacts and paintings hanging upon every wall, and small, intricate designs carved into every corner purposefully. The ceiling stretched on in a labyrinth of dark rafters, draped with colorful tapestries.
She somehow felt smaller than she already was. Moments later, her eyes lowered back to earth to see that she had been left with a handmaid, a lovely woman with raven hair and eyes the color of cranberries. She stared down at Sakura questioningly and Sakura stared right back. The guard leaned forward close to the woman's ear, undoubtedly informing her of what had transpired only moments prior.
"Well then, good morning." she greeted, taking her by the arm and leading her into her modest quarters. "I've brewed some tea and prepared some breakfast, you're more than welcome to join me... I'm sure you must be hungry."
"...Thank you." Sakura replied, glancing over at the whistling, black-iron kettle that was embedded with the designs of red roses and jagged thorns.
She couldn't remember the last time she had eaten.
She thought that she should sit, but the handmaid was suddenly standing directly before her, holding up the sleeve of her tarnished and faded kimono, tsking in disgust. "This won't do... Satin I should think, I have a red one that should fit you well enough... I'll have more purchased for you by tomorrow." Sakura held back an agitated sigh as the woman also took hold of her chin and forced her face upward so that she could see her better, just as Lord Fugaku had done early... just as everyone she had ever encountered had done to her.
"Such pretty and unusual hair." the woman mused as if she was inspecting a broach in the market, using her other hand to brush back the girl's stray locks. "And an even prettier face... I'll hardly need to paint it, perhaps a little shadow to emphasis those remarkable eyes, but I would be spoiling you if I did anything further..." she hummed in disapproval as she tapped a finger over the scabbed scratches etched over her faceand the blue and yellowish bruises staining behind her white skin like watercolor on a sheet of paper. "We'll have to take you to the healing house, I see, we wouldn't want those to scar."
Surely, Sakura thought, what would she be without her pretty face?
"Yes, lot's to be done." the handmaid decided to herself, before moving to sit and motioning for the younger woman to do the same. "But first, refresh yourself, we'll have you bathed and clothed afterward... what's your name, my dear?"
"Sakura." she replied, taking a seat, the smell of the simple white rice making her stomach lurch in excitement and anxiety. Her body was elated by the smell of the meal alone.
"I'm called Kurenai." the handmaid replied. "Tell me, Sakura, whom did you serve before you were brought here?"
"...Lord Jiro of the Senju Clan... and his son." she told her, a darkness falling over her eyes, her tone low and guarded.
"Ah, yes, I have heard of him." Kurenai reflected. "Quite the champions in battle, he and his son, so they say."
"They are... well, they were." Sakura managed to reply, fisting the material of her kimono beneath the table tightly. She willed herself to be calm, for her heart to stop beating so painfully. She no longer had to think of them or about what they had done... she did not belong to them anymore and they could no longer harm her.
Of course, only time would tell if she would fair better in this situation.
"I hear the invasion was quite a bloody affair." Kurenai mused. "You're lucky to be alive, little one."
Sakura had to repress a rueful smile.
To die and be free of another man's chains would be the kindest fate had ever been to her. "I am, indeed."
Despite the ache in her stomach, the rosette kept her composure and ate with small bites, sipping her tea daintily.
"Well," Kurenei began, watching her with a careful eye. "You'll find the Uchiha are much different from the Senju, and while I'm sure you have experience in a household, I will walk you through your duties so that you don't offend the family."
"I understand." Sakura nodded. "Do you... do you know who I will I be serving?"
"I am told you are intended for his lord's younger son, Uchiha Sasuke."
"I'll be gone after dinner tonight." Itachi said, biding his time to aim as his slim shadow stretched long in the setting sun.
"I know, Mother told me." Sasuke replied, releasing his arrow, missing the center of the target by an inch. "It doesn't matter."
Itachi's common absence was something he had grown used to over the years. The apologizes and excuses had long become meaningless to him. While Sasuke knew his brother loved him, he also knew that duty would always come before kin to him as well. It was best he was leaving anyway, tension between Itachi and their father was growing more and more hostile since Madara's latest attack on the Senju village.
The violence of it had been a controversial topic among many of his clansmen.
"It does matter, it's not everyday one turns seventeen."
Sasuke said nothing as he loaded another arrow into his bow, moving to aim again, annoyed with his brother's need to wallow in guilt perhaps even more so than with his soon departure. "Well, it can't be helped, can it?"
"No, I suppose not." his older brother sighed.
"And, what about Hana and Kai?" Sasuke asked. "Have you told them of this mission?"
"What I can." Itachi replied, finally releasing his own arrow, hitting the mark dead center cleanly. Years prior Sasuke would have been frustrated at his brother's perfect accuracy while he struggled, but he had long accepted that Itachi would always be, even in the most minuscule ways, better than him at everything. "They promised to come visit you tomorrow morning, to wish you happy birthday."
Sasuke grunted in acknowledgement, his eyes on the target, determined more than ever, to pierce the red center.
"It's strange." Itachi went on before pausing.
"What is?" Sasuke asked when his brother didn't continue.
"When I was younger, I swore never to become like Father," Itachi explained. "And here I am, leaving my wife and child to serve a man I despise, to fight for a cause I don't believe in."
Sasuke tsked as he released his arrow, it landed against the border line of the red center and the white outer ring. "Then don't go." he muttered in frustration.
Itachi only gave a wry smile, before shaking his head. "Foolish little brother, the world is still so black and white to you, you act as if I had a choice in the matter."
"Hn." Sasuke replied lowly, irritated with his condescending tone."You're right... you do sound like Father." With that he moved to retrieve his arrows.
As usual, he and his brother could not get through an hour without an indifference between them. Whether it be politics or their father, there wasn't much room for civility anymore between them.
He found no point in continuing on this happy family facade that their mother was so keen on maintaining.
The Uchiha and the Senju were very different clans.
They always had been.
The Senju were a clan of earth and water, while the Uchiha were of fire and lightening.
Natural enemies since the ancient days.
And yet... almost humorously... their household customs were quite similar, contrary to what Kurenai had said. They woke, they drank tea, they ate breakfast, they attended to their politics and their missions, they came home, they drank tea, they ate their evening meals and then went to bed.
As she had gone through her brief training with her new supervisor, Sakura found no reason to fret about her change in surroundings, but then, she hardly had anything to fret about anymore.
She stared ahead, naked, as one maid washed her and a healing woman tended to the injuries that were not just limited to her face, much to Kurenai's surprise.
The handmaid had expected burns and scratches, to be sure... but not such multiple bruises or lacerations under the girl's tarnished robes. It was like she had been scourged and beaten... repeatedly.
"Did Lord Madara's soldiers hurt you?" she asked, reaching to trace the jagged scars on the girl's back. Perhaps she had been punished for unruly behavior at some point during her journey.
"No." she lied easily, her tone hollow, as they draped a red satin kimono, with black tree branches and white cherry blossoms, around her, tying it around her waist snugly. Once her face was painted, lightly so, and her skin perfumed, the raven-haired woman began to brush the tangles out of her rose-quartz hair till it was smooth once more.
"You've been through a lot..." Kurenai told her, as if Sakura did not know already. "Would you like some wine before you are brought to Lord Sasuke's chambers?"
Sakura shook her head. "No thank you, I will manage on my own." Never again would she not be in her right mind around a man, never again, she didn't care what painful memories the sweet red liquid could spare her, she would never consume another drop of it if she could help it.
"Well, he is a good and quiet young man, for what it's worth." the older woman informed her as she began to pin up her hair in a style popular among the Uchiha women. "A rare thing among Uchiha lords, he is also quite handsome too... you're lucky."
Sakura simply stared into her reflection, wondering just how delusional this handmaiden was. Men were all the same, specifically men with power; lords, nobles... Her only luck tonight would be a decent meal and a warm bed for whatever trouble she was to be put through on Lord Fugaku's spoiled brat's account. "I'm sure I am."
She didn't ask the questions that she once had. Such as: "How old he was?" "How experienced was he?" "Was he kind?" "Was he cruel?" "What to do?" "What not to do?" "What pleased him best?" She had learned that those things didn't matter, that she would find out soon rather than later.
If this boy wasn't Torou, then she would not complain.
Once the women found her pretty enough, they escorted her to the east side of the manor, where she assumed her new master's chambers would be found. His rooms were as fine as the rest of the house, simple, yet grand. "Where is his lordship?" she asked Kurenai, stepping into the bed chamber, taking in the small details of every corner.
"Practicing archery with his older brother, Lord Itachi," Kurenai explained. "Itachi-sama will be on a mission for the next few months and will be missing his brother's birthday, they are making the most of the time they have, I should think."
Ah, so she was this boy's birthday present.
Sakura fought back a sneer.
"Make yourself comfortable, he should be back before dark." Kurenai told her. "I have to see to my lady now, but I will send you up your meal when the hour comes."
Sakura nodded. "Thank you."
Once alone, she turned her attention back to the room before her. It matched the rest of the house, with the red, black and white. It was so neat, it looked like more of a guest bedroom than one belonging to a full-time occupant. Carefully, she moved about, letting her hand glide along the shelves, and her eyes scan over the knick-knacks from various places and the titles of the books.
Her jade eyes then traveled over to the large bed in the center of the room, with it's dark red sheets and black pillows. It was a more than welcoming sight, and she was more than tempted to collapse upon it, to test it's softness, to curl up and radiate her warmth beneath the thick covers. While they had polished her up to look otherwise, she was still quite exhausted internally, and nothing would suit her better than to lay her head upon a pillow and rest.
However, she instead settled on the sofa, feeling she would be less far less invasive that way. It was so soft, the pillow felt like what she imagined a cloud would feel like, and the cushions almost molded against her lithe figure in a cool and welcoming embrace. It was far more comfortable than the forest floor, and the jolting wagon where she had slept prior.
Knowing she would wake at the slightest of noises, whether it was a shinobi who entered or not, she allowed her heavy eyelids to slip shut, and, for a moment, she allowed herself to forget who and where she was.
"He can't be serious." Sasuke exclaimed quietly as the dinner plates were being taken away from the table. Only he and Itachi remained after the meal, as their father and mother had already retired for the evening.
What his father had told him over the final course, so casually and proudly, had left him stunned. Three new slaves had arrived earlier that day and one of them, a young concubine... a girl, was for his keeping.
What was he supposed to do with her? The thoughts that followed left him feeling sick with shame afterward. Since a young age he had always disliked his family keeping laborers... but this... It made his stomach churn.
"I was given a concubine at your age." Itachi replied , his tone guarded, before taking a long sip of wine. "So was Father, it is expected for noblemen's sons, especially someone in your position."
Sasuke did remember the girl that was given to Itachi... a dark-haired young woman who was dismissed as soon as Itachi was engaged to Hana. He was just a boy at the time, but he remembered that the girl had been kind to him. Always smiling and telling him of stories about her home across the sea, then one day she was simply gone, never to be seen again. He had asked his mother of her once and was strangely scolded, told to never speak of that woman again.
"What else were you expecting to receive?"Itachi asked. "You're of age and hardly spend time among women on your own accord, I'm sure you're worrying Father a bit."
"Oh, shut up." Sasuke wanted to send a fist into his brother's jaw. Itachi had always felt the need to exploit his shyness with the opposite sex, quite proud of the fact that he himself had always had an advantage over them. "Whatever his reasons, this is wrong."
"Always so noble." Itachi couldn't help but smile. "You do realize this house is filled with people who already have to wait on you? Why the sudden display of disgust for it?"
"This is different." Sasuke told him harshly. "You know it is."
"Sasuke," Itachi sighed, quite serious now. "It would be dishonorable to discard such a gift from Father, especially one he received from Madara himself... Just enjoy your new, little companion... I assure you she is better off here than at the palace."
The younger Uchiha's discomfort was not made any easier by that concept. He looked down at the remains of his meal, his appetite quite gone. He could barely make conversation with women he did not know, what was he supposed do with one he was supposed to... he paled, even more nauseous, before standing abruptly and leaving his older brother alone in the dimly lit dining room.
The sound of footsteps approaching the chambers had awoken her, however, it was not her new master, it was the evening meal Kurenai had sent up.
"Quite lavish." she told the young man who was placing a plate of motoyaki on the table for her. She moved to rub her eyes, but stopped herself remembering the paint.
He let out a light chuckle. "You should see what His Lordship and his family were eating, if you think this impressive."
"Are his sons home?" she inquired offhandedly.
"They are." the server told her, looking her up and down curiously. "Lord Sasuke usually retires right away, he should be up in less than an hour, if that helps."
She nodded in understanding, before settling to eat. "Do you know of the kitchen woman and the small boy that were brought here?"
The server nodded.
"Are they alright... I mean, settled in properly?"
"They were patched up by the healers, if that's what you mean, they start their work tomorrow." he replied. "Lady Mikoto wishes her household to look exceptional."
She was relieved. "Thank you for telling me."
He gave her a nod, and turned to leave before turning back to her briefly. "Is it true?
She glanced up at him with a raised brow.
"That you served a Senju lord?" he asked. "That you were there during the invasion?"
She nodded slowly in reply.
The boy looked excited. "What was it like?"
She forced a small smile. "...What is your name?"
"Sora." he replied.
"Sora," she repeated, giving him a dismissive look. "I wouldn't want to keep you from your duties."
The boy took the hint and nodded before exiting, a sheepish grin on his face as he closed the doors behind him. Sakura shook her head as she ate in silence. What was it with boys being so keen to fight?
She couldn't help but grow bored and perhaps a bit anxious as two hours had passed. She had already did everything Kurenei had instructed her to do. She had tidied the chambers, made tea,even spruced her make up and hair... now she was sitting on the sofa staring at the wall, legs crossed elegantly, with nothing to do but wait. The scrolls and text books along the shelves were quite tempting, she had always loved to read, and hadn't been able to enjoy the written word for years... it would be a convenient way to pass the time... Though, she didn't feel daring enough to take things that didn't belong to her... not when she knew nothing of their owner's nature.
Feeling her legs start to fall asleep, she moved to rise before she heard footsteps approach again, this time they were quiet and nimble like that of a shinobi's. She stood straighter, but did not stand, as the door was opened by whom she assumed was the man she was meant please.
Sakura inclined her head upward only to find the polite greeting she had prepared die upon her lips as a dark gaze fell upon her, awakening all of her senses in a strange and daunting way. A tall young man, no older than she, stood above her, casting a long shadow across the room and over her body. He was indeed handsome, as Kurenai had also told her, agonizingly so. Someone the bards would sing about when they sang of Uchiha beauty, with thick, ebony hair, black metallic eyes and strong yet somehow soft features... so mystically beautiful... otherworldly almost..
Sakura blinked out of her daze sharply. What did that matter? So what if he was handsome?
Torou had been handsome too.
Silent seconds passed as they both merely stared at each other. Sakura, at a loss for words, kept her eyes on him expectantly, waiting for him to do well...something. But, the young man remained still, hesitant, only letting his eyes wander over her slowly, carefully... looking completely lost and unsure.
She was confused.
How was it that she, the slave, was the less intimidated one between the two of them?
Perhaps he was nervous or shy? Kurenai had said he was quiet...
It certainly wasn't a matter of disapproval, however. Despite him nobly trying prove otherwise, with his reserved and guarded facade, she could see well enough that she put him on edge.
"My lord?" she whispered, having had enough with the silence and the ridiculous staring.
"Sasuke." he corrected, suddenly awake from the spell as well. His voice was far deeper than she had expected, low and caressing.
She swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry?" she inquired, confused.
"My name is Sasuke, you don't need to call me anything else." he explained somewhat gruffly, finally finding the will to enter his own room, removing the quiver strapped along his back and walking past her toward a tall cabinet. "My father sent you here?"
"Yes, Sasuke-sama." she replied. She certainly hadn't traipsed her way here on her own accord.
He cast her a glance over his shoulder. "Just Sasuke."
His eyes trailed over her once more. "What's your name?"
"Sakura." she answered for the third time that day.
"Sakura..." he inquired for more.
Finished with the task of returning his bow and arrows back to where they belonged, he turned to give her his full attention. "And do you know why you were you sent here, Sakura?"
"...To do anything you ask me to." she answered simply.
Didn't he already know?
He was strange, this Uchiha nursling.
"Ah." he replied quietly, before slowly starting to approach her.
She rose to her feet slowly when he stopped before her, bracing herself, knowing what would surely follow. She prayed he was gentle, just a little, she was still so sore and tired from the battle... so exhausted. She wasn't sure she had enough energy to meet any of his expectations. If she failed to do so she might be sent away, back to Madara. Her heart thudded against her ribs in anticipation.
But, again, he remained still, staring down at her quietly...contemplatively.
Somehow, this attention made her feel more exposed than if he had seized her and stripped her of her kimono right then and there... she found herself fidgeting under his scrutiny.
What was he looking for? What did he want? His silence and reserve were making her go out of her mind as the seconds passed. He was either supposed to take what he wanted or dismiss her, it was simple as that... but he was just staring at her with those unnerving eyes, taking in every ounce of her body and whatever else that he could... it made her want to turn away, to run into a corner and curl up in a ball. Would he not stop it?
Finally, he reached for her, and she drew in a sharp breath in... but he did not pull her in as she thought he would. Instead, he simply grasped a loose strand of her hair between his finger and thumb gently, moving it between his callous pads, as if he could dare to do nothing else, all the while keeping his gaze on her.
Confused, she searched the black depths of his eyes, trying to figure out what he was doing, what he wanted.
He was tempted, she could tell that much, she could see his desire to lean forward, to touch her further... but, she could see something else swimming in those dark waves, something that made her blood boil.
He pitied her.
That realization made her swallow hard, made her want to smack him across the face. The last thing she needed was some privileged boy's pity, the very thought caused her jaw to lock and teeth to grit painfully. She clenched her hands tightly to keep herself from smacking away his touch . "Is there something I can do for you, my lord?" she asked, forcing her tone to remain soft and amiable, to mask the hostility she felt within.
Her question seemed to break the spell again, as he quickly released her captured hair, letting it fall freely once more, before shaking his head. "I told you, it's Sasuke... and I want you to go to bed... you must be tired."
"...Very well." she concluded, frustrated and confused, but unwilling to stand under his pitying gaze a moment longer. She finally broke their eye contact, turning her attention to the sofa to settle in.
"No." he said, making her pause. "I'll sleep there,"
She found the need to protest. "I won't deprive you of your bed, my lord."
"I thought you were here to do as I asked." he countered, moving to the washroom to undoubtedly change. "Take the bed."
"...if that's what you want." she replied, not knowing what else to do.
Once he had disappeared, she was left again in the empty bed chamber, unsure what had just transpired. After a few seconds, she began to pull out the pins from her hair with trembling fingers, letting the braids fall before unweaving them into loose curls. Kurenai had not sent up proper sleeping attire for her, she had probably assumed she would not need it, so she simply decided to sleep in the white under-dress beneath the kimono.
Slipping off the red silk, she laid it over the side of the bed to find in the morning, before slipping under the heavy sheets of the bed, wanting to be asleep before that infuriating boy returned. She was overwhelmed with the earthy, sandalwood smell that filled her senses, just as it had when Sasuke had stood before her moments before. It was strangely comforting, yet intoxicating at the same time. She turned to her side and forced her eyes to close, ignoring the alluring smell and the small tremor of rage that was still reverberating inside her.
It was hard to sleep with another's presence in his room, especially when that presence was still awake laying in his bed. It was the same on missions, he couldn't sleep until he knew he was the last one awake on his squad. It took longer than expected, as if there was some unspoken competition taking place between them, but soon the girl was breathing evenly, giving in to her exhaustion. He couldn't blame her for being hesitant, she was in a strange place, after all, expected to... please a complete stranger. Sasuke turned over to stare at the ceiling, closing his eyes tightly in dread in frustration.
She was beautiful, he couldn't deny that. Beautiful in a strange and mystic way that he had never seen before... like a nymph or a fairy from the story books his mother used to read to him when he was a child.
But, what struck him far more was how jaded her eyes were behind the mask of her shadowed eyes and feigned politeness. She was broken and worn... lifeless. As if she had lived a hundred lifetimes already, and could not bare another. They had dressed her up as a woman, but she was so young, so small... How could his father have looked at the poor, miserable thing and then send her off without care to be forced upon by a stranger? How could his father think that he would ever do such a thing to her?
He lay awake for several hours into the night, unused to a sofa for a bed, nor the soft breathing of a woman sleeping close by.
a/n: New story. AU set during the conflict of the Uchiha and the Senju tribes, centuries prior to the original series. I wanted to try my hand at it being Sakura who is the cold damaged one between the two and having it be Sasuke who fills her lonely existence with love. But, I wanted both of their backgrounds and story lines to be different as well. So, tell me what you think and leave a review.
For my other stories that any of you are waiting for me to update. I'm doing a story-wide cleanse of poor writing and grammar mistakes. They will be back, but only when I've spruced them up to my liking. I will try to be more active in my updates on my profile so that you all are aware.
And now a segment of Misplaced Quotes in the Naruto Universe:
Sasuke: *watching Sakura* You really think she's the girl for me?
Naruto: Sure, she's tons of fun, you're no fun at all. She completes you.