Pairings: SasuSaku and ItaSaku
Notes: Hi, y'all! I know I've been silent on the Naruto front lately, but that's about to change. This fic is complete, and I'll be posting it in three parts over the next week or so. After that, I'll be focusing my attention on For Everything There is a Season!
Tribute takes place in the same canon-divergent universe as my oneshot Second Son (i.e. there was no reconciliation between the Senju and Uchiha, so the war between their clans continued on until the present). However, this story flips the circumstances: Sakura is engaged to Itachi and sent to live with the Uchiha Clan.
As the warnings and pairings suggest, this is both an ItaSaku and SasuSaku fic, and it includes Sakura carrying on an extramarital affair. If that is not your cup of tea, you may want to skip this particular story. Otherwise, welcome into the sin bin!
For the first time in a hundred years there is a chance for peace between the Senju and the Uchiha. This is what Okaasan tells her, when Sakura asks why she has to leave home.
"Your marriage will end a century of fighting," Okaasan says, and she runs her fingers through Sakura's hair fondly, a measure of motherly comfort communicated through touch.
At twelve, Sakura is old enough to understand that the needs of the clan come before her own, and that as the daughter of Tsunade, Head of the Senju, this is doubly true for her. Still, she is afraid of leaving, afraid of the young man who will one day be her husband. Uchiha Itachi has killed dozens of shinobi from her clan, and he is both renowned and reviled as the deadliest Sharingan wielder since Madara himself.
"What if he's cruel?" Sakura asks. After all, how could a man such as that be kind?
"Even if he is, he won't dare to be cruel to you," Okaasan says. "This peace hinges on your union. If he mistreats you, he mistreats the Senju."
A week later, Sakura is dressed in her best, blue silk kimono, her long hair piled atop her head, wooden geta on her feet. She sits alone inside the wheelhouse, protected from the sudden spring storm, surrounded by furs and plush pillows. She listens to the howling wind and driving rain, the sky's beating heart thumping against the roof of the wheelhouse, punctuated by crashes of thunder that grow closer together the nearer they draw to her destination. Her family is carrying her into the middle of a storm, and there's nothing she can do to stop it. She wishes she was outside with the other ninja, traveling on foot instead of being carted along like an invalid, but it wouldn't do for her to meet her intended in mud-splattered clothes.
Today, she is not a shinobi. Today, she is just an offering.
Itachi is handsome, if still a stranger six years her senior, with dark hair he wears pulled back and long-lashed eyes that flash with the Sharingan. They're as red as maple leaves in autumn, as red as blood, but frighteningly beautiful. Really, he looks little like his lovely mother or his stern father, but Sakura soon learns that in this, as in all ways, Itachi is a man entirely his own.
"Hello," he says, and there is something about his voice—deep, smooth, calming—that makes her feel a bit less nervous.
"Hello, Itachi-san." She bows to him, the way her mother told her to do. When Sakura straightens, he bows in return, an honor she hadn't been expecting (and one which displeases his father, if she's reading Fugaku-sama's face right). Then Itachi smiles, an expression that makes him, if possible, even more handsome, and she feels herself blush.
The Uchiha's village, Nanmoku, is no larger or grander than her own, but the people look on Sakura and her escorts with mistrust. She notices that, like at home, there are few children. This is because the Uchiha have been driven to sending their youngest shinobi off to war, same as her clan has, and many of them do not come back.
Sakura saw her first battle two years ago, but she was lucky enough to fight alongside her mother, and she's certain there is no safer place in the world than with Okaasan. Even so, she remembers the stomach-churning fear she felt that day when an enemy ninja's katana nearly took her arm off. And the way her comrades bled out over her hands as she and Okaasan hurried from this injury to the next, one woman and a young girl trying to heal fifty of their clansmen. Sometimes she wakes in the middle of the night, certain she can smell the stink of infection, or hear the sound of boys and girls no older than herself, crying out in agony, begging to be healed.
But if this peace holds, then the children of the Senju and the Uchiha can grow into men and women, and perhaps Sakura will sleep easier.
At dinner, she is placed next to Itachi's younger brother, Sasuke, who looks to be around her own age. They sit quietly, eating one sumptuous dish after another, while the adults discuss war and politics. With this alliance, the only clan that remains any threat to their combined power is the Hyuuga, but even they will bend before the might of the Senju and the Uchiha together. The smaller clans that have not already offered up their fealty will flock to them for protection, and resistance from any corner will be easily stamped out.
Okaasan raises her sake in toast, saying, "To Itachi and Sakura."
Fugaku-sama follows suit, and then every other shinobi at the table follows him. Twenty-odd voices raise in unison, saying, "To Itachi and Sakura!"
It's undoubtedly the first time in five generations that these two clans have agreed upon anything. Itachi catches her eye, and when he nods at her, she considers for the first time that perhaps there are worse things in the world than marrying an Uchiha.
Fugaku-sama looks at her like she is a pawn on a shogi board, a piece of little worth, meant only to be captured. But Mikoto-san is a kind woman, and she welcomes Sakura into her household warmly. At first she teaches her simple things, but as the weeks pass she begins to share more important lessons with her daughter-to-be.
"Someday Itachi will be Head of this clan, same as his father is now. Do you understand what that means for you?"
They're sitting on the floor, and Mikoto-san is showing Sakura how to mend Itachi's clothes. Which tears need stitching and which have ruined the garment entirely.
"Not really. I was going to be the Head of Senju," she says. "My mother raised me to be a great woman; not a great man's wife." No doubt this is why she can't seem to darn a shirt.
"Then you'll understand the burden Itachi will shoulder. The responsibility that comes with his position." Mikoto-san gives her a sad smile. "It won't be easy, watching the man you love lead. But no matter what, you must always support him. And when the time comes, you'll be the mother of his children."
Sakura thinks of what it means to make a child. She can't imagine ever doing that with Itachi, letting him inside her body, then carrying his baby, and she doesn't know how to answer. So she merely nods and returns to stitching up Itachi's shirt, carefully sewing back together the rent halves of the Uchiha crest.
Life in Nanmoku is different from home, but Sakura does her best to fit in. It's difficult, though, because her pink hair and name, her elemental affinity and fighting style, set her immediately apart from the rest of the village. The Uchiha all share the same dark good looks, and they are a people of fire and lightning, not earth and water. Obito-sensei tells her flatly on her first day of training that her skills as a medic nin, while useful, will make her seem soft to the shinobi here.
She tries to teach herself the Uchiha's fireball jutsu, but she has no natural aptitude for the technique, and after three hours at the dock her cheeks are burnt and her lungs feel as if they're filled with smoke. Sakura heals the blisters beside her mouth and hopes no one will guess where she's been. But when she returns to the house, Sasuke smirks at her and asks, "How did it go?"
"How did what go?"
"Don't try to lie. You smell like a bonfire," he says. "Did you master the jutsu?"
"No," Sakura admits. "It was more complicated than I expected."
Sasuke looks her up and down. "That technique takes a lot of force and stamina. It tends to be harder for girls," he says. Then, "Besides, you're not one of us."
Later, Sakura lies in her soft bed, listening to night sounds. The song of crickets and owls, the creak of upstairs floorboards. Itachi's room sits directly above hers, and she can often hear him pacing while the rest of the house sleeps. She wonders what keeps him awake: his worries or his sins. Fear or remorse.
You're not one of us. Sasuke's words echo in her mind like an inverse lullaby, pushing rest further and further away. Sakura misses her mother and her home, but she refuses to cry anymore, and the next day she finds Itachi and says, "I'm not an Uchiha yet, but one day I will be. So I need to learn your clan's signature jutsu. Will you teach me?"
Itachi smiles and says, "I would love to, Sakura."
Sasuke is much more difficult to get to know than his older brother. Where Itachi is gentle, patient, polite, Sasuke is rough, brusque, and often rude. Even so, there is an undercurrent of kindness to him. Sakura once sees him pet a scrawny, stray cat and feed it part of his own lunch. When his cousins visit, he holds little Daichi with practiced ease, and if the baby cries, no one can calm him more easily than Sasuke. He carries groceries for his old aunts without being asked to and always helps his mother with chores around the house.
As time passes and they get to know one another better, he begins to extend that kindness to Sakura as well. For his twelfth birthday she gifts him with a new case of ninja tools—three kinds of kunai, wire, shuriken large and small—and he says, "Thank you." Later, on a muggy morning in August, he invites her to practice taijutsu with him. "I used to train with Itachi," he says, "but he's always too busy now." And so it becomes a routine: every day before breakfast they practice their hand-to-hand combat together. Sasuke is faster than Sakura, but she's inventive, a quick thinker, and she wins these matches as often as he does.
She has been living with the Uchiha family for four months and seven days when Sakura notices that Sasuke has the most beautiful hands. Wide palms and long, elegant fingers that look more suited to playing shamisen than wielding a kunai. He rarely makes gestures, as stingy with this kind of communication as he is with his speech, so at home she has little opportunity to see his hands in motion. But during their morning spars and trainings with Obito-sensei, she finds herself mesmerized by the way Sasuke ties ropes and throws shuriken and moves through his kata.
And then she begins to notice other things. Like how he approaches every task meticulously, whether it's tidying his room or strategizing for a mission. That Sasuke shows more obvious affection to animals than to people, and if Fugaku-sama would allow it, she's certain he'd have a pet of some kind. He loves tomatoes but won't touch anything sweet. He takes walks for no reason except that he enjoys it. And even though he's trained himself to be ambidextrous, Sasuke favors his left hand.
It's in Sakura's nature to search out the answers to difficult questions, and so she collects this information about her future husband's enigmatic brother. As if compiling enough data will help her solve the mystery that is Uchiha Sasuke.
Itachi moves out of his family home later that summer. Fugaku-sama and Mikoto own two other houses in Nanmoku, and he chooses the smaller and simpler of them to make his own. The day he leaves, Itachi says goodbye and ruffles Sakura's hair. (She doesn't like that, being treated like a little sister by the man who will one day be her husband.)
"Do you have to go?" she asks. He's been nothing but kind to her since her arrival, and Sakura will miss his warm presence in the cold Uchiha household.
Itachi smiles in that gentle way he reserves for her and Sasuke alone. "I do," he says. "Don't worry, you'll be fine."
She idly touches a box and wonders what's inside. All of his things have been neatly packed, closed and private as the man who owns them. "Your father hates me," Sakura says.
"He doesn't. But this alliance is new, and Otousan is taking his mistrust of your clan out on you."
She frowns and sits on the naked bed, stripped of all its linens. "The Senju need this peace as badly as the Uchiha. My mother isn't going to do anything to sabotage it. "
"Of course she won't. Why do you think my father insisted that you foster with us until the wedding?"
Sakura thinks about it, and the truth is so obvious that she can't believe she never realized it before. "I'm insurance for Okaasan's good behavior," she says. "She can't betray the Uchiha because you have me."
"Exactly," Itachi says.
So she's a hostage as much as a guest. Sakura supposes this should frighten her, but she has faith in her mother's honor. As long as Okaasan is the Head of Senju, she'll never cross her allies.
Sasuke opens the door without knocking, walks toward Sakura, and sits beside her on the bed. He smells like he's been training, like boy sweat and fire. She tries not to pay this any attention, but it's hard. Sasuke scowls at his brother and says, "You better visit."
"Only you could make a goodbye sound like a threat," Itachi says. "I'll miss you too."
Sasuke has a hard time expressing his feelings, and he only says, "It's not a goodbye. You aren't going far."
This may be true, but Itachi's absence in the house seems to prove difficult for his brother. In the weeks after he leaves, Sasuke talks little and smiles less. Itachi stays busy with the village's most dangerous and difficult missions, and his visits home are rare enough to be special. Usually, when Sasuke asks to do something with Itachi, he's treated to a two-fingered tap to the forehead and the dubious promise of, "Another time."
Without his older brother around, Sasuke begins to seek out Sakura's company more and more. They train together and play together and talk. On a clear autumn night, they lay side by side in the grass, and she teaches him the constellations. Here is the Tiger and there is the Bachi and there is the Snake.
"I don't see it," Sasuke says.
Sakura moves closer to him and points heavenward, right at the formation of stars that looks like a slithering serpent. "It's there."
She waits for him to say something, but when Sakura turns to him she sees that Sasuke isn't looking at the sky at all; he's looking at her.
"What?" she asks.
He glances away, then back. "You, um, you have dirt on your face." Sasuke reaches up and brushes the apple of her cheek with his thumb. It's the first time he's ever touched her outside of sparring, and Sakura feels heat flush her face. His hand lingers on her skin for just a moment longer than necessary, and she has the wild thought that they're close enough to kiss, that maybe he'll lean in and—
Sasuke pulls away, sits up, and tells her he's tired and he'll see her in the morning.
It starts on the night Sakura teaches Sasuke how to find a snake in the stars: the slow and unintentional theft of her heart. This is only the first of a thousand small moments that pass between them over the years, and with each one, she grows to care more and more for the friend who is her someday-husband's brother. Without meaning to, without trying, Sasuke becomes her most precious person.
Sakura is fifteen, betrothed to a man and hopelessly in love with a boy, when Sasuke asks, "Are you scared of getting married?"
They're beneath the blooming cherry blossom tree, playing shogi. "Why do you ask?" She sits in the shade of her namesake, beating him for the third time in a row.
"You never talk about it," he says. Sasuke touches a tile (a king), but he doesn't move the piece.
Sakura fiddles with her silver general, even though it isn't her turn, just to have something to do with her hands. "What's there to say?"
He leans back against the tree trunk and crosses his arms over his chest. "I don't know. Nothing, if you don't want to, I guess."
Sasuke is too private a person to pry, too guarded with his own secrets to demand someone else's, but she can tell he cares about her answer. So Sakura says, "I know Itachi is a good man and that he'd never treat me badly, but I'm still nervous. Everything depends upon our marriage, and—"
I don't want him. I want you.
But her wants are immaterial.
Sasuke looks at her, beautiful dark eyes curious, waiting for her to finish her thought.
Sakura makes herself smile, forces a light laugh, and says, "Nevermind."
She's distracted for the rest of the day, though. She loses that third game of shogi, and when Fugaku-sama asks her a question at dinner, she misses it entirely. "I'm sorry. What did you say?" she asks.
Fugaku-sama might be frowning at her, but it's difficult to tell, because he looks so dour all the time. "I asked if you're ready for your mission."
She nods. "I am."
The Uchiha still don't fully trust her, so she's never given solo assignments, but in the last six months they've begun sending her on increasingly important missions. It may have taken three years, but they're finally giving her something useful to do besides heal at the hospital. Tomorrow, she and Sasuke will begin the long trek to Snow Country, where they will find Ashikaga Morihiro, a shinobi who took the eyes from a dead Uchiha and has been wreaking havoc with the Sharingan ever since. New intel places him in a town in Snow, and so Fugaku-sama is sending them to capture him and bring him to Nanmoku to face justice.
Sakura expects that justice will take the form of execution; the Uchiha have little tolerance for those who steal their kekkei genkai.
It's hardly the first mission she and Sasuke have shared—even Fugaku-sama must admit they work well together, and she suspects that, as the best medic in the village, he wants her teamed with his second son whenever possible—but this will be the farthest they've ever traveled together.
It takes almost a week to reach Snow. On the last night of their journey, Sasuke lies turned away from her, his head pillowed on his right arm. The grass glitters white with frost under the full moon, and Sakura can see her own breath misting in the darkness as she exhales. The ground is cold and hard beneath her, despite the thick cloak she's wearing, but she's tolerating the weather better than Sasuke. She can't stand to watch him shivering, and after a few minutes of this, she moves close to him, until her front is pressed against his back. Wraps her arm around his waist and fights the urge to kiss the nape of his neck.
"What are you doing?" he whispers, voice wary, stiff, hoarse with sleep.
She didn't realize he was still awake. "Just trying to keep warm," Sakura says softly. "Do you mind?"
Sasuke remains quiet for a long moment, but then he says, "No."
"I guess fire types don't do well in the cold," she says, smiling against his shoulder.
"Hn." Sasuke puts his left hand over hers and threads their fingers together. He's freezing, but Sakura doesn't care. She savors his touch, the way his body slowly relaxes and stops shaking the longer they lay this way, pressed together, flush against one another. Nothing separating them except the layers of their clothes and the promise that binds her to Itachi.
When Sakura wakes in the morning, she finds that they changed positions sometime in the night. Now she's the one held in Sasuke's embrace, and even though the sun is beginning to rise, a golden herald in the east, she doesn't move, doesn't wake him. She cherishes this feeling and allows herself to pretend, if only for a moment, that Sasuke is hers, and she is his.
There are many things Sakura misses about Rokagita: the smell of Okaasan's perfume (jasmine scentwater), Ino's laugh, the taste of suimono soup the way Shizune makes it. But it's been so long since her family gave her to the Uchiha Clan, a peace offering wrapped in blue silk. With each passing day she remembers less and less of the place she came from, and by her sixteenth summer, Nanmoku feels more like home than the village she grew up in.
Okaasan visits four times a year, steady and faithful as clockwork. She appears as a new season is born and always stays for a week, no more and no less. She divides her time between seeing her daughter and renegotiating the Uchiha-Senju alliance with Fugaku-sama.
It's on the third day of her latest visit that Okaasan tells Sakura, "We've set a date for your wedding."
They're outside, sitting on a bench between the cherry blossom tree where she and Sasuke play shogi and the field where they train each morning. Every inch of these grounds is infused with some memory of the boy she has grown up alongside, the boy she loves who is now nearly a man.
"When?" Sakura asks, calmly.
"September of next year."
Suddenly her someday-husband is her soon-to-be husband, and she realizes too late that there is all the difference in the world between these two things. She imagines an hourglass turned over, the sands trickling from one crystal bulb to the other. Moments turning into minutes, minutes into days, days into months, until the sand runs out.
"How do you feel?" Okaasan asks.
"I'll do my duty," Sakura says. "You don't have to worry about that."
Her mother frowns, blonde brows drawn closer together over her keen brown eyes. She puts her hand on Sakura's shoulder and rubs soothing circles on her back. "I didn't ask if you'll go through with it. What I want to know is if you're going to be all right."
Sakura can't tell Okaasan the truth, that she's been irresponsible enough to fall for the brother of the man she's going to marry. So all she says is, "I'm fine, really."
"Good." Sakura can hear the relief laced through her mother's voice, and she reminds herself that Okaasan loves her. If not quite as much as she loves their clan.
Fugaku-sama makes the wedding announcement two nights later. Uchiha elders and the daimyo's highest officials attend—or, as Itachi whispers to her, they're gawked at by old liver-spotted crones and up-jumped lickspittles. (Sakura snorts, a very unladylike sound, and earns herself a glare from her future father-in-law.) It almost shocks her, this display of disrespect. Then again, Itachi never has been much impressed by titles or bloodlines, an oddity for a shinobi of his clan.
After dinner, Sasuke approaches them, and without even sparing a glance in Sakura's direction, he says, "Congratulations, Nisan." He looks neither happy nor sad, but he can be so laconic and difficult to read that she'll never know what Sasuke thinks if he doesn't want her to. Still, his well wishes make her feel so sick that she has to excuse herself.
Sakura walks through the garden behind the house, breathing in the twilight scents of vespertine blossoms. Moonflowers on their frost-tender vines, evening jasmine, and sweet four o'clocks. She picks a short-lived catchfly and sits on a stone bench, plucking the white petals one by one, until the heart of the flower is naked. Then she pulls her legs up to her chest and watches the setting sun sink below the western horizon, watches the sky darken from pink-streaked blue to star-speckled black as dusk gives way to night.
She hears someone approach, a light shinobi's tread. Catlike, graceful. She doesn't need to look to know it's Sasuke. She would recognize his footfalls anywhere, anytime.
"You need to go back inside," he says. "The guests are starting to ask after you."
She stands, smooths the silk of her formal red kimono. "How did you know where to find me?"
He draws closer, until he's near enough to touch. "You always come here when you're sad."
"What makes you think I'm upset?" Sakura musters a smile, but she knows it must be a pitiful thing.
Sasuke reaches for her, hesitates, then cups her cheek. "I know you," he says simply.
Moonlight casts his beautiful face in silver shades of light and shadow, and his wide eyes are luminous in the darkness. She knows him too, has learned every line of him. Cherished every dip and hollow of his body, with her heart if not her hands.
Sakura can't help it; she winds her arms around his neck, stands up on the tips of her toes, and brushes her lips against his. A featherlight kiss, soft and chaste. At first, he does nothing, but then Sasuke wraps an arm around the small of her back and pulls her closer, so that she's crushed against his chest. He buries a hand in her long hair and holds her still while he kisses her back. His mouth moves over hers roughly, and there's nothing soft or chaste about this anymore. He tastes like the fine sake they snuck out of his parents' private stores before the party (rice wine that was all the sweeter for being forbidden) and when Sakura bites his bottom lip he makes a low sound in the back of his throat that undoes her.
They break apart for breath, and Sasuke lets her go, pulls away.
She touches her mouth, feels the tenderness of her kiss-swollen lips. "I-I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't mean to do that."
Sasuke scowls. "I don't believe that for a second."
Sakura blushes, because he's right. "Fine. I kissed you on purpose and I don't regret it."
"Well, you should," he says. Sasuke runs a hand through his hair, a restless, nervous gesture that is incongruous with the cool, collected boy she knows. "This was stupid, and it can't happen again. You're going to be my brother's wife."
He's not wrong, she knows that. Still, Sakura finds herself asking, "What if I don't want to marry him?"
She leaves the rest unsaid, but Sasuke must hear it just the same: What if I want to marry you?
He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."
Sakura puts her hand on his chest, grasps the front of his high-collared shirt. "You want me," she says. "Don't you?"
There's such heat behind the look Sasuke gives her that she isn't sure whether it's desire or anger. Maybe both. "I want you," he admits. "But I don't love you."
Sakura recoils, as if the blow he'd struck were physical. And really, she'd almost rather it had been. She's a kunoichi, and she's used to the pain of the body, but this—this is something else altogether.
She doesn't beg and she doesn't cry. Instead, Sakura gives him a gentle, poised smile, the way her mother taught her to do when she's suffering and it's no one's business besides her own.
She leaves Sasuke alone in the garden. Returns to the party and spends the rest of the evening by Itachi's side. Sakura speaks only when spoken to and laughs at jokes she doesn't find funny, like a walking, talking ornament. A pretty thing with only one function, to complement the man she accompanies. Usually, this sort of treatment makes her furious, because she deserves better and she knows it. Tonight, though, it takes every bit of Sakura's willpower just to go through the motions. And all the while, she's thinking of Sasuke. The forbidden wine taste of his tongue, his scent, the sound of his deepening voice. She lingers on a new-made memory, allows herself to treasure this kiss: their first, and their last.