Notes: Please remember this is an AU with a decidedly non-ninja setting! It is highly influenced by an unhealthy obsession with Turkish divan poetry, countless history books on the Ottoman Empire, and the brilliant Ferzan Özpetek's Harem Suare.
At one glance I love you with a thousand hearts.
01: let him rejoice awhile (A Prologue, Perchance)
Iruka sighed as he heard his uncle call him again. I'm not a child. He hurried to take the soup off the fire and finish cooking dinner. He wiped his brow with a folded up cloth from the table and went to join his uncle. I still have to wash the bedding, what else does he want?
As he entered the salon, he was surprised and immediately embarrassed: Uncle had guests. Iruka sighed and put on a polite smile, hoping it would distract from his ill fitting and shabby garments.
I have a bad feeling about this.
"Yes, Uncle?" he said, the politeness burning in the back of his throat.
"Ah, here is my lazy nephew. What took you so long? Sit, we need your assistance." His uncle pointed to a small stool sitting before him and the three guests.
Iruka sat, facing them, his Uncle near to his side.
How dare he call me nephew, he treats me like a cow. Lazy? He only knows the meaning of the word because of how well it suits him! A core of rage seethed within Iruka, seeking tempering, but now more than ever seeking release. He longed to destroy something.
"This man is looking for an assistant," Uncle said, gesturing toward the guests. "You're smart, and you can read and write. I think you might get a job from him."
Iruka stared at the men seated before him. The first man was peculiar, to say the least. He was strangely attired, had outlandish hair, and wore an eye patch over one eye. Iruka tried to keep from staring as he studied the man, but his curiosity was overpowering. The two men flanking the first were only a little less bizarre. One had scaring across his left cheek. He's still handsome, thought Iruka before looking at the other man who wore a scarf around his head.
Iruka almost laughed; he wore the scarf like the milk maidens did. It set off his plain, nearly delicate features. Iruka hid a smile as he imagined the three of them milking cows.
He looked toward his Uncle. "Are you selling me again?" asked Iruka solemnly.
Iruka jumped as his Uncle smacked him. He fell off the stool and stared up in shock at the three men before him. The two men in the back sat stone-faced, staring at a distant point above Iruka's head, as if they hadn't seen a thing, but he man with the eye patch was frowning.
He leaned forward to right the stool and help Iruka up. "Maa, I'd like to have him in one piece, Uncle. And he's far too pretty to mar, isn't he?" The man drawled in a nearly bored voice. It scared Iruka.
It reminded him of the man he'd been sold to last spring. He beat Iruka if he didn't have the stables cleaned on time. And he never told Iruka when that time was, just decidedly arbitrarily. Luckily, that had been temporary work for the summer. Iruka had never been so glad to return to his Uncle.
"My apologies, gentleman, but you will find that this one responds best to a little physical prodding. He's not slow, just lazy, and needs motivating."
The man just nodded, made a Hmm sound, and watched Iruka.
"Perhaps I can talk with him? Maybe have him take a letter for me. I need to verify he's of use to me and that his attributes aren't being exaggerated." He gave Uncle a pointed look.
"Ah yes, of course!" Uncle continued speaking and fawning, but Iruka tuned him out.
He hated this part. Hated being discussed as if he weren't in the room and weren't even capable of saying 'Yes, I can do that' or 'Are you an idiot?' or maybe even 'Go to hell' upon occasion.
Once, a buyer from another village had come for him. He was evasive when Uncle asked 'Where did you hear of my nephew? What kind of work do you want him to do?'
The man had kept his face covered, like a woman, and it terrified Iruka. The man was definitely no woman and something about him simply screamed pain, torture, and punishment.
Greedy though he was, Iruka knew his Uncle feared the Sultan and the edicts passed that made it illegal to sell slaves to shady or distrustful people. He took the law seriously. No small amount of money was worth prison or death.
Iruka came to as his Uncle snapped his fingers by Iruka's ear. "Weren't you listening, you indolent sloth? You'll go with them for now. Learn what you need to know and we'll see if you have a job."
Sullen, Iruka went with the man and his two servants, leaving shortly after.Uncle didn't even invite them to eat. He has no manners!
When they arrived at the Inn where the men were staying, the man introduced himself to Iruka, told him briefly what he wanted in an assistant and informed Iruka that he would, after the contracted two years were up, be more than happy to free him if Iruka served him well.
After having Iruka take a short letter, a contract accepting the terms laid out to Iruka's uncle, he sat Iruka down at a table and brought out food. Then he asked questions.
"What do you want to know," Iruka asked. "Master?" he added on nervously, while the man set out food and poured him coffee.
The man shook his head at that, "Call me Kakashi, Iruka. And tell me about yourself. What do you like?"
Why does he want to know what I like? Why does he care? Iruka frowned and told Kakashi about himself. It felt odd to be the focus of so much attention; no one had ever cared to know anything about him before. He told Kakashi about the war, how he was orphaned, and that his Uncle took him in, but sold him as slave labour because he had his own children to provide for. Children that never lifted a finger to do chores.
He went on and on as Kakashi kept offering him food, then dessert—an extraordinarily rare treat for Iruka, and finally, wine. It was late when he finally felt too sleepy to continue. "I have to go, I'm tired. I'm…" Iruka broke off into a loud yawn and stretched before standing up. "If I don't get up on time, Uncle will… he'll… the room is moving!" Iruka laughed and Kakashi smiled, standing to help Iruka up.
"Stay here tonight, Iruka. I think I'd like you to work for me after all."
"But I didn't, your letter, and I can tell you… I… cook and things. I chop wood. I can fry fish and you'd… it's so good, and meatballs that… mmm." Iruka closed his eyes and tried to open them again.
He's got a nice smile. I'd like to work for him.
Two days later, Iruka was dressed and ready to leave with Kakashi. He had a small embroidered bag that contained the only things he cared about in life: a miniature painting that had been his fathers, a necklace his mother gave him, and a page of religious love poetry an old man had given him in exchange for water.
Iruka shook his head as his Uncle looked at him patiently. "What do you mean he didn't come back? He paid. He has my papers. How can he…?" Iruka felt his heart dropping even as he tried to convince himself that he had misunderstood. "No, he has to come, he promised."
"Look, Iruka. He thought you were a pretty boy, enjoyed you for a night, no, two nights he had you! What he paid, well, it was easy work wasn't it? You are a pretty boy. See how far it's got you? Now, before they come, you should gather the eggs, I don't want dogs in there again." Iruka looked down at the remains of the meal he'd fixed for his Uncle and his two oldest children. He didn't eat, hadn't wanted to out of sheer excitement. "Be ready when the Sultan's soldiers come!" his Uncle yelled as he left the house.
Iruka sat staring at the table after his uncle left. I thought he liked me. He was going to educate me and I liked his smile and he kissed me…Iruka sighed as he thought back over the past two days that he spent with Kakashi learning, relaxing, and having fun.
He rubbed the scar across his nose, fingers pushing hard. Kakashi had lifted a hand to his cheek, thumb dragging lightly across the scar on his nose, and smiled at him. 'Iruka, I'm so glad we stopped and I met you.'
And later he'd said, 'I'll get you out of here, Iruka. You're too smart for this.'
He'd promised… 'Iruka, I… I'll be back. I have to get my trunks and belongings since we're changing course.'
He'd said he was glad…'Don't fret, Iruka. I'll be back soon, I promise.'
Uncle never said his name, and when he did, well, it was never for a good reason. It was strangely exhilarating to have someone say his name so kindly and speak so genuinely to him.
Kakashi had smiled at him. It was a simple smile, very honest. He'd kissed Iruka on the forehead and left.
The first thing Uncle had said when he came downstairs was that they hadn't returned. 'Iruka, they haven't come back, so I've found another buyer. I don't want my brother's good name to be forgotten, but you must understand. I've my own children to worry over. You'll be happy in the seraglio, a pretty, lazy boy like you. Hardly any work at all!'
Iruka had slowly prepared food, but not eaten.
Uncle had laughed as he shovelled food into his mouth and gulped down hot coffee. 'I'm going to the judge. You keep quiet about this deal with Kakashi. He still has your papers…' Uncle mused while Iruka sat in shock. 'Bah, who'd go against the Sultan?'He'd laughed, poking Iruka's arm.
It was dark by the time the soldiers came. Kakashi didn't come back.