50 S H A D E S of B L U E

Disclaimer: Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto

一、AU to a very insane degree. This story is set in an Ancient China-esque world and based on the war-ridden period from around 770 BC to 221 BC. It doesn't cover all those years - just about a snippet of it. There was a time during that era when the China then (about half of what it is now) was divided into seven countries. Sakura is from Chu, one of the more powerful kingdoms.


THE FIFTH


"I'm going off to war," he said as he tightened the knot on the sack.

Sakura sighed. It was a man's duty: for the honor, for the pride – always for the kingdom…

。。。。。

The goddess of harvest had blessed the people with yet another year of prosperity. Families went up to her temple to offer her the fruits of their hard work. After prayers, they shuffled down the steps on the hill and headed toward the streets, where the festival was held. Amongst them was a tiny girl.

She pushed her way through the crowds, turning heads as she went. It wasn't her unique green eyes that made her stand out – oh, no. It was her pink hair. Caught up in a sea of black-haired, black-eyed folks, she was like a phoenix trapped in a pile of crows. Their curious caws didn't seem to bother the child as she skipped and rocked her rattle drum.

"Come buy some moon cakes! Freshly prepared moon cakes!" called a young man from the stand beside her. Eight-year-old Sakura stopped in her trail, cheeks flushed. It was for certain that she would get moon cakes at home, but she was hungry. And she had leftover money – enough for a snack. She hesitated and surveyed the other stands near her. Almost instantly, her light jade eyes fell onto the blue fabric. It was the first shade of blue that ever grabbed her attention. Its brightness, its smooth tone – she didn't even notice that her favorite toy had slipped from her hand as she approached the clothing stand. She got as close as she could without pressing her face into the stunning blue; the end that hung out quivered with each breath as she exhaled. If it was possible to fall in love with a color, then little Sakura just did.

"Oi, save your drool for something else," came the voice of a boy. The owner of the voice had tugged at one of her pigtails, snapping her out of her daze.

Sakura whipped her head around and glared at him. "Sai! Don't do that!" she said, pouting.

"It's not my fault blue doesn't suit you," he grinned and held up her drum, "or your hair."

"Hmph," she snatched her toy from him. "Just wait. When my hair grows out, I'll be the most beautiful girl you've ever seen!"

But she didn't know that she already was. Three more years of teasing and fist fights brought the two even closer. Her parents left the world, and Sai was the only rope to hang onto. Not even the Hyuugas, who took Sakura in, could match the place the boy held in her heart. She never did admit that; she didn't have to.

As the moon became full, families gathered on the night of the mid-autumn's festival; they were complete like the silver circle in the sky. Sakura's reunion dinner was more of the moon cake in front of her – pieces were missing. She averted her gaze from the desert and shivered. She'd only finished a third of her rice before she stepped outside, allowing the Hyuugas to have some real family bonding time. Out of habit, she climbed onto the roof top, where she would not disturb the happiness below but still be a part of it. She drew her knees up to her chest for warmth and noticed a smudge of dirt at the hem of her pants. "Why won't you act more ladylike? At this rate, who would want you as a bride?" her mother had constantly nagged at her about her cleanliness.

Well, it was a woman's duty: for the family, for the children – always for the husband.

。。。。。

"Thought you'd be here," Sai said and squatted down beside her on the grassy plain. They were at the outskirts of the capital. That year, Sakura was fourteen-and-a-half.

"Why are you here? Shouldn't you be at home?"

"I have to watch you. What if you scared an innocent stranger?"

"That happened to pass by this field at this hour?" Sakura shook her head and looked up at the nighttime sky. Its shade of blue was almost darker than black. She marveled at the twinkling spots adorning the murky blue. "Do you think we'll see a shooting star?"

"…Maybe," he nodded as he lied down.

Sakura closed her eyes for a while and listened to the rustling grass, with Sai's rhythmic breathing as a harmony. But moments later, his gasp disrupted the song.

"I just saw one," he whispered. She heard Sai sitting up and her eyes flew open. He was gaping at the heavens.

"Wh-what did you see?"

He turned to her and smiled. "A falling star."

"Did you make a wish?" she demanded with a hint of jealousy.

"Yes."

She giggled and nudged him. "What did you wish for?"

"Your happiness. I wished for you to be…happy."

Their eyes met. Sakura's brows furrowed. "Aa! You shouldn't have told me! It can't come true that way!"

And it didn't.

When Sakura turned 15, she became a wife – Sai's wife. They fought everyday and made up afterward, just like they used to. Mere months after they became a family, war broke out. All the capable young men were called to serve their country; Sai went off to fulfill his duty, leaving Sakura behind in the house that they built in the field where he tattled his wish. What neither of them expected was for Sakura to become a widow 18 months later. Most soldiers returned after eight months the war started, none of them Sai, but Sakura didn't give up hope.

Two more months passed and the war was over. There was still no sign of her husband. People saw less of the witty pink-haired girl; she chose to leave the house as little as she could, only for food and rare visits to the Hyuugas. Her home – the one that she built with Sai, the one that she watched grow bigger and stronger, like it was their child – was the only thing connecting her to the missing man.

On one fine day, Sakura pulled out the rolls of thread and silk Hinata had sent her and began to sew a new cloak. Autumn was coming – she wanted to compensate Sai when he came back. Once afternoon hit, the sunlight no longer penetrated the east side of the house. She moved her materials to the study room, which was on the west. She put the stool by the window while smiling at the calligraphy pieces Sai had created on the table. She then glanced out. For the first time, she really saw the sky.

Its blue was breathtaking. From that point on, she would often sit and stare at the beyond hour after hour. She noticed that the blue was never the same. Some days it was light, sometimes it was dark, and on rare occasions she would witness her first love: the shade of blue on the fabric she saw eight years ago. The sky, in the wait for her husband, became Sakura's closest and only friend.

The mid-autumn festival that year would be a night Sakura would never forget. It marked the 18th month since Sai had left to defend the kingdom. It was the night when another piece of her moon cake was taken by the gods. The messenger of the holy ones came in the form of a general – the very man who led Sai and the other brave soldiers off to battle.

"Can I offer you something to eat?" she had asked.

"No, there's no need for your kindness," he replied and took off his helmet.

"Then come in at least, please."

"Sakura…"

His eyes were bloodshot and full of pity. The smile on her face faded.

"Sakura –" his voice broke "– he…Sai is…"

"Is he coming back? How is he?"

"He…was captured by the enemies."

– The blood-red setting sun had contaminated the blue sky –

"B-but…he is safe, right?"

"No."

"General, what are you saying?"

"He was taken back to the enemy camp site."

"Then –"

"They…all the captives…were executed a few months ago. The news just reached here."

"General, I just remembered that I have the soup on the stove. I-I'll have to –" she swallowed hard "– take it off before…"

"He was brave – a true hero."

"Thank you for coming," she bowed and began to close the door.

"We'll honor him!"

The door shut – on the world, on herself, and there was no soup.

。。。。。

She spent two months grieving before she stepped outside the house. She decided that she was too much of a burden to Hinata, the precious Hyuuga daughter who brought food to her each day. Sakura's hair grew long and she was beautiful, but Sai wasn't there to acknowledge it all. As her eyes surveyed her surroundings, she felt like a child taking her first steps into the open world. Everything seemed strange and wonderful. She stopped at the entrance of the capital; people stole glances at her as she walked in. Sakura smiled – no matter what the contents of the whispers around her were, she took them to be the welcomes for returning. She looked up; the blue in the city was different from the blue she saw back home, but it was delightful nonetheless. And then she bumped into someone: a young man holding an exquisite vase.

Modest apologies evolved into small talk and, soon, long conversations. He comforted her, provided her with security, and he was charming. He owned a pottery shop; Sakura used the excuse that she wanted to learn how to make pots in order to see him, to be close to him. The place eventually became her new home and she moved out of the house filled with sorrowful memories, and the man eventually became her second husband.

Sakura didn't know that she was still overshadowed by the failed wish. Four months of peace was all she had with the second husband. He stayed up late one night making a new vase and caught a terrible cold. A week after that, he died. Sakura had no idea how to act – at least this time, there was a body to bury. The emperor could just ask for someone else to make his vase; she couldn't ask for her husband to come back.

The third husband rolled around, quite literally, when Sakura was burning incense at her second husband's grave three months after his death. It was in a bamboo forest, and the strange man had stumbled out, panting.

"A-a beast!" he stammered and grabbed Sakura by the arm. He dragged her down the hill and didn't stop until they reached a main road. She could've resisted, but followed a hunch and chose not to. If she were to get into danger, she'd use her martial arts without a second thought.

It turned out that he wasn't from her kingdom and was in Chu for a silk trade business. Her oddly active instincts told her to offer him a tour of the capital. When he proposed, Sakura felt satisfied because she saw it coming. She didn't like the smug feeling, but it was a chance to escape. If she were to marry him, she would have to live in Lu, the small country north of Chu.

And she did.

The sky was still the same, in both its appearance and its role to Sakura. On the eve of the spring festival, about three years after Sai had packed and went away, Sakura's third husband fell off his new horse. The startled animal stomped on him, sending the man to Death. Sakura's moon cake was almost gone.

Haruno Sakura was 18, orphaned, and widowed three times. If she knew that there would be a fourth time, she wouldn't have gone on her journey touring the seven countries. Her greatest souvenir, aside from valuable experiences, was the one she got in the country of Yan five months after her travels started. The region was known for its snowy mountains, and he was hiking when she met the fourth at a small sheltered tea stand. He was a doctor, almost twice her age, and very wise. He spoke of his kind mother and his two children. Sakura was rather shocked to find out that they were just a bit younger than she was. The daughter was married with a kid of her own. When the children treated her poorly, the husband and his mother made it up to her. Although she had had all sorts of conflicts with her past husbands, she shared a peaceful relationship with the fourth.

It was the second month of the fourth year after Sai went off to war. For once the world crumbled down on her husband first – the mother passed away. His heart was broken, but Sakura never thought that he would commit suicide. In the end, she was unable to face the blue, blue sky anymore. After all, how many times had she lay in the arms of her men and admitted the beauty. Haruno Sakura was 19, orphaned, widowed for the fourth time, and ready to go home.

。。。。。

Unlike Sai on the day he set off, Sakura was untying the knot on the sack. She returned to the Hyuuga manor and was greeted with joyful tears from many people, even a drop from Master Hiashi. To show her appreciation, she used the fortune she got from her husbands and bought everyone, down to the last stable boy, gifts. However, this gesture of gratitude had a negative effect.

"Th-they're talking about you."

Sakura sighed and paused in her unpacking. "Because of my four husbands?" she smiled bitterly at Hinata. The Hyuuga gem was pouring some tea; her technique was ideal for becoming a wife.

"I think it's the four d-dead husbands that bothers them."

"And how they all happened to have money?"

"It's the old saying," Hinata offered Sakura a cup. "It's jasmine – your favorite."

"That's a saying?" Sakura let out the first giggle she had in a long time.

"I mean," Hinata disagreed, blushing. "The saying about the kind of woman who…can only be married to an emperor. They say that normal men would just be…worn out and driven over the edge."

"The edge between life and death…" Sakura sniffed and took a sip. "Maybe that's my life."

Hinata looked at her friend with sorry eyes. The one thing Sakura would say that she did better than her friend was lightening the mood – just like a man.

"How much gold do you think I can get for helping others 'wear out' bad men?" she winked.

Hinata didn't laugh or smile. "To tell you the truth, your…abilities might be put to use again soon."

"What do you mean?"

As they spoke, Master Hyuuga Hiashi was meeting with another family. The discussions around the capital surrounding Sakura irked him. He had to find her a proper home; maybe if he picked the next man, Sakura's luck would turn around. His only hope was that the Uchihas hadn't heard anything about the girl as he sat down in the lobby.

"So…how old is this girl?" asked Mikoto. "19?"

Hiashi nodded; she didn't know. "That is correct."

"It might be my son's age but," she clasped her hands together, "isn't that a little bit old?"

"Her spirit is young."

"And she's never been married?"

"One could say so," Hiashi smiled politely.

Mikoto frowned. "I need a pure bride for my son."

"There's not a speck of dirt on her," Hiashi assured. It was true, in a sense – her soul was still clean.

"And her name?"

Hiashi's smile widened. "Sakura. Haruno Sakura."

"Give me the portrait," Mikoto ordered the maids, who then brought the painting of Sakura forward. "She – a Haruno…"

"Will you take her?"

"I'll alert you when I've set the date," Mikoto stood up, looking glad. "I shall go tell Sasuke that I've found him the perfect bride. Would you like to stay for dinner?"

"No," he chuckled. "I need to tell Sakura the…good news."

It was settled, but he was still worried. Sure, she didn't know – yet.

。。。。。

When the fourth husband died, Sakura wanted to swear that she wouldn't marry again. But she didn't. Perhaps she would try marriage again in a couple of years, not two weeks; however, Hiashi had spoken. Haruno Sakura – still 19, still orphaned, still widowed for four times – was running into the arms of another just 14 days after her last husband's death. Apparently her new mother-in-law wanted the ceremony to be as soon as possible.

Sakura was seated on the most elegant wedding bed she had ever laid eyes on. Red was a nice color, she supposed; but she'd seen it too many times. She had been to enough weddings for a life time, though she wasn't sure if this would be the last one. Uchiha men were said to be very handsome – a pity, really. Her body stiffened as she wondered how long this man would last.

The red candles were almost burnt out; of all the grooms she had, this one took the longest to enter the nuptial chamber. Sakura suspected that his lack of enthusiasm about the marriage matched hers. Just as she was undoing her sash to get ready for a lonely wedding night, the doors flung open.

"Hn," was her new husband's first word to her. She didn't have time to react. All she saw was blue. He might have had red clothes on, but the blue – never had she witnessed such a blue. His hair was black with a tint of the magnificent color, and his aura emitted another shade of it, a shade that excited the goose bumps out of her.

"Don't expect too much," he said, eyeing her loosened robes. He grabbed the pillow next to hers, threw it onto the carpet, and blew out the candles.

And again, she could do nothing else but blink. The tiniest smile crept onto her face while she watched his outline lie down on the floor. What a dark night – I am the woman that only the emperor can handle…Sakura took the other sheet and tossed it to his back. "It'll get colder," she whispered.

Are you an emperor, Uchiha Sasuke?


一、Hello, Husband #5. It was extremely normal for parents to decide who their children marry back in the day, so this isn't really a crappy arranged marriage. Maybe to Sasuke, but since he's 19, which is like being in his late-twenties now, he doesn't have much choice. Now the question is whether Sakura's bad luck is wearing out - will Sasuke "survive?" I hate to sound like an ad person, but if you want more information and is too lazy to research Chinese history at the moment, then feel free to click on the "Homepage" in my profile.