Asian history prof showed us the first 10 minutes of Twilight Samurai, Japan's equivalent in awesome-movie-making of highly awarded films such as Titanic and LotR:RoK. It came out in 2002 and won like 12 awards at the Japanese Academy Awards...ANYWAY. This popped into my head. Yeah. It's a problem, and it's not even done yet.
This is an AU fic set in 18th century Tokugawa period Japan, about a hundred years into the Tokugawa period and about a hundred years before it's downfall. And I'm choosing that Sakura's maternal-side grandfather was from Ireland, and that her hair is a strawberry blond. I'm trying to be as period accurate as I can be given the cursory knowledge I know have of Tokugawa Japan. And I'm sorry it's text-heavy. Deal with it...?
Her father wanted the prestige of the samurai without having to outright buy it. He suffered enough with his wife being the daughter of a foreigner and a merchant's daughter, and he suffered enough with his only child being a daughter who looked like she was a demon from a Noh play, and he suffered enough that he was rich enough to bribe the right to carry two swords but too proud to steal that rank from the samurai, and he suffered enough that his family had the nickname Springtime to complement the strange color of his wife and daughter's hair. He therefore came easily to an agreement which eased his suffering with a samurai from the next village over, one Hatake Kakashi.
Kakashi was a samurai, having inherited the title from his father. His mother had been the daughter of another samurai, and each parent had seemingly been samurai since the time of Yoshitsune. The only difference between then and now was that the samurai of the past had been wealthy and affluent, whereas Kakashi made ends meet. His clothing was not dirty or ripped or too worn, but it was not new, and he was well kept save for his hair was a little too wild. She had heard rumors that Kakashi had suffered a great deal in his life as well, but bore it with the strength of a true samurai. But the man was hovering close to becoming a debtor after the funeral he had given his father, and much of his pride was humbled to the point of taking a merchant up on the offer of a wife—and the dowry she would bring with her. His only demand was that he meet with her before he accepted the dowry, he did not want to obligate anyone to anything until he determined whether a merchant's daughter for a wife was suitable.
Sakura was sixteen, a fine age her mother liked to say as she combed her fingers through her daughter's hair. They neither of them spoke about their neighbors Ino or Hinata, who were each married at fourteen and fifteen respectively—or that Ino was already a mother. Sakura's grandfather had been from a place he called "Eire," but he had spoken of it in passing only. What he had passed on was his oddly colored hair to his daughter, and she had in turn passed it on to Sakura. Her mother's hair was more on the orange side of things, but Sakura's was just nearly pink it was so light. It was why, she had suspected for a few years, she was sixteen and unmarried. No man would want to account for her odd coloring to his family and associates, and so none of her father's acquaintances mentioned her to other friends. A samurai without the money to take in the next year's harvest was all she was left with.
There were men in her own village whom she would have chosen when she was twelve or thirteen, not yet understanding of how disadvantaged she was because of her appearance—sons of merchants not being encouraged to choose a wife based on her character, they were not beholden to the Confucian ideal of inner morality as the samurai were. There was the handsome son of one of the local samurai, Uchiwa Sasuke, but he had refused to leave his master, a lord from Kyoto, because that meant leaving Kyoto. Sasuke's dark eyes were cool towards her whenever he visited the village, though, and Sakura had only entertained thoughts of him because she knew of her father's painful position in life—wealth but little respect, and a marriage to a samurai's son would give her family respect. There was also the adopted son of the village head, another samurai. This young man loved her, Sakura knew that much, but his constant spouting of Chinese poetry when she preferred Japanese poetry was too much. Few were the visits to her father for her hand, and even fewer were the poems addressed to her from other than the lord's son.
Her mother and father were overjoyed when Sarutobi Asuma suggested that Sakura marry Kakashi. Asuma was of the proper rank to conduct such an introduction of the families, he was a samurai only slightly higher in ranking than Kakashi and he was not so haughty as to reject the company of a wealthy merchant. To arrange such a match would also bring him honor, and Sakura's father was close to Asuma to such a degree that it would be a slap in the face to reject his help with finding a husband for a pink haired girl. Sakura could only feel relieved that she could bring her family a bit of honor by marrying into the samurai class, but she could not contain her nervousness at the thought of meeting Hatake Kakashi before her father paid him Sakura's dowry. He would see her and immediately the comparison to a demon, a devil, would pop into his head. Asuma said that he had forewarned Kakashi of her appearance, but Sakura could not take much comfort in that. She and her mother were the only people she had ever seen to have had this red hair, this wide forehead, and green eyes. This man was going to be as perturbed as any other at her, she knew it.
The travel between villages was an uneventful one because it had not yet been determined that Sakura would marry—no point in packing up her belongings or putting on expensive clothing. It was only a fifteen mile trip, something which fortunately only took a day. They got into the village late in the evening and stopped at the tiny inn to rest awhile as Sakura's father went to report their arrival to Hatake. As Sakura and her mother waited, innkeeper's wife was most informative about the Hatake family, of the character of Kakashi in particular. Her eyes were speculative as she took in the exotic hair color of her guests but politely did not publically address their oddness. She did remark that Sakura should not be surprised the next day when seeing Kakashi, that his hair had turned white within weeks of his father's death—being completely white by the time the man's funeral rites had been finished. The innkeeper's wife instructed Sakura, kindly and thankfully without staring at her hair, to not judge him as old when she met him.
Her father spared her from hearing any more by his return from paying his respects, but Sakura did not know if she should be thankful or not. Would she be a proper wife for a man so deeply committed to living a proper and moral life? She could bring shame upon him not only for her appearance but for her lineage, the child of merchants—of even foreign merchants—marrying up socially but down economically. While he seemed fine enough about this to agree to Asuma's matchmaking, it did not mean he didn't have strong feelings about it. Samurai had pride in their culture, and Sakura had always thought that that pride was well earned—while there were bad samurai, there were a great deal more of them who were good. They were disciplined people who were highly educated, and they fought bravely when it was required of them. A samurai should never have to consider marrying a merchant's daughter. Sakura lay down to sleep that night in an uneasy mood, she was certain that tomorrow Hatake Kakashi would break the informal agreement he and her father had reached.
The following morning dawned early, but the family didn't set out to Kakashi's land until midmorning because of dense fog which had rolled in over the night. Sakura knelt on the front porch of the inn, wrapped in warm layers and a carefully placed hood over her head—to keep her warm and to keep the dew and damp of the fog from twisting her hair out of carefully straight loops put in by her mother. Her own village was situated on a mountainside, above where fog traditionally formed. This village was lower, in the valley, and the mist could sometimes last into midday here. When the sun burned through the fogbank, bathing the village road in golden light and lighting up the trees and grasses into brilliant emeralds, Sakura was sure that she would easily find a home here. She knew she would be odd wherever she went in life, but here the mornings would dawn silver and white and gradually reveal the vivid colors of the lowlands. She wouldn't have to hide her appearance until later in the day if she were to live here.
Asuma arrived just as Sakura's mother was finishing helping Sakura change into an appropriate kimono for meeting with a samurai of Kakashi's standing. He was taller than Sakura's father and he assured her that his friend was even another two inches taller than him, even if the man didn't look it most days. Sakura could only smile a little, raising her hand to hide her mouth, because if she opened her mouth she would start the morning off with a poorly worded question or a mangled message of thanks to her father's friend. It was better that she appear quiet and peaceful than upset and ill at ease, otherwise Asuma might feel that perhaps she was not an ideal match. She missed the troubled double take her calm reaction inspired in Asuma—he only considered the match between his friend and the daughter of his other friend because this girl was lively and if married to Kakashi would have no overbearing in-laws. He had told a reluctant Kakashi that this woman would bring light into his home and his life—his friend was certainly not expecting this demure girl-child in place of the young woman Asuma had known since her birth.
During the hour long walk, he tried to suss out why Sakura was acting so strangely. The best conclusion he could come up with was someone had convinced her that she was not adequate as the wife of a samurai. Whether she herself did the convincing or someone else, the girl was very wrong. A man living at the barest of his needs so as to save as much money as possible marrying the daughter of a rich merchant, it was a perfect situation for them both in both the immediate and the long-term. Kakashi wanted to live the ideal life of the samurai, not concerned with money because of a good wife keeping stock of the household and of the income, and the daughter of the Springtime Merchant was an excellent choice. Sakura had a head for managing money, and she was strong for a woman of her age and would be able to aid Kakashi in running his land as well. That the girl couldn't see this was troubling.
When they arrived at Kakashi's home Asuma went in alone, gently telling the family that he wanted to make sure that his friend hadn't forgotten about the number of visitors. Once the shoji were securely shut he sought out his friend, tapping at screens and peering into rooms. It was in the tea room that he found Kakashi discussing tea preparations with Asuma's wife Kurenai. Asuma smiled and knelt down to tell Kakashi of the strange development in Sakura.
Kakashi listened quietly, dark eye fixed intently on Asuma, the other eye closed against the light—it was sightless in any case, but Asuma didn't mention it. A year ago the daimyo had called all of them (himself, Kakashi, Kakashi's father, and their other friend Obito included) to help control a local rebellion, and the losses had been heavy. Obito had been killed, Kakashi had lost an eye, Asuma had nearly been lamed, and Kakashi's father Sakumo had sustained so many wounds no one expected him to have hung on as long as he did. The man had died after three months of agony, three months in which Kakashi's hair suddenly grayed, and was completely white within a month of his father's death. At thirty years of age each, they looked like a young man and a very old man when they spent time together in the village. Those times together had been waning as Kakashi tried to financially recover from the funeral which he had given his father, and as the man adjusted to living without either his father or his deepest friend. It was one morning after a sparring match between them using only wooden swords that Kakashi mentioned somewhat brokenly that he would marry a merchant's daughter rather than lose his family's land. Both could be seen as shameful he had gone on to say, but at least marriage didn't involve ultimate dishonor, suicide, and the end of his family line. Asuma had knelt in silence next to Kakashi for a few moments, staring at the dejected form of the powerful man, and was struck that he knew of a girl broken enough by life to be able to lend Kakashi the hand he needed.
"Bring them in, I suppose. Although tell them that I also wish to speak to Sakura-san alone." Asuma gave a short bow before collecting himself and making his way through the home back to the front porch where Sakura and her parents waited for him. They looked like a family of merchants, all with sharp and glinting eyes—even Sakura, despite her odd temper this morning—and the fine cotton clothing all of them wore. Silk would have been an affront to wear to such an informal meeting, and especially shaming to Kakashi who was in a financial mess. Asuma was glad that his merchant friend had foresight enough for this.
Sakura kept her eyes canted to the side as she entered the room behind her parents, subtly looking at the dimensions of the tatami and the aesthetic of their arrangement—according to her mother, a man's preferences of the dimensions of a tatami room could provide much insight to his character. She also did this so as to avoid seeing the samurai's reaction to her appearance—a man having white hair after a shock such as he had suffered was not unheard of, but she was just lucky to have even been invited. As she and her family sat to start the tea, she couldn't help but notice that she had been herded so that she faced Kakashi. For the majority of the time as they took tea she felt his eyes on her but refused to look up to meet his gaze. He would have the same cold eyes as Uchiwa Sasuke, she was sure of it. He and Asuma and her father spoke of the local daimyo and of the rebellion of the last year, each expressing quietly how glad they were to have had the strife put to an end. Sakura focused on helping her mother make more tea and keep water available, and she listened to her suitor's voice. It was a pleasant one, cool, docile, and calming—much like the fog of the earlier morning. She was startled out of her reverie by that voice asking her if she would accompany him to the garden he kept, to discuss whether it was suitable for the addition of a momiji tree, if the coloring of the maple would mix well with the other trees and flowers.
Her eyes shot towards him, breaking her earlier vow to not allow his gaze to judge her. She met only one eye as the other was clamped shut, a scar marring it directly down the center. It was the first time she saw his face, and the rest of him rather than just his knees and hands. He was a man in his late twenties—Asuma had mentioned thirty?—and crows' feet formed at the creases of his eyes, just becoming visible. His jaw was clean from stubble, and his shoulders were set at a relaxed slump. His hakama and haori were of a subtle design, showing the self-respect of a samurai but not the sumptuous quality of Asuma's clothing. This man would provide for her, but he would not be giving her a lavish lifestyle. Sakura felt she was kind of fine with that suddenly, a man with the money to do that would no doubt keep her only as his mistress because he was ashamed of making her his wife. This man had no such wealth and was relaxed in this situation with her. His eyes were kind, not pitying, but kind.
Mentally Sakura committed herself to the bargain right then.