With the US's own Veteran's Day coming up, I had it on the brain. I also have had the vague notion of doing a couple one-shots in the "Life Informs Life," universe, kind of typing up some loose ends I've noticed since I wrote that one-shot initially. This one takes place before Sakura bashes her way into Kakashi's life. It's also my way of explaining why shinobi would wear damn scarves sometimes because just...gaah, it's silly in my mind. So yeah.
No real KakaSaku here, just alluded to in the fact that it could happen to these two characters. Even though if you read LIL you know they DO get together. Eventually.
Fear not, however, this can also be read as a stand-alone. It's in fact meant to be able to support itself without LIL to prop it up.
It was Veteran's Day in Konoha—the day where all Chuunin-level shinobi and above were honored by the village, whether they were active duty or not. They were usually given that day off—no missions accepted by the village to be performed, save for a skeleton crew who would defend the village, and even they would have a special celebration with the Hokage on another date to honor their further sacrifice. The air was cold, it was the middle of winter after-all, which allowed for the true colors of the festival to shine through.
Chuunin wore green scarves, special Jounin wore yellow ones, regular Jounin wore blue—while a few individuals also wore a second scarf, this time of red.
Sakura walked arm in arm with Ino, her green scarf wrapped carefully around her neck. She'd never paid much attention to this particular holiday before because she had either been a child in school or couldn't actually fully participate because of her rank. But this year she could, and she was taking full advantage of it—Ino for her part was just weeks away from the Chuunin exam and couldn't actually wear a scarf. Sakura had taken it upon herself to escort her friend around.
They had just turned the corner down another vendor's alley when they heard the tell-tale sounds of Gai-sensei challenging his Eternal Rival to a duel of some sort. Sakura turned her head around a little, trying to catch a glimpse of her Genin-sensei's tall form and his mop of silver hair. He was of course wearing a scarf, dyed a brilliant sapphire blue—but he was also wearing that mysterious red scarf. No one had yet explained what that one meant, but Sakura had seen more than a dozen of them since gaining entrance to the cordoned off celebration.
She decided she had to know, leaving Ino at the games and searching on her own.
The other Chuunin around her either didn't know or pretended not to. Sakura scoffed inside at their attempts to pretend—her teachers were some of the most no-nonsense shinobi with major sticks up their asses, and they had little use for those who pretended anything, and Sakura had gotten very good at finding out bullshit from truth. She didn't know very many Jounin, but those she was familiar with she questioned as respectfully as she could—they were on a whole different level, both in rank and skill, than she was so she tried not to be annoying. Well…she tried not to be very annoying, because their faces usually changed from genial to stony when she asked.
A heavy hand on her shoulder, however, stopped her in mid-sentence as she spoke to Shikamaru's wryly amused father. He glanced up at the person behind her and nodded his head just a little before wandering off—it was no doubt from him that Shikamaru learned his stoic nature. Sakura rounded on the person who had scared off Shikaku before she abruptly shut her mouth.
Her Genin-sensei, Hatake Kakashi, was slouching just a foot away from her. She'd rarely seen him since she had been taken under Tsunade-sama's wing because Tsunade had declared that a student could only serve one master at a time. The Hokage had also made this declaration in front of Kakashi as he was mid-way through scheduling a training session with Sakura as they stood in the missions room—he'd laughed shortly and in an odd departure of character bowed formally to the Godaime before making an excuse that he hadn't watered his plants that day.
"Sakura-chan, Nara-san has a lot on his plate tonight—his son is being considered for an important promotion, and his wife is…not taking the idea as well as he and Shikamaru would have thought—I'm sure this other old man can help answer your questions." Sakura of course missed the two dozen or so eyes which subtly followed the two of them as Kakashi guided her away from the clump of Jounin she'd been standing near.
"Kakashi-sensei, you're only twenty nine, you're not old," she muttered, a little upset that someone had shut her down—just because she hadn't seen the looks didn't mean she took Kakashi's interference as an accident. It was just that—interference. Someone, somewhere, had something to hide—but Sakura decided to patently ignore the fact that this was a ninja village, everyone had something to hide. She pouted, which Kakashi thought was amusing enough to merit a good chuckle at her expense, and Sakura's temper burst.
"I don't see what the problem was, Kakashi-sensei!"
"Problem?" he played dumb because he was a shinobi—it was his job to keep information safely tucked inside his brain, and Sakura's early inability to do that had made her a poor kunoichi until Tsunade had beaten it out of her.
"I just wanted to know why you were wearing the red scarf, why only a few people were wearing it. And I got shut down—they sent interrupted you and Gai-sensei so they could have you tell me to back off!"
"Well aren't you a clever girl—although I never mind anything that interrupts Gai," Kakashi's voice was even but Sakura could feel the tease in his words.
"Will you tell me? Please?"
"They're just scarves, Sakura," he said, reaching for hers as he spoke—Kakashi snatched it away from her before she could blink. As he wrapped his captive about his neck, he started his lecture, hands in pockets and walking aimlessly towards the edge of the festivities. Sakura had no choice but to follow—he'd stolen her scarf after all!
"You know what they mean, right? Green is because Chuunin are often green when they're sent on their first combat missions—green leaders, green in their rank. Yellow is because Special Jounin are in that place between classification levels—they are quite talented shinobi, but they are either too focused in one area and not enough in others, or they are just not at a full-Jounin level capacity of chakra or abilities. Hyuuga Neji and his teammate Tenten could easily be slotted into permanent Special Jounin positions if they're not careful, for instance." He paused, glancing up to see if she was still interested.
"Blue goes to Jounin because our scarves are actually additions to the uniform—most people don't wear them, however, because it's silly to go into a fight with your own personal noose. But the color is because we've settled, mentally, into the more somber aspects of our profession. We are loyal, we are true—why do you think there are so few Jounin compared to Chuunin? Or why Chuunin lead seventy percent of the missions? It's not that Jounin are poor leaders, it's that there are a great deal more requirements to make Jounin than there are to make Chuunin or even Special Jounin."
Sakura chose not to comment on the lesson—she'd known a little of all that theory anyway.
"I was asking about the red scarves, Kakashi-sensei." If he wouldn't answer her she was sure she could get some sake somehow and ply Tsunade with it to find out. Tsunade was always so much more open when she had a bit of sake in her. Kakashi didn't tense up at her question, however, instead choosing to remove his own red scarf and hand it to her for inspection.
"Careful with that, it was my father's," he said softly as she took it from him.
"The red scarves are for those shinobi in Konoha who are current or former members of the black ops—ANBU. They are bound not to speak of their involvement in the corps, not to advertise their presence or dealings—they are required to do some truly nasty things in the name of the village. Veteran's Day is the only day that they are allowed to openly admit that they serve—although it is discouraged even then. Only, and Sakura I mean, only ANBU are allowed to wear red scarves to this festival."
"But you said this was your father's, Kakashi-sensei…" she trailed off, looking from him to the soft red scarf she clutched.
"That I did, that I did," he said with one of his secretive, teasing smiles—secretive because of his mask, and teasing because, Sakura was realizing, that he dearly loved to laugh.