When Sakura and the other girls in her class had learned to master the henge it had not been long before Ino had started daring them to put it to good use. Not being one to ever back down from one of Ino's challenges she and a couple girls had accepted. This was how she, Ino and a couple others wound up in a dance club disguised as attractive teenage girls. The game was to have some guys buy them actually drinks and flirt with them and have a few dances before sneaking out again. At the time it had seemed unbelievably bold and was a real adventure.
Naturally nothing was going to actually happen! They were all ten year olds after all! And besides, Sakura was saving her first kiss and all her others firsts for Sasuke-kun. Still, just having older boys flirt with them and tasting a fruity drink with alcohol in it was new and exciting. The four of them had the time of their lives.
For about ten minutes.
Right up until a Chunin who happened to be there noticed their poorly maintained henges. The four of them had been returned to their parents and threatened with prosecution and expulsion from the Academy for 'use of the ninja arts towards unlawful and immoral purposes.' Nothing official ever came of it, but Sakura had not been able to sit down for a week. Ino never said what her punishment had been but it had taken the girl about a month to return to her usual boisterous self.
That had been the last time Sakura had ever been in a bar. Given the many lessons she had received about feminine infiltration techniques though it had seemed like an obvious place to seek out a target. The idea of going to a bar and essentially picking someone up to eliminate made her uneasy, but she still went forward with it.
A ninja does not care if something is distasteful or unpleasant; all that should ever concern a ninja is if an action furthers the mission. This is the thirty seventh rule of shinobi conduct.
Before going into the town she used an appropriate henge. She made herself appear as an attractive young woman of seventeen or so with black hair, slim legs, and a bigger than average chest. She observed the women in the village and made her clothing look appropriate, if just slightly more revealing. When she entered the village she felt as though she blended right in.
The best way to be unseen is simply to appear as what is expected. This is the nineteenth rule of shinobi conduct.
It wasn't hard to find out where the most popular bars for young people were. When she went to the north part of town she was surprised to see a twelve year old blonde girl dressed in orange tramping up and down the streets looking in every direction, obviously scouting out the place. Well at least the baka remembered not to put any whisker marks on his henge for once. Sakura felt the intense urge to go up to him and scream that he was doing it all wrong. Whereas her outfit was a tan and white dress that fit in perfectly no one else was wearing orange. Not to mention there were few children to be seen in this part of town.
Sakura didn't do so since Kakashi-sensei had deliberately told her not to team up. She always followed the rules.
In general follow all rules and obey all orders. This is the fifty fifth rule of shinobi conduct.
Recalling that rule she also thought about the one that followed it.
Be prepared to ignore rules and orders when necessary. This is the fifty sixth rule of shinobi conduct.
The two rules seemed blatantly contradictory and Sakura had asked Iruka-sense about it. His explanation had simply consisted of telling her that the mission always came first and that a ninja had to remain 'mentally flexible' and put the successful completion of the mission ahead of following a specific rule or order.
Sakura hadn't been happy about the vague answer. She liked things to be clear and Iruka's response had been much too murky for her tastes.
The current situation seemed black and white enough to her. Sensei had said she was on her own and not to team up, so she wouldn't. Luckily her henge didn't look at all like the real her so Naruto never even noticed her. She felt sort of bad for Naruto. Sakura didn't think there was any way he could pass this test. In class he'd been a constant disruption and never studied. He'd been the dead last of their class and only barely made it out of the Academy. How could someone so feeble and weak minded ever manage something like this?
Granted the whole story about him and the Forbidden Scroll and beating Mizuki-sensei made her wonder, but having known him for four years she was sure it had to have been some sort of fluke. Sasuke-kun was the ideal of everything a ninja should be and Naruto was his almost exact opposite. Clearly he just did not have the stuff to be a ninja.
When it's just me and Sasuke-kun I wonder if they'll let us stay just a two man team. She could already picture it. Sasuke would have no problem passing, and despite a few worries Sakura was certain she would as well. She had after all been the top kunoichi in her class and second academically to only Sasuke-kun. Iruka-sensei had put her on the same team because it was obvious they were destined to be together. Who could possibly be a better match for Sasuke than her? So no matter what small self-doubts she had she was certain she would pass.
With visions of her wedding day dancing in her head she casually looked about the bars and the neighborhood.
She waited until about an hour after dark before strolling into the most popular bar with a teenage clientele. It took very little time for a young man to anxiously approach her.
"Hi, my name is Homoura." He said nervously. He looked to be about seventeen or eighteen and was cute, not Sasuke cute but cute.
Sakura gave him her most endearing shy smile. "My name is Aki."
"I haven't seen you around here."
"I just moved to the village, I don't know anyone."
"Can I buy you a drink?" He asked hopefully.
"I'd like that."
A ninja does whatever is required to complete the mission. This is the fifth rule of shinobi conduct.
She sat with him at a table carefully nursing a single drink as he went through five. As they sat together for a couple hours she told him the cover story she had carefully invented while scouting out the area. She had come here recently with just her mother from western fire country. Her mother was a teacher and she was hoping to become one someday as well.
Homoura was a carpenter whose family followed that trade. He was still living at home with his parents and his eight year old little sister Hana. Though he worked full time with his father in the family business he wanted to save up some more money before moving out on his own. He complained about having to look out for his little sister and about the fact he hadn't had much of a choice about becoming a carpenter.
Sakura listened and nodded sympathetically at the appropriate moments. He was obviously trying really hard to impress her. Unlike with Naruto's loud declarations he was quiet and more subtle, though no less eager. As the night dragged on and he got more and more alcohol in him she noticed him staring more and more blatantly at her chest. Though she was only twelve she had a basic idea of what was going through his mind.
She casually glanced about the bar and saw no one paying special attention to them. She slid a hand along his arm and leaned over the table to whisper in his ear. "You want to go someplace?"
She saw his eyes widen and fear and excitement crossed his face. "S… sure!"
She stood up and took him by the arm. "Let's go then."
The areas where immediate death can be caused are the heart, brain, throat, and spine at the back of the neck. In general the most vulnerable of these will be the throat.
That had been a lesson she had learned in class a long time ago. Back then it had just been one more fact to be memorized and stored away for the next test. Now she was about to put that information to use.
Still holding him by his arm she led him to an alley she had scouted out. She took him to a spot behind a dumpster where no one would see.
Sakura stopped and looked at him. He was a little unsteady on his feet and his was breathing fast, his cheeks were flushed and he was licking his lips nervously. He had no idea at all that his life was about to end.
Behind her back Sakura palmed a kunai in her right hand. All she needed was one quick slice across the jugular and he would bleed out in less than a minute.
When the moment to act comes a ninja does not hesitate. This is the third rule of shinobi conduct.
It was the moment she needed to strike without hesitation. She clenched her blade with all her strength.
He was looking at her with so much hope and silly eagerness. He was smiling at her and just standing there. He wasn't even trying to grope her or get a kiss. He was obviously shy and having trouble figuring out what to do.
I wonder what his little sister will do when she hears her big brother was murdered? Her name is Hana; she's eight and a little trouble maker.
Sakura shook her head to get the thought out of her mind. Then she imagined the parents and how they would feel to know their son was dead. How about the friends he had what would they do without him? She looked at Homoura's face and imagined blood pouring from a slashed throat. Imagined him looking at her as she killed him. Why did he have to die just so she could be with Sasuke-kun?
"I really like you." He leaned forward quickly to try and kiss her.
Sakura stepped back, keeping her right hand hidden behind her back. "Don't!" She said sharply. Her first kiss was for Sasuke–kun.
"What's wrong?" He asked her in obvious confusion. "Did I do something wrong?"
He tried to steal my first kiss! He deserves it just for that!
That was her first impulse but not even Sakura could pretend that something like that was deserving of capital punishment. The fact was that he was a nice guy who had done nothing to deserve death. If she killed him now just so that she could be a ninja and be with Sasuke-kun how did that make her anything else but a murderer?
She knew the duty of a ninja was to carry out the mission no matter what. She knew all the rules of shinobi conduct and just what parts of the body to strike to inflict a mortal wound. All the justifications popped into her mind. She had an order from her sensei. Ninja were expected to kill. It was her duty to kill without remorse for the sake of the village.
But for the first time in her life she found the words didn't matter. What mattered was this teenage boy standing in front of her and whether or not she was going to stab him.
She pushed past him and ran out of the alley. "I'm sorry."
"Wait! Did I do something wrong? Wait!"
She ran away as quickly as she could without looking back.
She spent the rest of the night wandering the village. In her heart she secretly hoped someone would try to assault her. She thought she might be able to do it if it were a matter of self-defense. A couple men did approach and proposition her, but when she declined they went away without doing anything more.
When the very first rays of light topped the horizon Kakashi appeared beside her, still dressed as a peasant with an eye patch.
"Sensei," she said quietly. "I… I tried but…"
"I know Sakura, I was watching all night." He did not sound angry or disappointed. He sounded sympathetic. "Go to the spot in the woods where we began. Sasuke and Naruto will be there waiting for you."
He said Sasuke and Naruto, not your teammates. "Did they both pass?"
"Then that means I… I failed?" It didn't seem possible. How could she not be a ninja? She'd studied so hard and done so well on the tests.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of Sakura. In a way it speaks well of you. Not everyone is cut out for this line of work. If it's any consolation you'll probably live longer and be happier than either Sasuke or Naruto will." Especially Sasuke.
Sakura noted that he once again failed to refer to them as her teammates. "So there really wasn't some trick?" She asked hopefully.
"I am afraid not. You may as well get going so that we can head back to Konoha." Making sure there was no one about Kakashi vanished in a puff of smoke.
The walk back to the meeting point was the longest of her whole life, it seemed to take hours and she dreaded every step.
When she got there Kakashi, Naruto, and Sasuke were patiently waiting.
Naruto was the first to speak. He ran up to her and looked at her pleadingly. "Sakura-chan! Kakashi said you failed! He's wrong right? There's no way you'd fail! Go ahead and tell him!"
She couldn't help but smile. He'd always had such total faith in her. Even if he was loud and annoying she suddenly found that very endearing. Though she felt crushed and worthless she smiled and put on a brave front.
"I am sorry Naruto-kun, sen… Kakashi-san is right. I guess I wasn't as strong as you and Sasuke-kun."
Naruto stared at her for a moment with those clear blue eyes of his. She expected him to start shouting and raging at Kakashi to let her try again. Instead he surprised her by nodding and talking to her in a low voice. "It's okay Sakura-chan; I know how hard it was for you. Just because you couldn't do it doesn't make you any less amazing."
His kindness took her totally by surprise and she had to quickly look the other way and wipe her eyes so that she didn't cry. "Well cha! Obviously!"
"Now that she's back can we go?" Sasuke asked.
Sakura glanced at him. There was not a word of sympathy or concern. Now that she was no longer one of them she really was nothing to him. The way he was looking through her she understood, she would never be with him. All her hopes and dreams were gone now.
"Hey bastard!" Naruto shouted. "Can't you at least tell Sakura-chan you're sorry she won't be part of our team anymore?"
"She was too weak, it's best she drop out now. She'd have only held me back." He deliberately began walking down the road.
Kakashi noticed the reaction but didn't say anything. Sakura was no longer a teammate but he still might have shown her just a little respect.
"Hey! Don't turn your back on us you damn bastard!"
Sakura placed a hand on his shoulder to keep him from confronting Sasuke. "Please don't. It's okay Naruto-kun, it's okay."
Naruto looked like he wanted to do more, but seeing Sakura didn't want him to he for once decided to just let the argument go.
As they headed back Sasuke led the way as usual but rather than keeping up with him Naruto hung back to keep Sakura company on the way back. This would be the last time they traveled together and he wanted to talk to her as much as possible. To her own surprise Sakura discovered she sort of liked his attention. Now that she no longer viewed him as an obstacle to being with Sasuke he didn't seem like such bad company.
"So what happens to Team Seven now?" Sasuke eventually asked once they were back across the border and in Fire country again. "Will it be just me and the dead last?"
"No," Kakashi replied. His nose was once more stuck inside his little orange book. "Genin squads are always three man units. We'll have a new Genin transferred in, probably someone just a little bit older."
"Hn, just make sure whoever it is, is competent."
When they finally made it back to Konoha Kakashi dismissed Sasuke and Naruto giving them the next day off and telling them to meet him at the bridge at ten the following day. He said goodbye to Sakura and wished her luck in her civilian career. He gave all three of them a last reminder to never speak of what they'd just been through with anyone who was not a ninja.
After Kakashi left Sasuke turned and went without so much as a goodbye.
Naruto growled. "I'd like to kick that guy's ass."
Sakura laughed softly. Since she no longer felt the need to constantly defend Sasuke she found a lot more of the things Naruto said humorous.
Turning to face her Naruto looked depressed. "So I guess this is goodbye Sakura-chan."
"Naruto, I'm not dying or moving away. I'm sure we'll still see each other all the time."
"Yeah," by the way he said that he sounded anything but sure. For him one of the best things about being on Team Seven had been getting to see her every day. "Say I don't suppose you'd like to have some ramen with me?"
She was about to say 'no' as she always did, but stopped to consider it. Where Sasuke had completely ignored her the whole way back Naruto had been very kind and considerate. "You know Naruto I'll be honest, I always thought you were nothing but a loud mouthed idiot."
"Oh." Naruto hung his head and felt gloom cover him.
"But you know what?" She placed a hand on his arm and smiled when he looked up startled. "I think I like people like you. Sure, I'd like to get some ramen."
Very surprised, but also very happy, Naruto led her to Ichiraku's.
After reporting in Kakashi headed to the Copper Cellar, his favorite bar.
It was a bar that specialized in serving ninja so he would be able to speak freely. When he arrived he spotted Asuma at a table with Kurenai who was slumped over in front of half a dozen empty glasses and clearly drunk.
Kakashi knew what that meant.
Just in case Asuma confirmed it for him. "All my kids passed, but I'm afraid one of hers didn't."
"Hinata," Kurenai slurred looking up at him. "Poor, poor Hinata, poor, poor girl." Kurenai waved an arm at the bartender. "Another!"
Kakashi had never seen Kurenai like this before. Normally she was a very light drinker. He turned a questioning eye to Asuma who answered the unspoken question as quietly as he could.
"Hyuuga Hinata, Kurenai used to escort her to and from the academy and was fond of the girl."
Kakashi nodded, but still didn't understand. "One of mine failed too, girl name of Sakura. It's a shame, but probably for the best. She'll get to have a good life."
"Hinata won't!" Kurenai said furiously. "Damn Hyuuga bastards! Bastards! Hiashi especially, to his own girl, so cruel. She's his daughter!"
Kakashi looked to Asuma. "Am I missing something?"
"You know that Hyuuga Hinata is Hiashi's daughter and a member of the Hyuuga Main Branch?"
"Well, since Hinata failed the Shinobi Test her father views her as a disgrace. Tomorrow morning she will have the Caged Bird Seal placed upon her and enter the Cadet Branch of the family. Hiashi has already stated he will marry her off to a minor lord as soon as she turns fifteen. He said he won't allow her to disgrace the family any further and she will not be allowed to leave their compound until the day of her wedding."
"She might as well be a prisoner." Kurenai said bitterly. "She is a sweet girl and even if she can't be a ninja she deserves better!"
Kakashi nodded sympathetically and signaled the bar to bring another round on him. "It's a hard world we live in."
Asuma and Kurenai could only nod and agree.
"Who made it so hard?" Kurenai asked.
"We did," Kakashi said thinking about his father, Obito, his sensei, Rin, and so many other good people. "All the people in all the world ninja and civilian alike. We all made this world what it is."
When the round of drinks arrived Asuma lifted his. "A toast; to this shitty fucked up world we live in."
"To this shitty fucked up world." Kakashi said cheerfully.
"Shitty and fucked up," Kurenai mumbled.
Kakashi and Kurenai both clinked glasses with Asuma's and then drank. Many more drinks were needed to get Kakashi and Asuma close to Kurenai.
The following day when it was found Hyuuga Hinata had committed suicide no one was especially surprised.
She was just one more casualty of a cruel and unforgiving world.