Chapter 4: Our Crosses to Bear
"Argh, where is that stupid Oni-sensei?" Naruto suddenly shouted, throwing a frustrated glare at the water and then stomping off to the side. It'd been three days since the senbon-chewing shinobi handed them the note, and they'd all been getting a bit antsy, if for different reasons. Sakura couldn't really help worrying about Kakashi, as irritating as he could be, ever since her mother had brought up the idea that he'd been called away for a mission. If the mission was only supposed to take a day, but Kakashi had been gone for three days, surely something had gone wrong?
Last night had been fraught with nightmares, old images of the war playing themselves out like a movie: a flash of the broken bodies at the conclusion of the Battle of Hogwarts, the ruins of Downing Street two years later, her first father's unseeing eyes set in a cold, pale face... her second father's unseeing eyes, also set in a cold, pale face.
Sakura couldn't even pinpoint exactly why Kakashi's sudden disappearance was hitting her so hard – she didn't care so much for the jounin that her sleep should be wrought with these particular nightmares. Flashbacks, really. Though Sakura didn't like to think of them as such, if only because she knew very well that flashbacks could be a real hindrance, or even a danger, if left unattended to. Especially during a mission.
Naruto mostly seemed annoyed rather than concerned about the jounin's lengthening disappearance. Sakura pondered bringing up the suggestion that Kakashi might be on a mission rather than just terribly late to spite them, but it wasn't like having the rest of the team worried would bring the jounin back any faster.
"Why Naruto, I'm right here." Sakura jumped, tripping into the pond and Naruto fell backwards in with her a fraction of a second later. Sasuke only twitched a little and remained perfectly dry, but then again he hadn't been standing on or in the pond. "If by 'Oni-sensei', you were actually referring to your kind and cheerful teacher?" Kakashi grinned and Sakura was pretty sure all that all three of them were for once wearing identical scows.
"You're late!" Naruto shouted, jumping up to point at the man. The movement caused a cascade of water droplets to hit the ground around him... and Sasuke. Sakura felt vaguely vindicated, even though the Uchiha wasn't the reason she was wet.
Kakashi looked briefly mournful, nodding sadly. "There was an old lady whose house burned down, and I had to help her put it out, but I couldn't find any water -"
Naruto made a sound like an angry water buffalo. "You're a freaking shinobi! You could have used a jutsu!"
"- and then a princess was kidnapped by an evil yakuza -" Kakashi continued like he hadn't caught the interruption.
"You're a jounin! You could probably take down a yakuza with your eyes closed! You just felt like being late!"
"Ah, you wound me with your lack of faith," Kakashi said with an air that made Sakura think the man was actually pouting, or at least projecting a pouty feeling, and that made her want to throw something at his head. To think that she'd actually been worried about him. The unease in her stomach was slowly dissolving, and Sakura hoped the memories that feeling had brought with it would fade with the unease.
"Kakashi, are you actually here for any useful reason?" Sasuke asked, and for once Sakura didn't even react to the lack of a respectful suffix. Naruto also had a tendency to forget suffixes, but when the blond did, it wasn't intentionally rude. Sasuke definitely was.
"Of course I am." The jounin's tone said he was offended, and Sakura believed that about as much as she believed his pouting. Kakashi suddenly clapped his hands together, beamed at them in his customary display of sudden mood-switches, and then said, "I think it's about time we get you your dogtags!"
Naruto's angry expression stilled, like it'd been paused by the jounin's words, and Sasuke's scowl relaxed. Sakura's stomach, on the other hand, tied itself back into knots. Dogtags... what shinobi didn't know the reason for those? Well, besides Naruto.
"Now?" she asked, drawing closer to where their teacher stood well out of water-splashing distance. "I was under the impression shinobi weren't supposed to buy dogtags until they become chunin?"
Naruto stared at her for a moment, then grinned widely. "Heh, it's probably because we're so awesome!" Sakura smiled weakly at him. The last time dogtags had been regularly issued to new genin was during the war.
"Don't look so worried, Sakura-chan," Kakashi said, ruffling her hair. She looked up at him, surprised to have missed his approach, only to see the jounin's eye curved into the crescent shape that meant he was smiling. "You won't be the only genin team with dogtags. They're required to take high C-class missions."
"Ehh? We're getting a C-class mission, sensei?" Naruto looked like Christmas had come early. "What are we gonna do? Rescue a princess? Save a country?"
"Saving a country would be an S-class mission, idiot," Sasuke commented, having drawn closer to the rest of the team.
"Sasuke is right! No princess- or world-saving for genin, I'm afraid." Kakashi clapped his hands together again. "But you know what they say, better safe than sorry!"
Sakura didn't know if it was due to Kakashi's happy grin or her own instincts from the war, but something told her that 'better safe than sorry' had nothing to do with why they were suddenly going to get their dogtags.
"Where do we get these dogtags?" Sasuke asked, looking intrigued. Sakura couldn't imagine why. Naruto was the one who seemed to view shinobi life like a movie-style adventure, but Sasuke had come off as having a more realistic view on what it actually meant to be shinobi. Though on the other hand, he was blatantly eager to prove himself in all things fighting-related, so perhaps that had something to do with his intrigue. Maybe he thought it meant he was moving ahead.
"Smithy, of course."
Sakura mentally shook her thoughts away. She trailed after the once again bickering boys following Kakashi away from the field, hoping in a vague sort of way that the jounin's reason for getting them dogtags wouldn't tear away her teammates admiration for the shinobi occupation. (And in some deep, dark corner of her mind, hoping that the stupid admiration for the bloody road they'd all chosen would get torn to shreds and that getting a good dose of reality thrown in their faces would age them. Because then she wouldn't have to feel like she was all alo-)
"Sakura-chan, hurry up!" Naruto was cupping his hands around his mouth – completely unnecessarily, as his voice was probably loud enough to carry to the next street over. Sakura hadn't realized she'd fallen behind, and had only vaguely noticed that they'd entered one of the streets in the Cedar Square, Konoha's market district.
It wasn't very busy this early, so she'd only had to dodge around the occasional person, but that she'd actually managed to do that purely by reflex spoke pretty well of the reflexes in question. That, or it spoke badly of her absentmindedness.
"You were walking as slow as a snail, Sakura-chan," Naruto said when she came closer, bouncing on his heels a little. The sunlight brightened his blond hair into a golden color, as loud as the orange he wore, and Sakura tried for another smile.
"Sorry, just lost in thought."
"Let's continue," Sasuke interrupted, obviously impatient as well, if slightly more subtle about his impatience than Naruto.
"The smithy is right down here," Kakashi spoke up from where he was leaning against the paint-chipped wall of a house next to the mouth of a wide, sloping alley. "The Brook of Spikes." He stuck a thumb at the alley, and like that had been a signal, the boys were suddenly racing down the alley. Though Sasuke probably wouldn't admit to racing - he'd probably say he just wanted to get there before the 'dead-last' managed to break something in the shop and get them thrown out.
Sakura had to contain a snort at the thought, because sometimes the fact that the boys were twelve wasn't just a source of aggravation. As she was following their race with her eyes, it took her a few seconds to notice Kakashi's quiet stare. She blinked."...Kakashi-sensei?"
"Is something the matter, Sakura?" he said, slowly unfolding his arms and pushing his lanky body away from the wall. Sakura blinked at him, surprised at his straightforwardness. Their teacher wasn't straightforward very often.
Sakura blinked again, then held back a wry smile. She shouldn't be underestimating a jounin's perceptiveness. "The dogtags..." She paused, eyes flickering down to the ground. She fiercely suppressed the images that wanted to appear in her mind. "They were only given to newly minted genin during wartime..." She swallowed before her breath could hitch. (In the very back of her mind, a small voice mouthed: Oh god, Merlin, anyone, I didn't want to go to war again-)
Kakashi cocked his head at her, dark eye unreadable. "The reports from the Academy did say that you were very well-read," he said in a drawn-out, musing tone of voice. "I see they weren't wrong." Like he hadn't already known that.
"It's not-" Sakura paused, realized she hadn't meant to speak, and took a breath. It wasn't like she'd be revealing anything by saying this, not really. "It's not 'cool' being a shinobi. This occupation isn't..."
Kakashi slowly nodded, still looking at her in that inscrutable way. "No, it isn't."
Gesturing helplessly toward the alley, where Naruto's and Sasuke's voices were fading, Sakura said, "They think it is. They think... adventure. Excitement."
It wasn't like she was unaware of the reputation shinobi had, both in and out of the hidden villages. Outside the villages, they were like spooky urban myths, only true. Inside of the villages, they were heroes. Children on the streets of Konoha didn't play 'cops and robbers', they played 'shinobi versus samurai'. Even the civilian children. Sakura had watched a group of them play once, watched the way they'd pretend to stab each other, choke each other, act like they were dying... and she'd teared up at the sight, occasionally. Before she learned to ignore it.
Now, in this moment, she was horrified to feel herself tear up again. It hurt, how much she missed Harry and Ron sometimes. She'd wake up at night, still, after all this time, and in the moment between sleep and wakefulness think they were slumbering away in the other bunk-beds in their tent. And then she'd remember that her boys didn't exist in this world.
And now she was starting to care about Naruto and Sasuke, who with their current mindsets would only succeed in getting themselves killed if they faced an actual enemy. She'd lose them.
"You're afraid for them," Kakashi said, sounding thoughtful. Sakura huffed out a breath that was almost a sob, because bloody hell was she afraid. She hadn't even noticed them nestling deeply enough into her heart for this kind of fear on their behalf, hadn't expected that to happen for quite some time yet.
"They're stupid!" exploded out of her mouth without her meaning to say it, and then a sudden flood of words: "It's not a game, it's not, and they don't see that. They don't see that if they 'lose', they die, and I don't know what to do about it. They're not going to get it, not if all the lectures Iruka-sensei gave us on the harsher realities of this occupation didn't stick, not until they've seen it and heard it and smelt it - and learning it like that might kill them."
A large hand landed on her head, ruffling her hair.
"Maa, you're a good teammate," Kakashi said, and Sakura blinked up at him, feeling the rest of her choppy tirade drain away at the interruption. "Sakura, not everyone at your age will understand shinobi life as well as you seem to." He paused, smiling gently for a moment. There was a thread of some quiet sadness in that smile. "And you're right, it's dangerous to accept a mission without any real understanding of what the consequences of that mission might be." He bent down to look her straight in the eyes, expression as serious as she'd ever seen him. The shift in atmosphere from his normal demeanor was almost jarring. Then his eye curved and crinkled, like his smile was deepening. "But Sakura, I don't let my comrades die."
He said it like a rock-solid promise, and in that moment (even though she knew all her doubts and fears would creep back in soon enough) she believed him utterly.
He ruffled her hair again, and the moment was broken. "Let's catch up to the knuckleheads before Naruto decides to shout for us, shall we? Not need to disturb everyone in the neighborhood by inflicting Naruto's dulcet tones on them this early."
Sakura bit her lip, then smiled a little. "He'd make for a good alarm clock." She rubbed her eyes discreetly, and they came away only a little moist. He hadn't said it in so many words, but whatever those dogtags were for, war wasn't it. If she was reading him correctly.
Kakashi shrugged languidly. "I don't know about that; my alarm clocks have a tendency to break..." Sakura smiled a little at that, weirdly thankful for her teacher's circumspect way of cheering her up. Maybe he wasn't just a perpetually late, perverted space-case of a jounin.
He led her down the alley and to a narrow metal door with The Brook of Spikes curling in an arch above it. The letters were bronze, or maybe just rusty, and were cut to resemble calligraphy. Kakashi headed in, kicking the door with his heel to keep it open for her to slip through as well.
"There you are! You took forever," Naruto called from where he was leaning over the glass counter opposite a burly man with a shaved head. "Sakura-chan, you didn't catch Kakashi's lateness, did you?" the blond continued when she and their teacher moved closer, and Kakashi bopped him on the head with a fist.
"So this is your other teammate," the man opposite Naruto said, watching her with deep brown eyes. Sakura bowed in greeting, and he dipped his head in return, still studying her. "Haruno Sakura-san, was it?"
Naruto nodded energetically and then gestured to their teacher. "And this is Kakashi-sensei!"
The shopkeeper threw Naruto a dry look that the blond seemed to miss entirely. "You don't say." He nodded to Kakashi, obviously acquainted with the man, but Naruto missed that little exchange as well. His focus had turned to the chains laid out on the counter, and Sakura took a step closer.
"Can you believe Michi-ojisan made these?" Naruto held up a delicate pale silver chain towards her, and Sakura took it with focused eyes. This was beautiful work. They'd done some metal-crafting in Transfiguration, but she'd never managed this level of delicacy. And she'd manage even less without magic.
"Is this silver?" she asked, noticing the off-sheen to the metal. Silver was used in a lot of different potions, and she knew the look of it intimately – mostly because accidentally using the wrong metal in pretty much any potion usually resulted in a melted cauldron, as Neville had proven several times. In a row.
"No, it's an alloy," Michi answered, square chin in his palm and elbow on the counter. "Silver is both too expensive and too weak a metal to use for shinobi business."
Sakura nodded, putting the chain back down. Next to it lay a darker one, with larger links, and she picked that chain up instead. It felt more solid in her hand, less like it'd break if someone tried to pull it off her neck. Sakura cocked her head. If she remembered correctly, the one time she'd seen Kakashi's chain, it'd been thicker than both of these.
"Ah, Michi-san, the tags..?" Kakashi asked, leaning on the counter. The large blacksmith nodded and pulled out a drawer to his right, fishing up a small box. He flicked a finger at it, and it slid across the counter, stopping in front of the jounin.
"This looks to be in order," Kakashi said, peering down into the box. Naruto bounced over to him.
"They're kind of small..." the blond said, and Sakura heard the frown in his voice. Of course, Naruto would want something more attention-grabbing.
Kakashi chuckled quietly. "Maa, hasn't anyone ever told you that it's not about the size, but what you do with it?"
Naruto stared at him blankly, and Sakura resisted the urge to yell at the man. He'd been helpful with calming her down, so he deserved a reprieve. A short one, anyway. "But I already know what I'm going to do with it. Hang it around my neck." He held up one of the tags, and Sakura realized why Naruto had reacted: the tag couldn't be longer than half her little finger. Even the military tags back in her old world had been bigger than that. And so had Kakashi's.
Kakashi sighed. "Kids these days..."
Before the jounin got into his head to explain the innuendo, Sakura asked, "So all we need is to write our registration numbers on these?"
Michi leaned forward. "Nah, I've had the numbers printed already. On the backside of that, Naruto-san," he said when Naruto opened his mouth, probably to voice his confusion at the blank plate of metal.
The blond flipped the tag, then frowned. "But 012606 isn't my number..."
"It's my number, idiot." Sasuke appeared from between the shelves further inside the shop, carrying a set of kunai in one hand. "You obviously picked up the wrong tag." Before Naruto could start in on him, Sasuke turned to Michi. "These." He placed the set of kunai on the counter.
Sakura picked up another of the tags, squinting at the barely visible series of numbers. "I guess this must be yours, then? 012607?"
"Oh yeah, that's mine!" Sakura handed it to him and picked up the last tag, with 012601 printed on it - her number.
They spent a few minutes choosing chains, with Sakura deciding on the darker one she was still holding. Naruto had to be convinced that he couldn't have a gold or orange chain, and with some muttering, he chose a slightly thicker version of the pale alloyed one Sakura had asked about, because 'at least it was bright!'. Sasuke's chosen chain was heavier than both hers and Naruto's and so dark it was nearly black. Its links were larger too, and Sakura wondered if size actually did matter, in his opinion. Having a bigger one than Naruto, anyway.
The mental image of the two boys in the midst of a dick-measuring contest popped uninvited into her head, and Sakura kept herself from flushing by blaming the image on Kakashi's perverted influence. She'd never had thoughts like that about Harry and Ron... well, not often, anyway.
"Let's go eat," Kakashi said, and Naruto immediately brightened, throwing a fist in the air and crowing about ramen at the top of his lungs. Kakashi bopped him on the head again. "Growing brats need more than just ramen, Naruto. We're going to Leaf Eating Leaf," he said, and Naruto stuck out his tongue before beginning to extol the virtues of ramen.
As they headed out of the shop, Sakura was surprised by how much Naruto actually knew about his favorites food. How it was cooked, what ingredients were used for different sorts of ramen, how those ingredients should be stored, how noodles were made and how long they should boil...
Even though the chain with her dogtags hung heavy around her neck, Sakura found her heart to be pretty light in this moment. Pleasant weather. Pleasant chatter. No pressing matters to attend to.
Sakura paused in her weeding, sitting back on her haunches to look up at where Kakashi was languishing in a tree right next to where she and the boys were working. The pleasant weather had continued, and she'd gotten a few nights of more restful sleep. "Kakashi-sensei?"
"Hm?" He peered down at her from above that damn orange book of his, looking so comfortable it was unfair. It was much too hot today for him to be so comfortable.
"Well, I was wondering..." she tugged a few leaves of the collection of weeds in her fist. "Do you know anything about Fuuinjutsu?"
The book in Kakashi's hand was lowered a bit further. "Yes," he said slowly, sitting a bit straighter so he could look down at her more directly. The boys had turned towards them as well, though Naruto was still halfheartedly struggling with a persistent weed, and Sasuke was making an attempt to look like he wasn't eavesdropping. If she hadn't know two redheaded twins who'd made it their art to look like they weren't up to no good, Sakura might have been fooled.
"Why?" Kakashi asked after a few seconds, when Sakura didn't continue. Perhaps she should have done this in private.
"I've been interested in Fuuinjutsu a while now," she murmured, If you consider several years 'a while', then continued, "But there isn't much information on the subject available to the public," and she hadn't thought to check the library after her graduation, having been to caught up in her new team, as embarrassing (and unusual for her) as that was.
"Hmm, no. Fuuinjutsu is a pretty difficult art. One that takes a lot of studying to become a master of. Not many people specialize in it." Kakashi said, jumping down from his branch and landing next to her without a whisper of sound. Sakura nodded hesitantly, wondering if it was a bit too soon to bring up her ideas of specializing in that exact subject. The jounin tilted his head. "But I suppose you already knew that."
Nodding again, Sakura risked a look into his eye. It wasn't as blank as he could make it. She thought he seemed thoughtful, if anything.
"Take a look at the genin-level scrolls in the library, and if you're still interested..." He shrugged easily, bringing his book up to his face like it was of no consequence, but to Sakura it was a beacon of hope. She couldn't stop herself from smiling back at him, not caring if he could see it or not, before she bent down to continue with her weeding.
"Fuuinjutsu?" Naruto asked, and Sakura looked up to find him only a few feet away. "What's that?" Completely unsurprised that he hadn't remembered the word from the few times Iruka had mentioned it in the Academy, Sakura summarized the art for him, and noticed as she did that Sasuke had drifted closer as well.
"It sounds hard," the blond said, leaning back on his hands with his legs in a vee in front of him. "And studying a bunch of dusty scrolls? Bleh." He stuck out his tongue as if to illustrate the point.
"Didn't you say you'd learned Kage bunshin no jutsu from a scroll, dead-last?" the Uchiha said, snorting. Naruto had mentioned it at one of their quick in-between training lunches, but he'd been kind of vague about how exactly he'd come to possess this scroll.
Naruto stuck out his tongue at Sasuke. "Yeah, sure, because it was a scroll of awesome jutsu! I didn't have to sit around for ages and ages studying it!"
"I don't mind studying," Sakura commented with a small smile before the boys could start bickering again.
"I know, but you're kind of weird, Sakura-chan." Naruto nodded to himself, and Sakura's smile widened a little. The way he said it, blunt and honest and meaning no harm, was sort of endearing.
"She's not weird, she's just not an idiot," Sasuke said, and Sakura's eyebrows rose a little. It wasn't much of a compliment, but it was still unusual coming from the Uchiha.
"Of course she's not- hey, are you calling me an idiot?" Naruto looked suspiciously at their teammate, Sasuke smirked back, and then the argument started, as it always did. For once, Sakura couldn't bring herself to care. She had a goal now, and first thing after their training was done, she was off to visit the library. That unwelcome memories were always easier to keep at bay when she was busy was just a bonus.
A/N: Health issues have gotten worse instead of better, thus you get a shorter chapter that may but hopefully doesn't contain some mistakes. Blah. So if you notice any mistakes, don't be afraid to point it out or give critique. But please remember that if you want to give critique, any criticism should be constructive – eg. Mention why something is bad/wrong, not just that it is.
What did you think about this chapter in general? Sakura's wartorn past coming back to haunt her? Finally getting on track with the Fuuinjutsu? The little dogtag expedition? ...And how many of you think the pleasant days will last for much longer? ;)
(…In the last chapter's AN, maybe I should have written that I thought Shikamaru was too logical or too rational (rather than too intelligent) to hold the prejudices mentioned.)
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!