Chapter Nine: Cats and Waterlogged Genin
Naruto was grumbling again as Sakura made use of her medical pouch strapped to her dress and disinfected his scratches. No matter what their mission━more like tedious errand━for the day, he somehow got injured.
Sasuke was beginning to think it was on purpose.
“Kiss it to make it better?” Naruto puckered up his lips when Sakura finished spreading the healing balm on his cheeks.
“Never gonna happen, moron!” Sakura smacked a bandage over his mouth and pushed him away.
She immediately left his side and sat down by Sasuke who was cradling an overly affectionate calico in his lap and teasing it with a feather toy.
“She’s such a cutie!” Sakura cooed. “How did you get her to come to you so easily?”
“Catnip,” Sasuke explained.
Sasuke always carried catnip and a spare toy in his weapons pouch. There were so many cats within the Uchiha district and he had taken trips to Sora-ku with his brother and sometimes his mother on many occasions where they ran into ninneko━the ninja cats━every visit, it just made sense to carry supplies with him for any possible run in.
“And respect,” he added just to rile up Naruto.
“Yeah, yeah you cat geek.” Naruto stood up and stretched his arms over his head.
When the squad had first went in search of the cat, Sasuke had explained to them how to approach the cat so that she wouldn’t be agitated, which was a request from the owner. Naruto had of course ignored the instructions and immediately tried to leap on the cat who retaliated. Sasuke and Sakura were forced to listen to him struggle as he screamed into his mic.
Sakura fidgeted, hands on her thighs. Her eyes shifted from the cat in Sasuke’s lap to his face and back.
“Go ahead. Palm up. Wait for her to sniff you first.”
Sakura eagerly did as she was told. She barely had her hand in front of the calico when the cat pushed her entire face into her hand.
“She’s so friendly,” Sakura giggled. “I’ve always wanted a cat but my parents would never let me have one. Mama doesn’t want cat hair all over her furniture and clothes.”
“Can we just get Miki-chan back to the Hokage tower?” Naruto glared down at the purring feline. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and leered at the cat distrustfully.
“Yeah, we should probably do that now.”
Kakashi had popped out of nowhere which he was prone to doing when they split up for pet recovery missions. He was nowhere in sight while they were running around but he always had a comment to make over the mic whenever they messed up.
“I think we might have another assignment waiting for us after we deliver little Miki.”
“Do you know what it is, Kaka-nii?” Naruto asked glumly. It was only two weeks since they became a genin squad and he was already tired of the boring tasks they were assigned.
“It’s either reshelving the scrolls and tomes in the village library or repotting the foreign herbs in the botanical garden. That’s if we’re lucky enough to get passed over for the river clean up. I think they were assigning two genin squads for that.”
Sasuke let Sakura carry Miki back to the tower. The calico was a friendly cat and wasn’t likely to run away like the cat the Daimyo’s wife owned. She looked content to be carried in Sakura’s arms.
It was a few blocks away from the tower when Team Seven ran into Team Ten.
“Kitty!” Ino squealed as soon as she saw Sakura with the cat.
“What did you guys have to do?” Naruto eyed the trio warily. The other group of genin were covered in random splotches of white paint.
“Take a guess,” Shikamaru said dryly.
“I never want to touch another paint brush again!” Ino stamped her foot.
“It was a lesson in patience and focus,” Asuma offered.
“Is that the line you’ve been feeding them?” Kakashi’s brow crinkled in a way that made it seem he was raising an eyebrow but his genin nor Asuma’s could really tell what facial expression he was going for.
“Being a jōnin instructor isn’t what you thought it would be like is it?”
“It’s exactly what I thought it would be like,” Kakashi muttered. Becoming an instructor was something his Hokage, his former sensei, thought would be good for him, a break from being a member of Anbu. “D rank missions on top of more D rank missions.”
“At least you don’t have to deal with these three.”
“Hey!” Sakura, Ino, and Naruto shouted in unison.
“You have any idea how weird it is when a twelve year old is smarter than you?” Asuma coaxed Kakashi into conversation as their teams made their way together to the Hokage tower.
“You too?” Kakashi pointed at the back of Sakura’s pink head. “Don’t be fooled by how giggly she is with your blondie. Sakura-chan knows things you wouldn’t expect a twelve year old fresh from the academy to know.”
“Like how fast it would take for someone to bleed out according to varying factors.”
“What?” Asuma’s eyes widened and he stared at the pre-teens in front of him. “Why would you need to know that for cat retrievals?”
“She really likes her trivia,” Kakashi deadpanned. Asuma didn’t respond to his statement, not knowing if he was joking or not.
“So how’s Rin?”
“Did Kurenai put you up to this?”
“What does Kurenai have to do with this?” Asuma questioned back without missing a beat.
“Why else would you be asking about Rin?”
Kakashi focused his attention on his group of brats. His sensei’s son was being loud as usual and bragging to the seemingly disinterested boys of Team Ten. He would occasionally halt his story to yell at Sasuke who made points that contradicted his tale.
“How’s Kurenai doing with her kids?”
“I think out of all us of she lucked out,” Asuma sighed and rubbed his forehead with the heel of his palm. “The Aburame kid is quiet enough you forget he’s there and the Inuzuka pup knows better than to mess with a kunoichi. And the Hyuga girl stays quiet just happy to be part of a group where her sensei acknowledges her as a person.”
“Ah. Hiashi’s eldest daughter, right? Don’t Hyuga main branch members usually only get paired with other Hyuga as per their clan customs.”
“He disinherited her,” Asuma whispered. “He wasn’t going to kick her out into the streets but the youngest was named heiress years ago.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize that.”
“Yeah, it’s only known among clan heads.”
“But you know because that’s what Kurenai considers pillow talk?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The two jōnin turned their attention to the genin who had stopped at the steps of the Hokage tower.
“What are you guys mumbling about?” Naruto crossed his arms in front of his chest and narrowed his eyes at the adults.
“Let us into your conversation sensei,” Ino pleaded with a singsong lilt to her voice. The way she fell into a cutesy pose worried Kakashi.
He didn’t want his own genin kunoichi to be adopting that behavior.
“Come on, up the stairs,” he ordered the six of them. “Or you’ll be running laps around the entire village next training session.”
He chose to ignore little miss blondie when she muttered to Sakura about what a stick in the mud he was.
“Seems you can’t deal with girls no matter what age,” Asuma teased him before following their students into the building.
I still fail to see how this is any good for me…
Kakashi shrugged his shoulders and decided he was going to beat his students to the Hokage. Anything to annoy them.
Sakura watched Ino and her teammates whine about their assigned mission. Team Sevens and Ten were tasked with river clean up, much to their dismay. They had hoped for one of the more relaxed missions after having to run away all morning in the sun.
“I’m already covered in paint and now you want me wade in dirty river water?” Ino huffed, crossing her arms in front of her chest and stomping her foot.
“I kind of get how she feels,” Sakura mumbled to Sasuke, gesturing to her hair covered in leaves. She had gotten her hair caught in the bushes she crawled under looking for Miki the cat.
Sasuke got to work in removing twigs and leaves scattered in her hair as Naruto made fun of Team Ten’s whiny behavior.
“How about I take you guys to dinner afterward, huh?” Asuma tried to placate his genin squad.
“That barbecue place again?” Choji perked up.
Naruto snapped his attention to Kakashi as soon as he heard that. He pointed at Team Ten and his mouth flapped open and closed.
“No,” was all that Kakashi had to say about that.
“Come on!” Naruto whined, tugging at his sleeve. “You could take us for ramen at least.”
“No.” Kakashi turned a page of his book, ignoring him as best as he could.
“Oh, come on! Obi-nii would buy us ramen.”
“Well, I’m not Obito.”
“It doesn’t even have to be dinner! You can buy us some dango.” Naruto grabbed Sakura’s wrist and tried to get her involved. “Sakura-chan, you would like some dango right?”
“Sasuke-kun doesn’t like sweets. It wouldn’t be right to go get something that one of us couldn’t eat.”
“But apparently it’s alright to bother your sensei?”
Kakashi lightly tapped the spine of his novel on the top of Sakura’s head. He pulled back quickly, avoiding the the swipe of Sasuke’s hand who had just finished pulling out the last leaf from Sakura’s hair.
“Come on slowpokes!” Ino hustled over and tugged on Sakura’s arm, pulling her ahead of their group.
“We would be that energetic if you gave us some incentive,” Naruto insisted.
“Still not doing it.”
“Come on, Kaka-nii!”
Choji and Naruto sighed dreamily as they bagged litter into their trash bags. Naruto kept getting distracted and missing his bag because he wasn’t paying attention.
“Girls are so nice…”
Sasuke picked up a flat stone from the river bed and chucked it at Naruto’s head.
“Hey! What was that for?”
“You’re spilling all of your trash back into the river, moron.”
“It’s going to get dark by the time we finish up if you two don’t keep your eyes to yourself,” Shikamaru yawned out his complaint.
“I don’t get how you can’t help but look,” Naruto grumbled, roughly throwing his trash back into the bag.
Sasuke shook his head but peeked from his peripheral to where Ino and Sakura were knee deep in the river pulling out debris. In order to keep dry, Sakura had hitched her dress up and tied it into a knot on her side to keep it from falling into the river. Ino had removed some of her bandages as well as tucking up her skirt revealing a good expanse of skin.
“I wonder what they’re talking about, “ Choji muttered, turning his flushing face away from them and stared back at the water.
Shikamaru looked at Sasuke knowingly which caused his brows to pull down in a frown.
A giggle snapped their attention back to the girls. Ino was splashing water at Sakura while the latter was shrieking at her in between laughter to stop.
“Okay, why do they get to goof off?”
“Maybe if you quit dropping the trash back into the water we could finish faster.”
“Maybe you should quit dropping the trash!”
“Naruto,” Shikamaru sighed. “Sasuke isn’t dropping any trash. How did that make any sense?”
“You don’t make any sense!”
“Quit arguing, loser.”
Naruto shrieked in frustration and dropped his bag to splash Sasuke repeatedly. Sasuke quickly tied his bag and tossed it on the river bank.
“Stop being stupid.”
Sasuke braced his hands on Naruto’s shoulders and dunked him into the river.
Ino looked on to the scene with an unimpressed look on her face. She and Sakura had filled up three bags already between the two of them as they chatted without any problems. She wasn’t happy about the heat but at least she could work on her tan.
“You need more sunblock or you’re going to freckle up more,” she reminded Sakura. “And let’s tie up your hair.”
“Hokage-sama sure went easy on us by assigning two genin squads for this.”
Sakura plopped down on the river bank and searched her bag for her sunscreen and a hair tie. Out of luck on the second thing, she pouted until Ino found her one under her arm guards she was removing.
“Do you think we’re going to have to stay here until the entire river is clean?”
“Considering your instructor?” Ino looked over to where Kakashi was under a tree reading. “Hatake Kakashi is known for being a militant team captain━super strict━but he also looks like he wants to be here as much as we do so it’s up in the air.”
“Militant, huh?” Sakura looked back at the river forlornly.
“What’s up with you?”
Ino shook Sakura’s shoulder and urged her to continue talking by shaking her until she gave in and told her what was on her mind.
“It feels like he doesn’t care to teach me anything. Like he favors the boys and I’m just there. He’ll let me spar with Naruto and Sasuke-kun at times but it feels like I’m just air to him.”
“Maybe he’s just no good with girls? A lot of the jōnin instructors are like that I heard.” Ino shrugged her shoulders. “I heard he’s having problems with his own female former teammate.”
“And where did you hear that from?” Sakura narrowed her eyes at her in suspicion. “Have you been practicing one of your mind jutsus inappropriately again?”
“I would never!”
“Sure you wouldn’t.”
“Okay! Enough chit-chat.” Ino stood up abruptly and called out to the boys on the other side of the bank, “Come on losers! I have to get home early so I can get prepare for tomorrow. I have a date with a very good-looking older boy.”
“Does he know that?” Shikamaru called back.
“Shut up, Shika!”
Sasuke was shuffling home, tired and with his clothes soaked from having to save Naruto after he got pulled in by the current, when he ran into an unusually morose Izumi.
“Oi!” He called out to her and she flinched, startled as if she hadn’t noticed his presence.
Izumi gave him a watery smile and a weak wave in greeting. Sasuke narrowed his eyes at her in suspicion. Izumi was always annoyingly cheerful. Something was wrong.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing much. Can you let your mother and Ita-kun know I won’t be coming over for dinner today? I kind of just want to go home and rest.”
Sasuke watched her turn down the path that led to her house on the other side of the district where most of the shops were located.
When Sasuke got home his mother bombarded him with towels and forced him to strip of his wet clothing at the genka.
“You’re not going to ruin my floorboards.”
“I won’t! Let me go take a bath.”
“He’s so scrawny,” Shisui snickered as he entered the doorway and removed his sandals.
“Shut up, Shisui!”
“Is Izumi here already? I brought some sweets to celebrate.”
“Celebrate what?” Sasuke asked, voice muffled as his mother dried his face and hair. “She went home already.”
“Oh, no.” The grin slid off of Shisui’s face and he sat back down to tie his sandals up again.
“I’ll let Itachi know when he gets in about what happened,” Mikoto told him before he left.
“What’s going on?”
Sasuke was getting frustrated with always being left out of everything. Every single time the adults talked they censored their conversation if he was around.
“What’s going on with Izumi-nee?” He asked more forcefully.
Mikoto sighed and looked behind her shoulder before she crouched down and whispered to him.
“Izumi-chan applied to be a teacher at the Academy. But she didn’t get the job.”
“Can’t she try again later?” Sasuke whispered back although he was unsure as to why they were whispering. If his mother was doing it, it must have been important to keep quiet. “Maybe they just want her to wait until she’s older.”
“Yeah.” Mikoto gave him a soft smile and patted his shoulder, directing him to the stairs. “That’s probably it. Just make sure not to mention it again. It may still be a sore spot for Izumi later.”
Sasuke nodded and headed upstairs to get his things for a bath.
Coming back down from his room, he slowed down his steps when he heard muttering from the kitchen. One voice was harsh while the other was soothing and pleading.
He edged into the bathroom away from the sounds of the voices and locked the door.
Something strange was going on with his family.
Itachi had intercepted a crow messenger on his way home from the Hokage tower and changed course to the docks.
Shisui was already there, an arm wrapped around Izumi’s shoulders as they stared out onto the lake.
“You could always try again when you’re older,” he offered as he sat on her other side on the dock.
“They told her to try applying to the police force,” Shisui bit out. His expression was a lot darker than Itachi had ever seen it. “What does teaching have to do with police work?”
“Nothing,” Itachi muttered taking Izumi’s left hand in his own. “Nothing at all.”