24 May 2019 10 Comments
Author’s note: Working hard to get updates out to all stories! So here’s a little preview of the chapter to come for Voice in the Wind. It’s Sakura-centric, and really fills out the world of a Konoha nin. I’ve spent a ton of time talking about Katsuro and life outside the village, now I want to explore Sakura’s life, how different it was for her as a civilian. How much harder she had to work, and what an oddball she truly is in a village dominated by shinobi clans. Foreshadowing in this chapter too, about what she knows and how much she’s a part of the group, and about how much she has to learn about her village, herself and just how unique she is. Happy reading – more to come!
- Oops – this post originally contained an extra chunk of rough draft stuff: half-finished scenes, completely out-of-context notes, and lines to myself to move bits to later chapters. It’s a mess, but it’s how my writing mind works! If it was confusing, that’s why!
Voice in the Wind – Chapter 42: Two Worlds
Sakura stretched her hand out into the darkness until she reached the warmth. She wiggled her fingers, imagining them glowing in the sunlight. Yelling voices and pounding feet passed her then careened away. In the distance a dog barked.
Sakura smiled, orienting herself. Eyes closed, she stood in the angled shadow of a building, one hand still on the corner. She imagined Konoha’s streets glowing gold, running away from her in big straight veins before fracturing down into the maze of lanes and alleys that connected the other districts. She mapped her location — she knew it be by heart, she’d grown up in this block — then pushed off the landmark into the warm sunshine.
From here on out, the roads would not run straight and planned. They would cut back, dip and dive, having been added to the edge of the civilian area with little thought and no planning.
A cart crossed her path, but the repetitive whine of the wheel was no help. She slowed, listening for it to pass, but kept going. A slamming door. Voices off to the side called out in greeting… “Is it ready?” Almost!” “Good, I need it for the—“ The voices were suddenly muffled. She knew now she was passing the first alley. Three more steps then she’d have to turn left, up onto the wider market street.
Sakura continued, successfully darting and dodging in response to what echoed back to her. She kept her face turned to the ground so no one question her closed eyes. They would just think her to be lost in thought. She passed another two homes, filling them in to the landscape of her mind.
Next came the bakery, and at that moment a waft of sweet bean cakes hit her nose. She breathed deeply. The grocer was on the right, and as she passed she caught a fragment of conversation. His wife was whispering the latest gossip. “Well, I heard she was going to wear—“ Sakura ignored it. In the shadowy terrain she was listening for a brighter sound. A familiar, high-pitched ting-ting-ting—
She smiled to herself and opened her eyes. That was not the sound she expected from the blacksmith’s shop, but she should have known she’d get a greeting instead. It was Takumi, the apprentice. He had a thick apron and gloves, and waved a red-hot poker in the air when he saw he’d caught her attention. With his forearm he shoved the round goggles up onto his head, making his eyes look owlish in the middle of his soot-dark face.
They were around the same age and had grown up in the same modern apartments nearby. He tipped his head quizzically.
“Are you training for a mission or something?” His eyes went wide. “Something with…ninjas?”
She laughed, a little embarrassed she’d been caught. “Um…yeah! Something like that—”
The blacksmith returned and scolded Takumi for abandoning the cooking ladle he was working on. Sakura grimaced, waved discreetly and kept going. Once the shop was behind her, she bent her head and closed her eyes again.
The market street was trickier. The temporary stalls were packed tightly along either side of the lane. They muffled the sound of the landmarks — the permanent shops behind the tents and tables — and made it almost impossible to judge distance. It was always a challenge to see how far she could get through the market before she had to stop. E
She proceeded slowly, counting her steps and listening. First came the rhythmic woosh-crack, woosh-crack. The weavers were feeding the shuttle through the loom, then snapping the thread back against the board. The never-ending beat would only stop when there were enough threads woven into a sturdy material, like the rug in front of her mother’s kitchen sink. The sound faded behind haggling customers’ voices. More stalls. The earthy scent of freshly picked vegetables. The rustle of shifting baskets. Laughter. But beneath it was something different, something familiar….
She picked out the sound and let it pull her through the confusion. A pleasant watery smack, then a rolling sound, like a wheel going endlessly down a hill. Ah…the potter where she bought her father a gift two birthdays ago. She knew where she was. A few more shops and then she was out….
She walked carefully, feeling for the change under her feet…. If she was right, then it should be just ahead of her….
She took a step off a paver and crunched down into gravel. She smiled to her self, saying “yes” under her breath. From here the path narrowed, winding down to the shinobi district. There were stairs and close-in buildings, and she supposed it was technically cheating to run her hand down along the rail, count the steps and sniff for Ichiraku’s ramen stand, but it did make the challenge easier. Besides this was where her new apartment was, so she wasn’t as familiar with the area. Thus she needed all the help she could get.
Sakura began to walk confidently toward the shinobi district, when she collided with someone in the middle of the lane—
“Oh! I’m so sorry—“ She opened her eyes, but immediately cringed.
“Sakura,” came the familiar drawl of her teammate. “What are you doing?” Sasuke looked stern, but she could tell he was having a hard time not laughing.
She smiled, blinking up into the light. “Uh…training for a mission…?”
He rolled his eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be meeting Kakashi this afternoon?”
Of course he would know her schedule as well as he knew his own, she thought dryly. She nodded.
Then without a word, he fell into step beside her. That was his way.
It was warm and pleasant, there were lots of people out enjoying the afternoon. Sasuke didn’t say much. But he never did, not in public. Yet it was still companionable to walk with him. And he was relaxed. She could feel it rolling off of him. A side glance confirmed it. His smooth face tipped up to enjoy the sun on his cheeks. His mouth curved up in what, for him, was almost a smile. He cut her a look. She was caught. She laughed softly but didn’t speak. She didn’t need to. That’s how it was with them now.
An older man passed them, moving briskly, flat tray hoisted on his shoulder. It was covered in a large white cloth, but the fragrance of freshly baked buns trailed out behind it, encircling them for a moment. They inhaled together. Sasuke said nothing, she sighed longingly. Before they could go, another man, younger this time, darted past with another tray. He rushed to keep up. Sasuke’s gaze lingered on their backs.
“The baker and his son,” Sakura answered his unasked question. “Or maybe just some hired help,” she added when she realized she didn’t recognize the younger man. “They’re working overtime, baking sweets for this weekend’s festival. It’s all anyone’s been talking about.” He nodded. They continued on.
This was how things worked between them. She read the signs and responded.
When they were in private, or with Sai, or just in a setting he felt more comfortable, Sasuke was more inclined to talk. Sakura remembered thinking something was wrong with him when they were children. But she understood him better now. She understood everything better now….
At age 18, Sakura felt more at home in her village than she’d ever had before. She was in control of her life. And she had a partner in that it. And it felt good.
They left gravelly edge of the civilian market and took Sakura’s shortcut, winding down narrow stairs and crossing over paved lanes, until they turned a corner and the ramshackle shinobi district opened up before them.
Buildings squashed up next to buildings. Shabby little apartments were stacked above restaurants and shops. All manner of businesses had lanterns, banners and folding signs prominently displaying what they offered, just like in Konoha’s civilian neighborhoods. But that was where the resemblance ended. Everything here catered to shinobis.
The blacksmiths forged weapons. The clothing merchants sold fatigues. There were bladesmiths to sharpen and repair kunai, tailors to mend battle-torn clothes, cobblers who made weapons holsters when they weren’t cutting leather for boots.
Shops here specialized in almost every kind of traditional ninja gear. Scrolls with hidden powers. Blades that could disappear between your fingers; axes that could explode to twice the size of your body. Woven tools like ropes and bamboo climbing claws. Wooden weapons like bo staffs and nunchucks. And forged metal favorites like throwing stars, brass knuckles and ankle daggers. There was even a shop dedicated to the delicate art of bomb making, although it was much newer than all the rest due to its being rebuilt more than a few times.
As for the more uncommon items, the shinobi district even had its own market street. It looked very much like its civilian counterpart, a winding road lined with stalls offering trays of fresh fruits and vegetables. But hidden beneath the produce baskets and tucked under the tables were a glittering array of hard-to-find weapons, foreign shinobi tech and one-of-a-kind supplies. With the right words or money, nearly any strange item could be purchased. Or at least procured. From a finely crafted Sand Village whip (taken, no doubt, from the dead hands of its previous owner) to highly toxic nightshade pods for a sleeping draught (stolen, no doubt, from the Waterfall country, the only place where they grow).
These enterprising farmers specialized in the unusual. Because like everything else in this district, they were not what they seemed. Though they did grow their own fruits and vegetables, these farmers were in fact shinobi. Old Konoha nins who had left the village life behind, but never quite given up on being a ninjas. They farmed lands in the countryside around the village. Some even operated safehouses for teams of nins. And when they came into the village to sell their produce, they always made sure to have some special offerings tucked away.
Many stores in the district were the same. Run by twinkly-eyed old men and women who really had seen it all. This was the part of the village where shinobi came to retire…if they were lucky enough to live that long.
But working here wasn’t just for the old. Younger nins also made a life in this district, supporting other shinobi rather than fighting alongside them. They chose their trades and honed their skills inside the village, rather than on missions. These were the young men and women who had gone through the academy but didn’t make it through their team trials. Or they flunked out of their individual exams. Or they passed all the tests only to loose their team in the field, and subsequently their will to fight. Other villages might have abandoned these nins. But in Konoha, you were a shinobi for life, in one form or another.
The district was the one constant for all Konoha nins. And if they didn’t come for supplies or the camaraderie, then they came for the food.
The majority of the eateries in the village were crammed into this crooked network of streets. Restaurants served up hot-and-ready food at all hours of the night and day. From never-ending noodle bowls to skewers of meat to whole street-side buffets of fried foods. Some were sit-down eat-in type places, tucked behind a row of curtains. Others were fast and informal, where returning nins could stand and eat or grab a cheap to-go order to take home for the night.
Apartments here were cheap too. Small single units were added above shops as second and even third stories. It was convenient and, more importantly, private. Whatever you needed, something was always open. And no one gave a second look at a shinobi creeping back in the middle of the night, covered in someone else’s blood.
Sakura loved it.
Her parents hated it.
They did not approve, and they always let her know. They pointed out how much nicer their residential section was, with its neatly planned, flower-lined roads. How much more modern and more importantly civilian their part of Konoha was. Where there were families and kids and parks. Where she would be greeted by the same smiling faces she’d known her whole life. Where a nice girl like her could get a nice job and have a normal life, just like they had. Why would anyone ever move away from that?
But Sakura knew early on she was different from her parents. She’d never been normal. Not their kind of normal, anyway. And her life wouldn’t follow those same smooth paths they dreamed of for her.
That’s why the shinobi district suited her perfectly. It was like everyone there understood each other. Even though they were so different, this area was what made them all the same, connected them as shinobis of Konoha.
The district was very much like the whole of Konoha, which managed to successfully uphold a system of civilians and shinobis coexisting inside the same round walls. Sometimes with the other side not even much aware of it, like her parents.
These imperfections — the rundown buildings and cluttered rooflines — may be at odds with the civilian side, but there was an order here, as reliable as the roads. Yes, she understood this too now. And she was happy she finally found her place in it.
Sakura and Sasuke turned onto what could be considered the main thoroughfare. They walked past Team 8 was just coming back in from a mission, tired and dusty. They nodded before splitting off for some much-needed rest. Young students darted past on their way to the academy. TenTen and Lee came out of a shop that sold weapons scrolls. They waved and Sakura said hello. Sasuke said nothing.
They continued through the zig-zagging streets in the heart of the shinobi district, drawing closer to the academy. It was on the outside edge, out-of-sight from the haphazard buildings, on a tidy neighborhood lane surrounded by a playground and a few fields. Far enough away to look respectable to parents dropping their children off… but close enough for some of the bolder youngsters to dash through, hoping for a glimpse of what real shinobi life was like.
Sakura slowed, taking her time. She glanced back up the road. The corner ahead of them turned off the main avenue. But Sakura waited, tipped her face to the sun and stretched lazily…then glanced back again.
Sasuke saw it all. “So…when do you meet Kakashi?”
“Oh,” Sakura sighed, using the opportunity to stop completely, “In a little bit. I’ve actually, um, got another errand first—”
Sasuke’s sharp eyes turned suddenly toward the top of a building. Sakura looked too and caught the flash of an anbu guard disappearing over the edge. They were on guard, as usual, perching on rooftops around the village and keeping watch. The shinobi district was no different.
“Anyway,” she hedged, dragging it out. She knew she shouldn’t be embarrassed, but sometimes she wished he wasn’t so observant.
Sasuke shifted his foot to shake off an errant ladybug off the top of his sunwarmed shoe. An old man stepped out of a doorway and wiped off a sheen of sweat from his forehead. Seeing Sasuke, he waved, beckoning him over. Without a word, Sasuke left to speak to the man, then stepped inside.
Sakura relaxed. Only because of Sasuke did Sakura know this was one of Konoha’s oldest and finest weapon-smiths. The dark wood of the storefront was completely unmarked. Not even a flag. Just a potted plant and a lazy cat who blinked stand-offishly at everyone. A shinobi didn’t just wander in there. You had to know where you were going first, and that was usually because you were good enough to be invited. They must have had some particular connection to the Uchihas, because Sasuke, always adhering to tradition, commissioned only him to make his weapons.
Sakura had never been invited. But it didn’t bother her. She had always selected her weapons from a much more affordable shop around the corner. No one could miss his red-lettered sign proclaiming “New Kunai – Cheap!” propped in front of his smoke-blackened door. Or the banner that read “Half-price for first time customers!” Many young shinobis shopped there. He had treated her kindly as well when she was fresh out of the academy, and she hadn’t forgotten.
She saw Ino approaching and ducked into a sliver of shade outside a tea shop to wait for her. Any other day, she have welcomed a chance to visit with her friend. But this time, she was already unzipping her pack, trying to complete the exchange before—
“Ohayo Sakura!” Ino flipped back her blonde ponytail and waved brightly. There were several folded up bills in her hand. “I brought the money!” Her voice bounced off the buildings around them. Sakura sighed. But at least Sasuke was out of earshot. Hopefully his visit would take a while.
Sakura reached around to her hip pack and pulled out a paper-wrapped package. It was tied with a bow of multicolor thread. Ino stepped into the shade with her.
“Oh thank you Sakura! What would I do without you,” she said dramatically, taking the package and pressing the money into Sakura’s open hand. “My mom’s been freaking out about what the clan is going to wear. She said to tell your mom thank you. Oh, and your dad too! Especially for that last-minute order!”
Sakura inclined her head at the gesture.
“We’ve been so busy getting ready for the festival.” Ino shook the package gently. “But at least I don’t have to make these!” She grinned. “I bet it’s not so bad for you though. Your mom probably makes you new ones every year!”
“Yeah, she does,” Sakura said with a laugh, trying to sound comfortable. But really she wished Ino would hurry up and go.
“So what are you going to wear? You’ve already seen what my kimono will look like, of course, but do you have a new one? I bet a light blue would be beautiful on you, with your hair and—“
“Actually I’m on duty this year, so—“
“Oh no! You are? That’s a shame! Well maybe you can come by for something to eat afterward! My mom always gets too many sweet buns, and I loooove those things, but there’s only so many I can eat—“
Shikamaru and Choji nodded at her from the road where they waited for their talkative teammate. Sakura waved conspicuously back. “Looks like they’re waiting….”
She turned and and rolled her eyes. “My teammates aren’t as patient as yours,” she said, laughing at something over her shoulder.
Sakura’s stomach jumped when she caught Sasuke’s profile out of the corner of her eye, leaning against the building behind her. How long had he been there? At least he didn’t see—
“Tell your parents thanks again, Sakura!” Ino waved the package before tucking it under her arm. “See you!”
Sakura winced, smiled painfully, cleared her throat, then turned and glossed it all over with a bright voice. “I didn’t realize you where there! Do you want to go—“
He pushed off when she came even with him. As the walked, the pressure of his silence grew. He had questions, and Sakura could hear them in her head as loudly as if he’d actually said them. What was she doing? What was in the package? How were her parents involved…and with the Yamanaka clan?
Sakura knew she shouldn’t be embarrassed. These were simple enough questions about her life outside of a shinobi. And it wasn’t a secret that her parents were civilians….
But he surprised her with an entirely different question.
“You’re on duty this year? For the festival?”
She laughed suddenly. “Oh! No….” She blinked at him, “I lied.”
His brow furrowed. “To Ino?”
“No. To my parents.” She laughed again, at herself. “And then…well, yes, I guess. To Ino too.” His shoulders bounced with a silent laugh. “I didn’t want to go. They make a big deal about it. But—” She started to complain about her parents, but stopped herself. It was complicated. She cleared her throat. “I thought I’d like to be with my team this year. You know, with nins. That’s all.”
She didn’t say Sasuke’s name. But that’s what she meant. She’d rather spend her time with him, who had no family, than with her own, who were constantly pushing her to give up her life. He wouldn’t understand. And she didn’t want to get into it.
Which was fine. He wouldn’t push her for more. It was like there was a silent agreement between them. They never talked about their personal lives. Not his shinobi family backstory. Not her…civilian one.
They went back to their companionable silence—
“What did your mother make for the Yamanaka clan?”
“Oh, cords,” she said airily. “My mom makes them for the festival.” She tried to laugh it off as the most common thing in the world.
Sasuke was perplexed. “Like…rope? For the floats or something?”
“No. It’s for clothing. She weaves them. They wrap around kimonos.” Sakura pointed to her mid-section, as if he didn’t know where a kimono wrapped around a body. She dropped her hand. Sasuke nodded politely, but Sakura was deeply aware of how inconsequential something like this was to a shinobi.
She added suddenly, “And she embroiders too. You know, like for special occasions.” But somehow that only made it seem more trivial. She wished she’d stopped talking.
“Oh…. I didn’t know that’s what she did.”
Sakura shrugged. “Yep, that’s what she does.”
“And…uh, your father? He made them too, for the Yamanaka?”
“Oh no! That was about fabric. He sells fabric. All kinds of, you know…fabric.” Now she was repeating herself. She cleared her throat again.
Sasuke shook his head, confused. “But, they don’t have a…” he waved his hand at nearby storefront, “shop, do they?” The long banner beside the door read “Ready-Made Fatigues” in thick letters. ”You know, like one of those?”
Sakura laughed at that, finally letting herself relax a little. There was no use in hiding it. “No, he sells mostly to merchants. Civilian merchants. But sometimes directly to customers. Especially if it’s a special order. Like for weddings. Special events.”
“And for Ino?”
“Something new, for the festival. For her whole—” Sakura stopped. She changed her word choice. “Family.”
Sasuke was silent, considering it all.
She imagined him updating the catalogue of data he mentally kept on everyone, adding this new detail to her profile. It didn’t bother her. She understood him now too. This was how he stayed alive after Itachi’s attack, stayed sane in those dark years as a shinobi forbidden to leave his village. He observed and learned. He memorized. The details of her life were no exception—
“I never knew what your parents did,” he said finally. “I guess I thought….” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I only knew you weren’t from a clan.”
Sakura blinked at the word. There it was…. How often had she heard that….
She wished she’d told her mom she couldn’t deliver the package that day.
They continued out of the shinobi district in silence. Sakura passed the last storefronts without seeing them.
She was engrossed in her own thoughts now. Sasuke didn’t need to say it for her to be keenly aware of some differences between them. Sasuke had never thought about what life was like outside of a shinobi one.
Even though shinobis and civilians lived side by side, their worlds couldn’t be more different. Sakura was one of the few who crossed over those lines. For Sasuke, the civilian side didn’t matter. In fact, if it wasn’t for her, he’d probably never even noticed it.
The green yard of the academy was approaching. Buildings were beginning to look more tidy. She shook off her thoughts. Yes, she was one of the few people who saw both sides of the village. But she chose the shinobi. And because of that, she’d finally found her place in Konoha. She understood this now too.
Ahead, Iruka was propping a side door open, motioning for them. Sasuke let her go first. They crept quietly in, but Sasuke spoke as she passed, his voice teasing, “So…I guess kimonos and that girlie stuff wasn’t interesting enough for you?”
Sakura snapped her head up, catching the small smile, the ring of laughter behind his words. She laughed outright at him. “No! No it wasn’t!” She smirked, pointing down the hallway. “Come on, he’s waiting.”