Teamwork 2


Interlude: Rise (Sakura)

"No visible sign of organ damage."

Tsunade steps away from the examination table, picks up a pen from her desk, and jots down a handful of quick observations. Her handwriting is crisp, fast, full of slashes. There's a wrinkle between her eyebrows, a tension in her jaws. Sakura waits. She heard the 'You got a lot more lucky than you deserved' that lays underneath just fine.

Tsunade spears her with a narrow-eyed look, and then ignores her again. There's disappointment in there, and Sakura wants to flinch, because she knows that Hokage-sama counted on her to be the most responsible of the three, the one who doesn't run off to do half-baked things.

It would probably be smart to keep quiet, at this point. But seeing Tsunade-sama so angry that she isn't even willing to look at Sakura more than necessary -- it hurts. Sakura doesn't know when she started to relax around the illustrious Godaime Hokage-sama, especially since she only got to be in the woman's company to make sure that the silly little girl who got in way over her head wouldn't become a danger to herself and to others; but losing her respect hurts.

"When should I come back for a check-up?"

"It won't be necessary."

Sakura is so stricken by Tsunade's dispassionate tone, she can't find the voice to question her.

"Jiraiya's fixes settled well. They'll hold. Kakashi will be monitoring your chakra levels; if there's trouble, he'll warn Jiraiya. You have the schedule for the following monthly check-ups."

Sakura would be expecting another lecture there; 'if you feel anything abnormal, warn us,' 'don't strain unless absolutely necessary, just in case.' But apparently, her common sense has definitely been put back on the questionable list.

Tsunade moves back behind her desk, sits down and takes a few more notes. It's a clear dismissal.

Sakura doesn't leave. Because if she leaves now she'll never find the nerve to come back.


Tsunade frowns, surprised. Sakura doesn't allow herself to look away, meeting her eyes frankly. She can do it. She knows she can do it. She's not going to be afraid. She's got nothing to lose.

"Please train me."

She caught the woman by surprise; she can see Tsunade trying to make sense of that request. Good. That's an opening. A tiny one, but maybe it will be enough.

"It's not like you need help augmenting your chakra level anymore," the Hokage replies dryly.

Sakura shakes her head, still staring at her, clinging to her determination. She just can't back down now. "Of course I do."

Tsunade's brow wrinkles again; she leans back in her chair, an elbow on the desk; it's a 'You just won ten seconds of my attention, don't waste them' pose. Sakura doesn't plan to.

"That new chakra... It's not my strength. It's Naruto's." Sakura hesitates, looking for the right words. "The baby needs it. I need it. I don't want to die, so I'll take it. And if there's a mission and I'm in way over my head -- I'll take more. But it's not mine. It's -- it's cheating. And I'll cheat if I have to, but -- I don't want to have to."

Tsunade's brow is still wrinkled, but she's listening.

"... I'm just sick of having to rely on them all the time, to -- to ride on their coattails, and lag behind all the time," Sakura admits softly, a hand rising to rub at her belly reflexively. "I want -- I need to get stronger on my own. I hate that all this mess was necessary. There's just this ocean of raw chakra that burns me if I try to mold it, and if I do more than dip my toes, I'll end up bowled over. I can't do anything with it; it's just Naruto saving me again because I can't do it myself. I'm not any stronger now than I was last week."

She looks down briefly, and then meets Tsunade's eyes again, pleading this time.

"You made me stronger. You taught me jutsu I'd never heard of, that Kakashi-sensei doesn't even know, that Shizune-san would never have taught me -- and I know it was only so I wouldn't burn out on all the endurance training, but it was the most difficult and fascinating thing I ever learned, and -- I want to learn more. I really do."

Tsunade is still silent, still unmoving; Sakura's desperate hope wanes slowly.

"I know that you're very busy. I know that you only trained me because I needed help with my chakra levels -- and I'm not a genius or a chakra-monster by any means --" what she really thinks is that she's weak, and she dreamed too big when she took Tsunade's encouragements and pleased smiles to heart, when she thought that maybe she has what it takes to learn directly from the most powerful and skilled person in the village. "-- but I'd do my best. Even if I could just observe -- you wouldn't even have to teach me directly..."

Her voice dies. She's too close to begging, and that -- being taken in because Tsunade pities her and not because she has what it takes -- it would be even worse than being rejected.

Tsunade's frown smoothes out slightly; but her look isn't getting friendlier so much as clinical and remote. That's a no, then.

"What do you hope me to teach you?"

Sakura swallows past the knot in her throat, and gambles -- all or nothing. "Everything you know. Everything."

"Huh. Everything, really," Tsunade drawls. "You seem to have a high opinion of your abilities."

That wasn't a rebuttal. It was a challenge. Sakura squares her shoulders, daring to hope again. "I won't know if I can do it if I don't try my best. I know I'm not a powerhouse. I'm more suited to genjutsu -- to precise and -- you know, subtle things. I want to learn to use that to my best advantage. And medical jutsu... There's so many of them, and so many ways to use them. I want to get better in taijutsu too -- and you're the strongest fighter in the village." She hesitates, then, but only for a second. "I want to learn how the village works. How to deal with behind-the-scene influences."

She surprised Tsunade again, she can see it. The Hokage leans forward now, hands joined in front of her mouth to mask her expression. "Hmm. I didn't peg you as someone interested in intrigues."

Sakura dares a smile, a tiny one. "I'm not. But Naruto will never be subtle enough to notice anything until it jumps him, and he will never know any other approach to solve things than getting in people's face about it. And Sasuke -- he's subtle enough for politics, but he doesn't have the patience, and he'll hate it -- and I wouldn't be surprised if no one really trusts him. I want to learn to read the signs, so that we might at least be aware of what's going on. They will never be unimportant enough to evade all scrutiny."

Tsunade nods slowly. Sakura's smile widens a little.

"That's true... They have champions, though. You could trust them."

Sakura shakes her head slowly, still smiling. She can't express how grateful she is for the offer. Her voice turns soft; she lets it.

"I do trust you. But... I feel that we are behaving like children. Hiding behind the adults who deal with bad things on our behalf, and unaware of what's really at stake, and... It's unpleasant, but they're our problems. It's hard, to be patted on the head and told not to worry, that the adults will fix everything, when we're the ones who are really concerned -- the ones people are risking themselves for."

"... And you're not children anymore."

"No, we're not," Sakura agrees quietly.

Tsunade sighs, leans back in her chair, eyes closed, deep in thought.

"If you want to be trusted, you're going to have to stop pulling such stupid stunts behind our backs," she warns eventually, stern, almost grim.

Well, technically, Jiraiya and Kakashi were aware of it. Unofficially. But Sakura knows better than to point that out. She starts to smile a little wider. "Yes, Tsunade-sama."

"Tomorrow, at five sharp. Now get out."

A grin blossoming on her face, Sakura bows deep. "Yes, Tsunade-sama!"

She walks out briskly. She's never had such a hard time keeping herself from dancing.


[House of Dogs (Naruto)]