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The Springtime of Our Lives

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The latest mission is a complete snafu.

Team 7 is sent out to help watch a shepherd's flock after he and his entire family come down with a debilitating flu. It's lambing season, when thieves and predators stalk the herd, and so the Hokage saw fit to send a genin squad to keep an eye out.

It should have been a simple mission, something which Naruto complained loudly about the whole way there. It turns out, though, that watching sheep is more difficult than expected, and not for the difficulties common sense might suggest. In fact, sheep have an innate genius for self-inflicted harm. The beasts are too stunned to file through an open gate, but apparently have an inventive talent for getting themselves killed.

Sakura and the rest of her team spend three days following the woolly demons to keep them from wandering off high bluffs, choking themselves on low-hanging branches or tree roots, and poisoning themselves on toxic plants. They almost lost one to drowning, and at some point, Naruto came up with the bright idea to scare them into running into their pen, instead starting a stampede.

And then there was the wolf.

Everything just went bad after that, Sakura thinks with a wince.

Everything hurts, from her eyelids to her breasts.

Not that they're really breasts. She can barely see them when she examines herself in the mirror at night, wishing jealously for the same chest growth-spurt that Ino has already experienced. Still, they ache enough to make their existence known. Almost as much as the stabbing pains in her abdomen.

I swear, if I caught some bacteria or bug while tramping through the mud and sheep crap, I am going to kill Kakashi.

All Sakura wants to do right now is curl up in her bed and sleep.

Somehow, everything is rubbing her the wrong way right now. Her hands sting hotly, sweat-covered and yet chapped, and there's a blister blooming beneath the ball of her left foot. Every crevice of her feels too hot and damp and chafing. It's as if she's far too big for herself, and she is far more conscious of the smell of her body than she would like.

I need a shower like right now, she decides vehemently, and wondering in silent horror if her teammates can smell her.

Almost the moment this fear rises up, Naruto calls her name suddenly.

"Oi! Sakura, you're bleeding. Why didn't you say you were hurt?"

Their little travelling quartet come to a stop. Everyone is looking at her in curious concern, while Sakura blinks at the sudden attention. Her other two teammates follow the line of Naruto's gaze, and Sakura can do nothing but follow their cue, glancing down to see what everyone is staring at.

A red-brown stain spreads across her tunic several inches beneath her navel.

She is confused, because she hasn't noticed any wound to cause the blood. Going over their adventures that morning, she doesn't recall any instance that could have injured her in such a way. She glances over at Kakashi, whose sharp eyes examine her with experienced gravity, and then peeks at Sasuke, who seems as confused as she is. His eyes flit over her with a curtness that doesn't quite hide concern, and then they widen with something close to realisation.

A beat later, his cheeks go red; she can't understand his look before it snaps away.

"Ah," Kakashi says quietly, like this is something he was expecting.

Later, Sakura will be embarrassed at the several moments it takes for the small, blossoming stain of red-brown to make sense, and the additional time it takes for the significance of its location to set in. When it does, she experiences a jolt to her heart and the tingling sensation of her cheeks losing blood. Consciousness of her body's various sensations all rush back to her then, the cramping pain throughout her pelvic area, the damp sensation between her legs and up across her tailbone, the vague nausea—

She's never gone through it before, but she knows without doubt what it is.

It's her period.

Sakura is finally menstruating after waiting on it for ages, and she didn't notice because the aches and pains of their mission masked it. She experiences a bizarre compulsion to laugh at that—

Hah! And Ino doesn't even have hers yet! She's gonna be so jealous that I'm a woman first, Shannaro!

—before another realisation crashes into her.

She's gotten her monthly bleeding in front of her three teammates.

Her three male teammates.

Two of whom are the absolute last people she would want to know about this, because one is the boy she's utterly in love with and the other one is Naruto.

Sakura yelps and vaults into the tree-lined path, away from them and ignoring the shouts for her to return.

She doesn't stop until she finds a shaded bush off in the distance, where she can discreetly try to deal with the problem. A swath of bandages in her med kit serve as a makeshift pad within her underwear to stop some of the flow, but her clothing remains saturated. There's no scrubbing the blood from the front or back of her tunic.

Why? Why? WHY?!

She knocks her head against a nearby tree, as if that will keep the hot blush from her cheeks. Tears gather in her eyes, as much out of mortification as her growing awareness of just how much her abdomen hurts.

Several yards away and out of view, she hears a familiar cough and cringes.

"Will you be alright, Sakura?" Kakashi asks, calm as usual. He's very good at keeping any inflexion out of his words, but she saw his eyes before she fled. He is not comfortable with this.

"I…I'll be fine. I'll be right back," she sniffs, hoping she can keep from crying; that's all she needs right now is to have puffy eyes on top of this! What would Sasuke say?!

"Sakura, you have nothing to be ashamed of," Kakashi goes on, and she winces, expecting him to transition into an awkward talk about the 'mysteries of her body' the way her mother did. "Have you gone through this before?"

"…No," she whispers.

"Do you need me to explain…?"

"No!" she yells that before she can stop herself, and then in a quieter voice she adds, "I know what to do. My…my mother told me. And we…we had a class."

"Alright." He sounds relieved. "Then you also know that you have to report to the hospital when we get back to the village? All shinobi must be on some form of birth control for field missions once they…once the time is right."

"I know that," she retorts, tone short as she hugs her elbows to herself in embarrassment. She just wants to be done with this!

"This is not something to be ashamed of, Sakura," Kakashi tells her gently, and she realises she spoke out loud.

She clenches her eyes shut, humiliated.

"I know, I know! the miracle of life and now I'm a woman and all that! I already know all that, Kakashi-sensei, so please—"

"It's not just that," he interrupts. "Think of it as your body's way of conditioning you."

Sakura pauses at this, having never had it put that way to her before.

The woman who taught her and the other girls about the menstrual cycle explained it in soft terms such as 'moon time' or visits from 'Little Miss Strawberry', a time of her body weeping because it had no child. That it was a sign of a woman's weakness that needed to be overcome by ignoring both the pain and crudeness of it.

Her ears perk up. "ConditioningLike training?"

"Exactly," Kakashi says.

Sakura pauses, and then cautiously comes out from behind her hiding space to consider her instructor. He is lingering against a tree, casual and unimposing, and keeping a respectful distance.

"What do you mean?" Sakura asks, taking a tentative step forward, though the bushes still obscure her lower body.

"You are capable of handling greater discomfort than either Sasuke or even Naruto will ever be able to do," Kakashi tells her. "Considering the pain both of them have had in their lives already, that's rather substantial."

Wait, what?

"As kunoichi, you're expected to meet all the same standards as male shinobi—and that's while enduring a regular pain that men never can," he continues. "That makes you stronger in many ways. And that's not even referring to those women who choose to become mothers. They're in a category of their own. That magnitude of strength was never meant to be a source of shame; if it was, it would not have been a function necessary to human survival." He cocks his head, meeting her gaze. "Don't you think?"

"I-I…"

Sakura's thoughts stagger together at that, because it makes the kind of obvious sense that she feels silly for not considering earlier. If she hadn't had people telling her from childhood that this was the sort of thing she had to hide or be worried about others knowing, she might have reacted to its occurrence with mere curiosity. Or shrugged at it as a quirk of the female human body.

Even her mother, in her sympathetic way, told Sakura that it was a woman's task to ensure no man knew if she was undergoing her 'flowering time'.

"Men are uncomfortable about this sort of thing," Mama informed her when Sakura was the age to start asking questions. "So, it's better to only talk about these matters with other women around."

Girls at school always talked about accidentally bleeding through their clothes with the same severity of losing control of their bladder in public.

One of those things I can control; the other, I can't.

The notion is one she suddenly understands that not many people—even other women—are able to make.

"Well?"

Kakashi is still watching her face, the gleam in his eye suggesting he's watching her come to her important conclusion and glad that she has.

"Yes," Sakura agrees, and it feels almost like something invisible or intangible has settled irreversibly into place. "That makes sense."

"I thought so, too," he agrees. "I'll tell my girlfriend that she's incredibly smart."

Sakura snorts at this. "Right. As if I'd believe you have a girlfriend."

"I do."

"No offense, Kakashi-sensei, but no one who reads as much porn out in the open could get a girlfriend," Sakura tells him. "Women have standards."

Kakashi's wide eyes suggest he is gaping at her, and then he sighs loudly.

"No respect…," he sighs in a long-suffering voice, and glances up at the sky to judge the time. "Anyhow, it's getting late. We can either sit here in this bush forever, or we can get up and go home. I'm open to both, but personally I'd suggest the latter, because at some point we're all going to get hungry. And between you and me, I don't trust Naruto not to try to kill and cannibalise Sasuke."

"As if Sasuke would let him," Sakura sniffs, automatically coming to the defense of the Uchiha boy. Kakashi's eyes crinkle a bit at that, and Sakura can't help her own tiny smile. Then she exhales and steels herself: if she can handle walking back into Konoha with blood seeping through her clothes, she can do anything.

This is not something to be embarrassed about.

Besides, maybe everyone will just think I was wounded on the mission, she adds in something too false for hope. It's very obvious where her bleeding is coming from, so she's not especially confident about that possibility. Come on! Just suck it up and go!

Of course, as usual, it's easier to brave in her head than it is outside.

Kakashi perhaps notices her hesitation, because he suddenly shrugs out of his flak jacket; a red spiral tattoo stands out starkly against the pale skin of his bicep. Before she can comprehend his puzzling action, he pulls it inside-out by the sleeves until only the dark-blue interior shows and holds it out to her.

"Your choice, if you want," he tells her, and Sakura gratefully accepts.

I'll be brave about bleeding through my clothes some other day, she decides as she wraps the jacket around her waist; the sleeves hang across her front in a way to obscure the stain there. Just…not today…

She feels that, considering the misadventures with the sheep, she is totally justified in not feeling very confident right now.

"Let's go," she says at last, fighting against the nervous tremble in her voice as she stands up.

She tries not to feel so very conscious of the feeling of her thighs rubbing and the wadded pad of linen between her legs.

Sakura tiptoes out from behind the bush and heads back to the road where Sasuke and Naruto are waiting. They're loitering noticeably, and when she gets within three feet of them, the three preteens look at each other and then quickly look away.

Kakashi returns and says, "Let's get going, kids," and heads onward. In uncomfortable silence, his students follow him.

While they continue their walk, Naruto sneaks glances at her, oddly tense. Sakura suspects Kakashi explained to him what was going on before he came looking for her. The blond boy looks unsure if he's grossed out or intimidated or in awe of her, and so has settled for rude staring.

As if he has any business staring at me?!

Sakura is about to reach over and punch him for it, when he swivels suddenly and demands of Kakashi, "Hey, Kakashi-sensei, did that tattoo hurt? I wanted to get one for becoming a genin, but the stupid old man doing the tattoos said it hurt too much for kids. I told him I could take it, but he didn't believe me. Maybe if you put in a good word for me…?"

The babble is louder and more noticeable than usual, the way forced conversation tends to be, but it's a step back to normal. Sakura relaxes a bit, glad that Naruto isn't going to be his usual tone-deaf self and start asking a bunch of embarrassing questions.

It's hard to be completely at ease, though, especially as Sasuke doesn't even look at her. That makes her already shaky confidence waver. What if this embarrasses him so much he can never look at her again without remembering her bleeding through her clothing?

But then while Naruto starts to describe the tattoo he wants (a robot fighting a giant lizard), Sasuke suddenly speaks: "Ginger."

"Huh?" Sakura says for wont of anything intelligent to say.

"Ginger tea," he clarifies, not looking at her but, is she imagining it, or is the back of his neck red. "My father always made my mother ginger tea when she was… It eases the pain."

"I…yeah, my mother says that, too," Sakura replies shyly, cheeks warming once more. It's so rare that he talks about his family, that she almost forgets what he's making reference to.

"It's also easier to find than something like dark chocolate if we get assigned a long mission away," he continues. "We should all stock up."

He quickens his pace then, putting distance between them and an effective end to any further possible conversation.

But the rest of Sakura warms at that. Though she knows he is simply taking this all in his usual logical stride—a member of his team experiencing monthly bouts of pain could affect their mission—it's still a show of Sasuke's concern.

It almost makes up for him having witnessed the most embarrassing moment in her entire life.

Almost.

つづく