One


The bed sheets were a soft cotton with a beautiful sheen that could convince by first glance that they were silk. Such a beautiful color of cream, off-white. The closer Sakura looked, she realized that the bed sheets were the sheets she had once wanted to buy. Not the exact ones. They were of the same quality that her parents used that made her own look like they had been stolen from a motel room, stains included. When trusted to stay alone in the house, she'd sleep in their room simply to feel the chill of the luxurious fabric against her legs, fantasizing the whole night that she was living in a spacious flat in the center of the city. Her woes of being thirteen and self conscious would wisp away and her mind would fill to the brim with thoughts and images of what her life would be like in the upcoming years; boyfriends with generous love, and summer nights with a chilling wind to blow past sheer white curtains while they made love under a blue film of moonlight.

"They're on sale!"

A crowd of people were filling the store and Sakura looked at the top shelf one last time, pure Egyptian cotton, one thousand thread count. Seventy five percent off, and only one left in stock. It was smiling at her from so far away and she knew the sea of shouting women would be worth the journey.


Sakura swept her hair back and fastened the rosy strands behind her ear with a similarly colored bobby pin. Her eyelashes blinked once over her eyes before they focused on Agent Komatsu. Her smile made her seem very sure of herself, almost as if she were actively trying to wrap a rope around the person she looked at. But Agent Komatsu wasn't intimidated.

"Do you know what the problem is with drawing lines in the sand?" She asked, smoothing the navy pleats on her skirt. "With a breath of air, they disappear."

Komatsu swallowed, and just as Sakura began to go back at him with a devilish grin-to go in for the kill-he caught her.

"Ume, this is serious."

She relaxed the corners of her mouth and leaned away from him, "I know."

He leaned forward, "Please, tell me what you know."

"I know a lot of things, Agent Komatsu," She said, keeping her eyes settled on the arm of her chair. "But for some reason, I never seem to reveal them at the correct time." A smile broke free and her eyes suddenly found his with a sleepy sparkle, "I suppose you'll just have to make me want to."

"You know something, Ume," He began, "I'm sure I will be able to find what I want from someone else."

"No offense, Agent," She said, plucking a stray thread off her sweater. "But I don't think you're as lucky as you think you are."

She remained in her chair as the Agent flipped his note pad closed and slid the pen into the small space between the spring binding. He dressed better than anyone she had every known and if she weren't lying about her identity, she would have asked him who his tailor was.

"Ume," He said, holding a business card out to her.

She took it and looked it over.

"I'll expect a call."

"Don't be so sure of yourself," She said coolly.

He yanked on his coat and took an irritable breath, "I am."

Sakura leveled her breathing and waited for the door to close before she launched herself from her chair and made a b-line to the other side of the room to turn the lock. She tried the handle, and when the door appeared to be secure, she fell against the wall. She brought her wrist to her mouth and smeared the red lipstick across her skin until her lips were bare. She wandered to the mini fridge opposite her bed and erratically unscrewed the lid of a water bottle-not complimentary.

"Inoichi?" She asked the room, waiting for a reply.

Nothing.

She must have really escaped out the window, otherwise, being called by her fathers name would've sent her in a storm.

She finished the first half of the water and then went back for the rest. But her mouth was still dry. The agent who had been interviewing her was their suspect; suspected of murdering numerous CI's. All women, of course, and that's where Sakura came in.

A strange knocking disturbed her rumination.

"It's Blondie!" Ino called, announcing herself to the audience of one. She struggled though the curtains and then found her way to Sakura's side, "Ume, how'd it go?"

"He was kind and yet, very masculine," Sakura said thoughtfully. "Then I got this strange feeling, like he was planning on strangling me."

"We're getting close," Ino laughed, reclining on the bed.

"You shouldn't get close to that comforter," Sakura said.

"They wash them."

Sakura squeezed the plastic bottle and threw it at the wall above Ino's head, "He gave me his business card."

Ino sat up, "You could, theoretically, call him and meet up in a sleazy part of town."

"You've got the best ideas."

"I mean it," Ino said.

"It's only been three months," Sakura reminded.

Ino enjoyed the sight of Sakura acting as feminine and alluring as possible, and both of them had to agree that Sakura's acting skills were something to admire. But when it came to spending time with unknown men in unknown parts of an unfamiliar town, Sakura didn't have Ino's courage. She couldn't imagine how should could ever expect to defend herself against a man like that when showing any ounce of her Kunoichi status would blow their cover.

"Some women move faster than others," said Ino with one of her silly grins.

"Look, I just feel like he would be suspicious," Sakura clarified. "Target or not, everyone's aware of his reputation and he's a damn good detective to boot."

"Then take it slow," Ino said, "But you need to get more information from him."

There wasn't tangible evidence at this point, but in another world where evidence wasn't a component, they would have had enough reason to lock him up for life. They knew he was responsible, but they just needed one. One girl.

"I was thinking about tailing him," Ino said suddenly.

"That's a bit drastic," Sakura said.

"Three months is a very long time," Ino replied. "I want to go home."

Sakura thought about her apartment.

"We've got this," She reassured, holding up the rectangular contact information that had been crushed in her hand.

"You're going to call him?"

Sakura nodded.

"Do you want me to follow you?"

Sakura shook her head.

"Look at you, all rough and tough," Ino laughed. "I wonder if you'll bring this attitude back home."

"This is how I always am!" Sakura insisted.

"The worry lines on your forehead suggest otherwise," Ino said. "What I mean, is I haven't seen you so sure of yourself for a while."

"It's not like i have bad esteem," Sakura said.

Ino took leave of the bed and swiftly trotted around Sakura to the door, checking it's closure. She had a few bruises on the back of her neck that seemed to be new.

"I've just been swamped at the hospital and it was nice to get out here and do some real work," Sakura continued. "And I admit, I was a little excited when I heard our target was a capable of killing me."

Ino had a strange look on her face when she glanced over her shoulder, and under the shadow-casting orange lighting, she seemed rather serious

"Ino?"

"There's a man."

Ino backed away and reached for the coat that hung from the bathroom door handle. Once Sakura spotted the familiar sheen of edge, a kunai, she found herself shaking all over. Her stomach dropped, afraid that right now would be the first combat should would have had in months.

"Who's there?" Sakura said softly, hoping Ino had heard her but not the person on the other side of the wall.

"It's not Komatsu."

Both girls had been weary of anyone so much as walking past their room, even the maid. But sometimes a bad feeling in the gut was proof enough that someone aught not be so close to their door. And it was confirmed when Sakura lined her eye up with the peephole that the man, who's feet were barely visible, was waiting out of their view for one of them to walk out. If neither had been aware, he would have had them by their necks in an instant and would have dragged them back into the room.

"I know the routine," Sakura said beneath her breath. "Does he really think we're this stupid?"

Well, yeah.

"If he came here to kidnap us, I don't know how far you're willing to go."

"He's not kidnapping us," Sakura said.

"He probably is," Ino argued. "And if you want to continue hiding the fact that you can fight on their level, you're going to let him take you and you're going to pretend that there's nothing you can do about it."

Sakura inaudibly told Ino to shut up.

Ino brought her voice down to a violent whisper, "So help me, Sakura, open the damn door and let him take you!"

Ino's determination to return home was astounding.

"This is so ridiculous," Sakura groaned, "I'm just going to-"

She unlocked, unlatched, twisted, and released the door. It swung open before Ino could fully hide herself behind the chair.

"Look, i don't know who you are-"

Ino stomped at the floor as Sakura motionlessly looked forward.

"You piece of shit!" Ino screamed.

"How are you, Sakura'chan?"

"She's doing fine!" Ino responded. "Get the hell out of here!"

A chair could've flown right through her and Sakura still would have been dumbfounded. It wasn't as if she didn't like seeing her comrades or was against having them drop by.

She snapped out of it, "Might Guy, your suit is looking very green."

He opened his arms for a hug but she swiftly stepped to the side, "Come on in."

"No!" Ino exclaimed. "We thought you were going to collect our bodies!"

"I'm here for a reason!" He shouted, louder than Ino.

Sakura closed the door and dimmed the lights, not as if it mattered. The room was probably bugged and they were already found out. Within moments they would be stuffed into plastic bags and thrown into a river with the rest of the missing women.

He turned to Sakura and smiled, "Good evening."

Neither her nor Ino had interacted with Guy enough to know how to properly communicate. She tried to smile back, but it felt as if her jaw were a broken hinge.

He glanced to Ino, "you look like a prostitute."

Ino huffed, "Asshole."

"So, I was in the neighborhood," he said. "And i need to give you some important news."

Sakura nodded, "okay, what is it?"

"They must not respect us if they're willing to give out our location," Ino said quietly in backdrop. "They clearly don't care about us."

If Ino had her way, she would be fitted with a lounge made of purple velvet so that she could have something luxurious to cry on. The olive green chair didn't do justice to her woes.

"Naruto gave me the orders," Guy said.

"Orders?" Sakura asked, becoming irritated.

"Let me guess, they think we're incapable of finishing this mission?" Ino sang. "You're here to pick us up and drag us home?"

Guy was still smiling, but didn't seem willing t acknowledge the comments. He cleared his throat, "Yes, well, Naruto was approved as Hokage!"

"So, essentially," Ino began, "you're here to alert us that the village officially went up in flames 24 hours ago?"

"Technically, 36," Guy corrected.

"Oh, my bad," Ino snipped.

"I'm sure Kakashi's appreciative," Sakura said. "That's really great news."

"Say a prayer for Naruto's assistant," Ino said.

"Oh, god," Sakura murmured with a hinted bitterness. "I remember being Tsunade's assistant."

"H-uh-EL," Ino chimed. "Sakura developed a sleeping disorder."

"Naruto's going to run them into the ground, being new and already-"

"-An absolute pig," Ino concluded. "He's a pig, and his assistant is going to reap it."

"I'm sure you're incorrect," Guy chuckled.

"Not at all," Sakura said. "Poor kid's going to forget why he wanted the job in the first place, but, I suppose that's all a part of the learning experience."

There was a moments silence.

Sakura felt a tinge of vicarious accomplishment knowing that her friend had finally reached the goal, of all his goals . She knew how much it meant to him and it meant a good deal to her as well.

"We're in the middle of a mission" She said.

Guy took a moment to survey his location; burgundy carpet, two chairs, and a stain on the ceiling in the shape of a spoon. He didn't appear to enjoy the sight, and neither of the exasperated jonin expected him to. He was unlikely to ever be asked to masquerade a strange town as a prosititute.

"We're a bit off from Konoha," Sakura pointed out. "Why are you here?"

"You'd be surprised how many museums are in the area," He said.

Ino sat up with a dazed look on her face.

"I-I didn't know you like museums," Sakura said surprised.

"Not to be rude, but we really need you to high tail it out of here," Ino said. "We were about to have a breakthrough with this mission."

Guy cleared his throat, "well, good luck!"

Sakura nodded lightly, "We hope so."

Another silence and Sakura began to think about how erratic the main office back home was with the new management.

"Shall i tell everyone that you're still alive?" He asked.

Ino started a new complaint, "why is it that the first mission we're put on this year has no formalities?"

Sakura held open the door, "You better leave before she loses it."