Chapter 6

...

'It's not hard to find the truth. What is hard is not to run away from it once you found it.'

...

Ino sighed as she lay stretched out on the cool sheets of her messy bed. Lounging on her side in the room of her modernized apartment. The light glowing from her cell phone illuminated her face in the darkness of her room as she brought it close to read the text message someone had just sent her. 'Hey, u should come out 2night. Shikamaru's throwing a party for his girl, call me.'

Chouji, she smiled knowingly without even looking at the number. An old friend who had, over the years, been dubbed the name 'Chubby Chouji.' She shook her head in silent laughter.

'No thanks. Busy w/ work.' Was all she wrote back. Brooding over the fact she'd have to miss out on another good time, not even having it within her power to throw a crazy party of her own while she was still on a mission.

Sakura's own place was just down the hall, she wasn't surprised when Sakura had denied her offer of sharing the lease and move in together.

Instead, all Ino could do was move into the empty apartment a few doors down. At least her unassuming friend hadn't protested to that idea. Either way, Ino was going to keep a vigilant eye on the girl 24-7, with or without Sakura's permission.

Ino frowned, the thought of the girl brought a worried knit between her soft blonde brows. Sakura had been so distant these past few days. To be certain, there was something troubling her newfound friend. Her green eyes were almost hollow, devoid of any emotion. As if she were pondering something very, very deeply important. Heaven only knew, Barbie Girl always had something brewing in her mind, one could easily tell just by looking into her sharp eyes she knew something everyone else did not. Whether she did know the secrets of the world or not, yet remained the mystery.

But now, it was so different. She hardly talked, hardly ate and barely seemed aware of the world around her.

Kakashi had been pretty scarce of late as well. She had hardly heard from the detective and she was fairly certain Sakura had not seen him since the night they had spent at his place gambling and drinking away the hours. The morning after that crazy night, Sakura had shown up to the agency despite it being a work free weekend. Ino had, of course, tagged along and was completely at a loss to Sakura's utter change in demeanor and personality. She was quieter than usual, and when Tsunade ordered her about to do ridiculous things that need no tending, Sakura had obediently obliged to the pointless task. Her shoulders slumped more and Ino often found her staring off into space, slow to respond to a sentence directed at her person. At first, it just seemed like a bad hangover, but two days later Sakura was still a void, pitiful black hole of despair...ugh, how depressing!

Ino's inner instincts kicked in as she thought of the worst possible outcome – that of a scandalous man and a drunken woman sharing a room together. She didn't want to think that a man like Kakashi, although rude and outrageous at times, but respectable and honorable regardless, would ever do such a terrible thing to an intoxicated female. And she knew Sakura, drunk or not, was too stubborn and strong-willed to let a man dominate her without her permission. She wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but her patience was growing thinner and thinner the more Sakura tried to avoid the man, or how she would shrivel into the background each time his name was mentioned.

Something had to be done.

With determination set in her eyes, Ino picked her phone back up and began to dial the number to Sakura's cell. Hell bent on getting some answers from the girl.

A knock on the door interrupted her before she could finish the call and she cleared the screen before throwing the phone to the side as she walked out of her bedroom and into the entertainment area to open the door.

Her mouth shot into a joyous smile when she saw who it was, but pride quickly set her lips straight as she frowned at the man on the opposite side of the threshold. She remembered she still had yet to forgive him for stealing her strawberry jam donut when they had breakfast yesterday morning.

Quickly righting herself, Ino greeted the tall man in front of her with a small scowl.

"Can I help you?" She inquired dryly.

"I doubt it," He clipped back. Well, she thought, someone was in a foul mood.

"What do you want, Asuma?" Planting an impatient hand on her hip, she cocked her eyebrow and skipped straight to the point.

"Heh, nice to see you too, darling." He maneuvered past her, inviting himself in as he entered her entertainment room and made himself at home on the sofa. Her narrowed blue eyes studied him for a moment in his loose fitting jeans and button up black pollo as he stretched out and threw his forearm over his eyes, as if the light pained him. He sighed deeply, she half expected him to begin on some long spiel, like he was making an unappointed visit to his therapist. But instead of barking out his problems, or more orders like he usually gave her, he didn't even utter a word.

"Is something wrong?" She ventured cautiously.

"No,"

Ino crossed her arms loosely, holding casually to her elbows. "Is something right?" She smiled a little as she tip toed closer to his prone, rather limp, figure sprawled out across the sofa cushions.

He paused for a moment and she saw a small smirk on his lips. "No," She heard the laughter in his voice at her silly question. Nothing ever seemed to go smoothly for poor Asuma.

"So if nothing is wrong and nothing is right, what is it that you want?" She crouched down by his side, folding her legs beneath her as she propped her elbows on his chest, relaxing and deciding to at least attempt to be tolerable for him...well, just for the moment. Heaven knew, she had already given him his fare share of grey hair and would only continue to do so. Sure, he didn't deserve half the sass she gave him. But she couldn't help it, it was in her nature to be a pain in his butt. And most everyone else's butts, too.

It brought her much pleasure and happiness to be the bane of his day. If only she could find a way to bottle that sweet satisfaction that she received when she won their little battles, getting to watch as he ran his hand through his hair and took a long, ominous breath as he turned away from her before his mellow temper snapped and he might do something he'd regret; like smack her. Hell, even Ino believed she needed a good thrashing every now and then for the trouble she gave him.

But he never would. And perhaps that's why she continued to push him at some points; because she knew she could get away with it every time.

"Food." The word broke her thoughts.

"Hm?" She tilted her head. Food? The word wasn't a request. It was more like a plead. A desperate call for sustenance.

She forced herself not to giggle.

"Aren't you supposed to be at work right now?" She asked.

"I'm on break." He was keeping his sentences short, too tired to give her anything solid. She knew the man well, the signs of fatigue were clear enough.

"I didn't know 'shadows' needed breaks," She pressed for more info. Asuma was never one to shirk his duties. He was supposed to be helping Kakashi out. Not lounging about her pad like a hibernating bear. So if he was here... "Who's watching out for the big guy?"

There was a slight hesitation in the air. "Genma's taking it easy on the whole stakeout thing. There's some new–and old–agents that seem to be surfacing...and besides, Gai's back."

"Oh." Was all she said. Well, this was getting interesting. "I take it this means you won't have to work as much with another man on the job?"

"Oh, no. Genma's still having me run around like a chicken with its head cut off, I'm just taking some personal time off."

"And is Genma aware of this little 'lunch hour'?"

"No, and I you'd have a good mind not to mention it to him either. I'm getting too old for this twenty-four seven, seven days a week shit."

"Maybe if you wouldn't eat so much fast food and drink so much coffee and smoke five packs a day–"

"I didn't come here for a lecture," He lifted his arm and glared at her. "I came here for some real food, I don't think I can take another bite of take-out. Now, if you wouldn't mind?" He raised his brows and gave her an expecting look. Waiting for her to hop up and march off to the kitchen at his bidding.

"Ha! That's rich," She rolled her eyes. "And what makes you think I'm going to play waitress for you? I do have other things to do," Her heart fluttered awkwardly when he smiled at her from behind his trim beard. She didn't like that feeling, or how often she got it.

"Like what?"

"Like protecting a life, namely Sakura's."

"She's just down the hall."

"How do you know?" She retorted, knowing full and well Sakura was only a few doors down. "She may not even be home."

"She's home, I heard her...ah, yelling...on the phone with Tsunade as I passed her room."

"How do you know it was Tsunade?"

"They were arguing over Brazilian waxes...honestly, who else?"

"I see," Ino nodded, conceding to his logic. "But don't you have a fiancé to cook for you?" She asked. He gave her an odd look, as if warning her to tread softly when walking on the landmine. He wasn't in a very flexible mood at the moment.

"Kurenai's not back from her vacation yet." He explained. "Even so, she can't cook a steak the way you can."

"Don't think flattery is going to get you anywhere with me." She pushed away from the couch and poked at him playfully. He groaned and swatted her annoying hand away. "Seriously, what's up with you?"

"Kakashi's been acting weird. Ever since that night..." He stared blankly at the ceiling, not wanting to give her any reason to be suspicious.

"He forced her to sleep with him, didn't he?" She exclaimed as if she had just solved an unsolvable mystery. "I knew it, that low down, dirty..." She fumed, her fists starting to clench tightly.

Asuma rubbed his temples harder. "I didn't say that." He snapped at her and she scrunched her nose up at him. "Kakashi isn't the type to force himself on a woman, he has plenty of amours across town to keep his cock satisfied." Ino blushed softly and Asuma quickly checked his tongue. Even though she was a little brat, sometimes he could forget he couldn't talk to her the same way he talked to the guys down at the station. "He's lazy, Ino, not lewd." He assured her. "Next time, don't push the alcohol on people so much. Especially on one who's obviously never drank."

Ino's shoulders sagged a little guiltily. "I'm sorry. I thought he could be trusted."

"He can be trusted," Asuma explained. "He...I think he cares for her in some way. He feels it's his job to protect her after he failed her brother so badly." But the point Kakashi was missing, is that it never was his fault.

She didn't seem to be quite so convinced. "If you say so..." She crossed her arms and quirked her mouth in a defensive way that made him want to laugh. "I'm still going to confront Sakura about it. She's been acting really distant lately, too."

"Good, tell me what you find out. If he's done anything to her, I'll take care of it, okay?"

He narrowed his eyes on her when she didn't immediately comply by agreeing with his request. She had her hands behind her back...and when she did that it usually meant her fingers were crossed. Now, to a person as shady Ino, simply crossing ones fingers was a justifiable enough reason to lie. Sitting up quickly, he snatched her arm and jerked her down for a little tete-a-tete. "Do you hear me, Ino? I don't want you butting into things that aren't any of your business. This case is hard enough as it is, the last thing we need is for you to go pulling your little shenanigans."

"Not my business?" She tried to wrench away, but his grip was firm. "Ha! You're a hypocrite. Sakura is my business, she's my only objective right now. I'm supposed to keep her safe, isn't that the point of being one's bodyguard?" And a friend...

"And what a job you're doing of it, you didn't even know if she was still in her apartment. I can't believe you're actually one of my trainees." He suddenly released her, as if disgusted.

She knew he was grumpy, hungry and tired. But there was a fine line between criticism and cold-hearted meanness. And Asuma often crossed that line. Just like right now. "If Kakashi is one of the asshole's I have to protect her from, then so be it. If he laid a hand on her, I'm reporting it straight to Genma. And don't think I won't include your name when he asks me who was protecting Kakashi from the noose." She stood erect with her back stiff, accusing him with her icy eyes. Hiding the pain of his last statement, after words like that she would never admit that she knew exactly where Sakura was at nearly all times of the day. She just wanted the girl to be safe...and happy.

"You know, you're not as important as you think you are. I can take you off this case in the blink of an eye. All it would take is a phone call." In one smooth motion, he stood. His stature much taller and larger than hers. His shoulders broad and intimidating. But he didn't scare her, it was hard to be frightened of the man who had taught her how to bring down a human twice her size with a quick jab and the flick of a wrist. "One phone call is all it would take. Just one." He loomed over her, his bad mood making her feel like the room was getting smaller, shrinking her into nothing.

"Are you trying to threaten me, Asuma?" She said nonchalantly. Ignoring the flutter of apprehension in her gut that was warning her not to poke the porcupine. "Please believe me when I say there is nothing you could do or say that could frighten me into resignation. Sakura is my only concern at this point, not your over-inflated ego or your 'inflicting' accusations on my capability as her protector."

She nearly shrieked when he grabbed her arm again, clenching it tightly. Her eyes narrowed dangerously when his fingers only tightened more and more. Bruising her skin. "Well, well, someone's temper is finally rising to the surface." She taunted, guising the fact that her knees were quaking. "Your shackles must really be raised. You're usually so calm, Asuma. Why so frustrated lately?" She conversed as if nothing tense were passing between them at the moment. Carrying on a perfectly normal conversation. "Missing your betrothed?"

The temperature suddenly dropped another few degrees and she watched as his jaw quickly flexed.

Their eyes were locked. His body taut and restrained, holding back his anger. While she remained uncaring and aloof. She smiled at him sweetly and the heat in his brown eyes seemed to smolder anew.

Ino paused, her smile faltering. That smartellic smile had just pushed him over the edge of something.

The fire in his eyes confused her. He clearly wanted to commit some form of gruesome homicide upon her person...but there was something clearly new. He was holding something back. Something that appeared far more sinister and terrible.

She shivered and his fingers dug deeper. The tickle of a tiny drop of blood as a nail breeched a small bit of skin.

The soft cry that barely escaped her lips made her clench her jaw shut to repress another sound as the pain grew. Her eyes remaining stubborn and defiant. In the next second, she could have sworn she felt him begin to tug her closer to his body. His other hand raising to drift just above the skin of her other arm, yearning to hurt...or maybe just...touch. Heat seared her veins before he released her and shoved himself away. Running his hand through his hair and turning away from her like he always did when he was defeated.

"Whatever," He scowled and dropped back down onto the couch. He conceded and let her win the battle. "Just go fix me something to eat."

For once, Ino didn't say anything. She just grabbed her gently bleeding arm and turned to the kitchen. Her feet shuffling quickly as she left the room.

Her knees were still shaking and her hands were trembling as she washed off a potato to bake.

Half an hour later they were sitting in silence as she watched TV and he ate his food. It was the first time she had ever truly felt awkward around him.

A quick thank you and a short goodbye and he was gone. Ino wrapped her arms around herself and curled into a tight ball, trying not to think about anything but the slapstick sitcom playing on her television.

.

She was sitting at the dinner table, sunshine was beaming through the wide windows casting a soft white haze throughout the kitchen. It smelt clean, like lemons, and warm like the food her mother was preparing. It was lunchtime and her mother had just called her in to eat.

She had been playing outside in the sandbox, it was so sunny outside she hadn't wanted to come in. She was laughing and chasing the family dog and trying to catch butterflies (with little success) in the warm weather. Simple childhood things that she carelessly took for granted. How could she have known? She was just a kid, those kinds of thoughts never did and never should linger in a childs' mind.

"Sakura! For heaven's sake, go wash your hands." Her mother shook her head. Soft pink curls falling around a pretty, round face. Her spitting image.

"I don't feel like it right now, can't I wash them after I eat?"

A deep laughter drew her attention from her mother. A large hand ruffled her hair. "Do as your mother says." Funny, she couldn't really see the face that belonged to that warm hand.

"But, daaad..." She groaned, she hated it when he did that.

"I bet you can't beat me to the bathroom!" A young boy with vibrant green eyes suddenly burst into the room in a whirlwind of messy hair, smudged face and dirt under the toenails of his bare feet. As quick as he had rushed in, he had vanished.

Sakura's cheeks puffed up at the challenge.

"Nuh-uh!" She retorted and took off after him, only hearing a faint protest from her mother and a chuckle from her father behind her. He cut a corner and picked up speed in the straightaway of the hall. Light suddenly engulfed them as they ran through the billowing white curtains and the glowing streams of the sun. Laughing and racing down the long hall, feet pattering on the shiny hardwood floor.

This...This was home.

"Akira, you cheater, you got a head start!" She huffed out, trying to catch up with him. He was always ahead, always leaving her behind...alone.

"Slow poke!" He teased over his shoulder. His childish laughter echoed down the halls and to her ears...

"Wait, Akira!" She demanded. He didn't seem to hear her as he kept running, heading for the dark abysmal chasm at the end of the hall. "Wait, don't leave me!"

"Sakura!" The harsh bark broke through her thoughts.

"Huh...oh, yes?" Her head snapped up to Tsunade, sitting in the chair of her desk like a queen upon her regal throne. The room was dark and felt cold in comparison...her fingers quickly touched at something wet running down her cheek. She gasped softly in surprise to realize it was a tear. Sakura frowned. How annoying...

"You've been sitting over there for the past hour without even saying a word. I love your company, dear, but hun...it's creeping me out."

Sakura looked shocked. She hadn't even realized... Tsunade shook her head when the girl still said nothing.

"I need you to run a little errand for me, anyways. You need to get out this whole daze phase thing. It isn't healthy." Tsunade reached into the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a few files. Sakura stood from her seat across the room and approached.

"What is it?" Sakura asked as she took the papers.

"Nothing much, just some percentage quotes of yours and Ino's salary. Tax information, etc..."

"Oh,"

"I want you to take them up to Kakashi for me." Tsunade's sharp eyes closely gauged the way Sakura's body tensed and her face paled.

"Actually, I was just about to go to lunch..." Sakura stammered.

"Good, then you can take them on your way out."

"But, he's all the way on the top floor."

"We do have elevators."

"I don't think they were running earlier. Bad wiring, or something like that."

"Stairs."

"I'm very out of shape..."

"Sakura!" Tsunade snapped, slamming her hands on her desk. "You either get your ass up there and get over this silly little phobia you suddenly have...or I'm going to make you regret the day you ever set eyes on me." Tsunade didn't get it, had she missed something? One day the girl was obsessed with the man, the next she shriveled into a corner at the mere thought of him. Something was wrong...

More often than not, Sakura was caught staring off into oblivion. And Tsunade suspected it wasn't just Kakashi at the center of Sakura's inner turmoil. Perhaps a little one on one time with the girl later would help. Tsunade made a mental note to have lunch or perhaps dinner with Sakura at some later point this week. A bit of girl talk might do the trick and relieve some of the pressure off Sakaru's shoulders.

Sakura gulped. "Fine." She said with what little dignity she had left and turned to walk out of the office. "But I don't have a phobia of anything." She stated coldly as she slammed the door behind her.

She felt nervous as she wrapped her arms tightly around the small stack of papers that had to be delivered. Entering the elevator and riding it to what she knew would be an awkward if not unpleasant confrontational encounter with the man she was hereby officially confused, engrossed and entrapped.

There was no secretary at the desk as she walked up to the large doors of his office. She wondered if she should even knock. Was he even here?

Deciding to at least be civil, she raised her hand and rapped softly on the wood.

"Yes?" His voice called out assertively. It sent shivers down her spine.

"It...it's me." She was quiet, submissive, shy...she sounded like a damned wimp. Get a grip, Sakura.

There was a long silence and she swallowed hard.

The door suddenly opened. Her heart skipped. But why? Nerves? Excitement? God, definitely not excitement.

He stood tall, she had almost forgot how tall he was. Only a few days had passed, but it seemed much longer. All her time was spent at work with Tsunade, and if not that, Ino was always following her somewhere, picking fights and getting on her nerves.

But she hadn't heard a word from Kakashi. He had all but disappeared from everywhere save her thoughts. She thought about him and their dilemma constantly. She'd created many theories of her own...were they correct? Who knew. Nothing seemed to make much sense these days.

She took in a good look at him. Still as unflappable and reserved as ever. Clothing in awful disarray...that shirt probably hadn't seen a ironing board in its lifetime.

However, there was something in his eyes that his face was trying to hide, oddly enough it made her want to lick her lips, for they began to feel dry and tight. Had he missed her? Or had he barely noticed that she was never around? He seemed so unlike his cocky, relaxed normal way of greeting her. He didn't call her princess, he didn't smile, he didn't do anything. He looked stiff and rigid. Why did that bother her so much? Was he finally starting to show his true colors? Or was she just forcing him to change. Her chest nearly clenched at that...she hated him, but she didn't want him to change. What a contradiction she was becoming.

Everything about him was steadfast, she didn't want that stability to go away.

"What do you need?" He asked calmly.

Sakura froze.

What had she come up here for? She suddenly couldn't remember. All she could think of was that shiny, well polished badge. The story Ayame had told her. Akira's possible involvement with drug dealers. The way she had wanted him to be on top of her that night. Too many thoughts attacking her in such a small moment. She had to focus on the moment at hand, not the ones that had already passed.

Kakashi cleared his throat and Sakura lowered her head and blushed. She was being far too spacey the past few days.

"I was supposed to give these to you," She spoke up suddenly in what she hoped was a casual tone. "Tsunade asked me..."

He held out his hand and Sakura relinquished them to him. Kakashi opened the file and quickly flipped through the pages to assess the contents. She tilted her head in confusion when she heard him chuckle.

"There's nothing in these documents, Sakura." He smiled and handed the papers back to her.

"What?" She asked in disbelief.

"It's nothing but blank paper." He said.

"But...but Tsunade said it was tax information and..." She opened the file up for herself and frowned at what she saw. That damn old woman had set her up. When was she going to learn to mind her own business.

"You know," Sakura's head snapped up when Kakashi rested his elbow on the doorframe above her head, leaning in slightly. When had he gotten so close? "You don't have to make excuses to come see me." His smile was cocky and self-assured. Much more what she was used to seeing from him.

"I didn't-"

"I know, I know." He interrupted. "You didn't want to come see me...Tsunade forced you...if it were up to you, you'd never want to see my face again, right? Heh, I figured you'd be too chicken shit to come up here on your own, anyways." He turned and began walking toward his desk, hands nestled deep within the pockets of his grey pants.

"Chicken what? Excuse me, but if I recall correctly you were the one to turn tail and run out of your bedroom that night." She stuck out her chin defiantly. Ready for a face-off. It wasn't her original intention coming up here, she had planned on being pleasant. But now she wanted a fight.

He stopped, his back still to her.

"You had your chance..." She took a step forward. Hating him for keeping secrets and knowing he would never share them with her. "What are you afraid of?" She whispered with a hint of acid, staring at the back of his head. Purposefully trying to taunt him. Men always hated to be labeled as 'afraid.' It was a straight aim for his pride.

"Chances..." He breathed, she could hear the bitter laugh. Subtle, but there. "You're too young to understand anything." He was so motionless, she could barely see him breath. "I didn't realize you were still in my bed, Sakura." He explained. "People act differently when they've been drinking."

"You weren't drunk." She pestered.

He sighed, clearly already annoyed with the direction of this conversation. "I...I sometimes get...confused when I awake."

"Doesn't everybody?" Sakura said snobbishly. Pushing his buttons. "But you are kinda old. It would make sense your bewildered brain wouldn't function so well in the wee hours of the morning...or at all."

"Some people don't sleep as well as others, Sakura. Has it ever occurred to you for once that not every man wants to get in your pants." He bit out over his shoulder, he hated having to make excuses for his actions.

"That thought certainly hasn't occurred to Sasuke. At least he wants me for something." Dear God, listen to her, was she trying to make him jealous? She hadn't seen Sasuke since that morning they had first met, he'd called her a few times, but Kakashi didn't need to know that...it was obvious enough to see there was tension between the two men. Sakura knew an opening when she saw it, and that she could easily take advantage of it. "You seemed fairly willing, too, at least for a while." She saw his body tense.

"I wasn't aware of certain things around me. Just drop it already."

"Bad memories haunting your dreams, are they?" She said in a cool, platonic tone. "The past only haunts the guilty...you got something to hide, Hatake?"

Kakashi looked back at her with dark eyes. Trying to gauge the meaning of that last remark. "What is it with you, anyways?" He continued on the path to his desk, seeking solace there. "You're far too interested in me, a man you don't even know. Why don't you just leave me be, Sakura? Isn't it obvious I don't want you here?" He spoke heavily, as if tired of her presence.

"Even if leaving means going to work for that man Sasuke told me about?" He didn't say anything. "Kakashi, please, don't push me away! Don't walk away from this." She quickly approached him. Gazing up at him with pleading eyes. She just wanted...she just wanted...

The truth.

No more games, no more lies. No more confusion or pain. She knew they could help each other, if only he'd open up.

"Walk away from what?" Kakashi reasoned. "There's nothing between us to leave."

"Stop talking like that! You know that isn't true." She said. "I'm almost there, I can feel it. You just have to help me understand."

"You're rambling, Sakura. I don't know what you're talking about." He ignored her. "But I think you should go."

"Just tell me, who are you?" She said on a soft breath. "Why are you here? What happened to Jiraiya?"

Kakashi was stunned. He hadn't thought she'd actually ask such a bold question to a man who was still considered a threat to her...had she learned something?

"What are you talking about?" His brows knit together, trying to comprehend the meaning behind her questions. Where was all this coming from? "Sakura, you're not making any sense." He said honestly.

"I..." A thick knot formed in her throat and she suddenly felt the urge to vomit, she felt a bit like a coward. She was pushing herself beyond the limits of stress as she tried to come to terms with what she should say. Where she should turn, which direction would this road lead her? "I know what you do."

He chuckled. "Oh, do you?" He bent down, invading her space. "And what do you think I 'do?' It wouldn't happen to be owning and managing a modeling company would it?" He laughed a bit harder. "Or maybe you think I'm into something far more sinister..." His features changed suddenly, his eyes narrowed skeptically in on her. "Like, perhaps-"

"I spoke with Ayame." She blurted. Her speech was firm. Her face set in a harsh mix of determination and formidability. She needed strength now, a backbone. Hell would have her if she showed any weaknesses. "I saw your badge and I know about the drugs. I'm sick of these petty games, I need to know what the hell is going on in this place."

First silence. Nothing but still, eery silence.

Then..

Anger. Pure rage swept across his face. Sakura's legs questioned her weight, but her eyes remained vigilant and unwavering. And when he spoke, his voice was dark and threatening. Nothing like she had heard from him before. She instantly regretted even opening her mouth.

"You did what?" He grabber her by the arm on impulse. "Do you have any idea what you're saying...what you've done?" If she knew...he wouldn't be able to protect her any longer. Genma would soon find out, he'd try to use her like Kakashi had tried to use Akira. He wouldn't stand for that, not with Sakura. He only wanted her safe, if only she could understand that. But she was just too stubborn, too thick-headed.

"I didn't think...I just wanted the truth!" She cried back. "I don't want trouble, but if I have to resort to stretching the truth, or even invading some personal space, I'm not ashamed. I'll do whatever I have to-"

"Do you see this, Sakura?" She stumbled in her heels as he abruptly dragged her over to the large, clear floor-to-ceiling windows behind the desk. "Do you know what that is?" He asked as he pressed her body against the glass. Her breath fogging around her face as she looked over the endless, bustling city on the other side of the window, completely confused. "Do you?"

"I..." She struggled for words, taken aback by his somewhat violent reaction. "I don't..."

"It's the real world, princess. Take a good look at it." His fingers wrapped around her chin and forced her to stare at the city. "And in this world men do what they want," He said in a low breath near her ear. "They take what they want." A large hand took her by surprise, pulling off the tiny string of her spaghetti strap and yanking her shirt under her breast. She made noises of protest, frustrated with his strength. How had it come to this? Why couldn't there just be peace for her? "There isn't any room for a brat like you to keep getting in the way." She hissed as his body pushed against hers, flattening her nipple against the cool surface of the glass.

"Stop it!" She bucked against him, not willing to be the helpless prey he expected her to be as he grinded against her ass.

"What makes you think I want to?" His hand kept her chin firmly in place, preventing her from smacking his face with the back of her head. She was fighting more than what he thought she would...but he wanted that. He wanted her to hate him. "Ayame had on a long skirt like this," He licked her neck and she grimaced.

"I know. I talked to her the morning after you screwed her, remember? Are you always like that, Kakashi? Love 'em and leave 'em." She growled back, refusing to let him win. "I'm beginning to think you have a complex."

"Oh, I see." His hand snaked down between her legs, spreading them with his knee. She tried to squeeze them back together, but his body had her pressed nearly flat against the window. Leaving her limbs useless in battle. "You want me to fuck you the way I fucked her...is that why you went there?" His fingers began scrunching up the fabric of her white skirt. "Someone was jealous?"

"Fuck off!" She tried to bite the fingers around her chin, but it didn't work. Sakura was writhing desperately, hoping to break free. Gritting her teeth in aggravation.

He started tugging at her panties and brushing his hand over a place she did not want him to be. This wasn't the way he had touched her before. It didn't feel the same, it felt violent and angry. Her heart was racing, but for an entirely different purpose. She wanted to cut his balls off.

The struggling continued, but he wasn't being as aggressive as he could have been, his hand never truly crossed that boundary. And, from what she could tell, Kakashi didn't even have an erection. This wasn't something he was doing out of pleasure.

He didn't sound the same, and in the reflection of the window, there were conflicting emotions running down his face. And no matter how many opportunities became open to his violating hands, he took no such liberties. If he wanted to harm her, he would have and could have done so many times by now.

Sakura closed her eyes in pity.

Kakashi was still stuck in the game, Sakura was ready to move on. She wanted to understand, to find the truth. He wasn't willing to give up anything of relative importance, and instead reacted the only way he knew how...by frightening her. She had to let him know it wasn't going to work this time.

"You're not going to scare me away like this, Kakashi." She said as she attempted to maneuver her arms behind her back to push him away.

"Then what will?" He removed his hand from her crotch and rested it on her hip. A silence fell over her, and his voice was quiet, low. "Is it your brother? Will the truth frighten you away?"

Sakura sucked in her breath, staggering for words. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "No..it...it won't." She suddenly prepared herself for the worst. Her body stilled, and her limbs felt limp. Be brave. Is this what she had waited for?

The pressure on her back eased and for a moment she thought he was gone, slowly turning herself around she found him standing with a gun in hand. His eyes locked with hers and the blood in her veins ceased to move.

With eyes as wide as saucers, she stuttered, "K-Kakashi?"

"I killed him." He said coldly. His movements were fluid and easy as he reached into his back pocket to pull out the clip, never looking away from her frightened green eyes. "Is that what you want to hear?" He smiled limply, hand raising to slide the ammo clip into the Glock.

Her lips quivered when she couldn't find the words she wanted to say.

Kakashi stepped forward and she took a step back into the glass. He was going to shoot her. That distant, blank stare in his eyes told her so...death was on his mind. She didn't want to die, that would have been the easy way out of this hell called life. Haruno Sakura never took the easy way out.

"And what are your reasons for being here, Sakura?" He grabbed her hand, and to her shock, slid the gun into the soft folds of her palm. His hand guided the barrel to the tender underside of his chin. "What makes you so unlike the rest? This is what you want."

"I...I don't understand." Her fingers trembled, making the gun shake uncontrollably. But it didn't phase him, he didn't even flinch.

"You want death, my death. Am I wrong?" She gasped as he leaned down to rest his forehead on hers. "You've so engrossed yourself in your own world, you can't even distinguish 'games' from reality. You think you're so righteous, perfect...justified." He laughed softly. "While people are subjecting themselves, killing, anguishing, dying like pigs in this little 'game' of twisted deception and deliberate hell we create around ourselves, the only thing you can focus on is yourself and your own grief. And that alone is the only reason why you are here." His fingers brushed her cheek, drying her tears. He could not blame her for all this, she was clueless to all the sick corruption surrounding her. Sakura knew it was there, but had been lied to from day one, she never had the truth. She didn't know any better, poor thing had been through so much pain, even before this tragedy had befallen her. Looking down in her tearful eyes, strong eyes, all he wanted to do was protect that. He didn't want to see anymore suffering looking back at him. She deserved so much better.

The girl had come all this way, sometimes even he was awed by all that effort.

He sighed and reached down to lift her chin when she tried to turn away from the depth of his eyes. "Come on, princess." He whispered gently, coaxingly. "Pull the trigger. If that's what you truly want, just squeeze your finger." If this is all that she desired, he'd give it to her. If that meant she'd go home, leave and be safe from this crime. He would do anything to finally accomplish something right in his life, for redemption..for her.

"I...I-I ca-"

"Do you want to hear me say it again? That I killed him." A terrible image flashed through her mind. One of a young boy running through a white hallway filled with sunshine and laughter...but such a pleasant dream was broken by that horrid corpse lying on a steel table. Blue and lifeless and waterlogged. Wait...I don't want you to go... "To admit that I'm the murdering, womanizing criminal that you thought..." He paused for a short, quaky breath. If only she knew his already shattered heart was now crumbling in his chest. "...the fucking dog, that you know I am?"

"But.." I have to take care of you now, Sakura...

"Do it, damn it!" It wasn't Kakashi's dark eyes she was staring into. Instead she saw bright green ones, not unlike her own. She wanted to do it, but she couldn't. Not with those eyes looking back at her. She hated him! She wanted to kill him, make him pay for all that he had done to her! I hate him, Akira...why did it have to be him?!

Goodbye, I'll be back in a month...everything will be just fine...

It doesn't feel safe, who is this man? Please, just tell me his name...

Hatake...

Akira, I love you.

"I can't!" The gun dropped from her hand to the floor, she nearly fainted in that instance. Kakashi's voice, his words, must have made her loose her sanity.

"Then why do you think you should be set apart from all the rest? What makes you so unselfish, what gives you the right to be here when you can't put an end to this game?"

"I just want what's right." A few more tears ran down her cheeks, making her vision blurry. And never, even from the beginning of this mess, had she ever wanted this nightmare to go away more that she did now.

"Then run."

"Wha-"

The soft brush of his lips against hers silenced her. "Please, Sakura. If ever there was a time in your life to do...please just leave." Was he begging?

"Leave?" His fingers trailed off from her jaw to her neck, pulling her closer. "Kakashi?" She found herself helplessly trapped, what was wrong with her? His lips were coming down again, as if he was going to...

"I promised Aki–"

"Excuse me!" A deep, oddly feminine voice interrupted. "Yoohoo!" A few knocks on the wooden doorframe. They had left the door open.

Her eyes snapped back up to his upon hearing the intrusion. He, too, seemed to be caught off guard, staring longingly at her pink quivering lips and then her glistening green eyes. As if trying to ignore the distraction.

Sakura could barely snap herself from this daze. But another 'ahem' from the person in the doorway made her blink rapidly until she looked over Kakashi's broad shoulder at the tall, burlesque blonde behind them.

"Sorry to intrude on your little affair–"

Before the stranger could finish, a mortified Sakura shoved away from Kakashi and bumped into the woman on the way out of the office without a word.

"Heh, sorry 'bout that." There was a smile in that odd voice as he heard the stranger invite herself in and approach closer to his desk.

Sakura...

Kakashi slowly slid his hand off the glass panel of window he had been leaning on over her, and stared out into the near blinding sunlight. God, what had gotten into him?

"Mr. Hatake, I presume?"

"Yeah," He sighed as he turned and bent momentarily to retrieve the discarded gun sitting on the floor.

"I'm Oturan Maki!" She said cheerily, a heavy Osaka accent prominent and very annoying.

"How can I help you Ms. Maki?" He unloaded the clip and returned the empty firearm back to its home in the bottom drawer of his desk. Looking up, he studied the woman in front of him who hadn't even batted an lash at the fact she had just interrupted a domestic dispute involving a loaded gun.

Her smile was wide and toothy, her face broad and her shoulders broader. Blonde pigtails poked out from each side of her head, and freckles dotted her tan complexion. What the hell would this girl want with a modeling agency?

"Sorry for not previously making an appointment, I'm sure you're a busy man." She reached out chordally to shake his hand and Kakashi obliged, noticing her hands were nearly as big as his. He quirked a brow at her oddities. "When I tell you the reason for my visit, you will understand why it is important for me to remain as discreet as possible." His silence offered her to continue on. "First, however, I urge you to tell me what you know of a certain Mr. Orochimaru's business?"

Kakashi frowned, "Sure, as soon as you tell me the reason for this impromptu meeting and what Orochimaru's company has to do with it."

The woman placed an arced hand over her mouth, blushed, then giggled. "You misunderstand." Then plopped her rump down on the edge of his desk. "I model for him!" She smiled. Kakashi tried to stifle any reaction he might of had to that statement. Model? Has this chick looked in the mirror lately? "I've done many special catalogues, for plus size women."

Ok, that was a little more clearer. He looked her over again, she wasn't so much plus size as she was just...bulky. Her build was more muscular and masculine. The only feature remotely feminine was her deep blue eyes.

"Mr. Jiraiya referred me to them, I'm sure you're familiar with him, no?" There was a mischevious sort of look in her eye and tone of voice.

Ah...now it made sense. Kakashi sighed inwardly, an image of Jiraiya with a big cocky grin on his face coming to mind. This was the inside 'man' he was telling them about?

Smooth, Jiraiya...real smooth.

"Yes, before his disappearance, that is." He played along, wanting very badly to rub his pained temple.

"Wonderful!" She said gleefully. "Well, back to matter at hand, I just ADORE the work you've done and admire your strong influence in the model world. Not to mention you have the most gorgeous models available." She twirled her finger around a lock of hair that, now that he looked closer, appeared to be extensions. "I got so enthusiastic about an idea that I suggested to Orochimaru that it would be a spectacular opportunity for a temporary coalition. The thought of two of the biggest industries in pop culture breaking out of the box and trying something like, oh, hosting a night of fashion, camera's, promoting and mingling would create the biggest buzz about runways to date."

Kakashi sat further back in his chair and listened carefully. He didn't know about the 'biggest buzz to date' part. But it would certainly open up many new windows. Perhaps Jiraiya did know what he was doing when he sent this he-she into the snake pit.

"He agreed and liked the proposition so much he sent me to relay his desire to offer such a treaty."

"I see," Kakashi said, intrigued. "And what would such a treaty curtail?" He asked, needing more info.

"Well, that is something you'll have to discuss with his advisers. I am merely a messenger." Oturan tilted her head slightly and slung her pigtail over her shoulder.

"Who are these advisers, and when are we to meet?" He asked.

Oturan blinked. "Well, you sure decided quickly. Your eagerness is admirable!" She had been expecting him to take time to consider the possibilities. "I can easily have them arrange a consultation tonight. You would be meeting with Karin, Suigetsu and Jugo."

He nodded, affirming that the concept of a business meeting tonight was in his best interest schedule-wise.

"Karin is more a secretary than a board adviser. But she handles all things concerning inter-company mingling...and Jugo, well Jugo is–"

"Whoever they are, as long as they are competent individuals and know how to represent a business properly, there will be no problems."

"Then we have and agreement!" She clapped her hands once cheerfully. "How exciting!"

Before the blonde had written a number on a slip of paper, Kakashi was already going over the aesthetics of the situation. It seemed like the perfect chance, a pretty wrapping on the outside and pleasing to the eye. But what was inside the box? Was Oturan really that good of an undercover agent?

"I will have Karin call with further details once I relay the good news."

Kakashi shook her hand once again as he took the paper and thanked her for all her help.

"It was my pleasure." She stood and began walking out of the office in a not-so-feminine stroll. "Be careful tonight, darl'n," She winked and added over her shoulder, "Farewell!"

Kakashi frowned. Be careful? That sounded ominous.

Sitting back down, he picked up the phone and called Genma to expound this new development upon him.

"Sounds suspicious, Kakashi." Genma thought.

"Yeah," Was all he replied with. He heard Genma sigh at Kakashi's lack of enthusiasm or concern.

"Just stay on your guard, keep your phone on and be as subtle as possible. I'm going to call Asuma and give him a heads up, I have a feeling we might be needing him tonight."

"No, Gai is back and perfectly capable of taking over anything that might come up. I want Asuma on Sakura's back. With everything that's going down, I'm apprehensive about leaving her alone."

"You're misplacing your priorities, Kakashi. Are you forgetting that's Ino's job?" Genma growled. "And since when did we decide you're the one raking out all the orders?"

"Two is better than one, just playing it safe." Before Genma could say another word, he quickly added. "I've got to get back to work, I'll follow up later with the developments."

"Wait, Hatake–"

Click.

He picked the phone back up and punched in Asuma's number and asked him to fulfill a request: to take Sakura on a date tonight.

Asuma had been perplexed, but when Kakashi further explained his meeting with the strange woman, Oturan, and shady sounding business deals, Asuma seemed to understand and agreed to try and accost the girl that night.

Later that evening Kakashi received another phone call. A raspy-voiced female was on the other end of the line, introducing herself as Karin and gave him the address of a house somewhere in the suburbs. She sounded cold and precise as she disclosed the time, as well.

When he asked if it was strange that this important discussion was to be had in a house and not a convention room, or even restaurant in town, she had responded lightly.

"We try to remain casual and comfortable in our affairs until an official document is confirmed on the table."

Whatever they were playing, Kakashi had little choice but to waltz right into it.

A few hours later Kakashi switched the lights off in his office, glancing at his watch as he walked out of the building into the streets and the setting sun.

Sigh...he was going to be late...

...

Thank you for reading, and sorry about the long delay.