The Way of the Sword

A Naruto fanfiction, By Serenanna

Lesson 00 – We Have a Problem

Warnings and Disclaimers: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters. I'm just borrowing them to play with. I'll return them later, promise. There is adult content, and sexual situations in this story involving sharp, pointy objects. So, if you're under 18, leave now before your virgin eyes are scarred forever, if you're over 18, enjoy!

Story Notes: This is a Kakashi/Sakura fic, while other pairings may come and go. Yeah, I know, I've gone to the dark side of not sticking to canon like I usually do, and boy was it good on the way over! This story is a continuation of Ronsmyhero's Respect and Understanding. Reading that fic is a good idea in order to understand this one, but I will try to gloss over the important stuff. It is being written with her knowledge and stamp of approval. In case she ever makes her own sequel, this is an AU take then. I know a fanfic of a fanfic probably isn't a good idea, but I'm giving it a whirl. Ronsmyhero, this is in honor of you. To that end, I am making an OC to be Yajima's replacement, and the way this story is shaping, he will be paired with Sasaki. Outside of the basics of the Naruto world, I'm a complete newbie. If this fic breaks a lot of canon as far as the combat goes, I'm sorry. The style of sword combat I'm going with will try to be semi-realistic. If that's against canon, again, I'm sorry. I'm trying here. I don't know how long this'll run. Hell, I don't even know how long I can stretch out this plot or even if it has a point. Eventually it will have a point, I think. We'll see. Lemons of various shapes and sizes will abound along with mild drama, angst, buckets of humor, raunchiness, fluff, and action. This is your fair warning.

Every muscle in her body hurt, but it was a feeling she was getting used to in her life. Another night in Konoha passed, and another dangerous mission was successfully completed by the ANBU shinobi. After handing in the mission report for her team, all she wanted was sleep. That almost seemed assured as soon as her head hit the shuriken-print pillows face first, almost. If it wasn't for the sound of a 'poof' over her shoulder and the familiar presence another person's chakra, Haruno Sakura would have already been asleep. His usual soft utterance of "Yo," in greeting only seemed to further awaken her.

So, he was back as well, and she was certain of what he would want. A low moan jumped from her throat in a way that sounded half pleasurable, and half annoyed. She did love him, but if he didn't let her sleep tonight . . . "Go away."

"Is that any way to greet your lover?" a familiar masculine voice said from over her shoulder, "Besides, I can't go away completely. I live here now too."

She didn't want to hear him right now. She didn't even want to see his face beneath that infuriating mask smiling at her as she buried her head under the pillow. "In the morning, Kakashi, and not before," Sakura growled at him, her fists clenching the material over her head tightly, "Not unless you want the couch."

In the few months they'd been together since their world had almost turned upside down, Sakura had come to realized that there was a bigger threat she could wield against the man in her heart and her bed than her fists. It humbled about every man she knew with a significant other from her best friend Naruto to Asuma to Lee to the Great Copy Ninja himself, the couch. She could just imagine Kakashi's mouth quivering under his mask now at the idea that she'd spurn him from their bed after they'd both come back from missions. She could just about hear apologies too, even if she knew he'd never say them aloud over something so trivial. Instead, all she heard was blessed quiet except for the thud of body armor on carpet and the soft whisper of cloth being removed. If it was any other night, she would have gladly done that bit of work for him and quite more, but nope, not tonight though. With a more pleased hum, she snuggled the pillow instead.

At least until she felt an insistent tugging on her sandals and greaves.

Her emerald eyes turned in fury to see him bent over her legs, tugging her clothes off as methodically as possible. Even half-asleep she could still see the lecherous gleam in his one dark eye and plastered in his grin. Inner Sakura piped up with a potent quip about letting him undress her since he was not getting anything else that night, and she quite agreed. With a groan and a roll of her eyes, she laid perfectly still like a limp doll as he removed her garments.

By the time she was left in only her black panties and wound bandages over her breasts, she was more than content to drift off into sleep. She ignored him as he pulled up the sheets over her back after wrestling them out from under her, and even disregarded his arm snuggling her petite form next to him. His Sakura was nothing more that night than a sprawled log, a beautiful sprawled log, but a log nonetheless. It brought a smirk to his face, "Something tells me your mission didn't go right, huh?"

"Discuss, morning, after I kill Naruto."

Kakashi gave a dark chuckle. That was all he needed to know about it had gone, like her sluggishness wasn't enough of an indication already. He couldn't blame her. His former pupil just didn't grow up sometimes, least of all around his Sakura-chan. It wasn't like his mission had gone any better, but at least his new team was alive when the job was done. But . . . it could have gone better without the rookie medic-nin that got placed on his team in the aftermath of the war. The kid was slow, and not as battle-hardened as he'd liked, having passed the exam straight from hospital training. As much as he didn't like admitting it, he was pampered by the kunoichi's skills in healing, and would have given anything to have her back if only so he didn't end up more scarred than he was already. That was why he stuck around after the late night debriefing to talk to the ANBU commander about it.

It had gone better than he had thought, a lot better. For once things had seemingly gone right in his life. In fact, everything seemed to begin going right as soon as Sakura was firmly entrenched in his life, like his personal pink-haired good luck charm. Just thinking about the results of his talk with the commander made him feel elated, something he thought had died in him a long time ago. It was as if happy was a four letter word in Kakashi's life for as long as he could remember, and then . . . not. Hell, there were times he was less of a bastard, usually around her.

He couldn't help being somewhat less abrasive and cold around his cherry blossom sometimes since they saw each other so infrequently when not on missions. They teased each other, playfully went about their days, argued less destructively, and laughed together. He'd chuckled before, but never really laughed much, and now, he had a newfound sense of humor. It felt like a natural reaction to have, this newfound sense of life. And yet, it hadn't even occurred to him how much he had changed till Genma's accusations after getting slightly intoxicated and kissing Sakura in public suddenly one night at the bar. The senbon-sucker accused him of going soft, or what had he called it? 'Fuzzy'? Warm and 'fuzzy'? His hair was a little fuzzy, maybe, but his certainly wasn't . . . yet. Whether he liked it or not, his hardened life had been irrevocably shattered wide open by the pink-haired beauty nearly passed out beside him. The more he thought about it though, the less it seemed to matter.

And starting tomorrow, she would be back on his team. He'd get to see her in that tight black and white outfit all the time again. The grin on Kakashi's face widened to perverse proportions. He couldn't wait to tell her, but he supposed it would have to wait for the morning. But, damnit, why couldn't she be more awake so he could tell her now? He was almost ready to kill the blonde miscreant himself for wearing her out with work. She stirred fitfully as he continued to stare at her back, feeling his eyes on her. When she moaned in annoyance again, he couldn't wait anymore, "Sakura?"

"Morning . . ."

"I know, but you're going to want to hear this."

Slowly, she rolled towards him, a deep-set frown on her pink lips as she didn't believe him at all, "Enlighten me."

"Well, good news and bad news . . ."

She groaned and rolled away onto her stomach again, "Bad news."

"I talked to the commander tonight. You're no longer on Fox Team."

After a months of the hyper-active young man, who just happened to be her best friend, bossing her around, it left her with one thing to say, "This is suppose to be bad news?"

"Well . . ."

As much as she loved Naruto like the little brother she never had, it was strangely wonderful not to have to see him and his cheerful ass attitude every morning, bright and early. If she wasn't so tired, she would have done cartwheels, so Inner Sakura did them for her instead. And yet, from her lover's tone of voice, she knew he was holding back information, "There's a second part to this bad news, isn't there? If they stick me with some lump of raw recruits, I'll shove that order scroll right up their-."

"You're back on Dragon Team."

Sakura forgot all modesty and tiredness, popping up in the bed to turn towards him, "What!?"

The shinobi tried not to wince at her shock, uncertain if he was about to get pummeled or not, "I sort of straightened it out with the commander tonight, so your record is clear . . ."

Before Kakashi knew it, her lips were on top of his, kissing him as his mouth went slack with shock himself. Apparently this was better than he thought. As her hands held his face, the kiss quickly turned more passionate till she pulled away, positively beaming in the darkness as he blinked, "I thought you said this was bad news!"

For a second, a stupid grin encroached on his face as she hugged him only to be replaced with another smirk, "I don't intend to go easy on you, Sakura."

"Yes, but you won't try to kill me this time, will you?"

Kakashi winced, "Do you have to keep reminding me?"

"If only to show that even the great and mighty Copy Ninja can be a dope too," Sakura giggled as she laid her head down on his chest, feeling his exaggerated groans and not just hearing it. It seemed this conversation always came up one way or another between them, and he quickly learned it was well enough to let her win even if they were both fools over that incident. Her hand idly brushed a lock of silver-grey hair out of his face, and the mild argument was forgotten in favor of the second part of his announcement, "So, would you like the good news now or in the morning?"

"There's more!?"

He smirked, and tried to turn away, "Morning it is then . . ."

Sakura sat up and yanked him back before he could move very far, her green eyes pleading with him till he erupted with chuckles. She was as spoiled as ever, not that he helped the matter. "This isn't funny! I deserve to know if you're keeping me up, you big lug!" she yelled as her hands batted at him playfully, enough to sting but not enough to hurt.

It didn't help calm down his laughter at all as he twisted to avoid her. Huffing in annoyance, she finally pushed him away once he didn't stop chuckling. Instead, she moved back to lie down until he finally went silent. Then, he said it, "Dragon Team's yearly leave starts tomorrow . . ."

Before he knew it, she was hugging him again, and doing a pretty good intimidation of the type of exuberant displays of affection the Kyuubi container dished out, "Uh, S-sak-kura, air?"

Her grip let up as Kakashi gasped for breath even as she continued to giggle madly. Yearly leave, oh how she loved that word. After the battle with the remains of Hidden Sound and Hidden Cloud, her sensei decided to replenish the ranks with what she called yearly leave for each squad from chunin up to ANBU on a rotating basis. It was like summer vacation all over again, two months of free time in the village except for a few hours training. No missions whatsoever. It had set off a baby boom throughout Konoha, just like the Godaime had wanted. If she was now on Dragon Team again, and their leave was about to start tomorrow, that meant she'd have Kakashi all to herself for two months. Life couldn't get any better. Still drunk on the news, she tugged him with her as she rolled over top of him and off the other side. Unfortunately, the rest of the bed wasn't there.

In a move perhaps only she was capable of producing, they tumbled to the floor in a collision of flesh and sheets. All the air in her lungs was pushed out as Kakashi's hard body landed on top of hers as he groaned, his head knocking on the floor next to hers. Wheezing, Sakura still giggled, "So much for shinobi grace and keen reflexes."

"You're fault," he groused, starting to stiffly unpeel himself from her until he noticed that her laughter had stopped and was replaced with a lazy kiss on his throat, "I thought you there tired."

"Wide awake now," Sakura said as he was sure he felt her legs slipping around his thighs. And as her hips pressed up into his, she wasn't the only one awake anymore. Getting her to wake up for training tomorrow was going to be murder, even waking himself up was going to take a while. He was being betrayed by his own body, unconsciously responding with a groan, "Sakura . . ."

The threatening tone he had twisted on his voice did nothing but embolden her to kiss him, her slender limbs wrapped over him in more places than he knew he had. He gave in slowly, lazily kissing her cheek then nibbling on her ear before stopping. If this continued, they'd be sleeping here too. The kunoichi in his arms didn't seem to care as she kissed him again, her body arching up to touch him. Sleeping on the floor was very tempting if he wasn't so sore already. Kakashi's knees pressed downward into the carpet as he tried to lift her up, only to be successfully pulled back down again. "Sakura . . ." he said as he broke the lip lock with a huff, "Can I at least get us back onto the bed?"

"No," she said, bending herself around with a twist of the fallen bedding until she was on top of him, "I like it here . . . I doubt Ero-sennin ever wrote about Junko taking one of his woman on the floor, willingly at least."

Sakura sat up, straddling his hips while an impish grin spread over her face. A similar grin was on Kakashi's face as he realized something. His hooded eyes then narrowed on the young woman above him, ignoring her idly wandering hands over his chest, "You've been stealing my books, haven't you?"

"Icha Icha Violence, volume three, Junko valiantly wrestled the struggling kunoichi in his arms to the floor of the bath house, ripping the front of her uniform open. She struggled in his strong embrace, unconsciously feeling the rippling power in his arms instead of fighting him off. Her fighting only made him want the girl more as he pinned her down, whispering, 'I like women with a little spir-ritttt!'" Her fine dictation was cut off as Kakashi effortlessly picked her up from the floor before crashing back down on the bed.

If he wasn't wide awake before, he was now, and very much aroused. She just had to quote one of his favorite scenes, didn't she? Maybe he shouldn't have dog-eared or thumbed that page in particular so much. How did she even find them? Either way, she had his undivided attention. "I do like my women with a little spirit!" he teased, climbing on top of her as she writhed under him.

His hands struggled to undo the damned wrappings over her breasts as he kissed her. Suddenly, he felt a kunai being pressed into his hands through the moans being devoured by his mouth. Clever girl. Kakashi pulled back to smile gently, a look of absolute adoration in his mismatched eyes, "Love you."

The beam on Sakura's face was all the indication he needed to know she felt the same.

Kakashi was right about the morning when she rolled out of bed barely before eleven. It wasn't that bad considering she got in around two and didn't sleep till about three. After he'd attempted to stir her awake twice before the clock struck nine with little success, he let her sleep. When she was finally up, showered, dressed, and fed, she realized her significant other was nowhere to be found about their apartment, what used to be just hers alone. It was funny how things change over time.

Sakura sighed; leisurely walking towards ANBU headquarters in the basement of the Jounin building. Instinctively, she knew where he was, the memorial near the graveyard. She would have made her way up there too to join him, but she did her grieving at night, not early in the morning. Apparently, it was becoming their mutual habit, something none of their friends had picked up even after what happened almost a year ago. A good third of the Konoha shinobi force had died in the siege, the Jounin building was destroyed and rebuilt even grander than before, and the both of them nearly died themselves. Ever since walking the thin line between death and life with him, she was certain that she'd picked up more than a few habits of his, like newfound respect for the dead and a more relaxed, almost lazy, attitude. At least Kakashi's influence wasn't making her read porn in public. That didn't stop her from reading his stash of naughty books though. After all those years of watching him read them with zen-like attention, her curiosity was too great to suppress in the name of her modesty. Besides, she found them neatly hidden in the back of their closet in a box labeled spare kunai. It was almost as if he was begging for her to find and read them.

The day was bright as she walked out the back of the building and onto the training grounds after meeting with the commander about the new assignment, and changing into her uniform. Sasaki was already there, and already sparing with their third member. The purple-haired kunoichi hadn't changed at all since she saw her last, still as fluid and deadly as ever with a blade in her hand. And yet, her opponent still nearly hit her shoulder with the point of a sai as she dodged out of the way. Was she distracted? She must have been as she rarely got close to being hit except by their captain. The match stopped, both of them turning towards her as she approached. "Sakura!" the older woman was smiling, quickly sheathing her sword before pushing her mask up.

As soon as she was close enough, the pink-haired shinobi was pulled into a hug, "Welcome back."

"It's good to be back, isn't it, Saki?" she asked rhetorically with a giggle in her voice. There was a throat-clearing cough from nearby them, loud enough to interrupt their joyous reunion. Turning towards the third person in the clearing, Sakura was stuck that she hadn't noticed him before. He was too tall to miss, and filled out the ANBU uniform nicely if a bit on the pale and willowy side, like another ninja she knew. They were quite similar in build . . . but no, this couldn't be Kakashi in disguise. His chakra felt all wrong, and the man's mask was shaped with a hawk-like beak. He also never carried sais, which the man was sheathing into holsters on his hips. She could feel Sasaki's smile over her shoulder, "Meet our other semi-new member to Dragon Team, Kimura Takeo."

The mask was slowly pulled off of his head along with a black hood as he shook his long hair loose. Her green eyes widened. If she hadn't witnessed perfection in Kakashi's face already, she would have said her new teammate was the most beautiful man she'd seen in her life. Inner Sakura gawked along side her, staring at his obscenely long blue-black hair that hung poker-straight over his shoulder to cascade down his chest. His features were all, well, pretty for lack of a more masculine description, smooth, pale skin, angular jaw, small, sharp nose, full lips, and piercing deep blue eyes. If his last name wasn't Kimura, she would have hazarded to guess he was in some way related to the dead Uchihas. It was a good thing she was getting the gawking done now before her lover showed up, and saw the way her jaw had hit the ground. She wasn't interested damnit! He was just nice to look at! "So you must be the cherry blossom our Captain keeps talking about," Takeo said with a grin, "Pleased to finally meet you, Sakura-san."

For a brief moment, she wondered if Sasuke would have grown up looking like him. If the boy she knew had grinned a little more, the resemblance would have been complete. She blinked rapidly, clearing her head of those fantastic images. No, her first supposed love was dead, and he still didn't beat the Copy Ninja in the looks department, even if those sapphire eyes were easy to get lost in. She glanced over her shoulder at Sasaki, staring hard enough at him that her calculating composure had cracked wide open into a flagrantly appreciative smile. And from the unmoved expression on the man's face, he was used to the ogling of women. He didn't seem that interested in the attention at all, but not bother by it either.

Inner Sakura piped up wondering how long it would be before he took up a face mask like her Kakashi to keep from being stared at. That was an excellent question if she did think so herself. The kunoichi tried not to sigh, deciding to break it up, "It's nice to meet you as well, Takeo-san, and Sakura is just fine . . . but I'm afraid the illustrious Copy Ninja hasn't been forthcoming about . . . you, not to mention he's late . . ."

She scowled, the only thing she could do to keep from staring at him herself. He chuckled, "Doesn't surprise me in the least about Kakashi. I've been getting used to it, and it is alright to call me Takeo."

"He doesn't believe in the great legends of our Captain, unlike Yajima . . ." Sasaki said with a mournful lilt on her voice for their fallen teammate. The pink-haired young woman couldn't help but frown slightly at the mention of the dead wire-user. She could still remember finding his body in the ruins of the Jounin Headquarters, thinking it had been Kakashi's. At the sudden memory she winced, holding the pained look from her face as Sasaki touched her shoulder. Turning to the older woman, she gave a reassuring smile while getting the same look in return. After this many mouths, you'd think they wouldn't get this choked up thinking about the past.

Takeo wasn't an idiot as he watched the exchange between the two women, and he wasn't fresh off recruitment list either to not know what happened to the former members of Dragon Team. Hell, all of Konoha knew about the destruction of the building and why, just not the ANBU members who died or nearly died defending it. He frowned as well. Ever since he'd been assigned to the team in the wake of the siege, there was an air of sadness around the two remaining members that lifted with time and routine work. And yet, he still didn't feel like he fit in no matter how hard Hatake's lessons on team cohesion were. If he didn't know better, he'd think the man didn't want him there. In honesty, watching the pair of kunoichi interact like long lost friends, the gulf between them now felt even wider. Maybe in two months of leave it would lessen or . . .

"Even after getting pounded into the dirt like the rest of us, he still doesn't think the Captain's all that great," Saki said, and he knew she was baiting him into an argument.

The dark-haired man smirked, crossing his arms over his chest, "I can't think highly of the skills of anyone who is beset with laziness."

Sakura was nearly beaming as his admission while Sasaki laughed softly. Finally! Someone who agreed with her on Kakashi's lack of willpower! She giggled madly, beginning to like the new guy already.

A kunai landed in the dirt by Takeo's sandaled foot, making him jump as the laughter died on the women's lips. The silence in the forest was replaced by dark chuckling. The three ninjas scanned the trees, drawing weapons just in case. "I guess someone didn't like that comment," Sakura muttered as she saw a tree branch sway slightly, "Anyone want to place a bet on whom it is?"

There was no need as a black and white clad figure dropped from the trees into a crouch, the shock of silver hair giving his identity away, "A ninja isn't lazy. He is exactly where he wants to be when he wants to be."

"Still means you're late, Kakashi," Sakura grumbled as she relaxed from a defensive pose. He lifted the white and black mask to the top of his head. There was a smirk from under the cloth mask as his dark eye creased at her happily. "So are you. That's because you weren't awake long enough last night for me to tell you 'when' we were supposed to meet," he muttered as she blushed red.

The other members of the team didn't bat one eye at his implications despite breaking his own implicit rules as Captain against team fraternization. It wasn't a secret that they were together, especially after their joint hospital stay and Naruto's big mouth. That idiot must have blabbed to the whole village. When they got out, there were millions of questions flung at them by their friends for the full story, which, given that it was ANBU business, they couldn't tell. Ino in particular wanted to know how it all happened. As much as she wanted to tell Pig everything, she just couldn't.

After the initial shock had died down in their social circle, the next question on their mutual friends' minds was when they were getting hitched. She could have killed Naruto when he first asked her. It was inevitable, but still, did he have to ask so loudly, and in front of so many others who knew them? After that, the question kept cropping up in polite conversation the more often they were seen together in public. Really, you'd like a village nearly torn asunder by battle would have better things to talk about than the love life of a silver-haired elite ninja and his former student. Unable to take the questions any longer, Kakashi moved in to her much larger abode, abandoning the broom closet of a bachelor's apartment for good. He even sold it without telling her, confessing only when she found an influx of money in their accounts.

Apparently, that was enough proof of his fidelity without marriage for everyone as the questions stopped being asked. No one seemed to mind them living together without proper ceremony and circumstance. Not that they would have cared what anyone in Konoha thought. As long as they were together and still working as shinobi, everything else was inconsequential. On the bright side, it inspired Asuma to finally drop the act that he didn't care about Kurenai, and move in with her as well. She still remembered the announcement he made of it during the course one night of drinking at the bar. If he hadn't been purposefully sober when he said it, no one would have believed him at all, least of all his ruby-eyed lover.

Who would have thought so much could change in a year's time?

Kakashi's mask softened into a smile, a look that she knew was meant for her only as he stood up. Despite herself, Sakura smiled back even as the other two looked rather darkly at their leader. "Next time you decided to surprise us, Kakashi, at least have the dignity to use a smoke bomb or something normally you do," Takeo said with a frown, "Kunai at the feet tend to make people jumpy."

"I have to keep you all on your toes somehow," he said as the smirk was back in place, "Besides, I don't want my team going soft during the downtime. The rules still apply, so you three better be pulling your weight during these sessions."

Her warm smile turned more into one of amused levity, trying so hard not to grin. So he was still himself after all, her first teacher, and ever the hardass when it came to missions and training, and just slightly less scary. "Does this mean more tag team matches?" she asked, already anticipating getting her butt handed to her.

"Not today, Sakura, more finite lessons for now," Kakashi said he grabbed the other male ninja by the shoulder, and dragging him along as they moved off, "I believe you ladies have sword practice?"

She tried not to groan, knowing her uniform was about to be shredded to ribbons by Saki's ninja-to. Ever since joining Fox Team, her short sword training had gone downhill. Naruto hadn't even tried to find her a tutor since no one on his team used the weapon, and she didn't push it. After dueling with Sasaki, she didn't even know if she could wield the blade again. She'd never be as seamlessly graceful with the weapon. Maybe sword fighting just wasn't in her . . . she just hadn't told that to Kakashi yet. Then again, he was perverted enough to keep training so that he could bear witness the gradual destruction of her clothes even if he was currently getting away. Pouting, she shouted after him, "I thought you like watching these sessions!? You enjoyed it last time you stuck around, nosebleed and all!"

Half-way across the clearing the Copy Ninja stopped, and twitched, a movement that only got worse as Takeo burst out laughing at him. Laughing at Kakashi probably wasn't a smart idea . . . Even Saki smiled at little as their captain was still embarrassed at the incident in question while he didn't show too much. It was kind of obvious anyway in how he grabbed the other ninja by the scruff of his neck, hauling him towards the line of trees, "That's enough out of you, pretty-boy, time for taijutsu training."

There was enough implied threat in Kakashi's voice that the man stopped laughing instantly, suddenly scared but compliant. While he may not have been dazzled by their captain's storied history like his other teammate, he did acknowledge that the older ninja was a force to be reckoned with. He just wasn't about to admit that out loud any time soon. Takeo gulped, knowing that force was about to be heavily applied to his jaw in the name of training as he walked with a little more trepidation. It could have been worse, he supposed, like being at the business end of Sasaki's sword instead.

After watching the men leave, the two women turned to one another while getting ready for their practice, stretching. "Think he'll hurt him?" Sakura asked, wondering how much she had aggravated Kakashi with the loud comment.

"Just a little maybe, but I suppose Takeo had it coming to him for laughing like that, even if you were one who started it," the purple-haired kunoichi answered as she flexed her arms behind her back, "That day was priceless. I don't know what was funnier, the Captain's nosebleed over your shredded uniform, or the shock on his face when you ripped down his mask to attend to it."

"He can be so perverted some times . . . it's rubbing off on me too though . . ." Sakura admitting with a slight blush as the other woman laughed softly. There was an inquisitive gleam in her dark eyes and slight smile. "Oh really?" she asked, obvious digging for more information.

"Well . . . wouldn't you like to be a fly on a tree leaf right now watching those two fight each other?" she asked before her smile turned into a more impish grin, "Or wouldn't you like to be teaching Takeo short sword rather than me? Or at least sparing with him? I saw how you were looking at him. I can just see his uniform barely hanging on, sliced to delicate black and white shreds, hot and wet from heavy practice . . ."

The deep red blush on Sasaki's face was two parts livid anger, and two parts undeniable embarrassment, "Sakura, you don't know the first thing about him, so stop assuming. And secondly, I . . . I may like looking at him, but there's nothing there, he isn't . . . he can't be Hayate . . ."

Wincing, and feeling very foolish suddenly, Sakura sheepishly looked up at the older woman, "I'm sorry . . . I didn't mean to imply that, but . . . if there is one thing I've learned over this year, it's that living for those that have gone before us is more respectful to the dead than dwelling in their shade . . . I think Kakashi is learning that as well, even if he'll never admit it . . ."

Her voice was hesitant, unsure of how Saki would take her meaning. When she didn't move except to stop and listen, looking contemplative, the younger kunoichi continued, "I don't think he would have wanted you give up all hope of ever loving someone else, or at least forming some sort of relationship. No ninja is an island after all."

There was a small snort of laughter from the sword-wielder at that small piece of wisdom. It made sense for those words to be coming out of Sakura's mouth, especially given how she had cracked the Copy Ninja's hardened exterior. Living for the dead . . . it was an interesting idea, even if it would not cure her of her habitual trips to the memorial. Still, it gave her a small amount of hope for the future. "Thank you," she said softly as a smile crept onto her face, "I think . . . I will consider it, but . . . maybe not with Takeo."

"Why not? The man is wonderful to look at," Sakura said with a grin, before it occurred to her, "Unless he's already taken . . ."

"He isn't."

"Then what are you waiting for, an invitation?"

"It isn't like that, Sakura. Given his abilities, I doubt he's a one lover only kind of man," Saki said cryptically with a smirk on her lips, "I'm sure you know Genma's reputation, right?"

This time it was the younger woman's turn to snort in laughter, "Who hasn't?"

"Well, if Takeo was more social, they'd probably be rivals given what he can do."

"You're being awfully mysterious about him. What exactly can he do anyway?" Sakura just had to know, glancing back in the direction the men had gone. Suddenly, she felt a little worried for Kakashi. The smirk on Sasaki's face turned into a big grin, "Let's just say he knows a jutsu that can charm the pants off of anyone, he just can't share it."

She blinked, noticing the lack of gender-specific descriptions, "Any 'one'? Is it that effective? Maybe it's genjutsu? It can't be real can it? An illusion?"

"It's ninjustu, and very much real. I don't know anything else, only that it's very potent. Two missions ago was the first time we saw him in action like that. Our target, a man, was practically crawling all over Takeo by the time we came to assist. The guy wasn't freaked out about another man kissing him like you'd expect though. When we told our target what he had done during the interrogation, he caved faster than a lopsided house in a monsoon," Sasaki said while watching Sakura gawk at her.

She smirked back, not believing it either originally until seeing it happen. It was . . . educational to say the least, seeing two men kissing and moments away from shedding clothes. She hadn't been alone in the surprise either as she remembered how big Kakashi's single eye had gotten when they had arrived to see their target too well in hand. He recovered quick enough to knock their target out with the sharingan, but he'd kept his distance from the other male ninja since. Sakura's green eyes looked similarly surprised like her significant other's had been, "Does that mean he's . . . ?"

"No, he prefers women, or so he says . . ." she said while trying not to think about that part, "I suppose he just does what needs to be done, like someone else we know."

That thought brought a smile to Sakura's face, "The more I grow up, the more I realize every shinobi in Konoha is a pervert in one way or another."

"Some more obvious than others."

"I wonder what Kakashi would look like with a few strategic cuts in all that nice, tight black material . . ." she mused out loud as she paused in stretching, sitting on the grass. Sasaki snorted in laughter at the image in her head, "Daydream later. You should be more worried about your sword-work. I'm not going easy on you."

Getting up again, Sakura sighed, "Alright, let get this beating over with."

A few hours of much clashing steel later, the two women had flopped down exhausted by one of the trees just as the men emerged into the clearing. They looked worse for wear than when they had departed, the long-haired man especially, but that was almost to be expected when sparing the Copy-nin. Sakura smirked, knowing how much Kakashi liked to outclass everyone placed under him. As expected as well, his mismatched eyes lingered over the large pieces of black knit missing in her clothes, "I take it you lost the battle?"

He wore a licentious grin under the mask, which caused the kunoichi's pink lips to quiver and her words to stammer as she thought of a reply, "Well, ah, you see, um, it was because . . ."

His grin only widened. It didn't seem necessary to come up with an excuse as Sakura sighed, "Yeah, I guess I did lose, huh?"

Kakashi reached over and ruffled her strawberry-pink locks with a chuckle, "Just leaves more for me to look at."

"Pervert," she muttered back as her mouth quirked into a smile, brushing away the hand on her head, "You're not the only one looking either."

Sasaki tried not to grin while pointedly ignoring the two lovers, looking up at Takeo instead. He was apparently bird watching while gazing at the sky, "I think I see a sparrow."

Kakashi's grin turned into a frown, settling back down to business, "Training's over for today. Everyone's dismissed except you, Sasaki, need to have a word with you a moment. I'll see you at home, Sakura."

From his serious tone of voice, she wasn't about to argue as she got to her feet. Hazarding a quick kiss on his fabric-covered cheek, she then turned and waved before walking towards the building. Takeo waved too with one last glance at the purple-haired kunoichi before walking a few paces behind the other ninja. Once they were gone, Kakashi relaxed back against the rough tree truck, watching the swath of pink hair disappear in the distance. After a long moment, he finally asked, "How was she today?"

Sasaki almost didn't have the heart to tell him the truth, almost. "She's bad," she said, putting it as bluntly as a sap to the back of the head, "I didn't think it was possible for her to get worse, but she has. I thought there was a glimmer of hope that she was getting better when I was teaching her, but after a year of no practice . . . It would take me all two months of leave to get her anywhere decent."

He winced at the assessment, frowning more. She had been so hopeful in learning to use the ninja-to when she joined ANBU, and he'd been too distracted by her to notice how she'd failed miserably at it. "Think maybe I skipped a few lessons in martial weapons before I turned her over to your mentoring?" he asked, rubbing the bottom of his chin thoughtfully.

"Captain, are you second guessing yourself?" she asked, sounding highly amused that he was indeed doubting himself.

"Maybe I am, humor me though."

"I do think it was hasty of you to just throw her at me and say teach . . . and it wasn't any encouragement for her that I'm more trained in it than she is . . ." she trailed off to look back at him. His headband had slipped back into place over his red eye till all she could see was a single flicker of thought in the other. Her brow furrowed together as she asked the inevitable, "What are you thinking, Captain?"

"I'm wondering where I put my own sword . . ."

The meaning of his statement grasped her immediately.

"You? Train her yourself? Why?" she asked till her mouth dropped open, remember the conversation from earlier as she grinned mischievously at him, "You really are one sick puppy, Kakashi."

His eye rolled up towards the treetops.

"I get one nosebleed and everyone assumes I have a torn clothes fetish now," he said with a smirk, "If anything, my bibliophilic tastes run stronger. This is beside the point. She needs training. You're too good to provide it, so . . . I owe her some personal training time."

"That sounds like guilt talking."

"It is. I practically ignored her when she was genin, and look where it got me . . . might as well make it up to her," Kakashi said with a small smile, "But what am I going to do with you and the preening pretty-boy?"

"Do what you always do with us, make us spar," Sasaki offered with a small smile of her own.

"You sure? You're fine with that?"

"Of course, why wouldn't I be? Takeo isn't as powerful as you remember. It'll be a relief not to get my head handed to me on a daily basis."

"But his skills are infinitely more personal, and potent, if he chooses to use them without me about to stop him . . ." Kakashi argued with a growing frown, "And Sakura's presence signifies the end of my self-imposed anti-fraternization rules too. I'm not blind, Sasaki. You've been looking at him, only more deviously. I won't say anything out of hypocrisy, but . . . don't be stupid, please?"

A teasing grin crossed her lips, "Why, Captain, I didn't know you cared?"

"Normally, I don't give a shit at all, but . . ."

Her grin only widened, "You are going soft."

Kakashi snorted in denial, "Don't be ridiculous. If there's anything soft left in me, it's all Sakura's."

"You've made your point. Stop talking to me and go home to her. I'm sure you have lesson plans to draw up and a sword to find."

No sooner than her words had finished when there was the sound of a poof and a cloud of smoke. And so, he was gone. Smiling to herself again, Sasaki pushed off of the tree and ground to stand back up. She had to admit that Takeo had intrigued her since he was assigned to the team. Sakura's questioning of her about him only seemed to highlight how little she did know. Even if there was nothing there, at least she could get to know him better. And she wouldn't have to put up with two months of the lovebirds' sappy moments before, during, and after training. Perhaps this would turn out better than she thought after all.

To Be Continued in Lesson 01 of The Way of the Sword, The Hips Don't Lie.