Dirty Deeds

A Naruto fanfiction, By Serenanna

Part 18 – Sake and Chocolate

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 language and content as well as sexual situations in this story. So, if you're under 18, leave now before your virgin eyes are scarred forever. If you're over 18, enjoy!

Story Notes: Betaing by moderndayportia. See Part 1.

It took a while, but when Genma walked into the bar, he knew he had finally found Kakashi. The mop of silver, unruly hair was hard to miss. He hadn't seen hair like that in any of the other establishments he'd tried, and he had tried a lot. He had no idea what kind of path his friend had carved through the city of Snowfall, but it was some path to follow given the amount of aimless wandering he had to track to get to this bar in particular. The Copy-nin couldn't have picked a better bar though, which seemed odd considering his friend tended to hate places this clean and antiseptic. He was too used to drinking in the dives of Konoha to appreciate drinking in a place this refined.

The bar was a ways off from the crumbling sidewalks of the city in the richer side of town, not far from the many fancy homes perched high in the hills to overlook downtown. The establishment was nested in the basement of yet another business building, approachable only by a steep staircase from the outside and a heavy metal door with a discreet little sign on the frame. Steel and glass replaced the wooden and paper screen fixtures he was used to seeing in bars. An odd collection of multi-colored bottles filled the shelving behind the glass-covered bar, backlit with white lights that scattered the colors onto the dark stone walls. Nothing about the place seemed warm, comforting, or cheap to Genma as he walked over the grey concrete floor past matching metal and glass tables and empty stiff-backed chairs.

A few waitresses and cleaning staff milled about aimlessly, giving the atmosphere an ironically low hum for being nearly devoid of patrons. No doubt, come night fall, this place would be brimming with people. It was still too early in the day for serious drinking. No one was at the bar except for Kakashi and a bored looking barkeep standing a bit away and repetitively wiping down a clean glass. Approaching cautiously so as to not alert his friend to his presence just yet, Genma stopped about halfway across the room and angled away towards the far end of the bar. The bartender's attention was drawn to him as he slowly sat down in the last stool and looked intently over at his friend, but the man continued polishing the cup, not moving to serve the newcomer just yet.

Despite the mask on Kakashi's face, Genma could see the fixed frown pretty clearly; the droopy dark eye also steadily gazing down on the bar top he was leaning forward heavily upon, elbows and forearms bearing his weary weight. A half filled shot glass rested on the bar before him while a matching decanter patiently waited nearby. Both held a clear alcohol, which, knowing Kakashi's usual poison, had to be sake. If the Copy Nin knew he was there, he gave no indication, not even glancing over to acknowledge his new companion or even so much as twitching an eyebrow. Genma may as well have been a ghost. Then again, Kakashi seemed to like keeping company with his ghosts just fine.

A guttural sound made Genma flinch hard and look up to see the bartender staring down at him, a wrinkled frown on his face. The man looked tired, old, and humorless. He lacked the affectation of most of the bartenders Genma knew; their kind always seemed desperately happy to keep the patrons entertained and drinking. Given the grey streaks burning silver over his temples and the amount of wrinkles on his face, it was easy to assume this man had spent too long slinging drinks and had seen too much to care anymore. He continued frowning as he put a shot glass down in front of Genma, punctuated by the sharp clink of glass on glass, and cautioned a glance over at Kakashi before looking back warningly. "We're not that kind of bar, son," the man said, a very serious stare hardening the edges of his tired eyes.

It took most of Genma's self-control to keep from spluttering in the barkeep's face. "Wait! It's not like that!" he whispered firmly, still trying not to catch the silver-haired ninja's attention just yet, "I know the guy, ok?"

The suspicious look on the man's face transformed into a surprised blink as Genma continued. "He's my friend. I've been looking for him all day and tracked him into here."

Understanding filled the barkeep's old eyes and he curtly nodded. "I figured you two looked a little too strange to be some regular folk just stumbling onto a place like this. You both must be from out town since I would have known if you were from Hidden Mist. If any of my regulars show up tonight, I wouldn't go flashing anything that might tip them off on where you're from."

Genma slouched. Kakashi's choice of bar made sense. He just had to find in the one ninja bar in all of Snowfall. "I'll keep that in mind," he grumbled as he looked over at his friend, who hadn't moved an inch, "How long has he been like that?"

"Since he showed up," the bartender said, nodding in Kakashi's direction, "He ordered one bottle of a half decent sake, paid me, poured a shot, and hasn't moved since, not even to take a single sip. It's . . . odd. If he wasn't going to drink it, why the hell did he order it? It's like he just wanted to stare at his drink instead. Is this normal for him?"

Frowning, Genma nodded his understanding while biting down hard on the toothpick hanging from his mouth. "My friend is a bit . . . weird like that at time . . ."

The barkeep, well studied in human idiosyncrasy, saw right through his lie. "Sure . . ."

Grumbling under his breath, Genma reached around into his back pouch to pull out a wallet as he stood up. "It's a long story. We'll be out of here in a few minutes or else we'll ring up a sizable tab, ok?" he explained and pulled out a few wrinkled bills, setting them down on the counter, "Get me the same, but give me a few minutes to talk to him."

The bartender shook his head but didn't argue as he slipped the money off the bar top and walked away. Taking careful steps, Genma slid down along the row of stools closer to Kakashi. The silver-haired man didn't look up once, not until he had seated himself on the adjacent chair. He glanced over then looked straight ahead at the simple shelving filled with eclectic bottles. "Great, I've died and gone to hell," he grumbled, "I must be very drunk to be hallucinating about you of all people."

Genma smirked and pulled the toothpick from his lips before tossing it aside carelessly. "Nice to see you too, Kakashi."

The Copy nin did a double-take, his dark eye wide in shock. Did his hallucination just talk? He wasn't dreaming all this after all? Considering illusions didn't usually answer him back, it must be real. And the fact that Genma really was there sitting next to him and not hundreds of miles away in Konohagakure, made his eye narrow dangerously heavy with suspicion. It was too unlikely that his friend just happened to be in the same city, wasn't it? "What are you doing here?" he asked, cutting right to the point.

Crap. That had been the one question Genma didn't want to be asked right away. "Well, um . . ." he started to say before groaning a moment later, "Tsunade thought you might ask something like that . . ."

A silver eyebrow rose up in question. "Oh really?"

"I'm supposed to tell you that I'm here on another mission . . ."

The still evident frown underneath Kakashi's mask deepened. "She would do something like that. This mission is probably too lucrative to the village to hazard it failing, huh?"

Genma gave a nervous sounding chuckle, thankful fortune had provided him with the out he needed. "Yeah, something like that."

"How long have you been here?"

Genma frowned. "We only got into town a day ago after you two didn't report back with any progress."

"Who's we?"

"Another kunoichi, you wouldn't know her."

"How much did you see?"

"We saw enough to know you guys blew it today, but nothing more than that . . ."

"If you're trying to let me salvage my pride, don't," Kakashi griped, tempted to roll his eye, "What's one more blow going to do to it anyway?"

"Ok, we patched into the security system and watched you screw Sakura senseless in an elevator. It was the greatest sex I've ever seen that I haven't been a part of. The only downside was having to witness your pasty white ass doing it," he confessed bluntly, "Happy now?"

"Very," the Copy Nin's voice deadpanned.

"Damn, now I need a drink," Genma groaned with a fervent shake of his head. He glanced up just in time to see the bartender put a matching shot glass and decanter of sake in front of him before shuffling tiredly off again down the bar. After a long, silence heavy moment, he added, "We heard everything too . . ."

The revelation didn't seem to faze Kakashi at all, although he didn't say anything in response either. Frowning worriedly, Genma poured himself a drink and quickly downed it before refilling the glass. "I wanted to hit you, you know, knock some fucking sense into you at the time."

"And now?"

"You're too pitiful looking for it to now."

A broken snort of a chuckle came from Kakashi along with a briefly hidden smirk that quickly turned back into a frown. "It figures. Everyone thinks I'm an idiot. Hell, even I think I'm an idiot."

"No, you aren't. You're not an idiot. You're just mildly retarded. You've got like an emotional learning deficit or some crap like that."

"I let her walk away, Genma. I say all that powerful, meaningful stuff to her, and then I let her go. If that isn't the embodiment of stupidity, I don't know what is."

"What were you gonna do? Argue her into admitting her feelings?"

"Better than just letting her go," he reasoned as he shook his head, nearly torn in torment as the entire scene in the lobby before playing over in his head. It hadn't even seemed real at the time, but it had happened nonetheless.

He sighed in both resignation and hopelessness, "She is gone, everything of hers from the hotel room, gone. I don't even know where she is now. If Sakura made the ferry, she probably wouldn't stop until she was a quarter of the way home, if not more. If something happens, I won't even be there to-"

"To do what? Save her?" the brown-haired shinobi interrupted to question.

"It isn't like that . . ." Kakashi trailed off distantly, "She may feel nothing for me, but she's still my partner."

"Right, like you really need to protect Sakura of the Angry Fist," Genma said with a smirk, "Just admit that despite everything you still love her and miss her already? It'll save us both the time it'll take me to get you to open up about what I already know."

The Copy Nin cast an angry glare in his friend's direction as Genma took another drink, more slowly than his first. As much as he loathed admitting it, the piss-ant had a point… somewhat. Since Genma had already seen and heard the dramatic events in the elevator, trying to deny or excuse away how he felt was useless. Ok, so he did want to protect Sakura, maybe over-protect her a little. It didn't change the fact that she had left him. Kakashi frowned under his mask as he looked down at his own untouched glass, and then in the opposite direction and around the empty bar before saying, "It isn't denial if you worry about someone you care for. It doesn't matter what I feel anymore, or even how I treat her. She's gone and she isn't coming back except on her own."

"Exactly, and yet you're here sopping about it like a wet blanket."

A second angry glare was shot in Genma's direction. "I am not a wet blanket."

"Well, you're certainly being dramatic enough about this to qualify."

"I am not-" Kakashi started to yell before cutting himself off. Ok, so maybe he was being a touch dramatic, but he was nowhere near Sakura's level. He reached up to rip down his mask, letting the fabric fall around his neck and then grabbed the glass of sake, knocking back the shot quickly. The alcohol burned down his raw throat. Scowling, he slammed the glass down again and quickly grabbed the decanter to refill it. Genma smiled at him, which only made him more annoyed. "I am not being dramatic."

His friend's damned smile didn't lessen.

"I don't know exactly what you're expecting me to do," Kakashi spat, "Going after her won't help the situation, and sitting around sober would drive me insane . . . even if I don't exactly feel like drinking either."

"On the contrary, it's exactly what I expected of you," Genma said as he leaned over the bar, playfully propping his head up with his bent arm, "I don't expect you to do anything tonight but sit here and get wasted with me."

The Copy nin frowned. "Sounds like fun."

"Better than trying to figure out what exactly is going on in Pinkie's head."

"Don't call her that . . ."

"Pinkie? Geez, man, I've called her that for a while and now you're offended for her? What the hell happened to you?" Genma questioned with a bewildered look.

Kakashi groaned, burying the heels of his palms into both of his eyes, in spite of the eye patch he wore. "I honestly don't know anymore . . ." his gritty voice trailed off and he turned towards his friend wearing a serious look, "Have you ever felt as if everything you thought you've known suddenly gets turned upside down?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just follow me a moment. If you see a color, like black and always see it a certain shade of black for the majority of your adult life. You always paint things in that shade of black. And then something comes along that completely changes that black to something else? Suddenly, everything you painted before is maybe blue or magenta or something, everything seems brighter again. And then . . . you blink, the change you saw is gone, and everything has gone back to black again . . . Have you ever had anything like that happen to you?"

". . . No, I don't have the slightest idea what you mean."

Kakashi glared at him, not really believing him. Genma's smile slowly faded. A look fell heavily across his face that showed nothing but pained understanding.

"Yeah, I lied . . . I kind of do," he whispered, reaching out a slightly shaking hand to grasp his glass before bringing the cup to tense lips and finishing it off, "It's kind of like that, huh?"

Kakashi's dark eye narrowed on his friend again. For as long as he had known Genma, the older man had never shown anything akin to, well, understanding about anything he wasn't directly involved in. Well, Kakashi wasn't exactly ever empathetic either, but that was beside the point. The point was that somehow his friend had changed as well. Slowly, Kakashi's eye widened as he knew exactly what happened. He gave Genma a slightly knowing grin before turning back to his drink. "Who is she?"

The brown-haired man groaned, pouring more sake. "You wouldn't know her. It doesn't matter anyway."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm in the same boat as you, that's why," Genma said with a shake of his head, "Only arguably worse maybe . . ."

"Why is that?"

"Because she thinks she's in love with someone else . . ."

Kakashi winced. "Ouch . . . you need to drink more than I do."

"Yeah, well, be relieved that no matter how much Sakura may fight it, she probably does love your sorry ass," he muttered as he picked up his cup to take another shot. He looked over to see Kakashi's droopy, dark eye giving him a sympathetic look. Just as he was about to indulge in another numbing gulp, Genma stopped suddenly, putting the glass back down on the bar.

"Crap. Utter crap and shit," he cursed harshly, "We're supposed to be bitter, jaded old shinobi but instead we're going soft over a pair of women way too young to be interested in a pair of warhorses like us. I can't believe this happened to either of us. It was much more fun when screwing around meant absolutely nothing to me but a good time followed by the inevitable disappointment."

"I liked it better when I was just a perverted, cynical bastard too, but there's no going back for either of us, you know," Kakashi said as he sipped lightly on his sake, "You must really care about this girl if you're as bent out of shape as me."

"Don't remind me . . ."

"Great legs?"

Genma cast a dark look in his direction that promised violence in a moment and the silver-haired ninja held up his gloved hands in surrender. "Don't look at me like that. I am just assuming you slept with her already or else you wouldn't be this hung up."

"You're one to talk, you know that? You fuck Sakura and then wait to declare your love until after you've gotten your rocks off. You were already pretty badly hung up on her before that, but actually getting into her has made you even worse. You're no better than me, just a lot more out of practice," he hissed as he reached for his drink again and downed the sake shot in one throat-searing gulp. Kakashi didn't say anything as he started to spin the glass in his hands, gazing at it in bitter contemplation.

After a long moment, he put the shot back down with a sigh and a frown. "She has the best legs I've ever had the privilege of having wrapped around my waist," Genma confessed, "And I still managed to fuck it up somehow."

A small smile crossed the Copy Nin's face. He reached across to pour them both another round of shots. "I imagine there's more to her than just that?"

"Is there more to Sakura than just her eyes?"

The smile faded as he put the decanter back down. Ok, so he kind of deserved that one. He gave Genma an apologetic look before turning back to his own drink. "I probably shouldn't have slept with her, should I?" Kakashi asked after a moment, "At least not until I knew how she felt, huh? It only seems to have made things worse in the long run."

"Doesn't matter too much if you think about it a moment. At least next time you talk to her, you won't be picturing what she may look like naked in that noggin of yours cause you've already seen it all."

"Doesn't mean I won't want her still."

"Welcome to the fucking club, man," Genma snorted resentfully, "We're both screwed in the figurative sense but probably never again in the literal sense if neither of them comes back to their senses. As much as I respect you as a friend, I cannot do the celibacy thing like you. I am not a damned monk."

"I never thought I'd be there the day you say one woman's ruined you for the rest," Kakashi joked, his dark eye creasing in sarcastic happiness enhanced by a stunted chuckle.

"You fucking son of a bitch," Genma laughed as well, a similar look on his face, "If you weren't my friend already, I'd kill you."

"The feeling is mutual," Kakashi said with a wider grin.

The senbon user followed suit, a smug grin crossing his face as well. "Yeah, well, after this many years, I thought your cock had rotted off or something. Too bad you're never gonna need it again either."

"Leave my penis out of this."

"Your penis is what got you so screwed up in the first place."

"Look who's talking."

". . ."

"You're the one that brought it up in the first place, again. I don't think the way this talk is going to help either of us get our women back."

". . . Shut up and drink, you ungrateful bastard," Genma said with a scowl as he quickly reached for his glass of sake, "I am too sober to have this type of conversion with you, so the faster we both get shit-faced, the better."

"No kidding," Kakashi said and grabbed his sake, raising it up in a quick salute. "Couldn't agree more."

He tossed his head back and took the entirety of the glass at once. His head snapped back forward determinedly and he winced at the fire burning down his throat as he somewhat unsteadily filled another glass. The brown-haired shinobi smirked and muttered, "We're going to need a lot more sake."

Sakura flopped over in the bed from her left side, staring straight up at the bright light overhead and the too white wall it was mounted on. For some reason, all of this felt oddly familiar except for the fact that the last time she did this type of laying about it had been with Naruto beside her in a large pile of leaves. The feelings nipping at her were the same, though, as the time before, a restless tension within that fluctuated between shades of uncertainty, loneliness, and nervousness. The only difference was that this time there was a profound sorrow coloring everything she felt.

After leaving Kakashi standing there in the lobby of the Mingawa building, she had fled. As fast as she could, she ran to get her things packed from their hotel suite. Duffle bag and new garment bag in hand, she retreated through the city to the docks and down to the ferry that would take her back to the mainland. The only thing she could think about all the way there was home, Konohagakure. She wanted to go home so badly, to what she believed was the sanctuary where she could hide away from the pain she felt, even if it meant being away from Kakashi. Despite the fact that she knew running wouldn't help, going home seemed perfectly logical at that time. She could barely wait to sleep in her own bed again

Yet, standing there waiting for the boat to come in to dock, her thoughts were anything but logical when they traitorously turned back towards the silver-haired man she had just abandoned. In all her haste, she hadn't thought one second about him, and yet . . .

Now she was thinking about him, and how deeply she felt the lack of his presence. Everything in the elevator really had happened after all? She really did just leave him standing there, didn't she? He really had said he loved her, hadn't he? Now that he was no longer with her, she did kind of . . . well, she missed him . . . a lot. He'd been right there beside her, a constant companion, for how many years again? Practically ever since she was twelve he'd been there, and now he wasn't anymore. Barely away from his side for an hour, it occurred to her how much she really missed her ex-sensei and partner.

And here she was, taking even more drastic steps, getting further away from him.

When the ferry docked, she didn't move to board. Her feet shifted indecisively forward, but then she took two steps back in indecision. Eventually, she put the sturdy duffle pack on the ground and sat on it while hugging her dress bag tightly in her arms. Could she really just leave him like this? Could she just run? If she did run, would she really be throwing away years of friendship and understanding? Could she do that? As appealing as running was in theory, when it came to actual execution . . .

She couldn't do that to him, could she?

Apparently not, as the last ferry left with her still sitting helplessly lost in her own thoughts on the dock. She had buried her head in the black bag and tried not to whine to herself. For all her sure talk back in lobby, she really was a coward without him around. The situation made her question her own independence, wondering if she even could do anything without him. Well, obviously she could if she had gotten this far to begin with, but it was painfully evident that she couldn't just leave him. That much was certain. It was a fact he must have known since he hadn't chased her all the way to the docks.

Sitting there for over an hour, she realized he really wasn't going to come after her. None of his dogs came trotting up to act as a furry emissary. Hell, no one else milling around the ferry dock even seemed to take notice of her. For once, Sakura was, well and truly, left all alone. After sitting and watching the sun sink under the watery horizon, she eventually got up, and wandered back into the city, the evening's snowfall rolling in behind her off the frigid sea. Finding a much cheaper hotel, she got a room for the night.

The major problem with all this was that now she didn't know what to do with her solitary self and the thoughts circling around her head like dirty bath water around a drain. Groaning, she rolled over again and clutched her head. She should have run while she had the chance, looking back on it. Confronting this problem in the crowded theatre of her mind only made things worse.

The more she laid there, the more her thoughts drifted back to Kakashi and the whole messy argument. It didn't seem real. The entire situation had happened in such a surreal manner. Even replaying him saying those three little words over again in her head didn't make it seem any more believable. He couldn't really mean it. There was no way he could have meant it. She wasn't being selfish or stupid, was she? A relationship between them based on love would never work. They knew too much about each other. They could get under each other's skin too easily. They cared about each other too much for it to work. A few choice works and they could hurt one another much worse than any weapon or jutsu ever could. It was the right thing to do, wasn't it?

Growling, Sakura flung herself onto her stomach. How could they remain a partnership if being around each other drove them both this crazy? If he hadn't said anything then the sex could have been just a really good one time thing. Maybe friends with benefits would have worked for them, a release valve from the pressure of mutual attraction and sexual tension. But, he had to bring up love. He just had to be in love with her and ruin everything . . .

The sex was really good though, Inner Sakura inserted, not that great sex ever really solved anything.

"Great, now I'm talking to myself again," she muttered into a pillow, burying her naughtier half once again.

With a groan, she propped herself up and looked around the spartan room. The walls were white, and none of the furniture matched, unlike the suite she had been sleeping in. The bathroom was horrible when she had taken a shower earlier, leaving her clothes scattered across the tiled floor as she hastily stripped. Coming out dripping and only semi-clean, she was pretty sure her bare feet nearly stuck to the nasty carpeting when she walked across it. For as little as she paid for the night though, at least the bed was comfortable and the heating system worked exceptionally well.

Her luggage was thrown over a chair in one corner, having been abandoned there once she pulled out an old navy blue uniform shirt and some long, baggy pants of stretchy grey knit to sleep in. The duffle sat on top of the garment bag with her travel cloak on top of it all. In hindsight, it probably wasn't a good idea to put her things like that. No doubt that fabulous evening gown she had worn would be crushed under the weight of it all. Why should she care about a stupid dress though? It wasn't like she would ever get a chance to wear it again. None of the clothes she had accumulated for the sake of their mission would ever see the light of day again back in Konoha. It wasn't like Kakashi would ever see her all dressed up again either.

What had he said that night? That no one would be looking at him with her standing next to him? That she was beautiful. A small smile crept across the kunoichi's face at the memory. Everything was so much easier that night; she could joke with him, be close to him, and accept compliments without thinking twice about it. The teasing, the banter, the knowing glances, the easiness with which they seemed to understand each other, the trust, they had been practically perfect together. The smile on Sakura's face faded fast. She knew none of that was ever coming back now, no matter how much she longed for it.

Still, he had called her beautiful for at least one night.

Rising up to kneel on the bed, she sprung off the mattress a moment later and onto her feet. Walking over the tacky carpet, she stopped at the chair and tugged the garment bag out from the bottom of the pile. With it in hand, she moved to the small closet set into the wall beside the bed, and started hanging up her clothes. She pulled out the black and nude evening gown last, holding it up to the harsh white light for a long moment before placing it on the rack as well. Her fingers drifted down over the silk and crystal bodice to the organza skirt, lifting it up.

A moment later, she let the delicate, sheer material slip through her fingers and float back down as she fell back on the bed again. Sakura frowned at the gown while tapping her foot on the floor, hunched over with her elbows on her knees to prop up her chin. What exactly had Kakashi seen in her that she hadn't already seen herself? He was a fool. They both were, more than likely. Sakura buried her face in her hands. Even if he was a fool too, she was the fool who missed him.

Her stomach chose that moment to gurgle loudly, reminding her that she had hardly eaten all day. The kunoichi sighed and whined, not feeling up to getting food at the moment, except for maybe chocolate. Inner Sakura agreed, reminding her of the binge she went on the last time she was this miserable. The parade of chocolate goodness Ino had supplied her with the night after her break-up with Lee had been monumental, and it felt so satisfying going down too. Pig's company in heartache after Shikamaru's latest act of ongoing callousness had helped too, but the food really made the night. It would be just her luck that Ino and her secret stash of comforting sweets were hundreds of miles away back in Konoha.

Maybe she could order room service, Sakura mused for a moment before reminding herself how much of a flea trap of a hotel she was in.

Sighing to herself, she stopped tapped her foot and flopped back onto the pillows, sprawled out dramatically. "This really-"

A knock on the door interrupted her statement.

Sakura blinked at the locked door. She wasn't expecting anyone. Even with Pakkun and the rest of the pack, Kakashi couldn't have tracked this far, not over the snow and certainly not in the middle of the storm going on outside. He was the only person she knew of that could possibly be looking for her, which meant this couldn't be a social call.

Cautiously, she reached for the kunai hidden purposefully under her pillow as the knocking on the door sounded again. As cliché as it sounded, sleeping with one's weapons did have its advantages at times. She pushed a lock of wet hair that hadn't made it into her long braid and away from hanging over her eyes. "Who is it?"

"Open the damned door already before this melts all over the hallway!" a very familiar female voice shouted at her. Sakura's jaw dropped as she let the kunai go. No, it couldn't be . . .

Practically running across the floor, she opened the door to see an all too familiar head of long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail with two striking aqua eyes staring back. She had to be dreaming, right? Yet, the smirk on that face and that arrogant stare were pretty telling. This wasn't all in her head. "Ino?!" the kunoichi shouted at her best friend as she tried to glance around her, "What the hell are-?"

Sakura stopped as her green eyes fell on the stuffed grocery bag Ino held cocked on her hip. Out of the top, she could see a green and white stripped carton with a picture of something dark and chocolaty on the lid. "Is that double fudge ripple ice cream?" She asked, trying not to drool.

"Actually, it's triple chocolate chunk, but-"

Before Ino could even finish her sentence, the pink-haired kunoichi grabbed the bag from her and carried it into the room. She blinked at being left standing alone in the hallway as her friend began rummaging through the food. "Nice to see you too, Forehead. Why, thank you for letting me in. It's so kind of you. Why thank you for taking my coat too, it's so considerate of you seeing as you're already eating the food I brought along too," the blonde groused sarcastically as she peeled off her heavy fur-trimmed coat while closing the door behind her and entering the shabby room.

Sakura looked up at her with those wide green eyes, a plastic spoon hanging from her mouth. The small box the utensils came in laid ripped apart on the cheap table she sat at while the carton of rich, chocolate ice cream sat in her lap. Somehow, Ino didn't look too surprised as she threw her coat on the bed before walking over. At least Sakura appreciated the gift of food. The blonde practically fell into the chair across from her friend, exhausted. "You owe me some money for all this, you know," she said with a frown before she reached down to pull off the snow boots she wore, "And a new pair of shoes."

The pink-haired young woman tried not to grin as she plucked the spoon from her mouth, "It's good to see you too, Pig . . . your timing is impeccable since I was just thinking about you . . . kind of a creepy sort of impeccable."

"It's a long story."

"I got a few long stories myself . . ." Sakura said with her own frown, jabbing the utensil into the chocolate ice cream. "How did you know I wanted ice cream?"

"Yes, about that . . ." Ino started to say with a torn look on her face, "Well, you see . . ."

"I think I know that look. What did Tsunade-shishou put you up to this time?" she asked, skipping the pretense and going right to the point, "I swear if she intends to interfere in my love life or lack there of one more time-"

"It isn't like that, Sakura. I came on my own," Ino lied, sort of. Well, it was at least partially true, wasn't it? "Me and someone else I recruited to help. Tsunade-sama doesn't know we left the village, exactly."

Gawking at her best friend, Sakura couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Are you nuts?! They could declare you missing-nin because of this! If you came all this way because of me, I'll wring your neck!"

"Relax, Forehead. I told Tsunade-sama it was a training mission, urban surveillance tactics or something. She knows we're gone, just doesn't know the real reason why . . ."

"Oh . . . oh," Sakura said as it sunk into her exactly how and why Ino was sitting in front of her at that very moment, "So, you're here to mess with my love life, or the lack there of, then too, huh?"

A pitiful yet sympathetic look fell over the blonde's face before she silently nodded. Groaning, the pink-haired kunoichi scooped up a big spoonful of ice cream and shoveled it into her mouth. She ate even more, and blushed as she realized that if she was here at that moment, that she had to have seen the drama in the lobby at least. Knowing Ino's surveillance techniques, she probably saw the one in the elevator too. "Great, you probably know everything already," she whined over the chocolate, nearly beet red in mortification "You wouldn't have brought me ice cream if you didn't already know about me and Kakashi."

Ino tried not to grin, "Everyone's known about it for years. It just took you both this long to catch up."

She gulped hard, and nearly turned purple as it occurred to her that Ino brought someone with her on her mission who had probably seen everything too. ". . . You didn't bring Naruto along, did you?"



"No, you don't know him that well, but he has a vested interest in Kakashi's happiness," Ino said as she reached into the grocery bag to pull out a second carton of chocolate ice cream. Grabbing one of the plastic spoons, she then took the top off and threw it aside before digging in as well. Sakura stopped eating momentarily to watch the blonde begin fiercely shoveling down the creamy chocolate goodness. A sinking feeling overcame the pink-haired kunoichi. "It isn't Shikamaru, is it?" she asked tentatively.

Ino stopped eating, realizing how much ice cream she had put away in such a short amount of time. No, for once it wasn't Shikamaru that was getting to her. "It's Genma," she admitted in a terribly small voice.

Sakura blinked at her. "Genma? Shiranui Genma is who you're working with? Why on earth would you pick him?"

"He knows Kakashi almost as well as you do . . . along with other areas of expertise," she said while twirling her spoon, "He's not that bad, honestly. Sort of a nice guy once he stops trying to flirt and tease his way into your panties."

She took a big bite as Sakura continued to stare at her. "What?"

"Didn't you sleep with him?"

"You can't ask me that."

"Oh come on, Pig. If this isn't about Shikamaru yet again, then this is obviously about that lecherous snake. You're a virgin, which makes you way too tempting to a guy like him. I know you well enough to know that you wouldn't be packing down the ice cream like this unless something happened, so what happened?"

"That's rich of you. You slept with Kakashi, and here you are pigging out too, instead of being with him right now."

"But he hasn't been rumored to have slept with half of the Leaf's kunoichi."

"It's just a rumor, Forehead. Even I know that can't possibly be true. He isn't a lecherous snake, so don't you dare call Genma that. I told you already that he's a nice guy, and he is. I was wrong about him, completely wrong, ok? Even I can admit that I made a mistake about him."

Sakura blinked again. This was not the Ino she remembered. The one she knew wouldn't have defended Genma's reputation this much. Hell, up until this conversation, the blonde had herself helped in perpetuating every gloriously risqué tale of his escapades that funneled through her family's flower shop. Either the womanizing shinobi had completely changed personalities since she last encountered him . . . or her best friend had. And Ino wasn't that easy of a woman to change. "You don't like him, do you?" she asked hesitantly, "I mean I wouldn't blame you if you did, but . . . this is Genma you're talking about."

"No, I don't like him like that, Forehead, so can you just let it go?" Ino pleaded with her. Sakura fell silent and the blonde went back to shoveling the ice cream into her mouth without much pause.

Somehow, she couldn't bring herself to believe that. Either she was lying to cover up the fact that she had slept with Genma and liked him but wouldn't admit to it, or she really did like him but was lying to herself about it. Either way though, Ino liked him in a sense that wasn't purely friendship, and wasn't willing to talk about it, at the moment at least. The more Sakura continued to stare, the more Ino ate until she finally put the spoon down with an aggravated sigh. "Ok, I did sleep with him," she confessed with a grumpy pout, "Happy now?"

Apparently she wasn't as the staring went on with continued silence.

"I wanted to know what it was like, ok? I figured Genma was experienced enough that it would be a good first time, that it was time I grew up. You know, sort of like you," Ino said as she met Sakura's stare, "And stop looking at me like that."

Yup, Ino was lying to herself and didn't even realize that she was in love. If she stopped and thought about it for a moment, it probably would have seemed pretty ironic given her own situation with Kakashi. Good thing she didn't take that second to think about it then. Sakura turned back to her own ice cream. "Was he any good?" she asked as she lifted another spoonful to her mouth, "I mean, he's got to be good, right?"

The blonde chuckled, nearly snorting ice cream up her nose. "He was actually a bit overrated given all the stories floating around."

Sakura winced. "I hope you bought more ice cream."

"Actually, there are dark chocolate truffles in there."

"Oh, really?" she sang, immediately hopping up from her chair and rooting through the bag again, "Oh, you got peanut butter too! And whipped cream! Oh, Ino, I love you! I so don't deserve you!"

The blonde smirked. "You can pay me back later."

". . . We're going to be having some long discussion into the night, aren't we?"

"You didn't think I'll just let you sleep with Kakashi twice and not want to hear all about it, did you?"

"You saw all that too?" Sakura asked as a slight blush spread across her cheeks. Her friend nodded as her color deepened. She would never live this down. "Of course, you would see all that too. Look, the first time was just oral sex, that doesn't count."

Ino snorted another pig-like chuckle. "Sure it doesn't, doesn't mean I don't want to hear about it anyway."

Sakura whined through another downed spoonful of ice cream. "You know, I never ask you about Shikamaru, and I'm not going to ask you about Genma either unless you want to tell me. As much as I appreciate you being here for me, can you please just not interfere with this, Pig? I don't want to talk about it right now, please? Pretty please?"

"Why not, Sakura? You don't even know how you feel about the guy, do you?"

". . ."

"Then why not?"

". . . Because it's Kakashi, that's why," Sakura tried to explain as she reached for one of the jars of peanut butter as well as a can of instant whipped cream. Pulling it open, she scooped a heap of the peanut butter into her carton of ice cream then mixed it in. She then ate some of nutty chocolate dairy concoction before squirting a shot of whipped cream straight into her mouth. Ino shook her head before reaching into the grocery bag and pulling out a second set of the same items. She did the same thing after a moment, only shooting a more significant amount of cream that nearly overflowed from her mouth. Murmuring, she swallowed it down. After a few silent minutes of eating, Sakura finally said, "Just let me get some more chocolate into me first then maybe I'll submit to a grilling. If you really wanted to get me to talk, you should have gotten me drunk."

"But you're just as bad when you're hyped up on sugar and caffeine."

"That is so true . . ." Sakura sighed, eating more, "I really don't deserve you."

"Just shut up and eat," Ino muttered grumpily, "I'll take it out on you soon enough."

The pink-haired troublemaker giggled like a manic pixie, giddy and malicious at the same time and kept stuffing her mouth. "After today, I don't think there's anything you could possibly ask me that'll make me feel any worse than I did already."

"Yeah, well, keep talking. I'm sure I'll come up with something eventually."

"I mean, why am I even trying?" Genma asked, waving his glass of sake around as he leaned heavily over the bar. "I already had my chance, and failed. Ok, so I didn't give her exactly what she wanted, but she didn't give me a second chance to make it up to her . . . at least the foreplay was great. Still, what does that guy got that I don't got, and better? What makes him so great? He doesn't even know she exists, and yet . . . she loves him over me. Why do women have to be so . . . fickle?"

Kakashi chuckled, grinning to himself. They had to have been drinking non-stop for two hours now, maybe more. In that amount of time, more people had drifted into the bar in various modes of fashion, from the rather ordinary to the downright scary, even by shinobi standards. A few of the patrons stopped to look at the pair, also with varying degrees of interest, from amusement to downright open hostility, not that either of the two Leaf ninja's noticed. "They're not fickle, they're ebil."

"Ebil? Don't you mean evil?"

"Yeah, that's what I meant. Did I really say ebil?"

Genma chuckled himself and nodded. "You must really be drunk."

"Speak for yourself. You're the one that keeps pouring for the both of us," Kakashi accused with a pointed finger that waved too much to really be pointed, "I meant what I said though, they're evil."

"How do you figure?"

"Because if everything isn't perfect, they dump you. Seeking perfection is ebil."


"Evil, damnit," he grumbled angrily while pushing the sake across the bar top away from him, "Nothing's ever perfect, let alone relationships. No matter how hard you try to be perfect, it isn't gonna happen. And women still hate you if you don't fit into that perfect little mold of what they want. Perfect, perfect, perfect."

"But you have to admit, your friendship with Sakura was damned near a perfect relationship," Genma pointed out as he moved his friend's drink back in front of him, "Like you two were already married, except without the sex."

"Yeah, and then look what happened."

"Sex does seem to change everything, huh?" he admitted with a frown, "I don't think women are evil, just as selfish as the rest of us. They don't want perfection, but they do want that little image in their heads of what they think love is. Who wouldn't? I mean, you know me, Kakashi. I wasn't the type for love either, just sex, and then . . . I don't know anymore. All I know is I want her, badly, and more than just her body, but I'm never gonna get any part of her ever again. You should feel grateful that for a least a few years you had all of Sakura to yourself, even if you didn't sleep with her."

"It isn't enough, Genma," he replied with a sad shrug of his shoulders, "At least not for me anymore. I could try to go back to just being friends with her, but it's not going to be enough. Even those few years aren't enough. I think I've surpassed mere love to the point where she's become a part of me and I didn't even know it. Maybe I've been in love with her for years and didn't even know it . . . you're right, sex does change everything, maybe."

The more he thought about it, the more the idea felt right. Sakura had become a part of his existence, as much as any other part of his body. She had been that way to him for years already. Maybe he really had loved her in his own way for as long as they'd been partners.

And he didn't even realize it until she was gone.

"I think realizing it isn't just lust you're feeling probably did it too. Or trying to deny it," Genma said as he patted Kakashi on the back, "Like I've been saying, everyone in Konoha could see how you felt about each other, except for the two of you of course. It didn't take a genius to figure out that it would only be a matter of time . . ."

"Then I guess Sakura just doesn't love me enough."

"Don't say that."

"Why not? It's true, isn't it?" Kakashi questioned as he picked up his sake, nearly spilling it, "If Sakura did love me, she wouldn't have reacted like that. If she really did, I would be back in our hotel room with her making sure she didn't leave bed for a week instead of pissing away the night here with you, like your company is some sort of consolation prize."

"Well, gee, I'm really flattered." Genma groused before knocking back his own drink, "You're missing the point though."

"What exactly is the point then?"

"That unlike my situation, you only have to overcome Sakura's stubbornness."

Kakashi snorted a chuckle as he took a drink, nearly getting sake up his nose. He couldn't be serious, could he? Yet, a sideways glance at the brown-haired shinobi to see the focused stare on his face told him that his friend was, in fact, very serious. "You're underestimating that woman's propensity to be . . . stubborn, as you put it."

Genma chuckled as well, breaking the serious look he had. "You know that's all there is to it though. She's just fighting because she thinks it's for the best for both of you. She cares more about you than you care about yourself. She already admitted that she'd die for you. She obviously wants you in the physical sense of the word. She loves you, but won't admit it to herself because of her past, your past, and out of consideration for your futures together. You know that's what she's thinking, the greater good and all that."

Bullshit. Breaking his heart couldn't be for the greatness of anything good, least of all his side of good. Maybe if Sakura had realized that, she wouldn't have pushed him away. "It isn't exactly for the greater good if it makes us miserable."


"Even if I know all this, if she knows all this, she still isn't coming back," Kakashi pointed out as he put the glass down only to watch as Genma refilled it with more sake.

"You never know. Maybe she'll change her mind. Maybe she'll end up back in your bed in the middle of the night, or something," the brown-haired shinobi said with a shrug as his friend chuckled derisively, "Like I said, women are fickle."

"Fickle. What kind of word is that? Fickle," Kakashi repeated, making a scrunched face as he said the word while lifting his sake cup again to his uncovered lips, "I think you mean indecisib."


"Fuck . . . what did I say?"

Genma chuckled before calling out across the bar, "Hey! Bartender! More sake!"

Sakura moaned in pleasure as she bit into the dark, silk chocolate, the rich taste coating her pallet. She then sighed dramatically while chewing on the tender morsel of sweetness, rolling it around in her mouth before taking her time swallowing. Dark chocolate truffles were definitely more of a girl's best friend to her than diamond ever would be. While they didn't make you feel pretty, they certainly did make you feel a whole lot better. She squirted another mouthful of whipped cream as a chaser, leaving just a hint of lingering aftertaste in the chocolate's wake. Eyelashes fluttering in bliss, she contentedly laid back down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling as every troubled thought she had left her head.

"You know, lying there and not talking to me while you stuff your face isn't going to make any of your problems go away," Ino said from across the room.

Suddenly all of those troubling thoughts came crashing back down again. Ino really did know how to make her feel a whole lot better. Propping herself up on her elbows, she shot the blonde a mean look before sitting up all the way on the bed. Climbing to her knees, she reached out and snagged the half-eaten carton of ice cream on the table then sat back down. Legs folded, she twirled the spoon in the half-melted chocolate chunk and peanut butter mess before taking another bite while silently cursing Ino in her head. "It may not fix anything, but it certainly makes me feel better," Sakura shot as she took another bite.

For her part, the blonde kept eating as well, trying to bury the bitter sting that Sakura's questions and comments about Genma brought to the surface. Her spoon stabbed into the carton. "You're not the only one with problems, Forehead. You're not the one that lost your virginity to Shiranui Genma of all people. You're not the one still hung up on a guy after years and years of trying . . . oh, wait, you are."

An evil smirk crossed Ino's lips as Sakura's green eyes bore into her. "Ok, so I am hung up over Kakashi to an extent."

"To an extent?" she said in disbelief, "Look at us, sitting here like two miserable old biddies wallowing in chocolate."

"You're the one that bought it all."

"I know, which only makes me feel even more pathetic than I am already."

Sakura sighed, taking the carton of ice cream from her lap and moving it off to the side. "How do you think I feel?" she asked, not really expecting an answer, she slouched over while resting her elbows on her bent knees.

"I think you don't know how to feel. You did just have a guy give the three words every woman wants to hear, so it doesn't surprise me at all that you panicked."

The pink-haired kunoichi flinched. "I did panic, didn't I?"

Ino tried not to grin. "Yeah, you kind of did."

"I don't think it's just that, Pig. I mean, it wasn't just three words, it was three words from Kakashi."

"And how is that different, huh? Given your previous relationship with him, I imagine it would have been better than good that it was him saying that."

"But I don't think of him like that! I really don't want to! I mean, he's Kakashi!" Sakura yelled, arms gesticulating about frantically as she stared wildly at her friend, "You don't understand, really, not unless it happened to you too. It would be like Choji telling you he loves you, point blank. Do you understand how weird that would be?"

Ino tried not to growl, frustrated at her friend's persistent reasoning, "First, Choji is not Kakashi-"

"Well yeah."

"-so it isn't exactly a fair example to use. Second, even if you swear up and down that you don't like him like that, part of you does."

The pink-haired kunoichi's mouth dropped open to protest, but Ino cut her off again. "If you didn't want him at all, you wouldn't have slept with him, Forehead. You weren't exactly resisting him that much."

Sakura's mouth kept on moving even if she was left speechless. While the blonde had something of a point, she'd be damned to admit it. It wasn't as simple as Ino thought it was. It just couldn't be. This entire situation wasn't just her fault . . . was it? With a aggravated growl, she tugged at her damp bangs. "You don't understand. I-," she tried to explain before being cut off again.

"What, you care about him?"

"Well, yeah."

"Tell me something I don't know already, really. You care about Kakashi, a lot, more than any one person deserves. You already admitted you'd die for him, which isn't some flippant thing to say."

Hearing that assertion aloud seemed to take some of the fight out of Sakura and she seemed to almost sink into the bed. Her arms folded over her waist to hug herself as she looked away from Ino. So what if she did care about him too much? What did it matter? She cared about a lot of people more than she should have. Naruto for one, and Sasuke, and they were both already married. Then there was Lee and Ino herself as well. So what if Kakashi was included in that lot too? She already knew what she was trying to argue, and it wasn't going to work. "Just because I care that much about him doesn't mean-"

"No, it may not mean that you love him, but you sure won't sleep with anyone else you care that much about, right?"

A deep crimson blush spread across Sakura's cheeks. "That isn't fair."

"Would you just admit already that you're physically attracted to him? If I was you for just a minute, I'd be all over him too. I mean, have you seen the ass on that man?"

The blush went from red to nearly purple splotched with maroon. "Would you stop?! I don't want to hear about Kakashi's ass right not!" Sakura yelled, hunching into a ball as her arms covered her ears.

Ino couldn't help but laugh at the picture she made, drowning out the noise with a few more spoonfuls of chocolate ice cream. "I know you well enough Forehead to know that even if you don't want to hear about his butt, it's what you're thinking about right now anyway. Right now, you're probably thinking about a whole lot more of his anatomy than just that," the blonde reasoned as she fiddled with the carton, "I mean, unlike Genma, that man comes through on all of your encounters with him. I mean, he got you off how many times now? Orgasms don't grow on trees, you know. A lesser woman than you would have crawled back to him by now for that at least."

"This is kind of wrong coming from you since I bet up until a few days ago you wouldn't have known a damned thing about climaxes even if one hit you in the middle of Konoha."

"Neither did you, technically."

"Can we just leave sex out of this for a minute?" Sakura pleaded, finally looking up while she hugged her bent knees, "Just because I care about him doesn't mean I love him. Just because I slept with him, twice, doesn't mean I love him. Sex, no matter how good, is irrelevant if a relationship with Kakashi isn't going to work out anyway."

"You only think a relationship isn't going to work because you're too hung up on him because you know him so well. In any other situation, this wouldn't be a problem. You've been hurt before as well, which doesn't make it any easier, but because Kakashi is so familiar, everything about this time is different from before."

"Exactly!" the pink-haired young woman crowed in triumph, before it occurred to her that she had no idea what Ino really meant, ". . . I think."

The blonde groaned, almost throwing her carton of ice cream onto the table in frustration. "Thinking is what you're problem is, Forehead. You think too damned much. Thinking is what got you into this mess in the first place. I'm not even half as smart as you, and I know pretty well what you should be feeling. You're like the dumbest smart person I know."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence there, Pig. How the hell am I supposed to stop thinking?"

"It's not so much stop thinking but stop over-analyzing this. Stop trying to be reasonable. Stop trying to apply logic to this, because there is none. This is about how you feel about Kakashi, nothing else."


"No, no buts about it. You're using the wrong organ, Sakura, so shut off that head of yours for a minute."

It wasn't as easy as Ino made it sound. Every time she did think about Kakashi and her feelings in the same moment, it made her chest ache like someone was sitting on her. She wanted to panic, and cry, and pound her fist into the wall rather than try to understand this feeling. Maybe it just scared her. Maybe she just didn't want to know anymore, even if it meant the end of her relationship with him. There had to be something better than this, something that wouldn't make her feel like she was falling apart, with or without him.

Sitting there in silence, she hugged her knees tighter. Every now and there, her green eyes peeked upwards at Ino, who sat in her chair serenely waiting for her to say something. "This isn't that easy . . ."

"You shouldn't have to think about love, Sakura, you should just know."

"Maybe I'm just defective."

"Maybe you're just too deep in denial."

"How can I be in denial when I don't even know what I'm feeling?" she argued with a depressed sigh, "So maybe I care about him. So maybe I do want him. So maybe I do need him in my life, but . . ."

"Maybe you just don't want to compromise? Maybe you think you'd be compromising when in fact you'd be getting everything you've ever dreamed of," Ino offered, gesturing with one hand as Sakura gave her a bewildered look, "You've been hurt before, right? We both know that. Maybe instead of being the bitter, jaded cynic you think you've become, you actually do believe in true love still. Maybe you believe in it so much that you don't even know when it comes up to you and bites you in the ass. Maybe if Kakashi had just said it a few more times you would have realized it and it would have finally sunk in."

". . . You're so full of shit."

"Or maybe you've really loved him for all these years and it just hasn't occurred to you yet that I'm right."

". . . You're still full of shit."

"But I've got a point, don't I?" the blonde asked, not expecting a response as she shrugged her shoulders and reached for the ice cream again. Ignoring her pink-haired friend for the moment, she went back to eating.

Sakura stared at her in disbelief. No, Ino, could not be right, not with how little sense she made. Yeah, sure, love wasn't about compromising, at least not the way she believed in it, but she hadn't really put much faith in romantic love to begin with, not since her relationship with Lee fell through. She'd settled her peace with that emotion a long time ago . . . or at least she thought she did. How could what she felt for Kakashi be love if she was entirely determined to never feel something like that again? This couldn't just be a spontaneous reaction to an already unbelievably complicated situation; therefore it couldn't be love . . . could it? Was she really that deep in denial?

This was Kakashi she was thinking about, after all. Grumpy, stubborn, cynical, bitter, caustic, old veteran of a ninja, he'd been there, he's seen it all. He was cold, calculating, methodical, down right obsessive compulsive at times, and definitely over-protective of her, and not in a good way. Sure, he was funny too, and very good at what he did. He was smart, quick, knew what just to say to make her feel better, and knew when to leave her alone. He was always there when she needed him the most and she never had to ask him for it. He made her feel safe, and wanted, and desired. His handsomeness was a side benefit, but when he smiled at her . . .

Her hand reached out for another dark chocolate truffle from the candy box they rested in on reflex. She popped it into her mouth whole then chewed quickly before the slight quiver in her stomach at the thought of Kakashi's smile got any worse.

Come on, this was Kakashi she was thinking about of all people. He was . . . well, himself. He was far from perfect, not that she was any better. He wasn't the type to just fall in love with anyone either, which was what made it seem all the more ridiculous to her. The only thing possibly more ridiculous was the notion that she could be in love with him in return . . . maybe. She couldn't just suddenly be in love with him like he was with her, could she?

What if she already did love him all along like Ino had said?

What if she really did love Kakashi?

The pressure that had been sitting on her chest let up a little. Despite how much she wanted to deny it, she still remembered what it was like to be in love with Naruto and Lee before actually admitting her feelings. As much as she never wished to feel that much heartache again when it was over, she still couldn't give up on love completely, could she? As much as she wished those stupid childhood fantasies of hers could just stay dead and buried, some things are immortal.

She still did want to be in love, and she hated it. She just wasn't sure if she wanted to be in love with Kakashi.

Still curled up with her face pressed against her legs, Sakura blocked out the sight of the blonde across from her lazily licking her ice cream spoon while no doubt grinning to herself like a pleased cat. Abruptly, the strawberry-locked kunoichi scooted around in the bed, staring at the headboard instead. As much as Ino was her friend, right now she wished she wasn't there so she could think without her obvious influence. She could hear the other woman stop eating behind her, aqua eyes boring into her back. "Sakura-"

"Just be quiet a moment, Pig, please? I know you said not to think, but right now I need you to be quiet so I can."

The blonde didn't say anything, but she didn't hear her friend move either.

Exhaling softly a moment, she tried to relax despite still being curled up in a tight ball, but couldn't get that far. She felt tense with anxiety, and the pressure on her chest felt worse than ever. Even her heart began to hurt. For just a moment, she wished Kakashi was there for her instead of Ino, just like she wished he had chased after her to the ferry docks. She really missed him, at that moment, more than ever. Even if Ino was there with her, she never felt more alone. She was a good friend, but she wasn't him. There was no way she could deal with something like this without him, which only made his absence all the more acute. No one else could be him.

No one else would probably ever mean as much to her as Kakashi did.

The pain that had been stabbing at her heart turned into a severe ache. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes as she tried not to sniffle.

Ino was right after all. She did love Kakashi.

He was right before her all along and she never knew it enough to appreciate it. Maybe they always had loved each other, but just didn't know. No matter what happened to them, they were always together, inseparable . . . except until now.

Now that she knew, she also knew it was too late.

A heavy, silent tear rolled down Sakura's cheek. She was unable to keep from sniffling anymore. Kakashi wasn't the fool, she was. Her pride, her selfishness, her stubbornness, her denial of the truth, all of it had ruined it. She had ruined it for them both.

A torrent of emotions flooded Sakura's mind as she let go and cried: guilt, regret, fear, sadness, shame. This was all her fault. She had been too focused on herself that she had ignored everything he had been trying to tell her. She even ignored what she had been telling herself. She should have known, she should have known long before this. She should have realized how she felt sooner, but like a fool, she wallowed herself in denial and ignorance. For the third time in a row, her heart was broken, but this time she had no one to blame but herself.

Why couldn't she just have accepted him? Why did she have to try to fight it? How could she have been so cold to him? He couldn't still love her, not after what she did to him. She had been horrible to him when she already didn't deserve him. How could he accept her back now? Would he even want her back? How could Kakashi possibly forgive her if she couldn't even forgive herself? She couldn't fix this now, could she? Was a second chance at a first go round too much to ask for?

What did it really matter now anyway?

The tears fell so fast and stung so much that she didn't even hear Ino move over the sound of her crying. It wasn't until she felt the blonde's arms wrap around her that she even noticed her presence. "Sakura-"

For a moment, she attempted to fight her fellow kunoichi off, knocking over chocolates and ice cream in the process. And then, suddenly, she stopped, giving in and sinking into the embrace. Ino's arms tightened around her, holding her best friend in silence as she cried her heart out.

She knew it was going to be a hard realization for Sakura to come to, but she never imagined that it would have been this hard. She felt helpless to do anymore except just to be there along with a touch responsible. A seed of doubt entered her mind. This was for the best, wasn't it? Someone needed to point out Sakura's own self-destruction to her before it was too late, but was it already too late?

She wasn't a fool. She knew Kakashi meant the world to Sakura. Yet, if Genma failed where she succeeded in opening her friend's eyes, would everything still be alright for them? Should she tell her that everything would be ok, to try to comfort her in some way, to help her get by. But she didn't want to lie to her either.

If this had happened weeks ago, some type of falsely hopeful nonsense about love would have been spilling from her mouth. Now, she wasn't so sure anymore. She hadn't stopped believing herself, but the shiny notion she had of love was definitely tarnished. She wanted to keep on believing, for Sakura's sake, that there was hope, but she didn't know, couldn't possibly know what would come after that night.

Ino sat there under the inundation of Sakura's tears in silence, stroking her friend's damp, braided hair and puffy cheeks. It was the only comfort she could give.

Thankfully, her pink-haired friend wasn't choosy in her times of need.

Kakashi wobbled on his feet as he stood up from the stool, sake sloshing over the sides of his glass. "You know, maybe I should be grateful to Sakura. If she hadn't dumped me, I wouldn't have had a berry good reason to get this wassted, waasted . . . Whatever."

He chuckled to his own joke, and Genma chuckled right along with him, even if he had stopped drinking himself about three shots ago. A few of the bar patrons around them stared, given how loud they had been talking, but neither of them paid too much mind to it.

As much as Genma wanted to be falling down drunk right along with him, someone had to be sober enough to get them back to their rooms in one piece. He felt kind of sorry for Kakashi for a brief moment. With how smashed he was, he would be feeling a pretty nasty hangover in the morning. Kakashi's headache would only he compounded with whatever successes Ino had in getting Sakura to go back to him, if any. He didn't doubt the kunoichi's abilities, but even if it did happen as planned, this pair still had plenty of deep, emotionally torrential issues to wade through.

For Pinkie's benefit, he probably should have cut his friend off from the bar a while ago, but he didn't. Hell, the memory of Mr. Perfect over there slurring his words every other sentence alone was worth it.

He grinned as took the sake shot from Kakashi's fingers. "You don't mean that. Alcohol isn't better than sex."

"But they both make you feel a lot better," Kakashi replied with a lop-sided grin.

Genma nodded in agreement before giving a weary exhale of breath. He stood up from the bar and fished out his wallet from his back pouch. A few bills floated down onto the surface from his fingers, enough to cover them both, a pretty significant amount from the number of empty crystal decanter they left behind. "Come on. You've had enough for one night."

For a moment, Kakashi raised one wavering pointed finger to protest before he stopped. "I'll pay you back."

"No, you won't. I doubt you'll even remember all of this in the morning."

"Maybe not, but I'll still try to."

Genma tried not to roll his brown eyes at the warm yet cheeky grin on Kakashi's face coupled with the happy eye crease he wore. "Yeah, yeah, fix your damned mask already."

The Copy nin's chuckle nearly came out as a drunk giggle. He awkwardly fiddled with the knit fabric, having a hard time pulling it up over his nose. Just as his face was once again concealed, both nin turned to find a squat, little man with a bent nose that looked awfully familiar, as well as busted, standing near. Those raccoon eyes of his did not help their recollection at all, nor did the neck brace. Kakashi squinted at the guy as four more figures shifted in the bar crowd around them, hanging to the periphery, not yet moving in for a confrontation. Genma cursed as he finally realized who the man was, "Shit . . ."

"Do I . . . know you?" Kakashi questioned with a puzzled scowl on his face.

"Considering you broke my nose, you better damned well know me," the man said with an angry glare, "Looks like your pink-haired bitch isn't here to save your ass this time."

The scowl on his face turned into a frown that tugged on the corners of his face. "Oh . . . you. Didn't I pay you to leave me alone?"

"You did, and then the price for your head went up exponentially once I realized who you are. When I heard you were down here without that whore of yours, I figured I'd hit the jackpot. Mist would pay a lot for that eye you got too," he explained before pointing at his wounded neck, "Besides, you owe me for the neck readjustment."

His frown deepened along with his stare, "Oh . . . I did do that . . . What happened to your nose?"

"That bitch Takara cracked my nose when she figured out that I talked."

Kakashi started to chuckle to himself. "What? That woman did that to you? What did she do, sucker punch you?" he laughed harder, "It looks all . . . bent, probably broke too much cartilage, huh? Wait, wait, I can fix it for you."

Grabbing the man by the nose suddenly, the Copy nin bent the appendage in the opposite direction. The man screamed in pain as the pop and crunch of cartilage made Genma's skin crawl. A moment later, Kakashi let the man's now bloody nose go and he bent over clutching his face while still shouting through the pain. Blood flowed onto the floor from his ruined nose. The entire bar fell silent. That damned happy eye crease stayed in place to on the silver-haired shinobi's face. "See! Now I fixed it!"

"We should probably just-" Genma tried to say while pushing Kakashi towards the door when they were interrupted.

"Fucking kill him already!"

"Crap," the brown-haired shinobi cursed as the four figures he had been watching emerged from the crowd, proving to be four very large men, "Double crap."

Apparently, their ring-leader had used Kakashi's bribe to hire bigger muscle. Genma ducked as a meaty fist swung at his face and whiffed. He scrambled out of the way as the punch meant for him followed through to his friend. This time, the fist landed in the Copy nin's hand, barely caught. The heavy momentum made Kakashi wobble though as he let go of the guy and side stepped drunkenly to keep from falling over. The big guy fell on his face with an impact that made the floor bounce.

He didn't get back up, not after a handy decanter of sake smashed on the back of his head.

Genma stared in stunned disbelief as Kakashi barreled into the second guy, knocking him back into a pair of tables and the people at them.

A shout went up from the crowd as some of the patrons panicked, some ducking out of the way of the fight, some running for the nearest door. Somehow, the Copy Nin managed to stay on his feet, in spite of the shaky steps he took. A third thug roared as he charged towards them, swinging a chair overhead. Kakashi side-stepped him easily, even though he looked like he was going to topple right over before he wobbled back in the other direction. The chair broke on the floor, but the legs still in his large hand looked like a pretty effective pair of clubs with sharp, pointy ends. Genma cursed as he sprinted across the barroom floor towards his friend, "Triple crap!"

The man swung at Kakashi, but his improvised weapon didn't strike as the shinobi leaned his body out of the way. Off balance, he tried to arch his body in the other direction with a big step, careening into the guy while shoving him back. The man tripped backwards over another fallen chair, weapons flying out of his flailing hands. The floor shook as he fell, cracking his head with an odd sounding crunch. Genma grabbed Kakashi by his coat collar just in time as he was about to fall over, and pulled him back to his feet. His friend chuckled drunkenly, giving him another one of those happy eye creases of his. "Tanks."

"Don't mention it," Genma said with a smirk before abruptly pulling Kakashi towards him. The fourth man's fist swished through the air where he had been standing. He haphazardly crashed into Genma from being so suddenly tugged, rebounding off of him and then sailing in the opposite direction towards the thug. Kakashi's shoulder connected with the man's very large gut, bowling them both over. The floor shook again as the Copy Nin landed on top of his fourth opponent and kept going. Rolling off of the man's body, his flailing feet connected with someone's jaw before he managed to get them back under him.

The floor shook once more as someone else fell, making Kakashi wobble slightly while he stood up. Genma, though, was still standing, staring at him in utter disbelief. "And I thought Gai's little pupil was a human wrecking ball with a few drinks in him . . ."

Three bodies of rather large and incapacitated thugs lay at their feet. He honestly didn't know how he did it while completely drunk off his ass. When he had taken a dive down with that last guy, he shouldn't have been able to see the guy he had shoved into the tables get up, let alone have enough left to kick him in the face while nearly prone. It was a move he almost expected out of Gai maybe, not a totally wasted Kakashi, and it was a lot cooler than it had any right to be. "I really need to brush up on my taijutsu . . ." he mused before looking around.

Half of the crowd in the bar was gone, and so was the little piss-ant that had started the fight in the first place. In that aspect, he wasn't too surprised that the coward had run. The people that remained stared at them both then started whispering to one another. He was sure some of their looks were in recognition, not just disbelief or even approval. "Quadruple crap," he cursed to himself before looking over at his friend, "You are unbelievable, you know that? I can't take you anywhere."

The eye crease stayed as he grinned broadly. "Good night."

Kakashi fell face first onto the bar's floor, passed out.


Snagging another dark chocolate truffle from the box, Sakura nibbled on it slowly in contemplation. Her tears had stopped a while ago, but that didn't stop it from hurting so much. She laid on the bed, staring up at the white ceiling. Ino laid next to her doing the same, but was in the opposite direction. Neither of them had said anything, but just sort of fell into place next to each other once her sniffled had died down. The blonde had pulled out more candy from that bag of hers, more truffles to go along with a box of chocolate-coated snack sticks. The package said marble-chocolate Pocky on it, but they were still sticks to her.

One of them hung from Ino's mouth, waving up and down like one of Genma's senbon as she munched on it.

"I don't know what to do, Pig," Sakura said after a long moment before popping the truffle into her mouth. The blonde's head poked up at moment to look at her before lying back down again. "Well, you're going back to him that much is certain."

"Can I? After everything I've done to him? I was so horrible to him. He'll never forgive me . . ."

"Yes, he will."

"How do you know that?"

"Because he loves you still, that's how I know," Ino said as she pulled the Pocky from her mouth, "And because you love him enough to know you did wrong. You're going to go back to him, you're going to apologize, and you're going to have glorious make-up sex."

Sakura tried to stifle her giggles at her friend's words, but couldn't completely. "Yeah, I wish. If only it were that simple."

"Really, it is that simple, Forehead. Stop trying to make this more difficult than it has to be. Once you tell him how you feel, it'll all be ok again."

"You sound so confident in that," Sakura pointed out, reaching over Ino for a piece of Pocky herself, "When did you become so confident in stuff like this?"

"Guess you can thank Genma for opening up my eyes too . . ." the blonde said as she munched on the stick, ". . . I'm going to tell Shikamaru how I feel when I get home."

"But isn't Temari supposed to be visiting this month."

"Yes, but I'm going to tell him anyway. I have to. She can fight with me over him afterwards if she wants, but then at least he'll know how I feel."

Sakura propped herself up on her elbows to look at Ino. Instead of the relieved expression she expected to see on her friend's face, a grim look of resolve was there, like either she knew she would be rejected anyway, or that she wasn't so sure in her love after all, but was going to go through with it anyway. The Ino she remembered would have downright panicked at the idea of telling Shikamaru anything about how she felt, relying rather on the supposed genius's uncanny perception to pick it up. Unfortunately, he never did, or if he did know, he never returned those feelings. After all these years, she should have been happy that she'd maybe be able to move on, but she wasn't.

Somehow, Sakura just knew that Genma had to be at the heart of this matter.

"Well, if you're sure that's what you want . . ." she started to say, as if she was about to question her, but then she finished, "Then I'm happy for you."

A false smile filtered over the pink-haired young woman's lips before faltering into a concerned look. "I just want you to be happy, Pig."

"I know you do, and no matter what, I'll be fine. I want you to be happy too, Forehead."

This time a genuine smile sprung up on Sakura's face. "You know, I guess no matter how much I may have complained, I really was happy for all those years working with Kakashi. I just didn't realize it at the time . . ."

With a sigh, she munched on the Pocky stick as she laid back down. Ino reached out and patted her on the leg. "You'll do fine. Stop worrying."

"I don't even know where Kakashi is at the moment . . ."

"You know him best. Where do you think he would be?"

". . . I don't think I want to know . . ."

The door to the dark hotel room opened, and weary, feminine figure holding a paper bag walked softly into the room. She closed the door behind her. A man seated before the large window glanced over at her, lowering the binoculars from his eyes. On the table beside him was an open can of beer that looked untouched given the amount of foam spilling over the top, and the speaker system they used. The small, steady red light on it flashed at her. "How did it go?" she asked him.

"To be expected. He got drunk, I helped. He passed out, so I had to lug him home and tuck him in for the night," Genma said, giving her his undivided attention before pausing a moment, ". . . I suspect Sakura is on her way to keep him warm for the night."

The blonde flashed a small smile at him before walking forward. She put her bag down on the table, then shucked off her heavy brown coat. Sitting down in a chair nearby, she slipped off her snow boots before silently walking over towards the bathroom. About to protest her lack of a conclusive answer, Genma stopped as she flashed a victory sign with her fingers before closing the door behind her. A relieved smile spread across his face as well. "Good, after all the property damage I had to pay for, this had better work," he muttered to himself as he looked back through the binoculars, "Not to mention I had to get him ready for bed too."

Genma shuddered then watched as there was movement on the hotel balcony in question. Slowly, he smiled to himself. "The lady returns to her knight, and all is well . . . almost."

A cold draft and a few snowflakes blew into the dark room. The change in temperature woke Kakashi up, and at that moment, he really didn't want to be awake. Cracking his good eye open, he saw a delicate, yet still hazy figure standing in the sliding doorway to the balcony. He must have been dreaming, but if he was dreaming, why was he cold? "Sakura?" he murmured as he started to get up.

The cold air stopped as the door slid closed with a metallic hiss. The vague sound of luggage being put on the floor reverberated in his ears. "Don't get up. It's just me."

He had to be hearing things from drinking too much because that sounded too much like Sakura. "Wha?"

"I'm moving back in," she said as she walked across the room towards the closet, "I'll explain in a little."

If this was a hallucination, it wasn't a bad one. "Oh, ok."

She knew she should have used the door. It was much more subtle than the window. Her gown was resting in the closet again, right next to the tuxedo he'd never wear again. The two pieces looked good together though, like they were meant to be there. Turning away, Sakura moved around the room methodically, avoiding eye contact with Kakashi as she went about unpacking her things. She shivered in coldness, silently cursing herself for not being smart and getting properly dressed before coming back. Going out through the snow in just some boots, a cloak, and her sleeping clothes was not a smart thing to do.

It wasn't just the cold making her shiver though. She could feel his eyes on her, burning a hole into her back as she fiddled with the drawers. Unable to ignore it, she looked over her shoulder at him. His mask and eye patch were gone, probably on the nightstand behind him. His normally wild hair looked almost deflated, hanging limply over his face and shading it. In spite of the shadows over his features, Kakashi looked at her lazily, almost seeming half asleep while propped up on his elbows. The white sheet hung around his waist, exposing his bare chest while clinging to the lower half of his body. The moonlight spilling in through the window cast a harsh blue light onto everything, but on him it seemed to add extra definition to already well-formed muscles.

Her knees almost buckled at the sight as she put a hand down on the dresser to steady herself. She suddenly looked away, finding the carpet much more interesting even if it really wasn't. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. She shouldn't have come, at least not until she had enough resolve to at least look at him without turning into a puddle of quivering goo. She came back to talk to him first at least before she threw herself at him. Needing something to occupy her thoughts with, she bent over to slip off her snow boots. Regardless, Sakura found herself peeking over at him, wondering if he was wearing his normal black pajama pants, or if maybe it was just those delightful dark grey boxer briefs of his or maybe nothing at all.

Oh, how she hoped that he was naked. That would just be perfect . . .

If this wasn't completely the wrong time to be thinking about sex. Balancing on one leg, she slipped the boot off and dropped it. "I know I said I was heading back to Konoha, but um . . . I sort of changed my mind," Sakura confessed as she stood up then bent down to slip off the other shoe, "I know you're tired and all, but . . . I really think we should talk . . ."

Dropping the boot with a thud, she looked up in time to see Kakashi suddenly flop backwards onto the bed. That wasn't good. Sakura's medical instinct kicked in as she quickly rushed across the room to the bed. Pulling back the sheet, she quickly discovered that he was wearing his normal black pajama bottoms after all. She climbed onto the large bed, crawling across to his side and bending over him. Worried, she turned his head towards her, about to pry his eyes back open when he belched. The distinct smell of sake wafted under her nose, coming from his breath. Groaning, she let go of him. "Oh, you didn't?"

But he must have because that lingering scent of alcohol wasn't going away. If he was passed out drunk, it must have been quite a lot of sake given how good he normally was at holding his own when they went out together. There wasn't anything to really worry about since he normally never brought his drink back up, but his hangover this time would probably be massive. Either way, Kakashi was out like a light. There would be no point in trying to talk to him at that moment at least.

Sighing, Sakura nudged the side of his nose with her knuckle to wake him up anyway. He snorted a moment, followed by a grunt and she giggled at his reaction. She nudged him again, this time prompting a very tired, "huh?"

"Roll over," she commanded, staring down at his face while still bent over his body.

"So'k," Kakashi mumbled as he did just that and rolled over.

There was one slight problem though with Sakura being in his way.

The kunoichi squeaked as she suddenly found herself being pushed down by a comparatively large and powerful male body. Before she could even think about getting out of the way, her entire right side was pinned to the bed. A thick leg thrust between hers also kept her from going anywhere. Her mouth moved up and down in shock, a half-formed protest on her lips until she heard him give a contented grunt then a relaxed exhale of breath. She blushed as she felt Kakashi's arm curled up at her side, half-hugging her body as he used her breasts as a pillow.

It was altogether too compromising of a position, but, for once, she didn't really mind it. As typical as this probably was for him, there were probably worse things he could be doing to her in his drunken stupor, like using her as a drool rag.

This, on the other hand, was kind of cute, even for Kakashi. Too bad he probably didn't even realize what he was doing. It was tempting to wake him up just to point out the position they were in, but he wouldn't have been coherent enough to appreciate it like she did. She certainly wasn't about to push him off of her either, but if her right arm went dead by the morning, she wouldn't have much of a choice. Reaching out tentatively, she pushed a bunch of silvery grey hair away from his unscarred eye then ran a finger down his face before letting her arm flop back. The blissful expression on his face was worth some numbness though as she watched him smile into her chest.

Despite the need she felt to talk to him, for one night, this felt like enough.

She smiled back and wiggled her body into a more comfortable position. At peace for what felt like the first time in a long time, Sakura fell into a restful sleep.

To be continued in Part 19 of Dirty Deeds, Do You Remember Love?