A/N: This is just a little two parter to enjoy. Still editing the last part, so that should be posted soon.


Part One

I know you are worried. I can tell you when it started, and how, but don't think it will change anything. Would you believe me if I said it wasn't my fault? That everything was beyond my control?

Of course you wouldn't. To you she's the perfect young apprentice who turns in her work on time, completes all her assignments and does you proud. But you don't know the half of it.

She's a nymph. She smiles at men – young men, old men, boys – and charms them. With a few carefully chosen words and coy eyes she can seduce any man in seconds, and she knows it. Loves it. She'll do it simply for the sake of doing it. But don't think badly of her, because it's just her way. She lives for love and always has done, and she enjoys every aspect of it. She doesn't mean harm by her teasing and flirting. To her it is as natural as breathing. She wouldn't know how to keep men from adoring her, even if she tried.

Am I her victim? I'd be lying if I said I was an unwilling one. I am, after all, a man, and although that sounds like a cheap excuse, I promise you it's not. Do you know what it is like to be a man? To have it programmed into your very blood a weakness to the opposite sex that will never truly be conquered? I'm not a monk, and I think it's safe to say I've never even been close. But I am certain that even pure and virtuous men would have struggled to resist the attraction of this girl.

I'll tell you when it started, and how, and hopefully you will understand.

It's Wednesday night, and I'm tired. Wednesday is a day that's as far away from either side of the weekend as possible, and there is nothing to look forward to but my own company. I'm not an extrovert. I enjoy solitude before companionship, and I would rather a quiet night at home in my apartment more than a night out with acquaintances. It's not that I'm shy; I just like my time that's my own.

The knock sounds on my door at eight o'clock, and when I open it she is standing there in the hall looking pale and worried.

"I'm so sorry," she says, and she's wringing her hands together while tugging at her lower lip with her teeth. "I don't know who else to turn to."

I invite her inside and the game begins. She tells me that she just got back from a mission and has found her apartment all but destroyed in a small explosion. "It was all my fault," she says unhappily. "I brought home an unstable experiment from work and I forgot about it. Now I have nowhere to live, my landlady expects me to pay for the damage, and she's throwing me out anyway."

For a moment I think she's trying to solicit financial aid from me, but apparently that's not the case. She says she'll handle her own money problems.

She only needs one thing off me: a place to stay.

"Can't Naruto put you up?" I ask her awkwardly. I've never liked sharing my living space with others.

"Naruto's apartment is too small," she says to me, "and he'll think it will mean something it doesn't."

"What about Ino?" I suggest.

"She's living with her boyfriend," she explains to me. "She wouldn't want me around and I don't want to intrude... or have to listen to that at night, you know?"

I know. I clear my throat. "What about your parents?" I ask with increasing desperation. "Surely they can house their own daughter?"

She bites her lip again in that comely display of anxiety. "I don't want to go back to them, Sensei," she says to me. "I told them I could make it on my own and I don't want to have to go running back to them so soon. They'll never take me seriously if I keep turning to them when I'm in a jam."

I don't really know anyone else she can go to. I'm sure she's already gone through her list of contacts and decided I am her most likely bet. I'm obviously not her first choice, but at least I'm not her last. I don't have the heart to turn her away now that she's sitting on my sofa and looking at me so beseechingly, and so I sigh and nod. "How long do you need to stay?" I ask.

"Oh, not long, I'm sure!" she says, and her face brightens with relief. It's like witnessing the sun emerge from behind the clouds. "Thank you, Kakashi-sensei! I promise not to get in your way or under you feet! You won't even know I'm here!"

But it's not something you can really ignore, is it?

She has brought some of her clothes in a satchel, along with a toothbrush. I have no spare bedroom or bed, only the sofa she sits on, but she seems perfectly happy with that. I give her two blankets and a pillow and she takes them, laughing and teasing that 'they smell like Kakashi-sensei'. I'm not sure how to respond to that. I'm not sure how to respond to her. I excuse myself, saying I want an early night for no other reason than to leave her and hide away in my room. It isn't that I don't like her. But she is a sixteen year old girl and I am a thirty year old man, and we don't have much in common aside from our profession. I don't know how to react to her in this setting, and I hope that she leaves soon. With her around I feel on edge, like I am nothing more than a guest in my own home. Her mere presence here is like she is stepping on my toes.

The next morning when I wake, I simply lie in bed, listening to her moving around the apartment. I hear her in the kitchen, looking for something to eat. The water gushes in the sink – she's cleaning up after herself. And then the bathroom door closes and I hear more water churning through the pipes. She's having a shower. I know she's naked, and I'm unable to stop myself from picturing it in my mind. She didn't bring any bath supplies so she's undoubtedly using some of mine – washing her body with the soap I use.

The water eventually cuts off and I hear her leave the bathroom. A tentative knock sounds on my door. I pretend to be asleep, closing my eyes and refusing to answer.

The door opens anyway. "Kakashi-sensei," I hear her whisper into my dark room. "I'm going to work now."

I grunt, knowing if I continue to feign sleep she will only come closer.

"Thank you for being so kind," she says, and then she's gone.

I wait until I'm sure I hear her leave the apartment, and then wait a little longer just to be sure, before I get up and go about my own morning ritual. First I go to the kitchen to find breakfast, but all I find is a rinsed bowl drying next to the sink and an unwashed glass standing next to it. There are lip marks on the rim where her mouth touched the glass. I stare at this glass for too long, and then decide to forgo breakfast in favour of my shower.

The bathroom is damp and humid, the mirror is steamed up, but the air tastes sweet. There is also a wet towel drying on the radiator. I try to ignore the fact that this towel was recently wrapped snugly around the naked form of my student. When I step into the shower I find that my soap has been used and a few single hairs of pink cling to the tiles. I continue with my shower, but I can't help but feel uneasy as I handle the soap, not when my imagination is ripe with where this soap has been before.

The first thing I do as I leave the apartment is check out the situation with Sakura's apartment, and to my dismay I realise she has not overstated the damage done. It could take weeks to mend the place up again, though I'm told that Sakura is looking around for a new apartment which could only take a few days at most. I'm not sure how she'll be able to afford to replace all her damaged belongings, because I'm almost certain she has no insurance.

There is teasing at the jonin headquarters. People seem to know more about Sakura's situation than I do, and they all seem to know that she's taken up temporary residence with me. They call me an old lech, taking advantage of a girl's misfortune to lust after her. They mean it as a joke, of course. My personality is well known, as is Sakura's, and no one really suspects there is anything sordid to my putting Sakura up. There really isn't, but I feel guilty about some of the thoughts I have and only hope that Sakura finds alternative accommodation soon.

She's there when I get home and I find that she's prepared a meal for the both of us. Nothing extraordinary, but I am famished enough to be grateful for her effort.

But judging from the way she looks at me as I take down my mask to eat, it is all a trap.

And perhaps this is where it all really starts? The moment she sees my face, an interest is piqued, a curiosity stoked, and no longer am I her team-mate cum teacher cum acquaintance. I am a challenge.

Am I handsome? I don't care about such things, but I suppose my face is reasonably attractive. I'm hardly the most beautiful man in Konoha, but I am at least far from the ugliest, and there are times I have been able to utilise this face as well as any kunai or genjutsu trick. Just as there are many shallow men who would do anything for a pretty girl, there are more than enough vacuous women who would roll out the red carpet for an attractive man.

Sakura smiles at me like it's the first time she's really seen me, and in a way it is. She chews on her strip of grilled chicken, and still she smiles. Perhaps she's already plotting? More likely she's just admiring what she sees.

Conversation is a little awkward at first, stilted, but she doesn't let me get away with it this time. This girl has the gift of charm, and she knows how to use it. Indeed, she uses it on me at full power over the kitchen table, asking questions and listening intently to my short, maladroit answers before asking follow up questions, gradually coaxing me away from my usual taciturn manners. She knows what to say to loosen my tongue just as well as she knows exactly how to make me clam up, and she enjoys alternating her tactics to achieve the exact reactions she wants.

The very instant my guard is down she says, "You're cute when you smile, Kakashi-sensei" And instantly I feel quiet and awkward. "You're cute when you blush too."

It shouldn't mean anything. I suppose it can be described as flirting, as some kind of advance of that nature, but it doesn't mean anything. She is a naturally flirty young girl and I would be a fool to read anything beyond simple playful banter. But she looks at me out of the corner of her eye as she puts the dishes in the sink, and when she catches me looking, she gives me a secretive smile as if there is something going on that neither of us are saying.

I run out of steam too quickly under this strange pressure, and once more I excuse myself to an early bedtime.

"But it's only nine o'clock," she protests, as if my company is some kind of glorious honour. I know that it isn't in the slightest.

"I'm old and tired," I say to her, and she giggles as if I'm joking.

I am tired, however. I strip off my clothes and sink into bed and soon I am fast asleep. But it seems that the moment I close my eyes, I am roused by a knock on the door.

"Sorry," I hear her voice through the darkness. My alarm clock tells me it's eleven o'clock. "Could I borrow another blanket? It's a little cold tonight."

I gesture vaguely at the cupboard to my left and I see her shadow creep forward to slide it open. I close my eyes, trying to ignore the way her scent flows over me as she whispers another apology and tiptoes back out with a thick blanket in her arms.

She has left the door open and light from the landing spills into my room. I cannot be bothered to resolve the problem and instead draw my arm over my eyes to attempt to find sleep again.

I hear a noise and I peep under my arm at the bright doorway. I can see the bathroom door on the opposite side of the hall, and it too has been left ajar. Inside I can see a slice of the sink, a cup with two toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste. In the mirrored cabinet above the sink, I can also see Sakura.

She's getting changed.

I should look away. But I can't. She's safely hidden from view behind the bathroom door, but the cabinet door is open slightly with the mirror set at an angle, and I can see everything. She unzips her vest and shrugs out of it, before folding it up and setting it aside. Beneath her vest she wears a tightly fitting black crop top, probably worn to flatten her chest rather than emphasise or support. She wiggles to get out of this article of clothing, and my lungs heave involuntarily at the sight of her naked breasts, full, high, and round. The light is stark in the bathroom, casting her skin in pale, luminous white, and I am left comparing how her small rosy nipples are the exact same shade as her lips.

She looks at herself in the mirror, but it's difficult to tell what she thinks. She doesn't smile or frown, thinking private thoughts I can't decipher. She turns sideways and pushes her breasts higher and closer together, pouting those rosy lips as she does.

I think she feels they ought to be bigger.

Finally she turns and picks up a large white t-shirt and pulls it over her head, and though I can see her shimmying out of her skirt and shorts, the mirror doesn't grace me with a view of anything below her waist. This is probably a good thing.

I don't dare to move as she picks up her clothes and switches off the bathroom light. I see her outline pause outside my bedroom door, looking in on me, and I wonder if she knows I was watching all along, or if she deliberately set it up that way. But I think I am slowly becoming paranoid, because why would a sixteen year old girl like her want to tease a thirty year old man like me? It had to have been an accident.

The night is fitful and I take far too long to fall asleep, my head too full of the girl on my sofa, sleeping in her oversized shirt and panties. When I wake up, I'm amazed that I haven't dreamt about her, but maybe I have and I simply don't remember. This time I sleep in because I really am exhausted

Sakura rattles around the kitchen and the bathroom, and once again she knocks on the door before she leaves to poke her head in and say "Thank you," followed by "I'm off to work now."

I grunt the same as before and after she's gone I somehow manage to summon the energy to haul myself out of bed. Another washed bowl sits drying beside the sink, and this time she has taken the time to wash her glass too. For some reason this is mildly disappointing.

The bathroom smells different. It smells of rice milk and jasmine, and I know this because of the names on the bottle of shower gel hanging on the wall. It appears she's brought over more supplies, but I don't blame her. My bathroom does not cater for females.

By the time I finish my own shower, I can no longer smell her at all.

The day is long and tedious and the only thing that marks it apart from other days is how often my thoughts turn to Sakura. I think of her teasing smile and easy charm and I scold myself for obsessing about it. Then I pass her in a hallway at the Hokage tower and she smiles the same old smile she'd given me a thousand times before and I understand that my pondering is misplaced. She is only being friendly. She does not like me any more than what is normal and customary for female students and their male teachers.

When I get home that evening, she is there, making herself a snack. In the same casual way she did the night before, she says she has more than enough for the two of us, and we sit at the table to eat. I'm not sure I'm used to coming home and having food already made for me. It's too domestic and something I can't quite associate with either myself or Sakura.

She even asks me how my day was.

"The same as usual," I reply. "This rice is very tasty. How do you get it like this?"

Her nose twitches with amusement. "Secret ingredient," she tells me.

I ask what that ingredient is, but she explains it wouldn't be very secret if she gave it away. The bottle of garden herb stock powder on the counter behind her is not so subtle.

"Naruto thinks I'm mad, staying with you," she says to me.

"Are you mad?" I ask.

"Probably," she admits. "He says Hinata has more than enough room to spare in the Hyuuga compound. And that even though Sasuke's gone, his family compound is completely deserted and free for squatting in."

"Illegal, but viable," I cede. "So why are you still putting up with me?"

She smiles that strange secret smile again, but its meaning is lost on me. I think she intends it to be that way. "There's a documentary about monkeys on TV tonight," she says instead. "Can I watch it?"

I look at the TV set in the corner of the living room and wonder how long it's been since I last turned it on. One year? Two? "Sure," I say with a shrug. "If it still works."

"Do you want to watch it with me, or are you having another early night?" she asks, and I can detect the teasing in her voice. "Early nights followed by abnormally long lie-ins. You sleep an awful lot."

She's probably rumbled me, so I shrug again. "I don't know a lot about monkeys," I admit to her.

"Well, then by tomorrow you'll be a veritable monkey expert!" she declares.

Monkeys are horrible creatures, it turns out. They have rare moments where they sit about, cuddling and grooming and peering around in a cute way, but underneath all that, they are small monsters. They fight each other, they bully, they eat with their mouths open and they pick their bottoms in public. The rest of the time, they just have sex a lot.

It's hard to describe exactly how awkward it is to sit on a sofa that has started smelling distinctly less like you and more like the girl sitting next to you, both watching a small screen on the opposite wall that features two furry mammals going at it quite vigorously. Sakura watches with rapt attention as the documentary covers exactly what goes on during 'mating season' (as if we had any doubt to begin with), as I stare on in mild horror at shrieking primates who will be grooming one minute and then humping the next. I look at Sakura out of the corner of my eye but she seems to detect none of my awkwardness. That's a relief. Knowing my luck she would probably think I was being turned on.

Half an hour into the documentary and Sakura shifts to lean on the armrest, her feet curling by my hip. And as the program progresses, those feet shift restlessly in their socks, though I don't think she realises it. She's probably feeling the cold.

Some of the monkeys don't make it through the winter, and frankly, good riddance. But Sakura sniffs and rubs her eyes as the credits roll, and she looks at me with both satisfaction and melancholy. "I don't like it when the babies die," she says. "Nature can be so cruel sometimes."

Her feet are now wedged under my thigh, though only I seem to be aware of this. At least her toes are no longer cold. "I can think of crueller things," I say faintly, wondering what the hell is going on. "I'm going to bed now."

"Oh, ok." She looks at me again with those wide, moist eyes as if she doesn't want me to go. I really don't understand what could be so appealing about my company. "I'll stay up for a bit longer if you don't mind. I'll try not to wake you when I go to bed later."

I nod and disappear into the recesses of the apartment. I brush my teeth and get changed, but as I move to close my bedroom door, I pause.

I leave it open, as wide as I dare, and slip into bed, wondering once again what the hell I'm doing. I doze, but it isn't long before movement outside stirs me and I open my eyes to look out into the corridor.

Like a flashback to the previous night, she is in the bathroom with the door half-closed, but not enough to block my view of the mirror. Her vest is slipping off her shoulders and she's tugging the cropped top off over her head. Supple breasts bounce as she rolls onto the balls of her feet and then sharply onto her heels. I feel like a pervert. A voyeur. She's half my age and I can't take my eyes off her.

She doesn't even spare me by quickly wiggling into her nightshirt. Instead she picks up a bottle she seems to have brought with her today and starts applying lotion to herself – first rubbing it into her arms, and then across her torso and stomach. It's fascinating, because I knew women could be meticulous about their skin care and cleansing rituals, but this is the first time I've seen it in action. She doesn't pay particular attention to her breasts, but seeing her caress herself, even in a casual fashion, makes the air catch in my throat. Her nipples have flushed a darker pink and she's looking at herself in the mirror again.

And then she suddenly looks at me.

My eyes snap shut, but she's a ninja, not an idiot, and I know I've probably been caught.

But perhaps not. I peek through half-closed lids and she's not looking in my direction anymore – she's bent double and applying the lotion to her legs. She straightens a final time and those incredibly aesthetically pleasing breasts disappear beneath a voluminous shirt. I mourn their loss.

She turns off the light and heads to bed, but not without a pause outside my bedroom door and a softly whispered, "Goodnight."

When she's gone, I roll over and press my face into the cold side of my pillow. I'm half-aroused and completely ashamed, and I tug at myself through my boxers, though I'm not sure if I'm trying to banish the arousal or prolong it.

The semi-erection fades gradually, but the thoughts of her don't. I see her in my mind, sprawling provocatively on my sofa – the sheets perhaps twisting around her sleek, bare legs and her shirt riding up to reveal her smooth stomach. Or maybe she sleeps on her front with her perfect posterior jutting up, as if begging to be stroked.

I slide out of bed, telling myself that I just want a drink from the kitchen, and if I happen to look over and see Sakura sleeping on the sofa... well, so what? It is my home.

But the lights are on in the living room and I step out of the hallway to find that Sakura is very much awake. She's sitting up against her pillow with her blankets drawn securely over her body, and she's reading a book. My book. Though fortunately not one of Jiraiya's works.

"Oh," she says, smiling as if both pleased to see me and embarrassed to be caught still up. "I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd read."

I scratch my arm self-consciously. "To be honest, I'm having trouble sleeping myself," I say.

"It's the monkeys, isn't it?" she guesses.

"Uh... something else, I think," I say vaguely. "I was just getting myself a drink."

"Don't let me stop you!" she insists, but I feel her watching my back intensely as I fetch myself a glass and pour some water into it. I glance at her over my shoulder and her smile twitches wider. "What?" I ask.

"I can't get over you without your mask on," she tells me. "You look so different. I feel like you're two different people."

It goes to show how much people invest in appearances alone. I give a mild smile, unsure of what to do with myself. "Do I act differently with it off or something?"

"A bit, yes," she says, taking me by surprise. "Your smiles are more restrained, I think. Do you feel more secure about yourself when you wear a mask? Is that why you wear it?"

It is quite late to be asking such personal questions. I try to divert her attention. "What book are you reading?"

"Journeys of Uno Taro," she tells me, holding up the book so I can see. "It's about a boy who goes off to seek his fortune."

"How far along are you?" I ask.

"About a third in," she says, wrinkling her nose. "I don't really like the character though. He's constantly chasing paper trails hoping to find some ultimate power. I don't think it's a very healthy mindset for such a young boy."

I smile and move over to the back of the sofa. She's thinking of Sasuke. I can see it in the way she frowns at the book as if it was something more than a classic coming of age story. The hero's village, after all, is attacked and crippled in the opening chapter and the rest of the book chronicles his journey as he leaves the village in search of enormous power to bring vengeance on those who hurt him and his own, as well as power to rebuild.

In the end the boy realises what a waste his journey has been and that he was really needed at home the entire time, so he returns empty-handed but infinitely wiser.

"He learns his lessen though," I tell her. "Before it destroys him."

Sakura looks down at her lap and closes the book. "Do you think he'll come back one day?" she asks quietly.

I don't really know. Sasuke is almost as tenacious as Naruto in many respects, and it wouldn't surprise me if he really did chase his blood feud so far it led to his destruction. His only hope is that he will be strong enough to face what he chases.

But I'm not sure he is. Not alone, anyway, and I don't trust that boy to realise before it's too late.

"Maybe," I say ambiguously. "I forget how that story ends."

She looks up at me in surprise, and I can see she's wondering if we're talking about the same thing. I smile again to let her know that we are. It's just that neither of us really want to be so direct.

"I should get back to bed," I say to her, after a moment of silence stretches too long.

"Of course," she whispers, looking up at me through hooded eyes. "But aren't you going to kiss me goodnight?"

I feel the air freeze in my lungs and for a while I can only stare at her, my thought processes slowing to a crawl. She looks at me like it's a perfectly reasonable request, but the mischief sparkles in her eyes and she knows she's put me on the spot and is waiting for me to react.

I have no idea why I do it – perhaps because I've been challenged and I don't want to appear a coward, or perhaps because I want to do it, because she's young and beautiful and willing. A sane man would laugh it off as a joke and go back to bed immediately.

I don't think I've been sane since I was thirteen.

My legs move without permission, and they feel like lead with every step. Her smile fades a little. She isn't expecting this and she watches me with a mixture of surprise and amusement as she tilts her head up, presenting her face to me. I lean down over the back of the sofa and press my lips against her soft cheek – her skin so smooth I feel like I'm kissing silk. I can smell her hair, I can smell the rice milk and jasmine of her body wash, and I can smell what I think is her perfume, but it can't cover up her smell. Her marker. The scent that puts her apart from everyone else. The scent of her femininity; fertile, young, and sweet.

I lean back slowly and she turns her head towards me as I do. Her nose nearly bumps mine and our lips are far too close. Does she want me to kiss her there too? Why does she want me to kiss her at all?

I straighten completely and her smile is one of a fox who has cornered the rabbit. But perhaps that makes her sound too predatory and calculating? She is not. She is triumphant, but her smile is one of benediction, as if we have both earned something good. Perhaps I am the fox, and hers is the smile of the vixen who has conquered him?

This girl is far too old for sixteen.

"Goodnight then," she says softly.

I remember where I am and where I'm supposed to be. "Goodnight," I echo, and disappear back to my room.

Sleep is even more elusive than ever. The sky starts to lighten up as morning deepens and still I have not fallen asleep. I hear Sakura in the kitchen and then the bathroom, and I'm still unable to sleep. My clock tells me I have been lying awake and unmoving for eight hours straight, and Sakura's head pops around the door to tell me that she's going to work, and again, thank you.

I move around the day like the undead. Some people notice and comment that I seem even more distant than usual and Genma even jokes that Sakura has been keeping me up all night with her wily ways. In a sense he is right. I decide not to tell him though. I literally bump into Sakura in the Hokage tower again as I turn a corner coming from the west wing and she turns the same corner coming from the north wing. We smile at each other sheepishly as we might any other day, but today she lets her hand sweep across my stomach as she moves past me and continues on her way. Again, I am reminded that our relationship has shifted subtly, as if the world has stayed perfectly in place, but we have both taken a smell step sideways out of it.

I ask Naruto for an update on Sakura's living conditions when I see him at Ichiraku Ramen. He seems to talk more to Sakura about such things than she does with me. He tells me that, "She's found a new place, but she can't afford the deposit," and so "She's angling for us to go on a high class mission this week so she can make the payment or something."

"Why not just borrow some money off us?" I ask him.

"She doesn't like depending on people like that," he says. He knows her better than I do. "She's neurotic about being seen as a burden on people."

That explains why, when I return home that evening, I find another meal on my table.

"I did some laundry today," she tells me as we eat. "I washed some of your things too, I hope you don't mind. I had room for extra things and it seemed pointless to waste the water."

"You shouldn't have," I say.

She says, "It wasn't a problem. No trouble at all."

Her laundry skills far surpass mine. And when I check, I find that all the dirty clothes that have been building up in the basket beside the bathroom door are now washed, cleaned, pressed, and folded away neatly in my drawers. She has even folded my underpants. I never fold my underpants.

I'm not sure what to make of all this.

"There's a romantic comedy on tonight," she says as she helps clear away the dishes. "Do you want to watch it with me?"

I don't like romantic comedies. They rot the brain with silly, unrealistic portrayals of relationships and they are unbearably predictable. The man always gets the woman, and vice versa. Never is there ever a comedy about a young girl unwittingly seducing her teacher, moving into his home, situating her toothbrush beside his, her soap next to his, her habits in stead of his. And there is never nearly enough gratuitous sex in them. Although perhaps the latter is a good thing, because if I can get embarrassed about monkeys around this girl...?

"Sure," I say to her. "Why not?"

The film is about a man and a woman, both abnormally good looking and charismatic. We are supposed to believe that the man is down on his luck, because he has lost his high-paying job and his bitchy wife has walked out on him, and his life sucks because he still has a ridiculously big house and a lot of money and five slightly contrary, though presumably adorable children. I look around my apartment and know that if this man lived in my home, this film would be considered a gritty tragedy.

The woman enters the scene to run his household and look after his kids, and inevitably mend his heart. I'm sure she succeeds at all three jobs spectacularly, but I never actually find out. I fall asleep halfway through.

I awake when Sakura pokes me in the ribs and I open my eyes to find the credits are rolling over the screen.

"You fell asleep," she accuses with a pout. She's leaning on me, her soft breasts squashing against my arm and her chin perching on my shoulder.

"Sorry," I say lamely, although it's hard to be truly sorry.

"You sleep an awful lot, you know," she says. "I wonder if you're ill. When was your last check-up at the hospital?"

Far too long ago. "It's nothing," I say. "I'm just not as young as I used to be. I don't expect you to understand. You're barely out of diapers."

I say it to put some distance between us. To remind her that she really is barely more than a child, but I don't think she agrees. She only frowns at me. "You're hardly an old man," she says. "So don't try and pull that one with me. I don't see any grey hairs."

She touches my hair as if looking for them, and I smile despite myself. How does a man born with no colour pigmentation in his hair know when he getting old? My hair will never change colour until the day I die, though perhaps I will lose it and go bald before then? Maybe I'm already starting to?

Sakura hasn't stopped stroking her fingers through my hair, though now she doesn't seem concerned with looking for figurative needles in a needle-stack. Her nails scratch lightly against my scalp as she twists a lock around her finger. I glance at her and she smiles.

"Are you going to bed?" she asks me before I can say it.

"I am rather tired," I say.

"Well then goodnight and sweet dreams," she says, and then she leans in to kiss me softly on the cheek.

It's all I can do not to turn my head and catch her mouth with mine. But I don't think that's part of the rules of the game. She leans back and lets me up and I walk without another word into my bedroom where I once more strip myself of my clothes and climb beneath the sheets of my bed in nothing more than my underwear and vest.

My door is open. I wait.

I really must be tired because I fall asleep again, and I find myself jerking awake at the sound of the bathroom door closing. I open my eyes and find I am dismayed to realise she has shut the door behind her as she changes. Perhaps it was never really intentional at all? Maybe she really didn't know I was awake to see her the past two nights? Maybe she did catch me looking last night and was disgusted? To her I am probably nothing more than a dirty old man. I'm beginning to think that's really what I am anyway.

I turn over, annoyed for leading myself on. For being such a touted genius, I feel like a complete moron tonight.

The bathroom door opens again and I hear Sakura switch off the light. Now the only light in my room is from the street light outside my window. I expect to hear her whispered goodnight from my doorway, but the voice I hear comes from within my room.

"Sensei," she whispers. "I can't find my nightshirt anywhere. Would it be alright if I borrowed one of yours?"

"Chest of drawers," I mumble, gesturing vaguely at the furniture I'm directly facing.

She moves out of the shadows and into the glow of the streetlight, and right then I realise that she is naked, all but for a tiny pair of panties. She has her arm pressed over her breasts, but it serves more to emphasise them than to hide them. She crouches down and pulls open a drawer with her free hand. She knows exactly where my nightshirts are it seems, perhaps because she's washed them. A black shirt is selected and she presses it to her chest in place of her arm.

She gives me a shy smile. "Sorry," she says. "I won't bother you again."

Sakura will bother me again, because she intends to bother me. I'm sure of that now. She's a phenomenal actress, because there is no reason why she has to walk into my room without any clothes on to fetch a shirt. She does it because she can, and because she wants to see how I'll react.

I have to grip my fingers hard into the sheets as I watch the smooth plane of her naked back move away, back into the obscuring shadows.

I do sleep this time, but only because I am too physically exhausted for my troubled thoughts to keep me awake. I dream. And I dream of her. I am back on the sofa with her, watching a romantic comedy about monkeys. Her breasts are pressed against my arm and her lips suckle my neck, kissing and biting up way up to my ear. And then she turns into Pakkun, and my dreams are back within my control, though I know I'm running out of places to hide from her.

I'm awakened by someone shaking my arm. It's Sakura. She smiles down at me as I open my eyes to blink rapidly at her. "You have to get up," she says. "We have a mission today."

She won't allow me to be late. She sends me to the bathroom to shower while she makes herself breakfast, and then we swap; I make my breakfast while she showers. I don't have much of a morning appetite however, and I content myself to an apple before heading back to my room to change.

I pass the bathroom door, and I'm not sure I'm all that surprised to see that it's been left slightly ajar. I pause with the apple in hand and peer through the gap. Beyond the steam I see her in the shower; she's rubbing shampoo into her hair with her back turned to me, and then she's rinsing it away and water is coursing down every single one of her sleek curves. She turns, but she still has her eyes tightly shut against any stray shampoo. Her breasts are ripe and gleaming and water streams between them and over her belly, straight for the crosshatch of damp pink hair that marks her sex.

I tilt my head and bite my apple. I know I should move away, because that would be the decent thing to do.

I don't think I've been decent since she moved in here.

What would she do if I just walked in there now and pushed her against the wall? Would she scream in anger and fear? Or would she give me the same provocative sort of smiles she's been giving me for the last few days as she whispers dirty encouragement? I honestly think it would be the latter, and for a split-second, I feel myself reaching forward to push the door open further, arousal already twitching in my pants. But my innate diffidence remembers itself at the last moment and I wind up doing nothing more than watching for as long as I dare, until she turns the water off and reaches blindly for her towel. I think she knows I am watching and wants me to see her, or at least doesn't care.

I step out of the bedroom, dressed, the same time she steps out of the bathroom, also dressed. Her hair is wet and tied in a knot at the back of her head. "Ready?" she says with a breathless smile. Her cheeks are rosy from the heat of the shower.

"Ready," I say, nodding, and we head to the rendezvous point.

Naruto and Sai are impressed that I've made it on time for once, and they attribute this to Sakura's influence on me. I can't exactly protest, because it's true. I would still be trying to brush my teeth with coffee at this moment if she hadn't been there to frog-march me out of the door with her.

We leave for the mission, and I know that if it is successful, Sakura will have enough money to make the deposit on her new apartment and she'll move out of mine. Should I be happy or sad? I don't know. Should I sabotage this mission or not? I haven't decided yet.

A girl has been kidnapped. Her kidnappers will exchange her for a ransom today in a secluded forest clearing deep in the wild valleys of the Eastern Border. Our objective is simple: to recover the kidnapped girl safely and capture the kidnappers. There is no need to bring the ransom. We'd only have to carry it back.

Before the kidnappers arrive at the location, Naruto, the most adept of us at Henge no justu, transforms himself into the gold brick that we are supposed to exchange for the girl. Me, Sai and Sakura wait, although the latter two amuse themselves greatly by tossing Naruto's heavy weight between them as if he really were a brick. I watch as Sai attempts to flirt with Sakura using social tips he's probably learnt out of book and I see Sakura flirt back. But not kindly. She's tormenting rather than teasing. He doesn't stand a chance and she knows it, but like a cat with a mouse she doesn't intend to eat, she toys with him.

I wonder if she's doing the same to me.

The kidnappers arrive and the plan goes smoothly. I take the bar of gold and move halfway across the clearing and stop between my group and their group. One of the kidnappers brings forth the girl and there we exchange our bounties. I take the girl back to our side of the clearing, and he unwittingly takes Naruto back to his.

I hurry the girl to a safe location behind the trees and with a loud crack I hear Naruto's jutsu break behind me; when I look over my shoulder, I see that there are dozens of Narutos all over the clearing. He hardly even needs a team when he has so many proficient clones, but Sakura and Sai have joined in nonetheless and the battle spills over the forest.

I hang back and protect the girl. One, and then two rogues break away from the others to try and reclaim her, but I beat them back with little effort though the girl screams and cowers like she expects me to be slaughtered.

A pain slices through my hip and I bend over in pain. Hot blood is spilling down my leg and I can see something sharp – a kunai or a sword – has glanced me and cut deep. It has been thrown, but I can't see the culprit. Then it barely matters anymore. In seconds the fight is over and Naruto has beaten down most of the rogue kidnappers into submission.

Sakura sees my blood and hurries over. She falls onto her knees before me and tells me to hold still as she presses her hand over the wound. The pain fades and the blood clots, but we do not have the time to waste healing me perfectly. We tie up the rogues, some of which are known missing-nin with large price-tags on their heads, and we drag them and the girl back to Konoha.

The mission is a success, but that is to be expected. The Hokage debriefs us and tells us we can collect our payment tomorrow. Sakura glows with pleasure. Her new apartment is in the bag.

We celebrate at Ichiraku Ramen – Naruto's idea – and by design or coincidence, I find myself sitting next to Sakura. She laughs and jokes with Naruto, teases Sai mercilessly and thumps them both when they talk about the way she beat up those kidnappers, drawing comparisons to a 'rabid bear'.

"We all got our fair share of bad guys today," she says magnanimously.

"Except for Kakashi-sensei," Naruto laughs, "who hid in the back with the little girl."

He's joking, and I smile. Sakura normally joins in any chance to aim a dig at me, but for once she surprises me and instead goes to my defence. "He was busy saving the damsel in distress," she says, with a smile at me. "I think it's very noble and chivalrous."

Under the counter her hand is on me knee, squeezing. I let it be and continue reading my book as if I'm oblivious. These little things she does to me that she shouldn't... they've stopped surprising me. I know her game. I know if I react it will only please her. But if I don't, she will raise the stakes until I do.

I head home by myself, leaving Sakura with Sai and Naruto. My injured hip is beginning to ache and I'm starting to limp as Sakura's emergency first aid is not nearly enough to stick. Once in my apartment I change into a clean pair of pyjamas and wile away the rest of the evening watching the television, another habit I think I'm picking up from Sakura. My hip throbs dully, an ever-present ache that's not keen to be forgotten. I press against the wound distractedly. I'll have to go to the hospital tomorrow to have it looked at by a proper medic before something drastic happens - like my leg falls off.

Sakura enters at nine o'clock as it starts to get dark enough for the street lights outside to spring alight. She's slightly giddy, laughing as she comes through the door, making me think she's perhaps a little drunk.

"Good evening," she says, grinning at me. "I hope you realise you're lying in my bed. Some kind of girls might take that as some sort of invitation."

"It won't be your bed for much longer," I point out to her. "Aren't you moving out soon?"

"Mm." Her smile widens.

"When?" I prompt.

"Oh, who knows?" she says, sounding aloof. "Tomorrow? The day after? Maybe never? Maybe you're stuck with me for life now."

I'm not sure I could survive the stress of that.

"Are you thinking how much you'll miss my cooking? And having someone else do the washing and cleaning?" She moves into the kitchen to get herself a drink. "I suppose it's like acquiring a free wife, isn't it? Do you appreciate me?"

"I appreciate you," I say heavily.

She drains her glass of water and slams it down on the counter with a gasp. "I think I fancy an early night myself," she declares. "That mission wore me out."

I feel the same, so I stand up. "I'll leave you to it then," I say, and head for my bedroom.

She spies my limp instantly. "What's wrong?" she says, concern in her suddenly sober voice. "Is that blood?"

I look down at my hip and indeed there is a red stain marring the grey cotton of my pyjama bottoms. I blink at it stupidly, and all I can say is. "Oh. Yes."

Sakura swoops toward me. She reaches for the waistband of my pants, and I can see she intends to tug them down to see the wound, but I stop her. I'm not wearing underwear. "This needs to be looked at by a medic," she tells me seriously. She doesn't seem so drunk now.

"I'll see to it in the morning," I say.

"Why? I can do it right now."

I shift reluctantly.

"Are you honestly saying that you'd rather suffer through a night of pain and bleed all over your bed in order to make an appointment at the hospital tomorrow, when you can have one of the best medics in the village heal you right now?"

Well, when she puts it like that, of course it sounds silly. I wouldn't normally protest but the wound is in a sensitive place – far too close to my groin for comfort.

"Come on," she says, taking my hand. "Lie down on the bed and I'll sort you out."

I haven't a choice. If I protest she will only cajole and bully me to do her bidding, so I silently allow myself to be tugged into the bedroom where she peels the covers off the nearest side of the bed and makes me lie down. She lifts up my shirt as far as my belly button and then pauses. She's seen the marks.

"That's a suspicious pattern of scarring," she comments quietly, tracing her finger across one of four scars that run from my belly button in four different directions.

What can I tell her? They are the marks of torture. I was barely older than her when I was captured by the enemy and a knife stuck in my gut to be dragged left and right, then up and down. Deep enough to make me bleed like a stuck pig into my own belly button where they could dip their brush like it was an ink pot to write the seals of torture jutsu all over my body. She would barely have been a toddler at the time.

But her touch on the sensitive silver marks make my stomach clench and my muscles flutter. She is only interested in the reaction, not the story.

Slowly she slips the pyjama bottoms down far enough to expose the wound I sustained today. It's on my left side, an inch away from my hip bone and only a few more from where my pubic hair starts. It's on the side furthest from her, and she rests her arm against my abdomen as she covers the wound with her hand. She uses her other hand to hold my pants out of the way. Then the healing begins.

Instantly the pain fades and my hip feels numb as she works on it. From the frown on her face, she is concentrating hard on her task and not even remotely interested in the fact that her thumb is brushing the coarse white hair of my nether regions.

Healing always feels good once the pain is gone. It's like a prickle of pure energy focused on your body, soothing and relaxing like the best massage money can buy. But this time it doesn't just feel good. It feels great. It feels fantastic.

Her chakra is inside me, spreading wider than its intended mark, tickling my nerves and exciting me. I can feel my chest constricting and my breaths coming in shorter pants. The room is getting hot and the ceiling is spinning and my head shifts restlessly from side to side as waves of something – not quite pleasure but equally compelling – rolls through my body.

I'm getting aroused. She'll realise it soon because she's switched hands and her arm now leans directly on my groin, her bare arm brushing the thin material directly over my penis.

"Sakura," I say. I'm trying to warn her, because whatever the injury it's not worth this.

She only says, "I'm not finished," and continues anyway. Her arm rubs against my growing erection. She can feel it. She must feel it. She'd be a naïve fool if she didn't know what effect she was having on me, and I'm quite certain these days that Sakura is anything but a naïve fool. She knows what she's doing to me. I think she even means to do it. Her chakra continues to spread, setting my blood on fire and leaving me absolutely desperate for some respite or relief. The urge to grab her hand and press it against that hot, aching part of me that she's aroused is one that is near irresistable.

Then suddenly she says, "There," and the glow of her chakra fades as she rubs the place on my hip where the wound once was. Now it's completely unblemished. "Do you feel good now?"

I can barely speak. I don't want her to stop touching me and I simply cannot trust myself to speak.

But that isn't how this is supposed to play out.

She smiles at me, and perhaps she hasn't noticed that my dick is hard as a rock and straining against the confines of my pyjamas. She's not looking there, she's looking at my face. "Are you alright, Sensei?" she asks me.

I grab the cover and pull it over myself, rolling onto my side to curl around my shame. "Thank you, Sakura," I say to her, my voice hollow. I feel detestable and perverted and I don't want to look at her now because I'm worried I'll see a knowing glint in her eyes and perhaps the smile of a trouble-maker. Of the vixen who has cornered her fox. Or worse - of the cat who is playing with her mouse.

"I'm going to bed," she whispers in my ear. "Do I get a goodnight kiss?"

I close my eyes tightly, trying to reign in my control. She is so close that I can feel her breath on my neck, beneath my ear. I take too long to respond and so she leans over me and presses her warm, soft lips against my brow. She leaves moisture there and it burns me.

Even when she slips out of the bedroom, I can't relax. As long as she is in this apartment, I'm not safe. I know that if I sleep she will only pursue me there, preying on my most base subconscious thoughts and desires.

She has to go. For both our sake's.

But I fear it might be far too late either way.

A/N: To be concluded...