Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto etc etc...

C Rank Mission

People throng the streets around her, dressed in their festival best. The noise level hovers somewhere between loud and deafening, and Sakura feels sweaty and smothered, even dressed as she is in a light summer yukata. Although she is on a mission, she cannot but be a little distracted by the activity and merriment around her. After all, it is up to her contact to identify her by the leaf-patterned fan in her hand, so she doesn't feel guilty about craning her neck to see the procession of dancers approaching up the street, or turning her head to take in an appreciative whiff of the frying octopus balls.

Suddenly there is a light touch on her arm, and Sakura turns and looks up to meet the gaze of a thin young man standing beside her.

"Haruka?" His voice is a husky contralto, which somehow makes itself heard over the din around them. The codename is correct, so Sakura smiles brightly at him, then slips her arm through his and squeezes tight.

"Kai-kun!" she scolds coquettishly, "I've waited for ages for you!"

He scratches in head in feigned embarrassment and his large, doe-like eyes flick from side to side, scanning for suspicious faces in the crowd around them. The procession of dancers is slowly winding closer towards them.

"Sorry I'm so late," Kai says softly, "I was about to leave the house when some salesmen just would not leave the doorstep." He squeezes her arm lightly, meaningfully at these words. "They were so persistent, they probably followed me here!" He chuckles carelessly, but Sakura is already watching his face carefully, and she sees his eyes widen deliberately and dart to the right.

"Oh I just hate salesmen!" Sakura giggles, "I'm glad you got away from them!"

Kai smiles easily. "Me too, Haruka. You know, you just look so beautiful tonight I can't stop myself." At these words, he swiftly leans down and kisses her neck, just below her ear, then pretends to nuzzle her cheek, whispering, "Over my shoulder; green print yukata, moustache and black yukata, huge ears. Not shinobi."

Sakura looks over his shoulder as Kai softly brushes his lips, once, then twice more against her neck. She spots the men quickly, standing about fifty metres away, half obscured by the people milling around them. Kai's lips are smooth and dry; his crisp black hair is silky against her ear as he lingers, waiting for her to spot the two men.

"Kai-kun, you're so bold!" Sakura pushes him back with more giggles and a playful swat of her fan, "Not in public!"

"You're right, you're right. How about we go somewhere private? I can't wait to see what you promised to bring me." Kai winks at her and slides one thin, hard-muscled arm around her shoulders. Sakura smiles and steps close, winding her arm about his narrow waist. The coded documents she is to give to Kai are folded and wrapped in a thin cloth belt encircling her waist beneath the yukata.

"Sounds good to me."

People are stopping along the street to watch the approaching parade of dancers; packing in around Sakura and the young man. The two men who are tailing Kai are approaching slowly, hindered by the press of people. Sakura is already mentally running through tactics for losing tails, when by a stroke of luck, a cross street separating them from the two men suddenly erupts with another crowd of festival dancers. For a few precious moments, the two men disappear from sight, and Sakura tugs at Kai's hand. Without hesitation, he follows her lead and they duck into a nearby noodle shop, slip past the tables and out the back door. Silently, in perfect accord, they dart up the next, quieter street, around one corner, through the bottom floor of an apartment building and end up sauntering hand in hand into the curtained reception area of a cheap love hotel.

The old woman at the table looks half asleep; she takes the coins Kai gives her and tosses a room key at them without glancing up. Sakura is glad that the room is on the ground floor, because she knows from the mission scroll that her contact is not a shinobi, and if their pursuers catch up to them, it will be easier to make an escape. Once inside the shabby room, Kai sits cross-legged on a floor cushion and looks at Sakura expectantly.

Sakura begins to untie her sash, then stops, the faintest of blushes colouring her cheeks.

"Could you turn around please?"

Kai simply looks at her and one fine dark eyebrow rises ever so slightly.

"I thought shinobi were supernaturally perceptive," he says, full lips curling with amusement. Sakura stares as if seeing him for the first time; takes in the sight of Kai's slim frame and delicate wrists, high cheekbones and graceful neck. Unexpected pieces slide into place and she feels like an idiot.

"Ok, never mind."

"Around here, a boy and a girl going into a love hotel draw less attention than two girls," Kai says in answer to Sakura's unspoken question. "I grew up in a house full of men except for my grandmother, which makes it easy to play this role when necessary."

Sakura nods in reply, fingers nimbly untying her sash. Despite the revelation, she turns a little away from Kai to open her yukata and slip the folded papers out of the concealed sash. The documents are still warm from her skin. Kai already has a hand stretched out to take them and when Sakura hands them over, he (she, Sakura mentally corrects herself) slips them inside a pocket of her baggy jacket.

"I'm just a little surprised. I guess I didn't expect a girl to be doing something so risky," Sakura mumbles, trying unsuccessfully to rearrange her yukata. It's nowhere near as complicated as a kimono, but usually putting one on is a job for two. Suddenly, two slender white hands (how on earth could she have missed their femininity before) appear in her vision, grasping the front edges of the yukata.

"It's funny to hear that coming from you," says Kai coolly, wrapping one side of the yukata around Sakura's body. With one hand she holds it pressed tightly against Sakura's ribs while she brings the other half over the top with her other hand and expertly snatches up a trailing length of ribbon to tie around Sakura's chest to hold it in place. Sakura steadies her breathing as Kai's hand slides away 

from her ribs out of the now closed yukata and inadvertently brushes over her right breast. Dark eyes scrutinize the yukata's length critically and Kai tugs upwards, raising the hem to Sakura's ankles. The excess length gathers at the top and Kai folds it down over the knotted ribbon.

"That's different. I'm a shinobi; it's my job to take risks." Sakura replies finally. Kai once again raises one shapely dark eyebrow and picks up the wide under sash off the floor.

"I think it's boring to only take risks that are expected of you." So saying, she tightly wraps the under sash over the ribbon, flattening down the folded yukata and smoothly tucking in the ends of the sash. All that remains is the obi, which is also lying in a heap on the floor. Kai picks it up and shakes it out to its full length.

"Is that why you do this?" Sakura asks her, surprised at her own curiosity.

"Hold this here," Kai commands in her husky voice. Sakura obediently holds one end of the obi in place while Kai winds it around her, then finishes it off with some tugging at the back, more ribbon, and a final twist and tug.

"Sorry, I only know how to make the butterfly's tongue," Kai says, but her face shows satisfaction. Sakura twists around, but can't really see the finished product.

"Thank you, it looks fine," she says anyway.

"Then I guess we're done here." Tossing the room key up and catching it, Kai crosses to the door and unlocks and opens it. Sakura follows her outside into the empty corridor. Because of the festival in the main street and the early hour, the love hotel is all but deserted. Still, Kai slings an arm around Sakura's shoulders as they walk through the reception area and drops a kiss on her hair for the benefit of the old lady drowsing over the desk.

They stroll out into the quiet street together and begin to head back to the main road where the festivities are being held. There they can split up and quickly be lost in the crowd. After about ten minutes of walking, the gabbled sounds of laughter, shouting and singing can be heard and Sakura abruptly feels a tickle of unease on the edges of her perception. At the same moment, Kai leans down as if to kiss her cheek and whispers, "We're being followed."

Sakura giggles as if in response to some flirtatious comment and replies through her teeth, "They're getting closer."

Kai suddenly pulls Sakura into the next alley way between two buildings and presses her back against the wall.

"Follow my lead," is all she says before leaning down and kissing Sakura full on the lips. One of her hands cups Sakura's cheek, tilting her face up and the other slides to the small of Sakura's back, pressing her close. Almost automatically, Sakura's hands reach up to grasp the front of Kai's jacket. She angles her head as Kai draws slightly back from the kiss then initiates another, deeper kiss.

Both of them sense when the two men round the corner and spot them. As if completely oblivious to the outside world, Sakura moans as Kai finally releases her lips, then attacks Sakura's neck. Her hand slides from Sakura's cheek into her hair, and begins to work loose the hair ornament binding it up. Sakura's hair tumbles down around her shoulders and she releases her grasp on Kai's jacket, instead winding her arms around Kai's neck and recapturing her mouth for another kiss.

After a few more minutes of being utterly ignored by a couple who seems intent on only one thing, the men give up and walk past them to the main street. As they pass, Sakura distinctly hears one of them curse and grumble, "Horny kids." She can tell Kai hears it too, because she feels the other girl's lips curl into a smile against hers.

They continue for few more minutes at a less fevered pace, until Sakura's lips feel swollen and she wonders if anyone will believe the story that she was the victim of an unknown jutsu, hence the dotted bruises and red patches on her neck. A few more straggling festival-goers pass by; see them, and mutter comments along the lines of those of the two men.

At last Kai releases her and takes a step back, with a deep inhale, exhale that she probably didn't intend to be so obvious. A giggle bursts from Sakura's lips and flash of annoyance shows on Kai's face.

"Your cheeks are red," she says abruptly.

Sakura cannot stop her smile of amusement. "So are yours, and thanks to you I'm going to have to wear turtlenecks for a week."

Kai's pale face turns an even deeper shade of pink and without answering, she holds out Sakura's hair ornament. Sakura takes it, looking for a moment at the long, sharp spike topped by a cluster of fake flowers and ribbons.

As she twists her hair into a rope and sticks the spike through, securing it in place, she cannot help asking, "How did you know where I was keeping a weapon?"

Kai shrugs with a movement become suddenly feminine. "I knew there was nowhere else it could be." Her mischievous, wolfish glance rakes Sakura's figure from head to toe, and she gives a husky laugh as Sakura's cheeks grow hot.

"Well, do you want to get out of here? I've got something to take care of before midnight." Kai offers her hand, and Sakura takes it. They walk out of the alley onto the main street. It's packed with townspeople and the noise is raucous. Another procession of costumed figures carrying lanterns sways gracefully along, followed by children throwing flowers into the crowd. Kai reaches up and catches one that comes sailing over the heads of the people in front of them. She holds the stem between her fingers, examining the bright pink petals for a moment, then turns to Sakura with a grin.

"Here Haruka, take this to remember me by," she says. Taking a step closer, Kai reaches up, and with nimble fingers weaves the stem through the knot at the back of Sakura's head. As she steps back, Sakura automatically looks up at her, knowing that this is goodbye. The mission has been completed and if all goes well she could be back in Konoha within 8 hours or so.

She smiles up at Kai coyly and flutters her fan. "Where's my goodbye kiss, Kai-kun?" For the third time, Kai raises an eyebrow at her and grins slowly.

"Haruka baby, you only had to ask," she says, bending down and capturing Sakura's lips. The kiss is comparatively short, but Sakura notices Kai's quickened breathing and that she lingers, unnecessarily, by Sakura for a moment, inhaling deeply. Her hand drops from Sakura's cheek and her fingertips trail slowly over the smooth skin.

"See you around, sweetie." Kai flicks back her hair and steps away.

"See you," Sakura flicks up her fan to cool her heated cheeks and steps in the opposite direction. After a few steps, she looks back over her shoulder, to find Kai doing the same. The tall girl's cheeks flush all over again, but she waves with an easy grin and turns around to keep walking. Sakura watches until Kai's sleek black head disappears around a corner in the distance.

After some walking and pushing her way through the crowds swarming in the opposite direction, Sakura finally reaches the bath house where she left her gear in a locker. She takes out her backpack and heads to a change room. Once inside, with the door locked, she stops and gazes at herself in the full length mirror. She is small and petite for a nineteen year old, a symphony of pastel shades of pink and green when dressed in this yukata. Her face still looks a little flushed, and there are faint red marks on her throat, but the overall effect is that of a fragile doll with enchanting green eyes and impossible pink hair.

Kai…Kai was like a boy's warrior doll, or a bishounen, one of the beautiful young men in romance novels or TV dramas that Ino was addicted to. Kai, Sakura reminds herself as she unties the obi and struggles out of the yukata, is not a young man. Kai, she thinks, as she slides on her black shorts, buckles on her skirt and slips on a black fishnet shirt, is a girl. Sakura quickly pulls on her boots and zips up her red top over the black fishnet. She leaves the yukata and its accoutrements folded up on the bench in the change room. She had only bought it for this mission after all, and she doesn't particularly like it. Someone else can find it and enjoy it, perhaps. Her hands reach for her hair, but when her fingers brush the silky-soft flower petals, Sakura stops. It will be annoying to have her hair blowing all over her face; she rationalises for nobody's benefit in particular, and tucks the flower's stem more securely into place.

Haruno Sakura walks out of the bath house and with a burst of chakra, takes to the roof tops to avoid the crowds. As she skims along, feet barely touching the ground, Sakura remembers Kai's words.

"Here Haruka, take something to remember me by."

Inexplicably, she wishes that she had told Kai her real name.

The flower stays in Sakura's hair until she reaches Konoha, and when she writes her mission report, she omits certain irrelevant episodes which had no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the mission.

Author's Note: Never thought I'd write something like this...it all just poured out of me in a writing fit last night. And what's with all these fics in present tense suddenly? What did you think? Questions and comments all very welcome!