Title: Asceticism

Summary: She was fragile and pale; a blossom in the wind he resolved to catch. (Abduction Fic Prompt)

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own Naruto or any of its affiliations…I am merely borrowing its characters and settings to indulge my own fantasies and then share said fantasies with other people who equally do not own Naruto. I am not making any profit off this.

Note: For this story, I would strongly recommend being familiar with the manga up to chapter 474. I've been pronouncing Shī's name like shī in pinyin (Mandarin), or a reflexive "sure" in English, but I'm actually quite certain that's incorrect. :D Oh well~

O O O

When your love lets you go, you only want love more

O O O

Shī was still staring at the Akatsuki member's severed head when she and her team dropped from the trees and into the clearing.

Having already felt their encroaching chakras, no one was surprised by the groups abrupt arrival. There were five of them, and being that she was hiding -somewhat chagrined- behind the impressive form of her leader, Hatake Kakashi, Shī didn't notice the girl right away. While his Kage and the Leaf jounin spoke for a few minutes, he finally got a better look at her.

Her colouring was the first thing to catch his eye: soft pink hair and unblemished fair skin. Her frame was diminutive and swallowed in the cloak she wore, and the curve of her cheek promised a slender and delicate body beneath the fabric.

Even for a ninja, whose sole job was to remain unobtrusive and a hidden threat, she was incredibly unassuming. But her demure looks coupled with the hard glint in her eyes intrigued him.

After a word with the Raikage, the Hatake turned to the girl, his air of authority becoming almost condescending, and started speaking in a low, disappointed voice.

Out of curiosity, and with nothing better to do while the Raikage argued with Bee, Shī concentrated extra chakra to his ear and listened in.

"...say about this sort of action, Sakura? You're supposed to be my brightest, most responsible student, and to see this sort of recklessness from you is completely unacceptable."

The girl, Sakura, reddened in the face and Shī saw her take a deep breath, as if preparing to plunge into deep water. "If I were Naruto or Sasuke, you'd never talk to me like this, Kakashi-sensei." she grumbled, denying the passion and heat biting just below the surface.

"I expect that behaviour from them, but not from you."

"That's not fair!"

The man exhaled, betraying some of his frustration on an otherwise expressionless face. "Why don't you take a rest for a couple of minutes while I talk to the rest of your 'team'." Just like that, she was dismissed and her sensei turned his back to talk to the three boys that were hovering uncertainly some yards away.

"Shī!" His name being shouted from right next to him made the medic startle. Rubbing at his abused ear, he turned to address the Raikage with enthusiasm

"Sir?"

"We're heading to Konoha with the new Hokage, that White Fang's son, Hatake Kakashi."

"New Hokage?" Shī echoed, looking over to the Leaf shinobi. His eyes first landed on the back of the supposed Hokage, but soon they were drawn to a weakly glowing green light. It was Sakura, the girl who had been chastised in front of her team; she was skilled in the mystical palm technique, though her chakra was dismally low and fluctuating strangely.

Darui, Shī's partner and sometimes friend, patiently went over what the Raikage didn't bother to explain. "It seems there's been a coup, but since the Shinobi Alliance was formed, and their village has the only other Jinchuuriki, they thought it would be best for us to head to Fire."

"Bee! Hatake! Let's go!" Never one to hesitate to follow his Kage, Shī quickly got into step behind the Raikage. In the corner of his eye, he saw the girl falter and look up to glance between the two village leaders. Even from this distance, it was clear she was not well enough to travel at the speed the Raikage would demand.

Automatically, Shī listened in once more as Kakashi stopped to say something to her. "Stay behind and heal yourself. I'll have Lee remain with you."

Shī looked to the towering man beside him. "Raikage-sama," he said, making a quick decision, "their medic is down. Should I help her?"

Darui gave him a sly look, and for a second, Shī was certain he would be called out. Darui always had a way of picking up on Shī's interests, and usually had no compunction over chastising him for it. But instead his fellow jounin suggested quite reasonably that it'd be a good show of partnership. "Make it quick," was his leader's only response and all the permission Shī needed before he made his way over to their new allies.

Expectedly, Shī was treated with a mark of obvious trepidation when he approached. Only slightly intimidated, he stopped in front of the mask-wearing Hokage. "I can stay behind with her," he offered, nodding in the girl's direction. It occurred to him that her name was very fitting; probably inspired by the colour of her hair, but complementary of her noticeable fragility.

"Your name is Shī, right?" Hatake Kakashi prompted, not deigning to give an immediate answer.

"Yes. I am one of the Raikage's escorts."

Taking his presence as a politically motivated action, Kakashi nodded his head in agreement. "Very well. Lee, you're coming with us."

The one named Lee, Shī saw, was a thin faced boy with an odd sense of personal style. Apparently not liking this new decision at all, the boy stepped forward, an arm flung out theatrically. "I am deeply opposed to leaving Sakura-san without any Leaf support, ...Hokage-sama."

Shī allowed a small smile -not a smirk. "It's ok," he held up a hand and summoned chakra to it, "I'm quite qualified. I'll make sure she heals up as good as new."

"Still, Sakura-san would probably prefer someone she knows," Lee trailed off sceptically.

"Cloud is trustworthy," Kakashi assured, taking the diplomatic route.

"This is ridiculous" the girl in question grouched from next to them. She'd taken to kneeling in the snow while she concentrated on healing her leg. "Do whatever you want, I could care less who stays." Though she cast a hopeful glance at the bowl-cut haired boy nonetheless.

The Hokage stepped by Shī and clapped him heartily on the shoulder.

"She's stubborn, so keep an eye on her, ok?" The one visible eye on Kakashi's face curved in a distinct imitation of a smile and Shī nodded his head dutifully.

A few minutes later and the forest had emptied out save for two medics.

"So...you're name..?" he asked as he tried to settle himself at the girl's side. He already knew, of course, but Sakura had no idea.

"What, you mean you're a medic and you still can't enhance your hearing with chakra? Not very useful, are you?" Sakura didn't look up from her task as she spoke, but Shī wasn't surprised by her coldness. The young ones always tried to act tough to cover up their inherent insecurities. It was a bit disconcerting that she had called his deceitfulness so quickly, though.

"Ok...Sakura," he tried again. "Can I ask what happened?"

"No."

She had smudges of dirt here and there on her face and clothing, but it didn't look like she had been in a serious scuffle. Her chakra was too low, that was the only worrying thing. At the moment, it looked like she was just trying to ease sore muscles, which wasn't something that could be done very swiftly, even with her jutsu.

Her condition made him think she had been performing some extensive healing recently, but not necessarily on herself, and a lot of heavy travelling.

"Was it your leader who was in a fight?" Shī asked, ignoring her refusal to explain anything to him.

Sakura, still bent over to look at her leg, glanced up through her bangs at him, but didn't respond.

He decided to give his best guess at the situation nonetheless. Considering that the Hatake had been travelling with the Nine Tails boy not too long ago, and what that kid's request had been, and the fact that his own master was missing an arm...Shī was close to positive that this girl also had something to do with Uchiha Sasuke.

She was probably the last of the three to fill out that cell. Most definitely.

"Here, let me take a look at that," Shī said, motioning to her calf muscle. He would have to be clever about getting her to talk, he decided. A little physical contact could do wonders for loosening tongues.

Sakura, however, was less than impressed at his tactics. "I trained under Lady Tsunade herself, and here you are, thinking that some third rate massage will make me feel better?"

A bit surprised by her words, Shī's mouth fell open slightly before he could stop it. Another apprentice to one of Konoha's legendary three? Impressive group.

But his peeked interest only lasted for so long before some spite settled in. "And yet, with all your marvellous training, you still weren't enough to stop that rogue Uchiha?" He quirked his lips in a satisfied manner as her own expression betrayed her shock at his words.

"How did you know about Sasuke?"

"Before you ran into him, he had just finished a fight with the Raikage."

Sakura's eyebrows creased in thought as she unconsciously pulled at her bottom lip. Her voice wavered uncertainly. "Then Sasuke took your leader's forearm..." It was less of a question than just her aghast wonder.

"Hey, don't cry or something," he said, noticing the glassy look to Sakura's eyes. They were an enticing shade of light green, accentuating to her hair. "And by the way, I'm the Raikage's body guard and medic, I can assure you my 'massages' are at least second rate." His smile relaxed at his own joke.

There was something odd going on with the Uchiha of Konoha. First the clan was annihilated by the rogue heir, then the only surviving member kills said assassin, only to go rogue himself as well and wage war on both his home and also the other four villages. Odd actually didn't do the situation very much justice.

Sakura could probably enlighten him on the whole thing while providing some company. She was young and overwhelmed and most definitely lonely. Shī could practically sense the insecurity radiating from her.

She may have been putting up a front with her aloofness, but it would crumble soon enough; the need to seek comfort was a natural one, and probably none too foreign to someone like Sakura.

Seeing that her hands had stilled, Shī settled at Sakura's side and took her leg across his lap. He moved with obvious caution and allowed her plenty of time to say no, but she didn't object –though she didn't look thrilled, either. He needed to get her talking. "You were arguing with your team leader, is everything ok?"

"That's classified," she answered resolutely, but at the same time unlatched her boot to allow him better access. "It's just a tight muscle, really. Nothing to be done about it."

Shī concentrated his chakra to help numb the pain and hid the lift of his lips at her contented 'mm'. "This should help."

"How did you do that?" she asked.

"My nature affiliation – I can use it with my medical chakra to stun nerves. So it may feel like I'm icing the tissue, but it's actually little electrics shocks cutting off the pain impulses to your brain."

She looked disappointed suddenly, and he wondered if she even knew any nature affinity jutsu, or even what her affinity was.

There was a moment when he just continued working his hands over her skin and she watched quietly. Then, averting her eyes, she said, "fine. I suppose this could pass for second rate."

It was said in good nature; Shīcould tell she was amending her earlier misjudgement of his skills by playing along with his joke. The barrier was already cracking.

"So the Hatake is also your sensei?"

"Yes," Sakura answered, her expression instantly gloomier. He could tell she was stung by the man's obvious favouritism and slightly patronizing treatment. Again it was tempting to ask what exactly had transpired, but his interrogation called for some subtlety.

Shī finished his 'numbing' technique, which would last for about an hour, but kept his hands busy kneading her gently toned muscles. For a kunoichi, she had surprisingly slender muscles. He wondered if she did that on purpose, for the sake of remaining 'attractive' and not too masculine. She seemed the type to be that self-conscious and superficial.

Sakura may have had a temper and some coldness to her, but she was very clearly an insecure person. She had snapped at her leader but failed to properly articulate her grievances and to defend her actions. She was timid about asserting her preferences. She was...a good foot soldier who would probably obey her leader to a fault.

Except in the instance of love – in which case she was loyal to a fault to the man she cared about.

Uchiha Sasuke, he ventured. Or maybe the Nine Tails, Uzumaki Naruto. Whichever one had prompted her unauthorised confrontation with the former.

Shī's fingers stopped and he looked up from his work to catch Sakura staring at him. He frowned deliberately. She was the perfect kind of girl that he liked. Compassionate and rash, but lacking the determination to follow through with her own decisions – whatever mission she had set out to accomplish, she had abandoned rather quickly without much resistance. She was a bleeding man for the vultures.

"What is it?" Sakura questioned, lowering her voice to sound commanding, but mostly to hide her anxiousness at his sudden disapproving look.

He made an inconvenienced noise and withdrew his hands completely to recline back from her. "You're incredibly disappointing, is all."

Predictably, her cheeks darkened at his words. She was easy to manipulate. "Excuse me?" she bit out. "How the hell am I disappointing? You just met me."

"Well, that's the thing. I have just met you, and already I know exactly the type of person you are," Shī responded honestly. "You're selfish, narrow-minded, superficial, and a tad uptight."

Shī smiled sardonically, Sakura seethed.

"You can't say those things! You have no idea what I've just been through! I'm not exactly at my perkiest right now."

"Selfish."

She grit her teeth. "That makes no sense!"

"Narrow-minded."

She flushed and hastily quelled the rising growl in her throat. Reigning in her bitterness, she supplied more calmly, "I refuse to acknowledge your incompetent observations."

"Superficial."

"That is not –! Just how did you come to such conclusions, any way?" she barked, with an underlying wavering of uncertainty.

"And there we go: uptight." Shī allowed his smile to broaden at her incredulous face. Like pulling strings, he thought. "Just accept it already, you're hardly a three dimensional person, Sakura. You're just a kid who's weaker than she'd like to admit, obsessed with image and presentation, and one who's sorely ignorant as to how she could possibly improve herself."

Sakura clamped her mouth shut and watched him warily, her silence all the more damning to what little dignity she had tried to claim. The stranger she faced was one she had never encountered before, a person willing to bluntly label her shortcomings.

"You think you're a big-shot," Shī continued, "because you trained under two widely known and respected teachers. But the truth is, you come from an unknown clan and have nothing special to offer the shinobi world. And because of who you are constantly around, like your famous team mates, you cannot admit your weaknesses and refuse to work more cleverly at enhancing your worth. You've hidden behind the label of medic to excuse your flimsy combat skills. And yet you cling to the idea that your feelings will be enough, that your wishful thinking can somehow save the day in the end."

When he concluded, Sakura had dropped the offended visage and looked more vulnerable than ever.

Pathetic.

But damn if her suddenly wounded and shy posture didn't make him just purr. His smile became a bit more sly as he considered her through lowered lashes. She had pulled a plump lip between her teeth and raised a thumb questioningly to her mouth, as if to cover her ability to argue against him.

"Look," Shī sighed convincingly. Time to back-step and then lure her in. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have judged you so harshly..."

"No," Sakura whispered, almost like she were reading straight from his script. "You're right. I am all of those things."

Shī paused for the appropriate amount of time and then leaned forward again to take her leg back in his grasp. He started to gently massage it again.

"Please don't." Sakura tried to pull her leg away, but he didn't let her.

"No, no, it's the least I can do," he insisted, using his resigned and soft voice. "I'm sorry, I was very inconsiderate. You were right, I don't know what you've been through."

She lowered her gaze to watch his hands work at her calf muscle. Very slowly, he let his touch inch innocently upwards, then retreat. Then further up again, little by little.

"That does feel nice," she admitted. "I shouldn't have said you were third rate. You're actually...quite good."

Sakura was trying to re-establish a communicative atmosphere, so he encouraged it. "You can tell me what happened, if you like. Talk about it, maybe."

The suggestion was for her sake, or so it seemed. Give her the chance to get the heaviness off her shoulders. It was most definitely not for his own benefit.

"It's just –" Sakura raised her hand to rub at her brow and cover her watering eyes. "I just don't know what to do any more. He's really gone, I think. I don't know if Naruto –"

She was starting to cry, as if by cue. Shī instantly adopted a concerned look and scooted closer to her, absent-mindedly letting his hand trace up her leg soothingly as he moved. He rubbed her upper thigh consolingly as another hand snaked up her back. "Hey, hey... don't cry, really. It's difficult for me to see someone so distressed."

"Ugh, geez, you're right." Sakura wiped at her eyes more vigorously. "You're right. Sorry."

"Hmm," he pretended to mull something over. "You know, there's a town nearby. How about we get you somewhere warm for a little bit."

"Kakashi is –"

Shī cut Sakura off. "Is not expecting us for some time. Besides, it'll help you recover faster."

Sakura looked unconvinced for a moment as she thought the idea over. She picked up some snow in her hand and thoughtfully observed it. "It is pretty cold," she said eventually. Then she smiled mischievously. "Ok, but how about you buy me something hot to drink when we get there?"

They were going to do what he wanted, but he would let her think she still has some semblance of control in the situation. "It's a deal." He smiled warmly.

As the two walked, Shī noticed the slightest favouring in Sakura's stride and offered her an arm to lean on. She blushed very slightly but acquiesced nonetheless. He was almost tempted to laugh at her; moments ago he had been berating her, and then now here she was blushing at his completely mundane offer. People like Sakura were hurt when they were criticised, but managed to tell themselves they somehow deserved it.

In all honesty, he didn't really believe she was such a horrible person. She just needed to grow up a little more and gain some confidence and conviction. She needed to stop deluding herself. She did not need a man to cut her down at every opportunity and then bait her with false affection.

Unfortunately for her, that was just how Shī operated. He put an arm around her shoulders and let her situate herself more comfortably as they walked. The blush remained for some time.

"How old are you, Sakura?" he asked after a long pause in conversation.

"Sixteen."

About the age he expected. "So young and already about to experience a world war." Not that he really had any wisdom on the subject, Shī was only in his early twenties and had yet to experience any terrible international conflict.

Sakura pulled short at his remark and he stumbled a bit. "War?" she repeatedly, incredulity written on her face.

Did anyone tell this girl anything, he wondered. "Yeah. I just came from the Five Nations Conference, where Madara declared war against the shinobi villages That's why our countries are allies right now."

"Uchiha Madara..." Sakura trailed off, disbelievingly staring at the ground. Her face contorted with both sadness and anger. "And Sasuke's with that man."

"It must be hard. Seeing him like that." Of course it was; she was probably torn apart by her team mate's actions. Konoha nin were remarkable for their loyalty and attachment to each other. Even if she hadn't possibly been in love with the boy, it would probably still be a terrible loss for her. Not to mention that the Uchiha wasn't some regular person, he was the last of one of the world's most powerful and notorious clans. His defection and outright treachery must be devastating.

Whether it was conscious or not –though coming from someone like her it probably wasn't– Sakura leaned a bit more heavily on him as they continued walking. She was the type of girl who was let down by male figures in her life, like a teacher who spoke condescendingly to her and powerful team mates who most likely coddled her, and in return she had developed an unhealthy dependency on male attention and approval. Her feelings of inferiority had probably only intensified over the past few weeks.

For a second he tried to imagine how Sakura had faired, training under a woman as dominating as Lady Tsunade. If she had developed any confidence from that time, it was sure as hell gone now.

Shī smiled, knowing the girl tucked under his arm couldn't see it. As they walked for the next twenty or so minutes, Sakura would mention Sasuke now and again. Sometimes focusing more on her confused feelings, sometimes on their history. Like a good shinobi, she never mentioned anything compromising. It didn't seem she really had much to offer anyhow; her knowledge was shallow, really. He tried to console her as best he could, but he was thankful when they reached the town's limits.

It was one of those places that just sort of sprung out of the land. It started with a spotting of small farms and some fields, and then more closely packed houses. The main street grew out of the path they had been following, with businesses and taverns lighting up the dirt road. Late afternoon in the Iron country meant evening, it seemed, as already the sky had darkened and clouds had gathered with the promise of night snow.

Sakura anxiously looked heavenward. "Let's not linger." She attempted to smile at him, though her worry over Sasuke had yet to fully leave her. "Just one round of hot chocolate. On you," she reminded him.

He had no problem with that; Shī didn't think he'd want to waste very much time with drinks at all. He nodded his head and let out a chagrined laugh. "Then how about The Rusty Bird?"

Following the direction of his outstretched hand, Sakura eyed the establishment critically. To her, it probably seemed rather inviting with its charming exterior and apparent popularity. The only thing he cared for was the rooms that the second floor offered.

The first few snowflakes of a coming storm had just started to fall when they crossed the street to enter the inn and tavern. Inside, the main bar and lounge were crowded and the air was hot with fire and many bodies. Sakura giggled at the sheer merriment of the atmosphere; people were dancing, clinking overfilled mugs, playing games, and even a band strumming on stage.

"Happy Winter Kalebala!" someone cried with thrilled intoxication, letting the two shinobi know that there was some sort of special occasion to inspire the wanton celebration. Sakura returned the greeting.

"We should take off our hitai-ate," Shī said, leaning down to speak close to Sakura's ear. She tensed the smallest amount at the movement. "Just in case they inspire some ill feelings," he clarified while slipping off his own. The leaf kunoichi followed suit, storing her forehead protector in her cloak.

She looked up at him, smiling a bit shyly as she ran her fingers through her pinks lock to loosen them. "It almost feels like we're not on duty without those on."

Of course they both knew a shinobi was only ever "off duty" when he or she was dead. But he rather liked just agreeing with her cute observation instead. Let her think they were doing this on their own time –it would be easier for him to deal with her that way.

Together they waded through the crowds of people to the bar, squeezing against the wooden counter. There didn't appear to be a free seat in the house. "Golden Eggs?" the bartender called as she watched the two approach. Shī wondered if it happened to be the choice cocktail of Winter Kalebala; if that were the case, then it was probably pretty strong judging by the people surrounding them.

Sakura gave him an unsure look. "I'll just stick with hot chocolate."

"Oh come on," he said happily, using the excuse of the loud environment to lean down close to her. "We should follow tradition, don't you think? I refuse to pay otherwise!" He teased, lightly bumping his elbow against her arm.

"Well...ok, I guess that's fair. Two Golden Eggs, please."

The Golden Eggs were served in tall glasses with a cream-white froth brimming over the rims. They had a rich, somewhat sweet smell with the underlying bite of alcohol. Shī got the feeling that these drinks could leave even the sturdiest of men on his knees. He caught Sakura's eye and shrugged his shoulders. "Cheers?"

"To Kalebala!"

They each took a tentative sip. It was sweet and smooth all the way down. And then he exhaled and realised how terribly the alcohol's delayed bitterness burned his throat. Shī grimaced and coughed into his arm at its taste, somewhat aware of Sakura doing the same.

A couple of people next to Sakura laughed at their expense. "Drink it all at once, boy, or you'll never finish that!" More laughter.

"It's strong," Sakura observed a bit dryly, trying to ignore the men. Her face was still a bit pink from the coughing.

"Maybe another drink would be better for you," he suggested, purposely implying she couldn't handle it. Predictably, she waved him off, adopting a nonchalant air.

"No, no. This is fine. I'll just burn it off later. This is fine."

Shī gave her an unconvinced look. "I'll order you some water, any how," he said. The bartender had moved to the other end of the counter, and he used her absence as a reason to leave Sakura for a second. Even with a weak step she'd be able to handle anyone in the room without trouble, but he wouldn't be gone long. He had to settle the issue of procuring a room.

"Do you have any rooms available for the night?" he asked as he approached the hostess at the open door to the adjacent inn. She blushed and tried to hide a smile as she looked at the books.

"We do, but it's one of our suites. The rate's significantly higher."

He reached into his pouch and retrieved his wallet. The hostess eyed the significant amount of coin. "That's fine," he said dismissively.

"You'll like the room," the woman said, smiling in a disarming fashion. She was pretty in a classical, refined sense, and she emanated confidence. It's on the back corner of the third floor, so it has a nice view of the Vanha."

"Sounds lovely," he smiled back, waiting as she started to book his stay for the night. Her eyes fell when she took a closer look at his money.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I could tell from your accent, but, no I'm sorry. We don't accept this currency here. The bank on Fourth and Lonnrot can do exchange for you, if you'd like."

Shī acted dismayed with the "news" and pretended to take notes on how to get to the bank, but he could hardly have cared less. He wasn't going to pay for the night in a room he only planned to use for a little while.

When he had located Sakura again, which was surprisingly difficult given the tall population of the town and the girl's positively petite form, he found that she had already worked herself into something of a joyful state. She beamed up at him when he approached. "Shī!" she called out, saying his name for the first time. "You absolutely must try this."

A tin cup was pushed into his hands. "It's an Iron Egg," she explained a bit giddily. "Dr– drink this after the Golden Egg."

Shī examined the kunoichi carefully. "What happened to burning off the alcohol?"

She smiled and for a second when she answered, her eyes were a bit sharper. "What happened to that water?" A barely there shiver traced down his spine and he knew not to try and deceive her, so he didn't respond. "No matter," she exclaimed, regaining a carefree attitude as if the moment of clarity had never happened. "We'll worry about the water later."

So she had caught on to him on some level. He wondered if she hadn't directly called him out because she was timid. Only, it seemed like she was almost denying the truth to herself on purpose. What is she thinking...

It couldn't have been very much, Shī thought as he finished his second Iron Egg. After one he'd already began to feel a bit tipsy, but at this point he could hardly keep his mouth open without laughing. Sakura, who had stopped after her first two drinks, was fairing about the same. At the moment she was framing her head with her hands, attempting to illustrate to Shī the sheer ridiculousness of her former team mate's hairstyle.

She pushed the bottom of her palm against the back of her head and fanned her fingers out. "See, just like this. Just like this. It was so stupid!" She giggled. "But it was Sasuke so we all just pretended it was actually very hip. You know?"

The girl swayed a bit as she smiled up at him and Shī found himself choking up at the picture she presented. "Just put your hands down already," he gasped. Normally he would have been incredibly put off by a girl going on about another guy, especially one to whom she was so obviously attached, but suddenly it didn't seem so pressing. She still looked enticing, even with all the talking.

He was pretty drunk, he realised. He latched onto the counter and closed his eyes, trying to stifle his laughing fit. The world was tilting to one side rather horribly, but after some time he was able to speed up his metabolism a bit to help burn off the alcohol. It would still take awhile for him to fully sober up, though. But at least this way he knew that he could remain a bit relaxed and still stay in enough control otherwise.

Sakura was watching him very closely when Shī reopened his eyes.

"All right, Cat Eyes?" She had taken to pointing out his subtle feline graces more and more as the early evening played out. He kind of liked it; it reminded him of Yugito and, instead of making him sad, it sort of cheered him up. Yugito had always been a person of inspiration to him, and so he secretly relished in being compared to her –even in the most obscure of ways.

"I'm quite well, Sakura-chan," he answered, his lips relaxing from a grin into an eased smirk. She probably couldn't see his obvious leering, though. The rowdy townspeople were still packed tight into the small tavern, and the gap between them had continued to shrink. The girl was once again practically tucked under him. The top of her head was just about even with his lips; the scent of lavenders still clung to her hair.

It was really a nice smell, he thought taking a deep breath.

"Shī?"

"Mm." It was hard to hear her soft voice over the crowd. There was a pause when she just stood next to him, contemplating; his hand found a loose belt loop on her skirt that needed to be sewed. Beneath his chin, her head tilted back and his nose bumped against her forehead.

"So Kumo and Konoha are definitely allies?" she asked.

"Definitely." He followed the curve of her hip and waist with his fingers.

"Hey, Shī..." There was a slight weight on his shoulder and suddenly the skin beneath his mouth was replaced with the soft press of Sakura's lips against his own. She was a bit short and the positioning was awkward, but the shy, hopeful kiss was just as intoxicating as any liquor.

The jeering of people around them, the music, the whole atmosphere stilled. All that remained was the insistent hand clinging onto him and the overwhelming heat of the room that seemed to be originating from the young girl reaching up to him.

He wasn't completely shocked that she had kissed him first, but he felt a distinctly surprised jolt of arousal when her hand trailed down his chest and swept over his crotch. It could have been an accidental brush if it hadn't been for the finger she hooked under his belt, mirroring his own anchoring on her hip.

Sakura was observing him like a sultry cat from beneath her long, pink eyelashes.

"Do you really want to do this," Shī asked, unexpectedly and honestly curious. He wasn't sure if she had made out what he had asked over the noise, but either way, her second hand was now playing with the metal buckle sitting just below his navel.

She was out to prove something. He had ruffled her feathers and bruised her ego a bit too much, challenging her maturity and ability. Somehow she had probably worked it out that a grown up would solve such a dilemma through more risqué measures. Bring him back to the bedroom, show him what she could really offer.

Her clear green eyes were darkened, dilated with excitement, and intent on matching his stare. Okay, so now I've kissed you, she seemed to be saying. How will you retaliate?

But his plan of attack was no mere retaliation. He had been planning his offensive movements since the moment he'd seen her and with her consent or not he had been prepared to catch her. Sakura's naïve, misplaced daring was just another coal to stoke the chase.

Almost lazily, Shī moved so that his back was pressed against the bar, his legs stretched open before him. He ran his hands over her arms gently, as if in admiration, and then tugged her fully against him in one pull. She uttered something incomprehensible in surprise, but was too slow to stop him. Her body stumbled into his, surrounded by his limbs, her stomach pressed into the junction of his legs. One of his hands crawled up her arm, then shoulder, around to the short hairs at the back of her neck. Her eyes were wide and wondering, but the thrill hadn't faded in the least.

Damn him if her hot, tight little waist pressed against his groin wasn't the most arousing thing he'd felt in a long while. And her eyes, shining and cursing at him. There was an eager twitch between his legs, trapped beneath layers of clothing but already responding to the lovely friction the girl created. He tightened his grip in her locks, pulling her head back as he leisurely studied the pink stain of her cheeks and the slight pout of her mouth. Still her gaze beckoned him, mocked him.

Their second kiss wasn't nearly so hesitant and restrained. Shī yanked her head back and went straight for her pulsating throat, meeting his lips to the smooth skin before sliding his tongue languidly over the mark. He heard Sakura stifle a whimper and nipped at her ear.

When he had made his way to her mouth again, her lips were parted and willing. Her tongue met his with bashful attention. Sakura automatically tried to move her head away when he plunged forward, penetrating her mouth more deeply, and he thought that she might not have ever been kissed like this before. Every little reaction of hers was transparent and unsure; she may have looked every bit the sweet seductress, but she was as pure as her namesake. He swallowed her innocent murmurs with twisted appreciation.

Shī pulled away, dragging her bottom lip between his teeth in good measure.

Sakura looked ravished from just the kiss alone. Her hair was mused, face bright, eyes unfocused. She was leaning fully into him, no longer in need of his hold to keep her in place; her hands had clutched at his shirt front of her own accord.

His ears readjusted and suddenly the room's commotion returned at full volume. Shī glanced around, aware that quite a few bar-goers were eyeing the two unmarked shinobi. He looked back at the girl in his arms. "Ok, that's it, we're going." The words came out too demanding, but being sly was becoming less and less important.

"Wait – what?"

"Just to get away from these people. You don't need an audience, do you?" Shī cupped one of Sakura's hands with his own and laced his fingers through hers, consoling her more gently than his words. "Let's go somewhere more private."

More private was the universal code for more intimate actions. Sakura, as a teenage girl, was aware of that. And if not, she would be soon.

"But there's practically a blizzard outside..." He followed her gaze, frowning at the torrential snowfall. It didn't matter, though. Not at the moment.

He bent down to speak against her jaw line. "Then let's just go upstairs."

"Upstairs?" her voice wavered. He kissed her neck, blowing on the slick skin. She shivered.

"Don't you want to?" So, Sakura, I've answered your kiss with one of my own, and I'm raising the stakes. What will you do now, oh wilful child?

Shī moved so that he could see the battle play out over her features. He could tell she was interested in him; maybe just for the attention or because she was curious. But she was also scared. Her body's reactions revealed her own inexperience and he could understand her obvious hesitation over trying out these things with a complete stranger. There was no emotional investment in their relationship, and it was clear that she couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

He decided to help her make up her mind. "Here, come on." Shī dropped her hand in order to wrap his arm around her middle, guiding her smoothly out from between the other patrons. Sakura's hesitance wasn't substantial enough to defy him; she gingerly leaned against him, allowing him to steer her movements.

"This is ok," he heard her whisper, but she seemed to be speaking to herself. "I just want to forget."

Shī was certain that the girl was snuggled safely against his side as his hands formed to the seals to transport them to the second floor. When their feet had touched solid wood again, she was already latching her arms around his neck to pull him into another kiss. "Hey, let me forget," she breathed, the air sweet with alcohol and desperation.

He answered her without words, movements heavy with promise. But he wouldn't let her forget anything.

O O O

Author's Note: To be continued in Part Two. I know some people don't always appreciate certain material, so this one-shot will be posted in three parts. Skip the second and read the third for the conclusion if you'd like. No telling when either of those will be put up, however X) Hopefully Soon.

This wasn't edited or beta'ed... sooo.... :D Sorry! Leave a review X) Peace