A/N: This is based off the 'Fraud' short I did for chapter 6 of the 'Spring Rain and Winter Storms' collection of ficlets (you can find it in my profile). Originally it was going to be a one-shot, then it was going to be a long fic, but then it ended up being turned back into a one-shot which might explain why so many of you mentioned that you'd like to see the idea explored a bit more. I figured I'd go ahead and do just that because I'd like to explore the idea too. :D You don't need to have read the 'Fraud' one-shot to get this, but you might like to, since this is basically going to explain what the hell was going on in that fic.
Longer Summary (because 255 characters is not enough to summarise a parsnip): Years have passed since Pein's invasion of Konoha when Tsunade fell, and Danzou's regime has become powerful and immutable. To restore Konoha to its former glory, he demands many sacrifices from its citizens, and in his ambition to steal the bloodlines of other villages and create a new generation of Konoha shinobi formed from all the strongest clans in the land, Sakura becomes one such sacrifice. In the darkest depths of subterfuge and despair, Kakashi is her only anchor... and her one way out.
"Mating behaviours?" repeated Kakashi.
He peered up incredulously at the youth standing in front of the park bench upon which he had artfully slouched. Icha Icha Paranoia hung from his hand, momentarily forgotten now that Sai had so considerately stopped by to block the light of the sunset and cast a shadow over the text of his book before proceeding to pop one of his notoriously awkward questions. He had few opportunities these days to enjoy such small, simple pleasures as an evening stroll and a chapter of his favourite book before bedtime, and he didn't exactly appreciate when others insisted on depriving him of even that. It showed in his tone.
"Yes," said Sai, who had always been oblivious to these nuances of communication. "Mating behaviours. I have been reading up on courtship rituals recently and I've made some observations, but I still don't fully understand the experience. I was hoping you could assist me."
Kakashi returned his gaze to his book with an air of finality. "You're not my type."
"You misunderstand. I only wish for you to speak of your experiences," Sai said, inviting himself into the seat beside him on the bench. "I witnessed you debating another jonin from the W.D. yesterday about scroll sealing methods. Of the six physical signals of courtship, you were demonstrating five."
"Dilated pupils, tendency to smile, encroach upon her personal space, mirror her movements, and maintain eye contact. She exhibited all six, including playing with herself to try and draw your attention to her mouth and other assets."
Kakashi nodded thoughtfully, looking up at the deep pink sky as if suddenly hit by an epiphany. "That probably explains why we went out to dinner last week."
"So you are courting?" Sai asked, surprised that his observations had proven correct. "Was it the first date?"
"Then," he said slowly, following the logical pattern, "you have proceeded to Second Base?"
"...only by accident when I was helping her put her coat on." Kakashi shrugged. "What's the matter? You're looking a little confused over there, Sai."
"You don't seem to follow the traditional pattern of courtship," the younger man said dubiously, as if Kakashi wasn't being very considerate. "It is said that on the first date a kiss is to be expected, and on the second date-"
"There is no pattern, Sai. Everyone's making it up as they go along," Kakashi drawled. "Courtship depends on the person being courted; you can't pull fast moves on someone who isn't ready."
"So, she wasn't ready?" Sai deduced.
Kakashi's gaze wandered back to his book. "Who said she was the one being courted?" he murmured.
Sai paused in wonderment. He had obviously yet to come across anything in his books about women being anything other than the passive targets of courtship. "I fear I've made an oversight."
"Here," Kakashi said compassionately, reaching into his hip ouch to withdraw a second book. "Read this. It'll tell you all you need to know about courtship, and plenty more things you don't."
"Icha... Icha... Tactics..." read Sai slowly.
"Let's both agree that Jiraiya-sama's experience, rest his soul, will be more fruitful than anything I could give you, so I will loan you my own personally beloved copy." He marvelled at his own generosity, but when Sai began to open it curiously he touched the boy's shoulder and leaned in to whisper, "Break the spine, and I will break yours."
Handling the book like a precious artefact from a lost age, which Kakashi was seriously convinced it was, Sai stood, already halfway into the first page. He took a step away from the bench as if to continue on his way, but then paused and turned back. "When it says 'guaranteed to catch pussy," he began, "does that mean courtship success is correlated to how many cats you possess?"
"Ah, well..." Kakashi touched his chin and wondered how to answer that, and was spared by a passing blur of pink. Both he and Sai turned their heads automatically to watch the progression of the girl in the medical uniform as she strode away along the park's path, hair falling lose from its pins and bouncing with every furious step. That she hadn't appeared to notice them was a little strange. For a moment Kakashi thought about calling her name and finding out what had put such a savage edge in her stride. Then he glimpsed something small and bright red in her hand, and whatever he'd been about to say dried up in his throat. He frowned and looked away.
Sai continued to watch the disappearing figure with mild curiosity. "Sakura-san seems to be exhibiting at least three of the five physical signals of distress: increased heart-rate, rapid breathing, and dissociation with one's environment," he observed. "What do you suppose is the matter?"
"I'm sure it's nothing," said Kakashi with a faint shrug before he returned to his page of Icha Icha Paranoia.
1 hour Earlier
"Do you think these buns taste a little stale today?" Sakura pondered aloud, rubbing her two bread rolls together as if she expected them to produce sparks.
Ino snapped hers into increasingly smaller halves without comment, her gaze fixed on a point in the distance upon something that didn't exist within this cafeteria. The other female medics around the table just shrugged and grunted. They were thirteen hours into a sixteen hour shift, and none of them found the humour in dry remarks about dry bread.
Sakura bit down on one of her buns and chewed, wondering if there was much difference in texture between this lump of bread and a seashell. This was, if truth be told, about as entertaining as her very long day would get, if not her week. She had once enjoyed her work at the hospital, viewing it as a challenging experience that broke up the monotony of field assignments with her team and administrative work with her shishou; something that kept her medical skills sharp and her people skills warm. But nowadays... hospital shifts were all she did. After months and months of the same daily grind, she had long since lost her enthusiasm for the job.
She supposed she should count herself lucky. She'd never found working in the hospital tedious or stressful, unlike Ino and a few of the other women medics who probably wouldn't have dabbled with medical jutsu at all if they'd known that this was the direction their careers would take. They were all in the same boat now, resigned to the same fate. At least they might still be better off than the regular kunoichi...
"Three more h-hours," said Hinata, stammering through a terrifically wide yet dainty yawn, "then we can sleep."
Some of those around the table hadn't bothered to wait. Shizune's head had been buried in her arms for the past twenty minutes, emitting a suspicious snoring sound. Sakura flicked crumbs at her half-heartedly, littering the older woman's hair with flakes of bread until one particularly heavy crumb landed on her hand. Shizune grumbled and lifted her head to glower at Sakura, crumbs running off her in all directions.
Then Shizune's gaze slid past her and suddenly her eyes widened. In fact a lot of the women around the table had stopped yawning and picking at their meagre food to turn and stare at something over Sakura's shoulder.
Her heart sank a little as she turned slowly and surveyed the two ANBU men standing behind her. Root members. You could always tell from the acid green ribbons that held their masks on or adorned their uniform in other ways. Once upon a time, it would have been a rare sight to see a member of the ANBU Root division walking around the village in broad daylight. Now you could hardly walk down a single street without seeing those pale masks and green ribbons watching you silently from the rooftops. Their presence was everywhere, and you either learned to live with it, or you didn't.
Live, that is.
"Yes?" said Sakura coolly, making sure to sound patient and respectful.
"You're to come with us," said the ANBU with the mouse mask. "The Hokage wants to speak with you."
"About?" she asked.
The two men stared at her. They had delivered her summons and now they expected her, having learned of the Hokage's command, to drop everything and sprint to the administration office like a greyhound. That she had the nerve to obstinately question the motives of the village leader was tantamount to treason in their eyes, yet she'd been careful to frame the question as innocently and politely as possible.
"You're to come with us," they simply repeated, and one of them took a step forward to forcefully pull her chair away from the table so that she would get the hint to stand.
Sakura glimpsed the faces of the other women around the table, all of them carefully blank and schooled, and only the disappearance of all signs of tiredness made it obvious they were worried. They were just lowly medic nin, slaves to the hospital; the Hokage didn't bother much with their kind, and indeed Sakura hadn't met or spoken to the Hokage in more than two years, not since he'd ascended to his position. As a member of the previous Hokage's regime and one of the people who had been closest to her, she had been ejected soundly from her place in the administration once he'd taken over. Out with the old, in with the new. The antipathy was mutual of course, but Sakura was left wondering what she had done to make the Hokage notice her all of a sudden. She'd always been so careful to avoid trouble.
"I'll be back in a little while," she said to the other women, to reassure them as much as herself. "Please cover for me."
She got up and fell into step behind the two members of Root. They swept through the corridors ahead of her in an unnerving march, as if they were machines instead of independent people. It was an apt comparison. She'd learnt from Sai everything that went on in Root... how these men were trained... how they were purged of emotion and had their tongues branded to ensure their loyalty and silence.
They escorted her to the administration office like she was some kind of convict on her way to prosecution. It wasn't a reassuring mood. Once at the door of the Hokage's office they told her to sit down and wait, and there she sat for over half an hour, flanked by the men from Root who sat as still as stone gargoyles. She didn't mention how rude it was, to summon someone urgently to your office and then keep them waiting so long. Sakura wasn't eager to meet with the Hokage, but sitting there in utter silence and stillness as the apprehension built inside her with every passing minute was making an unpleasant situation even more agonising.
Finally the door clicked open and another Root with a horned mask beckoned them inside. Sakura stood up on legs she could no longer feel and walked into the office.
It wasn't as she remembered. Half this building had been destroyed and rebuilt after the Great Invasion, and now the Hokage's office seemed five times as large, and ten times as opulent. This was less of an office and more of a throne room, for where before had once been a plain desk and a window that surveyed the Konoha skyline were now a semi-circle of chairs and a concrete wall bearing the five symbols of the Root creed: Our Unity, the branches; Our Strength, the trunk; Our People, the leaves; Our Future; the seed; Our Perfection, the tree with its exposed roots. Before this tree sat the largest and most ornate of the chairs in the middle of the semi-circle, and upon this sat the Hokage. In the chairs to either side sat his most trusted, most rewarded advisors and friends whose job it was to administrate the village according to the will of the Hokage... and apparently the Hokage willed for nothing more than his friends and advisors to seize whatever money or assets they liked from those they presided over for their own personal use.
The Root ANBU steered her to stand in the middle of the room, facing the Hokage and then retreated. Sakura knew the expected routine even if it was the first time she was to do it. Without looking once at the man in the throne, she got to her knees and bowed till her forehead almost touched the ground, fingers poised in a perfect V on the floor before her.
"Do you know why you have been summoned, Haruno Sakura?" asked the Hokage.
"I do not, Danzou-sama," she said respectfully, ignoring the instinct to lift her head up and look at him as she responded. A person could get into a lot of trouble if they assumed they had leave to rise without the Hokage's express permission.
"We have a mission for you, Haruno-san," he said.
Sakura's heart almost jumped in her chest. A mission? Female medic-nin didn't get missions anymore, not since Danzou had decided in his endlessly benign wisdom that it wasn't seemly and only male medics could accompany teams on active duty. Even regular kunoichi didn't get many missions. They were relegated to the ranks of the W.D. – the Women's Division – second-class fighters who got whatever missions were left over, which ranked them somewhere behind 'chunin' even if many of the kunoichi had once been jonin of the highest callibre.
"I gladly undertake any mission the Hokage wishes," Sakura said formally.
"Sit up, Haruno-san."
Sakura sat back on her knees carefully, although made sure to keep her eyes on the hem of Danzou's robes. His feet were peeping out from beneath them and she witnessed the gnarled nails of his toes – some of which appeared to be missing. Perhaps some kind of fungal infection? And those lumpy swellings looked like the beginning of gout.
Her diagnosis was interrupted when one of the Root ANBU walked into her field of vision and placed something on the ground in front of her. The moment she saw it, she stiffened.
"Are you aware of what this is?" Danzou drawled, and although she couldn't tear her eyes away from the object she could tell he was smirking in foul amusement.
This had to be a joke. For a fleeting absurd moment she thought someone would laugh and shout "Gotcha!" and then they'd all laugh and she'd be handed her actual mission, but the heavy silence rang on and on and on. This was a joke, alright, but she was the punch line.
Why her? Oh god, why did it have to be her?
Sakura's mouth moved but for a while she couldn't speak. Every set of eyes in the room was fixed on her, boring into her, waiting for her to react; she could feel their sick amusement. Not one of them cared. Not one of them sympathised. Not one.
"Surely you know what this is," Danzou continued kindly like an indulgent old uncle.
She forced her voice to obey. "A-a... an X-class mission," she said, feeling queer and detached, as if she was standing behind herself as she stared at the totally innocuous red scroll. It lay on the floor three feet away, resting on its mahogany ends, its parchment so vivid it looked like it had been soaked in blood.
She had heard rumours that the X-class missions had returned. With everything else that had happened she had believed it tentatively, though she had never knowingly met anyone who'd received one.
But it was not that the red scroll signified an X-class mission alone – in fact she'd never known mission classes to be colour-coded. The scarlet scroll held a very specific meaning, and she hardly dared believe it. There had been no rumour of these missions returning. She had doubted they'd even existed! This was the stuff of urban legend.
And now she was staring right at it.
"Only very special kunoichi receive the scarlet scroll, Haruno-san," Danzou murmured. "You should be honoured to have been selected. I hope you accept..."
Her eyes flicked briefly up to his. She had a choice? Did she dare believe that?
"Hokage-sama," she whispered, "I don't understand. I've never heard before of anyone in this village receiving a scarlet-"
"That's because this is a program of the utmost secrecy," he said, staring down at her unblinkingly. "Times have changed and we have need once again for brave kunoichi such as yourself to make sacrifices if this village is to survive. Only those who are involved have knowledge of its existence. If any uninitiated persons are made aware of it... they are terminated. With that in mind, I do hope once again that you accept."
His cronies chuckled darkly to themselves and Sakura fought down a flare of disbelieving rage. What choice did she have now? He'd personally made her aware of the existence of scarlet scrolls by damn well handing one to her, and now he'd as good as told her that if she refused to be initiated she would die because she knew too much.
The Hokage leaned forward, his large bony hand gripping his armrest tightly. For a shinobi he was unusually weak in body, but he possessed other weapons and influence that made him more deadly than any man or woman in this village. "Do you accept, Haruno-san?" he asked, his stare intense.
Sakura looked at the scroll and wondered if she might be better off dead anyway.
"I accept," she said quietly. Whether it was cowardice or bravery, she didn't know. There would be time later to decide which... and not so much if she had chosen death.
"Excellent," he muttered, reclining once more with an expression nothing short of gleeful. "Take your scroll. Take it."
Sakura reached out and picked it up gingerly as if certain the deep red dye would stain her skin and never wash off ever again. The wax seal glinted in the low light, revealing the embossed 'X' .
"All the mission details are there," the Hokage informed her. "Do not divulge the information to anyone else. They will be killed too."
"I understand, Hokage-sama," she rasped, her throat suddenly hoarse and dry.
"Your handler for this assignment will approach you tomorrow. That is all."
Sakura almost laughed out loud. A handler? Could kunoichi not even undertake X-class missions without supervision? She spat out a bitter, "Thank you, Hokage-sama," and rose on legs that felt heavy and awkward. She stumbled to the door and didn't look back. Although she heard nothing, she knew they were laughing at her, and the silent laughter pursued her out onto the evening street outside, chasing her as she stormed through the park on her way home. She gave little thought to her destination; she was simply moving on the primal instinct to return home, to return to safety, forgetting there was still work for her at the hospital and only vaguely noticing that she passed Sai and someone else on the way.
The laughter was still ringing hysterically in her ears even as she slammed through the door of her own apartment. She threw the scroll on the floor she was so careful to keep clear and tidy, and there it rolled to a stop against the leg of her coffee table. In this square one-room flat there was no hiding from it. Sakura dropped onto her bed and lay facing the wall, trying to convince herself that it was actually alright... she had simply been driven insane by the long hours at the hospital and the meeting that had just transpired with the Hokage was nothing but a figment of her own imagination.
She looked over her shoulder. The evidence of her sanity peeped around the table leg, utterly cruel and terrifying in how mundane and harmless it was. It was hard to accept that something as plain as a scroll could ruin her whole life.
By the time that Sakura had been born, X-class missions had been abolished in Konoha for many years. These kinds of missions had, they said, amounted to little more than prostitution, and unlike the other missions which were given according to rank and experience, the only requirement of X-class assignments was to be 18 or older.
Most of Sakura's early knowledge of such missions had been gleaned from books and TV that always liked to romanticise the old days, where war was constant and kunoichi were not particularly capable fighters but certainly the most beautiful women. Jiraiya's Icha Icha series was the worst offender. His books appeared to be set in a parallel universe full of non-existent countries and imaginary villages that was roughly a hundred years behind this world in terms of technology and social advancement. It was a world full of S-class ninja men and X-class kunoichi, and it just wasn't an Icha Icha book unless the hero got off with a beautiful woman, only to later learn she was a deadly enemy kunoichi who had been sent to seduce and betray him.
The reality of X-class assignments was less glamorous. If beautiful kunoichi were ever sent out to seduce and make love to gorgeous men for the purpose of stealing his secret scrolls, they were a tiny, very lucky minority. If a real kunoichi wanted a man's top secret scrolls she was more likely to skip the seduction and merely bludgeon him into unconsciousness or death before moving on to rifle through his belongings at leisure. It hadn't been until she'd spent a week helping Shizune reorganise a backlog of fifty year old mission reports that she'd come to truly understand what X-class meant.
According to the reports, sometimes it meant being commissioned by an influential figure like a daimyo to sleep with one of his opponents, particularly married opponents, and produce the pictures to prove it, ruining the opponent's reputation. If the target wasn't willing there were always ways to get around it, such as drugging them and straddling their naked body to pose for the camera. However, it seemed that quite often kunoichi used the drugs as their first choice, and recent advancements in photographic trickery did most of the work these days.
Mostly X-class missions had meant straight-up prostitution. Ninja were mercenaries above all else, but providing you had the money, you could commission ninja for anything, whether it was assassinating a political rival or rescuing a cat from a tree, and there was no shortage of wealthy, lonely patrons willing to pay top price for a night with a beautiful, deadly kunoichi.
And theoretically, perhaps, it had also meant a scarlet scroll...
In all the backlogs of mission reports, Sakura had never found evidence that scarlet missions had ever been given to a Konoha kunoichi... because unlike other X-class missions which were also routinely undertaken by men, scarlet scroll missions could only be taken by women.
It was barbaric.
While it in no way surprised her to think that Danzou's regime had reinstated X-class missions and essentially put Konoha's kunoichi population up for sale to the highest bidding pervert, scarlet scrolls shocked her. Here, there was no client. There was no daimyo looking to sabotage his rivals, and no lonely perverts looking to be spanked by a real dominatrix. The only client here was the Hokage and the village itself.
For a few hours that night, Sakura slept on her bed. Not even receiving the most shocking mission of her life could keep her awake after pulling a thirteen hour shift at the hospital, and she had rationalised to some degree that if she slept there was a chance that the world would have corrected itself by the time she woke up. There would be no scroll, Danzou would still be half oblivious to her existence, and she would awaken in the hospital cafeteria with bread crumbs in her hair, ready to tackle the rest of her shift, secure in the knowledge that it had all been a dream.
But when Sakura woke in the early hours of the morning to the sound of the first tweeting birds outside her window, she felt the dread even before she remembered why. The scroll was still there, resolute in its refusal to disappear, still touching the table leg exactly where she had thrown it.
For several minutes she continued to stare at it and contemplated how long she might survive as a missing-nin.
She would at least read it, she decided. It could all be a misunderstanding anyway, and she would feel a right fool if she'd planned to run away from the village over a mission that turned out to be a simple B-rank escort duty.
Crawling out of bed on her knees, Sakura sat next to the coffee table and placed the scroll on its surface. She explored the glossy texture of the parchment with her fingertips and counted the lines in the wooden tips of the roller. The wax seal was a marvel. Normally mission scrolls came with a bit of sticky tape to hold it shut, but she supposed this was a scarlet scroll. As a thing of legend, perhaps Danzou felt it deserved pomp and ceremony.
She broke the seal with a snap and rolled the paper out across the table. The inner side of the parchment was a faint yellow, but horrifically the mission was printed out in red ink. It made every word seem to radiate licentiousness. Even her name printed at the top, Haruno Sakura, seemed to be tainted.
Taking a deep breath to prepare herself, she began to read.
By accepting this mission you, Haruno Sakura, have agreed to take part in the Seed Project, the program created by the Rokudaime Hokage for the long-term betterment of Konoha's future. By accepting this scroll you have also agreed not to talk about your mission or the existence and aims of Project Seed with persons outside the program, and understand that doing so will result in the use of lethal force against any potential information leaks. In order for Project Seed to be successful, it must be conducted under terms of utmost secrecy and discretion.
You also understand that failure to complete your assignment will result in reassignment to another partner after six months, and so on, until success is achieved.
Your first target is as follows:
Name: Suda Hiroshi
Age: 48 Height: 190.7cm Weight: 81.6kg Blood type: AB
Ninja registration serial no.: 006748 / jonin
Status: Married (Suda Kiyoko), 5 children (4 boys, 1 girl, aged 5-17)
Residence: Kumogakure, Lightning Country
Desired bloodline limit: Name unknown. Type: Sonic.
Notes: Your handler will provide details of how to locate and recognise Suda Hiroshi.
Once you have made contact with the target, you will be permitted six months to maintain sexual relations until such a time as you have successfully conceived, or until the end of six months, whereupon you will be given a new target if no impregnation has occurred.
Further details of your options will be made available upon the completion of your assignment. You may expect relocation of accommodation and other social benefits.
Sakura stopped reading and sat back.
It was exactly as she had expected. A true scarlet mission. She was being sent out to conceive the children of foreign men with desirable bloodline limits in order to introduce those bloodlines into Konoha. It was a damn project. How many other women would be coerced and enlisted? How many already had been? No doubt Danzou expected to have a nice little fighting force within a generation or two, composed of nin selectively bred like racehorses.
Gone were the days of simply kidnapping the children of desirable foreign clans and raising them as one's own. No. That had been outlawed by an international peace treaty after the last attempt on the children of the Hyuuga clan, and Konoha was too weak and Danzou too cowardly to risk breaking the treaty and inciting the united wrath of the other villages in his pursuit to strengthen his armies. But the treaty only prohibited kidnap, and so there were always ways to circumvent it, even if those ways were just as provocative if discovered.
Sakura stuffed the scarlet scroll beneath her mattress and for a long time she sat on the floor, her head in her hands as sunlight crept over the windowsill and along the floor. Hours were passing away outside her room, but time had frozen for Sakura.
The answer was obvious to her; she would have to leave Konoha. If her only use to her village now was to act as broodmare, she would rather take her chances as a missing-nin. She perhaps should have left months ago when it had first become clear that the village was heading down a dark path beneath Danzou, but Naruto had warned her not to, and in truth she'd been a little afraid.
The average life expectancy of a missing-nin was only three weeks.
It had not seemed a worthwhile risk back then, but now... she wondered if it really was better to die with some semblance of freedom and dignity before submitting to such a cruel scheme. Because it wasn't just herself that would be violated. After all, what kind of life would a child of such a union have?
A smart knock on her apartment door drew her from her catatonic state, and her heart began hammering against her ribs before she understood why. Hadn't Danzou said her handler would contact her today? Was this it?
The knock came again, but she remained rooted to the floor. She hoped, a little desperately, that if her handler thought she was out and he went away, the whole thing might be forgotten and she'd be allowed to get back to fixing broken bones and cleaning bedpans and generally still pretending she was proud to be a medic nin in this day and age.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Sakura pressed her hands over her head. Go away, she thought, trying to compel the person on the other side of the door with her mind alone. Go away, go away, go away!
She almost sagged in relief. Almost. Although she knew and trusted that voice, she realised she was in no fit state to entertain friends right now. Nevertheless she forced herself up and crossed to the door. She tried putting on a smile as she opened it. "Kakashi-sensei?"
He stared at her wordlessly for a moment, as if measuring the authenticity of that smile the way a jeweller analysed sometone's attempt to pass off a flint as a diamond. "I saw you last night," he began. "You looked a little upset, so I thought..."
That he'd come round to cheer her up? Now Sakura was the one staring. Kakashi, despite his deceptively vague appearance, had the sharpest sense of empathy of anyone she knew, but she also knew this didn't always equate to caring. If something was bothering his team, he would be the first to recognise it and say 'get over it, we've a job to do'. For him to approach her at home out of concern... well, he'd never darkened her doorway before, period. And after Danzou's implementation of the command that female medic-nin limit their work to the hospital and leave missions to their much more capable male contemporaries, they hadn't worked together for quite a while.
She must have looked pretty upset if she'd moved even her sensei's implacable heart.
"I'm ok," she said, though it felt like a horrible screaming lie. In truth she wanted to grab him and tell him everything – tell him what they were going to make her do – and beg that he help her get out of it in some way. But Danzou's cold words kept her contained. "Do not divulge the information to anyone else. They will be killed too."
She didn't want to force that risk on Kakashi.
Yet, for some reason, he didn't seem to believe her muttered words. "Can I come in at least?" he asked.
She thought of the scroll buried beneath her mattress, safely hidden from sight, and she nodded. "I guess." What he couldn't see wouldn't hurt him.
Kakashi closed the door after himself and with him standing there, Sakura became aware of just how small her apartment was, since he was already taking up most of the space. In three strides she crossed the room to the bed; it was the only place to sit. In two strides, Kakashi joined her, and even if he wasn't the first male to be invited to her bed, she was faintly shy of the fact that he was her former team captain and teacher.
"Sorry," she said, as he took his seat next to her. "It's not exactly fit for entertaining."
"It's nice," said Kakashi with the kind of lightness that made it plain he was only being polite. "I've never seen your apartment before."
"I'm surprised you know where I live," she remarked with a faint smile.
"Someone told me," he replied, examining her small coffee table, which along with the bookcase was the only other furniture in this room besides the bed. "It's been a while, hasn't it?" he murmured.
"Yeah," she sighed. "I've been so busy at the hospital lately..."
"You enjoying it much?"
Not at all. "I suppose."
It was difficult to talk this way, of polite nothings while something so huge raged inside her. The scarlet scroll lay beneath them both, hidden from sight but not from Sakura's mind. It didn't seem right that while Kakashi's gaze casually roved over her modest possessions, she could see nothing but vivid red.
"I hear the W.D. is putting its case to the council again," Kakashi said. "Perhaps there's still room for Danzou to be persuaded to allow kunoichi full access to missions again. It would be nice. It's not really been the same since you left the team..."
"Yeah," she said, her voice growing weaker. "It would be nice to be a team again."
But that would probably never happen now.
Kakashi finished his sweep of her room to returned his steady gaze to her. "Where is it?" he asked.
Sakura blinked. A tingle of unease crawled along the back of her neck. "Where's what?"
"The scroll," he said simply. "The one you were carrying last night."
Panic constricted around her chest like a vice, making it difficult to breath. Without looking at him she shook her head. "I wasn't carrying a scroll last night, sensei."
"It was red." He put his hand on the mattress they were sitting on. "I suppose it's under here, isn't it?"
Sakura's fingers twisted in her bedding. "Please, sensei, you have to forget you ever saw it," she whispered through lips that barely moved. "If Danzou finds out..."
"It's not really me I'm worried about," he said softly, beginning to unsnap the fastener on his pouch. "I'm glad you took his warning seriously, Sakura. One of the other women didn't... and that didn't end well for her husband, I'm sorry to say."
She barely noticed that he was taking a black scroll from his pouch and rolling it open across the coffee table. "One of the other women?" she asked quietly.
He nodded, smoothing out the parchment with his hands. "The mother of subject three," he said.
"Subject... three..." she echoed, trying to grapple with the strange way he was talking. He seemed to know a lot for such a secret program, apparently more than she did, but when she looked at the scroll he'd laid on the table the penny dropped with a resounding clang. She was staring at a detailed profile on Suda Hiroshi, complete with an old, grainy mug-shot.
"You're my handler."