Opheliac

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Naruto… obviously. I'm not making any money off of this story so don't sue. Please and thank you.

WARNING: This story is rated M overall for mature language and adult situations. Team 7 characters are around 25 in this story, which would put Kakashi and Genma around 40 or so give or take a few years. If you have an issue with the age difference or don't like the pairings, don't read.

Author's note: I tried to add hints of Japanese language and culture in this one. If there is anything that is incorrect, please let me know and I'll fix it as soon as I can. I tried to research as thoroughly as I believe I was able to, but I will not pretend to be any sort of expert on Japanese culture or language and you are encouraged to politely correct me, dear reader. If you don't understand a word just Wikipedia it or possibly I'll add a description at the end if people start asking for one.

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Chapter-5

They arrived at the palace the next day near midafternoon and had hardly been announced before Sakura was ushered to Madam Shijimi immediately where she spent the better part of a whole ten minutes fighting the infection in the honored madam's lungs. Afterwards she had sat with the lady going over every symptom and tiny ailment the woman was feeling before she had assured her that nothing else was wrong and was allowed to go to her room. Royalty never ceased to amaze her. It was funny how one could be so sheltered that even a common case of bronchitis could seem like a life threatening condition to them. How lucky she was that she had any medic at her disposal only because of her station, while the poor in the outlining villages suffered and died if a medic couldn't be paid fast enough. Must be nice, she thought somewhat bitterly, to never have a care in the world other than which kimono to wear that day. They really hadn't needed her at all, and especially not Tsunade, but what the Daimyo wanted the Daimyo got; he was the ruler of their land after all. However she couldn't help but feel a little placated to know that the Daimyo always gave generously and, even if her scruples couldn't allow her to admit it, her wallet was definitely going to thank him for that.

She walked down the baroque halls gazing at the smooth stone walls covered in beautiful tapestries in amazement. They were made with deep red and purple threads and bright rich golds that wove stories and painted descriptions of famous people and battles. She saw a few with Shinobi, but most were of the palace itself or of striking depictions of people who she assumed were a part of the Daimyo's family. She had never really seen anything quite like it.

Finally when she got to her room she was pleased to see that her bag was placed right inside the screen door. She picked it up gratefully and looked around in curiosity. Her room was a modest one, room enough for one with an ornate armoire in the corner, however it had one thing that made her practically squeal in delight. There in the center of the room across from a sliding door that lead out to a beautiful garden was a bed, and it wasn't just any bed, it was the largest most comfortable looking bed she had ever seen. It was definitely a far cry from the small lumpy thing she had at home. The blankets were a deep red color and there were more golden pillows and puffy blankets than she really thought were necessary, but just for one night it was all hers. Excitedly she ran forward, tossing her small bag to the side, and threw herself onto the luxurious surface and took a deep breath savoring the rich smell of goose down feathers and feeling the incredible softness of high threaded linens. She exhaled loudly letting out an excited laugh. She was definitely going to buy herself one of these one day. She laid there for a while letting her mind wander and dream about expensive beds and linens, and before she realized it, her eyes closed. Just as she was on the edge of sleep there was a knock at the door. Tiredly she stood and made her way to the front of the room and pulled the screen open.

A man was kneeling on the other side who had to be at least eighty years old, his jovial wrinkled face dripping with joy and politeness.

"Good evening miss," he said bowing. "I am here to invite you to dinner with the Daimyo and his family. You are asked to dress formally and meet in the main dining room in an hour," he told her politely.

She nodded once, but before he could shut the screen door she stopped him, "Excuse me sir, but I don't have anything to wear," she said hurriedly, looking down at her tattered soiled outfit she had worn on her journey to the palace. She hadn't exactly been expecting to stay very long and she certainly hadn't expected to be invited to a formal dinner. All she had was one other shirt that she was planning to wear tomorrow on her way back to Konoha, and a small tank top and shorts that she wore to bed.

"Not to worry miss, the clothing in the armoire is for you." He smiled and pointed to the large piece of furniture in the corner of the room. "Please feel free to choose anything to your liking. We will see you in the dining area in one hour. If you need anything please don't hesitate to ask." Then he bowed and snapped the screen tightly in her face.

Sakura stood there a moment quite taken aback. Was it always customary to offer a large room, clothing, and a formal dinner to guests, even ninjas? She supposed it was possible they thought her healing would have taken a few days, but it was more likely just a polite gesture or show of wealth. Whatever their reasoning she made her way to the corner of the room with an itching burn of curiosity and threw open the doors in the armoire and stared in wonder. To her amazement the inside was lined with luxurious kimonos of every color. Again she squealed in pleasure. It would be a shame to offend the Daimyo and his family by denying herself the pleasure of wearing one, and how could she choose just one if she didn't at least try them all on? With excitement in her step she grabbed her bag and flew down to hall to a ladies private bath. When inside she turned on the water as hot as it would get and it only took moments for the steam to saturate the entire room. Then she striped off her clothing and dunked herself completely under and let her mind wander.

I wonder where Genma and the ANBU guards are, she thought idly, letting the water sooth her aching muscles. She would have loved to stay longer, but she had only an hour to finish getting ready and to try on the kimonos so she only allowed herself another ten minutes before she exited.

She dressed quickly and made her way to her room and practically threw herself at the armoire and tore the doors open. As a kunoichi, she didn't have much time to indulge in such luxuries, so she took pleasure in taking her time trying on each and looking at herself in the mirror that was on the side of the armoire. It was amazing the kind of clothing that money could buy. The silks that the kimono were made out of were soft heavy fabrics that clung to her in all the right places and had intricate stitching and embroidery. She liked almost all of them but eventually she chose a deep red kimono that had golden cranes stitched on the top with a white dressing kimono underneath. After putting it on she searched the armoire and found a few drawers, one specifically with jewelry and the other with powders and makeup. She picked out a golden comb that had pink tinted ivory blossoms and used it to tie up her pink tresses. After, she took out a few makeup items and used a red pencil and ran the color over her soft lips and lined her eyes in black and gold. To her surprise and pleasure the colors matched her complexion and made the color of her eyes stand out beautifully against the dark and golden hues. Ino would be so jealous, she sang happily. She loved being a kunoichi, don't get her wrong, but sometimes it was nice just to be reminded that she was also a woman underneath it all.

As she put on the finishing touches to her makeup there was a knock at her door so she walked over and slid it open. For a moment it looked as though his eyes were going to bug straight out of his head. "Sakura, you look, well look at you."

On the other side of the screen stood Genma in a dark blue and white naga-bakama looking outrageously handsome. The sharp shoulders of the formal wear accentuating his broad chest that narrowed down to his slim waist held together by a thick belt. The bottom was plushy looking that completely drowned out his legs, but the overall effect was stunning. The formal looked ridiculously expensive and not at all practical, but neither was hers come to think on it.

Her mouth suddenly got a little dry. Look at you, she thought, but didn't say it. "I think I like these missions," she said finally, twirling happily, breaking the tension. "I could totally get use to this."

Genma closed his mouth and watched her as she moved letting him get a nice view of her kimono from all angles. "Aww, little Hana likes to play dress up huh?" He teased and her eyes narrowed. "Isn't that cute. Well the dress is gorgeous, I'll give you that, and it'll go perfectly with your lady like behavior oomph!"

Sakura slapped him upside the head before sliding the door closed behind her. "And that," she drawled, "can go with your lack of tact."

He rubbed the back of his ruefully before smiling and following after her.

XXXXX

The dinner was an extravagant affair which Sakura felt completely and utterly ill prepared for, not to mention out of place. As she knelt with her legs to the side of her zabuton, she kept stealing furtive glances at Genma of whom it would seem had some experience with dinner parties oddly enough. Guess old age comes with some perks, she thought wickedly. As they ate he would whisper to her the names of foreign dishes that were placed in front of her and which utensils went with which. What was wrong with a little shrimp tempura, rice, and umeboshi she wouldn't know, but she preferred it over these heavy dishes and their strange utensils that she was suspiciously poking at.

"So Haruno-san," the Daimyo asked politely. Her head perked up and she stopped twirling a strange three pronged utensil with her index finger. "How is it that such a beautiful woman like you became a kunoichi?"

Genma raised his eyebrow in silent mockery as he turned to look at her. "Yes, Sakura-san please, do tell."

She shot Genma a dirty look before planting a particularly saccharine smile on her face and turned to address the Daimyo. "Well my Lord, I'm not from a clan and my parents were not shinobi, but they use to tell me that they wanted the best education for me and so the most logical decision was to send me to the ninja academy. My grandparents didn't agree, but I was thrilled with the idea, so they let me go."

"Oh, is that so?" he clapped jovially. "And so how is it that you became the Hogake's apprentice?"

She dabbed the side of her mouth with her napkin before depositing it in her lap and reached forward to offer him some tea which he took with a bow of his head. "Now that is a much more complicated story my Lord, I'm afraid it would take all night," she said playfully turning to Genma and offering to fill his cup which he accepted and then he took the kettle from her and filled hers politely.

"Oh please, we insist," Madame Shijimi piped in leaning back in her chair stroking her hideous brown cat affectionately. Sakura remembered the cat actually, she, Naruto, and Sasuke had captured the poor creature more than a decade ago as one of their first missions as team seven.

She politely bowed her head, "The short version then. You see I graduated from the academy and was placed on a team with Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke and…"

"My word! Truly?" the Daimyo cried out, his eyes wide in surprise. "The demon of Konoha and the last Uchiha, it is a wonder you have turned out the way you have at all." He started to laugh then and the table followed his lead.

She gave him an irritated smile but inside she was wishing she could set his robes afire. "Yes, well, we were placed on a team with our sensei Hatake Kakashi…"

"Oh yes!" he interrupted again, "Yes of course, the celebrated copy ninja son to the renowned White Fang. He is quite the man of both noble and shameful notoriety, but his power and intelligence set him apart from all others. It is no wonder you are so talented my dear!" he clapped excitedly as he laughed. It was a horrible high pitched sound that made her left eye tweak and gave her goosbumps, and strangely reminded her of a blackbird she once killed that woke her up early one morning with that same atrocious cackle; of course it sort of fit the Daimyo with his long greasy dark hair and chronically tired complexion.

"Indeed," she said through gritted teeth, barely able to control her irritation. Daimyo or not he should learn to keep his stupid mouth shut while someone tells a story. Apparently Daimyos are not bound by silly social constructs such as manners.

"Anyway," she continued, "As I said the three of us were students under Kakashi-sensei but once Sasuke left our village I found it necessary to expand and grow in ways that he could no longer provide, so I went to the Hokage myself and asked to be placed under her tutelage to become a medic."

"Yes that makes more sense my dear, you are far too fair to be taking life with those gentle hands of yours," he said proud of his own deduction.

Inside Sakura was fuming. I'll show you gentle hands you slimy bat! she seethed internally.

"Well you see my Lord, Sakura is a very talented medic, but she is also the strongest kunoichi in all of Konoha other than Tsunade herself. Her physical strength is widely renowned in our village and is a prized skill amongst her peers. She truly is an example of both strength and gentleness, her fairness aside." Genma interjected in her defense raising his glass to her and finishing his tea.

Sakura's mouth dropped to the floor. He was standing up for her and she was fairly positive he had just called her pretty as well, funny how that could drown out almost everything else. The thought that Genma thought so highly of her made her insides all warm and fuzzy. However she really didn't need him to stand up for her, she was perfectly capable of handling the conversation herself. She didn't know whether to be annoyed or touched that he stood up in her defense but she decided on the latter for now.

"Yes, yes, of course, but would you not say Shiranui-san that hands such as hers would better be suited as the hands of a nurturer? It seems such a shame to make one as young and beautiful as she into some kind of weapon for Fire Nation, however useful it may be dear," he said nodding to her.

Sakura sat so stiff, trying to repress her indignation and irritation, that just one touch and she felt she would shatter into a million screaming pieces. I will not kill the Daimyo of Fire Nation, I will not kill the Daimyo of Fire Nation... she chanted over and over in her mind as she breathed in deeply through her nose.

"Oh yes dear, she would make a wonderful geisha or a mother perhaps?" The daimyo's wife interjected.

Sakura choked on her own spit. I will not kill the Daimyo's wife, I will not kill the Daimyo's wife…

Genma noticed the vein on Sakura's head was practically popping out of her head and when she opened her mouth to speak he, sensing the murderous intent practically rolling off of her in waves, jumped in. "Well as a medic she heals and grants life almost every day, take your wife for example, she was healed within minutes."

The Daimyo's wife nodded in agreement.

"You could say that she nurtures life with her own two hands but she can take life as well. That's the life for a kunoichi; as any woman who fights for her country. Of course kunoichi have other skills that allow them to take on traditional roles. I'm pretty sure they study flower arranging, and, ugh."

Genma ground his teeth together as he jolted forward suddenly, knocking into the table sending his empty cup rolling.

"Are you alight Shiranui-san?" The Daimyo asked in concern, the confusion momentarily awakening his sleepy features.

Genma half scowled and smiled ruefully removing a particularly sharp utensil from his side as Sakura innocently reached for his cup placing it in front of him politely.

"Can't you all see? You're insulting her," a soft voice said suddenly.

All heads turned to the young man at the edge of the table. He was tall and thin with long straight black hair like his father. His eyes were brown and a bit droopy, much like Kakashi's she noticed, but with a hard cold demeanor that was a bit like Neji's.

"I think it's fascinating," he drawled. "I have studied the history of your village. It is interesting that both shinobi and kunoichi have found ways to equally serve as ninja. I do not believe in my parent's old fashion ideals, you must understand. It's rather archaic to think of women solely as a mother figure; as the nurturer, especially when woman have proven to be equally capable warriors as well. Take your Hokage for example; she has saved your village and my family countless times. She undoubtedly is possibly the strongest person, either male or female, the world has ever known and she has seen something in you to take you on as her apprentice. You must be very special indeed. "

No one said anything as they all sat there in shock. Sakura however smiled prettily at him thanking him with her eyes. The look did not go unnoticed and he bowed his head once before reaching for his glass and bringing it to his lips.

"Haruno-san, Shiranui-san, I do not believe you have met my son, Ichiro."

"It is a pleasure to meet you both," he said courteously. Sakura and Genma both bowed their heads slightly, as much was possible while sitting anyway.

"I wonder Haruno-san, I am interested to learn more about your Hokage and I hope to have the pleasure of working with her one day as the Daimyo, after my father of course," he said nodding towards the Daimyo, "Would you like to go for a walk and perhaps we can discuss more about Konoha?"

Sakura's mind suddenly went completely blank. Was he asking her what she thought he was asking her? Was it like a date or something? She had never been on a date before, not a real one anyway. Well, really this wouldn't count as a real date either would it? Funny how one could sleep with their best friend and their teacher's best friend, but never have been on a date. She wasn't exactly doing things in order she realized, of course she wasn't known to be a conventional woman anyway. Hell, she wasn't even a conventional kunoichi.

Her silent babble was broken when Madame Shijimi squealed suddenly jumping to her feet happily. "Oh yes, what a lovely idea, it would be a great opportunity to make personal ties with Konoha. Of course we wouldn't want to send the wrong idea dear, perhaps you could send one of your Abu guards to chaperone them," She said turning to Genma.

"ANBU," he corrected gently.

Sakura looked up at him and he smirked shrugging his shoulders. You're mess not mine. Find your own way out Kunoichi, she could imagine him saying. What could she do? She couldn't exactly say no, that would look disrespectful, however if she said yes it would look totally unprofessional. Why was everything so complicated lately?

"Mother don't be absurd, I am not asking Haruno-san on a date, I am merely requesting to learn more about her village and their current leader. It's a completely professional social call. I apologize for my mother's presumptuous behavior Haruno-san." He said, but she didn't miss the slight red tint to his cheeks and the way he was unable to make eye contact. She turned to Genma then pleading with him to help her somehow, but he just sat there laughing at her silently bring his glass to his lips. She returned the favor, laughing at him with her eyes, when he realized that his cup was, in fact, empty. He pretended to drink anyway.

Calmly she took in a breath before she spoke.

"Ties between that of the Hokage and the Daimyo hold great importance. I know that my Shishou would greatly appreciate your willingness to form a bond with her in a mutual cooperation. You will be the Daimyo one day and if you would like to know more about our village then of course I would be happy to oblige," she said, surprising herself at the civility of the words.

Ichiro looked up at her then and for the first time that night she saw him smile.

"Perfect," he said standing up from the table. He walked around to the other side of the table to where he sat. With one hand behind his back he held out the other to her and she took it as he lifted her to her feet graciously. "Shall we?" his voice so smooth you could spread it on toast.

She allowed him to put her hand on his arm and smiled. "Of course."

Then they were walking out of the room into the garden without a backward glance.

After they were gone Genma waited ten minutes or so and then excused himself politely and walked to the open sliding screen connecting the dining room to a large garden. The palace was a beautiful place, but it didn't suit him. He preferred a plain life with a steady, albeit dangerous job, and simple apartment back in Konoha. Coming to the palace was always an interesting experience of course, he had been here a few times with Tsunade, however the extravagance of every surface from the gold trimmed beddings to the ivory flower vases made him cringe. He felt like a bull in a china shop, he just didn't fit in. However Sakura, as uncomfortable as she felt, seemed to fit in perfectly. She was just another flower in the garden here.

As he stared out into the garden letting the cool night air blow through his hair, he pulled out a senbon and twirled it around in his mouth. Professional social call my ass, Genma thought to himself.If that kid wasn't really just trying to get into her Kimono he would swallow his senbon.

"Follow them," he said suddenly out into the night. The only evidence that he had spoken to anyone at all were the two black figures with white masks that blurred past him and then were gone.

XXXXX

For a while they just walked in silence as they made their way through the garden and Sakura focused her attention on the elegant bonsai that loomed over them and tried very hard to not think of the man that stood beside her. The tension seemed to fill the air between them as neither spoke, and it was starting to make her very uncomfortable.

"So," she started lamely, letting the word hang in the air between them.

"How do you find my palace Sakura-san?"

The question took her completely off guard. She thought for a moment trying to gather her words before responding. "Truthfully?" she asked.

"Yes please," he said smirking slightly as they winded down a wide cobble stone path that lead to a small lake on the property.

Great, what was she supposed to say? She looked around then truly taking in the garden surrounding the palace. In front of her the water on top of the lake was incredibly clear and calm. It was a beautiful night that was lit magically by the lanterns that surrounded the property as fireflies buzzed happily across the still waters and the smell of roses and other flowers hung like a thick perfume in the air. Everything about the palace was perceptually rich and striking, but she found it almost stifling. They both stood there admiring its beauty before she spoke.

"It's beautiful of course. I've never seen anything like it, but…" she let the words die out.

"But?" he said gesturing for her to continue.

"But I find it extravagant. You have to understand that I'm not use to such…" she waved her hand in front of her as if it would help her find the word she was looking for.

"Such…elegance?" Ichiro offered.

"Elegance! Right, elegance," she said in a rush. "My life is more plain and simple back in Konoha. I like it that way. Being here is like a fairytale, one that I know will never last. I know my place Ichiro-san, and it's not in a place like this."

He let a smile spread across his face as the cool breeze fanned against his face. "You are a very tactful speaker Sakura-san," was all he said.

For a moment she wondered if she had offended him but he said nothing more on the subject as they both watched the water in a much more comfortable silence. How very strange that she was standing here with the Daimyo's son under the stars, eating rich foreign foods, and sleeping in an extravagant bed. If someone would have told her this was how her next mission would have been she would have just laughed at them and thought them completely mad, she could hardly even believe it herself even as it was happening.

"Your companion is very loyal to you, I think he's in love with you," he said suddenly breaking her from her thoughts.

She turned to look at him with her mouth gapping quite unattractively and her mind completely failed her as she struggled to find a response. She made a strange gurgling sound, and it took her a moment, before finally she was able to gain some composure. "Of course he isn't Ichiro-san. He only defended me because as my teammate and fellow shinobi he felt it was his duty, nothing more."

Right, Genma in love with me? She scoffed. That's just, that is just, that's ridiculous. She babbled internally.

Ichiro smiled at her words and turned to look at her. "I think it is a very attractive quality in a woman who can be so humble but be just as strong and beautiful as you are."

All babbling was forgotten. Good god, this is a date, she thought numbly, blushing fiercely. She had no idea how to react. Remarkably she once again found her voice. "Please, you flatter me unnecessarily Ichiro-san. I'm strong only because my shishou has made me strong. It is my duty, nothing more nothing less."

"You think much about your duty. I wonder if anyone is deserving enough for such blind loyalty," he said stepping forward to face her full on. He was standing very close to her now and her skin prickled with the need to step away from him, but she suppressed the urge and forced herself to stare directly at him.

The look in his eyes was almost playful as he waited for her answer. It was like they were playing some kind of game that she didn't have the instructions to and she couldn't help but think she might be playing it wrong. This was nothing like what she had done in the bar with Genma. With Genma flirting had been fun and exhilarating. This made her nervous, but if this really was a date, she had an idea.

"There are many who deserve my loyalty Ichiro-san," she said softly, allowing her gaze to fall to his feet in a submissive gesture. "Perhaps even you one day."

At that his smile widened. It was exactly what he wanted to hear. "I look forward to the day Sakura-san," he practically purred.

His tone made her gaze to snap back up to meet his. The air was becoming thick and uncomfortable and before she could react he reached forward and placed a hand on her waist. Her breath caught in her throat as her pulse started to quicken. It took everything within her not to punch him upside the head.

Oh yes, she was playing the game right, but she just realized it wasn't a game she wanted to play, not with him anyway. His gaze became too much so she turned her head and tried to politely put some distance between them, but his hold tightened as his thumb started to play lazy circles on her hip. She stiffened at the sensation, however, Ichiro did not seem to be put off by her reaction.

"Will you be Hokage one day?" he asked softly stepping even closer until she could feel the line of his body pressed against hers.

This was bad, she was either going to have to push him away or let him kiss her. On the one hand pushing him would give her the satisfaction of wiping that slimy lusty smile off his face and save her from having to kiss him, on the other hand it was treason. Choices…

Her body spasmed then and she fought the rising bile in throat as she felt him lay soft kisses down the column of her throat, the air making her shiver unpleasantly as it blew across the wet trail his kisses left behind. She had no idea what to do, nothing like this had ever happened to her before. If this had been any other situation she could have just screamed at him or broken his hand, but she couldn't hurt the future Daimyo. If he even suspected her trail of thought he could have her arrested for treason. How far was she willing to let this go before she was forced to either hurt him or be hurt?

"You're shivering Sakura-san, are you cold?" he asked leaning more heavily into her revealing the evidence of his desire as he pressed himself into her.

"Ichiro-san?" She breathed. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to kiss you, you silly girl, now hold still." He griped her waist tighter, holding her in place, and leaned in.

A wild panic flooded through her and she fought to find her voice and said the only thing she could think of. "I don't want to be Hokage!" She yelled out suddenly taking in slow gulps of air trying to push away her panic.

This caught him by surprise and he leaned back. "Is that so?"

"Yes," she breathed, "But I have a friend back home who is going to be Hokage one day."

"I see," he said in poorly concealed disappointment, "And who is this friend of yours?"

For a moment she let herself think of him and it calmed her slightly as she allowed the good memories of her boisterous blond haired best friend flood her mind. "My teammate and friend, Uzumaki Naruto," she breathed affectionately. Kami she wished Naruto was here right now. All awkwardness and shameful thoughts aside, she missed her best friend terribly.

He stepped away from her abruptly and she looked up to see the surprise on his face. "Naruto, the demon of Konoha, your friend and the next Hokage?" He scoffed. When she didn't reply, a loud rough sound started low in his chest and bubbled outwards as Ichiro started to laugh right in her face. Sakura's eyes darkened.

"Yes, that's right," she said defiantly watching him as he brought his hand up to cover his mouth.

"Forgive me Sakura-san," he said through the tears that were prickling in the corners of his eyes, "but surely you must be joking. No one in their right mind would allow that thing a position of such great power."

It took every ounce of her will power to not turn and cuff the future Daimyo of her country across the face. "That thing is my best friend." She said darkly, glaring at him angrily.

He stepped back, visibly affronted by her gaze and tone. Apparently people didn't speak to him like that very often. He seemed to puff up then trying to look larger than he actually was, perhaps trying to intimidate her, but she'd be damned than feel threatened by some prissy boy who probably didn't even wipe his own ass.

"I am disappointed that you would keep such questionable company. It disappoints me more to have to tell you this, but I will never allow the Hokage of Konoha to be run by a monster," he quipped authoritatively.

"Well with all due respect Ichiro-san," her words dripping with sarcasm, "It is not your decision alone. The jounin of my village will give him their vote."

He stepped forward suddenly and grabbed the tops of her arms painfully pulling her face close to his and she gasped. "The Jounin of your village will do as I say, and that thing should consider himself lucky he hasn't been chained up and left in a cell to rot for the remainder of his pathetic life. The only reason he is still alive is because the man is easier to watch and control than the beast!" He spat angrily, face only inches from hers. "Although, I wouldn't be surprised if his luck runs out soon," he said dangerously.

Sakura's eyes went wide as she stared up at him in shock and a growing sense of panic. "What is that supposed to mean?" she whispered, the fear shining in her eyes.

"You would also do well to learn some respect for your superiors, which you obviously seem to lack. Having a pretty face will only get you so far in this world and there is only so much I am willing to tolerate." He growled so close their noses were practically touching.

Like before, she fought not to push him away. Snapping the future Daimyo's neck probably wouldn't go over well with Tsunade. "Respect, Ichiro-san, must be earned," she fumed, her fear turned to anger as the fury practically dripped from her words splattering around them like acid. "You of all people should try to understand that. The people in my village know who Naruto is and they trust him. He's a good man and he is no monster! Naruto loves his village and they love him, I love him" She added without thinking. "They respect him because he has earned it, not because he's some well to do prissy boy who was born into the right fam..." the insult died in her throat before it could completely surface, because at that moment a hand flew across her face hard. Her head snapped to the side and her eyes widened in surprise. She brought her hand up to her face and felt it radiating heat.

That fucking bastard just hit me!

Ichiro looked just as surprised as she did, and in his panic, he pushed her forcefully away from him as if he had been burned, causing her to lose her balance and fall to her knees. He stared down at her a moment his face distorted in disgust, with himself or with her she couldn't tell. "Forgive me Sakura-san, but I believe our conversation is over, it's getting late." Then without a second glance he turned and walked away from her leaving her there next to the lake.

Sakura watched him numbly, holding her cheek, until she could no longer see him. Her emotions flooded through her in waves of shock, fear, shame, and disgust. The reality of what had just happened hit and she held her chest trying to control her breathing as tears pricked into the corners of her eyes.

He had hit her, he had caused her shame and pain, but the only thing she could think about was Naruto. Is this really what others still thought of Naruto? How could they? Did they not know him at all? She guessed it was because everyone in her village had grown to accept him that the rest of the world would have too. She was wrong and what was worse, the future head of her country thought he was a monster. Then a crippling pain shot through her chest. What did Ichiro mean that Naruto's luck was about to run out? Was Ichiro going to do something to Naruto? Was the Daimyo? How anyone could consider him a monster was beyond her. If they only spent a moment with him they would know that he was the kindest person you could ever meet. An unbearable sense of pity gripped her heart then and before she could stop herself, she bowed her head and started to cry.

"Damn it!" She growled pounding her fist into the ground making a small indent into the soft soil. If that was what Ichiro and the Daimyo thought of him then she was going to do everything possible to change his mind. Regardless of her feelings she had to! His safety was on the line. "I promise you Naruto! I'll show them who you really are. I promise you! I will help you gain their respect and acknowledgement. I promise!" She yelled out across the lake to no one, sobbing her frustration into the night.

She didn't even know he was there until he touched her shoulder. Her shinobi reflexes kicked in and before she realized what she was doing the ANBU guard was beneath her as she held his kunai that was placed in his thigh holster to his throat. The guard beneath her made no move to push her away and for a moment neither of them moved until the gravity of the situation caught up to her and she flung herself off of him, her eyes going wide.

"I'm sorry," she breathed shaking her head. "Forgive me," and then she was running away, down the path and back to the palace. She could have pushed chakra to her feet but she wanted to run without it. She wanted to exert herself, to feel her body scream in exhaustion and to feel the blood pump through her veins making that horrible emotional pain physical and real.

She rounded the corner up the path to the sliding screen that lead into the dining room that they all had been in less than an hour before and flung herself though it only to collide forcefully into someone and they both let out a surprised yelp. He caught her as they both crashed painfully into the wall behind him and she looked up to see the surprise written all over his face.

"Sakura, what's wrong?" Genma asked her, gripping her arms and searching her eyes. Then he looked over her shoulder searching for any sign of a threat.

She was gasping as she tried to form her thoughts into words, trying not to choke on fresh sobs as they escaped her throat, but she was breathing so hard from running she couldn't breathe let alone speak.

"Where's Ichiro?" he asked looking around for him. She made a small growling sound in the back of her throat which caused his gaze to snap back at her, fully taking her appearance in for the first time. Her hair was wild and frazzled; the beautiful Sakura comb she had been wearing was gone. He could see her makeup was smeared with black and gold trails mixed in with tear stains shining down her cheeks. Then with a start he saw that her lip was bleeding. He followed down the line of her body and as he looked down he saw dirt stains around the knees of her half open kimono and her palms were dirty and bleeding as well.

Anger and panic filled him immediately and his eyes narrowed. Something had happened. Why was she crying? Why was she bleeding!? A sickening realization dawned on him and he put his hands on either side of her face and forced her to look up at him as he stared into her eyes.

"Did he… hurt you?" he asked, his voice dangerously low.

She snorted but shook her head wieldy but was still unable to speak.

His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Then what happened?" he asked softy, but she wouldn't look at him.

Sakura couldn't stand to look at him and see the concern written over his features. She had to get out of here and calm down. "I'm sorry," she choked out before she broke his hold on her and bolted out of the room and down the hall and into her room, barely registering him calling out her name as she ran.

When she reached her door she threw herself into the room, tearing the kimono off of her not wanting something that belonged to him and this place on her body. She found a pitcher of water and threw it over her head using the kimono to scrub the makeup off of her face. When she was finished she threw the ruined, once beautiful garment, into a corner in her room with a loud wet slap and threw herself onto the bed and cried herself to sleep.

XXXX

Another author's note: Sorry for the delay! Like I said on my profile page, I'm moving clear across the country (slowly… visiting family and friends along the way). Patience would be greatly appreciated.

Ok, so this chapter was drafted many months ago and is not a product of people's suggestions. I didn't feel harassed into writing an unfortunate situation for Sakura, nor is this supposed to "make up" for Sakura being somewhat clueless and inconsiderate, some have said "bitch" (She doesn't realize she is btw, even if the reader does. Her cluelessness for Naruto's feelings and her hypocritical nature are flaws that I purposefully put in her personality, which I am only taking from her character in the manga and anime and exaggerating these characteristics. I know the character I am developing and I know she's frustrating at times, however try to be patient with her, sometimes we don't realize our flaws until someone points them out ^_~) Also, I have no idea if the Daimyo has a son in the manga, I only know he has a wife and a desperate cat in the anime, but he does here. This is me taking yet another example of a "creative license".

Anyway, I 3 U so please review!

-Cricket