Chapter 7: Flower of the Floating World
The bodies of their enemies were sealed into scrolls with seals Sakura partly recognized. A specific kind of containment seal that had been briefly described in the book on Fuuinjutsu she'd taken so many notes of in the library. One to contain living bodies, keep them breathing and unconscious. She couldn't remember the details, but that had been the gist of it.
Delighted that she'd been able to discern at least part of a complex seal, she let her thoughts about Sasuke's dark mood trail away and tuned in to Naruto and Kakashi's conversation.
"But Kakashi-sensei, you didn't kill them, so why are you putting them in those scroll-things?"
"For interrogation, idiot," Sasuke said with a snort. Sakura thought he sounded a bit distracted though, and he was staring down at his hands with furrowed brows.
Naruto made a rude sound and rolled his eyes. "That's not what I meant, bastard." He went to poke at one of the scrolls in the ANBU's hands and frowned. "Are you really going to carry them around in those things as long as we're on this mission? Don't they need to breathe? 'Cause if they were dead I get why you'd put them in scrolls, since dead people don't breathe, but..." Naruto had been talking a lot since their fight ended, words tripping over each other and face faintly flushed. Adrenaline or fear or both still pumping through him, Sakura assumed. She could see the constant chatter was annoying Sasuke something fierce, but that couldn't be helped. Everyone needed to deal with battle cool-down in their own way.
Kakashi drawled an explanation about how the scrolls filtered in air, but Sakura was only listening with one ear. It was odd, how familiar it felt. Fighting for her life. And yet, how very unfamiliar. It was like she'd been waiting for this, like somewhere in the back of her mind and despite her growing complacency in the village, she'd had slowly been winding herself up for this day. Intellectually, she'd always been aware of where her kunoichi's path was heading, so why was she so surprised by the feeling of familiarity?
'Have I been waiting for a fight like this for so long that I started believing that it would never really come?' Sakura flexed her fingers around the bloodied kunai she was still holding.
"Hey, Sakura-chan! Did you really stab that guy in the leg?" Naruto asked, and Sakura looked up, torn out of her increasingly confused thoughts.
"What? Yes, I guess I did." She'd never stabbed anyone as Hermione, had she? Melee fights were so rare among wizards and witches that she doubted it. It still bothered her a little that she couldn't remember with certainty, though.
"And Sasuke-kun here punched him," said Kakashi, eye crinkling in their direction. Sasuke looked up. "I saw the bruising," he said lightly. Was he trying to cheer up the brooding Uchiha?
"My clones punched some guy too, before someone interfered with the fight!" Naruto said loudly, obviously not wanting to be left out. He shot one of the ANBU an irritated glare.
"Hmm, they were a bit above your paygrade," Kakashi said, humming thoughtfully. "I don't suppose the white-haired boy you fought was kind enough to give you some clue as to the reason for their sudden attack?" His eye passed over them casually, but Sakura thought his gaze lingered a little on Sasuke.
"Hey, bastard, didn't you say that he said something about your eyes or something?" Naruto asked, and Sasuke immediately glared at him. Kakashi prompted him with a raised eyebrow, and Sasuke's fists curled.
"Something about my eyes befitting his 'master' better than me," he said lowly, grunting.
"So they came specifically for Sasuke, then," Sakura surmised, directing her words to their teacher. She hadn't expected that, had assumed it was because they were Konoha shinobi. Their village's reputation as the most populous of the five great shinobi nations meant they had more enemies than most of the other villages. Except, perhaps, for Iwa and Kumo. Even their respective vassal villages, Takigakure and Shimogakure, weren't too fond of them. Or so she'd heard.
"They wanted to take his eyes? That's gross! And really bastardly!" Naruto's face twisted with indignation, and he plopped down beside Sasuke like he thought someone else might show up to take a shot at getting to their teammate's eyes. 'Which will probably happen again somewhere down the line', Sakura privately admitted. It wasn't like attempts at acquiring bloodlimits were uncommon. Her gaze rested on Sasuke, who was in turn focused on Naruto with an expression torn between that dark irritation and something she thought looked a little kinder.
"How did they know, though? How did they know that we'd be here today?" she asked Kakashi, though she doubted he'd know the answer.
"Maybe they saw us leave?" Naruto said, lips pursed, before Kakashi could comment. Perhaps he hadn't even intended to answer her, as he was focused on writing something on a tiny scroll he was suddenly holding.
"That would mean they were in Konoha, or conveniently just outside the village walls the exact moment we exited," Sasuke said, snorting. His eyes were cast in shadow, and his face was the kind of blank that told Sakura he was hiding his true feelings on the matter.
"The timing is suspicious," Kakashi said slowly, snapping the scroll closed in his hand, but she couldn't read anything what little she could see of his face. If someone from Konoha had been a part of the ambush, Sasuke would be in danger even when they got back from this mission. And to her it didn't seem like there was any possibility that someone from their village hadn't been involved, perhaps tipped off the group they'd just fought off as her team left. Or in the worst case scenario, had tipped them off about team seven's mission as a whole, in which case their mission had been compromised.
All of which she was sure Kakashi himself was considering. Sakura rubbed her hands together and frowned. They had ANBU backing, so she doubted the mission would be aborted, but perhaps-
She was distracted from her train of thought when Kakashi started weaving hand seals before slamming his palm to the ground. A pale gray dog appeared in the middle of the small black seals that spread outwards from Kakashi's hand. "Shiba, I need you to do something for me." The dog, Shiba, nodded and listened carefully as Kakashi explained that he wanted it to head towards Konoha with the small scroll and hand it to the Hokage.
"Shouldn't he take the bodies with him too?" Naruto asked, wrinkling his nose a little.
"No." Without further explanation, Kakashi waved the dog away and Sakura watched as it took off towards Konoha three times faster than she herself would have been able to run at this point. Another nin-dog then, though she'd known that the moment she'd spotted the headband around its neck.
"Kakashi-senpai, are we continuing?" the brown-haired ANBU inquired, voice monotone but to Sakura's ear, male-sounding.
"Yes." His eye passed over them again, and this time Sakura thought he seemed dissatisfied or even unhappy. But Kakashi's gaze was always hard to read, so she couldn't know for sure she wasn't just imagining it. He sealed the scrolls containing the bodies into an even larger scroll, which he then strapped onto his back. Kakashi then handed over their mission scroll to one of the ANBU, and Sakura's eyes lingered on it as it passed hands.
The scroll stated that they were to investigate a minor lord currently vacationing in Otafuku-gai. Whoever had spoken to Abe's relatives had been informed that this lord, Shima Masatake, had been staunchly against some kind of business proposal Abe had tried negotiate with one of Shima's vassal families. This proposal had evidently caused a considerable amount of resentment on Shima's part when the vassal family had insisted on opening negotiations despite his own vocal dislike.
What the scroll did not make any mention of was whether Shima had any shinobi retainers or spies. It seemed unlikely, considering that he was a minor lord with only three small vassal families and not a very large fortune to his name. The short biography on Shima the mission scroll had included also stated that the man had a rumored gambling problem. It had only been a day since Abe's death, so could he really be behind the ambush they'd just beaten? Could he have hired these shinobi?
"There was something else," Sasuke said after several minutes passed in silence. He sounded reluctant, drawing the words out between pursed lips. Kakashi turned to look at him, head tilted. "A mark, between his collarbones. Three lines pointing outward."
"Mmm, yes. I saw that too." Kakashi scratched idly at his arm, but the sharp air about him made Sakura think he was quite focused. His eye never moved from Sasuke's form.
"After I punched him, it started... moving. And then it withdrew." Sasuke's brows drew together. "He said 'trash' like us didn't deserve to witness his 'transformation'."
"When it moved, did it spread outwards in a growing pattern?" The Uchiha nodded, looking up in apparent surprise. So their teacher knew some of what was going on? Or at least recognized whatever mark Sasuke had seen? Kakashi's eye curved in a smile. "It was good of you to share that tidbit, Sasuke-kun."
"You didn't see the pattern-thing, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, having stared back and forth between their teacher and teammate as they spoke.
Kakashi dipped a hand through his kunai pouch and retrieved a protein bar. "I did." Now both Sasuke and Naruto looked confused, and Sakura felt her eyes narrow at the jounin's casual words. Had that been some sort of test? Or had it become a test only after Sasuke had shared the information? Kakashi couldn't have known about this mark before he fought that young man himself. Perhaps he'd planned not to share this particular bit of information with them. "Maa, it doesn't matter now. Onwards we go!" He clapped his hands and all three of them jerked in response to the sudden sound.
Ushering them forward across the gore-splattered ground before they could protest or focus too heavily on the leftovers from the fight, Kakashi put them back on their trek towards Otafuku-gai. Sakura noticed that the body of the man with the split open head had been 'disappeared', probably by one of the ANBU, sometime in the course of her following Sasuke and them walking back across the bloodied path.
Sakura's fingers flexed in agitation. She was going to have to get more observant and a lot stronger, even stronger than she had been in the year she'd died, if she wanted to survive longer than she had back then. She hadn't even had the wherewithal to use any of the simple E-rank seals she'd so carefully transcribed before they left. What was the point of all her Fuuinjutsu reading if she forgot to use what little she'd managed to learn when push came to shove?
She forcibly relaxed her hand. It had been too long since she'd last experienced a real fight. But at least she'd managed to stab the man. Who'd have thought the bookworm Hermione would ever stab anyone? 'Harry, Ron, are you watching me from somewhere behind that ancient veil? Because I think I'm in for quite a ride.'
Otafuku-gai was big and noisy, and after the dark silence of their walk here, the change in atmosphere was quite jarring. Kakashi had had them stop just outside the city, where the trees began to thin and you could hear the faint din of the city, and divest themselves of anything that would mark them as shinobi. Kakashi had taken their headbands and shuriken holsters and hid them somewhere on his person, and then ordered them to turn their larger tool pouches inside out. Sakura had been as surprised as the boys when the insides of their pouches were revealed to be both patterned and dyed differently from each other.
They now had them slung over their shoulders in a way that looked a lot like the one-strap backpacks a lot of civilians favored. Even Sakura's mother had something similar that she sometimes carried her larger tools in. Built-in camouflage, then. She should have expected something like that.
"Are we gonna set up a tent in the middle of the city, sensei?" Naruto asked as they walked down the main road, a puzzled expression on his face.
"We have enough funds to stay the night at a hotel," Kakashi said, and there was some amusement in his voice that Sakura couldn't figure out the cause of. Naruto seemed to take their teacher's reply for what it was and focused on the goings-on at the stands that lined the road. Sakura couldn't quite keep her eyes from darting between the stands either, as it had been quite some time since she'd been out of Konoha. Getting travel permits when you lived in a Hidden Village wasn't all that easy, so she hadn't seen as much of this world as she'd have liked.
"Hey, will we have any time to look around? Just a little?" Naruto asked and Sakura turned her head to catch Kakashi's reply. Naruto wasn't the only one who wanted to see more of Otafuku-gai, as unprofessional as that desire undoubtedly was when they were in the middle of a mission. Even Sasuke was looking interested.
Kakashi wasn't shooting Naruto down right away, instead giving them a thoughtful glance. "I'm going to find us a hotel, and while I do, you can perform basic recon in the area. Meet me by that statue," he said, indicating a large sculpture of a dancing woman with fans in her hands.
They separated then and there, and Sakura assumed that at least one of the ANBU were still shadowing them. She couldn't help but wonder why Kakashi had allowed for this, though. Perhaps he had some side-errand to run? Or perhaps he wanted to distract them from the fight and its gory conclusion? Because Sakura still felt stiff, Naruto was still jittery and Sasuke still too dark-eyed.
The most basic reconnaissance was scouting a place's entrances and exits, recognizing hubs of activity and notable buildings and people, and finally making a general threat assessment of the area. It would be a good distractions from the unwelcome mental images she couldn't always push away quickly enough.
"Well, there's an exit right there," said Naruto, pointing vaguely at a path in the road that swerved to the right and disappeared between two buildings. Most of his attention was on small stand to their left that sold some kind of meat dishes, that Sakura had to admit distracted her a little as well. Perhaps they could have a real lunch today...
"Idiot, don't point at it," Sasuke said with a sneer, "Reconnaissance is supposed to be done discreetly. Not that you would know the meaning of the word," he said and off they were, arguing all the way to the end of road they were on. More loudly than usual even, so perhaps that was something they needed to keep their own unwanted memories at bay. Especially if that was the first time they'd been in a fight like that.
Sakura decided not to attempt to break up the squabble, just this time.
As they walked, Sakura noted two places with a significant amount of people clumped together: one an open door with a sign above it that spelled The old pond, where rows of people were walking in and out. The other a dark cherry-pink door further down the road, tucked into a shaded corner from where people were shuffling out in a steady stream. There was no sign above it. Instead, a carving of a willow tree spread its thin, drooping branches across the wood.
Her teammates argument wound down as the reached the end of the road, but they were still glaring at each other when Sakura shared what she'd noticed. She didn't really expect either of the two to have seen anything, as caught up in each other as they'd been, but Sasuke had noticed a couple of shinobi at a stand with their back to the road.
"Then how do you know they were shinobi?" said Naruto, crossing his arms over his chest.
"The knots of their headbands at the back of their heads." Sasuke looked on as Naruto huffed, and Sakura nodded. That was a good catch, though she didn't doubt there were more than just those two shinobi in the crowds moving about. Their own team couldn't be the only one purposefully lacking headbands.
They headed back at a slow pace, with Sakura pointing out the doors she'd spotted as they passed. Naruto perked up by The Old Pond and tilted his head as if to catch a faint sound. "Hey, I hear music!"
Sasuke frowned at him. "I don't hear anything."
Naruto had already wandered closer, zigzagging between the crowd of people like an eel in a school of fish. Sasuke and Sakura followed, but it wasn't until they were standing right beside the door, getting cursed at by the people whose paths they were blocking, that she could hear the faint melody coming from within.
"I smell karaage," said Naruto, sniffing the air and grinning, "I think they have yakitori too!" His stomach rumbled and he turned to look at Sakura with a hopeful air about him.
"I wouldn't mind eating," Sakura said with a smile, and a few minutes later she and the boys were seated around a small table by a window in a large room. All the tables were facing a half-oval stage with a microphone, and as they ordered their food from a stressed waiter who zipped from table to table like a hummingbird, a woman walked up to it. She unfolded a small stool in front of the microphone, the hem of her flowing skirts pooling on the floor as she took a seat.
A man handed her a biwa, and she flicked the four strings with painted nails before beginning opening her mouth to sing. The monophonic melody did nothing to disguise the beauty of her voice, blending with the biwa's own song.
"She's really good," Naruto said, leaning forward.
Sasuke was quiet for a moment, holding his glass still in the air before placing it on the table again with unnecessary conscientiousness. "...My mother could play the biwa," he admitted quietly, and Sakura forgot to disguise her expression of surprise as she looked at him. Naruto too seemed to sense that Sasuke had done something extraordinary, and smiled at their dark-haired teammate in an unusually solemn way.
"Was she good?" he asked quietly, and Sakura thought that she probably wasn't the only one who felt like this moment was so fragile that speaking any louder would push Sasuke back into his shell.
"Yes. She..." His eyes flickered to meet Sakura's, and then to Naruto, and his lips tightened. Whatever he'd been about to say was lost as the steel curtain fell back over his gaze. Sakura said nothing, picking up the kettle of tea and refilling his glass in silence. The unusual revelation from the taciturn Uchiha was perhaps also part of his post-battle response, but then the moment of willingness to share had been broken when he realized the rarity of what he was doing.
"I once tried to learn how to play the shamisen," Naruto offered, his clear blue eyes a little unsure and his smile a few notches below full wattage. "I met this really nice lady who offered to teach me. A geisha with hairpins shaped like birds in her hair." He smiled at the memory and then gulped down more tea.
"Why didn't you finish learning?" Sakura asked, and Naruto shrugged.
"I went back one day and couldn't find her. Some of the other ladies in the Hana district said she'd moved on to something better." He looked only briefly sad at the memory, so Sakura thought this must all have happened years ago.
"The Hana district in Konoha is more famous for its oiran than its geisha." Their conversation was interrupted by a golden-haired woman at the table next to theirs, wearing a kimono that despite its many layers showed off hints of the curves she possessed. A long, slim kiseru pipe dangled between two pale fingers and trail of smoke wafted out in the corner of her painted lips.
Naruto stared. Sasuke stared. Sakura resolutely did not cave their heads in. She couldn't have compared with Fleur, but this high-brow, finely-boned woman had a touch of the same effect. Sasuke broke his stare after a few seconds though, looking more annoyed than entranced. Perhaps he'd only been surprised at her interjection. She couldn't say the same for Naruto, though.
"Oiran?" Sakura asked, mostly to break the silence. She vaguely recognized that term, though from some book she'd read rather than from an Academy lesson.
"My, my, what do they teach young ninja these days?" the woman asked, and as she moved, a tattoo of a what Sakura recognized as a nighthawk stretched over her collarbone. "Oiran, though skilled in ikebana, dance and conversation, share more intimate arts with their customers as well."
"Who are you?" Sasuke said, voice brusque. Sakura wasn't sure if he'd caught the implication in her words or if he was just irritated by the interruption. He jabbed Naruto with his elbow, which made the blond blink and snapped him out of his staring.
"O-Hisa, at your service," she said, dipping in a small bow over her cup of sake. Her tone was suggestive, though that might just be to tease them. And what a pretentious way of introducing herself, attaching that suffix to her name. Either she had a seriously inflated ego, or else she actually was important in some way and wanted them to know it. Some powerful person's mistress, perhaps?
Naruto perked up. "I'm-"
"- an idiot," Sasuke interrupted before their teammate could give his name to the stranger. They glared at each other for a moment and the woman looked on in amusement. There was something sharp in the back of her eyes that Sakura didn't trust, though from the lack of muscle-definition in her bared arms, Sakura doubted she was a ninja.
"O-Hisa-san?" A wealthy-looking man dressed in a dark blue kimono walked up to them and blinked at Sakura's team.
"Ginzou-dono," she murmured, and Sakura immediately recognized the name and would have cursed in her mind had that been the kind of thing she was prone to. The Daimyo's youngest son. He had a reputation for neglecting his duties as well as a rumored weakness for prostitutes. Sakura tried not to wrinkle her nose at him when he looked her way.
"What beautiful and unusual hair you have, girl," the man said, turned towards her, and casually reached out to touch it. Sakura kept herself from stiffening admirably, and watched as Naruto's mouth opened and Sasuke's lips pursed. Both looked half a second away from protesting on her behalf, and that made Ginzou's presumptuous touch grate less on her nerves. "What is your name?"
"Sakura, my lord," Sakura said, relieved for once that her name was so common. Naruto stared at her in confusion when she shared her name, but closed his mouth around whatever he'd been about to say.
"It suits you very well," he said, patting her head and smiling like he was granting her a favor. Or like she was a dog. Under the table, Sakura's hands slowly clenched into fists. She would have pulled away if not for Sasuke's fingers closing around her wrist like he'd sensed the change in her mood. Her other hand was enfolded in one of Naruto's warm ones and suddenly Sakura felt light enough to soar. These weren't her boys, weren't Ron and Harry, but oh, how similar they felt in this moment. She could almost hear the echoes of their reassuring voices in her mind.
"Should I be jealous, Ginzou-dono?" O-Hisa asked, voice demure and eyelashes sweeping a shadow over her high cheekbones. Sakura doubted that her question was meant seriously, but it made Ginzou turn back to her with a smile.
"Oh, no. Your beauty is beyond comparison, my dear. But cherry blossoms have their own charm." He kissed the knuckles of the slim hand O-Hisa offered him. How pureblooded of her, Sakura thought and waved away the mental image of Pansy Parkinson's snooty expression that flickered over O-Hisa's face. Parkinson looked nothing like this woman, hadn't had a shred of her beauty or grace. But that expression...
"Because they fall we love them, the cherry blossoms." O-Hisa's voice was a croon, a hum. She twirled a lock of her golden hair between her fingers as she recited. "In this floating world, does anything endure?" That was definitely a poem. Or part of a poem. Sakura had transcribed enough poetry from memory these past few years to recognize the melodious fall of a recitation.
She'd also been bullied enough to recognize a veiled insult when she heard one, no matter how dressed up in flowery language it was. From the amused flicker in the lord's eyes, he recognized it too. Stupid purebloods. Except there were no purebloods here. The wealthy, influential and beautiful were just as used to casually treading over everyone else as in her old world.
Sakura thought back to the last poem she'd translated, the one her mother had praised. She thought about how always being the sensible one in any group sometimes got to her. She thought about how they were anonymous right now, in a town full of anonymity. Then she opened her mouth to give back as good as she got.
"Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold..." she began, and recited the poem as gracefully as she could, conscious of the fact that her voice didn't fall as smoothly as O-Hisa's had. And that engaging some random woman in a poetry contest of all things was perfectly ridiculous.
She spoke the poem's last two sentences in a soft voice, "...so dawn goes down to day; nothing gold can stay." There was a silence in the wake of her words, and Sakura fought back the rising blush in her cheeks. What the hell was she doing? The poems were for her, she wasn't supposed to be clubbing other people over the head with them just because she was feeling snippy. And maybe still a bit rattled from the first fight she'd experienced since she died.
But Ginzou looked pleasantly surprised, and O-Hisa's eyebrows were high on her forehead. Her teammates seemed confused and in Sasuke's case, also somewhat impressed. Lovely, so he wasn't impressed enough with her shinobi skills to consider her a rival, but her skills at reciting bloody poetry was enough to earn her an interested glance?
"I am not familiar with this stanza," O-Hisa said, her large eyes as dark and shining as pools of oil. Painted lips quirked in an expression that called to mind some slippery feline animal hiding either a wildcat's fangs or a house-cat's friendly headbutt. She couldn't tell which.
"It's not a famous one," Sakura agreed, paused and then explained herself to be its maker. It still felt indecent, claiming someone else's work as her own.
"That is most impressive, girl," Ginzou said, but Sakura's only pleasure was the slight narrowing of O-Hisa's eyes. "Say, is your group free to move?"
"I'm afraid not," Sasuke said smoothly in her place, "Our guardian wishes for us to return to him within the hour."
"Your guardian? You are related?" Sakura wondered why this man assumed they would answer a stranger's questions, considering that he hadn't actually introduced himself. Or was he just so used to people recognizing him that he assumed everyone he came across would?
"It's none of your business," said Naruto, putting his glass to the table a bit too loudly. Both he and Sasuke stood up, and Sakura wasn't sure whether to join them or try to make them sit back down to avoid causing a scene. More of a scene than she'd already caused herself.
"Is there a problem here, sirs, madams?" A woman in a starched uniform sidled to their side, an obsequious smile on her face and her hands clasped in front of her.
"We were just leaving," said Sasuke, put several bills on the table and then ushered her past a sputtering Ginzou and a carefully blank O-Hisa.
"Girl, if you're willing to recite more of your poetry, my company is staying at the Hankyuu Resort! Make sure you leave your impolite friends behind, and we'll have a splendid evening together! Feel free to bring guests with you, if they share your talent for poetry!" He sounded like he was expecting her to take him up on the offer, voice laughing as he called after them.
Sakura hoped the Hankyuu was far away from where they were staying, as she did not want to run into the lord they'd just abruptly walked away from any time soon. Who knew how he might react if he found out they were from Konoha? In her experience, the wealthy had egos as fragile as sparrow eggs, even when they seemed good-natured.
Out in the street, they moved deep into an alley and watched for any sign that they were followed. "That was weird," Naruto said, frowning at the mouth of the alley. "But that poem of yours was really good, Sakura-chan! Um, I didn't really understand it. But it was beautiful!"
Sakura smiled at his sincerity, but then shook her head. "I shouldn't have done that. The man, Ginzo-dono, is the Daimyo's youngest son."
"I realized," Sasuke said with a nod. He was still frowning. "I dislike the vibes he gave off."
"Me too. He shouldn't have patted Sakura's hair like that, the prick." Then Naruto blinked. "Wait, he's the Daimyo's son? He looked all rich and the way he talked sounded really posh, but I didn't recognize him."
"He's the youngest son, so there's no reason you would." Sakura pushed her fingers through her hair, feeling strangely tired all of a sudden. They'd have to report this to Kakashi, and she'd have to explain that she was the one to create this mess.
"But both of you did." Naruto looked down at his toes. "I'm gonna have to start reading more," he said with reluctance, apparently to himself, before sighing explosively.
"Let's head back," Sasuke said, his focus on the people passing by the alley. Sakura and Naruto turned to follow him, and then they made their way back towards the place they'd split from Kakashi on a side-road that wasn't connected to the one that housed The Old Pond.
They waited by the sculpture of the dancing woman until Kakashi showed up, slouching towards them with his hands in his pockets. He was dressed in a simple gray kimono, with his Sharingan hidden behind an eye-patch and his silvery hair tied down. He looked strangely naked without his headband, even if he'd donned a scarf to substitute for his mask. 'He still looks suspicious,' Sakura reflected, 'And weird.'
"I found us a hotel," was the first and only thing he said, and then Naruto opened his mouth and in a loud whisper started explaining who they'd met and what had happened. The jounin's expression never changed, though he sighed a little when Naruto's explanation ground to a halt.
"For next time, Naruto, wait to make your reports until we're somewhere isolated." A half-lidded eye turned to look at Sakura, whose shoulders tensed a little as she waited to be rebuked. "It's unusual for you to be the center of these things. I guess you're more like your teammates than I assumed," he finished, slowly scratched the back of his neck and then gestured for them to follow him.
That was less than Sakura had expected, though perhaps he wanted to be alone with them before he began chewing them out.
Kakashi led them to the door of building that Sakura would have called nondescript if not for the bright red window frames.
"Is this our hotel?" Naruto asked and the jounin hummed agreeably at the question. Sakura stared at the garish décor, all frills and overly large ornate mirrors coupled with an unfortunate tendency to combine bright reds with bright purples.
"Kakashi-sensei," she said slowly as they passed a gaggle of laughing young women orbiting a man wearing too much gold jewelry. "What kind of hotel is this, exactly?"
Kakashi gave her the kind of look a well-fed, well-satisfied cat might give you. "Our funds didn't stretch as far as I thought, but no worries, there are even less reputable hotels in this town."
"That's not very reassuring, Kakashi-sensei," said Naruto and darted to the side to avoid a drunk elderly woman escorted by a very well-built dark-skinned man wearing a see-through shirt. "Sensei, is this a sex hotel?" Naruto asked bluntly, staring after the two as they passed.
Kakashi stared lazily at him over a shoulder. "I think the owners of these establishments prefer them to be known as 'love hotels'," he drawled. He stopped outside of a door, unlocking it with a keycard and leaning his hip on it to let them into the room.
"We're staying in a brothel," Sasuke said flatly when they were inside.
Kakashi slumped down on one of the king-sized beds. "Maa, it's a hotel. People do occasionally stay here just because it's cheap and clean."
"Not very often, but it does happen." Sakura saw Kakashi's mouth quirk behind the layer of cloth. Sasuke looked ready to lunge at his throat.
Sakura rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand and wondered what in the world Kakashi was thinking. Perhaps this was the hotel they'd be able to remain hidden the easiest? But then, they were three children and an adult in a love hotel. Wouldn't that look both suspicious and illegal to outsiders? Then again, this might be the kind of place that took care not to look too closely at its clientele.
She resolved not to ask, for once, because their teacher was a jounin and surely he knew what he was doing. Unless he just wanted to discomfort them as some kind of lesson- though it wasn't like she'd never dealt with prostitutes as Hermione. War brought poverty, and poverty brought people to the brink of desperation. Desperate times called for desperate measures, especially if you had children to feed...
Sakura shook away the dark thoughts of hollow-eyed women walking the streets of Knockturn and occasionally Diagon Alley, and turned back to watch Naruto call their teacher a pervert and a lout. Kakashi bopped him on the head with smile and then motioned for them to sit down.
"As long as Ginzou didn't recognize you as shinobi of Konoha, I doubt the situation will cause further problems. Naruto, you never explained exactly why the lord invited Sakura back to his hotel." The implied question was seemingly directed towards Naruto, but Kakashi's one visible eye rested on Sakura.
Naruto grinned at her. "Oh, Sakura-chan had this poem that he really liked and he wanted to hear more."
"A poem." Kakashi looked like he wasn't sure whether to believe that or not, but when both Sakura and Sasuke nodded in agreement, he sank his chin into his hand and hummed thoughtfully. "I'm pretty sure lord Shima is part of Ginzou's retinue," he said.
Sakura drew in a breath she hoped wasn't too noticeable. He wasn't saying that she'd caused them general inconvenience by making herself memorable to someone close to their target. She heard, in Kakashi's words, another implication: this is a viable way to approach Shima.
The only reason she'd even recited that poem was because O-Hisa had acted so pureblooded and she'd let herself be provoked, but she'd never have acted on the impulse if she hadn't been so sure it was very unlikely that they'd ever cross paths again.
"You want us to take him up on the offer?" Sakura asked quietly, and watched Sasuke's frown deepen. Naruto plopped down next to her, staring at Kakashi with his lips pursed enough to make his mouth resemble a raisin.
"Kakashi-sensei, we can't do that! That guy is a complete creep." He shook his head fast enough to make his blond bangs fly back and forth. Sakura thought to herself that Ginzou been less of a creep and more of a condescending jerk, but didn't comment.
At that remark, Sasuke drew himself up, looking like he had to make himself speak. "I don't like it either."
Kakashi watched them lazily, tilting his head so his gaze could encompass them all. His voice was dry when he spoke: "You seem to have forgotten that this is a mission we've been assigned to complete. Unless you are protesting because you feel that Ginzou's too much of a threat for this course of action to run smoothly, this is what we'll do."
And that was apparently that.
A/N: What did you think of this chapter? The team 7 interaction? The mission? The OCs? (I sincerely hope they went over well, because OCs do have a bit of a reputation...) And what I'm most interested in: what did you think of Sakura and O-Hisa's little verbal spar? I hope you didn't find my quoting that handful of poem lines too intrusive. I wasn't even planning on doing that, but then it fit so well...
The poem O-Hisa quoted is by Ariwara no Narihira, if anyone's interested.
Thanks to Against-The-Current for her help :D
I hope you've all had a great holiday!