Kakashi Hatake was so tired that he seriously considered calling Pakkun and letting himself fall asleep while walking back to the hotel – a somnambulant's walk, blind to the world, finding the way to his temporary home with only Pakkun's guidance. The only reason for not trying this was not that Pakkun with his legendary sense of humour or lack of thereof would probably lead him to some other place instead of his rented room - anything from a women's onsen to a chicken coop was possible -, but rather that Kakashi was so tired that even keeping a simple thought in mind like "get back to hotel, now" required some effort on his part.
There. The Blue Orchid. Everything was fine. The building seemed intact, no flames, no shouting, blessed silence all around, and almost complete darkness except for one window.
He automatically counted the windowsills. No, it wasn't Sakura's window. That one, on the left, was hers and it was dark. What was she doing now? It wasn't that late yet, but Sakura liked to go to bed early if she could. She was probably asleep. He wanted to sleep, too. He'd been so busy gathering information that he slept only about three hours altogether in two days' time.
He yawned. The light in the other window went out, just as he opened the entrance door.
Kakashi smiled. She's in bed, safe and asleep. The thought of Sakura sleeping with that little half-smile on her face, her pink hair sticking out in crazy angles and her small nose pushed into the pillow always made him feel absurdly mellow and soft inside. She was almost sixteen now, but she was still such a child, sweet and innocent...
He yawned again as he climbed the steps. Bed. I'm so tired I'm not even hungry.
He knocked only once on the door next to Sakura's room. He knew that Genma was a light sleeper just like all the old soldiers and also that he probably locked the door. Not that Kakashi couldn't pick the lock in about two seconds, but common courtesy dictated that they behave like civilians unless there was a problem.
Genma opened the door noiselessly, his senbon in his mouth. His brown locks were disheveled - but his eyes were alert.
Kakashi shook his head and yawned.
That was about the maximal exchange of information they needed right now. Genma knew that there was no important news that couldn't wait until next morning, and Kakashi knew that everything had been quiet here, too.
Then Genma's eyes darted toward the other room, and Kakashi pushed Genma back to their room, not too gently, and shut the door.
Genma shrugged again and lied back on his bed.
Genma was his best buddy and they'd known each other for ages and fought by each other's side countless times, but as far as Sakura was concerned, Genma was the bane of Kakashi's existence.
Genma around women was just like a fox around chicken, and in general Kakashi couldn't care less – he'd had his little night adventures in different towns, too, and felt no right whatsoever to pass judgement on Genma in any way. But with Sakura...
In the last few months Sakura started to grow into a very beautiful woman. The process was dangerously fast, and when Genma was anywhere near Sakura, his face began to mold into that dreamy kind of look that meant that he was starting to consider the ways and means to add just another trophy to his considerable collection, and Kakashi was adamant that it wouldn't happen. Just no.
That was why Sakura now wasn't alone in that room. Usually when four men and one woman went out together on a mission, the woman would always have a separate room for herself if the mission did not require otherwise. But leaving Sakura alone in a room for two nights while Kakashi was lurking unobtrusively in a nearby border town, gathering information... No. Out of the question.
That was why his other best buddy, the silent, kind and most of all, honest fellow that he'd also known for ages, one Asuma Sarutobi was politely asked two days ago to share a room with Sakura.
Kakashi looked around as he put down his backpack and his ninjato.
The third shinobi in the room was soundly asleep and only his dark ponytail was visible, sticking out of the bundle of blankets.
Originally Kakashi wanted to ask Shikamaru to share a room with Sakura (they knew each other well and used to be classmates once, after all), but then he realized that no matter how lazy Shikamaru was, he was still a sixteen-year-old guy, and hormones have a way of waking up even the laziest guy if the situation is considered favourable – and spending two nights in a hotel room with a pretty girl would definitely be a wake-up call to even Shikamaru.
No, Asuma was the best choice.
Kakashi lied down on the bed and with a satisfied sigh closed his eyes.
He was slowly starting to feel that pleasant, warm fog around him that meant he would be asleep in a minute or two when a door on the corridor closed with a bang and then Kakashi heard giggles from the next room, followed by a deep, male chuckle.
"I can't believe you're so clumsy," someone said in a whisper, and someone else with a lighter voice said, "Well, I can't believe that you wanted me to go out with you and buy these in the middle of the night, just because you felt like having fun! What would Kakashi sensei say?"
Kakashi's eyes opened before he had time to register that he heard his own name.
What the hell...?
"Don't be such a little Miss Prim-and-proper. You're under my jurisdiction now."
"Yes, and some jurisdiction that is. You bought five packages. Five? I don't think we'll use more than one or two at the most," the female voice said.
Kakashi furrowed his brows. He was still too sleepy to go inquire right now, but he would ask some questions the next morning.
He looked at Genma. He was grinning like mad. When he saw Kakashi looking at him, he twirled the senbon in his mouth in such a way that if there were any females in the room, Kakashi was sure they would simply pass out with a sigh on their lips.
Judging by the look on his face, Genma seemed to have no problem guessing what those packages might be.
Kakashi was puzzled. The man was Asuma, that was for sure, but if he was going to spend the night with some woman, where did he put Sakura? Did he rent her another room? Hell, he told Asuma that Sakura wasn't safe alone in a hotel room at night! But... but they were talking about him a minute ago. Now that was strange.
"Oh, stop complaining," Asuma's voice said. "Yeah, maybe we went a little overboard, but you know what they say, better safe than sorry. What if they break or something?"
"Oh, I don't really mind," the female voice said. It was Sakura. Kakashi was sure it was Sakura. "If there's any left, we can use them next time. When's Kakashi sensei supposed to be back?"
"I suppose he'll be tired, too, poor sensei. So we have plenty of time," Sakura added in a satisfied voice.
Kakashi's mind was still processing what he heard a minute ago. The problem was, in a way, solved, because Sakura wasn't alone and unprotected, she was right here in the next room, but the way she and Asuma talked was nothing like their usual clipped, polite exchanges. Did they get so friendly with each other in just two days' time?
Kakashi felt jealous. Definitely and illogically jealous. He knew that Sakura was a tiny bit angry with him because he rarely visited her when they were both in Konoha, but the truth was, in the last two years he was so busy he hardly had time to change his clothes between missions. Strictly speaking, Kakashi was not even her sensei anymore, but the thought of Sakura turning to Asuma for guidance instead of him left him feeling strangely empty.
"I'm cold. It's unbelievable how the temperature here drops once the sun has set," the female voice complained, still quietly but not whispering anymore.
"Get back under the blankets, then. I'll be just a minute."
Kakashi was lying on his bed, his eyes half-open, staring into the darkness.
"Move over, Sakura. You take up too much room."
Kakashi's eyelids were suddenly glued to his eyebrows. There was a double bed and a single bed in Sakura's room instead of three singles like in this one.
They are sharing a bed? Isn't Asuma taking being alert a notch too far?
Then he heard rustling noises that could only be someone (or several someones) taking off clothes, and then there were some small noises like little objects being dropped on a surface and the sound of a zip.
"Wow, Asuma sensei," Sakura's voice said, a little breathless. "That's an impressive package."
"Thanks, Sakura. You know what a guy likes to hear."
"We cater to every need," Sakura said and giggled again. "But I have to add that Ibiki-san's bigger."
Kakashi turned his head to hear better and his eyes met Genma's. Genma was sitting on his bed, his head tilted sideways, concentrating on the discussion in the next room. He raised his eyebrows and mouthed to Kakashi, "Ibiki? As in Ibiki Morino?"
Kakashi wanted to sit up but his muscles seemed frozen.
Unfortunately he couldn't dismiss the idea with a shrug. Sakura knew Ibiki personally, he knew that, they were on a mission together in Tea years ago. Hell. Did his student go and do something that was...
Oh God, Ibiki?
"So you know Ibiki-san well?" Asuma asked in the other room. There was a certain shade of...mmm.. respect in his voice, Kakashi thought.
Understandable, he added to himself. Where Ibiki was concerned, it was better to tread carefully.
"I wouldn't say well, sensei," Sakura chirped. Kakashi noted that there was a certain smugness in her voice. "But he is a much more complex personality than people think, and he was very nice to me. Say, sensei, will you come here at last or will you go on fiddling with that thing any longer?"
Kakashi turned his head toward Genma again. Genma's eyes were opened so wide that the whites reflected the light in an eerie way in the almost total darkness of the room.
There was a creak in the other room. The creak of a bed. Somebody, or two somebodies, trying to find a comfortable way of...
"Oh, sensei," Sakura purred. "That's nice."
"Please, Sakura, stop calling me sensei," Asuma's voice said. "It's kind of disturbing. We're equal here."
"Well, we'll see about that in a minute. Now, where did we stop the last time? Mmm. Raise your left knee a little."
A chuckle. A giggle.
"That will be enough," Sakura said. "This isn't a cheerleaders' parade."
"Don't be cruel. I'm an old, old man."
"If you're an old, old man, then stop pulling the blanket off. My feet are cold."
"Your feet are always cold, Sakura."
Well, then this wasn't a hoax of some kind, Kakashi thought. Sakura's feet were always cold, and she had this disturbing habit of putting them...
"Ouch, Sakura! These are really cold! No, don't put them there! I'm losing my concentration!"
"Don't be silly, Asuma. Think of what Kurenai sensei would say if she saw you like this."
"I'd rather try not to think of that, Sakura."
"Oh. Oh. Sorry. You mean... she... well..."
"Let's put it this way – I'm not going to tell her that you wanted me to teach you to..."
"I never asked you to teach me anything, sensei! This was supposed to be a shared experience, it's ..."
"Asuma. Just Asuma. Okay?"
"Okay. Anyway, let's not argue about this. I won't tell anyone, okay? Asuma. But don't get all high and mighty with me again."
"So I'm not the first guy you do this with? Is that what you're saying?"
"Please. I thought you could tell. But I like to play with you. You're kind of easy."
"Please, Sakura, leave me at least the shreds of my dignity."
"Fine. Fine. Let's stop joking and get down to it. Seriously. I don't really want the others to participate. Especially not Genma."
Now Kakashi very carefully and on purpose did not look toward Genma. His face was burning.
"Actually, I tried this with a few guys and you're not the worst by far," Sakura said. There was a rustle of movement again.
"Quite. It's kind of funny. I mean it requires a special set of skills, so... I mean, I talked Neji into trying it and truly, he was just sh... I mean, awful."
Kakashi found himself sitting on the bed.
Neji? That little twit with the attitude and the long hair? She talked him into trying it? I want to break him in two! I'll talk to Gai... but how could I complain? Hell. Sakura, we're going to have a serious talk tomorrow morning.
"Have you ever thought of teaching Ino...?"
"Sakura. I don't want to talk about Ino right now. She's my student. I mean, I would lose her respect if... you know..."
"Only if you're really lousy in this. I think you'd be surprised. She's quite open-minded."
"Uhmm... did you try this with Ino?"
"Just once. I really prefer guys. They have... you know, their way of thinking is different. And they are more aggressive."
Genma chuckled in the dark.
Kakashi looked at him with blazing eyes but Genma was relentless. "Way of thinking?" he mouthed to Kakashi.
A giggle. A chuckle.
"Uhmm... I have a question."
"Have you ever tried to rope ... Kakashi in?"
A half-muffled shriek.
"Good God, no! I mean... I respect him so much, and it would just kill me if he said no, he wasn't interested... you know."
Kakashi felt his face go up in flames. He had no idea that Sakura ever even considered him that way. Oh God, what am I going to do?
He saw Sakura suddenly not as the little girl she used to be, but the kunoichi she was turning into – strong, smart, and undeniably sexy. Is she thinking of me that way?
And she was in bed with his best friend right now in the room next to his, and the walls were like paper. He would either have to knock on the wall to let them know they were overheard or he would have to go in and make them stop. Sakura was his responsibility, Asuma should have known better, he would make him pay, he would...
A grunt. Then another.
"Start moving, will you?"
"Good things come to those who wait, remember."
"I bet you say that to all the girls."
Kakashi was starting to feel a deep, burning anger. He trusted Asuma. Sakura should have been safe with him. He promised. And now...
He could see Genma's grin even in the dark. He never told Genma why he arranged things this way, but Genma wasn't an idiot, he knew that Kakashi wanted to keep him away from Sakura, his precious little student, sweet little Sakura, who had both Ibiki and Asuma under her thumb, and maybe Neji, and...
"Is it true that you were the one who taught Shikamaru how to do this?" Sakura's voice asked.
"Yeah. Kind of," Asuma's voice answered with a tiny laugh. "He was a natural but I was the one who taught him the ropes. Except, of course, we do it in a different way. I mean..."
"Yeah, I guess it's more complicated when..." Sakura cut in.
They both laughed.
Kakashi turned his head in a flash toward the outlines of Shikamaru's body, still asleep, and he saw that Genma's head was turned that way, too.
Shikamaru? Asuma and... Shikamaru?
"But he's really, really good at this." Sakura's voice was filled with awe. "I mean his moves are like a dream."
"How do you know about that, anyway?" Asuma asked.
"Oh, it's not a secret. Shikamaru and I meet regularly, and he tells me things," Sakura said.
"Fine. Then you have an idea how frustrating he can be when he wants to," Asuma sighed.
"Yeah. I have to do all the work and he just smiles. So I suppose this is a sort of a consolation prize for both of us."
Another, ominous creak of the bed.
"But it's so difficult to find a place where people don't drop in unexpectedly," Sakura continued. "You know what I mean. We discussed that several times with Shikamaru. You just start and then someone knocks at the door and you have to get up and open the door and pretend that they didn't interrupt anything important."
"A complete killjoy," Asuma said with conviction.
"But if you taught Shikamaru, you must have a lot of good moves, too."
"Funky," Sakura said. "So show me. I like it rough."
"Then spread your legs a little. Yes. Just like that. Keep it taut."
"Mmm. Ouch! That was uncalled for!"
"You said you liked it rough, Sakura!"
"Asuma, there is rough and rough, if you know what I mean. Now..."
Now that's it! Kakashi thought and he stood up. I'm going in and...
He marched to the door, tore it open and with two steps reached the other room, Genma next to him. Just one kick and the door of the other room was torn off its hinges, and...
Kakashi looked in and found Asuma and Sakura sitting on the bed, completely dressed. Both of them were covered in blankets that formed a miniature hillside that was full of tiny plastic figures of shinobi, scattered here and there. There were also some packages still unopened on the bedstand.
"Hello, Kakashi sensei," Sakura chirped. She was trying to pull the blanket straight between her knees. The plastic shinobi figures wobbled. Sakura flicked her fingers and sent one of her figures flying into the neatly arranged row of small soldiers standing around Asuma's right hand.
"Ouch!" Asuma hissed. "Careful! You're supposed to kill my soldiers, not me!"
He carefully flicked a toy shinobi over his troops. It fell just short of the mountaintop of Sakura's right knee.
"So you're back from your recce, sensei? Did everything go well?" Sakura asked. "Umm, maybe you could put the door back, if you don't mind," she added with a slightly worried look.
"Yes, and you could sweep up the splinters, too," Asuma murmured and absentmindedly replaced a tiny shinobi on the hill that was his left foot.
"Don't cheat!" Sakura scolded him. "I saw that! And anyway, it's my turn!"
"I'm not cheating," Asuma said with dignity. "It's just when you don't spread your legs, your blanket isn't taut enough and the figures fall off."
"Anyway, you should think that move over," Sakura said. "I know that by heart. It's Shikamaru's favourite move. I will kill all your second division if you insist on putting your soldiers there."
Kakashi looked at Genma. Genma was massaging his temples and looked just as dazed as Kakashi felt.
Good to know I'm not the only one who was fooled.
"What's this?" a grumpy voice asked. "Were we attacked?"
Shikamaru walked in, barefoot and half-asleep, then his eyes opened.
"Oooh! Wargames! Me, too!"
"No, we've already started!"
"Don't be like that, Sakura! Without me you wouldn't even know that this game existed!"
Kakshi sighed again and felt not only the fatigue of the mission but the weight of all his years. Thirty wasn't old, but now he felt like a hundred. Later. He'll think about this later.
He turned to go out and saw on the other nightstand a bunch of keys and a thick stack of exploding seals.
An impressive package...
He smiled. Sakura was safe, Asuma was still a friend, and he had a bed to sleep in. He went back to his room.
Shikamaru smiled to himself, too, a secretive little smile before he also turned to go back to bed. He glimpsed the shadow of the same secretive smile on Sakura's face.
Sakura. That girl has the devil inside. Smart as a whip. She led Kakashi by the nose. I wonder if Asuma knows?
He looked at his sensei but Asuma was busily arranging his figures and didn't even look up.
I guess both Sakura and I will be left alone for a while. Funny how Kakashi never noticed that I wasn't asleep. He must be really tired.
He looked at Sakura again who was concentrating on the game.
There's just one thing there, though... I wonder what she meant when she mentioned Ibiki. Nobody in this millennium ever saw him without his military coat except for those guys who tortured him... but I don't think any of those survived.
He shook his head.
How did Sakura know what Ibiki carried in the pockets of his pants?
The next time Sakura was willing to play wargames with him (or anything else, a little voice in his mind whispered), he would have to lay a bet with Sakura to find out.