Epilogue – Thirty Million Ryo

The door to the hotel room closed.

"The best to deal with these things," Kakashi began, "is to pretend they didn't happen. Don't let any councilor tell you otherwise." He looked down.

Naruto peered up at him, pushing the blanket off. One hand was still positioned on the inside of his thigh, stained with white liquid. He slowly brought the hand up, "they won't mind us being together," he said matter-of-factly. "They're our teammates and precious people, and it would be weird if they didn't know, anyway."

Kakashi watched silently as his student slowly licked at his hand, tasting him. He shivered.

"Like strawberry-flavored shampoo," Naruto said, sounding slightly disappointed. "That's probably what was in the shower, wasn't it?" He blinked owlishly. Maybe next time he'd get to taste what was masked by the shampoo flavor.

In response, Kakashi simply pulled him close. Their forms pressed against each other as he brought him into a deeper kiss, passionate enough to send tingles down his body. Naruto melted onto him and opened his mouth again, letting his tongue slide across already reddened lips. He learned best this way, with his body. And Kakashi-sensei was good at teaching.

Kakashi drew away, and his lips were quirked up into a slight smile. He noted wryly that he still had stamina. The sight of Naruto there in front of him was enough to make the blood rush back down.

"Maa…alright, Naruto. Alright."

Sakura's ecstatic smile melted away when she sat down on the bed in Sai's hotel room. She buried her face in her hands with a groan, still wearing her green kimono.

Behind her and across the room, Sai stood by the dresser slipping out of his shinobi clothes. He turned around when he heard the sound. "Ah, I see you have gotten over your elation, Sakura-san," he commented cheerfully. "Does this mean you will now consider that our teammates seemed to be having sex?"

She groaned again. "Don't say that word. I'm trying not to think about it."

"Oh. Is this one of those things that people don't talk about? Like your time of the mont-"

"Stop that thought right there, Sai," she said dryly.

He frowned, and finished pulling on his own set of hotel-issued pajamas while she stared pointedly at the ground. "Why do you not wish to talk about it? I think these types of social situations are fascinating learning experiences. For instance, the tension in that room was almost perceptible. Like I said; fascinating."

Sakura turned around and glared, "you may think it's interesting. But it's just … ew," she wrinkled her noise.

Sai seemed confused. "That seems to be an expression of disgust. You perceive it as disgusting?"

"It's weird!" She snapped. "He was doing in it my bed, wearing my clothes! I've done other things in that bed wearing those pajamas!"

Sai mentally stored away the fact that yes, Sakura-san seemed to do that too. Interesting.

"Why didn't he do it in the shower, or something? Someplace where I didn't need to sleep!" She huffed, sitting dejectedly near the pillows. Outside, the night had long fallen and the cold wind was starting to leak through the stucco walls.

He tilted his head, "so you have no problems with Naruto and sensei having-"

"Sure, but I don't have a say in that," Sakura muttered. She paused. "Wait, even Naruto has a love-life before me? Why am I so hopeless? Well, I'm fine with it as long as it doesn't get in the way of our team missions."

"How would it possibly affect our missions?"

I've just seen a lot more of Kashi-sensei than I ever wanted to. Ever. Even before you joined, he's always treated me like a little sister or something, and now it's going to be awkward as hell."

Sai smiled and sat down beside her. "I find that awkwardness only arises when you expect it to, Sakura-san. And in case you wanted to know, Shino-san is still bigger than him."

"I did not want to know that, no," she confirmed. "I guess we can forget that it happened. And we'll have to keep it a secret too, Tsunade-sama won't send them on missions together if she finds out, and the last thing we need is a sulky Naruto."

He nodded. "I am good at keeping things hidden. However, the more pressing matter is where you will sleep. There are no sofas in this room, and room-service has been closed for the night."

Sakura shrugged, "I'll take this side of the bed, then." It wasn't like they didn't share tents anyway. Sai was the only one who kept absolutely still while sleeping. He was also the only one who could withstand her snoring.

"And what will you sleep in?" He went on. "Surely you can't stay in that kimono?"

Sakura sighed deeply, and turned to look at him. "Sai, just take your side of the bed and turn to the wall."

He gave her a questioning look, but complied, shuffling over to slip under the far blankets and turning away. He heard the sound of shifting clothing behind him.

Two minutes later, the bed dipped slightly as Sakura took her side. Sai turned back, and then looked across the room.

The green kimono cloth was draped over the dresser.

Sakura glowered at him. "Goodnight, Sai. And I would suggest picking out your hospital bed before you even think of peeking."

The next morning, all four of members of Team Kakashi were standing silently in the Kazekage's office. Gaara sat behind the desk, and his dark circles were slightly more prominent than before. Behind him, Temari and Kankuro both stood by the window that overlooked Sunagakure in its entirety. Kankuro was gripping Temari's sleeve, holding her back from attacking.

Naruto and Kakashi were proudly wearing their shinobi clothing once again. Although, it didn't go unnoticed that Naruto stood rather stiffly.

"Well," Gaara began. "This has been ten times as troublesome as I expected. But Temari has successfully captured both of the rebels, and the money remaining seems to have been paid." He shot a glance towards the small box lying nearby.

"We can go back to Konoha, right Gaara? Right? Right?" Naruto chirped, placing both hands firmly on his desk. "Because Suna's great but I'm sweating everywhere."

Behind him, Sakura and Sai both winced. Gaara sighed.

"What I want to know," Temari began, "is why that just happened. You see, I did some research last night. Why in the Five Countries did you put him there when he looked so much like the White Fang?" She asked, pointing crudely at Kakashi.

"I … did not know," Gaara admitted. "I am still not well versed enough in Suna's history. I will stay up for the next week reading the material we have. Maybe the next month." He lowered his eyes dejectedly.

"No, no, that's ok," Kankuro rushed to assure him. "Everyone makes mistakes. It's fine. Temari's is expecting too much of you."

" … I apologize for not living up to your expectations."

Temari sighed. "You know, this has gone on long enough. Let's just send these idiots on their way. If you like, I'll escort them back to Konoha."

"She wants to see Shikamaru~" Kankuro sung. His sister pinched his leg hard to silence him.

Gaara nodded, "that is fine. When they head back, you two can accompany them. My advisors have reassured me that such behavior is normal among people your age – although I shudder at the thought of being perceptible to it – and Shikamaru would be an acceptable relation. You have my permission to remain there for two weeks, and Kankuro can go with you, since he seems to be 'dating' Sakura."

The office fell silent again, apart from the sound of Kakashi ruffling Sakura's hair while wearing a bright smile under his mask. He had taken the 'forget it ever happened' route, and she was fine with that. Although that didn't stop Sai from bringing it up every three minutes.

Kankuro looked sheepish. Temari placed a firm hand on his back and pushed him until he stumbled forward. He shot a peeved glance at her before gulping and stepping around the Kazekage's desk until he stood in front of Sakura, whose pink hair was still styled 'straight-out-of-bed'.

"Er, Sakura," he began, clearing his throat. "It's been … um … great being with you, and it was truly … enjoyable. But some things have come up and … well …"

Sakura stared. What was he going on about? She tilted her head to one side and waited for him to continue.

"Well, I think we should see other people," he finished weakly. "I mean, it's not that I don't like you …but … we would be better for … other people."

Behind him, Temari beamed.

Sakura looked at him blankly. Did he just … break up with her?

Cha! Inner Sakura exclaimed. No more need to deal with him, this is great! Wait … why did we have to get broken up with?! Her mood soured. She remained silent. Well, it wasn't that she liked Kankuro – she didn't – but did her first-ever dating experience have to end up with her in the loser's position?

Then again, it was rather convenient...

"Um, yeah, she's fine with that," Naruto spoke up happily, patting her shoulder. "She's just a little shocked, that's all. She'll be back in Sasuke-fangirl mode in a few hours, believe it! Now that it's over, we can head back, right? Right?"

"Naruto, I think Kazekage-sama is trying to say something," Kakashi told him.

Indeed, Gaara's hands were fidgeting slightly as he wondered how to deliver the news. Finally, he decided to say it all at once. He reached into the drawer beneath his desk and pulled out a single file, sliding it across the table. Sakura stilled when she saw it.

"Yes," he sighed, "the guards weren't there to confirm anything, and the prisoners naturally claim otherwise. You are the one who broke that wall, and now the entire support structure of the building is off balance. That half of the building will have to be almost completely redone."

There weren't any statues standing stiller than she was standing right then.

"-and that guard Taji tried to stand up for you, but he took part in it, and his evidence is questionable," Gaara sighed. "It took all my influence just to prevent him from receiving prison time. Luckily, he's decided to go back into active jonin duty."

Sakura gulped.

"So I'm afraid you'll now be responsible for the damage done," he finished.

She ran a hand tiredly through her messy pink hair. "How much is it?"

"Thirty million ryo."

There was silence for a while.

Gaara cringed slightly. "Please don't ask me to put you in the same cell as Sai. We do separate the cells by gender, and I rather like Sai, and therefore wish for him to remain in existence. I do assure you that I will find a sufficiently sane cell partner for you …"

"Son of a-"

That night, Sakura made an appearance in Sai's hotel room. She had assured Gaara that no, they were not going to prison, and yes, they were going to pay off the money, but she hadn't told him how. The full payment was due the next day.

She walked over to the bed and shook Sai's sleeping form awake. He peered up at her, fully conscious. "Sakura-san, I was wondering when you would come to discuss your decision. I was under the impression that you had no money?"

"I don't," she seethed, arms crossed over her chest. "I came to ask for help."

"Help?" He sat up in the blankets. "For what, Sakura-san?"

"Well," she cleared her throat. "Um … how many civilians must we … visit … to make up our funds?"

Sai brightened, "I know you'd see things my way eventually, Sakura-san."

Sakura assured everyone that she was going to kill the next person who asked her where she'd gotten thirty million ryo. Sai stood beside her, smiling his bland smile.

Their return to Konoha was anticlimactic. Luckily, the Godaime Hokage hadn't gone out and yelled to her heart's content that Naruto-baka had landed himself in prison, and they suspected that Shizune had something to do with that.

Sakura was charged with writing up the full mission report, which Kakashi cheerfully left at her doorstep. It was stained with comically frustrated tears when she finally handed it in.

Temari stayed in the village for a lot longer than she needed to. She huffed and said it was to 'educate herself in inter-cultural diversity' and Shikamaru said it was a drag that he had to escort her around. The fact that he said it just as Chouji was about to volunteer was suspicious enough.

Sai wrote a book on the socio-emotional behavior of humans. For some reason, it sold rather well.

Naruto went to 'visit Mr. Ukki' at Kakashi's apartment a lot more often than one really needed to visit a plant. But most evenings, he would cheerfully end training by announcing a rendezvous with it, and whichever poor chunin souls that had agreed to train with him would scratch their heads and watch him go.

But no one really thought differently of it. They were Naruto and Kakashi, after all. Naruto and Kakashi were weird.

One year later.

"No, Kakashi-sensei. You can't have another one." Naruto crossed his arms over his green vest, glaring daggers at the man sitting beside him.

"Maa, why not?" Kakashi complained lightly, tapping his chopsticks against the empty bowl. "I'm starting to like this stuff. And it's your fault. My poor kitchen is completely stocked with instant ramen."

"Because …" Naruto faltered. "It's not healthy to eat that much!"

"More like 'it's not healthy to drain your wallet any further'," Teuchi muttered from behind the counter. "Come on, Naruto, you always eat five bowls when your sensei treats." He placed another bowl of miso ramen with beef in front of his best customer's sensei. He wasn't actually his sensei anymore, but somehow the term had stuck. And Kakashi didn't seem to mind. The pervert.

Naruto watched dejectedly, but he grinned when Kakashi pulled down his mask to eat. Somehow, even after all this time, it was still exciting to see his face unmasked. It was an interesting face, after all. At least Gama-chan didn't suffer as much as he did when Ero-Sennin was around. Had been around.

Things were easier to handle when there was something to pull you back up. And he thought with not a little pride that their successes over the past year had somehow matched it.

He watched as Kakashi quickly finished the bowl, and set it down with a contented sigh. There was a twinkle in his eye when he pulled up his mask and turned back. "Anyway, is doing well. Last time I checked, she's grown two more leaves."

"Oh, awesome!" Naruto grinned, "I guess it's time to start adding more water, then. I'll ask Shizune nee-chan to be sure. She's really good with gardening and stuff." They'd taken to talking about the plant in front of people. After all, that was their excuse for seeing each other more often, and they had to keep up the talk in public.

At first, he'd wanted to announce to the world that he was Hatake Kakashi's precious person in more ways than one. But it was better this way, even if their dates weren't actual dates. This way, it was just between them. And Sakura. And Sai. And Sasuke-teme, since the brooding idiot couldn't not notice these things. But that was fine, they'd never tell. Not even Sasuke, who'd reluctantly accepted it after weeks of remaining in denial. Those frown-lines of his were going to settle into his face, though.

The rest of the village just assumed that they had somehow willingly become the surrogate parents of a plant.

"I don't know what you two see in that plant," Ayame commented. She was washing the dishes that her father handed her. "I mean, it's a nice plant, but it doesn't even have any flowers."

"You shouldn't insult her," Kakashi said evenly, taking out Icha Icha Violence and flipping to his favorite page. "She's beautiful in her own way."

Ayame raised an eyebrow. "Her?"

"Yeah," Naruto explained. "She's a girl-plant. The 'Mr.' is part of her name, it's not a title."

She shook her head incredulously and went back to washing dishes. Kakashi smiled under his mask and let his eyes skim the words of the book.

They sat there by the counter for another half-hour, talking to Ayame and Teuchi until it was time for Ichiraku Ramen to close. They were walking back down the darkening streets just as Sakura joined them, carrying her flak jacket over one arm. She'd exited the training grounds, where she had gone through a daily routine that would make Gai-sensei proud.

Sakura stretched her arms above her head and yawned. "My new apartment is this way, Naruto, Kakashi. So let's not make me a third wheel right now, ok?" She shot her teammates an amused look.

"Sure, Sakura-chan!" Naruto said.

Konoha's sky was darkening, and they could still hear the construction sounds of the sections of the village that needed to be rebuilt. They droned on in the distance, a constant reminder of both their failure and their success, and Naruto found that he didn't really mind the noise. He zipped up his jonin flak jacket to shield against the cold night breeze.

"How did your visit to Sasuke go?" Kakashi asked her quietly.

She sighed, "he kicked me out after a few minutes. But he did give me some really good advice while I was there. I think that maybe if I hadn't asked him out, he would have let me stay for the rest of the evening." She ran a hand through her cropped pink hair, "maybe insistence isn't the best way…"

"Give him time. People heal slowly, Sakura." Kakashi told her. "It's amazing that he's still so friendly, with all that's happened. You already know that he cares for you."

Naruto frowned. "Insistence is the best way, Sakura-chan. Insist until they have no other choice but to give in, and then keep insisting until they're sure. Trust me, it always works on stubborn, brooding people." He paused. "Stubborn, brooding people who drain your wallet …"

"What was that last part?" Sakura asked blankly.

"Ah, nothing." He grinned.

I hope you've enjoyed this little project I've been working on for the past two months as much as I've enjoyed writing it (^^). Thanks so much for all the encouragement, fanfictioners! May you love Naruto (and anime in general) 'till you're old and grey!