He came not one, not two, but three hours late.
Sakura was desperately trying to console their outraged client and managed to send Kakashi a death glare out of the corner of her eye. Sai harrumphed and hitched the straps of his backpack higher up his shoulders, ignoring the copy-nin as he took his place leisurely beside the artist. Naruto was uncharacteristically quiet and Kakashi came to the conclusion that he was probably still feeling ill.
“Don’t even think about talking to her,” Sakura hissed as he passed her, taking his position at the head of the group.
Kakashi angled his head ever so slightly to catch a better look at the person they were escorting. She appeared to be a proud, haughty woman with an arrogant tilt to her chin that made it seem as though she constantly looked down on everybody. He found himself quickly losing interest, spoiled overconfident women had never really appealed to him. The weary pack horse in front of Naruto was weighed down with heavy bags of nonsensical women things he presumed and he came to the conclusion that the woman was only walking with them because there was no room for her to ride on the horse.
“I think you broke your record, Hatake-san,” Sai commented to him with one of his infamous smiles.
Kakashi shook his head and answered, “I’ve had worse.”
“I don’t like her,” the artist stated bluntly and the copy-nin glanced back at the woman subtly to see if she could hear what they were talking about. She seemed too caught up in her own world and he let out an inward sigh of relief. The last thing they needed was a screaming brat.
Although Kakashi was inclined to agree, he asked Sai, “Has anybody ever told you that you’re a real dick sometimes?”
“Well, at least I have a dick unlike the idiot somewhere back there,” Sai said, completely unaffected by the copy-nin’s words.
“Sai, that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about.”
Said artist shrugged indifferently.
Naruto was silent, waiting for Sakura to initiate something. He was really just waiting for her to take the lead, if she acted as though nothing had happened last night and they hadn’t kissed then he would play along. However, he wasn’t sure what he’d do if it was the other way around…
“Are you going to go see Gaara?” she ventured in an attempt to break the uncomfortable atmosphere.
He grinned at her a bit too brightly and answered, “’Course! He loves having me around.”
“Didn’t he throw you out of Suna last time?” Sakura smirked at him and his expression faltered slightly.
And so the conversation continued playfully in this manner, bordering on the teetering edge of outright flirting. It didn’t escape Kakashi’s notice and he was glad that Sakura was happier than he had seen her in a while.
Four hours later, their charge had demanded they stop for a rest and they had grudgingly agreed. Escorting civilians around could be quite annoying in terms of their physical limitations and it irked Sai that they had to wait on this woman’s every want and need. Had Kakashi not been there to keep him in check, he probably would have killed the woman and run back to Konoha; owing it to some tragic mishap.
There was a sudden rustling movement in the trees bordering the path that caused all Naruto and Sakura’s heads to snap upwards simultaneously. Kakashi caught Sai’s gaze out of the corner of his onyx eye and Sai nodded imperceptibly. There was no wind and the copy-nin couldn’t pick up the dim chakra signals of an animals running throughout the treetops. It had to be a ninja cloaking his chakra and, as Sai’s eyes scanned the area where the sound had come from he caught a glint of silver.
As Naruto’s hand itched for his kunai holster, Kakashi uttered a quiet command to him, “Hold.”
His calloused fingers dropped to his side limply. Sakura forced a smile and spoke with him, putting up the illusion that they were completely unaware of a possible ambush. Closing his onyx eye, Kakashi let his senses rove over the area; picking up the faintest chakra traces. Sai watched him silently.
“I heard Keiji is turning twelve in a few days,” Kakashi commented loudly enough for Sakura and Naruto to hear.
The meaning behind his words was not lost on them. Twelve ninja waited to ambush them. Their charge was still blissfully unaware.
“Are we going to buy him a present?” Sakura ventured. Are we going to attack them?
Kakashi shrugged and answered easily, “I guess we’ll see what everyone else is getting him first.” We’ll let them attack first.
The woman stood from where she had been sitting on the side of the road for the past five minutes, brushing her hands against her violet skirt to rid herself of any dust. She began to walk away, the four ninja rushing after her. Kakashi and Sai took their place in front of her and Naruto pulled the horse along by its leather reins beside Sakura from their place at the back of the formation.
The seconds passed with the heavy weight of anticipation. Each step had them wondering if and when the surrounding ninja would attack. Naruto swallowed, his Adams apple bobbing up and down in wait impatiently. A bead of sweat charted a course down the side of Sai’s alabaster face and-
Sakura deflected the kunai with one of her senbon. The woman screamed, a shrill, annoying sound that set the horse on edge. It reared in fear and Naruto snapped at her, “Damn it woman, get your horse under control!”
She was too frightened to do anything but comply with his demands and snatched at the reins, forcing her horse back down. The four nin now surrounded her and the horse in a protective square. As a rain of kunai fell upon them, they deflected each and every projectile with practiced ease.
“Support!” Sai called out and instantly Kakashi appeared at his side.
Sai pulled out a clean scroll and his painting brush from behind his ear as Kakashi shielded him, deflecting twice as many kunai as he had before. He finished his painting within seconds and formed the correct hand signals, causing the paper of the scroll to glow ominously. From it leaped three large lions, tossing their manes in excitement. As one let a terrifying roar loose, the trees shuddered and leaves fell from their branches. He was aware that the horse was growing gradually more and more agitated behind him but the woman seemed to have it covered.
As the lions moved in a whir of inky black into the trees, baring sharp teeth and flexing razor like claws, Sai stood and quickly took his place at the woman’s side. As his paintings took out five different nin, the number of remaining enemies dwindled considerably to the point that they could only pick out two more. Sakura’s senbon whistled through the air and pierced one nin deep in the hollow of his neck. He fell to the ground, gurgling blood and clawing at his throat. He fell still seconds later.
The last ninja escaped in a hurry and, as Naruto threw a kunai to halt him, it pierced his shoulder. Naruto swore colourfully and as he threw another kunai, it thudded into the wood where the ninja would have been had he not disappeared with a jutsu.
As the woman made to run away, Kakashi’s vice strong grip held her in place. She cried out in pain but was silenced immediately as his piercing onyx gaze victimized her.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning and tell us why you lied about the mission rank to Konoha?” his voice was polite but his gaze was colder than the Antarctic.