Life is just a Playground
Haruno Sakura rolled the lollipop around in her mouth. The sweet, artificial cherry flavor coated her taste buds and turned her tongue a deep red color. She swung her legs lazily as she sat on a high wall, the heels of her boots knocking against the stone with every tap.
They were her favorite pair. Black, thick-heeled and matching nearly everything in her closet. Like the ripped jean shorts and the white halter top she had chosen for this special occasion. It left her shoulders bare, but the late summer sun kept her plenty warm. Already her arms and thighs were beginning to redden with sunburn.
Sakura didn't notice. She pulled the sucker out of her mouth with one hand, checked her phone with the other and resisted the urge to sigh. He was late. Only by a few minute but still.
Popping the hard candy back into her mouth, Sakura eyed her surroundings behind her sunglasses, her legs still swinging carelessly. Children were playing on the jungle gym across the street as teenagers skateboarded in the concrete park. Their laughter and shouts could be heard even from here. Just another warm, summer day in Suburbia.
"My, my how you've grown."
A smile formed around the stick poking out of Sakura's mouth. She saw his approach out of the corner of her eye before he spoke, but she didn't acknowledge him until he was standing on the sidewalk beside her. Even given the heat, he was dressed powerfully in a three-piece suit.
"Hashirama. You've aged well," she said around her treat. And it was true. There were laugh lines beginning to show around his dark eyes but his easy-going nature was still the same as it had been when she was a child. Or so it seemed. "If I didn't know any better, I would still think you were in your forties."
His expression flattened. "I am in my forties."
Her grin widened. As if to say she was only teasing.
Hashirama softened at that before his gaze swept behind her. When he was certain they were alone, he looked back at her. His dark eyes seemed to pierce through her sunglasses. "It's been nearly ten years, Sakura. And while I am happy to see you, I doubt you contacted me without reason. So why have you called upon me?"
"Don't look so suspicious," she said after she pulled the lollipop from her mouth. She pointed it at him as she gestured lazily. "I heard from a very reliable source that your…" she paused as she thought for an appropriate term, "company may be in need of assistance and I thought I might see if my talents might be a good fit for you."
Hashirama's face was calm, relaxed almost, but his eyes were hard and stony. Debating. Whether he should hear her out or just kill her right there.
Fortunately he chose the former. "And what source would that be?" he asked.
Faint surprise colored his handsome face. "She passed her trade down to you?"
Sakura nodded. "She did."
Secret thoughts flitted across his mind, only revealed by a soft smile on his lips. Then he blinked and they were gone. "Well, in that case, I might be willing to accept your offer. Come by the Penthouse tomorrow night. We'll interview you then. See if you're a good fit for my...company."
She replied with a grin and stuck the red sucker back into her mouth.
Hashirama turned away, only to stop before he made it three steps. "And Sakura," he said, eyeing her where she still sat on the stone wall, "I am running an important enterprise. Do try not to dress like a twenty-five year old."
She smirked. "But I am a twenty-five year old."
Hashirama said nothing but the look on his face was warning enough. Without a backward glance, he turned and disappeared around the corner.
Sakura stayed where she was, her good mood lingering. She watched the children play across the street as she finished her candy. Once it was gone, she dropped the red-stained stick onto the ground below her. Her phone rang.
"Black town car picked him up, heading North. He's gone," the person on the other end said.
"Hashirama was never very good at blending in," Sakura said into the receiver. "He's always enjoyed flashing his money."
"Did he agree then?"
Sakura nodded, knowing that somewhere out there, the man on the other end of the phone was watching her through a scope. "Of course, Kakashi." Then her smile faded. "However, logistics will be tricky. Hashirama's office is on one of the tallest buildings in New York City."
"I won't be able to cover your six," Kakashi told her.
"That's alright. This meeting should be friendly," she said as she finally slipped off the wall, her boots thudding loudly. She headed in the opposite direction Hashirama left. Towards the silver charger she had parked around the corner. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
She heard him sigh, displeased. She knew he preferred to accompany her. "I figured you might try and go in alone. Check the trunk."
Sakura hummed curiously but popped open the back of the car nonetheless. Her eyes lit up when she found it empty, except for a single black case. Inside sat a sleek handgun. Perfect for her slim fingers. Even more perfect for her slim waist.
"Kakashi, you shouldn't have," she said delightfully.
"Only the best for you, dear." Then he hung up.
Sakura pushed her phone into her back pocket before she inspected the weapon. It was fully loaded and ready to use. And it fit perfectly against her hip.
Closing the trunk, Sakura slipped behind the wheel and headed into the heart of the city. The security guard at her apartment's garage recognized her immediately and allowed her access to the underground parking.
She didn't stay long. Just slipped upstairs to shower and change before she headed off into the city again down by the waterfront. She pulled into valet and handed her keys off before she headed inside the restaurant.
The interior was stunning. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, bathing the dining room in a gentle glow. On the far side, a wall of glass allowed guests to gaze upon the sparkling water of the bay stretched out into the night.
Sakura fit in perfectly in a black cocktail dress that clung to her curves. Her pink hair cascaded down her back, her bangs pinned back to reveal her pretty face. Emerald eyes rimmed in black kohl briefly searched through the throng of people. She found who she was looking for at the bar.
"Sorry I'm late. Traffic was horrible," Sakura said as she slipped into a chair.
Ino gazed at her over the martini glass between her manicured nails, her blue eyes like stormy, unforgiving seas. "You're always late. Did you even come in your own car?"
Sakura blew air between her lips as she looked over the tri-sided drink menu on their table. "My car didn't match my dress."
"You're wearing black," the blonde said flatly.
Sakura just smirked in response. She ordered a lemon drop from the waiter as he stopped by to deliver dinner menus before leaving them alone again in their corner of the bar. Ino read through the entrees quietly as Sakura eyed the other patrons.
Most were couples, intermixed with a handful of businessmen. Sakura relaxed a little when she found none had wandering eyes and she relaxed completely when she caught sight of a hotel window cracked across the street. Kakashi really was too kind to her. She'd have to remember to buy him those new sights he had been talking about the other day.
"How did your meeting with Hashirama go?" Ino asked, putting her menu down. Upon Sakura's smile, her eyes widened, "He agreed?"
"He has history with Tsunade. It wasn't difficult," she replied.
Sakura didn't elaborate further as their waiter returned with her drink. He quickly accepted their dinner orders and collected their menus before he stepped away again. Only once he was out of range did Ino press, "You're meeting with him then?"
Sakura lowered the sugared glass from her lips before answering, "Tomorrow night."
"Just be careful. He's pleasant with Uchiha Madara now."
"So I heard. But I don't expect him to be there tomorrow," Sakura said. When Ino cocked her brow curiously, she explained, "He's out of the country right now. In Asia somewhere."
The blonde continued to frown. "Well, I know you regard Hashirama highly, but keep your eye on Madara. I wouldn't trust someone who turned traitor against the CIA."
"I have no plans of trusting Madara," Sakura said, setting her drink aside. "A new organization is beginning to grow in the South. They call themselves 'Akatsuki'. Have you heard of them?"
"I have. Though I thought their dealing was in drugs?" Ino asked.
"Drugs, arms, human trafficking," Sakura listed. "If it makes them money, they deal it. They're starting to converge on Hashirama's territory. It's putting a strain on his business with Madara."
"And so you're offering your help to smooth out their relationship?"
The blonde's tone gave away her disapproval and Sakura quickly shook her head to correct her. "I don't give a damn about their relationship. Hashirama and Madara both need guns. And I have connections in the Middle East that are only too willing to offer me the weapons that could help the Senju and Uchiha deal with this 'Akatsuki'."
"You're in it for the money," Ino guessed.
Sakura smirked over her glass. "When am I ever not?"
That seemed to satisfy her blonde friend for their conversation turned to trivial things after that. They spoke of the success of Ino's latest beauty products and her parent's flower store over dinner. Only once both their plates were empty and the tab paid for did they stand and make for the door, arm-in-arm.
Outside, Ino handed her valet ticket off to the attendant. As the young man retrieved her car, she said, "I'll talk to my contact about Akatsuki and see what he can find. I'll let you know if I learn anything."
"I owe you one."
"You always do," Ino said, her eyes tracing her car as the attendant drove up. Her tone came out annoyed but they both knew she was anything but. "Tell Kakashi I say hi."
Sakura couldn't resist her grin. "Tell him yourself."
Ino glanced at her sharply before she scanned the surrounding buildings. After a moment of searching, she turned back to Sakura. "You know that's creepy, right? Having a sniper follow you around."
"You always tell me to be safe. He ensures that I am."
Sighing, Ino accepted her car from the valet. Sakura watched her drive away silently.
Once the blonde was out of sight, Sakura turned to the young man at the valet stand and gasped. "Oh no. I think I left my purse at the bar. It had my ticket inside. Can you get it for me?"
The young man blinked stupidly at Sakura's pretty smile. "Uh, yeah. Of course. I'll be right back."
The moment he was gone, Sakura looked through the box of car keys. In his haste, he had left it unlocked and open to her viewing. She picked out a Jaguar before she strode through the lot until she found the stall it was parked in.
It was all sleek and shiny and new. Sakura melted into the soft leather as she slipped behind the wheel and brought the engine to life. It purred beneath her like a content jungle cat and growled when she hit the gas.
Even Hashirama wouldn't find complaint with this beauty.
The next evening, Sakura found herself at one of the tallest buildings in Lower Manhattan. She pulled her newly-acquired Jaguar into the underground parking garage and grabbed the tablet sitting on her passenger seat before she took the elevator to the one hundredth floor.
Senju Enterprises dominated the top five floors of the impressive building. The company name was bolted into the wall beside the elevator in thick, silver letters. Even well into the evening hours, the lobby of the high-valued business was bustling with activity. Receptionists typed away quickly behind their computers and answered phones with pleasant but direct tones while men and women in business suits hurried across the large room. Some held coffee cups. Others juggled documents and files.
Sakura weaved her way around the organized chaos like water around rocks. The thick heels of her boots thudded against the statuario marble floors, a harsh and bold disparity from the sharp click of high heels.
The receptionist didn't immediately look up upon Sakura's approach. She finished her frantic typing before she peered at her. "Can I help you?"
Sakura smiled. "I'm here to see Senju Hashirama."
The woman was older than Sakura. Likely by near that of two decades. She raked her eyes down Sakura's form once, taking in her pristine, white blouse under her sharp, black suit. Her lips pursed when she couldn't find even a strand of pink hair out of place. "You have an appointment?"
"I do. Tell him Sakura comes bearing a gift."
The receptionist frowned but she picked up a phone nonetheless and dialed out.
A few minutes later, Sakura was escorted down the hall by a young man about her age with a bluetooth in his ear. She tucked her tablet under her arm as they walked. She vaguely listened to the man as he chatted idly, but her attentions were focused on the computers and projections in the office spaces as they passed.
It seemed Hashirama was more than just a black market trader. Much more. Interesting.
Towards the back, Sakura followed her escort to another elevator requiring badge access to the top floor. It opened up to a plain hallway with a single door at the end. The young man knocked upon reaching it and stepped aside for her when the door was buzzed opened from the inside.
Sakura went in, not at all surprised when the young male didn't follow her inside. At the end of the single, long table was Hashirama. Beside him was his younger brother, Tobirama.
Sakura had never met or seen Tobirama until now. He looked just as fierce as his brother even with his suit jacket discarded and the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. His face didn't betray his thoughts but his dark eyes were piercing as she stepped into the room.
Even with only just the two of them, Sakura knew just how powerful this room was.
She resisted the urge to smirk. This would be far more interesting than the Middle East.
"Sakura," Hashirama greeted.
She smiled prettily. "Hashirama, how very kind of you to invite me to your humble suite."
The doors closed behind her with a note of finality. Both their eyes settled on her but she was not unnerved. Two hot men in suits paled in comparison to what she had already faced in her young lifetime. Even if those men were the Senju brothers.
Sakura lowered herself into an available chair at the end of the table without prompt. Tobirama's face betrayed nothing but he watched her bold move intensely.
Hashirama simply crossed one leg over the other as he regarded her. "We're on a tight schedule so let's keep this short, shall we? You claimed to have talent that may benefit my company. I'm ready to listen."
"Hold on," Tobirama said before she could even open her mouth. He glanced at his brother. "What is this regarding? You and I both agreed we weren't going to bring on anyone knew. We have our projections calculated on the market and-."
"I'm not here to talk about your projections with you," Sakura said. Tobirama nearly glared at her blatant interruption, but she continued nonchalantly, "I have some numbers that I believe you will find far more interesting."
Tobirama's face shifted. If only to glare. "What could you possibly know about stocks?"
"I don't give a shit about stocks," Sakura said with an air of boredom. "I'm not here to discuss your shadow business. I have another proposition."
The scowl on his face didn't fade but he remained silent. Sakura waited for Hashirama's gesture to continue before she reached for her tablet and lit up the screen. She pulled up the information before she slid the device across the table to them. It stopped directly in front of Tobirama.
He barely glanced at the first image. "We work in stocks. What makes you think we have any interest in arms dealing?"
"Oh, come now," Sakura sighed. "You're attempting to expand your power south, but a little gang known as Akatsuki is thwarting you at every turn. Now you can keep Madara in Hong Kong to gather more men and weapons, which can take anywhere from weeks to months even with his status, or you can see what I offer."
Tobirama held her gaze for so long Sakura almost thought they would forever be stuck in time. But then he spoke, "How did a little girl like you acquire all of this?"
The nickname was meant as an insult but Sakura only smiled as her eyes shifted to Hashirama. "You haven't told him."
Tobirama's eyes flickered to his brother. The corner of Hashirama's mouth turned up as he regarded her across the table. "It appears Tsunade has trained you well."
"Tsunade?" Tobirama repeated as his gaze returned to her again. He seemed to consider something before he finally reached for the tablet. It was silent as he swiped through the files.
"And you can guarantee all of this?" Tobirama eventually asked.
She bit back her smirk. "The weapons are already on a ship bound for New York. And I have a whole list of men only too willing to be of assistance to the Senju."
Silence fell again. Sakura gauged Tobirama but his expression was void of all thought and emotion as he scrolled through her information. Of course not all of it would be sent to the Senju brothers if they agreed - she had other clients - but they at least would get an idea of the services she could provide.
Her gaze turned out the window as she waited for the final say. From this view, she could see the cargo ships traveling down the East River as they made their way in and out of port. In two days time, she would be meeting one of those ships to unload likely one of the largest shipments of illegal weapons into the States in years.
Her blood hummed with excitement.
The sound of her tablet case being closed drew Sakura's attention. She looked up as Hashirama slid it back across the table towards her. "It seems that we agree we could use someone of your skill set after all."
That was surprising. Considering they hadn't even uttered a single word while she had been gazing out the window. Not even a whisper.
Sakura slid her eyes to Tobirama again. She got the impression he didn't care for her very much, but it was hard to tell. The way he was reclined back in his chair, she would have thought he was bored if not for the fact his eyes were watching her so intently.
Turning back to Hashirama, she nodded. "Good. Text me where you want your first shipment delivered to and I'll see that it gets done."
Standing, Sakura slipped her tablet off the table. She turned towards the door, only to pause. "Oh and one last thing. My clients know me as Tsunade. I prefer that in the presence of others you address me as such."
A curious look fell over Hashirama's face but he inclined his head nevertheless. Sakura shot him a charming smile before she finally made her exit.
Sakura waited until she was out of the parking garage before she dialed out on her phone. The other end picked up on the second ring.
"They agreed," Sakura said. "We'll be giving part of the shipment to the Senju."
"Really?" Kakashi said, his tone betraying his surprise. "I didn't think Tobirama would trust you so easily."
She snorted. "I don't think he trusts me. More like I haven't given him a reason yet to dispose of my body in the river."
"Which one?" he asked.
"All of them."
Kakashi chuckled lightly. "I'll call the boys and make sure they're ready."
Sakura hung up then. She dropped her phone into the cup holder between the seats as she stopped at a redlight. A smile clung to the corner of her mouth.
Let the games begin.
to be continued...