Next Contestant

Uchiha Sasuke. Uzumaki Naruto. Hatake Kakashi.

Three of the most powerful ninja in all of Konoha.

These three men had one thing in common, their one weakness.

Haruno Sakura.

The pink-haired medic was their sweetheart. They would do anything to make her happy; they protected her from everything that came her way. Sometimes from enemies and their sharp weapons or powerful attacks. Sometimes from the terrors of their world.

Usually, though…

From the male species.

These men were fiercely protective when it came to their only female teammate. Because of this, beautiful, brilliant, charming Sakura didn't get asked out very often. And when she did, it only ended in disaster…

Sakura exited the hospital late at night, and stretched her arms high above her head. She had been working 14 hours already, and she desperately wanted to curl up and sleep.

She rubbed her eyes and made her way down the nearly empty roads to the house she shared with her two favorite boys, Naruto and Sasuke.

The day Sasuke had come back, Sakura had burst into tears, grabbed him and Naruto in a fierce hug, and proceeded to curse them until their ears bled. Then she had demanded they pack their things and find a house where they would all live. That way, she said, she could keep an eye on them.

"And you won't be alone anymore," she had whispered, giving them a soft smile.

That had prompted the two boys to do as she asked. Well, that, and she hadn't stopped pestering them for days.

They now lived in a cozy, two-story house just a 10-minute walk from the hospital. Sasuke usually only came home to eat and sleep, and that too grudgingly, but Sakura was fine with that. Kakashi also came by a least once a week; it was like Team Seven was together again.

The thought made Sakura smile.


Sakura turned and was met by green spandex, blinding teeth, and shining hair. "Hello, Lee," she greeted amiably. "What are you doing out so late?"

"I was training – we are in the midst of our youth, and I shall use this time to improve myself!" he said with a flourish. "And I was alerted to your presence by your youthful radiance! Spotting you all alone, I realized it was my duty as a man to walk you home!"

"Um…. Okay? But you don't have to, Lee; it's not exactly far…"

"No excuses, fair Sakura!"

Sakura laughed. "Okay, lead the way!"

Lee beamed and they made their way through the quiet streets, chattering amicably.

Reaching her door, Sakura pulled out her keys. "Well, this is my stop. Thanks so much," she gushed.

Lee paused. "Sakura…" he asked hesitantly.


"I would be honoured if you would accept my invitation to dinner…?" he asked.

Sakura bit her lip. On one hand, she just didn't like Lee that way. On the other hand, the guy she did like would never ask. Besides, they were friends, weren't they?

"Sure, Lee. Pick me up tomorrow at 6?" she suggested.

Lee nodded, smiling brightly. Sakura waved, and he ran off, exclaiming about "youth" and "Gai-sensei!" as he went.

Sakura chuckled to herself and opened the door.

Naruto looked up when she entered. He was sitting on the couch with a cup of ramen in his hands. When Sakura raised an eyebrow at him, he grinned sheepishly. "Eheh… midnight snack?"

Sakura shook his head. "Not healthy, Naruto," she said, dumping her bag on the couch and flopping down beside him. He offered her the rest of her noodles, and she smiled, touched by the offer. She knew how Naruto was about his precious ramen.

"You took a while," he commented, returning to the noodles Sakura had refused.

"I met Lee on the way," she replied, as way of explanation.

"Bushy-brows? What did he want?"

"Just walked me home. And… he asked me out on a date."


Sakura winced as Naruto choked on the ramen, eyes bulging.

"And what did you say?" he asked once he had recovered.

"Um, I accepted?"

Naruto gaped at her, before grabbing her by the hand and hauling her off the couch and up the stairs, ignoring her protests. He barged into the room at the end of the hall.

"What the hell, Naruto?" Sasuke barked, having been rudely woken up by the loud blond.

"Sakura's going out with Lee," Naruto said darkly. That shut him up.

"You are? Why?" Sasuke asked in some surprise.

Sakura crossed her arms. "I don't see why it matters. It's about time someone asked me out," she pouted.

Naruto looked a bit ashamed. Of course, he was the main reason no one dared to. He was the most protective of Sakura; he loved her the most. It was platonic, yes, but it went much deeper than mere friendship. When Sasuke had left all those years ago, Sakura and Naruto only had each other to turn to. So yes, they were close. Sakura took care of Naruto like no one else ever had, and Naruto saw Sakura like no one else ever could.

"But still," Naruto said, a bit desperately, "Lee? Have you not seen his eyebrows?"

Sakura glared at him. "Lee's sweet. Just how shallow do you think I am, Naruto?" she growled.

"And besides," she continued, "It's just one date. Like I said, it's no big deal." And with that, she turned on her heel and walked out, shutting the door softly behind her.

"So…?" Naruto prompted after a moment of silence.

"He's not going out with her," Sasuke said firmly. "Not if we have anything to say about it."

Naruto winked conspiratorially at him and left the room. "Night, Sasuke!"

Lee knocked on the door. He was a bit early, but he could wait for his lovely Sakura. The door creaked open, and Lee thrust out the bouquet of yellow roses that he knew Sakura loved.

"Flowers aren't really my thing," deadpanned a deep voice Lee knew only too well.

"Sasuke! Forgive me!" he said brightly. "These are for Sakura! We have a date," he added proudly.

Sasuke gave him a withering look, before stepping back in wordless invitation. Lee thanked him and entered.

Immediately his gaze fell to the two other people on the couch, who Sasuke joined, Naruto and Kakashi.

"Sakura's still getting ready. You know how girls are," Naruto shrugged.

"Ah, but fair Sakura is already as beautiful as the flowers she was named for! She glows with the power of youth!"

A pause.

"Well, now that you're here, let's go over some basic rules. Kakashi-sensei?"

Earlier that day, an aggravated Naruto had burst into Kakashi's apartment, demanding he join him and Sasuke for a chat with Sakura's "date." Kakashi had, naturally, accepted. To him, his only female student was still the 12-year-old girl she had started out as, too young and innocent to date.

Kakashi cleared his throat. "Number one: Don't touch her."

"Or I'll rip out your guts and sell them as necklaces," Naruto added cheerfully.

Lee blinked.

"Number two," Sasuke said, glaring at him, "Don't look at her the wrong way."

"Or I'll break your bones and make a chair out of them," Kakashi piped in.

Lee gulped. Where was Sakura?

"Number three: Don't you dare hurt her in any way," Naruto said seriously.

"Or else I'll kill you." Noticing the looks Kakashi and Naruto were giving him, Sasuke shrugged. "I'm not very creative."

Lee was sweating now. He knew just how powerful these men were. And there was no doubt in his mind that they could easily follow through on their threats. He also knew that the only reason they would was for Sakura. He had heard the rumors. He wasn't an idiot.

Sakura finally came padding down the stairs. "Hey, sorry that took so long! Ready to go?"

Lee swallowed. Naruto, Kakashi, and Sasuke were glaring at him, as if in warning. "I am afraid I must cancel, Sakura. Perhaps another time?" he said quickly. Before Sakura could stop him, he had rushed out of the house.

"What did you say to him?" Sakura demanded of the three males on her couch.

"Nothing!" Kakashi exclaimed innocently. "I guess he just couldn't handle the pressure. Come on, let's go get some dinner," he said. "Someplace nice, since our Sakura's looking so beautiful. Meaning no ramen," he added. Naruto pouted. "Sasuke's treat!"

Naruto laughed at the irritated look on Sasuke's face, but Sakura smiled beseechingly at him, so he consented, though reluctantly.

Even the cold Uchiha had a soft spot for the girl. Maybe the softest…

A week later found Naruto pacing around Sakura's room, ranting. "I can't believe you would go out with him! I mean, he's… he's… Kiba!"

Sakura was flipping through a magazine. "So what?"

Naruto gaped at her. "He's an idiot! He's unhygienic! He's – "

"A lot like you," Sakura cut in. "And he's sweet. He treats me like a girl. Something you guys don't," she added with a scowl.

Sasuke sighed. Women. Bah.

Sakura got up. "Now get out. I've got to get ready."

"You never bother when you're with us," Naruto sulked.

"Don't have anyone to impress," she winked. "Close the door behind you!" she called.

Kiba stood on the doorstep of Sakura's house. Behind him, Akamaru whined.

Sasuke, Naruto, and Kakashi stood in the doorway, glaring down at him.

"Let him in!" Sakura scolded, pushing past Naruto. She smiled at the two. "Come in Kiba, Akamaru."

They followed her in, well aware of the looks they were getting from her teammates.

"Have a seat. I'll be right down," she said, rushing upstairs.

Kiba sat down on the couch across from them.

"Where are you taking her?" Naruto demanded.

"The park," Kiba said, rasing his eyebrows.

"Lots of people. Good."

"What are you going to do?" Kakashi asked.

"Nothing in that book of yours," Kiba sneered.

"You better not," he said warningly.

"We're just going for a short walk and a movie."

"When are you going to be back?" Sasuke asked quietly.

"In a few hours."

Kakashi shook his head. "It's five o'clock. Be back by six."

"But the movie doesn't even start until 6:30!" Kiba protested.

"Sorry, Sakura has a curfew," Kakashi smiled behind his mask.

Kiba scowled. "She's not 12 anymore, you know. She's 18. I think she can go out with whoever she wants, wherever she wants."

"And we all know who she wants to go with," Naruto snapped. "News flash: It isn't you."

Kiba shook his head. "And he's never going to bother."

Sasuke remained silent.

"Either way," Kakashi cut in, "You can't keep Sakura out that late. Sorry, you can't go out with her."

"Why?" Kiba demanded.

"'Cause I don't like you," Naruto replied.

"But I'm not going out with you, idiot."

Naruto growled at him. "Mutt."

And then he lunged.

Sakura appeared suddenly at the foot of the stairs, eyes wide. "What happened? I heard yelling!"


"And where's Kiba?"

"Oh, Akamaru wasn't feeling too well. Kiba had to take him home," Kakashi lied.

"Oh," Sakura said. "Well, now what?"

"There's a movie at 6:30. Want to watch?" Kakashi suggested.

Sasuke smirked.

Two weeks later, Neji approached Sakura.

"Go with me to dinner on Friday," he said.

"Are you asking or commanding?" she asked skeptically.

Neji shrugged, face impassive as ever.

"Sure. Time?"

"7:30. don't keep me waiting." With that, Neji turned to walk away.

Strange… Sakura thought vaguely, returning to her lunch.

Neji didn't actually have feelings for Sakura. He respected her for her intelligence and abilities as a medic, but that was basically all there was to it. Aside from a few visits to the hospital, he had no interaction with the girl, aside from Lee's raving about her beauty and grace.

So why had he asked her out?

It was simple, really. Lee had admitted that he had chickened out of the date once her protective teammates had treated him to a short lecture, threats, and cold glares. Lee wasn't easily intimidated, by any means, but there was something about the way the three had looked at him that had him running for the safety of his precious sensei.

Neji had scoffed, and Lee had proclaimed that he very much doubted the Hyuuga would not do the same.

Well, he could never back down from a challenge.

"You what!"

"I accepted. It's not every day that the Hyuuga Neji asks a girl out, you know," Sakura said calmly, running a brush through her hair.

Naruto continued to rant, and even Sasuke looked unsettled.

"There's a reason for that, you know," he pointed out. "Specifically, the stick up his – "

"Sasuke!" Sakura cut him off. "You're no better, you know! Anyways, this is a big deal! I'm tired of being the only girl in Konoha who's never been on a date!" she whined.

Naruto looked guilty. "Oh, you're not the only one, Sakura…"

"Yes, I am! Even Hinata has been asked out," she grumbled. "And we all know how loyal she is to the densest person in the damn country!"

"She did?" Naruto blinked. "With who?"

"Shino," Sakura replied. "Now, Neji's picking me up on Friday, and I don't want any of you here to ruin it. So you're all going out to ramen, or I'll rearrange your DNA until your toenails are coming out of your eyeballs!" she threatened, going up the stairs.

Naruto and Sasuke winced as she slammed her bedroom door.

"She's so violent," Sasuke said.

"And weird," Naruto agreed.

"He'll be here soon! Get out, you idiots!" Sakura demanded of the men on her couch.

"Well, isn't that nice…" Kakashi said as Sakura pulled him up and pushed him towards the door.

"Sasuke! Naruto! Out!" she ordered.

"But Sakura, this isn't fair. Someone has to make sure he doesn't try anything!" Naruto protested.

Sakura snorted. "Hyuuga? Please. I'm more likely to be the one to jump his bones."

Sasuke stopped in the doorway and turned to glare down at her. "Excuse me?"

Sakura squeaked and took a step back. "I was joking!"

But Kakashi was already shaking his head and re-entering the house. "Have a seat, Sakura," he said. "We need to have a talk."

Sakura's eyes were wide as her boys rattled off "The Rules."

"No kissing," Sasuke said menacingly.

"Especially with tongue," Kakashi added.

"No kissing. Period," Sasuke insisted.

Sakura's jaw dropped in disbelief.

"If he tries to touch you, use the pepper spray," Naruto said, pushing a small keychain at her.

"You may not touch him," Kakashi said. "Or go to his apartment, or invite him in, and you can't ever be alone with him."

"And if he looks at anything other than your face, poke out his eyes," Naruto said.

Sakura rolled her eyes. "So what am I allowed to do?"

"Not much," Sasuke shrugged.

"Which is why you should forget it and go for ramen with us," Naruto suggested.

Sakura glared at them. Just then, the doorbell rang.

"Dammit!" Sakura cursed and sprung up from her seat. She opened the door with a wide smile. "Hi, Neji! Let's go!" she chirped. "Bye, you morons," she scowled at the others.

"Duty calls," Kakashi said. "Let's go."

Sasuke was the stealthiest, so he would follow Sakura and Neji to whatever restaurant they were going to. Then they would all meet up at the restaurant and take a seat far enough so Sakura wouldn't see them, but close enough so they could keep an eye on her and her date.

"Nice place," Kakashi whispered as they took their seats.

"Awesome food," Naruto agreed gleefully.

Sasuke was frowning at Sakura. She was wearing a red top and black skirt. She looked nice, but who was she trying to impress? And the skirt was way too short. That Hyuuga better not get any ideas…

"So, Neji," Sakura began, looking through the food choices, "Can I ask why exactly you asked me out?"

Neji shrugged.

"I happen to know about you and Tenten. And I can only hope she doesn't think to stab me with a kunai because of this," she said, eyes glittering with amusement. Neji looked a bit flustered.

"Tenten is a teammate. Nothing more."

"Oh, really? Well, I don't see you visiting Lee daily, or leaving him flowers while he's asleep when he's in the hospital."

Neji frowned at her. "I did no such thing."

"I saw you, Hyuuga. You can't fool me."

"How is that so different from you taking apples to Uchiha?" he retorted, before realizing his mistake.

"There is none. Except," Sakura said softly, smiling sadly, "Tenten accepts your flowers."

Neji sighed. "Lee mentioned how he couldn't get past your protective teammates. He told me that he didn't think I could, either. And, well…"

"Ah. A test of your ego?" Sakura smirked.

"Hardly. It wasn't even a challenge. I was expecting more."

Sakura shook her head. "I'm glad they didn't do anything. I'd like to go on a date, even if it's just with Kakashi's rival's prized pupil's rival," she smiled.

Neji cleared his throat. "Are you ready to order?"

"I don't think they're going to do anything. Can we go?" Naruto whined.

Sasuke ignored him and continued to watch Neji and Sakura.

"They're getting ready to go. Sasuke, follow them. We'll just pay," Kakashi asked, sly smile hidden behind his mask. Sasuke nodded and stood up. He left moments after the couple, blending easily into the shadows.

Neji was a genius. He wasn't easily fooled.

He knew Sakura's over-protective love-interest was following them, watching them.

And it annoyed him. As if he would try anything!

They reached Sakura's door, and she smiled. "That was fun, we should do it again sometime. And that food, gosh, Naruto would have loved it!"


Sakura looked up into Neji's pearly eyes. "Yes?"

He leaned down and kissed her softly on the cheek. Sakura's jaw dropped.

He straightened up and smirked. "Good night."

Take that, Uchiha.

Up in his tree, Sasuke was fuming.

He leapt down nimbly, and Sakura jumped, startled.

"Sasuke! Wha – "

"You kissed him!" Sasuke growled.

"Um, no, he kissed me. On the cheek. Big deal." Realization dawned. "Wait – you were spying on me?"

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "No shit. And it's a good thing, too."

Sakura glared at him. "I can't believe you! I can take care of myself, you know!"

"Oh, yeah, I can see that," he snorted.

"So it's because of you all my dates get cancelled?" Sakura asked. She spotted Naruto and Kakashi coming up the street and whirled to stare down at them. "And you guys, too?"

"Sakura – "

"How am I ever supposed to get a boyfriend? And one day I'm going to have to get married, and have kids! Are you not going to let me do that, either?" Sakura shrieked. She was on a roll.

"Those guys weren't good enough for you, Sakura!" Naruto said earnestly.

"You should let us pick next time," Kakashi said.

Sakura paused in her tirade. "Okay. You find me a perfect date, and I won't kill you, okay?" she said sweetly.

"Already found one."

Sakura laughed. "Then tell him to meet me here tomorrow evening at 8. I'll be waiting,"

And she vanished into the house.

Sasuke frowned at Kakashi, who was smirking widely behind his mask. "I don't think I want to know."

Naruto bounded up to the door. "Give me your keys, Sasuke!"

"I thought you had them."

"Are you kidding me? Sakura doesn't trust me with keys anymore."

Sasuke sighed and knocked on the door. No answer.

"Sakura! Open the damn door!" Sasuke called.

Still no answer.

"Sakura!" Naruto screamed.

Her light clicked off, and Sasuke swore he could hear her evil laughter ringing out through the silent house.

Sasuke sat across from Kakashi and Naruto, both of whom were looking very serious.

"You may be one of us, but you touch her…"

"And I'll chop off your arms," Naruto threatened. "Look at her wrong…"

"And I'll peel off your skin. And hurt her in any way, and we'll both kill you in the worst way possible."

"If Sakura doesn't get to you first."

Sasuke shook his head. Just then, Sakura came downstairs, wearing a summery, pink dress.

"Okay, where is he?" she sang.

Sasuke stepped forward. "Let's go," he said shortly.

"Huh? You're my date?" she asked disbelievingly.

"Yes. Let's go," he repeated.

Sakura followed him out the door. "But Sasuke, why you?"

"Pervert's idea," he replied monotonously.

Naruto and Kakashi watched them go. Kakashi smiled and returned to the couch.

"Aren't we gonna go follow them?" Naruto was surprised. "Make sure he doesn't touch Sakura?"

Kakashi shook his head. "Sasuke has to repopulate his clan sometime, you know."