Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or its characters.

Color samples of various shades of pink littered the counter top at the Yamanaka Flower Shop. It was ten minutes to quitting time and Ino found her patiences wearing thin. She wanted to get showered and over to the hospital for her part time shift.

"What do you think of this color, Ino dear?" she heard her mother calling to her from the front of the store. Ino was trying her hardest to scrub her green stained fingers; from handling flowers all morning.

"It's pink, Mom." She barked out while making her way up front. "Pink is pink. No matter what variation- it's still pink."

Her mother scowled at her and turned her attention back to the man who was to do the painting for the store. "I want something serene and calming... something that reminds me of spring and will compliment the flower displays."

Masa picked up a swatch and passed it over the business owner, in hopes his professional opinion would be the right choice for her needs. "What do you think of this one?"

"Blech." Ino gazed over her mother's shoulder and pointed her finger to her mouth, with her tongue hanging out in a gagging motion. "That's too close to Forehead's hair color." Masa lifted an inquisitive eyebrow at the reference of pink hair.

"I don't know where you get your miserable attitude from." The older woman swatted her hand at her daughter's gesture. "Is that a way to talk about your friend? Sakura's been such a good friend to you. I bet she doesn't say such things about you."

Ino just rolled her defiant eyes at her mother for suggesting anything good about Sakura. She had to wonder sometimes, just who her mother liked better.

Putting the name Sakura and pink hair together, Masa's curiosity got the best of him. "You wouldn't happen to be talking about Sakura Hatake, would you? I just met her the other day- and she is the only person I have ever seen with pink hair."

Both women immediately quit their bickering and stared at Masa as if he just sprouted several heads- Ugly ones at that.

"Haruno. Sakura Haruno. Not Hatake." Ino corrected him. "Kakashi Hatake was her sensei. They're not married."

Masa's face turned pale. "Her sensei?" He never pegged Kakashi as the marrying type, none the less a man that would cross such boundaries with a student. Still, being a reasonable man with experience in matters of the heart, he knew himself that a man can not help who he falls in love with.

Ino's mother chimed in. "It would be a sin! He's trained her since she was a little girl. There's no way the Hokage would approve of such a union."

"Oh, no." Masa argued back; waving off her disapproval of old fashioned taboos. "They're married. I am doing a huge job over at Sakura's place so the newly weds can move in together."

Ino's eyes went wide. She knew her childhood friend wanted nothing more than to have her parents place renovated- so that much was true. What she could not understand is that if what Masa was saying is true, why would she not have known about the two even dating. Never to mention having had a wedding and not have her there.

"As her best friend, I assure you I would have been in her wedding party." She was beside herself thinking of the nerve of Sakura getting married and not having her as the maid of honor. "I would have at least known they were a couple!"

Remembering what Kakashi had told him, Masa proceeded to calm the furious girl that stood before him. "From what I gather, it was a private ceremony to protect the better interests of both parties."

And of course being Ino, she could only take his chance of 'saving grace' as a way of brushing her off. "Protecting better interests- My ASS!"

Without warning or notice, Mrs. Yamanaka issued an audible smack across her daughter's face. "Ino! I did not raise you to speak like a street urchin!"

Fumed to a point that she could not feel the raging heat from being slapped, Ino looked over both her mother and her decorating bearer of bad news, Masa before grabbing her purse and marching out of the shop. She decided it would be wiser to go right to the source.

"Hatake? Are you even listening to me?"

Kakashi perked his eye up as much as his droopy lid would allow him. Sure he was listening- That is, he was listening to Genma talk about Gai's date until he got up to the point where the kunoichi from Mist got down on her knees and began her struggle to get his trademark green leotard off. Some things are just better off unheard.

"I heard every word you said." And just for the record, some of those things should also never be repeated.

Genma rolled his senbon from one side of his mouth to the other. His lips drawn into a lopsided smirk. He was aware Kakashi was not listening at all. But, ribbing him for ditching his friends the night prior was the first course of action on his mental "To Do" list. Fate played its part by making Kakashi available for lunch immediately after Genma literally bumped into him on the street. God damn it, if he had to listen to Gai reenact the play by play; Kakashi would have to endure his abridged version.

The cute waitress that had been tending to them returned to their table once again. "Can I get you anything else?" she had asked of them both.

"I'll take another beer." He nudged his chin in Kakashi's direction. "My friend here would like a doggy bag- so he has something to pack his bullshit in."

Kakashi passed a sympathetic head shake at the waitress for Genma's verbal assault. She grinned at the sarcastic jounin and feigned accidentally slapping the back of his head with her notepad as she walked away.

Rubbing the back of his head, Genma called out to her distancing derrière. "That's a sure way to lose your tip, missy."

Kakashi rolled an eye at his friend's arrogance and about ten feet from where they sat, the waitress stopped dead walking. She appeared to be scribbling something on her notepad; though it was hard to tell from the back of her. Then again, it wasn't as if Genma was watching the upper half of her body as Kakashi was.

She ripped the page off and turned her attention back to the smart mouthed shinobi. Folding the page in half, she leaned down and used her most sultry voice possible. "You should know by now that I was never after your money, Shiranui-sama. Unfortunately, you do have to pay for what you eat and drink here."

Although her mouth was a mere few inches from his ear, Genma remained completely unmoved by her outright motives. It was his keen tactic for getting the women to want him- act like nothing phased him and it made them want him more. Kakashi knew of this old trick however and released an elaborate (and annoyed) breath before whipping out his ever present book to allow his womanizing friend do his business without being a third wheel.

Most people use bookmarks to easily find the place they last left off reading. After reading a book so many times he had it memorized, Kakashi was not one of those people. Any random page would do. His page selection landed on an illustration of the main male character admiring the object of his desire dancing happily with herself. It was a far cry from being a voyeuristic sort of situation. Judging from the man's expression, he felt nothing but a great sense of ardor for this woman. It was pure and simple- a realization that not one, but all the things about this free spirited lady was what he loved so much about her.

Kakashi stared through the image and thought of his previous night with Sakura. He knew so much about her from all the years of training together, but he had found that he really got to know the true woman for the first time last night. While packing, they laughed over the times from their yesteryears and cried over all the losses they had encountered- together and alone. They shared so much more than they ever allowed each other to know. It wasn't like a training session where a new jutsu was presented or on a mission where food rations were low and they offered their own portions to one another. They freely spoke of their truest feelings and it was the most honest situation a man who kills for a living could find himself in.

Finally when Sakura spoke of her parents and how it was worse than any pain she had ever experienced, she cried the hardest. And that is when he felt the overwhelming desire to embrace this girl- no, this woman and comfort her. He couldn't help to think how many years she needed to get this all out and yet no one, not even he was there for her to do so. He found himself repeating a mantra of "It's alright. I'm here for you" with one hand splayed across her lower back and the other tangled in her mess of pink hair as he drew her close to his chest.

It was his words and soothing voice that had calmed her onslaught of sadness. And when she looked up to meet his gaze with glistening tears streaming down her pale face, he saw everything the main character in the drawing had seen in his beloved woman. The only notable difference was that Sakura, unlike the fictitious woman, was real and standing before him.

If the foreign fear of rejection wasn't of any factor, Kakashi swore he could have mustered up enough nerve to actually kiss her. But the pang in the bottom of his stomach told him rejection from this woman would be tenfold worse than from any other woman he might have felt something for in the past. Opting to hold her close was safer than creating a situation that might compromise their future living arrangement- and smarter than diving face first into what could potentially be the biggest let down in his romance department.

Movement from across the table jerked him out of his reverie and Kakashi watched the backs of Genma and the waitress walking out of the restaurant hand in hand. He shook his head at the lack of tactfulness his buddy employed in courting women; yet it worked like a charm every time. Seeing Genma constantly get woman after woman when all he wanted was one woman in particular was a bit disheartening. Aside from the cheap grope he took on Sakura while playing pool, he found himself having great difficultly crossing the line of friendship and into romance. He supposed it had more to do with being rejected, which really was never something he worried about, but he also firmly believed in a first time for everything.

On the table was a piece of paper with Genma's handwriting on the backside. All it said was, "Payback's a bitch!" Flipping it over, he saw it was the bill from their lunch- something he normally ducked out of having to pay.

Yep. There was a first time for everything.

Carrying an armful of charts, Sakura made her way from the infirmary to the nurse's station; where Ino was entering patient data into the computer. Plucking the lollipop out of her mouth, before Sakura could even greet her, Ino began to drill her as if her part time position was more significant than Sakura's own.

"You wouldn't happen to have Chouza Akamichi's file in that pile of yours; would you?" Raising the corner of her eye to point in Sakura's direction.

Sakura glanced down at her pile quickly, not even bothering to read the names on each label. "He was discharged four days ago- His information should already have been entered and the folder should be at the hall of records by now."

"Oh." A devious smile covered Ino's face. "I wanted to know for sure if he really was here due to a stomach infection from eating poisonous berries while on a mission."

"Why would you need to know that if you're only entering insurance information?" She was becoming annoyed with her long time friend/foe. Knowledge of patients conditions was not necessary for the girl's job, so she had no good reason to ask personal questions.

"Oh, I was just looking for a reason to tease Choji about being from a long line of gluttonous fat-asses."

Quickly moving from being annoyed to flat out peeved, Sakura began rattling off the "Right To Privacy Act" Konoha strictly employed. "You should know better than that Ino- diagnosis, treatment and financial status of patients is strictly forbidden from being made public."

Nodding her head in agreement, Ino decided to help her finish the list of conditions. "Right- And let's not forget martial status, Mrs. Hatake."

Dropping the folders onto the desktop, Sakura gaped while Ino beamed with indignation.

"It's alright though- I can understand why you'd want to have a private ceremony. You know, with marrying your teacher and all." Ino's tone was much too piercing to be considered sarcastic. "What I can't get is why you wouldn't even let me know; none the less forget toinvite me- your best friend- to your wedding."

"It's not like that at all.." Sakura stopped mid sentence to get to heart of the matter. "Where on Earth did you.."

"Oh, a little birdie named Masa told me." Her face was turning red and tiny blond hairs were popping out of Ino's normally smooth ponytail. "You know, the guy doing the work at your house while you and Kakashi shack up a la honeymoon style at his place. He just happens to also be the one painting the flower shop."

For the life of her, Sakura could not place what came over her at that very moment. But, she was not going to let Ino's shitty attitude make her feel bad- especially over something that was for the most part, untrue. For once she had one up on the girl and an opportunity not taken is an opportunity wasted.

"Well, Ino." Sakura folded her arms over her chest and shot back the same treatment she had been on the receiving end of for much too long. "You're completely right about our exchanging of vows being a private matter. Which is precisely why we did not invite anyone that might jeopardize our wishes. Perhaps if you weren't such a big- mouthed instigator, we might had you as a witness."

And with that, Sakura turned on her heels and went down the west wing of her unit to look after her waiting patients- leaving behind an extremely boiled Ino Yamanaka. The only sound heard was the sound of her name echoing through the halls of the hospital; that could be heard over any medical equipment in any given ward. It was Ino's way of getting the last word in.

Saying such things, no matter how mad she might be, was wrong. It was bad enough the lie itself was created to get faster, cheaper and more quality work done on her home. Now with Ino the Town Crier believing a lie to be the truth, the little white lie was going to spread like a wildfire and eventually make it back to Kakashi's ears.

It didn't matter that it was a lie that stemmed from his mouth. It was one that she could have easily denied and explained the reason of its origination to Ino, rather than shoot her mouth off. She should have been less worried about the rumor making it back to Kakashi and more concerned that a rumor of her being secretly married to her former sensei even existed. The idea didn't bother as much as it should and she brushed it aside to get back to work.

Maybe the idea of being with him really wasn't one to be considered offensive anymore. Or maybe she should start admitting to herself just how much she really wouldn't mind a rumor of herself and Kakashi as a couple to be true.

She'd just make sure she forewarned Kakashi about the impending confrontations he'd soon face, as she was sure Ino would make sure every active ninja in the village knew her and Kakashi's "secret".

A/N: My apologies for such a late updating... and also for the confusion of writing "fin" at the end of the previous chapter. I wrote it in reference to the chapter ending.

I'd like to thank everyone that has reviewed and also placed this story on alert. Your interest in this story has motivated me to write; however I do not have nearly as much time as I used to. I will alternate writing "Never Alone" and "40 Weeks" from here on out. I can not promise dates for updating, but I will eventually finish both stories. I thank you all for your patience and kindness.