I do not own Naruto, nor do I own Twelfth Night. The following LONG one-shot is a nautoverse adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the "Love's Not Time's Fool" contest at the kakasaku Livejournal community. There are a lot of awesome stories floating around with this concept, so please read them all before you judge – although I'm sure everyone is enjoying making their way through them already.

In this story, I have used direct quotes from William Shakespeare's play. The original idea is his. Twelfth night is one of my favourite plays of all time so I hope I've done a little bit of justice here to it.

Good luck to all the participants. It was a fun contest. Here is my 11th hour entry and there is a link on my profile where you can go and find the links for the stories and to vote. Thanks to Omizu for keeping me motivated to keep going. This is unbeta'd and I'm more than positive there are mistakes. I apologize if they take away from the story.

Thanks for reading.


The Truth in Lies

An Kakasaku adaptation of the Play "Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare.

By Leafygirl


"My turn with bucket," Sakura choked out, her body splayed along the wooden bunk on her side of the tiny boat cabin. Her knuckles dragged on the floor when she reached across to grab the plastic pail that had been something to love and hate since the voyage began.

The blond man in the other bunk, Harada Satoshi, groaned as he slid the bucket across the short expanse between their bunks and then lay back down heavily on his bedroll. Like Sakura, he was a medic, but it seemed that neither of them could make a good enough antidote for sea sickness at the moment– though not for lack of trying.

"Tsunade-shishou would be ashamed of me," Sakura groused, cracking her eyes and considering the lump of male body across from her.

The boat roiled and flailed on the whitecaps as the rough sea tossed it around in its strong salty brine.

"If she were on the boat, she'd forgive you, I'm sure," Satoshi mumbled to the pine slatted ceiling as the small craft creaked it's warnings along the wooden hull. He dry heaved twice before groaning softly yet again.

"How long have we been travelling?" Sakura continued, finding talking was keeping her mind occupied enough to forget her churning stomach for the moment.

"I think it's been at least two days. Maybe more. We should reach Sasoku tomorrow. And then I guess it'll take another two days to get to Zen. Sorry that you'll be stuck on here for two more days…" he near whispered as his green eyes glanced at the bucket longingly. "What are you doing there, anyway?"

"Medicinal study of some plants in the Zen Daimyo's garden. Nothing spectacular. It's more like a vacation." Sakura placed a palm on the wall and a foot on the end of the bed to steady herself while the ship dipped and careened. "I'm so tired. I haven't slept," she whined, then breathed through another great urge to wretch.

"I have a fantastic sleeping sedative here if you want to try it. I'm going to take some myself and hope that I wake up in Sasoku. There's enough for two." Satoshi rumpled through the pack on the cot beside him and extracted a tiny medicinal envelope made of paper, holding it out for Sakura. Obviously if she wanted it, she would have to go over there to get it.

But the idea of sleep was better than vomiting for the next 72 hours, so with monumental effort, she rolled herself to sit up and lean over to take two pills out of the paper sleeve. "Why Sasoku, Satoshi?" Sakura asked as she blindly ran her hands on the rough floor underneath her bed before she discovered her water bottle. And with no qualms, she took both pills in one gulp.

"This is my last mission assignment to qualify for jounin status. My sister's husband was killed six months ago and she's about to have their child. I want to support her but I need the pay increase that comes with Jounin status." Satoshi rolled on to his side and raised his eyebrows at Sakura as she blinked lazily. "It acts really fast. You may want to lie down," he warned, gesturing to her bed weakly.

She nodded and tilted her head. "But why out here? Couldn't you take one more in Konoha?"

Satoshi dropped his pills into his mouth and drank down a couple of cool gulps of water. "This was the last B rank available for Chuunin medics before my deadline in three days. It sucks to come all the way out here, but I had to do it. If I missed this mission, I'd have to wait another year to qualify for the testing. There'd be no hurry if there weren't two people counting on me. It was now or never." Satoshi began to rub his forehead as his own slow blinks were showing his fatigue and subsequent need to doze off.

"I understand. I can respect that, Satoshi. You're a really good guy." She yawned heavily, letting her head fall on the pillow as her eyes fell closed.

***

"Come on!" a rough voice shouted over Sakura, hot breath washing across her face and making her cough and gag awake.

"Huh?" She reeled in shock, feeling two sets of hands grabbing at her biceps and wrenching her from her the small cot in the now unmoving ship.

"You're holding us up, Sweetheart," one of the scraggly looking sailors warned in his gravelly voice. "Ship's leaving."

"Lea…leaving?" she whispered.

Very quickly Sakura found herself thrust out into the sunlight and frog marched to the edge of the ship where she was pushed out onto a rough wooden dock. . Her orders – in scroll form as usual – were tossed over and clanged to the rough boards next to her feet. And lastly, her supply bag was tossed off and she was sure that the snap and tinkle it made was probably one of her expensive specimen jars full of medicinal herbs

"Damn it!" she hissed, sinking to her knees to rush open the bag's zipper. "You didn't have to be so—," But the belch of the ship horn cut off her rant, and when she glanced back over her shoulder, it was already pulling away. The crusty looking sailor gave her an offhanded two finger salute, which she returned with a very simple one finger salute.

For the next ten minutes, she watched the tug sized boat putter along in the choppy waves toward the open bay, and then the engines revved, spurted water like a fountain behind it. Within moments, it was just a nasty little speck on the horizon.

Ecstatic was an understatement about how she felt when seeing the back end of that ship. But it was a shock to think that she'd slept through the journey to Zen and didn't even get a good-bye from Satoshi when he was most likely thrust from the ship in the same gentle manner. She'd slept through it all. Amazing.

Turning to look back at her surroundings, Sakura took in the edge of a forest that ran to grass, which eventually twined with the rocky beach above which her dock stretched out. A few small shanties were situated along the shore and a few people fished farther down the beach in rickety lawn chairs with long bamboo poles.

"Hm," she couldn't stop herself from mumbling. "Shabby. I heard Zen was wealthier than this…"

"Miss? Are you going to sit there all day?" a man asked from the other end of the dock as he approached. It seemed she was in his prime fishing spot as he sported a cap full of lures and a long wooden pole of his own.

"Uh—n—no." Sakura stood up slowly, gathering up the mission scroll and her tinkling bag of belongings to trot toward him down the wooden planks. Even now, she felt sleepier than she ever had from the crazy sleeping pills Satoshi had made. When she saw him again, she'd have to discuss the ingredients and the level of sedative. Her head was still fuzzy.

As she approached the fisherman, she slowed. "Can you point me in the direction of the Zen Daimyo's palace?"

"The… Zen Daimyo?" he repeated with a touch of surprise. Exaggeratedly stroking the gray stubble of his chin, the old man laughed at her hard and then grinned. The fact that he had two teeth left in his mouth didn't surprise Sakura in the least.

She affixed her best fake smile. "Yes. He's expecting me today. I'll be working there for a little while. "

"We'll you're going to get fired, girly. The Zen Daimyo's palace is about two days in that direction," he snickered, pointing to the watery horizon where the previous view of a boat was no more.

"Wh…what?" she whimpered, scrunching her brow and staring out into the water.

"Welcome to Sasoku," he teehee'd happily, and then nudged the stunned Sakura aside as he maneuvered to the end of the dock.

It wasn't until the plop of his fishing line hit the water that Sakura realized the full extent of the predicament was in. The boat was gone. The only boat. There was no way to contact it as it was on a circular run around the islands and would not return for at least two weeks. Maybe Satoshi was still sleeping, but he would certainly be equally as frustrated and dismayed that he had missed his mission while he was unceremoniously tossed off the ship in Zen – where she should be…

Dragging a little, her determination sapped, Sakura trudged up the beach to the forest edge and the thin dirt road where two people on bicycles passed her. On the other side, the foliage was lush, with tall trees and leaves darker than what she'd normally see in the Fire Country. Finding a slanted piece of land under the shade of one such tree, she slumped down and unfurled the scroll.

Harada Satoshi - Medic

B Rank

Location: ANBU camp, Sasoku – adjacent to Daimyo's mansion

Mission Objective: Support camp authority, Oversee medical needs, Help to facilitate current bargaining for land passage rights as need be.

"Poor Harada," she mumbled. What would he tell his sister? Already a jounin, Sakura knew the pay hike was significant, not to mention that the matter of the ability to be choosier on which missions to take. It didn't even sound like a particularly difficult mission and for him to miss an opportunity that wouldn't come around for another year was heartbreaking. "You're a good brother, Satoshi" she added to the breeze as she glanced up and watched the clouds darkening over the water.

A slight rumble of thunder spoke its anger across the pearly clouds to set Sakura to her feet. A storm was coming and it would be better to be anywhere than out in the open. So hoisting herself up and gathering all her belongings (some in pieces), Sakura began to make her way along the road.

"Excuse me?" she asked a hunched woman passing who was carrying a load of firewood on her back. The woman stopped and stared at Sakura with milky gray eyes.

"Did you speak to me?" she cackled roughly, her voice shrill and impatient.

"I'm sorry. Do you know if there is a military camp nearby? I'm looking for the camp near the Daimyo's mansion."

After what appeared to be a moment of figuring out just what Sakura asked, the woman laughed, rough and raspy, then pointed a lumpy arthritic finger in the direction of the forest. "Quicker to go through there. But you won't be welcomed," she added.

Sakura looked at the forest and then back at the woman. "Why not?"

"That camp is off limits for women. Only men are allowed."

Sakura rolled her eyes. "That makes no sense."

"Never the less, only men are allowed. Daimyo's orders. His son died a month ago and he blames the wife. He hates women and he's so distraught that he can't be reasoned with. The only women allowed there are his daughter and her servant. No one else. You'll be arrested."

Sakura stared at the forest as the woman hefted her wood to the other shoulder. Things were just getting stranger and stranger all the time. From the moment she set foot on the boat, it all seemed to go wrong. Poor Harada wouldn't make his quota of missions by one because they'd gotten them mixed up on the boat, and now she would have to figure out what to do with herself for at least two weeks until the boat returned.

The immediate future was as bleak as the idea of getting back on the boat for two more days.

"Too bad you can't turn yourself into a man, honey," the old woman chortled and began to trudge along again, easily forgetting Sakura and her plight.

"Yeah, too bad," Sakura mumbled to herself. "I can't turn myself into—"

As if the heavens opened up and shone a ray of warm sunshine on her, Sakura had an epiphany – with snarky assistance yes, but an epiphany none the less.

"Don't worry, Satoshi. We'll both manage to get what we want."

***

The walk to the camp was a short jaunt through the forest, and employing chakra, it would take no more than ten minutes. But that is, of course, had she not stopped to work on a henge that looked as close as possible to the young man that had lain across from her while she vomited on the boat.

Satoshi was not too tall, and had green eyes like hers. His hair was a ratty blond mess which looked like a cross between Kakashi and Naruto's on the worst of mornings. All in all, a decent looking fellow. Copying him wasn't going to be too much trouble except for the fact that they had only had one conversation sitting up until they both began to feel nauseous. Sakura just prayed that no one in the camp knew him.

From what she knew of Satoshi, he'd always been a medic and had not done any sort of ANBU missions which is why he was remiss to take the current and last one before he reached his jounin status. ANBU was no big deal for an experienced medic like Sakura, and since she already had her jounin status, she would fare all right in the camp.

Most likely someone would spot that she was a henge eventually, so she had an excuse prepared – not an overly plausible one, but a lame excuse was better than none at all.

As she reached the forest edge clad in her standard blacks with the green vest and a very male henge covering her frame, Sakura could see the ANBU camp in a valley lower than the forest with the modern looking western style mansion just beyond it. Undoubtedly, that was her destination.

But as she stepped out of the forest, she serendipitously bumped into two ANBU who looked like they were on their way back to camp from scouting perhaps.

"Excuse me," she asked calmly, trying hard to deepen her voice naturally. At her question, they both swung their masked faces toward her. "I'm the new medic for the ANBU camp next to the Daimyo's mansion, Harada Satoshi. Would you mind taking me to the Captain there to report in?"

For a moment, the two men stared at her, but then they lifted their masks as one extended a hand. "I'm Shin and this is Daichi. Welcome," he said pleasantly and shook hands with Sakura. "We've been without a medic for weeks. The Captain will be happy to see you."

Sakura nodded and smiled. Finally, something was going right.

A rumble of thunder reminded them all that a storm was on its way and as a few drops started, Daichi, the taller of the two, waved her to follow them. Sakura fell into step as the two men walked her to a path that led down from the forest.

"Just get here off the boat, Harada?" Daichi asked. "Rough ride, eh?"

"I'm feeling better now," Sakura responded absently and both men laughed.

Shin pulled his mask right off and wiped at his face with his gloved fingers. "You're going to like the camp, Satoshi. It's a pretty easy gig here. We've got an excellent Captain and there aren't any enemies. We're just basically waiting for the papers to be signed that give us rights to use the forest and land to the south."

"Is there a hold up?" Sakura asked, understanding they'd been there quite a while.

"Well…" Daichi looked at Shin, who shrugged. "We aren't exactly sure what the hold up is. The Daimyo has lost his marbles a little since his son died, and so we've been dealing with his daughter, Kinmokusei."

"That's an unusual name."

"We all call her Kin or Kin-san for short. And yeah, it's a really weird name."

Sakura scrunched her brow while she shifted her bag, hearing the annoying tinkle of the jars in pieces at the bottom. "So the Captain is negotiating with the daughter and she's unprepared to make the decision?"

Shin laughed a little. "Not exactly. The problem is that she's exceptionally beautiful. Actually she's probably the most beautiful woman any of us have ever seen."

A small laugh escaped Sakura as she showed her confusion. "I don't see why her being beautiful is a reason for the hold up though."

"I'm afraid the Captain might be encouraging her to take her time due to some unforeseen feelings arising. We think his intentions might not be wholly professional."

Sakura nodded in understanding. "Wow. That's interesting. He's… in love with her?"

"Well, it seems that her brother died some months ago and she's been pretty cold to men ever since. Doesn't even like the sight of us. The Captain suffers and is patient until she might be ready, but she's never given him any relief. Most times, she won't even see him, and so we wait." Daichi put his mask on his head and sighed. "I'm not sure if its love, but it's pretty damn strong to have a whole camp waiting like this."

Shin concurred with a perfunctory tip of his chin. "But our Captain is the best of men, and we're loyal to him so we'll wait as long as he needs."

Sakura was astounded by what she'd just heard: a Captain lingering his camp around the skirt of a mansion and waiting because he might actually have fallen in love with a woman there. Romance novelists couldn't have written a better story, she thought to herself. A tickle of anticipation wrought her stomach and she found herself excited to lay her eyes on the man who was the hero of such a story. In her own way, she knew what it was like to suffer because of someone she loved and so she felt the need to help him somehow in his plight. Suddenly her subterfuge had extra meaning.

"Daichi? What's the Captain's name?"

"Oh!" he chided himself. "I forgot to tell you. It's Captain Hatake. Hatake Kakashi."

When Sakura dropped her bag, whatever was left in tact smashed noisily on the stone pathway.

***

The rain was coming down in sheets by the time Sakura and company made it to the supply tent. It was on the very edge of the camp and was the first place they could duck into. A supply clerk lazed on some boxes comfortably, and didn't bother to get up when they used his tent for cover.

Daichi yawned and stretched as the trio stared out through the misty rain to the myriad of tents and cabins beyond.

"The main cabin over there, the big one, is the central cabin and is where the medical station is located. It's divided between that and the officer's common area. I'm sure the Captain is in there so we should start by checking you in with him," Shin said as he pointed out into the rain.

"Shouldn't I get a tent first?" Sakura asked, purposely trying to keep her voice low and relaxed. The idea of seeing Kakashi after so many years was giving her some stress, and she worried that she'd drop the henge. If she told him she was a woman, (and one he knew) she would blow it for Satoshi. It was only two weeks. She could keep up the charade for that long so that she had a warm place to stay and Satoshi would get his Jounin eligibility. It was win-win all around.

"Looks like the rain is letting up," Daichi yawned to Shin. "Let's go to the main cabin and leave Harada with Kakashi. He'll get him situated. I want to get some sleep. That was a long scout shift."

"Ready, Harada?" Shin asked as he turned to Sakura.

No, she thought to herself, but darted out through the wet grass behind them when they went anyway.

***

The main cabin that housed a common room for the few officers there held a wooden table, a small kitchenette and a musty looking velour sofa that appeared to have had a lot of use. Sakura couldn't quite tell if it was red or brown.

The floor was wooden and the walls were wooden, which matched well with every other wooden thing in there. Obviously there were no women, because the place was as rustic as it got. Sakura bit the inside of her cheek to keep the sneer from her face.

"That's funny. He's usually here if he isn't up at that mansion. Just make yourself comfortable, Harada, and he'll be here soon. We've got to check in after our scouting rounds so we'll catch you in the mess tent later," Daichi said as he rubbed at his tired eyes and walked toward the door.

"Yeah, later," Shin said, raising a hand in farewell and following Daichi out the door.

Feeling very alone and more than a little nervous, Sakura wandered over to the sofa and sat down carefully on the edge to wait, wondering how dirty it really was. The scent of pine and wood permeated the place, filling it with a wet dog smell that she didn't particularly like. The place was dingy and a little depressing. Maybe some colour would help, she considered.

As she glanced around the room, figuring where she'd put a nice area rug to warm the place up, the door banged open loudly and made her gasp just a little in surprise.

But if the sound of the door was a surprise, then the sight of the man walking in was about as shocking as it got. Indeed it was Captain Hatake Kakashi, but this Kakashi was a little different than she remembered. Sakura was twenty now, and she was probably sixteen the last time she saw him. Missions had taken them on different routes and so had their diverging interests between medical and military.

He stepped in the door and was wet from head to toe. His clothes were soaked through and his skin was slick with it. He wore just a black, sleeveless lycra shirt that stretched tight over his chest, and his long toned arms were bare. The ubiquitous mask covered half of his face, but his shaggy hair, which she'd almost term as long, hung over his sharingan. He wore no headband.

When he looked up to see Sakura there wearing Harada Satoshi's body, he stopped in his tracks and stared. And that's when Sakura noticed Kakashi was bleeding rather profusely from his left shoulder. How affected was she that the blood was the last thing she noticed on the man?

"Harada?" Kakashi said calmly.

A sudden pang of fear rode Sakura's body as she thought he might know Satoshi from before. She'd have to play along if that was the case, but getting found out looked more likely. "I just arrived, Sir. Daichi and Shin brought me to the cabin to wait for you."

"I thought that was who you might be. I can smell the rubbing alcohol. You smell like hospital. We've been without a medic for three weeks now. Give me a minute and I'll help you get situated. I'm Captain Hatake Kakashi," he said in that stock lazy tone that she always knew, but something seemed a little different about him. As of yet, he hadn't smiled at her.

A feeling of relief unknotted her stomach.

"You're—ah--you're bleeding, Sir," she said in the most business like tone she could muster, but it still came off as concerned.

"Just a training wound. Its nothing." He waved it off and walked over to the sink to get a dish towel to press against it.

"May I…?" Sakura asked, her feet already propelling her toward him and her hands already lifting to his arm.

Kakashi flinched a little and creased his brow, but allowed her to wrap her hands around his bicep and look closely at the wound. "The medical area is here, isn't it? If we just go in there, I can bandage this for you."

Kakashi looked at him with some light suspicion and then sighed his defeat. "All right, Harada. And then you can tell me why you're wearing a henge before I kick your ass out of my camp."

Sakura's eyes went wide; she was just barely able to keep the henge in place.

***

Kakashi led the way into the medical facility and sat down on a wooden chair in the middle of the room. The new medic followed him in slowly, and Kakashi was dismayed at how docile and nervous the kid seemed. But he was still a chuunin and had most likely not been in an ANBU camp before, so Kakashi could give him some leeway. He seemed nice enough.

But the henge was a different matter.

"All right. What's the deal with the henge?" Kakashi asked coolly while the young man rooted around in the cupboards for medical supplies and bandages. He couldn't be more than twenty, and his thin body showed that perhaps he wasn't used to fighting. His dossier said he was a medic since the academy, but he was talented and loyal. A little experience out at an ANBU camp might harden him up a little so Kakashi was keen to let him stay – that is, if his excuse for wearing a henge in camp was plausible.

"I'm sorry, Captain. I've had this horrible acne problem for years and it's really embarrassing. I use the henge to hide it." The medic turned around and raised his eyebrows in earnest.

"You expect me to believe that?" Kakashi responded warily.

"I'm like a pizza. It's so awful, even I don't like to look at it."

"Pizza…?" Kakashi mumbled, his lazy stare narrowing.

"With the works." The young man's hands wrung each other and Kakashi tilted his head, wondering if that was a medic thing to do. He'd seen someone do that before.

"You hold a henge to hide your zits…" Kakashi repeated with a rub of his chin.

"Honestly, that's all. I swear I am just…your medic."

Silence stretched out while Kakashi looked Satoshi up and down, considering him, evaluating him. All the while, the boy stayed silent. If he had interrupted or continued to push, it would be all over. Any sort of word would make him guilty in Kakashi's eyes. Patience was what he wanted and it appeared it was what he got.

Finally, after the scrutinization began to burn a little, Kakashi nodded. "I'll make you a deal, Harada. If you can hold the henge all day, I'll let you get away with it. I won't even make you show me what's underneath."

"That's it?"

"As you know, henge requires concentration and an excellent use of chakra manipulation. If you can pull it off, why should I care if you have zits or not."

"Thank-you, Captain," Satoshi said a little more calmly, his face losing some of the flush. Kakashi relented and would just have the trust him. There was something familiar about him anyway, so he wanted to give the young medic the benefit of the doubt.

"Let's get you a tent assigned." Kakashi began to rise from the chair but was interrupted by Satoshi.

"No. I really need to fix your arm first," Satoshi asserted a little more than Kakashi expected. The boy approached Kakashi and calmly cleaned the wound as he looked on. The youth's long, slender fingers took the sterile swab and ran around the wound gently, as his feminine looking green eyes rose to Kakashi's and then back down.

Kakashi looked away when he felt the medic wrapping his bicep with bandages. Not since Haruno Sakura had a medic been so gentle with him. It wasn't uncomfortable, but he'd prefer Harada be a little rougher.

Really, had he not been a man, the delicacy would have been fine.

***

Sakura was given a tent next to the medical side of the cabin in the centre of the camp, and she found her new home was a good size. She could stand up in the tent and there was a small, one man cot and a side table with an oil lantern inside. Things could definitely be worse. She wanted to kiss the flap that zipped closed and had a small loop at the bottom to lock the zipper. At least surprise visits would be eliminated.

After the perfunctory tour of the medical room and finding it poorly stocked and pretty much manhandled since the last medic, she felt her first duty would be to get herself in there and clean it up. Everything needed a scrub, dirty bandages were half hanging out of the garbage and there was just a general lack of order.

Men were slobs.

When she slipped in the side door of the medical facility, she could hear voices from the officer's side of the cabin and took a moment to peek through the adjoining door to see a few men sitting at the table and drinking. Kakashi was there, as were one or two other faces she knew, like Shiranui Genma. A bottle of whiskey sat on the wooden tabletop and they poured out shots as they talked.

Kakashi looked up at her peeking through the crack and lifted his chin. Sakura smiled Harada's best smile and shut the door closed again.

*

Night was already falling as she scrubbed away at everything in sight. And by the time she was finished, it was at least midnight. Chakra had slowed dramatically in her body because she was getting fatigued. Kakashi was right; a henge was very difficult to hold all day. But each day it would get easier as she found ways to take breaks and control the length she wore it.

With the medical facility being closed up, and silence seemed to pervade the common room next to it, Sakura dispelled the henge and sat down in the same wooden chair that Kakashi had sat in earlier to have his arm fixed.

What a shock it was to see him. He looked different -- a little more unkempt, a little bit tired maybe. What Shin and Daichi said about him being in love with the daimyo's daughter really took her off guard. Kakashi-sensei in love? She would have to see it to believe it, and oh how she wanted to see it.

Feeling worn to the bones, Sakura stood up and stretched, cracking her spine. She then carefully slid the door between the two rooms open enter the dark common area. It seemed that everyone must have left even though the scent of alcohol and men lingered within the general wooden aroma.

Tea, she thought. I need tea. Using her hands spread out to wander carefully through the dark to the small kitchenette, Sakura flicked on the light above the cupboard to cast a weak florescent glow across the butcher block counter.

And that's when she realized she was not alone.

His sleepy indignant grunt was the first indication that Kakashi was still in the room, and a soft mumble from the table area was the second.

Sakura turned achingly slowly to see him sitting in a chair, but his head and arms were spread out on the table. It appeared that he must have passed out and was sleeping most uncomfortably.

"Oh, Sensei," she said softly, moving closer to him to have a look, but to her surprise, he lifted his head and looked right at her.

"Sakura…?" he whispered. His lazy gaze even more hazy and unfocused as it tried to remain on her. "You've really grown up."

"Yes, I have Sensei," she responded softly, exceedingly surprised by his lack of surprise. Perhaps he'd just had too much to drink and thought he was dreaming.

"You've grown even more beautiful. You were always a beautiful girl, but now you're stunning," he slurred, leaning on and almost missing his hand.

"Thank you, Kakashi-sensei. I'm twenty now."

"Twenty?" he half laughed. "Thank goodness because I want to keep staring at you."

"You'll make me blush, Sensei. Let me help you to bed."

Kakashi laughed again. "You shouldn't come near my bed, Sakura."

"I think it's harmless enough. I'm not worried about you." She smiled at him, enjoying their banter.

Kakashi's face fell to seriousness and he said, "You should be. When you look like that, even I wouldn't trust me."

"I think in your state, Sensei, you couldn't do much even if we wanted to."

"Well, that's too bad, because I want to…" he whispered, putting his head back down.

For a second, his last declaration shocked her to stillness. Was he flirting with her? Was he actually trying to proposition her in his drunken state? Hopefully he wouldn't remember that in the morning, even though she certainly would.

Figuring he was passed out or fell asleep again, Sakura slung his arm around her back and helped him to his tent which was two down from hers. When he flumped to the futon mattress and began to snore, she removed his boots, covered him up and watched him for a little while before she left.

With a stunned smile, she shook her head.

What a strange night.

***

Kakashi awoke with a headache like he hadn't had in years and was shocked to find himself in his bed in his tent with his boots off and his blanket on. The worst part was that he'd had some crazy dream about Sakura putting him to bed, and he inviting her to stay. But in his head she was quite grown up and incredibly beautiful. He almost never dreamed and yet it was so vivid.

Trying to sit up, Kakashi spun on the cot and dropped his head into his hands. Roughly he rubbed his face and then as he looked around a little to get his bearings, he spotted a glass of water and two aspirins on the table.

Maybe Harada put him to bed? He at least recalled everyone leaving before he'd had a few more drinks. It really was a bad habit that all the officers had been partaking in too much. And it wouldn't have been the first night he'd have slept in the officer's cabin…

However, it was the first night that someone had helped him to bed.

Haruno Sakura. How strange that his mind picked her. Of all the women, he would have preferred to dream of Kinmokusei.

*

After taking the aspirin and getting a shower, Kakashi felt a little better, though still tired. The camp was busy as usual with cutting firewood and training, but mostly the general assemblage was just hanging about and doing next to nothing.

Guilt flooded Kakashi's insides knowing that he wouldn't delay like that had it been any other situation and any other family. But there was something about that woman, something about her blue eyes, her red, red lips and her long dark hair that kept him hanging on her every word, every gesture – though they weren't often directed his way. She wasn't like kunoichi. She wasn't interested in fighting or being strong. She was comfortable being demure and womanly, having tea with him and smiling in just the right way to move someone to her will.

Kakashi wasn't opposed to kunoichi, but there was just something appealing about someone who had power that didn't come from strength or skill -- just presence.

Making his way to the medical side of the cabin, he wandered in to find Satoshi working on a burnt wrist on Daichi who was happily chattering on about his day. Daichi was too friendly sometimes but Harada seemed to be listening patiently.

"Morning, Harada," Kakashi said calmly, partly not to startle him and partly to protect his own aching head.

"Morning, Se--Captain," he responded with a guarded smile.

"What have you done this time, Daichi?"

"Training gone wrong, Sir," Daichi scoffed and Satoshi glanced up at him and shook his head.

"Not unexpected from you, Daichi," Kakashi mumbled, and then glanced at Satoshi who seemed to almost be avoiding looking at him. "Harada. See me after you're finished with your medic duties here. I have a job for you. It's quite important."

"Of course, Captain," Satoshi responded, finally looking up at him with wide eyes. Kakashi just felt that kid was so familiar somehow, perhaps it was the way he looked at him, or in the manner that he moved, but he had an intrinsic need to trust and like him.

***

Morning in camp after a fantastic night sleep saw Sakura treating small infections, the odd poison ivy rash and of course, jock itch. But she was a professional so it was fine; she could handle it all. What seemed to throw a wrench in the works was the short discussion that seemed to grow louder as it continued from the inner room of the cabin, followed by a call for "Harada" to get his ass out there.

When she reached the end of the hallway, Kakashi and Shiranui Genma were sitting at the table again and there was a letter on the table between them. From someone that morning she discovered that Genma was the first lieutenant in the company so it made sense to see him sitting with Kakashi.

"Harada, I have a job for you," Genma spoke, leaving Kakashi quite silently watching her.

"Of course. What is it?" Sakura asked as business-like as she could, focused solely on Genma.

"The lady of the main house has injured her hand and the daimyo has sent for our medic. You are to go and treat her and then return as soon as possible." Genma directed. "You must give this letter at the door or you'll be turned away. Do you understand?"

Sakura gave Genma a quick nod and then glanced at Kakashi who was looking fairly unhappy.

"Anything else? Captain?" she asked, stepping forward confidently and grabbing up the letter that she was to present at the door. When her fingers touched the paper, Kakashi's hand snapped roughly over her wrist.

"I want a full report on any discussion you hear or are part of. Is that understood?" Kakashi said quietly, and Sakura had to tighten her lips to avoid a smile. This Kakashi was light years away from the Kakashi she used to know years ago. Maybe it was because he was more like an equal than the last time they'd worked together or maybe because she saw him less like a teacher. But being in her early twenties made her see that there were more layers to him than just being a good ninja and a lazy pervert.

He always said look underneath the underneath. And what she saw there was a man, whose ego could be as fragile as any others when faced with uncertainty in love.

"Of course, Sir. Every word."

***

The walk to the mansion was peaceful and Sakura admired the gardens as she passed. The scent of jasmine, lilies and peonies filled the air with perfume and she slowed her pace as she approached the door.

After one hard knock of the very heavy brass door knocker and then presenting the letter to the bored looking butler, Sakura was led into a drawing room with antique furniture and paintings running every wall. It looked dusty and depressing with the curtains pulled closed. It wasn't until the door that she had passed through creaked again did she realize that someone was entering the room. And when Sakura turned to greet them, she found a woman standing there – veiled, but wearing an exquisite kimono of black and silver.

"Would you be the honourable Kinmokusei-san of the daimyo's royal house?" Sakura asked as formally (and as manly) as she dared. Somehow, she still couldn't get the voice right.

"You may speak to me," a soft voice said from behind the veil. Kinmokusei walked very delicately toward the small settee across from where Sakura stood and then sat down slowly. In just that one simple movement, Sakura could see her nobility. But by the way she held her arm close to her front and the other pressed against it, she also guessed Kin-san had injured her wrist.

"Thank you," Sakura answered kindly, bowing just a little. "I am told to look at a wound and to return as soon as you are well. My Captain also sends his regards."

"You speak well, Sir. You look so young to be so comfortable with formality." Kinmokusei said with a hint of a smile behind the sheer material. "Not like the usual grunts he sends. Tell me, did he also ask you to give a message for me, your Captain? Has he finally sent his best speech maker in his place? Tell me, what are you to say to me?"

"Only that you are healed. May I take a look at your wrist?" Sakura said, feeling foolish to use such stilted responses. But once she fell into the rhythm, it wasn't hard to keep up the formality.

"Of course," Kinmokusei said, holding out her arm and making a small wincing sound at the effort.

"Pardon me," Sakura said as she hurried forward and held the woman's wrist between her hands. She closed her eyes and filled the space between her palms with chakra, seeing the small fracture and delving into it to force the bone to rejoin along the hairline crack.

Kinmokusei sat very still, but continued to converse. "I'm at a loss, Sir. It's unlike your Captain not to send some sort of message. He doesn't ask you to put in a good word for him?"

Opening her eyes, Sakura considered the woman who could not be much older than herself. With grace and dignity she sat there and told with just a few words the breadth of the relationship between herself and Kakashi. It seemed that he was the smitten one, and she, indeed, was not.

"Had he asked, I would have done my best by him, Madam. I can tell that my lady has made up her mind and so what would be the point of me trying to sway it with pretty phrases? You'll most likely find them shallow and fake anyway. What words could I possibly have to speak of another man's feelings?" Sakura let go of her hand, stood up and bowed slightly. "That should be fine. I must take my leave now."

"Wait!" Kinmokusei said. "You've come all this way with no message? Or is it that you won't give it to me? I'm more than curious now. Your manner is all too abrupt too, sir."

"Forgive me." Sakura bowed again. "My occupation sometimes lends to being abrupt. I'm just sad for my Captain because it seems his feelings are one sided. The only message I have is that you are healed and should not have anymore pain."

Kinmokusei laughed softly as she grasped her wrist in her other hand and twisted it gently to find it indeed healed. "Most wonderful! What skill! I don't feel any more pain! You are truly gifted, Sir. And your loyalty must be prized. He's a fortunate Captain to have you."

To that, Sakura smiled.

Kinmokusei stood up then and walked around Sakura, still moving her wrist.

Sakura, in turn, sat down on the settee where Kinmokusei was just sitting and watched her move about the room.

"Forgive me for asking but do you always cover your face?" Sakura queried, suddenly desperate to gaze upon that which had Kakashi so head over heels. It must be a quite a woman to manage that feat as Sakura had never witnessed it before.

"No. Only on the worst days when I think of my poor brother. But I'll lift the veil if you tell me your name," Kinmokusei added, her long slender fingers caressing the bottom of it as she spun to face Sakura.

"I am Harada Satoshi, Madam. The camp's medical officer."

To Sakura's surprise, Kinmokusei immediately swept the veil away to reveal a face that a man might call nothing short of perfection. Her lips were red and full, cheeks pale and unblemished, and her eyes were bright blue, accented with long black eyelashes. The silk of her hair was shiny and soft looking. In a word, the Daimyo's daughter was exquisite.

"You're so beautiful!" Sakura blurted out before she could stop herself, but regained her composure almost immediately. "I can see why he is the way he is about you. Our Captain is a hard man to sway, but I comprehend how you've done it so easily."

"It's just skin and hair and eyes. Fragile beauty. Time will drag them along until they are worn down. You know what they say about beauty and the depth of ones skin." Kinmokusei walked through the room as if admiring the paintings and again ignoring the young man she shared the room with, but when she spoke, she would stop and turn her body just a little to glance over her shoulder. "Are you trying to convince me he is worthy, Satoshi? I know he's worthy and a decent man by the way his men follow him, but I can't love him. I have already told him this and yet he doesn't accept it."

"I can understand his hesitation. In the little time we've talked I can see you're an exceptional woman. Is it so difficult to see that a man would find it difficult to give you up?" Sakura said, looking for the right words to make Kinmokusei change such a resolute denial of Kakashi. How could anyone, even such a woman, dismiss a man like him so easily?

"You find me interesting beyond my face, Satoshi-san?"

"I'm certain that you have more depth to you than I could find in just one meeting. Your intellect and conversation are just a glance at who you are, I'm sure," Sakura added, finding it almost playfully fun to banter with a woman for a change. The dynamic between men and women was so interesting from a man's perspective.

For just a moment, Kinmokusei met Sakura's eyes and then a soft smile actually did the impossible and made her face even more beautiful. When she spoke, her tone had softened. "Go back to your camp and tell Kakashi that I am not interested and he should send no one else here…unless it's you, Satoshi. Next time I see you, please let me know how he takes it."

Giving an exasperated shake of her head, Sakura laughed softly and smiled at Kinmokusei. "I'll tell him, but I can't speak for how he'll take it."

And so taking her leave, Sakura turned and walked to the door but turned back one last time to find Kinmokusei watching her intently. "Farewell, fair cruelty," she said and then without another word, slipped into the ornate hallway and headed for the large front door.

***

"No response?" Kakashi asked calmly from where he sat on top of the picnic table, the ubiquitous orange volume in his hand, still at the same place he was the hour before when he'd asked that same question first time.

"No, Captain. She had a small fracture which I healed. I'm sorry. Were you expecting a message?" Sakura asked innocently, feeling horrible for the fact that she couldn't tell him that Kinmokusei reiterated her rejection of him. Perhaps if Sakura really was a man, it would be easy to be blunt and forthcoming, but it wasn't in her to see him any more hurt than he was already trying to hide. It made her heart break for him.

"No. I suppose not," he mumbled, then looked at the sky for a long time before snapping his book shut and setting it on the table beside him. "I see you've held the henge well. You must have formidable chakra control. Not sure what it is about you medics." He forced a huff of a laugh, then got up and started walking back to the cabin. But before he entered, Kakashi turned around and said, "Have some dinner, Satoshi, and then come back here. I'll need your medical assistance later."

Sakura watched him walk into the cabin in that slow lazy slouch she knew so well, but this time there was something a little lower about it. Perhaps he'd never had his heart broken before, but Sakura had so she knew just how painful it was for him.

As she finally turned and walked toward the mess hall, she felt closer to Kakashi than she ever had.

***

"You said you needed my services, Captain?" Sakura recalled aloud as she hovered outside his tent with the sun waning behind her. There she found Kakashi in just the lycra shirt with mask, and a pair of black standard pants. He was sitting on a futon and rubbing his shoulder roughly when heard Satoshi's voice and looked up at Sakura.

"I've had a knot in my shoulder for a while. I'd hoped you might be able to work it out with chakra," Kakashi said calmly, raising his eyebrows in question.

"I'll try," Sakura answered. "We can go in the medical room and you can lie on one of the cots in there."

"Here is fine," Kakashi cut in, and then easily got up and unzipped the mesh screen to let her in. And even though her feet felt like lead and her heart was starting to speed up from nerves, she entered like a good little soldier.

Kakashi kneeled on his thick soft futon and before he lay right down, he slipped the shirt from his body and turned his face to the tent wall. For just a second, Sakura hated her cot.

"L—left or—ah—right side?" she managed as she sat down on the edge of the futon, admiring the cut of his strong jaw and the perfection of the skin of his cheek. But suddenly sitting down beside him on a bed was a problem. How do men sit when giving another man a massage? Should she punch him in the arm?

The room was somewhat dark with a small lamp casting almost no light. The tent was filled with the scent of him and she realized in all the time she knew Kakashi, she liked that scent. It was distinctly his: a hint of the woods with a hint of masculinity.

"Left," he grunted.

Timidly she spread her hands out above Kakashi, careful not fall into the temptation to run her palms up along his sleek muscular back. Instead she grabbed his shoulders almost too hard and felt around with her chakra for the knot. It was in his left deltoid, and when she located it with her warm fingers, he made a soft groaning noise that made her heart skip.

Well, maybe it had been way too long since she'd been this close to a man in a non-clinical situation, but the tent felt rather warm and a sound like that didn't help.

"B--better?" she asked, her voice a touch too high.

He didn't respond.

For about ten minutes, she gently kneaded his muscles, surging chakra through to relax and warm them while her fingers worked through the tight spots. Kakashi had so many tight spots.

"What made you choose this place for an assignment, Satoshi?" His muffled voice cut through the uncomfortable silence and it took everything she had not to jump out of her skin – quite literally.

Sakura liked the sound of his voice. It had been years since they'd really talked, and come to think of it, she could never remember such an intimate moment where it was just the two of them…in the dark… with one of them topless.

"It was the only available B rank and it's my last assignment before I'm eligible for jounin status. My sister is expecting soon and her husband was killed so I need the pay hike." She gave him the exact reason that Satoshi had given her yesterday on the boat and it was the only thing besides her skills that she currently felt confident about.

"That's noble, Harada," Kakashi mumbled. "I'm pretty impressed with your chakra control. I've only known one other person that I believe could hold a henge that long. She's a medic too, but I haven't seen her in a few years."

"I think I might know who you mean." Sakura rolled her eyes as she ran her fingers along his back, easing in the chakra inside and following the lovely contours of his back to readjust as she went. With each satisfying crack of the spine, he'd make a small noise, and then once in a while he'd sigh contentedly. Sakura couldn't help but smile when he did that.

"What did you think of Kinmokusei?" Kakashi ventured quietly and even though he hid it well, his tone had a little something subdued about it.

"Well…she's very beautiful," Sakura said warily, "But she's young and she's in mourning so I'm sure I didn't see her at her best. I expect she's preoccupied with that at the moment so having an ANBU camp here might not matter to her." What she wanted to say was that she hated to see him so melancholy and that she wanted him to forget the young daughter of the daimyo. But that was something a woman would say. She couldn't be a woman right now, as badly as she wanted to be.

"True," he replied, though he didn't sound convinced.

Finally finding the knots worked out and her fingers tingling from chakra overuse today, she continued to just run her fingers over his back while applying minimal pressure, hoping it would keep him talking longer. When she slid over a bump, she asked, "How did you get this scar? Does it give you pain?" Then without thinking (and remembering she was supposed to have a penis) she traced a fingertip down it.

Kakashi jerked a little, and everything came back as she quickly removed her finger. It wasn't until his back tightened that she realized that she'd done something a man wouldn't normally do in a platonic medical situation and the hot blush of embarrassment burst into her face.

"I think you're done…aaaaannnndd….I should restock the med room before I turn in. Was there anything else, Captain?" she asked almost too hurriedly as she bolted up and moved to the doorway. Glancing back, she noticed him reaching over for his shirt.

"Okay, that's…yeah…" Spinning so that she didn't have to watch him dress, Sakura slipped out and darted at a full run into the officer's common room where she banged right into Genma. When their eyes met, Genma's brow creased. "What's up?" he mumbled, assuredly noticing the red of Satoshi's face in the dim cabin light.

In that moment, Sakura knew no henge could possibly hide the flustered look she had.

"You're late, Genma," Kakashi said calmly as he entered the cabin behind Sakura with his shirt back on and mask back up. It was only then that Sakura realized that she never got to a chance to see his face.

"A letter came for you from…her." He held it out for Kakashi who came forward, brushing past the medic to take it.

The envelope was a lilac colour and before Kakashi opened it, he held it to his mask and breathed in. "How did it come?" he asked.

"A servant dropped it at the guard by the stone pathway."

So very careful not to tear it, Kakashi opened the flap and gingerly pulled the letter from the envelope. For a long moment, he looked over it, seeming to read it more than once.

When he glanced up, Sakura could tell from past experience that it wasn't good news.

"It seems she wants to reopen the talks regarding the land passage. She wants me to come to dinner tomorrow evening but there is one condition," Kakashi said coolly. Then his eyes shot up from the letter to Satoshi.

As innocently as possible, Sakura looked from Kakashi to Genma and back again. "What does it say?"

"That condition is that you attend also, Harada. Care to explain?"

Sakura felt the burning of all eyes on her and quickly hashed over the brief conversation she'd had with Kinmokusei again in her head. She'd smiled. She'd laughed a little and she'd asked Sakura if she saw something other than beauty…

Oh no, her inner voice blubbered. Kinmokusei had seen something in Satoshi that really wasn't there. Did they flirt? Did Sakura really flirt with Kinmokusei? With another woman?!

She was never going to figure out this "being a guy" thing properly.

"No—I--- I have no idea—what---why…?" Sakura couldn't think of anything to say. She'd seen Kakashi wear that look many times and knew that anything she could say, he would flat out disbelieve. No, the only solution was to go to the dinner with him and reject Kinmokusei – if, in fact, the woman had truly fallen for her.

***

The next morning was spent in the medical room avoiding Kakashi and Genma for the most part. When she saw him before breakfast, Kakashi was his old self, sitting on the table outside with his orange book open and leaning on his hand lazily. For quite a while, she watched him out of the common room window.

The sun shone down, and the breeze blew his bangs gently, making them sweep his forehead a little. Once in a while he would brush them out of the way and that one small action made him look like a regular man. Today he had no gloves on and his sleeves were rolled up his strong arms, displaying the cut of the sleek muscles in his forearms. His slate gray eye scanned the pages and he ran a finger just under his mask to cool his skin here and there in the heat of the sunshine.

The sight of him sitting there so serenely was almost hypnotic, and Sakura found that she liked watching him. The image of him sprawled on his bed while she ran her fingers all over his tense muscles was still afresh in her mind, and the very intense image made her cheeks redden.

"Oh, it can't be…" she whispered to herself, forgetting even to make her voice lower. Clamping both palms against her hot face, she realized at that very second that she was indeed attracted to Kakashi. And maybe it wasn't the Kakashi from her teen years that she liked, but this Kakashi who she saw as a man, who was slighted and quietly suffering because of love.

If she were Sakura right now, she could go to him, talk, flirt even, and ask him the embarrassing questions that men avoided with each other. And then when he spilled out how hurt he was, she would try to fix him. But it wasn't meant to be because, for Satoshi, she would have to keep the charade of being a man up until he could switch off with her. She could never confess to the Captain, or even express minute interest.

How difficult being a man was going to be because she had so many reasons she wanted to be a woman.

Leaving the window, Sakura returned to the medical room for the rest of the day to just clean. All the while, she daydreamed of all the impossibilities that her feelings could lead to.

***

"Let's go, Harada," Kakashi called outside of Satoshi's tent. With the last medic, he'd have happily pushed through and yanked him from his bed or desk or whatever the hell the guy was doing. But Harada Satoshi didn't seem like the type of guy he could do that with.

When the kid arrived, everything seemed fine, but since the letter from Kinmokusei and the awkward rubdown the night before, Kakashi wasn't quite sure what it was about the guy that made him question his usual way of acting. Could be the pizza face or could be the fact that he sounded like a woman at times, but Kakashi had a strange feeling like there was something just different about him.

But all in all, he trusted the boy. The medical massage was the best one Kakashi had ever had and even after the tense discussion over Kinmokusei's invitation, his shoulders still felt good.

"Sorry, Sens…Captain," Harada said, poking his head out as he rubbed a thin hand through his blond hair to tame it. "Is it time to leave?"

"Hm," Kakashi sounded quietly, and still felt a little indignant that he had to bring another man along.

Finally Satoshi emerged, dressed and ready in his standard blacks with the green vest. They set off to the mansion and the walk was in complete silence -- though Kakashi was preoccupied with thinking of what he would say to Kinmokusei to further the deal. The mission was priority and if Kinmokusei had developed an interest in Harada, then it was always possible to use that. But the idea of her being attracted to someone else stung him deeply.

They were greeted at the door by one of the butlers and led into a great room where they were offered a drink, both refusing. Kakashi sat down casually on a chaise and glanced around the room.

"I'm sorry, Captain," Satoshi said, his green eyes looking all too guilty and a little too much like a woman's for Kakashi to ignore.

"For what?" Kakashi banished, trying to ease the boy's tension. It wasn't fair to blame him. Kinmokusei was a vibrant, creative woman so undoubtedly she saw the intelligence and caring that comes with being a medic. Even Kakashi could see that in Satoshi and he'd only known him for a couple of days.

"Please believe that I really don't want to be here…" Satsohi continued, his hands wringing in front of him as he watched the doors. Kakashi recognized the nervousness in the boy's actions.

"It's just dinner, Harada. Have a drink and enjoy yourself. The sooner we make this deal, the sooner we can move the camp away. Your presence will probably help that."

"You want to leave? But I thought that you…?" Satoshi seemed to search for words, but Kakashi knew what he was getting at.

"Everyman has his limits. I guess I'm just learning mine. Not everyone will leave. We'll retain a base camp nearby. You could probably stay if you wanted."

Satoshi's eyes widened and then softened while he sat down heavily on the chair across from Kakashi. "I'll follow you, Captain."

Under his mask, Kakashi felt his smile spread against the neoprene over his face. As he suspected, Harada Satoshi was loyal and decent. If he had to lose against anyone, it would all right if it were this medic.

"Welcome," a soft female voice said from the doorway of the great room. Both Kakashi and Satoshi looked up at the woman making her entrance and at least one of them had their mouths wide with shock.

Kinmokusei sauntered in wearing a stunning gown of sage with silver beads and rhinestones embroidered into it in the most intricate leaf pattern. Her dark hair was pulled up with a few strands teasing the eye down to her bare shoulders covered only with thin silk straps. Her supple skin was unnecessarily done with light makeup and her face seemed luminescent among the dreary backdrop of the dark paintings.

And then she smiled at them, and Kakashi felt the heavy pull of his feelings as if she controlled him with a string through his chest that wrapped around her little finger.

She would be hard to give up. Just seeing her like that made him unsure it was actually possible.

***

Sakura was still stunned from the entrance that Kinmokusei made, but was equally dismayed by the reaction Kakashi had to the woman. Perhaps he didn't know that his dark eye was glued to their hostess, tracing the lines of her body and fixing on her red lips. And maybe he didn't know that his Adam's apple bobbed more than once as he swallowed hard.

Sakura could see the desire in his gaze. It hurt her, because she was only just starting to realize her own attraction for him just in time to see the depth of his feelings for someone else. How jealousy gripped her.

Unfortunately for all of them, Kinmokusei had chosen to take Satoshi by the hand to lead them to dinner in the ornate dining room across the hall. Trying hard not to reciprocate, Sakura held the woman's hand very loosely, hoping that it would just drop away.

When they reached the dining room, Kinmokusei sat at one end of a very long table that seated at least eight, and Kakashi was there to push her chair in. A butler in the room motioned for Kakashi to sit at the other end, and then for Sakura to sit somewhere in the middle. It was really strange to Sakura, but what did she know of rich people and their weird traditions?

But whatever the setup, she really didn't want to join them for dinner and so she declined with a hand up before backing up to the wall and standing aside.

"Satoshi?" Are you not going to dine with us?" Kinmokusei asked with her pretty brow unusually stitched.

"No, Madam. I'll observe quietly until the Captain needs me. This is a negotiation, after all, and I am here as his second," she said just above a whisper. Two butlers stood in the room as well as Sakura so it shouldn't have seemed odd. But for just a moment, awkwardness hung in the air like smoke.

Kinmokusei appeared suddenly slighted as her lips parted in surprise. Sakura knew that to refuse the hostess was probably not a good thing to do, but to eat dinner with them, watching them banter, watching Kakashi drink her in with his eye would be too difficult, and so Sakura stayed as a sentry while they hashed out their terms.

"You have him trained well, Kakashi. Or is this your request that he not join us for dinner?" Kinmokusei drawled with a hint of bitterness in her tone.

"I have no problem with Satoshi joining us," Kakashi said with a shrug. "That is, if we are negotiating. Is this why you've invited us?"

"Yes. That is why. I want to get this deal finished. As you know, my father is unwell after my brother's death and I'd really like to have this messy business over with." Her tone was stronger and Sakura noticed that she seemed to have no problem taking charge when needed. Then again, Kakashi was just fine to let her.

Kakashi nodded slightly and said, "The deal is simple, Kin-san. Allow us passage and we'll protect your area. We'll give you a detachment of men to guard your grounds and we'll keep a wide berth between your forests and our troops. You'll barely know we are here."

The door to the kitchen opened and a man walked in with a large tureen that steamed with something that smelled entirely too good to Sakura, but she couldn't give in now. Her loyalty was to Kakashi and so if she joined them at the table, she would steal Kinmokusei's attention again.

The man spooned some of the creamy soup into the bowls in front of Kakashi and Kinmokusei and then placed the tureen on the table before he bowed and left.

"How will you eat, Kakashi?" Kinmokusei giggled, gliding her spoon through her soup and then lifting it to her pretty lips.

Kakashi said nothing, but seemed caught in her gaze.

"I've told you before that it's difficult for me to trust a man in a mask. Why don't you take it off and show me your face."

For a time, Kakashi continued to consider Kinmokusei. Sakura knew that look. He was weighing his options, deciding. To him, that mask might be one of the most important things in life and this woman was asking him to shed it. Did she know it was probably like baring his soul to someone? What a thing to ask.

"If I show you my face, will you agree to allow us free passage through your forest and install a permanent camp on the far grounds to the east?" Kakashi asked calmly.

"If you show me your face…" She grinned widely and snuck a glance at Sakura. "Then, yes."

Another pause in the conversation ensued, but it was like the room frozen over as they all waited for him to make his decision. But when he lifted two fingers to pinch the fabric over his nose, Sakura felt the shock overcome her and she turned to leave.

"Harada!" Kakashi called out to her back, seeming to be a little shocked himself.

Slowly, Sakura turned back, just glancing over her shoulder to look at him. Her hands were shaking and clenched so tightly she may have broken the skin.

But when he spoke again, his tone softened. "It's all right. You should stay."

How could Sakura say no? Yes, she was desperate to see him take down the mask, but it was the thing that made him Kakashi to her. If she finally fulfilled that long desire to see his face, would she be disappointed, relieved, heartbroken…or would she fall harder?

Finding a place along the wall, Sakura leaned heavily and then chanced a glance at Kinmokusei who looked somewhat pleased with the way things were turning out. It wasn't a devious look, but she appeared triumphant in that she'd finally pushed him to do what it seemed she'd been asking, and in front of Satoshi, no less.

The room was quiet as Kakashi finally began to pull the mask down. He slipped a finger into it and eased it slowly from is face.

Any notion Sakura had of looking away had been crushed to pieces. Her heart pounded faster, her body tensed in anticipation. Kinmokusei too had become enthralled with the small spectacle as Kakashi continued to reveal himself.

The dark mask passed his straight nose, and then slipped down his philtrum to his lips. A small scar broke across his upper lip and when he pulled it past his chin, a small strawberry shaped birthmark on his throat presented itself.

As she stared at him, Sakura felt her cheeks get hot and she raised her sleeve to her mouth to cover her lips for fear that he'd see the shock and intensity in her face. It was all she could do to hold the henge.

He was stunning and yet masculine with a strong jaw line and perfect features. And to her dismay, Sakura felt that the two of them matched quite well - Kakashi and the daimyo's pretty daughter.

"Not what I expected," Kinmokusei said quietly, "Quite an improvement actually."

Sakura's throat felt dry as the couple at the table stared at each other.

"He's handsome, don't you think, Satoshi?" Kinmokusei said to Sakura who was still pressed against the wall and quite out of sorts.

When Kakashi's eye turned to her, Sakura felt her knees weaken and her heart thump wildly. It was becoming near impossible to have the chakra molding enough to maintain her façade and so she turned away and bowed to the lady.

"I'm so sorry. I must take my leave. Please excuse me," she rambled off and then walked out brusquely. The butler in the hallway was taken aback when Sakura came bursting out, and he ended up dropping his tray when she loudly demanded to know where the nearest exit was.

After a shaking finger pointed the way, Sakura bolted out through an atrium and darted through the glass garden door to find herself in the middle of a field of roses. The sky above was dark and dotted with a million tiny stars and the moon shone enough that the path was lit for her return. And as Sakura started walking dejectedly back to base camp, she felt sure that Kakashi would be upset with her. But to stay there another moment would have broken her heart.

***

Kakashi sat with Kinmokusei for a little longer. The banter was polite and stilted, but Kinmokusei seemed to want to keep him there talking. And on any normal night, this would have been a good opportunity to get to know her, show her the things they had in common. But with Satoshi's rushed departure, Kakashi had the nagging feeling that something was wrong. He felt nearly compelled to chase after him.

Finally, after an hour of dinner and pleasantries, Kakashi was able to leave with the signed contract in his hand and a reluctant promise to send the plans for the permanent base camp back the next day with Satoshi.

In Kakashi's mind, the whole escapade was set up for Kinmokusei to use Kakashi to make Satoshi jealous, perhaps. And with the abrupt way that Satoshi left, it was possible he was. It wasn't right to make a young man her play thing like that.

However, try as he might, Kakashi couldn't hate her, couldn't even dislike her. They were all playing games for what they wanted, and he couldn't seem to let go of the idea that she would come around to the idea of having feelings for him in return. How could he fault her for following her own desires when he couldn't abandon his own?

But as much as he felt indignant that he'd have to win her over a comrade, he worried more about Satoshi. So moving quickly along the path, he employed some chakra to hasten himself to the cabin.

When he got there, it was obvious that Satoshi was again cleaning in the medical room.

***

Sakura scrubbed hard at the bedpans that didn't look like they were ever used, but still she went on until her knuckles burned with the chemical cleaner. But no matter how many bedpans shined, no matter how many bandages got stacked and scalpels were sterilized, she would never be able to put the image of his unsmiling face out of her mind.

Kakashi had looked so sad and Sakura felt she'd taken something away from him, perhaps been a participant in one of his worst moments. And to top it off, he and Kinmokusei had looked at each other in such a way.

It was all she could do not to cry.

"Harada?" Kakashi's familiar voice called from the hallway.

Composing herself a little after the jolt of unexpectedly hearing him, Sakura dropped the bedpan onto the hospital cot and walked to the door, cracking it open just an inch. "Captain?"

"Come out here for a minute, Satoshi. I've got something for you to do."

Taking a deep breath in, Sakura opened the door and wandered out to find him in the main room at the table, a thick bottle of dark golden liquid sitting next to the oil lamp. To her great surprise, his mask was still down.

Kakashi waved her to sit on the other side of the table and grudgingly, Sakura obeyed while her eyes continually moved from the table, to the lamp, to his face and back again.

"Sir?" she half-whispered and found that she couldn't even make her voice sound like a man's at the moment.

"Let's have a drink. You look like you've had a rough night. I can understand what that feels like." Kakashi poured out two glasses halfway and slid one across to Sakura. He placed the bottle down and picked up his own as if toasting.

Hesitantly, Sakura picked up hers and could smell the strong scent of the alcohol as if it could burn out the hair in her nose. "Kakashi, I…"

"Let's not think of her tonight. Let's just enjoy the company of a friend, have a few drinks and forget the mess we're in."

And then Kakashi smiled. It was devastatingly handsome and just a little cocky. If Sakura's heart was broken before, imagining that he'd smiled like that for Kinmokusei was just too cruel. Closing her eyes because she couldn't look at it anymore, she took three large gulps of the drink before setting it back down, after which she choked and sputtered quite loudly.

And for her awkward attempt at drinking, Kakashi laughed hard, setting down his glass so he didn't spill any. "There's plenty more, Harada. Pace yourself."

Sakura wiped off her mouth with the back of her hand and nodded. She was glad because wanted plenty more to wash out the last two hours of her life.

***

"What time is it?" Sakura asked, completely forgoing any attempt at sounding like a man. She was pretty tipsy, teetering on drunk actually, and Kakashi was on the other side of the table still looking much worse than she did.

Thank goodness Tsunade would often want to have liquid meetings.

"It's probably midnight," Kakashi said quietly, leaning heavily on his elbow and looking at the clock with a deep squint. "Can't quite see it."

"We should get to bed," Sakura mumbled, tired to her bones but unwilling to leave him there alone at the table when she could be with him. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but she felt more attraction and desire for him than ever before. It was a dangerous combination.

"Tell me, Satoshi," Kakashi said with a hint of a slur, "Have you ever made the mistake of falling for someone?"

Kakashi seemed a little wounded. And though it was probably the drink spurring her thoughts, Sakura came very close to telling him that he already knew the answer to that. But to reveal herself to him now would be like a betrayal and so her only answer was, "Yes. Very recently."

A light scoff escaped Kakashi and he smiled wanly. "And what did she look like?"

Sakura rubbed at her temple where a slight headache was brewing, but she smiled despite it. "A little like you, Sir."

"Ugly, then." Kakashi chuckled. "And how old is she?"

Sakura laid her head on the table on her arm, picking at the wooden edge with her thin version of a man's fingers. "About your age."

"Old too. You have strange taste, Harada." Kakashi's voice was sounding muted and tired, and he put his chin in his hand, elbow on the table and stared at Sakura. "Any woman would be lucky to have you, Satoshi. You're loyal and that's invaluable in a man."

"It's valuable in a woman too," she replied, sitting up slowly.

"So it is. So it is. If only you were a woman then, Harada. We'd be all set," Kakashi half mumbled, his eyes unable to really focus on anything anymore as he blinked slowly. Sakura knew he was drunk, but she indulged it because he needed a little escape from his command, and his heart, and the burn of rejection.

"If only I were a woman," she repeated, but couldn't put any light heartedness in her tone. "Come on. I'll help you to bed, Sensei."

"Sensei?" Kakashi snickered. "I haven't been called that for years. You know, I had a beautiful girl call me that once. She had pink hair, Satoshi. A pretty girl with pink hair…"

"Imagine that," Sakura mumbled as she moved around the table and slid Kakashi's arm around her shoulders to hoist him up much like she had the other night. He obliged her by standing and Sakura felt him swaying quite readily, so she tightened an arm around his back and grasped the hand slung over her shoulder tightly.

"I had a dream about her the other night. She'd grown up so beautiful that I could hardly believe she was ever the teenager I used to have in my team."

"That's really nice, Kakashi. I'm sure she thinks about you too."

They stumbled together to Kakashi's tent, but when she tried to release him, he tightened his arm around her neck and pulled her to the futon with him. Like a vice grip, he held her there as he lay on his back, his eye blinking slowly before it closed all together.

"Kakashi?"

"Her name was Haruno Sakura. I wonder where she is now?"

"Probably not far." Sakura creased her brow. She was seeing so many sides to Kakashi, it was becoming a thing of disbelief.

"I wonder if I'll have another dream about her…"

For a while they just lay there, Kakashi's breathing becoming steadier and steadier as he started drifting off. Most likely he wouldn't remember anything tomorrow, so she made the easy choice to dispel the henge and snuggle closer to him. His hand seemed to tighten on her as well and she lay like that with him until she fell asleep.

***

The sea was much calmer as Harada Satoshi sat in a small motorized boat and squinted against the misty air that launched off the bow as it hit the whitecaps. A sense of panic was tickling him under his ribs because he'd missed his mission. Perhaps if he arrived and pleaded with them to back date his arrival, he could squeak in under the wire.

Hopefully the Captain was a good man.

As they floated the waves, the boat rocking up and down, Satoshi pulled the sleeping draught out of his bag and tossed it into the water. The way he'd been tossed off the boat the other day and woken from too deep a sleep, was a shock.

But it was even worse to discover that he'd landed in Zen instead of Sasuke.

And whatever became of Sakura was a complete mystery.

Just one more day and he'd be there.

***

Sakura stared at the ceiling of her tent lit by the morning sun, missing Kakashi's arm slung around her, though not really missing his soft snoring. Drunken men could be like that. In the few days she'd been at the camp, she'd seen them pick their toenails in the mess tent, brush their teeth with their fingers and expel gas like it was their job. How incredibly different they were when women weren't around.

As she looked at the little wind up clock she had extracted from the glittering pieces of her medical jars, Sakura realized it was ten o'clock and she had slept in quite late. So bounding up out of bed, she rapidly made the seals and turned herself back into Satoshi. Then she darted to the medical office and then further into the cabin to the common area to find Kakashi and Genma simpering over bowls of cereal.

"Morning, Harada," Genma said happily, and Kakashi lifted a slow hand to rub through his silver hair.

"Morning Lieutenant. Captain…" she said quietly, making Kakashi look up at her.

"A letter came for you, Harada," Kakashi said equally as quietly and then went back to his food without another glance in her direction.

"Well, I'll get the rounds going," Genma cut in awkwardly, hurrying himself from the table and with a swift salute, he was out the door.

"He's in a hurry," Sakura mumbled before taking a place across from Kakashi and picking up the lilac envelope. The second she saw it, she knew it would be trouble. The woman was persistent if nothing else.

"It came this morning," Kakashi said to his bowl of what looked like soggy cheerios.

"I—do I have to accept it?" Sakura asked, trying so hard to show Kakashi that interest in Kinmokusei was the last thing she wanted.

"You're a man, aren't you? Deal with it properly," Kakashi nearly hissed, though Sakura wasn't sure. It seemed that either it was a hangover or that he felt slighted. Sakura knew the feelings he had for Kinmokusei. His pain was the result of her presence, though as a man, and she felt the guilt like a rock in her stomach.

"All right. I'm sorry, Captain," she breathed out, looking at the envelope as she opened it.

"Stop apologizing," Kakashi grumbled.

"Sor—okay…"

The envelope smelled like Kinmokusei and a pretty design of peonies was stamped into the edges of the stationary she'd used to write what appeared to be a love note.

It began with:

My dearest Satoshi,

And ended with:

Forever yours.

"Fuck," she mumbled softly, making Kakashi look up at her with a stitched brow.

"Sorr—yeah…" she added.

"Harada?" Kakashi began, breaking the awkward moment that seemed to hang in the air. Sakura lifted her chin to indicate she was listening, but she couldn't smile.

"Do you have something that will stop dreams? Two nights I've had these vivid dreams about this wom-- about someone and they are really…interfering with work."

"Ah, I'll check."

"And also…" Kakashi said, looking down at his food instead of at Sakura, "Take the plans for the permanent camp when you go to see her."

Sakura couldn't answer.

***

Kakashi was right. If Sakura was going to be a man (or whatever) then she had to deal with Kinmokusei and these feelings she was having. For years her own feelings lingered for Sasuke and what did that get her but heartbreak? Had the stubborn Uchiha just been straight with her and told her how he had no feelings, maybe it would have been easier for her to move on. She definitely would have accepted that in a mature and intelligent way.

So after her duties were handled and the jock itch subdued, Sakura made her way up the stone path to the large front door and lifted the large brass knocker once to hear it thunder her intentions. Within seconds, there was a butler staring at her through the entrance with a sneer that she figured he was born with.

"I need to see the lady of the house, my good man," Sakura said, feeling very manly and quite ready to be macho and mature about everything. If she just laid out that she had no feelings for Kinmokusei, then there would be no problems. Women were smart and reasonable creatures. Sakura knew her own disposition as a woman and felt she'd handle it well if she were in Kin-san's shoes.

"Right this way, Sir," the butler said blandly and swept her in with a gracious wave of his arm.

Sakura stepped through the door and was led back to the drawing room they first met in the day she fixed Kin-san's wrist. And after sitting down for a few moments, the door opened and in walked the daimyo's daughter.

"Satoshi!" she near squeaked and darted along the room toward her, just stopping short of knocking them both down. "You came! You received my letter, yes?"

"Uh…" Sakura backed up a step as Kinmokusei's hands found her hips, leaning forward to make as much contact as possible with their bodies. Once again she was in a kimono, but it was a lovely sky blue and peppered with white birds along the bottom hem. It appeared that the period of mourning was over.

"I've been hoping you'd come, Satoshi. Since you were so gentle with my arm the other day, and with the way you spoke and the way you looked at me, I've had trouble thinking of little else than you," she admitted, drawing closer and closer as Sakura continued to take steps backwards.

"Wait, Kin-san. Please. We need to talk about… " Sakura tried to say, but she was cut off again.

"And the way you left when your Captain revealed his face and he looked at me like that. I could tell you were upset. I know you feel the same about me too," she said happily as she pressed her face against Sakura's chest.

"Whoa, Kinmokusei!" Sakura blurted out, her hand finding the woman's shoulder as she attempted to gently extract herself from the Kinmokusei's clutches.

"And even now, the way you look at me," Kinmokusei purred gently, nearly crawling up Sakura's body, inching her face closer.

Sakura stepped back again and found herself against the wall with no way to escape the woman. Kinmokusei drew nearer, her eyes beginning to close, lips beginning to part.

"Come kiss me, sweet and twenty, Satoshi. Will you make promises to me…?"

She was so close that Sakura felt the brush of the woman's soft lips against her own and the space between them was filled with her perfume.

"Kin—Kin---"Sakura stammered, pressing the back of her head against the wall and attempting to slide away. "I'm so sorry. I have duties that I must attend to." She managed to untangle herself from Kinmokusei's clutches and squirm to the left and out of reach. "I'll come again soon, Madam. I'll—be…"

Kinmokusei stood there with confusion on her face, but upon hearing that Harada would return, she broke into a smile. "I'll wait for you."

***

"Come sit for a little while," Kakashi called out when he saw Satoshi Harada poke his head out of the medical room.

Reluctantly it seemed, Harada wandered out and sat across from him at the table, folding his hands together as if waiting for a lecture.

"How goes the medical necessities. Do you need anything?"

Harada looked up at him with pale eyes and for the moment, the young medic looked torn and weary. It bothered Kakashi a little that Satoshi was so drained after just a few days. But women and duty and pressure and the drink could do that so quickly.

"No, Sir." Harada's reply was cold and quiet.

"When is your sister due?" Kakashi asked, trying to find a lighter subject that might bring Harada a little joy. But he just shrugged and answered, "Soon."

"Would you like some coffee?"

Harada shook his head and looked down at his hands.

"Can I tell you a story?" Kakashi continued, finding those glassy green eyes lifting to him again. "Good. I want to tell you about the first woman that loved me. Her name was Rin. And she was a medic."

***

Sakura felt her insides twisting with guilt and shame and fear that the ten days or so were going to kill her and turn her inside out at the same time. The exchange with Kinmokusei had not gone well, and she feared that she would do something to jeopardize the mission, let alone Satoshi's commission into the Jounin ranks. The day had not been stellar, but suddenly to sit at the table and listen to Kakashi's soothing voice made everything a little better.

"She was in my first squad when I became a Jounin. We were only twelve or so…"

Sakura listened to Kakashi recount the tale of a girl who loved him, confessed and then was killed very soon after. It broke her heart to hear him recount it as if it had no bearing on his soul anymore, like it was just relaying a thing in a book that he once read.

Had he shut himself off that much and only Kinmokusei had been able to break through? Sakura's feelings for him seemed like a distant dream that would never come to fruition. His tale was sad, and didn't help matters.

"I'd rather hear a story about the girl you spoke about earlier. The one you've been dreaming about."

Kakashi looked away for a second and scratched at his chin. For just a fleeting moment, he looked uncomfortable.

"Well, some years ago," he began. "There was a fireball of a girl in my squad. She was a medic like you, but weirdly strong and uncommonly beautiful. Her hair was pink, Satoshi, no word of a lie."

"That is unusual," she prodded.

Kakashi nodded. "She was a beauty. An old man I used to know would say to women, "Come see me when you're eighteen". I'd always thought he was such a creep when he'd say that, but one time, just once, I felt the desire to say it."

"And what happened to her?" Sakura asked, burgeoning tears pushing heat against her eyes.

"I never told her. She moved on with life. Might be married with kids for all I know. She's about your age now." Kakashi looked off at the window distantly. His reminiscing was touching and she listened intently, hearing the loneliness in his voice.

"And Kinmokusei?" Sakura asked, afraid, but needing to hear him say why she was so important.

"There's something about her. Maybe because she didn't want me. Maybe it's that I had to hunt her. She's beautiful as you've seen, but she's intelligent and a creature of mystery. She's not like kunoichi. She won't go off and get herself killed. She would be unwavering, I believe, if she loved. I even love her cruelty."

"I can't understand. And yet I can, I suppose. To have someone love me like that, I would never throw it away so easily. I would be constant. If someone chased me like that, I would…" Sakura pressed her face into her folded arms on the table. She couldn't look at him anymore.

"I believe you, Satoshi," Kakashi said quietly. "Love sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better."

***

Satoshi Harada landed on the dock in Sasoku on a bright morning and handsomely paid the man who'd brought him across the lake in his tiny boat over the last few days. The Daimyo's mansion wouldn't be far away and so choosing a path that ran east around the forest, Satoshi set off at top speed, all the while trying to think of a good excuse for why he drugged himself up and missed getting off the boat.

It wasn't looking very likely that he'd be believed.

***

"Genma, I can't see how anyone could possibly get a burn there," Sakura grumbled, pointing to Genma's lower back.

Genma shrugged nonchalantly and graciously accepted the ointment the medic shoved into his hands. "You'll understand one day, Harada," he laughed, then slid the senbon back into his mouth and left.

"Oi, Harada!" Daichi shouted into the medical room from outside. Sakura poked her head out of the cabin and looked at the young ANBU grinning from ear to ear.

"I have a message from the Captain for you. It seems Kinmokusei has agreed to sign the papers today and Kakashi wants you to come up and meet him there around two o'clock."

"Oh. All right," Sakura said, dreading the idea of another confrontation with Kinmokusei but knowing that she'd have to do something about the situation sooner or later.

She continued to work, keeping the henge in check and taking breaks often to keep her chakra stores up. When one thirty rolled around, she began to pack up her medical supplies and clean up in time to get moving.

Despite Kinmokusei, seeing Kakashi was something she was excited for -- truly excited.

***

Harada Satoshi wandered into the mansion grounds, seeing the ornate gardens and lush trees that spread out over the vast property, figuring it was the Daimyo's house. Not knowing what else to do, he knocked on the door and figured they would know where the ANBU camp was. It appeared that he'd lost his mission scroll along the way too.

When the door swung open, the butler greeted him with a roll of the eyes. "Right this way, Mr. Harada."

Well, Satoshi liked being greeted by his name, but to be greeted by someone he'd never met before…? Maybe they were expecting their absent medic there. So bowing to manners, he followed the elderly man into a drawing room and waited.

When the butler left, another door opened and an extremely beautiful woman made her way in, the smile on her face was quite stunning.

"Satoshi." she said timidly. "I wasn't sure I'd see you again. Welcome back."

"Uhhh…" Satoshi rubbed at his forehead tersely and tried to make some sense out of the idea that now two people knew him. The woman before him who insinuated that they'd met previously was exquisitely beautiful and her smile was entrancing. And here she was, walking up to him with such a look…

"Have you come to relieve me of this waiting? I've been in fits." she hummed softly, so gently that her voice was almost a whisper.

"M—madam?" Satoshi said with a hint of shock.

The woman came closer, batting her large blue eyes surrounded by the longest eyelashes he'd ever seen. Her red, red lips pursed, just ripe for a kiss. And her long hair that fell like silk over her shoulder all held him in place as her hands ran over his shoulders.

"Will you have me now?" she breathed against his throat.

For just a moment, Satoshi considered that he might have gone mad. Did he drink the seawater and not remember?

But then again, if sanity were to remove such a creature from against him, then he was pretty okay with insanity.

"Madam, I will."

***

Kakashi was welcomed into the mansion as he always was due being the Captain of the camp. He clutched the paperwork in his fist and wondered where his young medic had gone off too. Or perhaps Daichi may have forgotten to deliver the message and poor Harada was still seeing to the jock itch and contact burns that seemed to come up more than anything.

"My lady is in the drawing room, Sir. Would you care to wait here while I fetch her?" the butler asked.

"I know my way," Kakashi mumbled, feeling more put out that Satoshi had skipped out than the fact that he would have to search for his appointment instead of being greeted properly.

When Kakashi reached the drawing room, he swung the door open as he always had, but the sight that greeted him was something beyond reproach.

There, on the settee, clutched in each other's arms and half disrobed were Kinmokusei and Harada Satoshi.

As the shock registered for everyone, Kakashi felt his anger grow.

"Insolent…disloyal…" he growled out, making the pair look to him in shock. "How could you do this, Harada? Out of all of them, you were the last I'd ever expect to betray me like this."

"Huh?" Harada mumbled and Kinmokusei worked at extracting herself from Satoshi's hold while trying to pull her clothes back on.

Overcome with uncharacteristic anger, Kakashi stepped out and slammed the door behind him. He left quickly, making his way through the hallways and back out the front door. It wasn't until he got to the side garden that he stopped and had to force down the disgust.

But to see Satoshi there with Kinmokusei felt like a bigger betrayal he'd ever experience. Kakashi didn't know what to make of his feelings. Too many things he'd never had to deal with before had just kept coming up.

***

Satoshi pulled his clothes on quickly and out of the corner of his eye, watched the woman fix her hair. "Who on earth was that?"

"What?" Kinmokusei said, her brow crinkling in confusion. "You mean to tell me you don't recognize your own Captain?" she half laughed.

"Cap—Captain?" he gulped. "I'm sorry, Kinmokusei-san. I'll return shortly. I must speak with him."

Kinmokusei sauntered back over to where Harada sat while tugging on his boot, and then took his face in both her hands. "Be sure to return to me. I'll wait forever."

And then she kissed him, and he could do nothing in her charms but return it. When she broke the kiss, he was still smiling.

"Hurry to him then," she said gently. "Then hurry back."

Satoshi nodded quickly, tugged on his other boot and ran for the door. But when he stepped into the hallway, he was unsure which way he had come in and so he picked a random direction and went.

***

Sakura bolted up the hill to the house to see Kakashi standing in the garden, the papers crumpled in his fist.

"What happened?" she asked anxiously, seeing the obvious signs that things had not gone well. He was tense and stern looking. It frightened her a little.

Kakashi's eye rose to Sakura and he shook his head. "Oh, you dissembling cub. Treacherous boy. All this time you pretend to be a medic. Espionage would better suit you." He was so quiet that Sakura misunderstood. But she could hear the pain in his tone.

"I—I'm sorry, what?" Sakura whimpered out, seeing his anger was directed all at her. "Don't say that. What have I done?"

"You're going to say that after what I just witnessed?" Kakashi scoffed, a look of amazement in his eye.

"I really don't understand what you're saying. I just came up the hill. Tell me what I've done so I can make it right. What can I do?" she pleaded.

"You can leave, Harada. Take the next boat home and don't return," Kakashi said coldly.

Sakura moved closer and he looked away, so she grabbed his vest and hung on. "Kakashi, I haven't done anything, I swear."

And when things seemed like they were in pieces, the wheels fell off.

"I see you've found him, my love," Kinmokusei said from the terrace door near where Kakashi and Sakura were standing. Sakura looked from Kinmokusei to Kakashi, but Kakashi looked away from them both.

"Why don't you come back inside," she said with a hint of seduction.

Again, Sakura looked at Kakashi, wondering why he didn't answer her.

"What has happened?" Sakura breathed out. "Let's go back to the camp and talk about it."

Kinmokusei darted forward and grabbed Sakura's sleeve. "But you said you'd return, Satoshi. Stay!" she commanded sweetly, linking her arm in his.

Kakashi tried to walk away and Sakura held tighter on his vest. "I don't know what she is saying! Has everyone gone mad? I'll go with my Captain, madam."

"You can stay here, Harada," Kakashi growled, then tried to push her off.

"Am I to be violated and ruined? Ignored?" Kinmokusei whimpered, letting Sakura's arm slip out of hers. Sakura was shocked to hear what Kinmokusei accused and turned to her.

"Who has done this to you? Tell me." Sakura shook her head in confusion.

"You don't remember just a few minutes ago, Satoshi? It was you! How can you claim it didn't happen when he saw us together? You can't pretend to him that it didn't. Are you not a man? Do you not want me anymore?"

Sakura's grip on Kakashi's vest fell away as did the fist she had twisted in Kinmokusei's sleeve. With monumental confusion, she backed up two steps. "What the Hell? I have no idea what is happening here? I didn't touch you! I guarantee that. Kakashi, you have to believe me. I don't—like—oh, shit… I don't like women!"

Kakashi froze in his tracks from where he was walking away and turned slowly to face her, his eye narrow. But as she watched him work out a reply, he gazed up and beyond her to the house, his eye widening in surprise.

"What now?" Sakura growled in exasperation as all heads turned around to see another man trot around the house, holding his stomach.

He ran right up to Kinmokusei and grabbed her hand. "I'm sorry, Kin-san. It seems I went the wrong way. Let me speak with my Captain and I'll be back with you in just a minute."

Sakura stared at Harada Satoshi who looked mildly winded and much taller than she remembered. In fact, she realized she got the henge off quite a bit; he looked more like a man than she had ever been able to achieve with her henge.

Kinmokusei looked nervously from Satoshi to Sakura and then to Kakashi.

"What magic is this?" she finally gasped.

But Satoshi was the one who understood first as he caught sight of his likeness standing there before him. A sincere smile crossed his face and he took a few steps over to Sakura and shook his head. "You did this for me, didn't you. You didn't have to."

Sakura could feel the hot tears welling in her eyes and realized that everything was going to pieces, but she was free of the burden of holding the henge, of hurting Kakashi and confusing Kinmokusei anymore. It was freeing and crushing at the same time.

"I—didn't think this would be so hard. I'm so relieved that you're back. I don't think I could keep it up any longer." Hot tears streaked from her eyes as Kakashi approached them both. Satoshi lifted a finger to her face and wiped a tear away.

But when Sakura's eyes caught Kakashi nearing, she began to back up. How could she explain everything to him? How could he ever trust her again after what she did? It was only supposed to be two weeks and even then, she was just going to be a medic and get through the days working and avoiding trouble.

Instead of helping, all she did was make a tangled web of all their lives.

"I'm sorry, Kakashi," she said as she backed away, her hands up in placation.

"Stop moving," he ordered gently, walking closer and closer, his eye never leaving hers. Kinmokusei and Satoshi looked on as Kakashi finally stood almost toe to toe with the imposter. His hands lifted to grip her biceps to hold her still.

"I—want to tell you everything…"

"It's you, isn't it? …Sakura," he whispered, and lifting one hand to his face, he pulled his mask down.

Sakura's tear filled eyes widened to see that he was smiling. In that moment, holding the henge was impossible and it evaporated around her, leaving her exposed and feeling weak before him.

Kakashi pulled her against him to embrace her and she allowed him to. "I should have known. From the fist moment you wrapped my wound, I should have known."

"I thought you'd hate when you found out," she sobbed into his vest, allowing him to hold her tightly, praying that he'd never release her. But Kakashi pulled back and looked at her in such a way before his fingers tilted her chin upward and he pressed his mouth to hers.

When he broke the kiss, Sakura looked at him in disbelief.

"Why so shocked?" he asked. "You're older than eighteen, aren't you? And thankfully, not a man."

"No," she laughed, beaming with relief and elation. "No, I'm not a man. And I'm so happy right now that I could practically sing." She looked at Satoshi and Kinmokusei. "Do you hear music? I hear music."

Kakashi also turned to Kinmokusei who was still shaking her head and Satoshi who was looking sheepish while trying to explain the situation. He then turned back to Sakura who looked happier than he'd ever seen her in her life.

And before he took her hand and led her back to camp and to his tent so they could be together as a man and a woman, he whispered in her ear, "If music be the food of love, play on."


Thanks for reading. A little cheese with your breakfast, perhaps. I'll post the link to the contest page when it's up. Happy reading.