Hello everyone! This is my entry for the lovely Caitiy's Fairy Tale contest over at the KakaSaku community. It is a Narutoverse rendition of the Steadfast Tin Soldier. I do hope you enjoy it!

A summary of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale can be found here:


Just a note: this is slightly AU in the fact that in this story, Kakashi wasn't the teacher of Team 7 and Sakura meets him for the first time when she's much older.


Star of Silver, Heart of Tin- Chapter One

Clean white walls greeted him the moment he was led out of the waiting room and towards one of the many generic rooms where his physical would be held. He hated hospitals and clinics. He hated the smell of antiseptic, hated the unwelcoming sterility of such overly sanitized environments. He also hated doctors and he really, really hated physicals. He couldn't help but feel he should have showed up more than a mere fifteen minutes late.

His shoulders slumped, making his already terrible posture worse as he followed the nurse down the hall, his long, lanky strides still barely enough to keep up with her bustling steps. If Tsunade hadn't insisted he finally report for a long overdue medical examination, he would have gladly continued to avoided it for as long as humanly possible. Unfortunately, he was in ANBU. Shinobi in the elite ranks left the village far more often than others, therefore, their chances of picking up diseases from neighboring countries was greater, and their required check-ups more routine. Kakashi had already managed to get out of the last three he was supposed to have and Tsunade finally caught on. She had kindly, but firmly stated that if he ditched one more appointment, he would be assigned nothing but D-ranked missions for a month. Grudgingly, Kakashi had finally made an appointment.

The nurse showed him to one of the many identical rooms that lined the hall and motioned for him to go inside. He entered only to discover that another member of the hospital staff was already there, filling a hypodermic needle from a small glass bottle. He eyed the needle with distain. Shots were another thing he didn't like.

"Hello," she warmly, flashing him a bright smile. "Take a seat and I'll be right with you."

Kakashi did as instructed, sitting on the edge of the examination table that was covered with a long stripe of paper from a roll at one end. He immediately noticed several things about the new nurse while the one that had guided him here exited and closed the door behind her. She had short pink hair, a unique shade of strawberry that reminded him of bubble gum and flirty lipstick and cherry blossoms in the spring. She was slender, and a little on the short side but not too short. Instead of the usual medic uniform of white, she wore a red sleeveless top and black shorts with a pale pink skirt underneath that had pockets for various things she needed on the was well muscled, but still feminine, undoubtedly a kunoichi. When she turned to face him, one dazzling emerald eye fixed on him. The other was hidden beneath a simple black eye patch. Even so, she was a beautiful woman.

Kakashi's breath caught in his chest at the discovery. One of his own eyes was covered with the headband that bared the metal plate with Konoha's mark, his original eye long ago lost and replaced with an orb a little more sinister. Although he still had sight in both eyes, the new red and black orb sometimes ached and gave him headaches so painful he sometimes wished he didn't have an eye on that side at all. He immediately felt a sort of kinship with this woman, although he didn't know her at all. While she probably did not have a Sharingan eye, an eye that was both a formidable weapon and a burden to Kakashi once he had unnaturally acquired it, she still had the sight of only one eye, a severe handy cap for someone in the shinobi profession. Perhaps that was why she was currently working here in the clinic and not out in the field.

Finished with the needle, she placed it on a metal tray and moved to stand in front of him, his chart in her hand as she thumbed through it slowly. Kakashi watched her single green eye track over the lines of text.

"Its been a while since you paid us a visit," she said knowingly, giving him another megawatt smile as she set the clipboard aside and took his right wrist in her hand, palm softly glowing green as she checked his blood pressure and pulse with medicinal chakra.

"Hospitals aren't my ideal place to spend a lot of time," Kakashi confessed as he felt the cool tingle of her chakra seeping through his skin and into his body.

"Well I doubt its anybody's favorite hang out," she replied. "But that doesn't excuse you from neglecting your appointments. Your chart says you're nearly a year overdue."

In their close proximity, Kakashi could detect a faint floral fragrance that drifted above the heavy smell of rubbing alcohol. Unable to resist some playful banter, his mouth quirked into a smile beneath the fabric mask he kept tugged up to the bridge of his nose. "Oh? And what else does my chart say about me?"

The pink haired beauty released his wrist and jotted a few notes in his file and spoke without looking up from her task. "It says you're one of ANBU's elite, although when not on the job you seem to be particularly lazy not to mention you have been late to every appointment you've ever had with us. You never remove your mask unless you absolutely have to and few have actually seen your face. You have sustained a great many injuries while on missions, but most you don't bother to get treated unless they're life threatening. You possess the Sharingan though you are not an Uchiha, a result of another mission related injury, and you have reported pain in this eye on several occasions. Your visits apart from getting patched up from missions are few and far between, but whenever you are here and are treated by a pretty female nurse, you tend to give her trouble."

Kakashi couldn't help a chuckle at the last part, amused that a nurse at some point had actually written something like that into his file.

"Regretting coming to work today?" he asked with a smile, although she couldn't see it beneath his mask.

"Hardly," she said, replacing his chart on the counter and picking up the syringe she had filled earlier. "Besides, if you make trouble for me, I'll make trouble for you. This shot can either hurt a little or a lot. Your choice."

Kakashi decided he liked this girl's spunk. She was confident and friendly, but could certainly hold her own against troublesome patients. "I'll behave," he promised as she tied a piece of rubber tubing around his bicep and tapped the crook of his elbow, looking for a vein. While her attention was diverted to his arm, Kakashi took the time to study her more closely. Her skin was fair and the bridge of her nose dusted with a sprinkling of tiny freckles. Her ears were pierced although she wore no earrings today. The only piece of jewelry she wore was a thin silver chain at her throat from which dangled a small, star-shaped spangle.

He felt the needle pierce his skin, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as injections he'd received in the past. She was quick and efficient and the shot was over before he knew it, a bright pink adhesive bandage the same color as her hair placed over the wound.

"You already know so much about me," he joked as she disposed of the needle and once more filled out information in his chart. "It seems a little unfair that I know so little about you."

She paused in her writing to glance up at him, smiling as she spoke. "Sorry, you'd have to be a doctor to see my medical chart."

Kakashi chuckled. It might be interesting to look at what sort of medical ailments the healers themselves suffered from, but what he wanted was far simpler.

"Well, I'm no doctor, but I don't have to be to ask your name."

She finished her notes and flipped his chart shut.

"Sakura. My name is Sakura."

Sakura. Kakashi couldn't think of a name that would have fit her any better.

"The doctor will be with you shortly to finish your examination. In the meantime, please remove your clothes and the headband over your eye and put on the paper gown that is on the counter."

The ANBU man sighed. These were the sort of things that encouraged him to stay far away from hospitals.

Before Kakashi could say anything else to her, the one-eyed medic left the room and closed the door behind her. Kakashi stripped off his form fitting black tank, pants and headband. He had forgone the standard white ANBU shell and gloves since he wouldn't be parting for a mission any time soon. He left his mask on. He wouldn't remove it until he had to.

Even though Sakura had already left, her refreshing floral fragrance lingered. Kakashi hoped that although they had never met before, their paths would cross again very soon.


Sakura couldn't help but smile as she walked down the hall to her next patient. She had heard of Kakashi Hatake. Everybody had. He was something of a celebrity in Konoha. Not only was he one of ANBU's top assassins, but he had acquired the fearsome bloodline limit of the Uchiha although not a drop of the clan's blood ran through him.

She hadn't known what to expect, but she hadn't expected someone so charming. The way he covered his face had her intrigued. Like most people, she wanted to know what was beneath the black material, although she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of letting him know she was curious.

She was a little jealous of the doctor that would be finishing Kakashi's physical. He would be seeing both his Sharingan, and probably his entire face. She couldn't help but wonder what he looked like beneath his mask.

She came to the end of the hallway, pushing through the double doors that took her from the clinic into the main body of the hospital where her next patient was waiting for her. The smile persisted on her lips as her mind continued to dwell on thoughts of the man who would undoubtedly be her most interesting patient of the day.


Kakashi was released from the clinic forty-five minutes later, feeling thoroughly violated after being poked and prodded in every spot imaginable. The final diagnosis was that he was perfectly healthy, and apart from the very slight deterioration of his vision in his Sharingan eye, there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. Just like Kakashi had predicted, this had all been a big waste of time.

As he walked down the hall towards the main reception desk and the exit, he looked down at the bright pink bandage on his arm and chuckled softly. Well, maybe it wasn't a complete loss. For the brief moment that young woman had treated him in that small room, he had actually been enjoying himself while at a doctor's appointment. That was definitely a first for Kakashi.

He was intrigued by her. She was clearly intelligent, not stuffy boring or clinical. She was strong in both manner and body, not letting herself get exasperated by his antics but rising to the challenge of making sure he was a cooperative patient. She moved with both the grace and confidence inherent in shinobi, but on top of that, she was absolutely beautiful.

While many might have been put off by her eye patch, Kakashi found it to be the most interesting thing about her. He liked that they had something in common, a common struggle that they both seemed to have overcome. He wondered how she had lost the eye, or if it was even missing at all and had an eye beneath the patch that was altered or damaged in some other way.

Kakashi had none of the answers for any of his questions and that simply would not do.

When he reached the reception desk, he asked the woman there for a piece of paper and scribbled something with the pen patients used to check in. He folding the paper in half and then half again before writing the intended recipient's name on the front.

"Would you please give this to Sakura?" he asked, offering the paper back to the receptionist.

"Sakura Haruno?" the pretty brunette asked taking the note from him.

"How many Sakuras work here?" he asked, curious if his nurse shared her name with another.

The woman's cheeks flushed as she replied, "Just one."

"Well," Kakashi said, his tone playful and teasing. "I suppose that note is for Miss Haruno then."

The receptionist promised she'd deliver the note and Kakashi walked away, carried quickly to the door by his long legs despite his lazy gait. Now all he had to do was wait and hope Sakura would accept his offer."


Sakura only had one more appointment before lunch, a fact that made her practically skip down the hall. New developments had lifted her spirits, putting her in an unusually good mood. After passing by the reception desk and receiving a scrap of paper with a hastily scribbled note, her day had gone from being merely okay to great.

She came to the last door at the end of the hall, the one she always met this particular patient in, and knocked to make sure it was safe to come. When a low, masculine voice told her to enter, she did.

"Hello, Neji," she quipped merrily, giving the Hyuuga a smile as she closed the door behind her. "How are you today?"

"I am well, thank you," Neji replied, his pearly lavender eyes narrowing ever so slightly at her unusually sunny mood. "I trust you're having a good day?"

"Yes, a very good day," Sakura beamed as she pulled up the stool that rolled on wheels so she could get a better look at his right eye. "Please lay down and remain still."

About a month ago, Neji had a been on a mission with his team and had been ambushed by a group of shinobi. They had used weapons that had been thought to be simple flash bang grenades, but even after four weeks, the Hyuuga's eyes hadn't quite been the same. He had been seeing Sakura for the past couple weeks, getting several healing treatments from her as she subdued the pain while trying to discover what was wrong so she could fix it permanently.

Sakura cupped his jaw gently in one hand to hold him steady while the other rested on his right temple, the chakra filling his eye socket and gently probing the delicate eye tissue. Even though she was concentrating on her task, Neji noticed she was still smiling.

The Hyuuga had been intrigued by Sakura for some time, drawn not only by her beauty but by her strength as a kunoichi and her talents as a medic. The time would soon come where he would be made head of the Hyuuga branch family. While it still meant his main purpose would be to serve the head family and put their needs before his own, he would be expected to marry and produce healthy heirs to continue the clan.

While she didn't know it yet, Neji had already made his choice. The woman he wanted as his wife was none other than Sakura.

He had already spent a considerable amount of time with her, and more now that he was seeing her for treatment. In his conversations with her, he had found her intelligent, and her figure was both pleasing to the eye and perfect for bearing children. He had asked the elders of his clan and they had given their approval, saying she was a wise choice. Now all he had to do was convince her that it would be in her best interest to marry into the Hyuuga clan.

"So what has got you in such a good mood," he asked, eager to know what fueled her joyous emotions.

"Don't talk," she ordered sternly, although the smile was still audible in her voice. "It makes your head move and if your head moves, I might accidently damage your eye."

Neji sighed softly but refrained from talking, waiting patiently for her to answer his question.

"Well, I finally met someone who I'd been curious about for a long time, and he turned out to be really interesting in person."

"Hmm," the brown haired man replied, trying to disguise how concerned he suddenly was in the identity of this "interesting" person.

"I didn't see him very long and wanted to find out more about him. Just as I was thinking that, Hitomi over at the front desk gave me a note he had left for me, Apparently, he wants to meet me for lunch!"

Neji tensed slightly at her words. Ever since he had come for treatment from Sakura, he had made it a routine to take her out to lunch since he was usually her last appointment before her break. He scheduled them that way on purpose so he could spend more time with her, chatting with her and growing closer. It annoyed him that out of the blue another man had so easily captured her attention and stolen away the date he had been looking forward to.

"If you don't mind me asking, who is this man you're so interested in?" he asked, carefully keeping his voice flat and even and void of any note of jealousy.

"I told you to stop talking," Sakura chastised, pausing her flow of chakra so she didn't accidentally hurt him. After he had stilled, she continued to work in silence and Neji was wondering if she planned on answered his question at all. Finally, she softly said his name. "Kakashi Hatake."

This time, Neji couldn't keep his reaction in check. "Hatake?" he said incredulously. "You're getting involved with him?"

"I'm not getting involved. I'm just going to lunch," the medic said defensively. "What's so bad about him that I can't meet him for lunch?"

"Sakura, the man is no good," Neji warned. "He reads Icha Icha in public and is nothing but a lazy man lacking motivation."

This time, it was impossible for Sakura not to detect the hint of envy in the Hyuuga's tone. "He made it to ANBU, so he must have some motivation," she retorted hotly. "I'll be fine. It's just lunch so stop acting like a big brother and being so protective."

She didn't know it, but her words just angered him more, although he did not show it. Did she really think he was playing the pat of big brother? Did she not see that he was protecting her for very different reasons? She was to be his cherry blossom and no one else's, especially that eccentric Kakashi.

Neji tried to sooth his anger, telling himself it was natural for Sakura to be curious. Once she had lunch with him and found out that the mysterious man was nothing more than a letch, she would come back to him. She was too smart to fall for a womanizer like Kakashi.

That was what he kept telling himself, but as Sakura finished her examination, still in an unusually good mood, Neji couldn't help his persistent feeling of unease.


Kakashi waited in the restaurant he had indicated in the note to Sakura. He knew there was the chance she wasn't interested and wouldn't show, but he had a feeling she was more curious than she had let on while she was examining him. If she wasn't, then the worst thing that would happen was that he ate lunch alone.

While it was true he had a reputation for being somewhat or a letch, the rumor stemmed from more of his choice of reading material than his actions. He was a casual dater and often circulated through many woman in a short amount of time, but he always made sure that whoever he was with knew he wasn't in it for the long term. He knew Sakura was far younger than himself, but it wouldn't be the first time he had dated someone her age. He was inexplicably drawn to her and it went deeper than the fact that she too was limited to the use of just one eye. The medic wasn't the only one who had her curiosity piqued by today's doctor's appointment.

Just then, the object of his thoughts walked through the door. Though still dressed in her medic uniform, she looked beautiful as the sun caught her hair, bringing out highlights of shimmering peach and plum in the rosy strands. She star at her throat sparkled every time the light hit it just right, and her eyes seemed especially luminous. Both of them.

Kakashi couldn't help but stare as she crossed the room towards him. Her eye patch was missing and both of her emerald eyes were trained on him. Nothing appeared to be wrong with the one she had kept covered earlier.

She smiled at him as she took the sat across from him and Kakashi swore the whole room lit up with its radiance.

"Hi," she said simply, either unaware or not caring that he was staring at her stupidly.

"Hi," Kakashi replied, finally getting a hold of himself. "I'm glad you decided to join me."

"I'm glad you invited me," she said as she picked up the menu and began to look through it.

Kakashi watched her deep green orbs scan the pages. He wasn't disappointed that they didn't share a commonality. Quite the contrary. She was just as striking without the eye patch as she had been during the exam, but now he was even more curious about the pink haired kunoichi.

"Forgive me if I'm prying, but didn't you have one of your eyes covered earlier today?"

Sakura's expression turned coy as she looked up from her menu. "I did."

"But you're not wearing one now."

"I suppose I'm not."

"So you don't really need it?"

"Not at the moment."

Kakashi had to chuckle at the game she had turned this into. Her eyes sparkled mirthfully and he couldn't help but be charmed by her. "So why wear the eye patch if you don't need it? Although I admit, it made you look rather dashing."

Sakura giggled at his remark. "I don't know about dashing," she replied. "But one of my patients has been suffering from severe migraines and must be kept in almost total darkness. I keep the eye patch on so that eye becomes used to the dark . When I enter his room, I don't have to wait for my eye to adjust. I can start treating him right away and I see fine even though there's just a little light."

Kakashi nodded in understanding now that the mystery had been solved. "That's ingenious," he said. "I would have stumbled around in the dark trying to treat your patient."

"That's why I'm the medic here, not you," she laughed teasingly.

Kakashi was liking this girl more and more with every passing minute. He leaned close, his eyes suddenly taking interest in those petal pink lips. He could see her stiffen, her eyes widening, and yet she didn't move away as he leaned in closer still. Her eyes drifted shut and he could hear the rapid beating of her heart. His warm breath fanned her cheek and he knew she was holding hers. Just before their noses bumped, he reached up and pulled a small piece of white fuzz from her hair.

Sakura's eyes snapped open in surprise as he pulled away, showing her the bit of lint he had just plucked from her hair. "Must be from a cotton ball or something," he said as he flicked the offending fluff away.

"Yeah," she mumbled, suddenly quite interested in her menu.

Kakashi noticed with delight that her cheeks were suddenly the same shade as her lovely pink hair.


That day marked a long and uninterrupted series of lunch dates, and Sakura began to look forward to her breaks even more than she had before. Every meal was full of playful banter and interesting conversations, and the medic enjoyed herself so much that she was often late in returning to her shift.

He spoke of the books he read and why he enjoyed them, although Sakura just snickered and said he obviously read them because he was lacking female companionship. He spoke of past missions when the events weren't top secret, and she found herself a little envious of the adventures he had while being a part of ANBU. In turn, she talked about all the unusual happenings at the hospital concerning both eccentric patients and bazaar diagnoses, some of them graphic enough that even Kakashi turned a little squeamish.

Kakashi had to admit, he had never been so captivated by a woman. Despite her youth, she was incredibly mature, but never drab and boring. She even got him to do a few silly things that he was normally too reserved to do, like imitate his dog Pakkun or light the candle at their table with a small fire jutsu. He even let her braid half his head of hair while on a picnic at the training grounds. Sakura had barely been able to suppress her laughter when Kakashi found that the tiny braids didn't easily come out when he raked his fingers through his hair. He couldn't bring himself to mad when he sat at home thinking of her as he carefully combed out the braids one by one, only to discover the half she had braided was now an unruly fuzz ball, the strands standing up on end. It wasn't until after a shower that his hair finally returned to normal.

He enjoyed her company in a way he had never enjoyed another's company before. Soon, they were meeting when Sakura got off work as well, and even spent her days off together. He had yet to ask her to spend the night, which was probably the most unusual thing of all about their relationship. He found himself liking her, really liking her, and he was hesitant to introduce something physical between them that might destroy the perfect thing they had created if approached too soon. He hadn't even kissed her yet, hadn't even held hands! Yet Kakashi could say that despite all his experience with women, he had never been happier.

However, there was a person in Konoha made very unhappy by the elite shinobi and medic's blossoming relationship. Neji Hyuuga sourly observed as Sakura's moods got better and better every time he came in for an eye exam. He hadn't been able to take her out for lunch once since the day she met Kakashi, and he was quite aware that she never smiled like that after spending time with him.

Neji was usually a calm and rational individual. His levelheadedness made him a good team leader when he lead fellow Jounin on missions. But the Hyuuga was currently gripped by the cold, green fingers of jealousy and it was clouding his normally lucid mind with anger.

Everything had been going great with Sakura until Kakashi showed up. Neji had seen her regularly and he had been the cause of her smiles every once in a while. now all she ever did was talk about her dates with the ANBU man and grin like an idiot. What was worse was that Sakura had finished healing his eye, putting an end to his visits to the clinic. Without them, he didn't get to see much of Sakura at all.

At first, Neji had dismissed at as a fling. There was no way Hatake would get serious. He never got serious. Sakura was just his flavor of the week and when he tossed her aside, Neji would be there to mend her broken heart. But one week turned into two, then three, then four, and his anxiety over the fact that perhaps the silver haired man finally was serious continued to grow.

This was not acceptable. Kakashi would ruin all his plans if he swept Sakura off her feet. She was his. He had chosen her as his bride before Kakashi had ever laid eyes on her. His hope that Sakura would come to her senses and lose interest was beginning to fade. It was time that Neji take action if he wanted his woman back.

His chance came shortly thereafter when Tsunade called him for a mission briefing. It appeared a village in Fire Country's Southern province had been having trouble with bandits. A large mine where whey were able to collect metal to make tin was what kept the town alive, and the bandits had taken it over and decided to use it as their hideout. Some, if not all the bandits were rouge shinobi and going in after them would be dangerous. Ordinarily, it would be easiest to wait for the bandits to emerge, but they had started taking hostages and making demands on the villagers for food and money. Two young women had just been kidnapped and without Konoha's intervention, chances were the hostages wouldn't return alive.

Tsunade explained that Neji's Byakugan would be of great use on the mission since much of it would be in total darkness. He would be going solo with backup coming later since too many people invading the narrow mine shafts would only make the job harder. He was to move swiftly and silently and assassinate all bandits before getting the hostages out alive. If he did not emerge after twenty-four hours, backup would be sent in after him.

Neji listened to the briefing and nodded solemnly before speaking. "Hokage-sama, usually I would have no problem accepting this mission, but my eye was damaged several weeks ago while on assignment. Sakura says I should recover soon but I am reluctant to return to the field if I'm not one hundred percent healed."

It was a lie of course. Sakura had finished healing him two weeks prior, but Neji could see the piles of mission reports and hospital paperwork on her desk that she had neglected to read. Sakura's report was probably in there somewhere, but he was certain the Hokage had yet to read it.

"Ah, I remember something about that in your last mission report," Tsunade said with a nod. "Well, if you are still injured, I must agree with you that it is best that you remain here in the village until you have fully recovered."

She was about to dismiss him when he spoke again. "If I may make a suggestion, Hokage-sma, I believe Kakashi Hatake would be quite suitable for this mission. He possesses the Sharingan, and while its ability to see in the dark isn't quite as extensive as mine, it will allow him to see the enemy's movements and react to them better than even I could with my Byakugan."

The blonde woman eyed him a moment, tapping her chin thoughtfully with one slender finger from her seat behind the desk. "I hadn't considered enlisting ANBU for this mission, but now that you mention it, Kakashi might work well for this mission."

Neji dipped his head in a polite bow as he excused himself from her office, allowing himself a smirk of triumph only after he had closed the door behind him. Kakashi would only be gone a maximum of three days, but that was plenty of time to start a rumor or two that might change Sakura's opinion of the Copy nin and step up to take his place.

Neji was usually beneath such underhanded tactics, but he refused to lose his future wife to the likes of Kakashi, not when the Hyuuga knew her life would be so much better with him. Kakashi couldn't possibly plan to have a serious relationship with the medic. He wasn't the type. As far as the brown haired man could tell, Kakashi took what he wanted and moved on to the next girl. Since he hadn't abandoned Sakura yet, it was obvious she wasn't as easy as other girls he had dated in the past. That was no surprise. Neji expected nothing less from her. But he knew Kakashi could be persuasive and it tore at his heart to think that the letch might seduce her and take his prize, only to leave her cold and alone in the morning. He would not let that happen. He would make Sakura see Kakashi's true colors, and once she figured out the truth, Neji would be the obvious choice for her next relationship.

The Hyuuga made his way down the stairs and out of the Hokage tower, heading towards the hospital. Kakashi would probably be summoned before lunch and be ordered to depart right away. Sakura didn't know it, but her lunch date had just been cancelled. It was a perfect opportunity for him to spend some quality time with his sweet cherry blossom.


As usual, Sakura could hardly wait for lunch to arrive. Lunch meant interesting conversation, playful banter, and a lot of flirting. Not only that, but Kakashi never allowed her to pay. While whatever was between them was not yet official, Sakura was quite sure she had fallen for the silver haired man. It was true that he was lazy, read dirty books and had horrible posture, but there was something about him that was so charming, and despite rumors of his womanizing ways, she was fairly certain he had been nothing but genuine with her.

She forced herself to focus on her last appointment: the boy with persistent migraines. It had been discovered they had been caused by a small tumor pressing on a portion of his brain. Several days prior she had successfully removed it and was now just monitoring his recovery. He no longer required the room to be dark and so the eye patch that Kakashi had found so dashing was a thing of the past.

Finishing her check up, she left the room, expecting to find Kakashi waiting for her. She was quite surprised to see Neji standing there instead.

"Hello, Sakura," he said smoothly, offering her a gracious bow.

"Neji," she said, feigning a smile to cover her disappointment. "How can I help you? Is your eye still bothering you?"

"No, my eye is fine thanks to you. I was hoping you would let me thank you by taking you out to lunch."

Sakura tried to refrain from looking eagerly down the hall, expecting to see a tall, lanky man with a slouch appear any minute. "That's very kind of you," she replied. "But I'm afraid I already have plans."

"Oh?" Neji said, pretending to be surprised. "With whom?"

"With Kakashi."

"Really? That's strange. I thought I saw him getting ready to leave the village on my way over. It looked like he was going on a mission."

It was a lie of course. Neji hadn't seen Kakashi at all, but he knew by the time Sakura returned to her shift, he would probably be about to depart. He didn't want their paths to cross before then where his lie might become apparent. He planned to take her to a restaurant that wasn't near the Hokage tower, the hospital or the village gates where they might see each other.

"A mission?" Sakura replied, unable to hide her crestfallen expression. Neji couldn't help the bitterness that welled up inside him. She wasn't supposed to look like that when Kakashi left. It was the Hyuuga she should be missing. But she hadn't so much as called since their last appointment, proving that Kakashi indeed had her under his treacherous spell.

"He was probably called suddenly. I suppose it can't be helped," he replied. "But I'd be honored to have your company."

"But...he didn't even say goodbye," Sakura said sadly, still looking wistfully down the hallway even as Neji linked arms with her and began to steer her away.

"It's not surprising given his reputation and all," he remarked, seeing his chance to perhaps twist her perception of the Copy ninja a bit. "Perhaps he just lost interest and the mission allowed him a clean getaway."

Sakura indignantly jerked free of his grip, her green eyes full of anger as she stared into those of pearly lavender. "Thank you for your concern Neji, but I'd appreciate if you kept your comments about Kakashi to yourself."

A dark eyebrow rose in surprise. This wasn't supposed to happen. She shouldn't be angry. He didn't want this chance to make her his slip by. "But Sakura, I-"

"Thank you for your invitation, but I'll have to decline," Sakura spat, cutting him off before turning on her heel and stomping away, leaving Neji even more angry at the silver haired man though he wasn't even present. He refused to believe Sakura was so enraptured by Kakashi that she couldn't be won back. He wouldn't give up. He would make Sakura see that he was far more worthy of her affections than that dirty old man.


Kakashi's heart sank as he listened to Tsunade describe the next mission he would be taking. Though he knew his first priority was serving the village, he found himself not wanting to be away from Sakura. He had grown accustomed to seeing her face everyday, but now he would have to be apart from her for several days.

He left the Hokage's office with low spirits. He was supposed to leave immediately, but he felt an oppressive need to tell the pink haired kunoichi he would be gone. Punctuality had never been one of his strengths anyway. The extra fifteen minutes it would take to see her wouldn't matter much, especially since he would be traveling alone and didn't have a team waiting for him at the village gates.

He practically sprinted to the hospital, hoping that Sakura was still waiting for him since he had initially planned to take her to lunch. In his hurry, he bumped into a man as he went around a corner, finding himself looking into surprised lavender eyes.

"Sorry Neji, but I have to get to Sakura quick!" he apologized hurriedly, already brushing past the man he had nearly run over.

The Hyuuga's eye's narrowed slightly. He must have just been assigned to the mission and wanted to tell Sakura where he was going. Unfortunately for Kakashi, Neji had no intention of letting them meet.

"She isn't there," he said, halting the ANBU in his tracks. "I just saw her coming from there. She said something about being stood up and seemed pretty upset."

"Great," Kakashi muttered, the distress showing on his face. "Do you have any idea where she went?"

"I think she was heading towards Ichiraku," he said, even though he knew for a fact that Sakura had gone the opposite way.

"Thanks Neji," Kakashi said as he withdrew a small scrap of paper from his pocket. It was a note he had intended to give to Hitomi at the hospital's front desk if he couldn't find Sakura. "Could you give this to Sakura when you see her? It's just in case I don't find her before I leave."

"A mission?" the brown haired man asked innocently as he accepted the note from Kakashi.

"Yes, I want to make sure she knows where I'm going. Please see that she gets it."

The Hyuuga nodded. "I'll do what I can."

Kakashi called his thanks over his shoulder as he dashed off towards Ichiraku. Neji watched him go, pearly eyes turning cold as he crumpled the note into a ball and dropped it on the ground. He watched the breeze carry it a few feet before he turned and walked away.