AN: This is my entry to the AU Contest on the KakaSaku LJ Community. My chosen theme was "Science Fiction." Warnings: Violence, language, sexual language and situations (including some scifi hentai). Special thanks to ScaryRei for this one. :)

To get to the other entries and eventual voting thread (which should be up tomorrow), a link will be going up on my profile.

The Gift

an·droid (ān'droid')
A robot or synthetic organism designed to look and act like a human.

Sakura leaned against the rusty metal counter and let out a great howling yawn.

"Hurry it up," she groaned, drumming her fingers impatiently.

"Don't get your shorts in a twist," Tsunade growled back. She was bent out of sight on the other side of the counter, allegedly checking their vault at the Anchor 3 spaceport bank and post office. It was not the most reputable institution, but it had served them well for five years. The pockmarked guard with two heads and a missing eye was not one to pry.

Disgruntled, Sakura tugged down the aforementioned shorts. The sheer, lime green fabric clung to her curvy bottom, damp with sweat from the sweltering port. They were as short as she could get away with without being easily mistaken for an intergalactic prostitute. As bare as that left her creamy thighs, her calves made up for it; they were protected by bottle green combat boots. Her bubblegum pink suspenders ran tightly over her shoulders. They were usually the same color as her hair when her hair wasn't darkened by grease and smog. The black gloves on her hands had the fingertips torn off. Her white tank top was speckled in questionable stains, but nobody questioned them.

She twisted around so that her elbows were resting behind her on the counter. Buzzing her lips in total boredom, she took to observing the other patrons.

There was certainly a lot there to entertain a people-watcher. Groups of men with slimy blue skin loped past her, communicating furtively to each other in a series of clicks and whistles. A three-foot-tall young woman with hair so orange and spiky it might have been on fire elbowed past them, brandishing her seven-fingered fist at them when they objected.

A little further down there was an ominous figure, eight feet tall and swathed completely in a violet robe, who stood still while a short green man with an oblong head seemed to act as a translator of his rattling moans and sighs. Sakura watched for a while until a commotion caught her eye.

Near the heavy metal double doors that marked the entrance to the cargo bay, three people were involved in a serious scuffle. Two male orange reptilian humanoids with scaly faces and forked tongues were heckling a smaller, female figure. One of them was holding her arms behind her back as the other taunted her. Her mauve skin shone with sweat as she snarled up into the face of her assailants. Three naked breasts drooped down her chest; the reptile man with free hands began to paw at one with mild interest.

Normally Sakura wouldn't get involved in such affairs; different people had different kinks, and who was she to frown upon public displays of affection? However, the female didn't look like she was joining in the fun. Sakura began to stroke the gun in her holster, watching with a sharp eye…. just in case.

The orange humanoid dragged his clawed thumb down the sloping side of one of the female's breasts, nicking the skin and sniggering as a few droplets of violet liquid dribbled out. The female let out a heated string of curses in an unintelligible language. Sakura's aquamarine eyes narrowed, and when the reptile used his other hand to suddenly slap the female across the cheek, she pushed off the counter and marched over there.

She pushed past the jeering crowd that had gathered to watch, breaking into a jog as she approached the two reptile men, one of whom was now stroking the female's three purple nipples with some long and rusty mechanical object. The struggling woman entertained him so much that he missed the other one, whose heavy green boot came crunching into the side of his skull.

The rusty metal tongs fell to the floor with a loud CLANG and the orange man went down hard. He lay unmoving on the ground. A collective hiss issued from the gaggle of onlookers; Sakura gave them a sweeping, venomous glare, daring them to defend the alien she had struck down. Tense seconds passed before, disappointed, the crowd dispersed. Sakura was about to round on the unharmed reptile man but he scampered, leaving his partner prone on the grimy floor.

Released, the mauve woman readjusted her periwinkle kimono, which Sakura noticed was tied in the front. Oops, she thought, thinking that the men might have been customers, but the woman smiled gratefully at Sakura.

"Zey tried to pay me wis' zese," she said, holding up a few chipped bronze coins.

"Bastards," Sakura agreed.

The prostitute spat disdainfully on the unconscious reptile man, hitched up her skirt, and walked primly away.

Grinning, Sakura returned to the metal counter. To her dismay, however, she saw that there was still no sign of Tsunade.

"Where the hell are you?" she called over the counter. "I had time to break up a fight, and you're still down there counting coins?"

"Just shut the hell up and help me already," her commander growled. Sakura huffed impatiently but launched herself over the counter anyway.

She was greeted by Tsunade's wiggling behind, which had been squeezed into too-tight black leather shorts. Squinting through the dim light, Sakura crouched down next to her.

She swore loudly and obscenely at what she saw.

"Yeah, I know," Tsunade grunted. "I've been trying to get him out of here."

Cramped inside of their square vault was the body of a man. He was folded into a fetal position and didn't seem to be moving at all.

"Is he… dead?" Sakura whispered.

Tsunade, who was trying to tug out one of his folded arms, said, "I don't think he was ever alive." She pointed to the arm she was trying to grab. Sakura scooted closer, and when she squinted she was able to make out a serial number inked into his wrist.

Her eyes narrowed. "An android?" she said suspiciously. "What the hell is he doing here?"

"Ask him," Tsunade growled sarcastically. "Or, you could do something useful and help me try to get him out."

Wondering why Tsunade hadn't just asked her to help in the first place but deciding to keep her mutinous grumblings to herself, she launched her full body weight into trying to pull him out. Some androids were very fragile, but since they had mistaken him for a human this one seemed like a good model.

Together, it did not take them that long to extract his arm, his leg, and then the rest of him. When they finally heaved him out they fell back onto their rumps, and he lay sprawled in their laps.

Sakura looked down at him properly for the first time. The first thing she noticed was his hair; it was silver and fell in long spikes onto her thigh. She thought that if he were upright they might stand up on end.

He seemed to be wearing a chrome suit, but it was hard to tell if it was part of his body because it was so form fitting. He did have artificial skin rather than a bare metal skull, and it was probably even organic— it was a few shades paler than Sakura's own.

"Sakura," Tsunade muttered. "Look at his face. He's hurt."

Sakura whipped her head to look at his face. He was very handsome, but then, he had been designed that way. She scanned his face, and sure enough, there was a gash bisecting his left eye. Sakura put her naked fingertips to his eyelid and lifted it gently. His eye was unmoving and sightless, as if he were an unconscious human, and it was red like blood.

She inspected his other eye, which was charcoal gray. "The iris on the eye with the scar is red," she told Tsunade, letting his eyelid fall. "The cut looks surgical."

Tsunade shook her head. "Androids these days are so damn human," she said.

"Yeah," Sakura said. "He looks unconscious. Does that mean he's… deactivated?"

"I don't know," Tsunade snapped. "Let's leave him here, androids can be trouble."

Sakura frowned at her captain. "He's hurt!" she said, gesturing at his scarred face. "And if he was in our vault, shouldn't we at least find out why?"

Tsunade held up her hands defensively. "Fine, fine," she relented. "We shouldn't touch him. We'll take him to Shizune; she'll know what to do."

Shizune was the third member of their team and was their resident mechanic.

Tsunade heaved a heavy sigh and wiped sweat from her brow. "Let's get him up," she said. "It looks like all of the money is still in the vault."

They lifted him up— he was quite heavy, but Tsunade situated him bridal style in her arms. Or at least, she tried; her voluptuous breasts (the best that money and underworld connections could buy) were barely covered up by a beige shirt whose neckline plunged past her cavernous cleavage and made him very hard to position. Stifling a laugh, Sakura offered to take him for her, and so Tsunade transferred him to her arms with an embarrassed huff.

Tsunade led the way back to where their ship was parked. Growling menacingly at the gateman who leered at her chest with all fourteen of his gummy eyes, she paid him the required fee and stalked past him to their ship. Sakura followed as quickly as she could with the heavy burden of the android, whom she was supporting piggyback style.

The Tonton was a weather-beaten maroon ship that had seen fairer days but was not ready to give up any time soon. Tsunade waved at Shizune, who had been peeking through one of the small round windows; Shizune ducked out of the way and a minute later, a door creaked open and slowly ejected a metal gangplank.

When it had groaned into place, Sakura followed Tsunade up to the ship. It was a steep climb with an android on her back, but Sakura was eager to get inside so they could evaluate him. She had seen androids before, but never one who looked so human.

Tsunade went immediately to the controls, plopping down in the commander's chair. It was made of black leather, but fluffy tan stuffing leaked in several places. Shizune had retracted the gangplank and sealed the door before she spared Sakura a glance.

She gave a tiny shriek.

"What?" Tsunade snapped, not taking her eyes off the controls.

"You— you've brought a person!"

"Oh, that. He's an android."

Shizune gaped at her commander's back while Sakura set the android onto the floor. The pale orange shag carpet was not the most attractive, but she hoped it would be more comfortable for the android when he woke up.

But wait, what am I thinking? she thought as she sat down cross-legged next to him. He's a machine. They probably can't even feel pain.

"Shizune," Sakura said. "Can you come and have a look at him? He looks unconscious to us, so we're wondering if you have to turn him on."

Weakly, Shizune lowered herself down next to the android's head. Shizune's outfit was much more modest than her those of her companions. She wore purple denim overalls that were rolled up to the knees and short black boots with pointed toes (perfect for a quick stab). A black T-shirt covered her chest and stomach — rare for women in the intergalactic treasure hunting trade — and large goggles were strapped to her face, although right now they were pushed up past her forehead.

"Where did you get this android?" she asked seriously, frowning as she inspected his condition. "I've never seen a model so advanced. I've never mistaken an android for a human before…"

She lifted his wrist, reading the serial number printed there. It had the appearance of a tattoo.

"Tsunade found him in the vault," Sakura explained. "There was nothing else with him."

"You mean we were robbed?" Shizune gasped, alarmed, but Sakura shook her head hastily.

"No, I only meant that he didn't come with anything else."

Shizune sighed with relief but frowned again as she looked back at the android. "Other than this scar, which seems recent, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him," she said. "We'll find out for certain when we turn him on."

"Do you know how?" Sakura asked. She didn't know why, but her voice was hushed. The whole situation was very mysterious.

"Well, like I said, I've never worked with this particular model before," Shizune answered. "It would have to be in a place that wouldn't have been jostled while he was in storage…"

"Try his dick," Tsunade suggested from the front.

Sakura blushed and Shizune clucked impatiently. "Of course it's not there. That would be really embarrassing, if his off button were pressed while he was in the middle of… you know…"

"Androids can't have sex!" Sakura scoffed, her face turning red, but Shizune shrugged.

"Technology is getting very advanced these days," she pointed out.

Tsunade snorted. "I was only joking. Why don't you check somewhere on his chest? Maybe near where the heart would be."

Shizune nodded and moved to check, but she wasn't sure how to remove his suit. It appeared seamless.

"I'm not quite certain…" she muttered.

"Cut it off," Tsunade said loudly, and Sakura raised her hand just in time to catch the knife that their commander launched across the control room. She handed it calmly to Shizune, whose face went red with anger.

"How many times have I told you not to throw sharp objects when my back is turned to you?" she demanded angrily, but nevertheless she took the knife when Sakura offered it to her and began to slice carefully through the cloth of his suit.

When she had made a thin incision a third of the way down his chest on the left side, she peeled away the split suit. It revealed a chest that looked like any other man's, except for that there was no hair on it, which Sakura found strange. Shizune pressed her head to the artificial skin.

"Oh my," she muttered. "It feels just like a real man…"

She coughed, blushing slightly, and then fell silent. Sakura kept quiet as well, and the only sounds she could hear were those of the machines that Tsunade was directing at the front of the ship.

Shizune shifted slightly to the left, then down a little, but then back up a fraction of an inch. "I think I've got it," she whispered. "He's ticking loudest here…"

She pulled back up and replaced her head with her thumb, pressing down on a spot on his pectoral muscle— or what had been built to look like one.

Sakura didn't think it was going to work, but after a split second of nothing, a whirring sound emanated from deep within his artificial body. Excitement needled through Sakura's veins as she watched him, and unbelievably, he began to stir.

His face twitched, and Shizune shrunk back with a small yelp. Sakura, however, unconsciously leaned closer, watching with fascination as his eyelids — the eyelids she had touched with her own fingers — began to flutter.

He did that for about half a minute until the whirring stopped and his eyelids fell still. For a horrible moment, Sakura thought that he was broken, but then he slowly blinked his eyes open.

He stared blankly at the ceiling. Sakura and Shizune waited breathlessly. Tsunade was sitting completely still, eyes glued to the controls but ears peeled for any sound from the android.

Then, he coughed. He brought a hand up to cover his mouth, and he kept his hand there as he sat up slowly.

Sakura was the first one he looked at. Her eyes widened into amazed round orbs as he made eye contact with her, but his mismatched eyes were void of expression.

"I…" His voice crackled, and he sounded like he was suppressing more coughing. "I can't… breathe very well…"

Sakura leapt to her feet and grabbed the closest thing she could find— a damp blue washrag. "Will this be okay?" she asked, waving it limply in front of him. He nodded, and she crouched down to tie it around the lower half of his face.

It looked bizarrely anachronistic against his sleek design, but he seemed grateful for it. His voice was muffled as he spoke now, but he didn't sound like he was going to cough anymore.

"Thank you," he said. He was still only looking at Sakura, who realized how close their faces were. She didn't move away, though; she was spellbound by the paradox of this machine looking at her and talking to her like a real man. An android this convincing must have been unimaginably expensive.

He blinked once. "Who are you?" he asked her.

"Me?" she stammered. "I'm Haruno Sakura, crewmember of The Tonton independent spacecraft." She hesitated but then added, "Who are you?"

"I think we'd all like to know that." The android turned his head to look at the source of the voice; Tsunade had swiveled around in her chair to stare him down.

"My name?" he repeated quizzically. "I am 01010011 01000011 01000001 01010010 01000101 01000011 01010010 01001111 01010111."

He had rattled off the stream of numbers with alarming speed. Tsunade cocked an unimpressed brow, and Sakura tilted her head to the side in confusion. Shizune, however, nodded knowingly. "Binary," she said. "I think I understood… Scarecrow?"

He nodded. Tsunade snorted derisively.

"Could have just said that," she grunted. "But where I come from, 'Scarecrow' isn't a proper name… Why don't we call you Kakashi?"

The android blinked, perhaps processing this new identity, and then he nodded once. "Kakashi," he repeated.

"Um… Kakashi?" Sakura ventured. He turned his head back to look at her. His expression wasn't so blank now; he looked interested. "If you don't mind me asking… where the hell did you come from?"

His pale silver eyebrows tilted downwards. "I don't know," he said, and he sounded disturbed by the fact. "I can't…"

"Can't what?" Tsunade interjected abrasively. "Tell us? What are you, a spy?"

"Tsunade—" Sakura said heatedly, but Kakashi the android interrupted her.

"Remember," he said, responding to Tsunade's question. "The last thing I remember is getting onto a ship…"

"Was it blue?" Tsunade asked sharply, and her two crewmembers knew exactly what she was thinking. Their archenemy, Konan, was the queen of an ice planet where they had once helped stage a rebellion to overthrow her tyrannical rule. The revolution had failed, and ever since she had pursued them in her sapphire ship.

Sakura frowned. Please, she thought, don't let him be from Konan…

But, thankfully, Kakashi shook his head. "It was a white ship," he recalled. "I was with other androids. It doesn't feel like that long ago…"

Sakura exchanged looks with Shizune. Despite what he said, that could have happened at any time; for all they knew, he could have lost years and years of memory. Androids didn't age like people did.

Tsunade, however, seemed relieved. "Well then, you have no idea how you wound up in our vault on Anchor 3?"

Kakashi shook his head. "I'm sorry I can't be of more help," he said.

"I'm sorry…" Sakura had never heard an android say those words before. Hell, most androids didn't even use contractions.

"It's all right," she found herself saying. Shizune looked at her in surprise for comforting him. "If you lost your memory you can't help it."

He looked at her, and although the wet rag covered his mouth, the way his eyes crinkled told her he was smiling.

"All right," Tsunade breathed, and everyone turned to look at her again. She looked weary. "We're way past Anchor 3, so I suppose there's nothing for it but to let you stay."

Kakashi smiled again; Tsunade looked taken aback. "I promise I won't be a burden," he said.

Tsunade seemed wary. "We'll see."

True to his promise, however, Kakashi proved to be anything but a burden. Shizune in particular appreciated his help with the technical running of their ship; he was a natural expert in mechanics. However, all of the time they spent together was spent working, so Shizune didn't talk to him much.

"I don't mind that we don't talk, to tell you the truth," she confided to Sakura one day a week after his arrival when they were washing their hands together. "I think he's a bit creepy."

"Creepy?" Sakura repeated incredulously. "I think he's fascinating."

"I guess…" Shizune trailed off. Sakura was thoroughly surprised. She had expected Shizune of all people to be enthralled with such a humanlike machine, but apparently she found it off-putting.

Feeling defensive of him, Sakura sought Kakashi out when she left the washroom. She found him in the control room, sitting on one of the leather couches that lined the wall to the right of Tsunade's currently vacant chair. He was looking through one of the thick round windows there.

Sakura walked over to him. "Mind if I join you?"

He turned in surprise and looked at her. Sakura had stitched shut the cut they'd had to make in his suit, but he still wore the rag. "No, I don't mind," he answered mildly.

Something about his response made her smile. She sat down next to him, settling her rump into the soft cushion.

He had gone back to looking out the window. He had a long neck, but not anything that would have looked unnatural on a human. It looked thickly muscled, but it must have been an illusion… unless…

"How much of you is organic?" she asked him.

He kept looking out the window. "78.2 percent," he answered.

"Wow," Sakura said softly. "So do you have… muscles?"

"Oh yeah," he said, and this time, he looked at her. "My body is very much like yours, except for that I have circuitry that branches out from my electronic brain."

There was an awkward silence, and then to Sakura's utter surprise, he laughed. It was a much richer laugh than she had expected. If she didn't know better, she would have thought he sounded genuinely mirthful.

"It's nothing you have to look at," he said, and his mismatched eyes seemed to twinkle. Unsure for a moment, she couldn't help but laugh a little too.

He gave her his crinkly-eyed smile and looked back out the window. She followed his gaze, but she didn't think there was much to see; every now and then space got heart-stoppingly interesting, but most of the time it was a stretch of black nothingness. Right now their autopilot was set to cruise through empty space for a while. As Sakura looked through the window, she saw that they were passing a cluster of stars.

"Do you like looking outside?" she asked, wondering if he could like anything at all.

He took a minute to answer. "It interests me," he said.

Her heart dipped a little in disappointment. She wasn't sure why. "Do you have likes and dislikes? At all?" she added, a little dejectedly.

"Oh…" He looked down, and Sakura almost dared to say that he looked sad, if with an air of detachment. "There are things I prefer over others, if that's what you mean."

"Yeah," Sakura said. "Yeah, I think that counts." She smiled at him encouragingly, and he returned it before looking back out the window.

Sakura looked out the window again, this time with more interest. "I like stars too," she said. "I've just seen a lot of them, I guess."

"You haven't seen all of them," Kakashi said.

Her brow wrinkled. "No," she said. "There's an endless amount of stars."

They were quiet for a few minutes, gazing out the window into the eternal black space. Then Kakashi said, "Do you want to know how many there are?"

Sakura gaped at him in disbelief. "What, stars?"

He nodded. Sakura's jaw went slack with incredulity. "Don't tell me you just counted them!" she hissed, but Kakashi shook his head.

"No," he said, "but I did calculate the sum of an infinite mathematical series, and taking several factors into account—"

"The… sum of a…"

"Of an infinite series," he said, enunciating perfectly. "Taking the sum of it isn't the hard part, really. Using limits, you can find the sum as long as you have a solid mathematical model, which is the real challenge, but I was just thinking about it and I think that I came up with one that—"

Sakura shook her head. "Don't try to explain it to me," she said weakly, patting him on the shoulder. She was surprised by how firm and… manlike it felt.

"Okay," he said, shrugging. "But do you want to know how many there are?"

Her face lit up with curiosity in spite of herself, and she nodded eagerly. He seemed to hesitate, looking into her eyes, and then he leaned forward. Sakura sat still as a statue as he tugged down the damp rag to whisper in her ear.

His breath tickled the shell of her ear, and she suppressed a shudder. The answer left his lips in a gentle wisp of air. Her eyes widened as she heard.

"Wow," she breathed as he straightened and tugged his makeshift mask back into place. "That's so many…" She looked back through the grubby window, her eyes shining with wonder.

"Yeah," he agreed, but he didn't look back at the window. He was staring at her face, which was unblemished by worry or cynicism as she gazed captivated at the stars. Her lips were parted, and they looked very soft. He wondered if they would feel like his lips.


Startled, they both turned to look at the barking voice that had interrupted both their reveries. Tsunade's honey-colored eyes were narrowed in suspicion, and she jerked her head at Kakashi.

"Go make yourself useful," she ordered. "I want a word with Sakura."

Kakashi, who had conceded to Tsunade's authority from the beginning, dutifully got up and left the room. His feet padded almost soundlessly against the carpeted floor; his suit extended to his feet and formed a sleek shoe.

Tsunade waited until he had passed through the sliding door, hands on her hips. Sakura did not dare to say anything until she was spoken to; Tsunade seemed annoyed.

When he was gone, she rounded on Sakura. "What were you two doing?" she demanded.

Sakura frowned crossly. "We were just looking out the window," she said.

Tsunade did not look convinced. "I saw him getting awfully close to you, Sakura."

Anger rippled through Sakura. "So?" she said defiantly, tipping her chin up. "We were just talking."

Regardless of her protests, Tsunade was shaking her head. "Stick to humans, Sakura," she said, and her tone was serious.

Sakura flushed. "Excuse me?" she said, her voice shaking.

"You heard what I said. Stick to humans."

Scoffing angrily, Sakura retorted, "Oh yeah? What about that tentacle monster you—"

Tsunade sighed impatiently. "Okay, so the tentacle monster was a one time thing," she conceded hurriedly. "But at least it was alive."

"If you can call a slimy mass of twenty dicks and no brain alive—"

"He's a machine, Sakura," Tsunade said curtly. "He can't—"

But Sakura had heard enough. She pushed off the leather seat and stormed past her commander, jamming her thumb on the button next to the door that made it slide open with a whoosh. She swept through it in a rush, but Tsunade did not go after her.

She was fuming as she tore through the very narrow metal hallway, her footsteps pounding tinny clunks as she moved. How dare Tsunade talk to her that way? As if they had been doing anything but talking! That's all they had been doing. Talking.

Even though she was vehemently denouncing Tsunade's implications, a little voice in her head reminded her how her heart had fluttered when Kakashi whispered in her ear, and how she had felt a dab of warmth low in her belly. When faced with this evidence, Sakura brushed it off. It had been a long time since she had been with a man, and even longer if you didn't count the tentacle monster that she had snuck a go on when Tsunade was too busy getting plundered three different ways to notice.

She exhaled a miserable, frustrated sigh and manually wrenched open the door to her quarters. It was a small space with hardly enough room for her bed. Dresser drawers were imbedded in the walls, but she had squeezed in enough room for her weapons cache.

Plopping down on the edge of her unmade bed, she lifted one of her heavy guns from the trunk of weapons. Balancing the gun on her knees, she tore off her glove with her teeth and ran her bare hand along the surface. It was rough and riddled with mechanical holes and grooves.

She couldn't help but comparing it to how Kakashi's skin had felt. It wasn't anything like this. This machine gun was hard and unyielding, cold in her hands. Kakashi's shoulder hadn't been very warm, but it had felt like a shoulder. Like a human.

She stowed her gun back angrily and drew her legs up to her chest. Burying her face in her knees, she sat there for a long time.

A few days later, Sakura was taking a break from reviewing maps to walk through the ship. Its small size was not optimal for taking long, thoughtful strolls, but Sakura made do with what she had.

As she walked through the narrow passageway beyond the control room, she noticed that the hatch was open. It went down below deck to Shizune's jungle of wires and machinery. Sakura rarely had reason to go down there, but she knew for a fact that Shizune was in the shower and Tsunade was at the controls…

She abruptly abandoned any pretense of doing something more important and slid down the hatch. Disregarding the vertical ladder, she landed recklessly on the ground, but it wasn't a long fall.

She lifted her boot to make sure she hadn't crushed anything important, but she had made no impact on the thick stream of cables twisting beneath her. The floor was theoretically made of metal, but no one had seen it in a while now; it was too cluttered with machines and their endless sea of associated wires. A few naked light bulbs hung flickering from the low ceiling, but most light came from the humming monitors, which cast the long and narrow room in an eerie teal glow.

The noise of someone forcing a stubborn wrench to bend to their will brought her attention over to a corner of the room. Even in the dim lighting, his form was unmistakable; if he had been a human, Sakura would have expected him to have years of combat training to have such a lean and muscular frame. The sleek uniform he wore only served to enhance the masculine curves of his body.

His mechanical body, she reminded herself.

Which is a full 78 percent organic, another voice in her mind couldn't help but interject. 20 percent of your body weight is bone, but nobody accuses your boyfriends of dating a skeleton.

She brandished a mental fist at the warring voices and stepped gingerly over the mess of wires. "Kakashi?" she said, hoping not to startle him.

He wasn't startled, of course. He turned over his shoulder — the one that had felt so firm beneath her fingers — and she saw that he still had that ridiculous rag tied around his mouth.

"Why are you still wearing that?" she said, interrupting whatever he had been about to say to greet her.

He looked puzzled. "This is the only clothes I—"

"Not your outfit, your mask." She came to stop a few feet away from him. "Can't you reprogram your body to breathe in the air we have here?"

"Oh," he said, and he turned away from her, returning to whatever he was doing with the wrench against the wall. "I could, but it's kind of complicated…"

Sakura's face split in a grin. "So you're lazy, you mean."

"Something like that."

She clasped her hands innocently behind her back and leaned her torso forward in curiosity. "What are you doing there?" she asked.

He didn't answer right away; she watched the shadows dance across his body in the flickering blue light as he worked the wrench around a stubborn metal knot in the wall.

"This energy valve is jammed," he said finally. "When I can turn it, it opens a little compartment in the wall where I can plug in for some energy."

Sakura raised her eyebrows in surprise. "I didn't know we had something like that on our ship," she said.

Kakashi laughed. Considering that he had just described how he plugged himself into the wall like a common hairdryer, it was unnerving how natural the amusement sounded.

On the other hand, he had a nice laugh. "Maybe I can help," she suggested. "I'm stronger than I look, you know."

"If you could carry me, I should think so." He stepped back from the knob in the wall and handed her the wrench. She grabbed it firmly and tried not to let her gaze linger on his outstretched hand.

She swung the wrench around once and then stepped menacingly forward, bracing one green-booted foot against the wall. With her tongue sticking out between her lips she threw all of her weight into the wrench and twisted it as hard as she could. It screeched in protest, but with some rough negotiation she got the knob to jerk to the right. After that it was more willing to give, and in a few hard minutes' time she popped open the compartment on the wall.

It was only six by six inches, but it was all that was necessary to house a large round outlet.

Sakura stepped back, panting, and handed him the wrench.

"You are strong," Kakashi marveled.

Sakura grinned. "Yeah," she huffed. After a moment's hesitation, she continued, "If you don't mind me asking, what do you plug in there?"

Kakashi tapped the wrench thoughtfully against his chin; she watched him curiously.

"Anything, in theory." He glanced down at himself. "But it's a little high up on the wall…"

He let the sentence trail off ominously, and Sakura let out a snort. "You can't mean…" she sputtered, trying to conceal more embarrassed laughter. "You're an… an android…"

Kakashi only smiled mysteriously at her; she could see his grin stretching from the shadows playing off the mask. He set the wrench down on top of some unknown machine buzzing next to him and stepped towards the hole in the wall. Contrary to his suggestive implications, he flexed only his index finger and began moving it towards the outlet.

"Wait," Sakura said suddenly. He obediently stopped moving. "What'll happen when you put it in?"

He took a moment to consider his answer. Sakura watched his smooth face wrinkle subtly in thought. "I'll just kind of stand there, I guess," he said. "I've never watched another android do it. My eyes might look weird, though."

Sakura crossed her arms. "How often do you need to do this?" she asked.

Kakashi shrugged. "Ideally every day, but I can get by on a week without recharging if I have to," he answered.

"Do you ever get sick?" Sakura pressed. She hoped she wasn't sounding invasive, but Kakashi didn't seem to mind.

"No," he said. "Or at least, not like you do. Of course, if parts of my body start malfunctioning I won't operate at maximum performance…"

"But that's just what being sick is, if you think about it," said Sakura. A little nervously, she added, "Right?"

"Yeah," he said. "You can look at it that way."

His silver eyebrows came together in consternation. "I have been feeling a little funny since I came here, though," he admitted. "I've had a headache this whole time."

The idea seemed to give him a profound sense of disquiet. Sakura frowned. "Could be the air," she said in what she hoped was a reassuring voice.

She stepped back, gesturing towards the wall in front of them. "Don't let me get in your way," she said apologetically. "I don't want to you to start going berserk because I denied you your life juice."

He laughed again, but it was cut off as he stuck his finger into the outlet. Immediately his body went rigid, and Sakura stumbled a little in surprise, almost losing her balance on the hump of wire beneath her boot. The wall inches from his nose lit up with a white glow, which Sakura could only assume was coming from his eyes. A low hum droned from his body, not unlike that which came from a refrigerator.

Sakura watched with a slack mouth for several minutes. He remained supremely still, frozen with his finger in the wall.

After the initial shock wore off, Sakura cast her gaze around for somewhere to sit. She spotted a suitable metal box and plopped down, propping up her head in her hands. She wished she had asked him how long this was going to take. Of course, she didn't have anything much better to do, so she contented to sitting there and waiting for him to revive himself.

Although this was by far the weirdest thing she had yet seen him do, the conversation before had been so normal. Rarely had she had such an effortless rapport with a human man, let alone an artificial one.

Were it not for the fact that he talked about things like recharging his power and calculating complex equations in the blink of an eye, she'd easily be able to fool herself into thinking he was human. Ever since they had first made eye contact when he woke up in the control room, the two of them had seemed to share a connection. Certainly there had never been a human man who listened so carefully to what she had to say, or for whom such a fondness welled up within her whenever she saw him…

Her gaze wandered down to his lower back. She flushed as she recalled what he had suggested — he was very handsome, after all — but he must have just been joking… An android couldn't really have human genitalia, no matter how realistic the rest of him seemed. What use would a machine have for reproductive organs? It would be a waste of resources to make his body produce sperm cells he couldn't use.

Then again, you could also argue that it was a waste of resources to give him a personality, but he certainly had one of those…

She shook her head back and forth like a wet dog, trying to send those thoughts flying like so many droplets of water from a soggy coat. It didn't work.

Resigning herself to the unavoidability of thinking about him, she sat there quietly, nudging a wire with her foot in boredom. It was unlikely he had even an inkling of awareness that she was here at all, but she wanted to keep him company. Being an android seemed like a lonely lot.

She didn't keep track of the time that passed as she sat there in the dim room with Kakashi. Time seemed static here. After an immeasurable stretch of it, she heard a series of beeps coming from his body and looked up.

The lights on the wall across from his eyes were flashing; Sakura squinted against the blinding white. Precisely ten flashes passed before the lights extinguished, and the finger stuck in the outlet twitched.

Kakashi groaned as he pulled away from the charger, shaking his finger as if it had been burnt. With his back still to Sakura, he tugged his arms over his head in a simple stretch. He didn't seem to notice that she was there; she watched silently as the muscles of his back shifted beneath the sheer material.

He turned around and blinked in surprise. His eyes still held a faint glow.

"Sakura!" he exclaimed. "I didn't think you'd still be here."

She blushed, but there was a bite to her retort. "I had to make sure you didn't wake up, forget who you were, and start blasting apart the whole ship."

He winked at her with his scarred red eye. "You've got to stay on your toes with me," he warned.

Sakura stuck out her tongue. She was shifting her feet idly along the floor, rubbing them along the grooves of the bundled wires winding across the floor like spindly black snakes. Her skin looked ghostly pale under the strange blue light.

She looked up thoughtfully at Kakashi. "I'm sorry if you didn't like being interrogated," she said, trying to make it sound like she hadn't been worrying about that for the past twenty minutes. "I ask all the questions, don't I? But I suppose you don't have any for me."

Kakashi's eyebrows skated skeptically up his forehead. "Don't have any questions?" he repeated. He sat down on a machine a few feet across from her, bringing one leg up to rest on his lap. "Are you kidding?"

Sakura pulled her face back in astonishment. "What can you possibly want to know about me?" she said. "Don't you know…"

"Everything?" He laughed. "Not even close."

He rubbed his masked chin, staring up at the ceiling. "Let's start with where you came from," he said. "I should hope it's a more comfortable beginning than inside a laboratory."

Grinning, Sakura said, "Barely. Konoha isn't exactly a luxurious planet."

"Konoha…" Kakashi scratched his neck again. "Doesn't ring any bells."

"That doesn't surprise me," Sakura deadpanned. "It's not a very important planet, but it was home."

"Tell me about it," he said softly.

She leaned back on her metal box, wrapping her arms around one knee. Her eyes searched the ceiling wistfully. "There were trees everywhere," she began. "It was a very leafy planet. That's where it got its name from, anyway. We used to climb them and look up at the stars…"

She wondered how to explain to him the feel of the bark beneath her fingernails, or how she kicked at stray branches and hoped the sound wouldn't wake her parents. Would he understand the longing she felt, gazing up at the vast cloak of star-spangled velvet and wishing she could soar through its inky depths? Had he ever wanted anything, as an android?

"When you were a child?" he asked. She noticed that his voice seemed restrained, but she couldn't tell what he was holding back.

"Yeah," she said without looking at him. "We would sneak out at night to look up and wonder what it would be like to get out there someday…"

"Well, you did," he said. Her gaze slid down to him, but his expression was inscrutable.

"Yeah," she said again. She heaved a heavy sigh, running a hand through her matted strands of pink hair. "Not quite what I expected, but yeah."

Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. Then Kakashi said tentatively, "What do you like to eat?"

Sakura blinked in surprise. "Eat? Hmm… What I really love is a nice sticky anko dumpling…" She ran her tongue along the seam of her lips, imagining the syrup coating her mouth as her tongue plunged into the warmth of the dumpling. Her eyes were closed, so she did not notice the way Kakashi's eyes followed her tongue's languid movements.

"Of course, the closest you can get to that around here is a lump of liquid sugar on a stale piece of toast," she said, snapping open her eyes. Kakashi's had already been politely relocated elsewhere. "I can't remember the last time I had decent food."

Kakashi looked deeply interested. "Does taste make that big of a difference?" he asked.

"Oh God yes," Sakura said, shaking her head ruefully. "But nothing tastes good in space. And we don't stop on many planets these days…"

Kakashi nodded. Sakura had already explained to him how they were treasure hunters, but right now they were more focused on running away from the ruthless Konan. Aside from ports like Anchor 3, they didn't leave their ship much.

That seemed to lead Kakashi's mind to a new topic. "What's it like listening to a language you don't understand?" he asked.

Sakura gawked at him. "You aren't saying you know every language, are you?"

He shrugged, which seemed to be a favorite response of his— strange, for an android.

"I'm not so good with local dialects, but I come equipped with most standard dictionaries!"

His tone dripped with an ironic imitation of a salesperson, and he held up his hands in mock celebration. Sakura giggled most uncharacteristically.

"I'm not sure how to explain it to you, then," she said. His hands dropped to his knees with a muffled sound. She always half-expected to hear a mechanical clunk whenever his body was touched. "It sounds like gibberish, but you can usually glean something from inflection and body language. Emotions tend to come across no matter what."

He was watching her with the interest that Tsunade gave to her Spacegirl centerfolds, which was to say, with unblinking attention. She could almost imagine the switchboard blinking where his brain would be, logging the information into his data chips.

She suppressed a shudder. If he noticed, he didn't give any indication. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Sakura bit her lip. How was she supposed to explain that? "Well… I guess…" She held up her hands in front of her, gazing unseeingly through the cracks between her gloved fingers. "When someone's sad, their whole demeanor just lessens, or... dampens. Yeah, dampens. But when they're happy, they light up, and you can see it in their eyes… Their eyes tell you how they're really feeling."

She lifted her eyes and met his intent stare. Her mint eyes glowed with ethereal color in the eerie room, wide and anxious, and she could see a struggle in his darker ones. It was as though he were trying to step onto a bridge he couldn't see.

"Sakura," he said, and her heart jumped at hearing her name. "Can I ask you… What is it like to dream?"

Her eyes softened. "Of course you can ask me," she said. A laugh escaped her. "That's an even harder one to answer, though. Your mind just gives you a weird mix of images, and they don't follow the rules of real life…"

"What sorts of images?" He was leaning forward where he sat, eager to understand.

Sakura considered, and both she and Kakashi were so quiet that the only sounds to be heard were the regular noises of the machines, hardly noticeable to them by now.

"Sometimes they're exaggerations of things that happened to you," she said slowly. "Or people you know, or things that you've been thinking about but haven't actually happened yet. Every now and then you get nightmares, but usually dreams are either nonsense or about good things…"

She trailed off, not knowing how else to explain. He had let his eyes wander towards the floor, which he was staring at as though it had offended him.

"Why?" she asked, looking at him quizzically. "When you charge up like that, what do you see?"

He blinked in surprise and fixed his gaze sharply on her, but before he could speak they were both startled by a voice from above.

"Sakura?" Shizune called. "Are you down there? Tsunade's been looking for you!"

"Coming!" Sakura jumped to her feet, narrowly avoiding tripping over a thick bunch of wires as she did so. "Sorry," she said, her eyebrows turned up in apology. "I've got to go."

He nodded in compliance, so she scurried back over to the ladder and scrambled up it. Kakashi watched her until the heel of her bottle green boot had kicked itself up, but it was a long while after that when he finally tore his mismatched eyes away from the rungs that she had clutched.