Disclaimer: This disclaimer will be used for this chapter and any chapters that succeed it. I do not own Naruto, nor am I making a profit from this.

AN: I wanted to try my hand at a KakaSaku, so here it is. Know that I'm not working exactly from a planned outline. I'm just sort of making things up as I go along, even though I have several ideas in my head. This will be multi-chaptered. Unbeta'd – all spelling/grammar errors are mine.


When Haruno Sakura was hungry, she wasn't the kind of person to just drop everything and go have a snack. Usually, she was either too busy or too apathetic to actually put in the effort. When she was younger, she didn't mind getting up and getting some ramen or fruit, but now that she was a spry eighteen-year old medic-nin with a schedule crammed full with broken bones and surgeries, she rarely found the time to eat.

At first, she had managed to sneak in a quick bite of an apple or something between patients or paperwork, but as time progressed and she was given more responsibilities, she found it easier not to bother at all. Even her lunch breaks found her sitting with Shizune and Tsunade, helping to file medical reports while choking down a crappy sandwich she'd made in a rush that morning. Things were just too hectic these days. Ranks among the elite shinobi of Konoha were thinning, and they needed skilled ninja to protect the village and bring in some income from missions and the like.

Of course, that meant that medic-nin were also dwindling, since genin and chuunin felt more obligated to protect the village by striving to be elite jounin and ANBU rather than help take care of injuries and perform life-saving operations.

Her stomach growled and she sighed into the darkness of her apartment. She hadn't even bothered to turn on the lights – or go to her bedroom, for that matter.

Suddenly, there came a sharp knock on her apartment door. Sakura groaned and sank even lower on her couch, her body turning over slowly so she somehow managed to press her face into the cheap throw pillow Naruto gave her as an apartment-warming gift. She didn't want company. It was 10:37 at night! A visitor this late meant it was either Ino (being obnoxious as usual), or a nurse from the hospital coming to request Sakura's help with some emergency surgery or ear infection or whatnot.

Sakura did not want to go back to the hospital. She'd just gotten home from the hospital. This wasn't fair! She needed rest too!

She waited, slumped over on the couch, hoping whoever was calling on her just left. As it stood, even if she fell asleep this very moment, she would get just enough sleep to manage the next day, but if she was kept up… well, woe betide any snotty patients she would receive.

There was another loud knock.

Maybe they can sense my breathing, Sakura reasoned. I'm like a trapped animal. As if it would help, she began to hold her breath, and she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to silently will away her late-night visitor.

What did she do to deserve this? Today was supposed to be her day off! But since they needed someone to assist Shizune with a delicate operation, she agreed to come in. Then, what was supposed to be a three or four hour delay in her plans of doing absolutely nothing became an almost ten hour shift. Right after the surgery, Tsunade needed help finding and filing some misplaced paperwork, and also to find Tonton because she'd run off after smelling something particularly sweet. After she'd found the paperwork and filed it away, and found Tonton (who was in the Hospital cafeteria, trying to eat the raspberry ice cream), Sakura thought that was it – but then half a dozen nurses found her and decided they needed help with simple exams and procedures.

Suddenly, a floorboard creaked and Sakura shot up from her crumpled position.

"Oh – hey, forehead!"

Urgh. "Um… hi, Ino."

"I hope you don't mind, I let myself in." The blonde kunoichi crouched on the floor near Sakura, peering at her in the moonlight. "Why the hell are you sitting in the dark, Sakura?" Ino asked, amused.

"Shut up. I'm trying to sleep."

"But it's only quarter-to-eleven."

Sakura glared at her. "It's ten-forty, and I'll have you know I need all the sleep I can get."

There was a pause. "You didn't forget it's my birthday, right?"

Crap. Sakura did forget. She pressed her hands to her face and massaged her temples. "Sorry, Ino," she said after a moment. "I got held up at the hospital."

Another pause. "I thought you had the day off. I thought you booked it off so we could go out tonight."

"…Ino, I'm sorry – "

"You just can't say no to people, can you?" Ino interrupted. She sounded amused, but Sakura knew that was probably just a cover. Your best friend missing your birthday was like having a finger amputated. Or so she assumed. She'd seen how dejected people looked after having their digits cut off, so she assumed it kind of felt the same.

"Tell you what," Ino said cheerfully, springing to her feet and trying to pull a limp and reluctant Sakura up off the couch. "You come out with me tonight – just for an hour, I promise – and we'll call it even. Actually… you could also buy me this yukata I saw at this shop the other day…"

Sakura chewed on her bottom lip, weighing the pros and cons of going versus staying home. On one hand, if she went, she could be assured that her friendship with Ino would last just a little bit longer (even though it probably wasn't in any real danger in the first place), but if she stayed she would be able to get a decent night of rest before waking up at the crack of dawn and heading off to open people up and sew them shut again. The latter certainly was more appealing than spending time with a drunk Ino.

But Sakura chose to go out. She was eighteen. She needed to loosen up, probably.

"Great!" Ino clapped her hands and pulled Sakura towards her bedroom. "We'll just get you changed! It's great, we found this little bar we've never been to before, and Shikamaru and Chouji are waiting for us…"

"They're there too?" Sakura blinked as Ino turned on the light. "I thought it was just a girls' night out kind of thing."

"Please. Shikamaru's birthday was yesterday. It's like a joint celebration. I came to find you because you didn't come to my house at seven, and when I called your house at nine I didn't get an answer…"

As Ino whirled around to open the closet, Sakura caught a glimpse of one her shiny silver earrings. She'd been wearing those things since they were put in teams. Shikamaru and Chouji wore them too. It was like the Ino-Shika-Chou bond of friendship or something. Sakura kind of wished she had something she could share with the rest of her team besides that old photo of when they were younger and not so… well, broken up. Everybody who belonged to something – some group or club, or whatever – usually had something to show for it. ANBU had those tattoos she'd only glimpsed in surgery. Ino and her team had their silver earrings.

"You should wear the black dress," Ino suggested, tossing the garment at the pink-haired kunoichi over her shoulder. Sakura caught it effortlessly and stared at it in her hand. It was the tiniest thing…

"Ino, I'm not wearing this," Sakura said evenly. "I bought this when I was fifteen. It's too short and too tight."

Ino shrugged. "Fine. Give it back."

She continued probing Sakura's closet, finally giving up after each dress she pulled out was deemed "too small" or "too tight".

"Hell, Sakura, I know they say to leave a little to the imagination, but give them something to work with!"

Sakura blinked. What the heck? "Ino… I'm not trying to hook a date. I'm celebrating your eighteenth birthday. Okay? I don't want to look like a hooker."

Ino rolled her eyes. "You won't. Everybody knows you and loves you and you won't lose respect just because you show a little cleavage every now and then."

"Oh, yeah, right. Half the people I treat never remember my name. They can only remember me as that girl with the pink hair." Sakura crossed her arms over her chest and ignored the aggravated sigh that she elicited from Ino across the room.

"Well, whatever. Let's just get you in something decent and go out, okay? We're missing my special day."

-

The outfit Sakura picked out was remarkably modest. It consisted of a skirt she bought last year (but had never worn) that came down to her knees and was white with some sky blue flower patterns. The top was just a navy blue t-shirt that was actually a little looser than she remembered. Pair that with some slightly feminine sandals with a slight heel and she had an outfit Ino had deemed "good enough".

While that may have been true, Ino had lied about the length of the outing. Instead of being back by midnight, as she had expected, Sakura found herself still sitting in the bar with Ino, Chouji, and Shikamaru until 2am. She looked around and saw empty glasses littering the table.

Ino was drunk, as expected, while Chouji seemed to have downed the same number of drinks and remained as sober as ever. Shikamaru was nursing his second cocktail of some kind (Sakura couldn't remember the name of it), and in the meantime she quietly sipped her water.

Sakura never found herself all that attracted to alcohol. It tasted foul and it caused all sorts of problems for people. It became both the reason for and the bane of some people's sad existences.

"You should try Sex on the Beach," Ino slurred across the table. "You'll like it, I promise."

Sakura, being almost virginal in both sexual and alcohol-related ways, blushed crimson at the suggestion. "Ino, I don't think that's a good…"

"But it's fruity!" Ino interrupted. "It's got, um… pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and… something else. You can't even taste the alcohol! Oh shoot, that's right. Pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and some alcohol. There you go. I knew there was something I forgot."

Oh. It's a drink.

She shook her head. "No thanks, Ino. I'm doing annual physical exams tomorrow – er, today, actually, and I'd rather not have a hangover while I ask people to turn and cough." Sakura tried to show her resolve by swigging back the rest of her water, but she suddenly had a vision of her drunken self trying to take someone's temperature rectally and she choked.

As her spluttering coughs died down, Shikamaru ordered another cocktail – a Screwdriver – and wondered if it was too much trouble to stay out the rest of the night or if he should go home. If he went home, he could sleep… Well, that settled it. After he finished this last drink, he would amble on home and sleep until noon. Chouji should probably leave soon too, or the bar tab would be too high…

"You can't get drunk after just one Sex on the Beach," Ino was arguing.

"Sorry, but no."

"Please? Just one for my birthday?"

"I can't…"

"What's wrong, Sakura? I thought you liked to please people."

Sakura could have sworn she twitched. She stood up. "Well, I'm certainly having fun," she declared, falsely cheerful. "I really should be going now, though. Those prostates aren't going to check themselves tomorrow."

As they watched her stomp out of the bar, Shikamaru turned to Ino and sighed. "It may be your birthday, but you can't just say those kinds of things to people," he grumbled.

"Well, she should try it at least once! If she doesn't like it, she doesn't have to try it again!"

Chouji downed his sake. "I think you're missing the point, Ino," he said, and the look on Shikamaru's face suggested that he agreed with his chubby friend.

Ino shrugged. "Well, whatever."

-

Sakura had every intention of storming home and being angry at Ino for the rest of the night. But as she walked, her feet became more and more heavy and listless, and she found herself practically dragging her feet to her apartment.

Plus, she wasn't sure if she was that angry with Ino anymore.

Am I a prude?

Sakura couldn't help but wonder if she was denying herself something that she, as an eighteen-year old, should probably experiment with if only to gain some age and experience. Everybody her age frequented pubs between missions, that was nothing new. She just wondered if she was the only one who didn't.

That thought made her feel distinctly alien amongst her peers. While normal teenagers spent time doing "teenager"-like things such as drinking and smoking and being immature while they still had a couple of years to use their age as an excuse, Sakura was doing the exact opposite. She was a full-fledged medic-nin. If she wasn't out on a mission, she was either expending her chakra to heal meager flesh wounds, or sewing up a patient after removing a damaged kidney, or completing a mountain of paperwork that she later had to put in folders and file away. And when she wasn't doing any of that, she liked to sleep at home or curl up and read a book.

As a result, her apartment was almost continuously filthy, with clothes lying strewn on the floor and cheap dishes scattered on the kitchen counter with food dried to them. Sakura sighed as she shut the door behind her, not even bothering to lock it. She had two or three days' worth of dirty dishes and probably a week's worth of dirty laundry at the very least – none of which she really wanted to deal with ever. Hell, it was probably easier just to throw everything out and buy new dishes and new clothes. But she didn't really have the expenses for that.

Sakura wasn't exactly sure how it happened, but she was sure she became the messiest kunoichi in Konoha. Her mother was always a clean person – almost to an obsessive degree – so that should have transferred over to her, right?

She took one look into her bedroom with the rumpled, twisted bedspread and the miniature pile of laundry on the floor and decided that she would sleep on the couch.

She'd been sleeping on the couch a lot these days, it seemed. This past week she'd slept on the couch about four times, not including tonight. It was just easier.

Oddly enough, for someone so tired, she managed to pull up enough energy to get a blanket from the hallway closet and wrap it around herself before retiring to the couch. As soon as her head hit that cheap throw pillow, she had fallen asleep.

-

The only problem with sleeping on her couch was that she didn't have her alarm clock to wake her up. It was nearly noon by the time she groggily opened her eyes, and immediately panic was set in. She was supposed to be at the hospital by nine! She was almost three hours late!

She managed to find the individual pieces of her nurse outfit scattered throughout her bedroom and hastily threw them together so she was ready to go. Her skirt was lopsided and she couldn't find her hat, but that was fine. "Tsunade-sama is going to kill me," she mumbled to herself, thrusting a foot into her sandal. Wrong foot. She switched them and tried again. What? How can it still be the wrong foot?

Upon closer inspection, she discovered that they were indeed the same foot – both the left one. They were just from two similar pairs of sandals.

She searched for the right foot from either pair but was unable to find them for some reason. Having no other resort, Sakura slipped the sandals from last night onto her feet – the ones with the heels. They were probably the last things she should have been wearing to the hospital, but she really had no other choice. Damn elusive sandals.

Soon afterwards, she was out the door and racing to the hospital.

-

"Sakura…" Tsunade's voice was one of warning as Sakura burst into her mentor's office, looking for her stack of medical files. She was sure she'd placed them on her desk…

Sakura was practically breathless. "I know, I know, Tsunade-sama, I'm late!" she cried. "Reprimand me later! Where the hell are my files?"

Tsunade smirked. "Shizune is taking care of them. You know, you had an appointment at nine-thirty. Did you forget you had physical exams to do today?"

"Ah, no, I didn't, actually," Sakura mumbled, blushing faintly. How embarrassing. "I went out last night and fell asleep on the couch…"

"You didn't drink, did you?"

"Of course not! I had water. I just stayed out later than I planned."

Tsunade paused, looking Sakura up and down. It wasn't that she didn't believe her apprentice; it was just unsettling because Sakura wasn't the kind of person to show up three hours late for no reason. She couldn't help but wonder if maybe something a little more serious was going on.

"Anyway, Tsunade-sama…" Sakura rubbed her right foot on the back of her left leg anxiously. "Since Shizune-san is taking care of my patients today…"

"Oh, right!" Tsunade pointed to Shizune's desk. "You can do the ones she was supposed to do today. They should be in the top right drawer…"

Sakura slid over and opened the drawer Tsunade said contained medical files. There they were; a neat little bundle of a dozen or so files tied together with pink string. Tsunade chuckled. "Shizune thought the pink string was a cute addition," she mentioned off-handedly, and then dismissed the statement with a wave of her hand. "Well, whatever. You've got a lot of jounin and ANBU coming in today for their routine physicals. Call me if you need anything."

"I will, Tsunade-sama."

"Oh, and one more thing…"

Sakura turned at the doorway, raising an eyebrow in curiosity. Tsunade was staring at her, her elbows on the desk and her fingers interlaced just under her chin. "Am I overworking you?" she asked casually, a hint of concern lacing her voice.

"Um, no, not particularly."

"That doesn't sound like a definitive answer, Sakura."

"I know. No… I don't feel overworked at all, Tsunade-sama."

"You'll let me know if you feel you need a break, right? I could always call in a favour from one of the retired medics, you know."

Sakura paused and then nodded with a cheerful smile on her face. "Yes, I'll be sure to let you know… but I'm okay, really." No, she wasn't. She did feel overworked, but unfortunately she was the kind of person who didn't like to complain about those kinds of things. After all, Tsunade worked around the clock like a mad woman; why couldn't Sakura?

Tsunade's grim look faded into an almost cocky smile. "By the way… nice shoes. Probably slightly inappropriate, but nice."

-

Sakura tried to will away every thought in her head – all of her embarrassment, her self-doubt – everything but her professionalism, and walked into the clinic area.

Another nurse looked up at Sakura and smiled. "Ah, Sakura-san," she greeted kindly. "You look… taller."

It's the heels. Sakura gave a forced half-grin back at the woman. "Otsune-san," she nodded her head. She liked Sakagami Otsune very much. She was a kind woman in her mid-thirties who was very generous and always smiling and never had a bad word to say to anyone. When Sakura was new at the hospital, she was the one who made her feel welcome and at home.

"You're doing Shizune-san's appointments, are you not?" Otsune asked cheerfully.

"Yeah."

"Well, two for eleven o'clock and eleven-thirty cancelled because you weren't here, but your ten o'clock is. He came in just a few moments ago."

Sakura was puzzled. What? "I'm sorry… did you say… my ten o'clock?" Sakura looked at the clock hanging on the wall. "It's twelve-thirty…"

"Yes, well, he said he couldn't make it in at ten because he was reading the latest chapter of his book and got carried away." Otsune gave a light shrug and turned back to her files. "He's in the third exam room."

Sakura stiffened. The lateness… the excuse… it had to be

"Thanks Otsune-san," Sakura mumbled, and began to walk quickly towards exam room three with her own stack of files. When she swung open the door, she was not at all surprised at who she saw sitting on the exam table.

Hair unkempt, hitai-ate discarded, medical gown substituted for his usual navy uniform and green vest, and mask firmly in place… it was her former sensei, Hatake Kakashi. He was just sitting there, reading his little book. He barely looked up when she entered the room.

Then, as the door clicked shut, he peered up over the top of his book. "Yo," he said simply, waving his hand at her. He looked her up and down carefully, his eyes stopping momentarily to look at her shoes. "I didn't realize today was 'naughty nurse' day."

Sakura pursed her lips into a thin line. Of all the people she had to see today, it had to be him.


AN: Stay tuned. All kinds of feedback appreciated.