Disclaimer: Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto

Author's Note: This is an entry for the Chuunin Challenge being hosted on the Kakashi X Sakura Community on LiveJournal by team Angsty McMuffin Pants (see what happens when you put SammyQuill, Edelin and FlameTwirler together?). The challenge required each team member to write one part of the story and I volunteered to write the first part. The other chapters will be posted here as well and I'll add a note to clarify who wrote them.

Many thanks to Nimblnymph for organizing this challenge and to Edelin and FlameTwirler for being awesome and putting up with me.

Sakura took a left, avoiding the ramen bar in favor of a longer route to the hospital. Of course, that meant she wouldn't be passing by her favorite bakery and therefore, wouldn't be getting her morning dose of dango and coffee, but she could get that some other day.

Of course, good breakfast wasn't the only sacrifice Sakura had to make today. No, she had also had to leave her house a whole twenty minutes earlier (which meant either twenty minutes extra in bed and no shower or vice versa – and she'd needed a shower), which usually resulted in a cranky kunoichi.

Sakura took another left, this time to avoid the jounin lounge directly opposite the hospital and proceeded to cut across a back alley. She would get through the hospital's back entrance, walk through the maze of corridors inside the building to the front desk and clock in there. Sure it added an extra seven minutes to her morning ritual but then again, everyone needed some exercise now and then.

Her stomach growled slightly, reminding her that she'd already had plenty of exercise last night and was now in dire need of food.

Hang in there, the medic soothed her hungry stomach. We'll be there in a few minutes and then get something from the hospital canteen. Her stomach complained in the form of another growl, reminding her of just what it thought of hospital food.

"Yeah well, I don't like this either, but we're just going to have to deal," Sakura said out loud in frustration. And she was right; she didn't like this at all. Getting out of bed before her alarm went off, showering and changing at the speed of light and then running all around the village trying to avoid a certain someone – which made her five minute walk to work take twenty minutes instead – was hardly appealing. Not to mention going without breakfast, coffee or her morning dose of Ino (who, like all normal people, would have gotten out of bed at a normal hour instead of skulking around a back alley trying to sneak into her workplace), and she was hardly in the best of moods to start dealing with patients of surly Hokages who also didn't like early mornings.

Sakura glared angrily at her feet, thinking of what her life had become these last few months. Every time he was in Konoha, she had to go into hiding mode, afraid to go near any place he might be found. When she was younger, she'd thought he was harder to find than a needle in a haystack and now, when she was trying to actively avoid him, he seemed to be everywhere. She couldn't go near the ramen bars, couldn't go out towards the woods, near the jounin training area or lounge. The administration building in Hokage tower had become a complete maze where simply reporting to Lady Tsunade meant climbing in through a first floor window, waving awkwardly at the ANBU stationed there, taking the service elevator to the top and being hit on by the plumber who she was sharing it with and finally scout the waiting room from behind a wooden door to make sure he wasn't anywhere around before flying the short distance to the heavy oaken doors and begging the fates that Tsunade-sama would let her in quickly. It had been very awkward when she had run into him coming out of the office once just as she had dashed to the doors and nearly ran him down. Since then, she'd made sure to wait for the previous visitor to exit before knocking on her shishou's door.

Her stomach clenched, and for a moment, she thought it was in sympathy at her plight before she realized a pair of zori and ankle bindings were registering in her vision. Her stomach clenched again, reminding her who those feet belonged to and her eyes traveled up the familiar form. Even through the horror and panic at running into the one person who she had gone to all this trouble to avoid, her mind managed to supply he doesn't look like he's just had sex. As her green eyes reached his masked face, she almost wanted to laugh at the horror and stupidity of the situation. Here she was, sneaking around back alleys trying to not run into him and he… she realized with a start, was probably trying to do the same thing.


"Good morning, Sakura-chan."

The first time Haruno Sakura had slept with Hatake Kakashi had been on the night of her nineteenth birthday. The day had started off ordinarily enough with a congratulatory phone call from her parents and an extravagant bouquet from Yamanaka Florists early in the morning. The card with the beautiful arrangement of lilies and jasmines had read, "Your forehead is uglier and bigger now," making the medic smile and grind her teeth at the same time at the familiar insult. If it wasn't for the fact that the arrangement must have taken Ino hours, Sakura would probably have brought it to work and shoved the blonde's face is it. As it was, she had carefully picked it up and brought it in along with the small pile of brightly wrapped parcels. There were all the usual gifts: ramen coupons from Naruto, a book on painting by Sai, a beautiful wooden jewelry box from Yamato-taicho, a set of new kunai from Genma and Shizune-san, a beautifully soft silk scarf from the Aburame clan and a bottle of special sake imported from Iwa from her mentor with a note, "Take the evening off, have some fun. You deserve it."

She had almost missed it, a plain brown parcel amongst the many colored ones. There was nothing ostentatious about it, not even a small ribbon or a happy birthday scrawled in the corner. Wondering who it was from, she had picked up the small rectangle and proceeded to slip her nail under the cellophane tape, carefully opening the package without harming the paper it was wrapped in.

It turned out to be a simple but elegant silver photo frame with a leaf insignia carved in the left hand corner, one of many sold in the village gift shops. These were the frames mass produced here for visitors to take back and given out freely to pretty much all shinobi. In fact, Sakura already had one – although much older, with the silver paint peeling off in places – in her room, which housed the picture of Team Kakashi after she and Naruto had cleared their jounin exams. The photo had replaced the original team seven picture years ago by her bedside.

Wondering who would have the audacity to send her such a generic gift, Sakura turned the frame over and found a small note taped to the back. It contained neither birthday wishes nor a signature yet the writing was instantly recognizable. The note simply read, "Noticed yours was wearing out; this paint won't come off so easily."

The medic had run to her room to retrieve her old frame and indeed, when she compared the two, she realized how unique the present actually was. Not only was the glass of the frame smoother, clearer, and of much better quality, but the paint did seem to have an extra sheen on it. Just to test it, the kunoichi scratched her nail along the back of the frame and though a slight mark did manifest on the surface, no paint came off. Finally, she noted the inscription at the bottom, carved out professionally just beneath the leaf insignia in small cursive letters, easy to miss as mere design if one didn't look closely enough. It read, "Team Sakura".

The green eyed kunoichi realized two things that morning.

One, Kakashi must have spent quite a bit of money modifying the frame. And knowing how her former sensei was about reaching into his pockets made her cheeks blush in appreciation. He had also carved her name instead of his, which meant he finally respected her as a fellow ninja. Of course, he had never openly insulted her but she had always been unsure, even after making jounin, if Kakashi would ever see her as an equal. It didn't help that the man had been around to witness her preteen years, teen years, and every stupid mistake she had ever made as a girl and ninja. Things like that were hard to put aside even when said girl graduated to the same rank as you. But this was proof, proof that he saw and respected her as an equal.

And two, that she was hopelessly in love with him.

Okay, so if she was honest with herself, that wasn't much of an epiphany. She had been attracted to him for some two years now. Ever since their mission to bring Sasuke back had resulted in the fourth shinobi war and ultimately, Sasuke and Madara's defeat, she had had a thing for the copy ninja. She had tried telling herself it was because of the war, because she was afraid of losing him. Her logical side had argued that she didn't feel like slamming Naruto or Sai against a tree and mounting them because of the war, so why Kakashi? After the second battle at the Final Pass which ended in Naruto and Sasuke both in a coma, somehow linked through each other's inner demons, Sakura had expected her feelings for the jounin to disappear because there was no immediate danger anymore. She was kept busy enough, monitoring two people who seemed to be perfectly all right even though in a coma. She had spent the following months running complicated chakra tests with Karin and finally tentatively deduced that Sasuke and Naruto were so closely bound together, neither would die without the other but both couldn't be active at the same time.

In the time it took to get the Suna exorcists to Konoha, run more tests on the two genin and then decide on an adequate sentence for both once they were awake and able, Sakura's feelings had only intensified. Sometimes, it was painful just to watch him and she had felt shame bubble up inside her every time her overactive imagination – only newly introduced to the infamous Icha-Icha books - provided her with an image of herself and Kakashi doing things that wouldn't be out of place on the most graphic of the late Toad Sage's chapters.

Yes, it wasn't a surprise that Haruno Sakura was hopelessly attracted to her former sensei. But right now, in her living room holding the personalized picture frame that was so much him – only he would modify something so subtly it would look completely generic at first sight – she realized that she was in love with him. Not just physically attracted to him. Why? Because only he would notice things like her older frame getting chipped and worn out, only he would know how much it had taken for her to replace the old team seven photo with this one, only he realized how utterly scared she was of being abandoned, had been all her life, and was reassuring her, in his own odd way, that he would always be there. No matter what else went on in her life, he was the one person that had always been there. Sure, he always showed up late with a ridiculous excuse, read porn in front of kids, made odd faces behind his mask when she ate mochi, but he was around to do all those things. Never had he just gone and left her without a reason and for that, she was more grateful than she could ever say.

Of course, the realization that she loved him was followed by her very first real heartbreak. Because no matter what she felt for him, he could never be hers. No, it wasn't the age thing, or the fact that her parents would be horrified if they knew. It wasn't even Tsunade's potential wrath when she found out that made it so impossible. It was the fact that Kakashi would never, ever see her that way. He may respect her as a kunoichi, as a teammate and as a medic, but she would still be the little girl who pined over Sasuke to him, the girl who could eventually become his friend and equal but nothing more than that.

And though she had no clear memory of it, Sakura strongly suspected these were the thoughts she had blurted out in a drunken haze the night of her birthday after all her friends had left the bar, leaving only her and Kakashi still drinking. She remembered him removing his mask when the majority of the bar's customers had left at around four in the morning, she remembered him pointedly telling her maybe she'd had enough and then, the next thing she knew he was trying to sneak out her window, his shirt, headband and sweater in hand. Worse than that, was the realization that she was completely naked beneath the sheets. Their eyes had met once as he'd leapt out the window and the look in his gaze had broken her heart anew. It clearly said, "This never happened".

That was when she'd started avoiding him, making sure never to go near places he frequented, keeping a close eye on the mission roster so she knew when he was out, trying her hardest not to blush whenever he came up in conversation (a fact Ino had been quick to notice. Thank Kami the blonde interpreted it as Sakura having a crush on the copy-nin as opposed to having already slept with him).

And then there was the funeral.

Sakura had been sorting through boring mission records at the Hokage tower when Lee had rushed in, tears streaming down his face and begged her to come to the hospital. From all the bawling, she could make out that Gai-sensei had been terribly hurt on the mission and though he was being attended to at the hospital, Lee insisted that he needed Sakura. Like the medic was some magic charm. But she was no charm; she had arrived at the hospital only in time to see them cover up the Green Beast of Konoha with that dreaded starched sheet. Lee had sunk to his knees right there beside her, losing consciences to pain and grief at losing the sensei that was more to him than his own father had ever been.

After the funeral, Sakura had stayed behind at the cenotaph. Now she wasn't sure if it was to give Gai-sensei a personal goodbye or because she knew Kakashi would show up after everyone had left but in the end, she had managed both. She had managed to pray for the man and thanked him for everything he had ever taught her and when she was done, Kakashi had been standing right behind her. She hadn't heard him approach but then again, who did? The sharingan user was as silent as a cat in the dark when he wanted to be.

"He was my best friend, you know," Kakashi said too casually, too conversationally and Sakura tried not to flinch at the pain he was masking so expertly. "He wasn't my first best friend but he lasted the longest."

Sakura had let him talk in that casual, offhand way, let him tell her of all the ridiculous challenges he had insisted they partake in to show who was the superior ninja, all the dates he had tried to set Kakashi up on, all the times he'd fought by his side and risked his life for the silver haired jounin.

Sakura hadn't realized she'd been crying until he'd brushed a tear off her cheek, looking at her in surprise.

"Why are you crying, Sakura-chan?" he'd asked softly.

"Because you won't, you idiot!" she had replied before flinging herself into his arms and sobbing all out. It was true, he would never cry no matter how much it was hurting him, and if she could grieve in his place, then she would. It was the least she could do for him.

Maybe it was the way he had repeatedly stroked her hair as she sobbed into his chest, maybe it was the warmth of his black woolen sweater against her face, maybe it was because he was a complete moron who, for all his expertise, didn't know how to let his emotions out. Whatever it was, it had made her slowly rise to her tip toes and kiss the corner of his masked lips. From then on, their bodies had taken over, leaving no room for thought. As it turned out, Kakashi did know how to let his emotions out, all the hickeys on her throat and shoulder which she'd had to heal later that day proved it.

He had visited almost every night for a week after the funeral, came to her like a ghost in the darkness and curled up to her desperately, sometimes holding on to her tightly as though she too would slip away. Those were the nights that made her realize that perhaps the older jounin feared abandonment as much as she did.

It had continued on from there. He would pay her a visit every few weeks or so, and she would welcome him into her heart even if for one night, just so she could pretend that he loved her as much as she loved him. That he was there for her, not just for anonymous and unconditional sex. Kakashi needed that human closeness to feel alive, and she only needed him so it was mutual really. On those nights, they were closer than ever and in the mornings, well, she had learned of at least three different (albeit longer) routes to the hospital and the Hokage Tower which didn't coincide with anywhere he might be found.

Sakura's heart hammered loudly in her chest, as if trying to thud its way out. For a moment the medic wondered what the biological ramifications of her heart breaking free of her ribcage would be before she shook her head to dispel the thought. She needed to appear calm, composed, aloof, like he was doing right now. Kakashi didn't appear uneasy, guilty, embarrassed or panicky, all the emotions she was sure her expressive face must be going through in order for his observation.

Too late, she realized it was her turn to say something. He had said good morning so she must reply now. But what should she say? And how was she supposed to sound? Blasé, casual, offhand, terrified? In the end, she settled for a nod, not trusting herself to speak.

Kakashi mimicked her silence, handing her a brown paper bag before he raised his hand and muttered his usual "Yo" before simply walking away. In the minute or so it took her to regain her composure, he was already out of sight, leaving Sakura alone with the paper bag.

It was only after she'd clocked in at the hospital that she worked up the nerve to open the bag he had given her. To her surprise, it contained nothing but two sticks of dango and a Styrofoam cup of now cold coffee. She drank it anyway, saving the sweet treat for later.

End Note: If you liked this, please take a moment to vote for team Angsty McMuffin Pants on the Kakasaku community on LJ and drop us a review. Stay tuned for part two and three coming soon!