INTERMEZZO

Disclaimer: Naruto isn't mine.

A/N: This is an experiment for me-to see if I can keep up a steady pace of writing over an extended period of time, and to see if I'm capable of writing a chaptered fic. As such, you should be able to expect updates around every Monday.
Also, the events herein have been inserted in the three week period between chapters 237 and 238 of the manga, so there are MASSIVE SPOILERS for that arc. I am at the same time, however, happily ignoring anything in the manga (mostly minor details) that might contradict what's happening here, and most of the medical stuff is completely made up to suit my needs. Thus, suspension of belief is a necessity when reading this.
Warnings? Nothing in this chapter. I will keep you updated in future chapters, though. Pairings? So far as I know, none. This is supposed to be a friendship fic, but I'm not sure how it's going to develop.
Preliminary updates can be found on my livejournal (the link is in my profile). Reviews are, as always, appreciated.

intermezzo n. pl. intermezzos or intermezzi
1. A brief entertainment between two acts of a play; an entr'acte.
2. Music.
a. A short movement separating the major sections of a lengthy composition or work.
b. An independent instrumental composition having the character of such a movement.

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"EHHHHHHHHH?!?!"

Naruto's voice could be heard echoing down the hallways, and Sakura paused before entering his hospital room, her hands flying to her ears in pain. Naruto could be loud when he wanted to be.

"I'm sorry Naruto-kun, but Tsunade-sama has ordered us not to discharge you unless you have someone at home to watch you." That was Shizune's voice coming from Naruto's room, and it sounded like she was repeating herself. Sakura felt a stab of sympathy for her if she was trying to get Naruto to stay in the hospital any longer. He'd been itching to get out from the second he'd been admitted.

"But-- but-- why?!" Thankfully, Naruto had lowered his voice a bit, but Sakura's ears were still ringing. "I need to get out of here soon, Ero-sennin said he'd start training me!"

"You won't be able to start training for at least a week," Shizune said, with a long suffering sigh. "You suffered severe injuries, and they're not healing as quickly as they ought to because you also managed to burn out your chakra pathways. Your body still isn't accustomed to using the extraordinary amount of chakra you used during this fight, so you did yourself a lot of damage. They'll heal, but only if you don't use any chakra until they're fixed. Also--" she stopped, having noticed Sakura standing in the doorway "Oh, hello, Sakura."

"Hi Sakura-chan!" Naruto beamed at her. Then his expression turned pleading. "Ne, Sakura-chan, tell her I don't need to be stuck in here for another week! I can take care of myself!"

"There's really no other choice, Naruto-kun." Shizune said, before Sakura could respond to his plea. "You need someone who can watch you--"

"Then, then, what about Iruka-sensei, or Kakashi-sensei, or Ero-sennin?"

"--and all the adults who might, in other circumstances, be willing to take care of you are far to busy right now with missions and the rebuilding of the village," Shizune continued smoothly over his interruption. "I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, but it can't be helped."

"But I want to go home," Naruto whispered, wilting. He seemed to develop a sudden fascination with the ground at his feet, twisting his hands together in front of him.

In anyone else she would have thought they were just faking so they could be released, but this was Naruto. He couldn't act to save his life. Sakura winced, guilt twisting at her insides. Naruto was a generally obnoxious and loud little brat, and she frequently had to keep herself from smacking him upside the head, but this time she found herself on his side. Wasn't there some way he could be released? It wasn't fair that he was stuck here just because he didn't have a family...

Shizune felt like she was kicking a puppy, but she held firm. It was Tsunade-sama's orders, after all. "I really am sorry, Naruto-kun." she said gently.

Naruto's eyes, usually scrunched up in a smile, were hidden underneath his bangs. He didn't reply.

Sakura twitched with indecision. Maybe there was something she could do to help?

"He can stay with me," Sakura burst out suddenly, to the surprise of everyone in the room, including herself. She hadn't even known what she was going to say before the words left her mouth, but she hadn't been able to keep silent any longer. She considered taking it back, but he had looked so pitiful... "We have an extra bedroom. He can stay at my house," she repeated, as much to convince herself as to convince Shizune. Besides, the look of sheer hope he was giving her now was more than worth the trouble she'd have getting her parents to go along with it

Then Naruto's face suddenly closed down, and he went back to staring at the floor, rubbing a hand along the back of his head nervously. "Um. Thanks for the offer, Sakura-chan, but that's probably not a good idea. I really do appreciate it!" he said, looking up quickly at her face. "But, your parents-- I don't think they'd want--"

"Oh, they'll agree," she said firmly. "I'll make sure of it." It would be worth it just to keep that look of resignation off his face.

And so when Naruto wrapped her in a bear hug so tight she could barely breath, grinning fit to burst, she put up with it. Just this once.