Disclaimer: Sadly enough, I don't own any of these characters, nor will I ever profit off of them.
SPOILERS: It's best to be well into the manga chapters after the time skip to avoid being spoiled rotten.
(AN) I started writing this story as a way to entertain myself during the painful anime fillers. In no way do I claim that these things actually happened during the time skip, nor do I claim any hint of a relationship between Neji and Sakura in the actual manga. That's what fan fiction is for! (/AN)
Sakura sat down with a sigh and gazed blankly at the walls of the hospital staff lounge. Part of her training with the Hokage included working at the hospital observing medical staff and treating low-level injuries. Other aspects of her new training regimen included exercises to improve chakra control and utilize it in new ways. Since the Godaime was usually tied up in her office, they would often have a brief lesson in the morning before Sakura would be released to practice on her own.
For the past six months, since Naruto and Sasuke left, Sakura became obsessive about training. She knew it was only a bandage to keep herself from thinking about her losses, but she saw nothing wrong with improvement. She woke early every day to start rounds at the hospital and came home late with only enough energy to shower and eat before collapsing into bed. If she was lucky, she would pass out before the voices in her head could begin their haunt.
Stepping into the locker room, Sakura changed out of her white medic-nin uniform and into her usual red dress. She tied on her kunai holster and her new, larger belt pouch before taking off the white hairnet that held her pink locks in a tight bun. She hated the thing, but it was better than those white hoods other medic-nins wore. Untying the bun, Sakura walked down the hallway and out the front door into the bright summer sunlight where Ino was waiting.
"Forehead-girl! Let's go, I'm starving!" Ino shouted with a wave.
"Hai, Ino-pig!" Sakura responded cheerily.
A month after Sasuke left, Ino had suddenly appeared at Sakura's doorstep one morning and asked if Sakura wanted to get breakfast and some coffee. Caught off guard, Sakura accepted. On their way to the corner diner, Ino chatted about inconsequential things while Sakura studied her rival out of the corner of her eye. The blonde seemed genuine in her offer of friendship, and Sakura found that once again she was drawn to Ino's charisma.
Months later, Ino admitted that she checked up on Sakura out of concern. Ino took Sasuke's betrayal somewhat personally - that he would rather live with a scaley S-rank criminal than in her loving arms. No man was handsome enough to redeem himself of such a sin. In the absence of Sasuke, Ino saw no reason to hate Sakura, and after a month of solitude and wallowing, Sakura welcomed her friend's presence.
As they walked towards their favorite tea house for lunch, Sakura found herself unable to pass by the Ichiraku without stooping to peer beneath the noren. It was a daily habit though she knew the only orange-clad loudmouth she saw would be her imagination. Ino watched this ritual silently before trying to distract Sakura from her memories.
"The past couple weeks have been absolutely terrible! Shikamaru was sent to the Hidden Mist Village to observe and report on the Chuunin Exam, and Chouji and I have to pick up his slack on missions!" Ino huffed dramatically.
"Ino-chan, when does Shikamaru ever pull his weight?" Sakura asked with a grin.
Ino nodded thoughtfully before agreeing with Sakura's observation.
"C'mon, Ino-pig, we need to hurry so I'm not late for training with Kakashi-sensei this afternoon." Even though Team 7 had unofficially broken up, Kakashi would still spend a few days a month helping Sakura train when he was not gone on missions. The village was still rebuilding and tried to hide the lack of high level ninjas by overworking the current Chuunin and Jounin.
"Sakura-chan, when is Kakashi-sensei ever on time?" Ino asked, mimicking Sakura's voice.
Laughing, the girls stepped into the teahouse.