Disclaimer: Naruto, his friends and the world he lives in don't belong to me but to Masashi Kishimoto. I write this story only for my pleasure and I don't make any money with it.

A/N: I have spent a long time drafting new stories, and writing first chapters, and every time I ran out of time and canon caught up with me and my story was no longer up to date. Now I think I have found a condensed version of all the themes that have been on my mind for several months now, and I think that I will manage, as the plan for the story is clear - I just have to get a start. I will attempt to update once a week, even if this means that some chapters are rather short.

Warnings: As usual - I am not a native speaker, and my beta Eowyn Unquendor, though she is a wonderful critic, is not a native speaker either.

Spoilers up to chapter 439, and this is also where my story diverges from the manga.

Thanks go again to Eowyn Unquendor, for commenting on my stories and encouraging me to write.

Prologue – Part 1

Naruto and Sakura had made a habit of meeting in Kakashi's room in the hospital, before or after Naruto's turn of watching over the workers who rebuilt the walls of Konoha, and when Sakura had a break between two shifts at the hospital. There was much work for both of them these days, so that they were on double shifts, and they had hardly enough time to sleep, so that even Naruto, with his seemingly unexhaustable resources of chakra was beginning to feel the strain of it, yet still they met in Kakashi's room every evening, or in the morning if this was not possible, to see each other, to talk, to relax, and to think opf something else than the immediate needs of their work and their lives. They might speak of happier days in the past during these meetings, or sometimes, more carefully, of the village's future, sometimes of those who had died – lucklily it were not too many, and only Shizune of those who were close to them – or about the progress of Tsunade's recovery, whom they visited too, but not on a daily basis as Kakashi, mainly because Sakura, who had to be available even during her breaks, was not allowed to leave the hospital.

They avoided to talk of Sasuke during these meetings, and least of all they would speak about their plans, or rather their dreams, to search for him and retrieve him, without knowing exactly why they were silent on this subject. Naruto observed this taboo just as much as Sakura did, even though he was burning to talk about his friend, and even though his dreams of taking him back to Konoha was stronger than ever, probably because it seemed more impossible than ever that this dream would come true. He longed to speak to Sakura about it as he knew that she would be the only one to understand him, but he did not dare – some unexplainable fear was holding him back, so he confined himself totalking about their time as genin, so that it was just unavoidable that they would mention Sasuke, and Sakura's smile when this happened was enough for him.

Kakashi would smile too, faintly, he was still very weak, spoke little, and soemtimes fell asleep wihile his too former students were talking, and just as with Tsunade, Naruto feared that he would never fully recover. Jiraya dead, Tsunade and Kakashi badly wounded and maybe invalid for the rest of their lives – Naruto's life had suddenly taken a turn to the worse, and he did not want to think that it might never change again and get better. It must bot be, he thought. And Sasuke was far away and might never come back.

He thought of the events of this mornings – another turn to the worse – and how he might tell Sakura about as he ascended the stairs to the second floor of the hospital to Kakashi's room. Sakura was late, so he sat down next to Kakashi, asked him how he felt and got the same answer as every day: "Fine, don't worry!" Naruto had learnt to look out for other signs that told more about his former teacher's health: He still remembered the joy Sakura and he himself had felt when Kakashi had first asked them to go to his flat and bring him his collection of Icha-Icha-novels, and now Naruto on entering Kakashi's room Naruto always looked for the location of the book Kakashi was currently reading: Was it lying next to him on his blanket, or on his nightstand, or on some table, out of reach for him, where the nurse who had washed him in the morning had placed it, because he had not yet summoned the strength to ring for some nurse and tell her to give it to him. (After some initial reluctance and embarrassment he had come to enjoy this, laying all the blame on the nurse who had washed him in the morning.)

Today seemed to have been a good day: Kakashi had been reading when Naruto came in, and after saying: "Fine, don't worry", he continued to talk: "There is something I want to tell you."

Kakashi paused, and Naruto held his breath, waiting for him to continue, but when Kakashi spooke again it was only to say: "We'll wait for Sakura", and closed his eyes. Naruto gently lay his hand on Kakashi's, knowing that he was not asleep, and that he would be grateful for this physical contact – when he had first done this, on the advice of some doctor, it had felt awkward, but the doctor (not Sakura but some woman in her thirties) had insisted, and hten he too had seen how Kakashi, who had been too weak to talk then, relaxed when he felt Naruto's hand on his own.