NOTE: (to those of you who were reading this fic before, when it was a GaaSaku piece, I'm sorry for the change. But this story has kind of taken on a mind of its own as I'm writing it. However, there may still be some GaaSaku in it, if only a little.)

This is going to be a slow burn. Which means a lot of chapters but a drawn out tale. As most true to life stories ought to be, imo. I'm trying to paint a picture and sequence. Let me know if you think I'm off to a good start.

No SHIKAMARU or SAKURA in this chapter. But they will pop up soon in what I hope to be the perfect timing. I'm actually trying to make it seem real this time.

Just fyi, this story if going to be graphic, romantic, violent, bleak at times, and demented. It's an apocalyptic tale set 8 years after the war. That would make Shikamaru and Sakura between the ages of 24 and 25.


Chapter One: Childhood Innocence

It was a day to stay inside, near a fan; instead, all of Konoha was being forced outside while pest control fumigated every single stitch of the entire village. People dragged about the streets, sprawled out on benches, and lazed about on sheets all over the hillsides. From atop the monument, the greenery looked overgrown with large white flowers. Shirts stuck to the backs of all who loitered outside of the local market. Women fanned themselves with whatever they could muster. Sweat beaded the brow of all the little men in red suits as they attacked house by house with tanks of vermin killer. Sitting on the newly constructed monument, Hinata peered down on all of this with flushed cheeks and drenched hair that clung to her exposed shoulders. She had stripped down to a white tank and her caprices. To her left, the group of young Huga children she had been overseeing played hopscotch. She should have cared that the chalk was a defacing, but given the circumstances, she appeared simply grateful to be seated in the shadiest area of Konoha. With her chin rested on her folded hands atop her arched knees, Hinata sighed and closed her eyes to the smoldering view. She listened as the two young boys accused the third party of cheating, and watched as the little girl then spat in the boys' direction. While the action brought a grin to Hinata's face, it angered one of the boys, who was promptly heard shoving the girl over. Hinata snapped her eyes at the trio and trudged to her feet.

"Mikke, that wasn't very nice," she chastised softly. "Tell Sachiko you're sorry."

"No!" The boy turned full circle, back to Hinata, and crossed his arms.

"Mean butt!" the girl whaled, flailing her stubby arms.

Hinata frowned at the boys and told them to sit still while she examined the cut on Sachiko's knee. After healing the wound, she turned to them and took their chalk. They jumped in alarm.

"I didn't do anything!" the other boy screeched.

"You were laughing at her, Nobu" Hinata said, "and that was enough to put you on time out as well. Just sit there and stop acting up, please," she begged. "I'm exhausted. How can you two act so hateful in this weather?"

With both boys suddenly in tears, Hinata rolled her eyes and plopped down beside of them, burying her face in frustration. "I give up," she moaned.

Sachiko sniffed and eventually stopped whining, scooting close to Hinata's free side and resting her head on the heir's arm. They sat quietly, eyes and ears closed to the world. All four miserable. All four agitated.

Even the birds, it seemed, had all taken to their nests. Not a single sound besides the little red men was heard for what seemed an hour. Listening to tiny hearts beating simultaneously with popping nose-bubbles, Hinata drifted away. No sooner had she fallen asleep, did the children stir. The boys looked at each other knowingly, then peered over Hinata's body to see that Sachiko had also fallen asleep. Ever so careful, Mikke crawled between Hinata's feet. He shook slightly as he tried to balance. Behind him, Nobu crossed his fingers and bit his bottom lip. Through his raised upper lip, he whispered through his teeth for Mikke to hurry. The other boy looked back and shhed. Turning back, seeing that his partner was still at it, Mikke sucked in a deep breath and reached out to softly poke Sachiko. Before he blinked, he drew back, and on all fours watched with wide eyes for the girl to rouse. When she didn't, he looked back to Nobu and jerked his head, then scattered away from Hinata. Once away, the boys hopped in jubilee, mouths agape in a silent squeal. High-fiving each other, they began their trek down the monument. The first to hit the ground was Nobu. Mikke followed, landing harshly atop his friend. Laughing, they helped one another up.

"Where to now?" Nobu asked once the laughter stopped.

"Wanna go check out the Hokage tower?" Mikke insisted more than asked. He was already on the move.

Running to catch up, Nobu grabbed Mikke's arm, nearly making them fall again. Mikke turned harshly, face skewered. "What's the matter with you!" he yelped.

Nobu looked down at his feet. His features were drawn. "I don't think we should," he said, voice barely audible. "We're not allowed in there."

"We aren't allowed anywhere 'cause of the spray, dumbass," Mikke huffed and began trotting again. From a fair distance, he called back to Nobu, "No one's around to see!"

Fingering the dirt at his knees, Nobu pondered and scratched his head. Pulling his hands away from the dirt, he looked at the orange stain on his pale skin, then up to the dot in the distance that was Mikke. With an odd expression, he stood and looked back to the monument. He seemed to be torn. But with sudden determination, the boy scrambled on towards the Hokage tower.

Just as Mikke had said, hardly anyone was amidst town. Few people lingered at the closed market, trying to catch wind of the only running fan. The red men, however, were all about, making it difficult for the two boys to weasel their way into the tower. But they managed: a camouflage here and a duck and crawl there. It was much easier than Nobu had whined in attest. The tower was the first building in Konoha that had been fumigated. Knowing this, the boys ran about the halls freely, laughing and playing as hard and loud as gravity would allow. All the doors had been left open and sunlight spilled out all around them. I was also cool inside the building. The fans had all been left running, to ensure that mold did not begin in one of the most sacred and ancient buildings. Because of this, the boys did not tire. They made quick use of the oval office, swirling and pushing one another on the swiveling office chair until they became dizzy. Not minding the splinters that clung and stabbed into their knees. Hide and seek was almost endless, until Nobu chose the filing room as his secret place. The sound of Mikke counting slowly, but skipping every other number between one and sixty, echoed dully as Nobu stood stock still in the doorway, staring at the back of one of the red men. The child said nothing, eyes darting from side to side, either looking for a way out or hoping that the man had not noticed him or his cohort. Reality sunk in when the man in red stiffened and turned his head. Nobu made a dive for the other side of the sliding-doors. Alas, his shadow remained imprinted on the rice paper screen. Footsteps, heavy and not forgiving inched closer. The boy swallowed, a bead of sweat leaking from his brow and rolling over his tiny adam's apple. The sin of his actions burned on his face, and Nobu began to whine.

"Kid," a gravely voice was muffled by the overwhelming mask on the man's face "You aren't supposed to be in here. Breathing this stuff in'll kill you."

Nobu turned to look through the screen, only to jump at the sight of the man now kneeling right beside him. As the man grinned sympathetically, Nobu stared at his bare feet. The man's boots, parallel to his own had left a scuffed line into the hall. The man's gaze followed Nobu's, and he seemed distraught. All semblance of which left him as he looked back to the child.

"Are you alone?" the red man asked.

Before answering, Nobu gazed up at the ceiling. The man followed his gaze once more, and sighed regretfully, already knowing the answer.

"If you leave now, I promise," he offered up his pinky, then waiting for Nobu to cross with his own, "I won't say a word."

"Really?" Nobu piped. "You swear?" He gripped the man's pinky harder and smiled ear to ear. After seeing the man's curt nod, Nobu darted around him and up the stairs, the pitter patter of his feet going once throughout the complex, joined by another set right out the back door.

The man in red watched the ceiling, listening a moment longer before he was satisfied. His face then drooped as he struggled back to his feet. He ran his cyanotic hand over his face and mask, then slammed his fist against the wall.

Outside, the boys huffed and puffed, holding onto their blood scraped knees as they stared over the tree-tops at the distant tower. They had hastily made it to the rolling hills were all manner of Konoha lazed on blankets. No one noticed them as Mikke dragged Nobu to where a group of other children played a inattentive game of shogi. Mikke made haste to join in on the game and, as he exclaimed, make with being inconspicuous, which he pronounced entirely incorrect as he pushed one of the players aside in order to take over. And although he nodded and sat down beside of one of the girls, Nobu continually looked over his shoulder throughout the remainder of the shogi match. He only half cheered as the five year old girl he sat near won the match. Could only stare into space as Mikke smacked the girl on her smart mouth only requiol his dirty hand in pain. And rubbed his sore knees as his eyes drifted nervously from the tower to the man who picked up the winner. The girl wiped her bloody lip. When a cigarette butt fell on his toe and seared him for only a second, Nobu hissed and finally snapped out of what must have been a stupor by the look on Mikke's face. The man who invaded their space patted the boy's head and apologized.

"You okay?" He leaned down and asked as the little girl climbed onto his shoulders. "I didn't burn you?"

"Not bad," Nobu shook his head, licked his finger, and massaged his exposed toes.

"Cool." He spoke to all of the children as he implored them to be less bothersome, what with the weather being suck a drag. And with that, he turned his attention back to Nobu. "You sure you're okay" ?Concern marred his otherwise tired expression when he looked over Nobu's knees as the child rubbed them raw while shaking and flapping his mouth as though trying to form and excuse.

Mikke cleared his throat, starring meaningfully at Nobu and ignoring the man's sudden attention. Shrugging, the man restated his request and walked away. After that, most of the other children fled back to their parents and guardians, leaving only Nobu and Mikke under the weeping willow.

Mikke walked on his bleeding knees over to Nobu and punched him in the shoulder. "Don't you dare spill your guts!" he growled. "I mean it. Or else!"

"Yeah, yeah!" Nobu screamed and jumped to his feet, knocking Mikke over.

The other boy stared up, startled. Nobu ran towards the monument, his crying carrying behind. Blowing his bangs, Mikke crossed his arms, but stubbornly stood and followed after because it was getting late. The temperature was slowly dropping as night approached, and already Hinata could be heard calling for them angrily.

When night rolled over and tomorrow started, day found Konoha in a slightly better situation. The heat wave had subsided and pest control had packed up. Everyone was safe in bed, fans on full blast to air out the putrid smell. The people ate cold cereal for breakfast. Except for Nobu. He needed only to cough a few time as he rolled out of bed before his worried hypochondriac of a mother rushed in to wrap him up tightly in blankets and force feed him hot soup. Her poor baby had a cold and mama was going to sweat it all out. Most of his day seemed to be stuck on repeat but his condition was steadily getting worse. Slurp down soup, choke of mucus, cry. Nobu shivered beneath the blankets atop his bed as he stared through the crack at his door and down the narrow hall at his mother. She was on the telephone, but he couldn't hear her, and most certainly couldn't read her lips because of the dim lighting. But she was on the phone with the doctor, that much he had been made aware. Because she had made him dress for the upcoming midnight visit. Although she was concerned, Nobu's mother had an image to uphold. His jeans clung to his sweaty legs, and his best school shirt was already soaked. Nobu struggled to tug at the shirt. He writhed and groaned in frustration. Above him, his fan whirred numbingly. His night-light waved on and off with each turn of the fan. The bed creaked every time he breathed. Nobu began to cry and gave up his battle with the sheets.

"Mom!" he bellowed. "I have to pee!"

It took Nobu's mother only a minute to hang up the phone and step into his room. She knelt down beside of his bed and soothed his forehead with her cold hands. She leaned forward and kissed his red nose.

"The doctor's on his way sweety," she said. "You need to stay put. You're shaking horribly."

"But, mom, I really, really, really have to pee!"

"Nobu, you just went five minutes ago."

Exhaling in surrender to the watery eyes below, Nobu's mother began unwrapping the blankets. But no sooner had she released her son did the doorbell ring. She moved aside and watched as Nobu rushed to the restroom across the hall. Standing up, she made her way toward the door, pausing before the bathroom to knock. He was fine, Nobu replied, but the sounds coming from within suggested otherwise. Frowning, his mother gave him the privacy he wanted and went to invite the doctor inside. From inside the bathroom, Nobu clenched his stomach and eyes, his head between his knees and tears falling to the linoleum. His whole body was letting go all at once, and it was too much to bare. He sobbed. When it was over, the boy wiped his face with his arm and blew his nose into his sleeve. Breath hitching, Nobu cleaned up and grasped the doorknob. He opened the door only to step into the thick of his mother and the doctor's conversation. What's wrong with him, she wanted to know. And some doctor this man turned out to be because he had no idea. His only reasonable answer was to observe the child to decide how sever this illness was.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Nobu stuttered weakly from behind the two adults. He cleaved to the pink wall paneling.

They towered above him as they both twisted around and looked down. His mother was the first to react. She practically sat on the floor and pulled him into a tight embrace. Nobu gasped and pulled away, rubbing his arms.

"Did that hurt you?" the doctor asked, his voice filled with curiosity more than concern as he gnawed the pipe between his teeth.

Sniffing and letting go of his arm, Nobu looked over this man. The doctor wore a white lab coat, which suggested he worked at the hospital and was not, as Nobu stated to him, his family doctor. The doctor chuckled and patted the child's cheek.

"No, I'm not," the man said, his voice airy and kind. "But I am the only physician who will come out at this hour. Your mother believes you are very sick," he continued as he reached for the boy's hand. Hesitantly, Nobu cupped the offered hand. The doctor walked Nobu back to his room, asking the child if what his mother thought was true. "And how are you sick?" he asked. Seeing the boy's confusion, he asked what the symptoms were. Nobu didn't answer how the doctor wanted, and so the man turned to the mother.

"What do you mean observe?" Nobu interrupted.

"It means, son," his mother began, "That this nice man is going to take your temperature." A long paused ensued, with only the sound of the fan to break the silence. "That's all," his mother whispered.

Satisfied, Nobu lay back on his outer-space pillow and coughed into his tiny fist.

An hour later, the boy was in the hospital, hooked up to a respirator, two IVs, an EKG machine, a catheter, and bawl bag. The boy could hardly move, and his mother was in hysterics as she sat on the uncomfortable recliner in the corner of her son's small, sterile room. A nurse stood by her side, rubbing the mother's shoulder gently, reassuring her that the hospital would take care of Nobu. Hearing all of this from his hospital bed, Nobu stared up at the blue ceiling. He jerked his arm in attempt to wipe away the tears running down his cheeks, but gave up and screamed in pain instead. The machine to his right set off the alarm. The nurse beside of Nobu's mother rushed over. His mother racked with terror in the background. The nurse's blonde hair, tied up in a bun, had fallen somewhat during her fight with the EKG machine. She gave up on the technology and turned to the boy, who was convulsing. Bile began leaking from around the respirator mask, and Nobu's eyes rolled back. Some of the nurse's hair slid across the mess running down the bed-rails. She didn't bother cleaning it off.

"What's wrong with him?" Nobu's mother screamed at the top of her lungs.

"Doctor Takashi!" The nurse called as she struggled to hold down Nobu.

The doctor rushed in. The curtain to Nobu's room flapped loudly when the man practically crashed into the room. He was without his pipe for the moment, and his thick gray mustache stood alone as his thin lips curled back to instruct the nurse to move aside. His name tag, which read Raimi Takashi, shook from side to side against his lab coat as he struggled with Nobu. The fabric around the pin was worn to a mere few threads, which abruptly snapped. The name tag fell into the bile atop the mattress and sunk. The doctor's gloves ripped against the mask, as he yanked it off and turned Nobu onto his side.

Nobu's mother cried out for deliverance as she ran to her boy. The nurse held her back as the doctor screamed for Miss Hyuuga to stay put. The child was drowning on his own vomit while still seizing. The doctor and nurse began wheeling the bed out of the room, and Nobu's mother ran after them down the halls. She was stopped by the security guard nearest the nurses' station. The sounds of her pounding his chest carried through the entire second level of the hospital's East wing. The sounds reached the elevators, where they traveled down the shaft and straight to the exit. Outside, those entering the hospital jumped slightly. They chattered amongst themselves. Some went in, others turned tail. An hour passed.

The smell in the emergency wing was suffocating. Doctor Takashi Took off his glasses and wiped away the sweat. He was leaning with his back against the window. Across from him stood the staff who had been in the room with that poor boy.

"Did you tell the mother?" the doctor asked, not looking away from his specs.

"Yes sir," the young, bond nurse trailed. "She's in hysterics, but is being taken care of until she calms down."

Exhaling loudly, the doctor nodded. "I need a smoke," he droned and patted his breast pocket, in search of his bulky pipe. Which, another nurse pointed out, had fallen through the hole in his lab coat.

Leaving his crew to handle clean up, the good doctor went back to the Nobu's original room. It had been taped off, and a janitor was currently cleaning. The doctor stepped under the tape and took only a moment to retrieve the name-tag and pipe which the janitor had found and cleaned off.