"Here's your task list for today, ma'am."
"Let me take a look at that… Oh no, not again…"
"What is it?"
"I've told this woman that she's not allowed to walk for a couple of weeks while her leg heals. She keeps trying to, and always ends up fracturing her bones…"
"What shall we do about it?"
"I hate having to do this, but you need to tell her if she doesn't stop, you'll cuff her to the bed until she calms down. Excuse me, I need to check on some patients."
"Of course. Good luck, Sakura"
The pink-haired kunoichi exchanged no more pleasantries as she hurried around the make-shift hospital. She was silently thankful that this was one of the buildings that Yamato had made using his wood jutsu. She stopped by her first patient, who was suffering mental trauma. "Good morning, how are you doing today?"
The middle-aged woman glared angrily at her before responding, "You're not my son. I sent for my son. He has my pudding."
Sakura sighed at the 'pudding lady', as so many of the nurses jokingly called her, before going through the same conversation they had already gone through many times. "Ma'am, you don't have a son. You're just having some mental trauma from the attack about a month
"Oh," the older woman said. Then her face brightened as she asked "Can I have some pudding anyway?"
Every day, the woman would smile and ask for pudding. 'Like Naruto and ramen,' Sakura thought. "Let me get some." She left and made a bowl of oatmeal for the woman, throwing a couple of medicinal ingredients into the mix before bringing it back to the woman.
The pudding lady's eyes grew larger as the bowl of "pudding" approached. She quickly snatched the bowl and spoon from Sakura and began consuming the oatmeal at a disgusting rate. "This is great pudding!" she exclaimed after taking a breath, before returning her attention to her meal. Sakura sighed and walked over to a nearby window. She opened it and closed her eyes, feeling the breeze blow across her face and through her hair. She opened her eyes and, like always, let out a sigh as her gaze looked out over Konoha.
Or, rather, what was left of it.
Konoha may as well have just been blown off of the face of the earth. There were few permanent structures standing, all of them newly built since the attack. Pain, the leader of Akatsuki, had utterly demolished all of Konoha, leaving only a crater. After Naruto returned from his senjutsu training, the two battled intensely; Naruto transforming up to 8-tails, meeting the real Pain, and convincing him to revive all of those killed in the attack. However, the former Hidden Leaf village has become a refugee camp, with its inhabitants living in poorly made shelters made of the debris of the catastrophe. Sakura looked out over what was left of her home, seeing huts made of misshapen wood and other scraps of the previous buildings. She and the other shinobi were lucky enough to have tents, but even they were not in that great of shape. Sakura turned her gaze to a nearby huddling of dwellings, where some adults were staying with the children, all of whom were huddled around a large fire, pulling what scraps of cloth and clothing they had closer to their fragile bodies in a futile attempt to keep themselves warm. The children's eyes had dulled, no longer filled with the youthful nature and spirit of childhood. Sakura smiled slightly; the only ones left with the spirit of youth had to be Lee and Gai-Sensei, but even their attitudes had taken a severe hit. Sakura watched as some villagers worked to pull up a building frame, as others further in the distance returned to the village with buckets of water from a nearby lake. Her attention turned back to the construction site when she saw, out of the corner of her eye, the frame began fall. Just as suddenly, a man with orange pants and no shirt appeared under the frame and caught it before it fell on the workers. A few moments later, three other men appeared and began finishing the installation of the frame. Sakura smiled as she saw that they all looked like the first man. "Naruto," she thought out loud.
"No, pudding," the pudding lady said in an irked tone.
Sakura pulled herself from her thoughts and looked at the woman. "I'm sorry?"
"Pudding. More pudding," she retorted insistently.
Sakura smiled and took the bowl before replying, "I think you've had enough pudding for now. Why don't you take a nap?"
"I want more pudding! I'm not ti- I'm not ti-," she tried to say, her head drooping. The drugs were beginning to take their effect. "I'm…not…"
Sakura took a deep breath before washing and returning the bowl. Pudding lady was definitely not one of her favorite duties… As she continued with her work, her thoughts drifted to Naruto. Surprisingly, she had not seen him in a couple of weeks. She had been working almost constantly at the hospital, and she could only assume he had been working even harder that her. 'I should try and see him today,' she thought. 'I'll ask Tsunade if I can leave early.' As she busied herself with work, the time slowly passed until she was done with her tasks for the day. She approached Tsunade in her 'office', which was merely an awning spanning a few feet out from a standing, isolated wall. "Tsunade, I have finished with my work for today," Sakura stated when her mentor looked up at her. "I was wondering if I could leave early..."
Tsunade looked at her student, then stood up. "I'm about to head out to see how Naruto's doing. I assume you'll join me?"
Sakura's eyes lit up. 'This saves me the trouble of finding him,' she thought to herself. "Sure, I'll come. Where is he?"
Tsunade smiled, seeing the expression on Sakura's face, before beckoning her to follow.
"4 men, 250 meters South-West. Help with the building structure."
"2 men, 400 meters North. Accident, broken leg."
"1 man, 300 meters East. Stop brawl."
"10 men, 750 meters North-West. Collapsing building."
Sakura approached a small clearing within the debris. Neji was standing on top of a ruined building with his Byakugan activated, shouting out directions. Sakura looked confused, wondering who he was giving directions to. Her question was answered when she saw Naruto sitting on the ground cross-legged, his hands touching each other at the middle segment of his fingers. He was not moving, and his eyes were closed. Sakura was pissed that he was just sitting there, not doing any work. "Naruto, get off your ass and do some work!" she yelled at him.
Neji looked down and beckoned Sakura to join him on the building. Perplexed by his actions, she hopped up onto the ledge next to Neji. He pointed over in the distance and yelled to Naruto, "6 men, 550 meters South. Assist with rubble removal."
Naruto continued to sit there in silence. Sakura was about to jump on the idiot's head and give him a piece of her mind when Neji elbowed her and pointed in the direction he had before. Sakura had to squint, but could make out 6 Narutos running at an incredible speed toward the site Neji had just indicated. Sakura was shocked. Now it made sense. Neji would look for areas that looked like they needed help with his Byakugan, then report them to Naruto who, in turn, would pass that information on to the clones nearest to the area. "How many clones does he have out?" she asked.
"The first few days that we did this, he overdid himself with about a thousand clones," Neji replied, still scanning for potential work sites. "After a while, we found a number that works for him, so he can make his chakra last all day. Right now, he has about 250 clones…"
To say that Sakura was shocked would have been an understatement. "Tha- That's incredible…" she managed to stutter. "How long have you guys been out here?"
"Well, Hinata and I take one hour shifts while the other rests to get their chakra back. Naruto… has been out here since about 8 this morning."
"Naruto has been doing this for 10 hours! How is he able to keep that up? I know he has a lot of chakra, but still…"
"Go take a good look at Naruto's face."
"What about it?" Sakura asked, looking at his face from her vantage point next to Neji. Suddenly, she felt Neji push her off of the building. After getting over the initial shock, she safely landed and glared at Neji.
"I said a good look," he replied calmly.
After shaking off her anger, she knelt down in front of Naruto and looked at his face. The area around his eyes was a dark orangish color, while the edges of his eyelids were hinted with a dark black line.
"Yo, Naruto," Neji called out. "Open your eyes, someone wants to see you." With that, Naruto snapped his eyes open, while the rest of his body stayed completely still. Sakura saw that his normally blue eyes had become yellow, while his pupils looked more like horizontal bars. She realized that he has been in sage mode, increasing his power even more. He smiled at the familiar face and looked into Sakura's eyes for a few seconds before closing his eyes again and letting the smile slowly fade, concentrating on his duties.
"Neji, Naruto, that's enough for today," Tsunade called out to the two.
"Hai, Tsunade-sama," Neji replied, jumping down to the ground next to Naruto. Sakura noticed that Naruto had exited sage mode, and waited for her friend to open his eyes. Instead, he began to slump over, but Neji caught him and laid him down on his back.
"What the hell is happening?" Sakura asked, running over to Naruto and looking down at him with concern.
Neji sighed. "Don't worry, Sakura, he'll be back in a few minutes."
"And how do you know that?"
"This happens every day."
Sakura looked at Neji's emotionless face as he said this, then looked down at Naruto's again. She couldn't believe that he has been working this hard over the past month. 'You baka,' she thought to herself.
After a few minutes, he woke up, just as Neji had said. He looked weakly at Sakura before saying, "Sakura-chan, I'm glad you didn't jump down on my head and give me a piece of your mind. Your mind usually involves fists." She wondered how he knew she had wanted to do that, and gave him a questioning look. He chuckled quietly before pushing himself up. He was still a bit wobbly, but managed to stand, and began to walk away.
"Sakura, get ready," Neji said simply before turning around and leaving.
"Neji, what are you talking abou-" She was interrupted when she saw Naruto begin to collapse face-first out of the corner of her eye. Sakura quickly rushed over and caught him before he hit the ground, and rolled him over onto his back again. "How could you let him do something so exhausting?" she asked Tsunade, looking at Naruto's body with concern.
"I didn't," Tsunade said back. "He came up with the idea himself."
"You could have told him not to!"
"Since when has that ever worked on Naruto?"
Sakura sighed. Tsunade had a point. Naruto was definitely a stubborn one. She was still amazed that he came up with that idea; she had thought it was Neji's plan. But what really got to her was that he would work so hard every day, collapse from exhaustion, and return the next day only to do more of the same.
"Sakura, I want you to take care of Naruto for tonight. God knows he needs a bit of a break."
"Hai, Tsunade-sama." Sakura picked her limp friend and placed his arms around her neck and shoulders for support. "Uhh, where is his tent?"
"He… doesn't have one. He gave his to a family with 4 children who needed a place to stay."
"Where the hell has he been sleeping then?" Sakura asked.
"Naruto has made a small camp in the forest to the East," Tsunade replied. "He's not going to get a good sleep there. Sakura, I want you to take him to your tent."
Upon hearing this request, Sakura's mind flooded with thoughts. "You want me to do what?"
"You heard me."
"But, I- He- We can't-" Sakura stuttered, unable to make coherent sentences.
"Sakura, Naruto needs as much rest as he can get," Tsunade said flatly. "I'm not saying you have to sleep together, just let him use your cot for one night."
Sakura sighed. She looked down at Naruto's face, and couldn't help but notice all of the scratches and dirt that covered him. "Hai, Tsunade-sama," Sakura finally said before carrying Naruto's body to her tent.
Sakura's tent was definitely nothing special. It was barely even a tent; it consisted of a tarp stretched from a damaged wall to the ground. She was lucky enough to find a wall that both blocked the wind and was uphill so that when it rained, her possessions were not flooded. She laid Naruto down on her cot before putting her own things down on the ground. She looked at Naruto's body; he was covered in dirt, and his orange jacket and pants had begun to lose their color due to the constant exposure to the sun. His face was no better, covered in old bandages that were torn and bloodied by new cuts. His blonde hair, which he had been growing out since he had learned of Jiraya's death, was almost more brown than blonde from the large amount of grime. His cheeks and forehead were smudged with so much soil and sweat that his whisker-marks were barely visible. Sakura pulled a rag out of one of her med-kits, soaked it in a bucket of rainwater she had collected, and wrung most of the water back out before matting his head with it. The dirt slowly lifted off, revealing skin that was heavily battered from hard work and exertion. She dipped the rag back in the bucket, before wringing it out and going at it again. After a while, she managed to clean up his face and apply fresh bandages where necessary. 'He really has gotten handsome,' she thought to herself. 'Well, at least when he's not in sage mode.' She smiled, wondering what Tsunade's sage mode would look like, if she even had one. 'Would she turn into a giant slug?' Sakura's gaze turned back to her unconscious friend. 'Well, if I'm going to treat him, might as well do a complete job of it.' With that, she unzipped his jacket and laid it down on the ground near the foot of the cot. Looking back, she found herself admiring his body. 'Hot damn, all that training he's been doing sure has paid off.' She couldn't help it; she had grown close to him. He was always the one by her side when she needed comfort, he always put her and others before himself, and he had saved her life many times over. Even though he could be an idiot, she found herself really starting to like him. Pulling her mind back to her midic-nin duties, she pulled up his shirt and became even more speechless. He really had become better looking. He had a well-defined six-pack and a sleek chest. While examining him, she noticed that his skin appeared really tight on his body, making his muscles seem like they were about to jump out. She raised an eyebrow; normally, this only happened to ninjas who well-near starved themselves. 'That couldn't be Naruto, he loves food too much,' she told herself. 'It's probably just from not eating 12 bowls of ramen a day.'
She once again brought her attention back to her work. She began to focus chakra in her palms and run them over his skin. She closed her eyes, concentrating on opening up all of the capillaries in his body and increasing the blood flow. When she moved her hands near his stomach, she noticed his seal appear. She pulled her hands away; she had never gotten a good look at it before. It didn't look like much, just a black spiral around his belly button with a few symbols around the outside. She shrugged and continued her work. After removing the scratches from his body, she moved her hands back up to his face. His eyes were closed in an expression that was relaxed, but serious. 'He's probably trying to wake up so he can get back to work,' Sakura thought to herself. She let her hands roam his face, trying to ignore the warmth running to her own. As her fingers passed over his whisker marks, he twitched and grinned slightly. 'What's this?' she asked herself, scratching her fingers along his facial features, earning her a big grin. 'Seems he's pretty sensitive there. I'll have to remember that.'
Sakura had finally finished cleaning his wounds and had put his shirt back on. It had become dark, and she decided to try and get some sleep, seeing as how she had nothing better to do. She looked at Naruto, and began to worry. 'How long is he going to stay like this? Is it always this bad?' She held her knees close to her body and looked up at the sky. Since there were no more lights coming from Konoha, all of the stars were visible. She never knew that there were so many stars in the sky. Looking back at her teammate, she smiled; to her, the stars showed that no matter how bad things may seem, they will always find a way to get better. Sakura was always comforted by looking at the stars. She laid down on a patch of ground she had cleared, then pulled a tattered blanket over herself and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of Naruto's steady breathing.