Chapter 1
~ Her Duty as a Doctor ~

Sakura's eyes squinted in concentration at the image of the laparoscope to her right. Slowly, she adjusted the angle of her instrument, turning the long, fine needle past the colon to the organ of interest, the swollen appendix. Under the high resolution camera and the inflated stomach, she could clearly make out the redness and swelling of that little pouch. She guided her instrument towards it.

"Careful now, Haruno-kun." Shizune's voice was mechanical, her address formal, and her hands always raised so she could step in at any given moment. "Lay the scissors around the juncture. Yes. Now, disconnect."

Sakura followed the instructions a second before they reached her ear. After reassuring herself of the exact position of the blades, she cut, then quickly used the instrument in her other hand to stitch it close. As another heartbeat pumped through her patient's body without any blood trickling from the closure, she sighed. Minding every pull and turn, she twisted the instruments and the little severed pouch from the small incisions next to the navel, then removed the laparoscope. Her eyes rose to meet Shizune's vigilant observation.

The surgeon nodded. "Well done. All that's left is the stitching." She assisted the young doctor through verbal commands alone, made sure that the thread was laid so thinly and closely that the scar – if one was to be left behind in the first place – would be visually imperceptible. Then she called two nurses to deport the sleeping patient and turned to the woman opposite from her, emerald eyes alert and sparkling. And finally, Shizune smiled. "And that concludes your tenth appendectomy, I believe? Really, when will Tsunade-sama allow you to do these on your own?"

"I don't think she's the one holding back," Sakura said with a smirk behind the mask. "But laws are laws. It's a miracle the curators are even allowing me to operate in the first place."

Strictly speaking, it was no miracle. Every certified doctor was technically allowed to perform surgeries of any kind. This was especially vital for emergencies, where a qualified surgeon was not always on hand. The legal liability, however, turned this matter into a rather complicated one, and hospital's curators generally did not like seeing any doctor whittle around inside of a patient who could very well and successfully sue them in case of failure. So usually, surgeries were strictly reserved to those qualified to perform them, and Sakura could count the doctors in Konoha hospital who were allowed to anyway on one hand. Even the bad hand of a surgeon.

She shook her head. "If it all went according to Tsunade-sama, I would probably be a deputy already."

Now, Shizune laughed. She guided the young doctor out of the operation room. "Well, with your skill, certainly. Twenty-nine, already a fully-fledged internist since half a year and on your way to acquire an additional schooling for surgery. Who knows," she added with a chuckle as they washed their hands, "maybe Tsunade-sama is holding back. So you don't overshadow her as the youngest, most beautiful head physician in Japan's history."

Sakura joined in on the laughter, combing through her pink bob with loose fingers. "Do I hear a hint of jealousy in those words, auntie?"

The raven-haired woman tried to put up a serious face. She really did. She even crossed her arms, raised a subtle eyebrow and scrunched her nose. But then, a snort broke through her tight lips and her eyes squinted as she swatted her hand. "Out of my sight, Haruno-kun. Off to the head nurse with you." She could not help but to wink before she took a turn in the opposite direction.

Sakura looked after her mentor with a smile before she made her way away from the operation wing across white, pristine corridors to the main building, greeting her fellow doctors and assistants with a nod of her head. 'Fellow' doctors, she could not help but think proudly.

A scent of disinfectant hung in the air, and the ticking of clocks and clacking of heels were just as common a sound as coughs from patients' rooms. At first, it had unnerved her: waking up every day to meet with the sickly, hearing their sounds of pain and illness, catching whiffs of the odors that rose from their ailment-stricken bodies. But it was not the worst. The worst was the look on their faces, empty and hopeless; the despair and pain within their kin's eyes. To endure those expressions, to remain strong and positive despite them was what had taken Sakura the longest. And at times, feelings of insecurity and worry came back to haunt her even still.

Luckily, her latest patient would not trouble her in that respect. Akiyama-san might be a lady in her more… refined years, but it was a routine surgery. No intricacies. In the worst case, Shizune would have interfered.

She remembered their conversation with a silent chuckle. Even if she tried, she could hardly remember the last time she needed help from another doctor or surgeon. Maybe during medical school? Those two years, usually four for the average student, had gone by in a breeze. She had spent every waking moment – and some of her supposedly sleeping ones, too – learning, revising, studying, memorizing, imbibing, perusing. And thanks to certain connections, she had had the opportunity to attend and even assist with medical procedures in the hospital from the very beginning. While this had been indubitably an advantage, Sakura and everyone around her knew she did not need to credit her success to this factor.

Up in reminiscing thoughts, she almost bumped into the nurses' counter and caught herself with a quick side step. "Hi, Yoneda-san," she greeted the head nurse who had only given a brief smile before continuing to sort through files. "The surgery was a success. Akiyama-san is being brought to room 401 as we speak. I'm about to go home, unless..?"

The word hovered in the air, and the brunette before her interrupted her work to glance at a sheet, only to shake her head, the bun on top of it wobbling with bustling efficiency. "No 'unless', Haruno-sensei. There head been an emergency earlier, but Senju-sensei took care of it. I haven't had a nurse complaining or reporting any peculiarities, either." Yoneda smiled, despite the dark circles beneath her forest green eyes. "In any case, eleven hours should be enough work for one day, I believe. So go home before someone shouts for you after all."

A grin appeared on Sakura's slim face, lifting the exhausted corners of her mouth. "If you say so, I will not resist. Thanks, Yoneda-san."

The brunette had already turned away, checking a list a bypassing – rather by-running – nurse had handed her with a frown. But at Sakura's voice, she lifted her head once again and flashed a smile.

Sakura bowed once before she took her leave, walking towards the ladies' changing rooms. Some people preferred to shower at home, but she would not spend another minute in her sweaty state, not if she could help it. The water that beat down from the shower head felt like relief, washing away dirt and fatigue alike. Heat opened her pores and Sakura was well inclined to spend hours beneath the cleansing rain. But hunger made her turn off the supply and get dressed. I'll reward myself with a nice soup once I'm home.

Before the hospital's vitreous exit, Sakura stopped and turned her head back. Mom is still up in her office, working without a break. A shadow crossed her lime-colored oculars, tinting their pigmentation almost forest-green. Unknowingly, she bit her lip. Should I go up and force her to rest? The head of the hospital, and yet she always overexerts herself... Her lips parted for the smallest of sighs and Sakura gave her cheeks a firm slap. Enough of that! If Mom notices I'm worried, she'll only work harder.

But what she can do, I can do so all the more! Sakura conjured up a smile and stepped through the slide doors into the May air. A deep breath filled her lungs with warmth, her eyes squinted at the horizon tinted in the fading hues of red and orange. It was getting late, and she still had a lot on her plate. On her trustworthy bicycle, a neat and vibrant vehicle rivaling the dusk's color palette, she targeted the supermarket on her long ride home.

"Welcome, dear costumer!" the vendor called monotonously as soon as the bell chimed, but once his eyes caught her figure, they widened and a truer smile appeared on his face. "My, if it isn't Haruno-sensei! Good day to you. Don't tell me you were working up until now?"

Sakura nodded. "Just about to head home for some soup. And good day to you, Anzai-san."

"No way!" The man's mouth was agape. "But Nagisa-chan told me you came by the shop this morning at four, on your way to work?" He whistled when Sakura nodded upon the implied question. "Being a doctor must be tough. Ah, anyway" - he clapped his hands, the mercantile grin spreading his auburn beard - "you wanted to make soup, you say? Then let me recommend the savoy cabbage; came in freshly this morning, still dew on its packaging! It's on offer, in aisle five."

He had not lied about the dew, Sakura noted, inspecting the various items with a critical eye. This one has a bump. Another one did the job better and was admitted into her pouch. One by one, Sakura picked up the ingredients for her dinner, then made her way through the maze of aisles back to the counter.

"Haruno-sensei?" a voice called for her just as she was unloading her purchase. Sakura turned to see an elderly lady walk up to her, the face wrinkled in a smile. "It is you, Haruno-sensei. My, it is so good to see you. How are you doing? And your mother, is she alright, with all the hospital work? I hardly see you two anymore."

"Eguchi-sama," Sakura greeted, shifting her body to face the other more directly. "It's good to see you, too. Both my mother and I are fine, thank you. It's true, the hospital keeps us busy," - she pointed at the hospital bag, filled with a lunch box and some books - "but it's rewarding work."

The elderly put a hand on her cheek. "My, Haruno-sensei. Both you and Senju-sensei are so diligent. The people of Konoha are truly blessed to have such amazingly dedicated doctors. You could go anywhere with your talent, and yet chose to stay in this humble town."

"Don't say that." Sakura counted the money from her blossom-shaped purse and placed it in Anzai's offered hand. "My mother and I love Konoha and its people. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Speaking of which; are you free one of these days? I'm sure we would find time for some coffee and cake."

The proposal was received with a bright face and a bow. "Oh, that would be fantastic, Haruno-sensei. If you'd like, you could come to my house; it is always a pleasure to have you there. I will invite my grandchild, Masaru. He's a wonderful man, just finished law school. I'm sure you would get along well."

"A-ah, yes, of course." Sakura suddenly had troubles keeping her smile up. She gathered her purchase in her bag and bowed to both vendor and acquaintance. "If you will excuse me, I have to get home so I can cook dinner. I will call you soon, Eguchi-sama. Until next time, Anzai-san." With a wave of her hand, she turned on her heel and fled rather hurriedly.

The further she got, the more she furrowed her brows. Finally, she heaved a sigh that was no effect from the strenuous ride. Eguchi-sama... It's a nice thought of you and all, but I seriously, seriously don't need a man in my life right now. She tried to play through a day in her life, imagining how it would be if she had a boyfriend – but there was little and less time in between work, sleep, sports, the few hobbies she allowed herself to have and the already limited time she spent with her friends.

Sakura shook her head. She really had no time for that. And not much of a want, either, she added as she fastened her grip on the bag. An evening filled with cooking and reading was more than enough to make her content.

When silence was the only sound to greet her as she entered her apartment, Sakura felt at ease rather than lonely. After dropping off everything at its place she started cooking, her fingers working the kitchen knife just as well as the scalpel, and heaps of vegetables piled up on the cutting board effortlessly. But when it was time to add the spices, Sakura spent quite a while with a concentrated frown. Finally she gave an insecure shrug and just dumped a bit of this – maybe a bit too much of this – and another bit of that into her pot. The aroma that filled the air and made her sweat was pleasant enough, yet she held her hopes low until she sat down and raised the spoon to her lips.

The grimace came as quickly and expectedly as always. Too much salt. There was too much of a lot of other things as well, but the salt was so overpowering that Sakura could not name them. Flapping her tongue like a cat, she carried the already heavy pot over to the sink and added gallons of water. Peering down into it, her meal now consisted of nine parts liquid and one part vegetables, but she just shrugged at that. At least I don't have to cook the next couple of days.

After this rather adventurous cooking and eating session, which did not feel that adventurous to her by now, Sakura swapped her outdoor clothing for a light top and some baggy shorts and settled herself in her cozy chair. Her right knee raised almost to her chest and one foot dangling off the arm rest, Sakura homely continued her read of the crime thriller she had started during lunch, chuckling at the incorrect remarks from the forensics.

Earlier than it suited a woman of her age did she close the book and turned off the lights. With her feet more trudging than walking across the floor, she entered the bedroom and snuggled into her feather bed, the thin blanket loosely covering her kidneys. Mentally passing through the day, she counted her blessings in her head until sleep embraced her lovingly.

When what felt like just a second later her pager rang, Sakura managed to keep her discontent grumbling to a minimum. Slowly, she placed the object before her squinting eyes, crust peeling open. An emergency? No, not quite, she realized as she read on. Understaffed. And of course she was on standby. She glanced at the clock and was surprised to see that it read two hours after her falling into bed. Doesn't feel like that, though... She rubbed her heavy eyelids, then jumped from her bed with a curse. Despite her legs being filled with figurative stones – or lead – she managed to stomp over to her closet so loudly that the neighbor below awoke. Not that she knew, or cared, especially when her hair and arms entangled themselves in the sleeves of her working clothes.

"Shannaro!" she bellowed, pushing through with a grim face that stayed even as she entered the small kitchen, hitting her elbow on the door frame in the process. Her mouth managed to remain a line despite munching on a slice of toast, lightly buttered and too heavily salted. And when she tore open her front door and a drizzle greeted her, she was not even surprised.

In the middle of the night, she fought her way to the hospital, through the dark she hated so much. Fifteen minutes in, she remembered her bicycle, locked safely and uselessly in the cellar beneath the apartment complex, and she grunted an unladylike profanity.

Why can't it be an emergency? Then I could go in, save them, and jump back into my bed until my shift starts, she thought quite grumpily, waiting at the next bus station with skipping feet. What are those idiots thinking, calling in sick all of a sudden, ruining my precious sleep!? If I find the one responsible for this... Her expression darkened as she came up with an abundant amount of ways to torture that certain someone until they never even thought of skipping their work again.

Judging by the nurses' looks, she still wore her mood on her face when she finally arrived, tired and irritable and covered in sweat and drops. A young one approached her, oblivious to her aura, and chimed, "Why, hello Haruno-sensei. I could've sworn I saw you just some hours ago. Did you forget something?"

Sakura sent her a glare that could have stopped a bull in its tracks. "Yeah," she answered slowly, pressing forth every word between her teeth, "to display what happens when you neglect your duty."

Suddenly, the young woman had a serious matter to attend to and hurriedly left the vicinity, most likely wishing she could leave the hospital as well. Another nurse had a better feeling for Sakura's state and offered the sleep-deprived doctor a cup of black coffee. Sakura accepted and downed the drink in one go, barely noticing the bitterness tightening her throat. "I'm in the mess," she let the other one know and made her way to the small room where she could throw herself onto an unstable bunk-bed, dozing until she was required to work.

When she awoke six hours later, Sakura was not sure whether she was happy no one had needed her, or aggravated beyond compare. At almost seven in the morning, it was but one hour before her scheduled shift started, so going back home was as pointless as it was wistful.

Sakura drank the nth cup of coffee, forcing her system to spin into action again despite herself, grumbling into her beverage with dark eyes. I could have stayed at home, laying cozily in my soft and peaceful bed. No matter what they claim, the mess' beds are not comfortable to sleep in! A fellow doctor crossed her path, his smile dying quickly when Sakura only glared at him. As he hurried away, she sighed to herself. Well, it's surely not his fault I was called for nothing. Still, if I find out whose fault it is, then...

The balled fist relaxed when she accepted the fact that it would change nothing. It was her week of stand-by, someone had felt too sick to work and she had jumped in because it was her duty. Of course, she could have lied and claimed herself to be sick as well, but Sakura was not that type of person, and she much rather sacrificed her sleep and comfort if it meant for her to aid patients in need faster. And still, letting go of that for naught unnerved her, even more so with yet another twelve hour shift waiting for her.

Where's all that complaining coming from? Sakura wondered with the softest shake of her heavy head. It felt oddly numb. It's either the lack of sleep or overdose of caffeine. Accordingly, she dumped her drink in the nearest garbage can, as much as she wanted to hold on to it.

She would not waste her day fretting. Conjuring up a smile, she received the first patient's file from one of the nurses, but her expression faded when she read the name. The sigh left her lips without a warning and she found herself shaking her head while mumbling, "Seriously, him again?"

At least his face was all bright and smiles when Sakura entered the room. His blue eyes almost invisible behind all the squinting, he beamed his white teeth at her and lifted his left arm eagerly, the right lying at a rather awkward angle next to him. "Yo, Sakura-chan!"

"Really, Naruto?" Sakura ignored the suffix as she had done for almost ten years now and approached him with a stern frown. She heaved another sigh, then waved at him with his file. "You do realize you have been here five times already, don't you? Are you trying to break your record or what?"

"Now, don't be angry, Sakura-chan," Naruto laughed, scratching the back of his spiky haired head with his sound hand. "It's not like I do it on purpose or anything..."

"Oh, you better not," Sakura growled, cracking her knuckles. "If I find out all of this is some prank of yours and you're wasting my time for a laugh, I'll whoop your ass so hard you'll beg for mercy. I'll make that" - she jerked her head at his injury - "seem like a blessing. Understood?"

Now, the grin faded and Naruto gulped visibly. He half-rose from his stationary bed and said, "Oi, oi, Sakura-chan! I said it's not on purpose, didn't I? I'm really hurt, I tell you'ttebayo!" As if on cue, he winced and sat back with a pant, shooting his right arm a glance.

"Just what am I supposed to do with you..." Yet when she inspected her friend's damage, a serious look of concern struck across her face. After some tapping and careful bending, accompanied by gasps of Naruto, she finally said, "It's probably broken."

"Whaat?!" Naruto shouted into her ear and she was quick to smack the back of his skull, prompting him to hold on to the surely building bump. "Ow! What was that for?"

"Keep your voice low, this is a hospital, for damn's sake!" Sakura bellowed, conveniently ignoring the noise of her own. "If you're so keen on bothering me with your constant injuries all the time, at least leave the rest here alone, will you?"

Naruto grumbled something Sakura could not quite catch – though a part of her figured it was better that way. With his lips pursed in a childish pout, he inquired, "Are you sure, Sakura-chan? About my arm being broken?" When his doctor gave a half-nod, his shoulders dropped. "Aw man, that can't be. How am I supposed to train with a broken arm?"

"You don't," was Sakura's simple response. She slapped Naruto's head before he could let out a second cry of dismay. "Maybe you should take it as a hint and drop the ninjutsu-training for a while if all you do is getting hurt..."

"I don't!" Naruto had raised his voice without a care for Sakura's threatening fists. His cerulean oculars were practically on fire as he said, "I'm making progress – even Kakashi-sensei says so! Ninjutsus are my passion and I will never stop, not even if it costs me my arms and legs." A look of determination crossed his face. "If I can't use my right arm, then I'll train my left to be twice as strong! I will become the greatest martial artist there ever was and I will never go back on my words – that is my way of the ninja, dattebayo!"

There he goes again, Sakura thought, though an impressed smile tugged at the corners of her lips nonetheless as she looked at Naruto's suddenly straightened posture. Always goofing around, but once ninjutsu comes into play, he's fired up like no one else. Talk about commitment.

On the outside, she hid those feelings of admiration, if only to keep himself from further injuries. With a seemingly uncaring sigh, she said, "Whatever that's supposed to mean. But if that's what you're so set on, I won't stop you. Still, let's x-ray that arm of yours first, okay? Maybe it's just dislocated."

As soon as Sakura had palliated her tone and outlook, Naruto's face lit up, his grin spreading the six whisker-like scars on his cheeks. The mere sight made Sakura reminisce, for it had been almost nine years ago that he had fallen off a tree and hurt himself so oddly that the reminders of his failure were plastered onto his face forever, and in a convenient shape as that on top. Paired with his hot temper and liking for orange clothing, it had earned him the nickname 'the fox' by his friends.

Though it certainly has little to do with his mental abilities – that's for sure. A smile snuck on Sakura's lovely face, and this time she allowed it. The expression spread into a grin when she received the results of his scan and she announced cheerfully, "Seems like you're lucky once more, Naruto: It's just a sprain."

"Oh yeah!" Naruto raised his fists in the air and yelled triumphantly. "I knew it! What do you say to that, huh?"

"Congrats?" Sakura's voice bore more than the hint of sarcasm, but her friend did not seem to notice, or care. He was too full of energy and relief, already blabbering about resuming his training the next day. That was when Sakura grabbed him by the collar, scolding, "Listen up, wanna-be-ninja. That arm is not broken – yet. If you continue training so recklessly, it soon is, so instead of rushing into the next training session, you'd better rest."

When Naruto gave her a rebellious squint of his eyes, she added, "I say this as your friend; not just your doctor, Naruto."

The blond hot-head sighed and nodded, still sulking. "Yeah, yeah, I got it'ttebayo." But as he lifted his eyes, Sakura saw gratitude glistening within the pools of blue. He let her usher him back into his bed, stripping to his waist so she could access the arm better. When she placed her hands on his shoulder, he hissed. "I hate this..."

She could not help but grin. "Oh, come on, Naruto. This should be a common procedure to you by now; how many times have I relocated your right arm now?"

"Ten times," Naruto responded surprisingly quickly. "And seven times the left one. And it still hurts like hell every time."

"Well, then be more – careful!" she advised, pushing at the according points so the limb sprung back into its joint. Naruto let out a brief scream. Sakura pat his back, then evaded just in time before a sudden hug engulfed her in the man's arms.

Naruto pouted, arms curling around empty air. "Come on, Sakura-chan. We're friends."

"Yes, friends," Sakura repeated. She disliked this. "Just friends, Naruto." She refrained from rolling her eyes when Naruto blabbered something about his 'sincere feelings' and instead turned to the door. "Well, you can go home now. Please try not to come again, at least not so soon. Maybe I should teach Kakashi-sensei how to relocate limbs and joints, it would save me some trouble." When her patient and friend protested loudly, she allowed for a chuckle.

It was the last one for many hours. A series of emergencies flooded the hospital, having Sakura rush from one room to the next, her feet hurting and her head throbbing from all the concentration she was forced to work up. She regretted not having finished her final coffee. Her shift got prolonged by two hours, and even when she was allowed to leave she had to dodge several interns looking for help on how to install a catheter or other similarly trivial matters. Skipping her usual shower, Sakura almost fled from the hospital, feeling exhausted and drained.

For the second time that day, she lamented the absence of her bike. Not only were her muscles stiff and sore and her head spinning, it was still raining. To top it off, there seemed to be difficulties pertaining the public transport, leaving her no choice but to walk the route that usually took her forty minutes per bicycle. Her hair was drenched in a mixture of rain and sweat, and she had to squint her eyes to see despite the burning sensation. What a day... All I want to do is get home and take a shower. Screw that, Sakura added as she kicked a lonesome pebble away, I'll take a bath.

Just as she contemplated wasting money on a taxi, a violent coughing startled her. On instinct, Sakura stopped and whipped her head around, locating the source of the worrisome sound to be the dark, narrow alleyway to her right. She frowned. Konoha was a decent place, yet the occasional thug and drug addict loitered around as well – and said alleyway seemed like just the perfect place for those people. She strained to listen, but when no further sound reached her ears, she almost laughed at her own silliness. I really need to get home; I'm hearing things.

So she thought, but then the coughing occurred once again – this time paired with the distinct sound of something splattering onto the ground – and Sakura found herself turning back towards the alley, hurrying inside with a heavily beating heart. "Hello?" Her voice echoed from the dirty walls, but another hack was her only answer. Her stomach curled up, hot and worried. Without much of a thought, she increased her speed and dashed around a corner, her fingers fumbling for the wall to stabilize herself in order to stare at the sight in front of her.

Curling on the ground hunched a man with wild, raven hair. His black clothes were torn and stained and his knees covered in a shining liquid, unidentifiable beneath the rain and dark. He groaned, moving forward inch by inch, his head almost scraping the ground. A gurgling cough went through his body, and even the hand pressed before his mouth could not hide the blood surging out.

Dropping her belongings, Sakura rushed towards the stranger and knelt beside him. "Calm down, I'm a doctor. Stay still so I can inspect you. What has happened?" The words left her mouth easily; they were routine, a trained one, at least, and her hands were steady as she tried to hold the wounded one.

The man flung his arm at her, the back of his hand slapped her cheek. Sakura cursed internally, and a grim look crossed her face as she watched him struggle against her for a moment. Then I'll do it the hard way.

While making sure not to use too much pressure she took hold of his hand, gave it a martial twist and turned him to the side. As his torso became visible for her, a gasp left her mouth. What she had first believed to be simply torn clothing from a homeless person were the entrance and emergence points of several bullets, paired with long cuts that must have been slashed across his body multiple times.

He was attacked. The thought came rather rationally to her, without any form of terror. Her brain felt like it was on ice. She was used to the sight of injured people, being exposed to it on a daily basis, but this was a new thing: She ought to be shocked, frightened by the cruelty, but her trained mind blocked her from the fear that would leave her paralyzed. Instead, Sakura lifted the patient's head, to inspect whether damage had been done to the face as well. She had to communicate with him, if he was still able to.

But when she met his eyes, her body froze. Black, darker than the night even, as onyx-colored as his peculiar hair and the pupil no longer discernible. Strong. Repellent. Lonely. They immobilized her as he stared right down into her soul, searching through her being without a care for her consent. It was violation, intimate and frightening. She felt his icy glare racing, shaking over her as he devoured her, like a predator its prey.

Yet nonetheless, she also felt warmth. Not from his eyes, but within her own body, rising quietly yet steadily. Like a blanket wrapping itself around her. Looking into his eyes, she felt... home.

Sakura shook her head to clear it; she did not know this man. And yet, as she looked back at him, she felt how she trusted him. Whatever his story was, whomever he might be - she wanted to help him. And not only because she was a doctor.

"... off..." She could barely hear his voice, released from the bloody, pale lips. Sakura bent forward, her ear directed towards his mouth. The man gulped, groaned, coughed, before he worked up the energy to speak again. "Piss... off..."

Sakura's frown deepened. Did I hear him right? "I'm a doctor." She repeated it, in case he had not heard her right.

"Don't... care..." The words left his mouth accompanied by a gush of blood sputtering over his chin and throat, but his eyes glared at her with more strength than she would credit a man in his state. Once more, he tried to push her away.

But Sakura was a doctor, no matter if he cared or not. With two skilled grips, she pressed his arms back, while at the same time pulling out her cell phone. She speed-dialed the number to the Konoha Hospital, and as soon as the line was picked up she ordered, "This is Haruno Sakura. Send an ambulance to Konoha 7-2 immediately. I found a man, stabbed and shot, in the alley behind the carpenter's workshop. I will provide first aid until you get here."

"Yes, Haruno-sensei," the voice at the other line answered. "7-2, right? We'll be on our way at once."

She closed the call and flung the phone away, trying to hold the struggling man down. "Keep still. If you move like that, you'll only lose more blood. I said keep still!" She had raised her voice without even realizing, and finally it started shaking in panic.

"And I said... piss off," he spat out between gritted teeth. There was a fire in his eyes, wild and unpredictable. With a force he was not supposed to have, he broke free from her grip and shoved against her, but his body failed him in the last second and his hands slid off, sending his head bumping against Sakura's chest.

The doctor wasted no second. She grabbed for her bag, drawing out the first-aid kit she always carried with her. Her fingers found the gauze and scissors, and with a twisting of her arm, she made the man fall into her lap. I have to tie the worst wounds first. An easy thought, but not as easy to follow through with; the lacerations were not as severe, she judged, but the gunshot lesions worried her. Two were close to his heart, another one near his stomach. If either region had been hit dead-on, all her help would be for naught.

She shook her head. No, no, don't falter. I can save him. I will save him. With a gulp, she suppressed the bile that was creeping up her throat and set to tying the gauze closely around his chest. Immediately, the white fabric turned red, but Sakura kept wrapping layer for layer until it was tight and secure. The man groaned, and the hands that had pushed her away just moments ago now clawed at her arms and back. His body could no longer hide its torment and his eyes were tightly shut. He convulsed.

Sakura bit her lip. "I will give you something against the pain. Hold still." She had to put the analgetic into the syringe first, and every second she took, another violent surge shook him.

"Finally," she breathed. His constant twitching made it hard for her to keep his arm still enough for the injection, but with a snatch of her hand did she manage. As she poured the medicine into his body, a scream left his mouth, resonating within her ears. "It'll be over soon," she tried to calm him down, but she was not sure whether he heard her beneath his calls of agony.

The sound of sirens was like music in her ears. Only seconds later, several emergency doctors hurried around the corner, a barrow behind them. "Haruno-san!" one of them called and fell onto his knees next to her. "What's his status?"

Sakura reported what little she knew. "We need to get him to the hospital immediately," she ended, stressing every syllable. At the same time, assistants heaved him onto the stretcher, one person fully busy keeping the wildly punching and screaming man still enough. Her stomach clenched. Shouldering her bad, she said, "I will take care of him. Take me with you."

"Haruno-san?" The doctor eyed her with doubt. "You just worked a fourteen-hour shift. It might be better if you take some rest and -"

"I will take care of him." There was no added stress on the words; the look in her eyes was enough to convince her colleague. With a nod, he ushered her to hurry after the team, and she had barely jumped into the ambulance that the driver started off and headed for the hospital. During the ride, her patient slowly calmed down as the painkillers seemed to kick in. But his forehead was drenched in sweat and the eyeballs behind his lids moved rapidly.

Intuitively, Sakura took hold of his hand, cold and clammy. "You'll be fine. We'll fix you, don't worry." But as her eyes were examining his unresponsive body, she did not know whether these words were meant for him or herself.