The victory march was solemn as the brave shinobi walked through the gates of Konoha. All though the fight had been won, no one celebrated. Tears still fresh in their eyes, the men and women who fought for the village walked into town with their heads held down. Tsunade welcomed them into her office once they arrived, but her smile fell when the head count came up short. The noticeable absence of her pink haired apprentice and the joyless faces of those standing before her told her enough.
"She's..." the question could not form. Tsunade tried once more, but there was no way her throat would allow the words to come out. Perhaps it was her heart. Kakashi nodded slowly fighting the knot that had formed in his own throat.
"It was...her choice, Lady Hokage."
The statement made the truth no easier to accept. Tsunade's eyes traveled to the two men in the back of the group. Naruto was having a hard time controlling his emotions and left the room. As soon as the door shut a horrible cry erupted. Sasuke, however, remained stoic as usual.
Tsunade gathered herself and dismissed the shinobi, knowing that there was far too much emotional drain on them. Now was not the time for a report of the mission. It could wait until the next day. "Sasuke," Tsunade called, almost as a last thought. "Stay here for a moment."
Sasuke stood and waited as the others filed out of the room. Neji and Lee nodded to him as they left, feeling that he was hurting most of all. Ino stopped by his side. She opened her mouth and closed it a few times, trying to think of something to say. Finally she gave up and gently wrapped her arms around him. It was not like their childhood when she would throw herself at him. Shikamaru placed an arm around her and lead her out the door. Hinata just bowed before hurring out to find Naruto. Kakashi was the last to leave. He placed a hand upon Sasuke's shoulder and said, "Don't bottle this inside, She wouldn't want that."
"I have nothing to bottle," Sasuke said. Kakashi gave him a questioning look but did not press the matter. Once the door was closed, Sasuke approached Tsunade's desk.
The Hokage studied him carefully, and, choosing her words carefully, asked, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow, but was not truly taken aback. The Hokage was not one with words. "She's...Sakura is dead! How can you stand there like this is any other mission? She meant the world to everyone in this village and you can't even show the slightest sign of remorse. She was in love with you!"
Sasuke allowed Tsunade to calm herself before he spoke. It was odd to hear his own voice. He had not spoken since his encounter in the forest, and now his voice sounded hoarse and his throat felt strained. "If there is one thing I have learned on this mission, it is that death is not always permanent." Tsuande reeled back from his remark. "But I've actually learned two things."
"Explain yourself, now."
"She isn't gone for good. I will be executing a solo mission in three days to find something called the ethereal light."
Tsunade felt more perplexed then before. However, one thing stuck in her mind. She isn't gone for good.
"I wont try and stop you," Tsunade said after a moment. "But take Naruto with you."
"Excuse me?" It wasn't unusual for Sasuke to fight with her on orders, but this involved Sakura. Tsunade felt like Naruto, and perhaps even Kakashi, should be included.
Sasuke did not want to explain, but he knew better then not to. Fighting the Hokage meant dealing with some one who could snap him in half like a twig. "Look, something...I'm not sure what, is gonna happen. All I know is that it will be bad and we need Sakura to fight it."
"All the more reason that you should have some one helping you. The faster you find this Ethereal...whatever, the better," Tsunade argued.
"No, all the more reason you need every available shinobi watching over Konoha," Sasuke argued back. "I don't know when this is all going to happen and if the village gets hit while me and Naruto are gone, Sakura may have no home to save. I wont let her feel lost like that ever again."
Tsunade sat down on her desk and crossed her legs. "Sasuke, I know you have little faith in the shinobi of this village, but we are more then capable of defending ourselves. I want you and Naruto to bring Sakura back, regardless of whatever is coming our way."
"I don't want to get anyone's hopes up!" Sasuke finally admitted. "I have no idea what this thing is or how I'm going to find it! I might..." He stopped himself, admitting for the first time what he knew the moment Sakura told him about the mission.
"You might...fail?" Tsunade finished. Sasuke did not reply. "In three days you and Naruto will leave the village." Sasuke started to argue but Tsunade spoke over him. "The record will show that it was a reconnaissance mission, and nothing more. You will return when Sakura is with you."
Sasuke bit his tounge and nodded. "You are not to tell Naruto what the actual mission is until you are beyond the gates of Konoha, understood?" Sasuke nodded again. "Good. You are dismissed." Sasuke turned to leave but was stopped. "One more thing. You said you learned two things, what was the second?"
Sasuke did not speak for a very long time. Tsunade waited patiently for his reply. Finally, looking over his shoulder, Sasuke said, "That I am very much in love with her." And with that, he was gone.
Tsunade leaned back with a small smile playing on her lips. Despite the loss of her apprentice, she could not help but feel just a tad happy. "It's about damn time," she said aloud. There was not a doubt in her mind that Sakura would return.
This was just the beginning.
a/n Well, that wraps this story up completely. Yay. The next story will hopefully be starting soon and with any luck the chapters will be up more consistently. Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed. You guys are the reason i kept going. This is the first multi chapter story that i have actually finished. Keep an eye out for the next story, Upon the Wings of War. The title is subject to change, but for those of you who have me on your alert, you'll be the first to know. Before i wrap things up, ill give a quick teaser for the next story.
Long ago, before the age of men, a war waged between two elements. Good and Evil. Light and Dark. Right and Wrong. All of these were names given to the elements that clashed. But when the humans inherited the earth both sides decided that they would appoint a chevalier to fight for them every hundred years. One side broke the rules and the other found out. Each side planted a false chevalier on the earth and waited for the other's strike. Now the element of evil has planned to attack, and the only way for good to fight back is for two shinobi from the village hidden in the leaves to find the ethereal light.