Sakura, Nanadaime Hokage?
The Council heard Temari's audible scoff.
"That's your plan? To rescue Hanabi?" Temari said.
Sakura saw Shikamaru steal a furtive glance in her direction before turning to Temari. Shikamaru and Temari had already had many falling outs, and it was usually Sakura who mediated between them. In the Council, there wasn't a leader for all were equal, but as Tsunade's disciple, Sakura's opinions and words weighed heavily. She was the "First among Equals." Shikamaru's brilliance and strategies had kept their small force one step ahead from Danzo's ANBU forces, so his opinions weighed just as heavily. However, the refugees had not left their homes for Shikamaru—they had left because of Sakura. Many did not agree with Danzo's military and expansionist policies, and others had problems with the culture Danzo was fostering within. Sakura was their viable alternative. At first, Sakura was surprised when civilians sought her and asked her to be their leader. Not wanting to be alone, she assume the leadership of the first dozen citizens who pledged their loyalty to her and to Tsunade's teachings, but through word of mouth and eventual mythologizing of her name, more and more former citizens of Konoha—and eventually of other ninja nations as well—found their way to her refugee camp. They believed in peace, in Tsuande's and the fomer Hokages' teachings. Sakura, to them, became their living link to that past.
"We shouldn't just rescue Hanabi and pray that the tide of war will change when the Hyuga leave Danzo's ranks," Temari said. "If we're going to Konoha, I say we take it all—all of it."
Shikamaru said nothing. Sakura could see that he didn't want to incite her, though it was apparent he disagreed.
"Forgive me, Temari-san," Lee said, "but Konoha's defenses are the best in the world. We only have three hundred ninjas—we can't possibly take on Konoha with our small numbers."
"Shikamaru just said that Konoha's armies are spread thin—"
"And what would do you propose we do once we're there?" Neji cut in. "What do you think the village will say and do when we charge in and take over the place? How long do you think we'll be able to hold it before Danzo and his armies return?"
Temari bit her lower lip. She was trying to keep it from trembling.
"You know, Neji," she said, "I would expect that rhetoric from Shikamaru, but never from you."
"Temari," Shikamaru said, "whether we like it or not, Danzo was legitimately chosen to be Hokage by the Elders and the village. Orochimaru attacked our village, you remember? You were there. And three years later, Pain attacked. The people just want peace, stability."
"But what about our peace, our stability?"
"If we invade Konoha and attempt a coup," Shikamaru said, "we're no better than Danzo. We'll lose our moral standing."
"Moral standing?" Temari said, standing up from her chair. "Moral standing?" She looked at everyone's faces and walked to the center of the room, stepping over the map of the Five Great Nations. She didn't raise her voice, but her eyes narrowed, her speech slowed, and her words were cold. "Konoha lost its moral standing a long time ago," Temari said. She pointed to the map, to every single line that delineated military campaigns that spread from the Land of Fire to the surrounding nations. "I'm with you—all of you. If you want to go to Konoha and rescue Hanabi, I'll put my life on the line just like every single one of you, but I think it's time that all of you accept that the Konoha you knew, the Konoha you loved, is gone. We're living in a different world now, and it's about time all of you accept it."
Temari walked back to her chair and resumed her seat.
There was silence.
Sakura shifted in her seat. She understood Temari. She knew that the world she had grown up in had changed, that the constant war had hardened people's hearts and minds in ways she never deemed possible. Brother killing brother, husband killing wife, mother killing her own children: such news had become terribly commonplace, and all acts were committed without the slightest modicum of remorse or guilt. Perhaps it was wrong of her to try and cover the sun with a finger—life in the refugee camp was hard; people suffered and managed to eke out a meager living through serious deprivations, but in spite of it all, Sakura heard the laughter and saw the smiles on people's faces. They were happy. In a world full of despair and hopelessness, they were happy. She tried her best to put in practice Tsunade's teachings, to govern with justice and equality and freedom, but with War and Death constantly around them, how long would their peace last?
"If we invade Konoha," Shino said, "we condemn our clans to death."
Sakura turned to the map. Arrows were colored and displayed where the different clans were deployed. Danzo utilized every clan's ability to his advantage. He sent them to specific territories around the ninja world where their unique abilities could be maximized. However, if Sakura and the group invaded Konoha, they would have to interrupt Konoha's lines of communication and Danzo would be forced to cut supply lines to the troops in order to retake Konoha. Incommunicado, the clans would have to fend for themselves inside hostile enemy territory without reinforcements, food, or directions on how to proceed. They would be forced to retreat, and like any unplanned and hasty retreat, their chances of escape would be limited, and their chances of survival would be close to nil.
Sakura looked up at those who belonged to clans: Kiba Inuzuka, Neji Hyuga, Shikamaru Nara, and Shino Aburame. Would they allow their relatives' lives to hang in a tenuous thread for their beliefs and ideology?
"Then that's a sacrifice you need to make," Temari said.
Kiba, Neji, and Shino glared at Temari.
"I will not condemn the Hyuga to death!" Neji said. The faces of the others stated the same sentiment.
Temari looked down at the map. She crossed her legs and neatly folded her hands over her knees.
"You will not condemn your clan to death," Temari said, looking up at Neji, "yet, you have no problem allowing your clans to kill in the name of Konoha."
"I don't need to hear this," Kiba said. Akamaru barked as well.
"No," Temari said, "you will hear me. When Konoha invaded my country, my two brothers fought for her sovereignty. I lost both, but I'm proud that they died honorably defending our country. Sunagakure could not have asked for more from them. I understand the rules of war, and it still pains me that my country was a pawn in Orochimaru's plans to destroy Konoha, but Sunagakure was honorable in her invasion. We attacked your shinobi, never your citizens. But what I saw when Konoha invaded Sunagakure was an abomination. Your Genins are being forged on the battlefield and have no respect or value for human life. Danzo has perverted how a shinobi should be. But I was lucky: I was a ninja. I could defend myself. Other women, unfortunately, could not."
"I will not stand idle while Konoha's name is mired in filth!" Neji said, standing up. He fully activated his Byakugan.
"Whether you like it or not, your clans have raped, pillaged, and burned everything in their path with no regard for anyone's life except their own."
Neji's fists were visibly full of chakra. His hands trembled, but he was restrained by Shikamaru's Kagemane no jutsu.
"And you know what the worst part is," Temari said, "all of you know it. All of you know it's true, but you refuse to believe it." She turned her face and ran her hand underneath her eye. "What are we doing? Seriously? I joined your group to fight Danzo, to establish peace between Konoha and Sunagakure, but instead we sit and we wait for the possibility that one day Naruto might return."
"Naruto is coming back," Sakura said.
The Council turned their attention toward her. She hadn't said anything during the altercation because she agreed with both sides. She hated what Konoha had become under Danzo's rule, but she still couldn't bring herself to fight her own countrymen.
"Naruto," Sakura said, "has saved Konoha many times. Because of him, we were able to get Tsunade-sama as Godaime Hokage. Because of him, we were able to fight and defeat the Akatsuki. And because of him, Pain was defeated before he could completely destroy Konoha. Naruto promised me that after he defeated Uchiha Madara, he would return. I trust his word, his promise. And when he does come back, we'll return to Konoha together and Danzo will get his comeuppance. Naruto will become Nanadaime Hokage. I believe in that, and so should all of you."
The Council resumed their silence. Shikamaru was the first to speak.
"Sakura," he said, "he's been gone for three years."
"Then we'll wait three more."
Temari stood up and walked to Sakura's side.
"Naruto saved Gaara-sama from himself and from Akatsuki," Temari said. "I can never thank him enough, but the truth is Sakura, with every day that passes, with every day that we stay here and only fight to survive, Danzo gets a stronger grip on the ninja world. People are dying every day while we wait for a man that hasn't been seen in three years. It's only a matter of time before all the nations fall. And if that happens, I'm sorry to say it, but no amount of power, not even the Naruto's power, will be enough to stop Danzo."
"Even if we invade," Shino said, "there's no guarantee we'll have Konoha's support."
"Shino's right," Shikamaru said. "War has brought unprecedented prosperity to Konoha. People may not agree with Danzo's military policies, but they have no problems forcing trade and reaping the rewards of indentured servitude from conquered nations. If we invade, will people be willing to sacrifice their possessions?"
"That's not our only problem," Ten-Ten said, "we need to convince the Elders and Konoha's Council that our cause is just, that Danzo isn't suited to be Hokage. We need someone that can challenge Danzo's leadership."
"Shikamaru," Temari said, turning to him, "you and I don't meet eye to eye on many things, but your intelligence is second to no other. You should become Hokage."
Shikamaru's eyes stared into empty space. He became pensive.
"No," he said. "I don't have the raw power to defend Konoha from outside invasions." Shikamaru's eyes darted to Neji, Kiba, and Shino. "And it would be unwise to stir the envy of other clans within the village if a member of the Nara Clan became Hokage. Danzo wouldn't hesitate to use the internal clan politics against us. No, we need someone who has a legitimate claim to be Hokage, someone who has a direct line to all the previous Hokages so nobody can protest the choice."
All eyes came to rest upon Sakura.
"It's Naruto's dream to become Hokage," Sakura said, "not mine."
"Sakura," Kiba said, "Tsunade-sama was your master, and because of that, you are a contender for Hokage. Shodaime and Nidaime trained Sandaime Hokage. Sandaime trained the great Sannin, and Jiraya-sama trained Yondaime Hokage. As Godaime's student, you're the only person in this room that has a right to challenge Danzo to become Hokage."
"Naruto was trained by Jiraya-sama and is Yondaime Hokage's son. He has a greater right than I'll ever have to become Hokage."
"But Naruto isn't here," Temari said.
"Sakura-chan," Lee said, stepping forward, "in these past three years I've seen you grow as a shinobi. I've never seen anyone grow as a ninja as fast as you. All of us in this room are in our prime. It's time for everyone to behold the power of our youth and prove to Danzo who we are!"
"Lee, I'm not strong enough to fight Danzo."
"Don't worry Sakura-chan," Lee said, "that's why we're here."
"Tch," Shikamaru muttered.
"What?" Temari said.
"Nothing," Shikamaru replied.
"It's okay," Sakura said, "you can say it."
Shikamaru shot a glance at Temari.
"I'd rather not," he said.
"Shikamaru brings up a good point."
"What? I didn't say anything?"
"But I know what you mean," Sakura said. "I may be stronger than when I left Konoha, but that doesn't take away the fact that I'm nineteen," Sakura gave a facetious look to Shikamaru, "and that I'm a girl."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Ten-Ten and Temari exclaimed together, their eyes threateningly glaring at Shikamaru.
"Having me as Hokage is an open invitation for foreign nations to invade," Sakura said.
"Tsunade-sama was a woman," Ten-Ten said.
"Yes," Sakura said, "but Tsunade-sama had already been battle-tested. She gained her reputation in the great ninja wars, and Salamander Hanzou told of her abilities to all the great nations. And after she became Hokage, the ninja world knew that Jiraya-sama visited her and the village. Who would dare invade Konoha when two of the great Sannin were there to protect her? It's no coincidence that after Jiraya-sama's death, Danzo felt at liberty to stage his coup. I love my master, but she had her limitations. As do I."
"Very well said, Sakura," Shikamaru said, "but there is one problem with your assessment: you surpassed Tsunade-sama a long time ago. You defeated Konan and Zetsu by yourself."
"But only after all of you had battled and exhausted them," Sakura said.
"Sakura-chan," Lee said, "everyone's here because we believe in the teachings of Sandaime and Godaime Hokage. We know you're strong. I wouldn't dare try to convince you if I thought otherwise, but you're a lot stronger than you know. I've opened six of the eight inner gates and you've been able to keep up. Sakura, you might not know it, but we do: you're ready."
Everyone in the Council looked at one another. Decisions were usually reached by consensus, but for the first time, Sakura held the power to decide the fate of her friends in her hands.
"What is the probability we'll succeed?" Sakura looked at Shikamaru.
"Honestly, close to nothing. But if we convince our clans to turn to our side, and we manage to get the Elders and the people of Konoha to our side, we have a good shot of success."
"What of outside invasion?"
"If this invasion's successful," Temari said, "I'll head to Sunagakure immediately. As daughter of Yondaime Kazekage and sister to Godaime Kazekage, I'll become Rokudaime Kazekage and I'll pledge to you my support when you become Nanadaime Hokage. Together, Konoha and Sunagakure should be strong enough to repel any outside invasion."
Sakura nodded. She accepted Temari's offer.
"Are all of you prepared to do this?" Sakura asked everyone in the room. There was no hesitation. "Then so be it. Shikamaru, make a plan to invade Konoha. We'll be heading off at the end of the month."