Description: Sakura is not sure where Sasuke now exists on the spectrum of right and wrong or whether it is even that simple. A canvas has the potential to be many things. Sasu/Saku.
Chapter 1: Arrival
I do not own Naruto.
Sakura looked outside and saw grey. It had been raining for a week, and even now, there did not seem to be an end in sight. Without enthusiasm, Sakura directed her focus back to the paperwork on her desk. She would work into the late hours of the night, working hard to reduce the pile, only to arrive early the next morning to see it had grown overnight. She felt like a mouse on a wheel. Round and round and round.
It was on slow days like these that Sakura's thoughts often wandered to the war. What had been gained by it? The nations (hidden villages) had banded together to face the forces of Uchiha Madara and these alliances were still withstanding today, years later. The third ninja war had ignited the very thing Madara and Pein had fought for – peace.
At a very large cost.
Hundreds of thousands of ninjas, civilians and soldiers alike had died, perhaps even nearing the millions. Though there were no exact figures. Each village had been responsible for collecting their dead. However, with the number of attacks increasing throughout the war, honourable intentions and traditions soon fell to the wayside. They were forced to make way for survival. Many bodies had laid unclaimed on the battle fields.
Though the bodies were now gone, the landscape still told stories of battles that had been fought. Konoha still wore the scars of Pein's last fight. But there was hope yet. New buildings were being erected over the old rubble. People were working together, not to rebuild what once was, Sakura thought, but to build something new. This would be the beginning of a new era, she hoped, the era of tolerance.
The single guard on watch was leaning back on his rear chair legs, with a foot tapping to the quiet music from the radio. He idly turned a page of his magazine.
Suddenly, there was a soft rustle. The guard dog-eared his page, turned music down slightly, and looked about from behind his desk.
The bright moon provided ample light, and gave the afternoon rain still present on the cobblestones at the western gate entrance a reflective appearance.
There was no one in sight.
Shaking his head slightly, the guard leaned back in his chair and began reading again.
This time, the sound was more distinct and ...closer?
The guard turned the volume down completely and got up from his chair, the sound of the front legs hitting the concrete created an audible tap. He stretched his neck right outside the open booth that was his desk, and looked around. The smell of rain filled his nostrils, and something else he could not quite place, something plant-like. Pine?
The streets were clear.
The guard returned to his seat, but he did not turn the music back on nor did he pick up his book. He was unnerved. He was convinced, even over the music, that there had been the sound of cloth swishing ever so slightly, or it could even have been the sound one makes when leaping down from a tree with leaves...which would explain that scent...Pine.
His hands began shaking and he cursed himself quietly for being irrational. This was ridiculous; he was tired and was imaging things. Of course the streets were clear; it was a dark, cold night in winter. Who would be out at this time?
Other guards would be.
To reassure his nerves, the guard looked up at the pathways along the walls near the gate, where other guards should have been patrolling.
No one was there.
A chill ran down the length of the guard's spine and surged through his arms and legs. His blood felt like ice, and his heartbeat sounded so much louder in his ears.
Trying to appear as though there was no reason for alarm, the guard leaned over his desk and picked up the magazine, all the while pressing a red button underneath the desk.
"That won't work," said a low, quiet voice from a corner in the booth.
The guard spun around and saw a dark figure in a cloak. The hood prevented him from seeing a face, even in the dim light from the desk lamp.
The guard was momentarily speechless, frozen in place. Then with bravado he didn't feel, he said, "they'll catch you. Whatever you're trying to do, the ANBU will stop you."
"If they do, it will be after I've seen the Hokage." There was a wry tone in the figure's voice.
The guard knew there were only moments before he was either killed or knocked out. He wanted to think about his family, his wife, and his child, but years of strenuous training impressed upon his mind and almost unconsciously he began observing details of the figure. Build was impossible to tell from the folds of the cloak, but he was tall and this, combined with the low voice, implied a male. The way the cloak bulged out slightly on the left suggested that he wore a weapon and that he was right-handed. He wore black boots. Peculiar scuff marks and indents around the toe suggested reinforcement on the inside of some type. Steel? What ninja would add weight to their feet by capping their shoes with metal?
Before he could take notice of anything else there was a sharp tap at the back of his neck, and there was black.
Sakura entered Tsunade's office, barely taking note of the very familiar surroundings until she realised the object of her visit wasn't sitting at her desk. Looking around, Sakura found Tsunade hovering by her over-sized bookshelf riffling through a particularly large and dusty book. Stepping closer, Sakura tried to read the fine print along the spine, but Tsunade snapped the book close and placed it on a chair, with other papers and books.
"Sakura?" said Tsunade as she slowly walked back toward her desk. Since her collapse during Pein's attack, the Hokage had taken a long time to heal. She had made a full recovery, but Sakura noticed she took more time with things, sitting down, getting up, and moving to and from places. Whether this was the onset of old age or lingering weakness or a combination of the two was anyone's guess.
"I came to let you know the expansion for the new recovery ward is complete, and is now fully functional," said Sakura, pouring a glass of sake for herself and her sensei on a side cabinet in the corner.
"Yes, Shizune sent me a report earlier," she replied as she sat down with a tired sigh. Sakura handed her the drink. "Thank you."
Sakura walked to the window and looked out at the wide view offered by the office of the Hokage. Even in the rain, the sheer expanse of village, the outline of the mountains and buildings was impressive. "This is still Konoha and it isn't."
"Yes. Many things need to change, have changed and are changing," said Tsunade quietly as she joined her former student at the window.
Sakura saw a familiar flash of black and orange down on the street. Tsunade had noticed it too. "But at the core, the heart is the same."
Sakura felt a surge of pride and affection for Naruto. He was at the heart of Konoha and would one day take his father's place as the Hokage. To the village, he symbolised the end of the war and the beginning of peace. A powerful position which, Sakura knew, he hoped to use to his advantage in instigating change in the village. But this would take time; one did not become Hokage overnight. Tsunade and Kakashi were schooling Naruto, slowly introducing him to the elements of the position and the many roles a Hokage must fill. So far, Naruto had proved an enthusiastic and adept learner in the areas requiring interactions with people. However, there was increasing evidence that he was not quite adept or rather, he chose not to be, at the areas requiring him to sit at a desk and work silently.
Sakura laughed quietly to herself. There was a part of Naruto, not of the fox, but of Naruto himself that would always be untameable.
While Sakura was lost in her own thoughts, it appeared Tsunade had been too.
"Really, what are the odds you all ended up on the same team," Tsunade said quietly, as though she was talking to herself.
Snapping out of her reverie, Tsunade looked at Sakura. "Oh don't mind me; it's just an old lady's babble." And as though just hearing what Sakura had actually said, added, "And I'm not your sensei."
Silently sighing, Sakura drained her glass and sat it on the cabinet. "Do you want my report on Nicone?"
"Not really. He's dying because he's old. This is his second heart-attack. I'm a genin if he survives the next one."
"Okay, well I'm going home. Goodnight sensei."
She sighed. "Goodnight Sakura."
Training was an unusual event for Sakura these days. Most of her time was spent at the hospital and occasionally teaching at the university. Even still, she found herself at one of the training grounds on a Saturday morning with Naruto. They were practising taijutsu, and other strength exercises. Or more accurately, Sakura was practising; Naruto was sitting down and talking about his pre-Hokage duties. When Naruto failed or simply didn't comply with Kakashi's teachings involving quiet study, Kakashi organised a 'punishment' of sorts to prompt Naruto into trying harder. Because there was little that was worse than quiet study to Naruto, Kakashi was forced to be inventive with his discipline. This time, he had organised Naruto to train a genin team for few days, an experience which both Naruto and the assigned genin team had enjoyed. Kakashi's plan had backfired.
"He found me up a tree dangling one kid, by the foot, while the other two were on the ground. We were all laughing our heads off," said Naruto as he lay back on the grass, his hands folded behind his head.
"Bet that went down well," said Sakura wryly.
"Naturally," laughed Naruto. "The only response I got was 'put the kid down.' I think he realises he'll have to get a bit more creative."
He took in his surrounds. This place was not as large as the main manor had been, but it would do, though it needed work. Paint was peeling off the walls, there were holes in the floorboards, windows were missing screens and there was a damp smell that hung over the entire place. He made a mental note to check the plumbing system.
But he would make it something worthwhile, and in a strange way, he thought he'd relish in this task, which he would start from the very roots and see through until it was complete. He would not replicate the narrow and closed streets of the old district; instead he would build a complex that was open.
Setting to work, he checked the electrical and water systems. There was serious damage to the circuits running through the house, and would need replacing. The plumbing was largely intact, save a few pipes here or there.
Sourcing the right materials would take careful planning. The wisest option seemed to be the closest civilian village. To go into Konoha again so soon would risk too much.
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