Author's Note: Hello, everyone! This is a story that I've been plotting for quite some time, and I hope you like it. I didn't want to list this an an AU, but I have made a few changes. First off, this is a Non-Massacre fanfic, and as far as I'm concerned, the Akatsuki don't exist either (but I am madly in love with each Akatsuki member, so the characters will probably make an appearance at some point). Other than that, the plot pretty much explains any other changes I've made to the manga's plot.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, but if I did, it would be mandatory for all Akatsuki to be naked at all times in the manga/anime.

~ Chapter 1: Questions ~

Sakura stormed into her office, falling into her chair. "This day needs to end, ugh!" Her head fell to her desk, her pink locks sprawling across the table. It had been a long day for anyone who was a medic; three mass casualties in two days was a lot to ask of the trained shinobi. Sakura kept her head on the desk, too tired to even lift it an inch. Her back was sore, her hands were raw, and her chakra reserves were completely depleted. She was going to have to talk to Tsunade about a very long, very relaxing vacation to somewhere sunny and somewhere people didn't get injured ever.

"Well, you better get used to it." Sakura lifted her head to identify the speaker and found an equally as exhausted Shizune standing in front of her desk. Shizune's face scrunched as she got a better look at Sakura and circled around the desk. "Are you getting sick?" Shizune asked as she felt Sakura's forehead for a fever.

"No, but I wish. I haven't taken a sick day in years, and I think I'm due for one," Sakura mumbled. Being sick would be the best excuse in this situation. With a hospital full of patients already ill and wounded, the last thing the staff needed was a sick medic to slow everyone down and get them sick as well. "Look, I'm fine. See?" She jumped out of her chair with as much energy as she could muster and forced a smile "Look at all this young energy – even Gai would be proud!" The two medics laughed but were interrupted by a nurse's head peeking out from the door.

"Sakura-sama? Your patient Inuzuka Hana has been prepped for surgery and is waiting for you in OR 5." Sakura sighed and nodded to the nurse. She turned to Shizune, who gave her a sad smile of understanding. She excused herself from the office and headed to OR 5 to mend any bones Hana had managed to break this time.

Sakura was used to a demanding pace at the hospital – she was Tsunade's apprentice and she'd been taught to handle even the most extreme of situations – but the last days had been off-the-chart demanding and Sakura found that the hours she logged sleeping remained in the single digits. It just seemed like there was more of everything lately; more broken bones, more ruptured organs, more poisons, more amputations, and definitely more blood. The moment Sakura had put together the fractured pieces of a skull, another patient with renal hemorrhaging was shoved in front of her. But, it wasn't like Tsunade was suddenly assigning anyone who asked on S ranked missions.

Sakura scoffed at the idea. A few sober moments would be an easy fix for any irrational behavior of Tsunade, but that would be too easy. Once Tsunade had taken over, she had turned what was a sad excuse for a hospital into the well-oiled machine that is now Konoha Hospital. In the old days, if you had any type of moderate injury, coming to the hospital was a death wish. You were better off just dying at home. With the new the medical reform Tsunade led, everything was documented. Patients' charts were filed away in the medical archives, and nothing was healed "off the record".

Sakura had never really been interested in the medical archives. Sure, they were convenient in case she needed the medical history of a patient, but she never actually spent the time to go down there; she usually had a nurse fetch the information for her. But, after the last few days, with the massive influx of patients, Sakura had personally made a trip to the archives to see exactly who was getting admitted. They were all ANBU or jonin – not a single chunin, genin, or civilian. It was normal for ANBU and jonin to be admitted more than the others, and it was normal for them to also go on more frequent missions, but this was just crazy. In two days, there had been over forty ANBU admitted, an unprecedented rate. Tsunade was obviously withholding information.

Sakura pushed the door open to the OR, pushing the thoughts out of her head. "How's Hana doing?" she asked, tying her hair up in a ponytail.

"Multiple fractures in the femur and tibia, lacerations on the arms and legs, and severed fingers," a nurse listed. Sakura nodded, then did a double take at the nurse from the mention of severed fingers, but was promptly shown an iced bin with three bloodied fingers waiting to be reattached.

Sakura positioned herself beside Hana and focused medical chakra to her hands. After a long sigh, she motioned for the nurse holding the fingers to stand beside her. "Those fingers can't wait forever. Let's get started."

Letting the green chakra cover her hands, she picked up what seemed to be the index finger. She focused the chakra onto the nerve ending of finger and doing the same for the stump on Hana's left hand. Once the blood capillaries and chakra passages were opened, she aligned the finger to the stump and then reconnected the bone, the muscle tissue, and finally the skin.

While Sakura repeated her actions for the middle finger, the door to the ER opened. She smiled as she recognized the chakra signature.

"Uchiha-san, unless you recently became a certified med-nin without my knowledge, then you need to leave," she said, making finishing touches on the middle finger. Once it was reattached, Sakura looked over her shoulder to see Uchiha Itachi standing in the doorway, his clothes and hair ragged and messy. It seemed that wherever Hana had come from, Itachi was returning from as well.

"I mean no disrespect, Haruno-san. I am only here to inquire about Hana-san's condition," Itachi said, his voice was measured and calm; a clear contrast from how he looked.

"And I'm sure she appreciates your concern, but that doesn't change the fact that you need to leave," Sakura smiled, then returned to her work. She knew the Uchiha would never admit his concern, but Hana and Itachi have been teammates since their genin days. Itachi stood in the doorway for a moment longer, but silently left, the door closing behind him.

After another two hours of healing the rest of Hana's injuries, Sakura applied the bandages and helped one of the nurses roll Hana back to her hospital room. As they turned the corner, she saw Itachi leaned against the wall outside the door to Hana's room. He looked up at the sound of the rolling hospital bed.

Sakura opened the door of Hana's room, and the nurse rolled the bed inside and connected her to the various monitors in the room. Sakura stood outside the room for a moment, appearing to be overlooking the nurse's work. She didn't look at the Uchiha standing a few feet away.

"The surgery went well and the fingers reattached nicely," She paused for a moment, then turned her head to Itachi, "She's going to be fine, Uchiha-san." As Sakura walked away, she saw his shoulders relax a fraction of an inch.

Sakura walked down the hallway, mentally going through the conditions of her patients and what they would need in the next twenty-four hours. She walked to the main hospital desk where she returned the medical charts of her patients. As Sakura shuffled through papers, Shizune spotted her and trotted over to where she stood.

"Hey! I've got some good news," Shizune said.

"I'm getting my paycheck early?" Sakura offered, giving Shizune a tired smile.

"Nope, even better," Shizune grinned, "They're letting us go home! All the patients are stable, and it doesn't look like we'll be getting another influx anytime soon, so the whole surgical staff has been ordered to go home and sleep."

"I get to sleep? Oh kami, you're right, that is better than an early paycheck – way better," Sakura said, very excited at the idea of being reunited with her gorgeous bed.

Shizune let out a small laugh, "Yeah, and you need it – we all need it. Everyone's been working either double or triple shifts since the first group came in. Go home, Sakura. You've worked hard." Shizune gave Sakura one last smile and squeezed her shoulder before walking away.

I get to sleep! Sakura thought, still not believing that she was actually able to go home. It wasn't something to brag about, but Sakura was one of those who were just about to finish their third shift. Willing her muscles to move, she walked away from the main desk to her office.

In her office, Sakura grabbed her bag and stuffed it with everything she needed to go home: wallet, keys, weapon pouch, medical pouch, etc. The bag felt heavy as she slung it over her shoulder, but then again, she had practically been living in her office for three days, so the weight was expected. Sakura barely processed the walk home and was surprised when she eventually made it to her doorstep.

She fumbled with her keys, opening the door. Sakura had a small apartment – just a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and small living area at the entrance – but she loved it. Despite being female and a shinobi, Sakura didn't have a lot of junk, except for the many bookshelves of medical texts. The space was just enough for someone who spent most of their time away from home. She kicked off her shoes next to the door, and tossed her bag onto the couch. Trudging along, Sakura finally made it to her bed and dived onto the burgundy blanket. She didn't even bother getting under the covers and slept in the position she'd fallen into.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto bellowed, throwing the door to Sakura's apartment open. Not getting a response, he repeated his actions to her bedroom door, "Sakura-chan! Wake up!"

Sakura groaned and lift her head, eyes half-lidded as observed Naruto. "Go. Away. Now."

"Aw, Sakura-chan, don't be like that! Kakashi, Sai, and Sasuke-teme are here too – we haven't all been home in a long time," Naruto said, his voice not getting any softer as her plied Sakura away from her bed, dragging her to the kitchen. Sakura shook off Naruto and stood on her own, taking in a grinning Naruto, Kakashi with his eye crinkled, Sasuke with his arms folded across his chest, and Sai was focused on one of his drawings.

"Well, now that I'm up, you better have a good reason for waking me," Sakura growled, pointedly looking at Naruto, who shrunk away from the enraged woman.

"We're all going to go to Ichiraku for some ramen, and we hoped you could come," Naruto explained.

"Hn," Sasuke grunted, leaning back against the kitchen counter.

"Shut up, Sasuke-teme," Naruto looked back at Sasuke to growl, but then turned back to Sakura with his signature smile, "Please, Sakura-chan?"

Sakura just stood, staring at the two boys and weighing her options. She could go back to bed, but she would probably get dragged to Ichiraku's anyway, or she could willfully go now and sleep more later . . . Yeah, definitely the latter.

"Fine. Just let me go shower and get dressed," Sakura said, remembering she was still in her medic clothes that were caked with various bodily fluids from the hospital. She trudged her way to the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Sakura looked at her reflection in the small wall mirror and was disgusted at how she looked: her hair was matted down and oily, her face had smudges of blood on it, and her clothes were sticky from numerous surgeries and the sweat from running around the ER.

Turning the shower on, Sakura peeled her clothes off while the water warmed up. The clothes made a smelly pile on the floor, and she made a mental note to wash them the first chance she could go to the laundromat. She stepped into the steaming shower and let out an appreciative sigh. She hadn't showered in a few days and was just starting to feel how grimy she was. Grabbing her scented soap and shampoo, she lathered every inch of skin with the cleansing foams.

Once the soaps had been washed away, she indulged a little, letting herself stand under the steaming water for more than necessary; Sakura expected a very large water bill to come in the mail. But, Sakura's water therapy ended when a muffled voice came from outside the door. "Sakura-chan, hurry up! I'm so hungry!" Naruto whined.

Forcing herself to separate from the warm and steamy goodness of the shower, Sakura gasped as her skin was shocked from the frigid air outside the bathroom. She wrapped a towel around her and walked into her bedroom, throwing on a fitted red t-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. Although she was in her casual clothes, she still put her medical pack and weapons pouch in her purse just in case; the world had a funny way of interrupting any fun she tried to have.

"Okay, let's go," Sakura announced to the four boys once she stepped out of her bedroom. After slipping on some sandals and slinging her purse over her shoulder, Team 7 left for Ichiraku.

Outwardly, Sakura was reluctant to be dragged to Ichiraku and eat that artery-clogging ramen, but she was happy that Naruto had asked. When Sasuke entered ANBU, and Naruto and Sakura had passed their jonin exams, Kakashi returned to his status as an ANBU captain. Besides that, Sakura held the position of Chief Medic which consumed all her time, Sasuke always had clan politics to worry about, Sai was involved with ROOT, Kakashi never left his house, and Naruto was in the process of being groomed to be the next Hokage. Between all of that and missions, they rarely saw each other. So, when Naruto dragged them all to ramen, she was always happy to get some time with her boys.

Besides, Sakura had some talking to do with Sasuke and Kakashi this time. Sakura remembered seeing their names on the list of admitted patients yesterday, which meant they had information about what caused the massive amount of injuries among ANBU.

They neared the stall, and Naruto eagerly sat on one of the stools. Sai followed the blonde and sat next to him, but before the other two boys could sit down, Sakura grabbed both of them by their arms. They both looked at her with confused expressions, but Sakura ignored them. "Naruto, go ahead and order for us, okay? We'll be back in a moment," She yelled to Naruto, who just waved his hand without looking and yelled "okay" back.

"Sakura-chan–" Kakashi began to say, but Sakura quickly shushed him and put her hands on her hips.

"I don't give a crap about either of your oh-so-high-and-mighty ANBU statuses or that I am a jonin. You will tell me what I need to know," She poked each of them in the chest with every word. The two wide-eyed men stared at Sakura and slowly nodded. "Tell me what mission you were on that landed both of you in the hospital."

They looked at each other, silently deciding who would face Sakura's wrath first. Apparently, it was Sasuke. "Sakura, don't be irrational. You know we can't disclose such information." Just as he finished, Sakura grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulling him closer.

"Talk, Uchiha!" Sasuke's eyes grew for moment, but he escaped with a poof, leaving behind a cloud of ash. Clearly noticing that he had been ditched, Kakashi was angry but then fearful as he realized he had to face Sakura's wrath alone.

"Sakura-chan, let's be nice to your old sensei, hm?" Kakashi's eye crinkled nervously as he held his hands up.

"I spent three straight days in that hospital, two of which were piecing together your comrades. I deserve to know, damn it!" Sakura was yelling now. She had just been plain exhausted earlier, but as it dawned on her what she had been put through the last few days, she was getting really pissed off. You couldn't just ask her to waste mass amounts of energy without a reason.

Kakashi looked at her for a few silent moments, the only sound between them being Sakura's angry breaths. His face was serious. "Sakura, I want to tell you, but I can't. Tsunade made sure all ANBU couldn't talk about the missions, so I literally can't tell you; you have to talk to Tsunade if you want answers." Kakashi put his hands in his pockets and headed back to Ichiraku.

For a few moments, Sakura stood there, fuming with anger and frustration. She knew that ANBU information was classified, but they were Team 7! They had broken almost every rule in the book, including ones about mission details – why would now be any different?

Sakura sighed, easing her shoulders lower and calming her angry heart rate. Yes, she was frustrated – unbelievably so – but ranting and threatening her teammates would get her nowhere. They were only trying to be good shinobi, and if something was truly wrong, they'd tell her . . . right?

Sakura sat on the floor of the archives in Konoha Hospital, skimming over patient reports of ANBU. She didn't really care about the names or medical history of the patients; she was focused on the list of injuries in the last week. If they ANBU all had a certain type of injury, Sakura would be able to link it to a certain fighting or jutsu style of a region or organization. But, after hours sitting on the wooden floors, she was still empty handed. Concussion from stone shards, charred skin, waterlogged lungs . . . the list of injuries held no patterns to where they had been and no hints to what they had been assigned to do.

Sakura had been trying to get in contact with Tsunade all day. After a peaceful (but fattening) ramen dinner with Team 7, Sakura realized that what Kakashi said was true: If she wanted answers, she would have to talk to Tsunade.

Her first move was to make an old-fashioned appointment to see Tsunade. When she asked Tsunade's new secretary when the Hokage was free, she smiled and said all day. However, when Sakura said she wanted to make an appointment, mentioning her name at some point, the secretary frowned and said that she could not make an appointment for her.

Sakura didn't press the issue but switched tactics instead. This time, she sat outside Tsunade's office door. The strategy assumed that, at some point, Tsunade would enter her office. This held true because sure enough, Tsunade walked up the staircase. But, just as Tsunade stepped onto the landing and Sakura was about to open her mouth, Tsunade held up her hand and said "Not now," and proceeded to slam her office door in Sakura's face.

She had tried multiple stalking strategies, but they all failed pretty miserably, which eventually led to Sakura sitting where she was, equally as clueless as before about what was going on. While she had found some interesting facts, they only proved to confuse her even more. For one, she found that there was a separate room in the archive that required recognized chakra signatures and therefore was locked to those who didn't have clearance. There only person who had higher clearance than her and that was Tsunade, but the door wouldn't open to Sakura's chakra signature. That was new.

She walked up and down the rows of shelves filled with stacks of papers, but found no answers or even hints. "Argh!" Sakura yelled into the cavernous archive, her voice echoing off the cement walls. Throwing her hands in the air, she stormed out of the archive building and returned to her office; she was late for her hospital shift.

As Sakura walked into her office, she was surprised to see Uchiha Itachi and Inuzuka Hana sitting across from her desk. She stood for a moment in the doorway, her eyebrows quirked upwards, but moved to sit down at the desk. Placing her hands on the table, she looked at the two ANBU. "What can I do for you?"

Itachi didn't say anything, but turned to Hana, who clearly didn't want to be in Sakura's office right now. Itachi's glare intensified. "Ugh, fine!" Hana huffed, "Thank you – there I said it, can we go now Itachi?" Sakura was extremely confused. When had she ever gotten a thank you from an ANBU? And why was Hana consulting Itachi? Whatever it was, Itachi wasn't making a move to leave, sitting perfectly still in the chair.

"Uh, Inuzuka-san, it really wasn't a problem at all. You were injured, and I'm a medic; healing is just what I do." Sakura nervously laughed at the end; the atmosphere in her office was getting increasingly more awkward as the Inuzuka and Uchiha kept glaring at each other.

"That's not all, is it Hana-san?" Itachi said. Hana flinched and grimaced.

". . . Thank you, Haruno, for healing me even when it was my own fault." Hana crossed her arms across her chest. Now Sakura was definitely confused. Had Itachi just brought her in to admit she made a mistake in the field? That was pretty low, even for an Uchiha.

"Inuzuka-san, having your fingers cut off wasn't your fault, so really, apologizing isn't necessary." This is becoming more and more ridiculous, why won't they leave? Sakura thought, impatiently waiting for this conversation to end. What they were saying didn't make sense and it was wasting her time. Sakura hardly wanted to do paperwork, but even that looked more appealing that continuing to figure out this conundrum.

'What Hana-san means to say," Itachi stepped in, "is that she thanks you for using your valuable chakra to heal her fingers that she irrationally cut off–" Itachi said, ever so calmly. Sakura on the other hand, was internally freaking out. What? She cut off her own fingers? It wasn't the idea of a shinobi cutting off their own fingers that baffled Sakura, it was the fact that an ANBU, a highly trained and skilled shinobi, had to cut off their fingers. Things like that were usually reserved for stupid mistakes made by genin or chunin.

"–It wasn't irrational! I had to in order to open that damn–" Hana started to defend herself, but before the words could come out, her mouth quickly closed shut. Hana mumbled behind the closed lips, but then huffed and slouched in her chair. Itachi seemed to understand what had happened, and stood up to leave. Sakura's eyebrows were quirked as she stared at the two.

"Thank you for your time, Haruno-san, and I hope you will forgive Hana-san for her idiocy," Itachi said, nodding a fraction of an inch in Sakura's direction. That. Is. It! Sakura whipped her arm out, grabbing Hana by the arm from across the table before the two could leave.

"I would be more than happy to forgive Inuzuka-san for her actions, if she is willing to do one small task for me." Sakura said in a voice that was sickeningly sweet. Hana quirked her eyebrow, but when Itachi nodded his head, she said nodded as well.

"All you have to do is go up to the Hokage tower in the next few minutes and make an appointment with Tsunade under your name, and then convince the secretary to take a very long lunch break." Sakura grinned. This day was finally getting a little better; maybe she would get to talk to Tsunade after all, even if it meant using Hana.

Hana turned to face Sakura. "Let me get this straight, you want me to make an appointment and then tell some chick to eat lunch? That's all?" Sakura nodded her head. "Fine – but only because you're a damn good medic."

"Thank you Inuzuka-san. Your kindness is always appreciated," Sakura kept smiling, mentally doing a victory dance. Sakura waited for Itachi and Hana to leave before she literally leapt into the air. She hoped people outside her office couldn't hear her singing.

Sakura waited an hour before making her way to the Hokage tower, hoping that Hana had followed her directions. As she walked up the stairwell leading to the Hokage's office, Sakura smiled when she saw the secretary's desk was empty. To make sure Tsunade still thought it was Hana coming in for the appointment, she repeated the ANBU-only knock pattern on the large wooden door.

"Enter!" Tsunade boomed from behind the door. Sakura slipped into the room, closing the door behind with a soft click. Tsunade never looked up from her paperwork. "It's unusual for you to make an appointment, Hana," Tsunade said as she scribbled something on the scroll in front of her.

"That would be because I'm not Hana," Sakura said, tempted to smile because of how well her plan was working out so far. Tsunade's head snapped up, and her eyes widened a fraction as she realized her mistake and who was really standing in front of her desk.

"Sakura," Tsunade said, but her voice was reluctant. It seemed as though the blonde was completely unprepared for this encounter.

"Tsunade-shishou." Sakura nodded her head and gave a shallow bow.

Sakura could almost hear the ticks on the clock as silence passed between them. Tsunade leaned her head on her hand, rubbing her temples. "What do you want, Sakura?" Tsunade sighed.

"Do I have permission to speak freely?" Sakura asked. Her was posture straight and her hands were held behind her back. If Tsunade wanted to place the indifferent game, so could Sakura.

Tsunade considered Sakura for a moment, and then leaned back into her chair. "Permission granted." Sakura walked forward and sat in one of the chairs in front of the Hokage's desk.

"I believe you owe me an explanation, shishou." Sakura said in a very matter-of-fact tone. Tsunade's face remained blank.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Sakura."

"Really? So, you have no explanation why Inuzuka Hana felt it was necessary to cut off her fingers on an ANBU mission?" Sakura stared straight at Tsunade and didn't even blink. When Tsunade didn't say anything, Sakura continued. "So then you definitely don't have an explanation why I – your Chief Medic – have had to piece together over forty ANBU within the time span of a few days?" Sakura let her words hang in the air. Tsunade sighed.

"Sakura . . . I meant to tell you–" Tsunade started. Her voice was quiet and her words were slow.

"–Well, you can tell me now." Tsunade may be her Hokage and her shishou, but it was about time she had answers, and she was willing to be a bitch to get them. Tsunade just stared at her. "You have never kept me out of the loop before, shishou, so why now? Why go as far as to silence my teammates?"

"Sakura, I didn't silence Kakashi and Sasuke to keep you out. In fact, I silenced every ANBU operative, regardless of whether or not they were sent on the recent missions." Sakura's brow knit together. Tsunade laughed to herself. "ANBU shinobi have been gossiping too much recently about Konoha politics and missions, and I need absolute secrecy about what is going on, so it seemed like the right move to seal the their tongues before I even gave out the information." Sakura nodded her head. Rationally, it made sense to cut information chains at the source, but it still pissed her off.

"That still doesn't answer my question," Sakura pointed out. Although she had an explanation for why ANBU had become so cautious with their words lately, she still didn't know why they had to be cautious in the first place.

Tsunade was silent for a moment, and Sakura could see the blonde organizing her words, but she didn't expect the Hokage to start where she did. "How much do you know about the treaty between the Five Great Shinobi Nations?" Tsunade finally said, but immediately confused Sakura even more. The treaty? That thing was hundreds of years old and had become pretty much forgotten in modern shinobi politics – why was it relevant now?

Sakura mentally unfiled the information she had stored on the treaty that she had gotten from her shinobi history classes at the academy. Before the first Kages, war was rampant throughout the entire shinobi world. Eventually, five incredibly powerful and well-watched groups were left; every other group was demolished against the five.

However, once they started fighting each other, the five groups lost shinobi as fast as they were recruiting them, and they finally decided that the fighting was getting nowhere. Each group chose a member to meet with the other representatives on neutral ground where they all signed a peace treaty that would ensure that no group became more powerful that the others and that they would stand as a united front.

When these five groups conglomerated into nations, they became what is now Konoha, Suna, Kiri, Iwa, and Kumo. After the first Kages were finally chosen, they met again and decided to renew the treaty and enact it as international shinobi law.

Nowadays the treaty was just a story and held no significance. The "Five Great Shinobi Nations" were now the "Five Extremely Bitter Rivals", each country secretly hoping for their demise so their country could prevail.

With the information refreshed in her mind, Sakura finally replied. "I know enough, why?"

"Three months ago, a jounin team was doing a routine mission in Kumogakure – a simple B rank intelligence mission to check up on them. But, the minute they crossed the Kumo border, they were attacked by Kumo shinobi. Fortunately, the jounin team had no problem defending themselves, and they eventually restrained the Kumo shinobi for questions. When asked why they attacked, they said it was orders." Tsunade looked up at Sakura.

"What was the order? Who was it from?" Sakura asked. She told herself to stay calm; it was common for clients to hire shinobi of another nation for such things.

"Their orders were to kill all Konoha shinobi on sight." Tsunade pulled out her sake bottle, and took a large gulp. "Our intelligence has confirmed that these were personal orders from the Raikage." Tsunade let out a small, breathy laugh. "That's not even the best part. One month ago, we got intelligence that the Mizukage and the Tsuichikage have allied themselves with the Raikage and have given the same order to their shinobi. Essentially, we now have three powerful shinobi nations turned against us, and we don't know why."

Sakura looked down as her eyes flickered sporadically, as though looking for answers in the wood of the desk. "But if you knew about the orders, then why send out forty-some ANBU? Where did you send them?" Sakura said. When she had been looking for answers earlier, tracking down Tsunade, she never would have thought that this is what she would hear.

Tsunade opened one of the desk draws and pulled out a black scroll – an ANBU scroll. Tsunade unsealed the scroll and rolled it out in front of Sakura; it was the official mission scroll. "Four teams of ANBU were sent to each nation. Three of them were assigned to gather intelligence, and the last team was to talk with the Kage to see if some agreement was possible. However, when our shinobi arrived at their assigned nations, enemy teams were waiting for them. They knew we were coming. That's why I've been so hyperactive about information recently; I haven't figured out where the leak is."

Sakura sat in the chair, sinking into the worn cushions as she processed this information. Kiri, Kumo, and Iwa were all roughly a four to five day trip, which explained why the hospital had gotten three large influxes around the same time. But then Sakura remembered something.

"What about Hana? How does this explain her fingers?" Sakura asked. Tsunade let out a breathy laugh.

"Hana was on one of the teams sent to Iwa and found a scroll she thought contained valuable information. Historically, Iwa ninja tend to be pretty drastic when it comes to sacrifices needed to open scrolls, so Hana cut off her fingers thinking that would be enough of a sacrifice. The scroll didn't even budge, but when Itachi did a simple release jutsu, the thing opened." Tsunade started to laugh, "Turns out it was all a waste; the damn scroll was blank." Tsunade's laughing tapered off, and both the kunoichi were silent for a few moments.

"Sakura, you know I trust you wholeheartedly. In every single matter, you are one of the first – if not, the first – person I go to. I know this isn't much of an explanation, but what has happened in the last few weeks has turned into one of the most fragile political situations I've ever had to deal with, and I have just been so stressed, that I didn't even know how to approach this topic with you."

The two kunoichi smiled at one another, their eyes softening as a silent understanding passed between them. Sakura even felt a little guilty now for getting so angry at Tsunade. Hell, if it were Sakura in Tsunade's position, she would have retired early and said "You deal with it" to her replacement.

Sakura took a deep breath. "So, what now?"

"Now? I don't know Sakura. Every time I order a team to near any of these countries, I'm worried they won't return." Tsunade opened her mouth to say something else, but closed it and her brow furrowed. Tsunade straightened in her seat. A long, silent moment passed between them as Tsunade looked at Sakura with a serious expression. "I did have one idea though," Tsunade said, her gaze breaking as she averted her eyes from Sakura.

Tsunade momentarily looked back at Sakura to see her reaction, but Sakura's silence was enough to tell her to continue.

"You," Tsunade said, "You were my idea."

"W-what? I-I don't understand . . ." Sakura rarely stammered, but this seemed like an appropriate time to forget how to formulate words.

"When Killer Bee was training Naruto, the two of you became very close, didn't you?" It took Sakura a moment, but she did remember her time with the hachibi container. Sakura had accompanied Naruto during his training with Killer Bee, and while Killer Bee waited for Naruto to complete a task, he would often hang out with her. The two had came to respect each other as shinobi and as friends.

"Yes, we are friends, but how does my relation to Killer Bee have anything to do with this?" Sakura crossed her arms and leaned back in her chain, contemplating Tsunade's words.

Tsunade mirrored Sakura's pose. "Right now, I need a long conversation with the Raikage, who seems to be the cause of all this." Tsunade's face momentarily scowled, "I would go myself, but the councel has forbidden me from leaving the country, openly threatening to take away my position as Hokage. Therefore, to get what I need, I have to send someone in my place–"

"–But, the kill-on-sight order is still in effect, so you can't send any Konoha shinobi, and you can't send Suna shinobi because getting them involved would complicate things even more." Sakura finished Tsunade's sentence, finally seeing where this was heading. Tsunade nodded.

"And with the possibility of war on our hands, I wouldn't dare send someone who couldn't defend themselves, so non-shinobi are out of the question as well." Tsunade looked at Sakura for a moment again, "But sending you might work."

Tsunade stood up and walked to a cabinet in the corner. Sending some chakra into the lock, the drawer opened, and Tsunade took out two pieces of paper. She placed them on the desk in front of Sakura before turning to look outside the window. As Tsunade gazed at Konoha, Sakura looked at the papers. Her eyes skimmed the messy handwriting which obviously belonged to a male.

The first sheet was a letter from Killer Bee to his brother, the Raikage. It was written in his signature rap style and told of Naruto's progress, but the second half of the letter solely talked about Killer Bee's admiration for Sakura's intelligence and skills as both a med-nin and a jonin shinobi. Sakura smiled to herself.

She flipped the page to read the second letter, this time from the Raikage to Tsunade. She skimmed the equally-as-messy handwriting. It was clear that the Raikage was the one who sent Killer Bee's letter to Tsunade. Sakura wasn't surprised read the Raikage's praise of Naruto's impressive power, but Sakura stopped at the last sentence. "Your apprentice is welcome anytime inside Kumogakure borders."

Sakura stared at the sentence for a few moments. She had no idea the Raikage had granted her such access, and she also had no idea that Killer Bee had spoken so highly of her to cause such a thing.

Tsunade looked over and saw Sakura had finished reading. "The Raikage seems to have a positive regard for you and Naruto. I thought about sending Naruto, but the council has forced him to stay within Konoha as well," Tsunade explained, "Sakura, you are the only shinobi I can trust sending because I know your skills are of ANBU-caliber and your tactical intelligence rivals Shikamaru's, so I know any diplomatic decisions you make I would agree with."

Tsunade turned to face Sakura, walking to where she sat. "I can't force you to go, especially since I have to send you alone. But, you should know that you would be doing a great service to Konoha and a personal favor to me."

Sakura thought about the Hokage's words. She was being offered a solo mission that had no guarantee of success. Sakura ran scenarios in her head. She would get to the border, be confronted by Kumo shinobi, and would definitely we recognized by her bright pink hair. From there, three things could happen: a) the kill-on-sight would still apply to her because of her affiliation to Konoha, b) they would take her prisoner for questioning because it was a well-known fact that she was part of Tsunade's inner circle, or c) they would remember her as Killer Bee's friend and let her pass through.

Sakura was confident in her skills; Tsunade had sent her on ANBU missions before, and she had performed well. But, it was a different situation entirely if it was just Sakura against an entire team of enemy shinobi. Sakura stared straight ahead, thinking about the offer, and Tsunade stared at Sakura, hoping she would accept.

After what seemed like ten minutes, Sakura finally met Tsunade's gaze. "I'll do it."

Tsunade let out the breath she had been holding and gave Sakura a bittersweet smile. Reaching to her desk, she picked up a scroll. "Here's your mission. You need to leave for Kumo tonight."

Sakura gave a shallow bow and accepted the scroll. "Yes, Tsunade-shishou."

Author's Note: Sorry if this was a bit too information-heavy. This sort of served as my prologue-ish chapter because it was really important that I set this up now so you guys actually understand the storyline later. Hope you liked it!