Spring had reached Konoha.
With warm, balmy winters bleeding gradually into hot sunny summers, there was not always a terribly noticeable difference between the seasons, but the sun was warm and light on her skin, and Sakura welcomed the light breeze that came in through the window of her office and teased her hair.
A quick glance outside, and she saw the familiar sight of a village in the midst of repair. Most of the buildings demolished during Pein's invasion were reconstructed, and were in the process of being washed and repainted. Now that all the shinobi had returned home from the war, and things were relatively quiet around the village, most of their time could be devoted to fixing what was broken.
Sakura's heart clenched at the memory of what had been won, and what had been lost. As green eyes studied an older gentleman on a ladder, paintbrush in hand and a smile on his face, she was reminded of what they had fought so hard for.
And that the job was nowhere near complete.
Sakura sighed and ran a hand through her soft pink hair, which had grown several inches over the past few weeks. She was a kunoichi, and kunoichi should be fearless, and in battle, Sakura was. In the operating room, she was confident and self-assured.
But in the political field, she was frightened and nervous. She felt like an erring little genin all over again, because what she was planning was dangerous. Treason. If she was unsuccessful, the consequences would be dire.
Thinking of everything that could go wrong did nothing to help her nerves, but Sakura was a seasoned kunoichi, and she had to consider every possible outcome before making her move. There was nothing wrong with a little extra caution.
Especially when the issue was one of political revolt.
It's the right thing to do, she thought, hoping the knowledge that what she was planning was in everyone's best interest would bolster her self-confidence. It's the only way to change the way things are run around here.
Sakura was a medic-nin. This was not her area of expertise, but someone had to get the ball rolling. She'd lost friends in the war, loyal comrades. She'd lost her innocence, her childhood. She'd seen more death and destruction in the medical tents than on any news program on television, more carnage in a handful of hours than in her five years as an active kunoichi.
She'd seen the results of deception and paranoia played out on a battlefield, with her loved ones as pawns in a chess game no one seemed to know the rules to.
It would be difficult, she knew, to convince the others, perhaps impossible. She would be met with hostility, distrust, suspicion; if the wrong people caught wind of what she was scheming, she would be arrested, interrogated, exiled. Maybe executed.
She swallowed hard and tried to slow her racing heartbeat. She knew she needed to compose herself; it would not do to approach the Hokage with this reckless idea in any visible state of distress. With a heavy sigh that wracked through her body, she sank into her desk chair.
Her eyes were drawn automatically to a framed photo on her desk, half-hidden by scrolls and papers and clipboards and medical texts. A slight smile tilted Sakura's lips as she brushed some of the clutter aside and took the photo in her hands to examine it for the millionth time.
It was Team 7's most recent official photo. Taken a few weeks prior following a successful mission by an insistent Tsunade, it showed all active members of Team Kakashi: herself in the center, smiling brightly; a crinkle-eyed Kakashi, face nearly hidden by his ever-present mask and a little orange book in hand; Sai, with a genuine grin on his pale face; of course Naruto, beaming with all the strength of the sun, blue eyes bright with happiness.
And there was Sasuke, newly-minted Konoha shinobi, staring at the camera with apathy in his dark eyes, ignoring Naruto's arm slung jubilantly around his shoulder. The metal of his hitai-ate caught the light.
Sakura was reminded again why what she was planning was so very important.
Seeing the faces of her boys, all of her boys, made her remember why this was worth more than her fears, more than her apprehensions. Some things were worth risking your life for, and her family was one of those things.
Buoyed with a new resolve, she pressed a quick kiss to the picture in her hands and replaced it lovingly on her desk. She stood up, her chair scraping on the floor, and straightened her hair and her clothes before leaving her office.
It was a short walk to Hokage Tower, and Sakura hoped her new-found resolution would last the whole way.
The mission was successful, of course.
There weren't many dangerous missions lately, given the near-universal desire for peace not only in Konoha, but among the other nations. Sasuke supposed that this was a good thing, but time had made him a realist, and he knew that it wouldn't last long.
Humans thrived on conflict, for as much as they reviled it.
His footfalls were light and relaxed on the dirt path. There was no hurry to return to Konoha, having made such good time from Suna over the past several days. Delivering a statement of Konoha's progression to the Kazekage had been a relatively effortless venture, save for the agonizing heat of Sunagakure, something Sasuke could safely say he hated.
He'd learned to let go of his hatred, but he felt there was nothing wrong with openly despising the scorching temperatures of the desert village. Why, or how, anyone could live there with any degree of happiness was beyond him.
No, he much preferred Konoha's balmy climate, and he wouldn't admit it aloud, but he always missed the thick growth of trees peppering the roads the nearer he drew to home.
There was still some lingering tension between himself and the word 'home.' He'd put any animosity towards Konoha itself behind him; after the war, and the soul-searching, and confrontations with Itachi and Naruto had leveled the foundations of his logic, he could freely admit that Konoha was not to blame for his family tragedy.
But knowing that he served a village run by the very people who'd authorized the extermination of the Uchiha Clan did not sit right with him.
He'd let go of his hatred, but his bitterness looked like it was here to stay.
He sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets and allowing himself to enjoy the cool breeze that pushed through his hair. A reflexive scan of his surroundings revealed no bandits, no rogue-nin, no one who might attempt (foolishly) to attack him, but he was a seasoned shinobi; at 17, he was a reformed criminal, a war veteran, a killer. He knew better than to relax his guard even in moments of peacetime, like this.
It was such an easy mission, he almost wished for a fight, just for something to do.
As he cleared the hill, he made out the gates to Konoha in the distance. Relief, however fleeting, made itself known to him as he thought about the village: even if he resented the elders, Konoha was still home to his family.
A family that consisted of three aggravating shinobi, and one annoying kunoichi, who would meet him for ramen that evening at Ichiraku.
That seemed worth coming home to.
Sakura did not pause to collect her bearings outside Tsunade's office. She did not take a moment to compose herself, or try to give herself one last-minute pep talk on why the pros of this venture outweighed the cons.
Instead, she knocked on the door immediately, before losing what resolve she'd gained from thinking of her Team 7 family, and was answered by a loud, "Come in, don't just stand there."
Sakura smiled as she stepped inside the Hokage's office. Tsunade was at her desk, looking unusually busy surrounded by mountains of paperwork, her pen moving rapidly across an important-looking document. She glanced up at her visitor, and immediately returned the smile upon seeing who it was.
"Sakura," she said in greeting. "I'm surprised to see you here…Uchiha's due back from Suna today, and Naruto and Kakashi from border patrol tonight. I thought for sure you'd want to meet them."
"I will, later. But I had something…important I wanted to talk to you about."
Tsunade laid down her pen and nodded to the seat in front of her desk, which Sakura took upon invitation.
"What is it? Problems at the hospital? How are the new nurses working out?"
"Oh, everything's going well enough," Sakura replied, thinking of the new hospital hires she and Shizune had been tirelessly training. "They're new, but dedicated. Learning. But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"So serious," Tsunade observed teasingly, but when Sakura did not smile, she must have recognized the importance of her former apprentice's visit, and laced her fingers together. "All right, then, what's this all about?"
"Before I tell you," Sakura said slowly, cautiously, "I want to let you know that…I trust you more than anyone else in the world, except maybe Naruto. And what I'm about to say is…I know it's going to sound terrible at first, but I…"
"Before you continue," Tsunade interjected, "I'll make something plain to you, if I haven't already. I trust your judgment implicitly, Sakura. You have proven yourself to me time and time again."
Sakura was touched. Her mentor did not dote upon her, did not show favoritism, and praise was hard won. To hear Tsunade speak so freely of their mutual trust bolstered her confidence somewhat, and she smiled gratefully.
"Thank you. I just ask that you hear me out till the end, Shishou. And know that you're the only person I've told about this."
Tsunade nodded with an encouraging smile.
And Sakura began.
"We need a new Council."
Note. Well, I'm trying my hand at an in-universe SasuSaku story. I took down my story One Last Chance because I should have considered the story in its entirety before putting it up; some of the themes will be restructured into this story instead, since I have the whole idea in mind this time and I'm not flying blind.
Let me know what you think :)