It is all quiet and silent in the Hokage's office. All of Rookie Nine along with Tenten's team and their sensei even Kurenai arethere. Shikamaru's, Hinata's, and Ino's fathers are there as well because they now served as Tsunade's secret advisors. They were all waiting—waiting for orders, waiting for more information, just waiting for something. It was bad enough that one of their own was taken, but it was even worse that another one of them was being targeted. In fact, it made matters plummet as it was not just one but two who were the intended victims. And so, as they waited, Konoha 11 wallowed in a sort of mourning. The war was over, but the danger had only just begun. Their childhood had become only fleeting memories. They have to fight to protect and survive now.
Naruto is the only one who unleashes his pent-up frustration in huffs and sighs and How?s and disbelief. He wants to yell and scream to the Heavens for allowing something like this to happen but, more importantly, he wants to scream for a mission. A retrieval mission. To bring her back. To save her. To bring her back home. And to make sure she is safe once again. But he doesn't. He doesn't because of the ruined figure sitting at the seat of power.
Tsunade is taking the full brunt of this. She blames herself. Who else was there to blame? She was the one who gave in to Sakura. She was the one who gave Sakura the mission. She was the one who let her own apprentice out into the world when she wasn't ready for it. She was the one who didn't give her dear apprentice enough protection. She was the one to blame and nobody else.
"How the Hell did this happen?" Tenten is the first to speak up. She is tired of the stillness, and she wants answers. And so do her housemates.
"I told you this was a bad idea!" Ino is yelling at Tsunade. She ignores the disapproving stare of her father. "Sending Sakura out like that and with only Karin to protect her! That was the worst idea you could ever have!"
Sasuke watches as the Hokage shakes in aggravation, in helplessness, in desperation, and in decadence. Tsunade looks as though she wants to cry, but she can't because she is Hokage. If she cries then what would everyone else do? Who would they look to for guidance in a situation like this? Sasuke has never pitied anyone more than this lady because he knows that, in her position, she can't do as she wants and she can't abandon the whole world for her precious peoples.
"Lady Tsunade, if I may ask," Kakashi is speaking now. "How did Kabuto figure out the path Sakura and Karin were taking?" This catches everyone's attention because the path was only known to Sakura and Tsunade and secret to everyone else.
Tsunade's trembling seems to worsen as she shakes her head, her elbow on her desk and her hand to her forehead, hiding her closed and swollen eyes. ". . . I don't know," she says after a while, probably after succeeding in holding back tears and making sure her voice doesn't crack. "But if I did, I'd kill those who leaked the information!" And the ferocity behind her words was all Kakashi and everyone else needed to know that she would go through with her threat.
Yamato teleports into the room then, his ANBU mask to the side. Team Kakashi is left in bewilderment. Didn't Yamato quit the ANBU when he became one of the supervisors of their team?
"Lady Tsunade," he bows his head in greeting.
"What?" She snaps, looking up for the first time. Everyone can see how red her face is. "You are only to report to me weekly!" She is furious, her line of thought broken. "Can't you see I'm trying to figure out how to save my apprentice?"
Everyone winces at Tsunade's words. They feel sorry for Yamato who is the center of her anger.
"Forgive me, but you want to know this," he continues. He is doing a good job of hiding any fear he had of the woman. "I was doing as you asked, watching the Elders for any suspicious activities, and…" He trails off for a moment, trying to think of a better way to word things.
"And?" Tsunade snarls. "Get on with it!"
"They have been sending secret messages to someone whose identity I could not uncover. However, I have reason to believe it is related to Sakura's kidnapping."
"Why?" Tsunade is calmer now.
"They're sending the messages via a small white snake."
Another silence fills the room, a fury escalating.
"So it's them again…" their Hokage retorts, her hands rolling into fists. "I should have known…"
"Lady Tsunade, you're not going to take this sitting down, are you?" Inoichi asks. He is the only one of the fathers to talk outwardly because he is the only one out of the three of them who really knows the hostage. Sakura had been and still is his daughter's best friend. As such, he saw Sakura as almost a second daughter like Tsunade did. For her to have been kidnapped, the fact wounded him. "They've been trying to undermine your power for years! This is probably their warning to you!"
"He is right," Hiashi states. "The Elders cannot be allowed to get away with something like this. We may have been ignorant when it came to the Uchiha massacre,"—at this, Sasuke glances at Naruto and sees that everyone else from their age group is not meeting his eyes now, Kakashi mouthing a "not now"—"but now that we know the facts… Tsunade, I hope you know that the Elders may not stop at Sakura if they do get away with this. To weaken your power, they will continue to get rid of those closest to one. They will continue with Shizune and maybe the clans supporting you."
Tsunade's fists are so tight that her hands are bleeding. "Never," she growls in a whisper almost too quiet for anybody to hear. "I will never let anything like that happen! Everyone here, listen up! This is your mission! It will be S-ranked, and it will count as three missions!"
Konoha 11's eyes widen. Three missions?
Shikamaru's father was the one to explain. "The main focus of your mission will be the retrieval of Haruno Sakura," Shikaku stresses the fact. "However, there is the problem of Kabuto still if you were only to save your friend. You are also to, in the process of the retrieval mission, to dispose of him and any of his cronies, if he has any, while also protecting the village in the process. This will be a dangerous mission, and I can't guarantee that you all will survive, and so I ask you now: if there is anybody who doesn't want to take this mission, please speak up."
No one did.
"I expected as much," Shikaku sighed. "You all are so troublesome."
"We'll be splitting into three groups," Shikamaru took over then. "The first group will be our main force. This group will consist of Uzumaki Naruto, Uchiha Sasuke, Sai, and Hinata. It is obvious why they are chosen. They will be the ones to go in and get Haruno Sakura. That will be the group's only concern." He aims this last part to the first two people he named as they would surely be out to get Kabuto. "However, if the situation calls for battle, Hinata must stay to the side as she will be the medic nin for your group. She will be a crucial part of this operation as the enemy may use an arsenal of medical jutsu and poisons. Meanwhile, Sai will be the leader of this group and the messenger to the second group, giving hourly reports and giving the second group and the Hokage the heads-up if Kabuto chooses to change his mind and attack Konoha or tries to escape. The second group will consist of Inuzuka Kiba, Aburame Shino, Yamanaka Ino, Akimichi Choji, Hyuga Neji, Tenten, Rock Lee, and me. Kiba and Shino will serve as the trackers, should Kabuto choose to escape. But if Kabuto chooses to attack Konoha, they, Neji, Tenten, Lee, and Choji shall be the ones to intercept him as the first group chases after him. Ino shall serve as the second group's medic nin, and I shall stay in this in-between group so that I can communicate to the other two groups easier. Neji shall be the leader of this group while I shall foresee the whole operation. Now the last group shall consist of our sensei, Might Gai, Hatake Kakashi, Yuhi Kurenai (though she shall not be doing anything physical because of her pregnancy), and Yamato. They will all be staying behind and protect Konoha, in case Kabuto is planning on luring us all out to ambush the village. If this fear is for naught then Kakashi shall meet up with the second group if Kabuto decides to head for Konoha. Kurenai shall be the group's diversion, if Kabuto does manage to reach Konoha. She will cast a genjutsu to slow him down so that the other two groups can reach home to deal with Kabuto while Gai and Yamato shall keep him out of the village. Understood?"
Everyone gave either a "yes" or a nod of the head.
"Good," Tsunade says. "Now I want this on the down-low, got it? The Elders can't know about this, and so the groups that shall leave Konoha will leave from the back gates. I will come up with an excuse to tell the Elders." There were no objections to this either. "In addition, Shikamaru, you will have to make some openings in your plan. I have three other people I want to add into your team. Karin will be one of those three." This last sentence received some complaints.
"But Lady Tsunade, Karin has only just been healed by you and Shizune!" Hinata argued. "She… She is in no condition to be—"
"Kabuto wants her to be the one to lead Sasuke and Naruto to him," Tsunade explained.
The Hyuga heiress nods her head in understanding and says nothing more, looking to Ino now whose knuckles have turned white. In truth, another one of Hinata's reasons why Karin shouldn't go with them is because she's afraid Ino might blame the redhead for the current situation Sakura was in.
"Now, since there are no further complications, you shall all meet at the back gates in half an hour. Any questions?"
There weren't any but determined looks on the shinobi's faces. The Hokage is grateful her apprentice has such good friends.
"And one more thing before you leave… Tsutsuji, you may come in now!" the Hokage calls out into the hallway, and a tall redhead walks in.
"Hey!" Naruto points at him. "You're the delivery guy for Ichiraku's! What are you doing here?"
"Show some manners!" Neji scolds him.
"Naruto-kun," Lee says, "This is Sakura-san's older brother."
Naruto's eyes widen for a minute, and he is quiet for a long while until… "WHAT? SAKURA-CHAN HAD AN OLDER BROTHER, AND I NEVER KNEW ABOUT HIM! TEME, DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?"
"Tch, stop screaming, Dobe."
"Will these be the ninja who will be going after my sister?" Tsutsuji asks.
"Yes, but you don't have to worry," Tsunade answers him. "They are the best Konoha has, even though they don't act like it at times."
"If you trust in them, Lady Tsunade, then it's enough for me," Sakura's brother tells the Hokage before turning to the group of ninja. "Please! Save my little sister!" He bows his head. This gesture stops Naruto from screaming any further. "If I were a ninja then I'd be going too, but the fact is I'm not, and I don't even have enough money to pay you all for this mission…"
"Tsutsuji-kun…" Ino does not know how to comfort him. It was bad enough for her that her best friend was kidnapped. She couldn't imagine how horrid a nightmare Tsutsuji was living in, knowing that he was helpless when his own sister was in danger.
"Sakura is my younger sister… And I love her so much…" He is crying right now. "But I was always unable to do anything for her or my mother… The best I can only do for my family is to earn money and make sure we have enough to eat, but Sakura… Sakura's always been the sunshine for us. She's always been there and always getting us out of tough times. It still seems like only minutes ago when she told us about her mission, when she told us she'd be back before we knew it… Please save her… I will gladly do anything for you all just to see her safe at home once again. Please… She's the only thing my mother and I have left of our father… Please… Bring her home… I don't know how I'll tell my mother she's gone… I don't know how it'll be for us if Sakura's not safe… I don't know how we'd live if she was…" He is unable to finish his words, sobbing terribly now.
Naruto was the first one out of the Hokage's office, teleporting himself right after he reassured Tsutsuji that he'd bring Sakura home. He quickly stuffed his backpack with a set of spare clothes, food, medicine, weapons, and anything else he deemed was necessary. He was done within minutes and was ready to leave the room when a figure appeared on his window still.
"You're done packing already?" he asks the Uchiha.
"Tch, I have nothing to pack."
"And besides, looking at how much you're packing, I'm set as long as that's not all ramen in there." The Uchiha eyes the backpack which Naruto has filled in beyond reason.
"No, a lot of it's just medicine and some food for Sakura-chan…" Naruto explained, his hand clutches on to the item Tsutsuji gave him to pass on to Sakura when they find her. "I want to be prepared, in case Kabuto tortured her…"
Sasuke says nothing about that. "We'll get her back," he stated, an aloofness to his voice almost sounding like overconfidence.
That has Naruto boiling. "DOES SAKURA MEAN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO YOU NOW? HOW COULD YOU STAY SO CALM WHEN SHE'S OUT THERE IN DANGER?"
"Dobe, if you get so worked up then maybe we might not be able to succeed, after all."
"HOW DO YOU KNOW IF WE'LL SUCCEED OR NOT, HUH? IT TOOK US YEARS TO GET YOU BACK! YEARS, SASUKE! YEARS! HOW DO YOU KNOW IT WON'T BE THE SAME WITH HER?"
"Because," Sasuke answers, "the situation is a lot more different than mine was. For one, she's not there because of her own will. And for another thing . . . the team has me."
That was all that needed to be said for Naruto to stop yelling and to smile. Team 7 was slowly fixing itself. It certainly was coming back together again. All that was needed was Sakura-chan.
"Aw, Teme! I knew you cared!"
". . ."
"Itai! Why did you zap me for?"
". . . Don't ever hug me again."
When they left Naruto's building, they met up with Sai who had also finished packing. He made some weird comments but nothing as bad as his usual ones, probably because of the situation at hand. The three journeyed to the back gates via rooftop, quickly and unseen.
Sasuke hated how familiar the setting was. It was dark, just like the night he left. But instead of Sakura begging him not to leave now, it was him who was going to bring her back. He hated how ironic life was.
"Oh, the girls got here before us," Sai made a note as they came closer to the group that was already waiting there. "They—" His sentence was cut off when the three of them saw Ino slap Karin in the face.
"IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!" the blonde shrieked, grabbing the sensor nin by her shoulders. "IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT! HOW DARE YOU COME BACK HERE WITHOUT HER!" Hinata and Tenten were trying to pry her hands off of Karin. "HOW DARE YOU EVEN SHOW YOUR FACE AROUND ME!"
The boys all rushed to the scene as the two girls were able, with Shizune's help, to restrain the Yamanaka.
"I . . . You don't know how sorry I am…" the crying redhead was on her knees. "I know you won't forgive me… But I am sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't able to protect her! You don't know how much I regret not being able to take her place! I wish it was me instead!"
Ino scoffed. "Do you think you can get my pity by begging?" she asked. "YOU'RE OUT OF YOUR MIND!"
"Ino, that's enough!" Shikamaru appeared then, along with the rest of Konoha 11. "Or I'm taking you out of this mission! You're not the only one who is worried about Sakura! Stop putting blame on others for this troublesome mess!"
The kunoichi glares at her teammate before ripping herself away from Tenten and Hinata. She glares one last time at Karin who Shizune is helping up.
"Wow! Konoha just keeps getting better and better! They actually made Karin cry when even I couldn't!"
Sasuke seems to have twitched when he heard that voice. It better not be… From his past experience, he knew that if this guy was on the same team as Karin and put together with Naruto and Sai then he'd never get a minute of peace during this mission.
"Suigetsu," he greets the ex-Hebi members. "Juugo."
"Hey, Sui!" Naruto high-fived the ex-Kiri nin. "Haven't seen you in a while! What's up, Juugo? How have you been?"
"Good," Juugo answered. "Tsunade-sama has healed me completely. I don't have the urge to kill anymore."
"Yo, Sasuke my man," Suigetsu said. "I don't know why you wanted Konoha destroyed! I'm just lovin' it here!"
"That's makes two of us," Naruto laughs along with him. This earns him a bump on the head from the Uchiha.
"I take it that you two are the others Tsunade-sama has in mind for this mission," Neji stated.
The Hokage nodded her head. "These two shall join the second group as they have more knowledge about Kabuto than the rest of us."
"Yeah, I can't wait to sock it to that snake for experimenting on me!" Suigetsu cheered. His words are seconded by everyone else there.
"And another word…" Tsunade took a deep breath. "I'm not speaking as the Hokage anymore when I say this: I believe in your skills. That is why I'm sending you all in my place to get my apprentice back. If I wasn't Hokage, if I needn't stay behind to protect the village . . . then I'd go by myself to save Sakura. But I can't do that. That is why… I'm begging you all: please!" She bows her head and, for the first time, she cries in front of the shinobi there.
"Lady Tsunade…" Shizune looks away, unable to watch. She too feels the same way.
"Bring her home! Bring my apprentice back to where she belongs! I was unable to protect her! I was unable to stop any of these events from happening, and so please… Save her and bring her back alive!"
Yay! That chapter's done! And really quickly too! I'm so happy!
Oh, and yes, I gave Sakura a family! I need them in the story. I really do once we get into the third part of the story. Tsutsuji doesn't have that big of a role now, and he really won't have that big of a role except to add a sort of drama into the story. I'm sorry if you guys don't like him right now.
The beginning is also in present tense because it felt like it fit better for the mood.
I like Tsunade in this chapter, though I rushed through everything. She has that nice role.