Chapter 13 - Within Fire & the Fire Within


Tsunade smirked inwardly at her apprentice's undisguised shock.

(Nervous, Sakura?)

"I said . . . you will be required to pose as a married couple . . . "

"- I heard you," Sakura rudely interrupted the Godaime, "but . . . " She faltered.

Tsunade watched as Sakura looked briefly at Sasuke. The stoic Uchiha's expression was, as usual, unreadable to say the least.

"But why me?" Sakura all but whined. "Why can't one of the other Kunoichi do it?"

"I am the Hokage for a reason, Sakura," (because that useless perve of a Toad Sage 'volunteered' me) the Godaime snapped, losing her patience now, "Don't you think that I have thought this over myself? I have a perfectly good reason for wanting the two of you on this mission."

(Your future happiness, the future of the Uchiha clan, MY future sanity, to name just a few . . .)

Sakura lowered her head and looked at her hands, not wanting to incite her shishou's infamous temper any further.

The Hokage stood and walked around to the front of her paper cluttered desk. She leaned back against the front edge and addressed the two shinobi in front of her.

"I have chosen you Sakura because the terms of Sasuke's probation state that he must be accompanied by a jounin level shinobi at all times whilst on a mission (and because you're the only one capable of breaking through that boy's stony exterior). Also, because the two of you were in the same team before Sasuke left I would hope that you should feel comfortable working together and have some knowledge of each other's technique." (and if not, you certainly will after this!)

"Also it goes without saying, it would be advantageous to have a medic on the team in case it gets a little rough. I have chosen Sasuke because as he is still on probation he needs every opportunity he can get to rise back through the ranks. (And he needs every opportunity to get a rise back in his pants. Heheh) Also, as simple as this mission may seem, there is always the chance that things could . . . (get heated, dirty, intimate, turn out exactly the way I want) . . . turn ugly. Sasuke may only be a Genin now, which, with this mission being of C-rank is the highest level of shinobi I am willing to spare for such a small fee (and I want the brat to finally get hitched and have little angsty brats of his own so that he'll have no fucking excuse to desert his village again), but in terms of skill he is easily at jounin level."

She turned to the last of the Uchiha and smirked at him deviously.

"It is also a punishment of sorts." (I'll get you back for deserting your village you little prick)

She addressed him with a highly amused expression on her face. "As you know, Sasuke, during your year of probation you are required to do any inane or unpleasant mission that I see fit, as a sort of . . . test of your renewed loyalty to Konoha."

"-I don't understand, Shishou," Sakura cut in, "how is this mission a punishment to Sasuke?"

Tsunade ignored her apprentice for the time being, and continued to address the dark-haired prodigy before her.

"I know very well that you have . . . (mental problems), difficulty, (you're screwed in the head, that's what) . . . expressing yourself and showing emotions and affections around others, Uchiha."

Sasuke remained silent, but began to glare at the Hokage as if he knew where this was going.

"In doing this mission you will be required to stay in character at all times. You must behave, travel, communicate, eat and sleep as if you were a married couple."

Two sets of eyes shot up indignantly at her at that last statement. (And so it begins, heheh)

She ignored them and continued, "If you intend on staying in Konoha and rebuilding your clan (oh Kami, do I really want tiny emo Uchiha-clones running around Konoha for heaven's sake) then you are going to have to work on those non-existent social skills of yours anyway (and stop behaving like you've got a stick up your ass). This is the prime opportunity to push you out of your comfort zone, Uchiha. Sakura will help you (oh, she's going to help you all right), and the two of you must keep up the appearance of a married couple at all times. You never know when someone may be watching you." (Heh. If the two of you can't get it together on your own then I'll give you a both a helpful boot up the ass HAHAhehheh!)

She walked forward and handed a scroll to Sakura.

"Sakura, you are team leader. You will find the objectives of the mission in full detail in here. You will leave early tomorrow morning. That is all." (Hahah! Suckers)

Both shinobi stood and moved towards the door. They didn't look at each other, and both were lost in their own train of thought. Sakura had already moved through the doorway and into the hall and Sasuke stepped forward to follow her, when he heard the Godaime speak again.

"Oh, and Uchiha . . ." she called out. (You better look after her)

Sasuke paused in the doorway and turned back to face her. Sakura had also stopped outside the door to hear what her shishou had to say. (If she comes back injured in any way it will be your head, Uchiha)

"Knowing how difficult this mission is going to be for you, I have decided that if you succeed I will allow you to take the next chuunin exam so you may progress further in your career six months early." (You'll need to be earning plenty of money for when the babies arrive)

(Kami I hope they take after her more than him)

He looked up at her with a slightly surprised and incredulous look in his eyes.

"However," she continued sternly, "If you fail, I shall strip you of your Shinobi status and send you back to the academy. This mission could either be very lucrative or very detrimental to your career, Uchiha," she added sternly.

(Either way, it's going to be very good for your love-life, Uchiha)

"So if I were you I would try not to fuck it up."

Tsunade watched the rain outside her window as it flooded the streets of Konoha, as she remembered the debriefing in her office three nights ago.

She knew it had been wrong to set her favourite student and her favourite village traitor up like that, but it was just too hard to feel guilty when she could see the results of her deviousness playing out so beautifully before her. It was almost too good to be true.

Sasuke would have a solid reason to stay in Konoha. The Uchiha clan, once one of the most powerful clans in all of Konoha would finally rise again, only this time, they would have a strong and loving Mother and Father to keep them in line. Sakura would finally get her man, and maybe she would loosen up a little bit and begin to enjoy life.

And the reign of the Legendary Sucker would finally come to an end.

When Tsunade thought about how much money she was going to get off that tiresome old Toad Sage her eyes glistened and shone like two beautiful gold Ryo. When she had accepted Jiraiya's bet to get the two of them together within six months of Sasuke returning to the village she had never realised she was going to have such a battle on her hands. Despite clearly being attracted to one another they were both infuriatingly stubborn, and as the end of the six months approached and they had still barely shared more than a few words during training, Tsunade had realised she was going to have to get drastic.

And right now, here in her office was half of the result of her epiphany. An emotional, glowing, hormonal, love-struck, poly-syllabic - dare she say it- talkative even, Sasuke Uchiha.

Ok, so right now he was burning holes into her skin with rage-fuelled acid rays from his eyes, and she could swear he was on the verge of scraping his hoof across the ground before charging at her like a wounded bull and tossing her out the window to the streets below like a rag-doll, but she was ok with that.

Because she had finally won a bet.

Of course, it wasn't all about the gamble, even though it was common knowledge that she couldn't refuse a bet no matter how improbable the odds were. The elders had been putting pressure on her to find a wife for Sasuke as soon as possible, for dual reasons. They didn't want to run the risk of having the formidable shinobi as an adversary again, and wanted to regain his emotional ties with the village as soon as possible.

They also desired the rebuilding of the Uchiha clan. The Uchiha had once been Konoha's number one defence against a foreign attack, to the point where the village had the reputation far and wide of being impenetrable – attack would not even be considered as long as the mighty Uchiha defended them. The elders wanted this strength again, and had advised the Godaime in no short terms that it was her responsibility to make it happen.

And so, one sunny afternoon when she stood on the balcony at Aisu Bar with Jiraiya watching the newly reformed Team Seven training, and her old teammate made her an offer she couldn't refuse, everything seemed to fall into place. Here was an opportunity to make things right for everybody, and maybe even lose the irritating nickname that she had been endowed with long ago.

And of course, there was Sakura. As her shisou watched the girl who was so like herself, she knew that there was something desperately missing in the young woman's life - as much as Sakura herself would never admit it. Yes, she had become an incredibly powerful shinobi - an apprentice that Tsunade was overwhelmingly proud of – yet the Godaime sensed a deep loneliness within the girl. She had put her studies and her career ahead of her own needs all her life, but it was time for her to find some inner happiness. Tsunade knew how painful and lonely the quiet moments of life could be for herself, and she did not want to see her bright apprentice share her fate.

And, as much as Tsunade was loathe to admit it, the fuming man standing before her now was perfect for Sakura. He was strong enough to hold his own against the feisty medic, yet his more reserved nature would ground her when she needed it most. And although her apprentice had been in denial for quite some time, Tsunade had known that deep down Sakura was still in love with Sasuke, even after all these years apart.

The Hokage could understand the attraction. The man before her had grown into a handsome young man. He looked very much like his tragic elder brother.

His piercing dark eyes bore into her now, and although he was trying to project a furious image the Hokage could see that it was a thinly veiled cover for his utter confusion.

She decided to play it cool. She raised one eyebrow, as if challenging the Uchiha to unleash his anger on her.

The facade dropped from his face almost immediately.

"But . . . Hokage-sama, I don't understand. Why the hell would you send us to such a dangerous place for no good reason?" His brow knitted further as he realised something else, and he looked accusingly at the Godaime as he ground out, "You nearly got us killed!"

The Hokage rose in anger. "Well I never expected you to be such a Kami-damned love-stricken fool, did I!" She was defensive now, probably because she did feel partially guilty, "It was supposed to be an easy in and out job, no danger whatsoever. The Daimyo was well aware that you were coming. How do you think I got the ball tickets for you? He owed me a favour and this was the perfect opportunity for him to pay it back."

She felt unusually horrid for doing it, but she needed an out to this conversation, and the best way to do it was to put the blame back onto him. "You almost strangled a high-profile prince to death, Sasuke. Did you honestly think you would get away with it lightly? I may have sent you on a fake mission but you did a bloody good job of almost turning that into a war!" She took a deep breath, and her stance softened. "Ok, I admit, I wanted to give the two of you a push in the right direction by forcing you into an uncomfortable situation together. And I guess, when you were pushed out of your comfort zone you had some kind of an . . . episode . . . that I didn't count on. But it was for the best. You see that don't you? Don't you feel liberated?"

Sasuke just stared thoughtfully at the floor.

"Say something, damn it."

He sighed, and slowly looked up to face her. She was surprised to see a serene, peaceful expression on his face.

"You know something?" He sighed. "You're right."

Tsunade blinked.

"You're absolutely right." He chuckled once under his breath. "I do feel liberated. And now if you don't mind, with my newfound freedom, I would like to go and spend my time exploring these new . . . feelings."

He faced her directly, bowing deeply before rising again to look her in the eye.

"I think I can finally see why they made you Hokage."

Sakura's tired reflection stared mockingly out of the mirror at her, and her reality in the fluffy white bathrobe just stared stubbornly back. She didn't like the way that reflection was looking at her. It seemed to be laughing at her somehow. Not overtly, of course, but it was in the little bruises that she could see in various places on her face and body that were evidence to the failure of her mission. It was in the swell of her lips which reminded her of velvet tongues under the moonlight. But most of all it was in the deep crease between her eyes, the indication of her complete and utter confusion.

Where the hell did she go from here? Years ago she had dreamed many times about what it would be like to finally make the Uchiha fall in love with her. But her dreams had always been a naive girl's fantasy; something probably involving Sasuke riding up to her on a white stallion, sweeping her into his arms and riding off into the sunset. She had never thought any further than the getting. But she realised now that it was what came after the getting that was the most difficult part.

She knew inside her heart that Sasuke had fallen in love with her over the past days. Just saying that to herself sounded utterly absurd, like it was another one of her fantasies – but nevertheless she knew it to be true.

But there was a big resonding question in her head. And she needed to answer it quickly.

Was she in love with him?

She cared for him deeply, of course –she always had. But did her affections cross that line into love as his did? She could not seem to answer that question right now. She had a sneaky suspicion that it was in there somewhere, lurking around and waiting for the most inopportune time to reveal itself.

She ran a lazy hand down her face and as she did became all too aware of the slight shadows beneath her eyes. Whatever her feelings were would have to wait till later. Right now she needed sleep.

She opened the bathroom door and stepped into her bedroom as the previously contained steam poured slowly after her. She walked the short distance to her dresser and pulled out a clean pair of pyjamas, and had just opened up her robe to get changed into them when she suddenly felt an all too familiar chakra burst into her senses in a sharp jolt, before disappearing again.

She quickly closed her robe and turned in the direction she had felt it. One of her curtains had taken on a rather strange shape, and she had a pretty good idea why.

"See, I knew you were a pervert!" She yelled at the curtain, "Show yourself!"

Suddenly his chakra swelled back to her again as Sasuke cautiously emerged from behind the curtain. He held his hand up defensively. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I just wasn't expecting a strip show."

She amazed even herself by being too tired to scold him. Instead she just walked over to her bed and climbed under the covers. She didn't look at him as she asked, "What are you doing here, Sasuke? I thought you were going home."

"To be honest, I don't really know. I just thought we shouldn't leave things like this." He paused, trying to guage her reaction. "I thought we should talk about it."

"So talk."

He shifted on his feet. This wasn't really going as he'd imagined it. "Can I at least sit down?"

She sighed. After thinking about it for a second she finally looked up at him for the first time. Her expression softened slightly and she nodded her head towards the bed beside her in invitation.

He climbed onto the bed beside her and shuffled around a little until he was comfortable.

They sat like that in silence for a long while, each just lost in their own thoughts. Sakura waited quietly until he was ready to speak. When he finally did he surprised her completely.

"Do you remember what it was like after I left Konoha for the first time, the night you followed me?"

She looked up sharply as he broached such a sensitive subject. She nodded slowly, unsure of what would come next.

He began his next question cautiously, as if afraid of how she would react. " did you feel when you woke up the next day and you knew I was gone for good?"

"How do you think I felt?" She cursed how her voice rose in that way that she despised, but she couldn't help it when he was making her relieve all of those feelings she had desperately tried to purge from her life. "I felt stunned. I felt humiliation. Rejection. Betrayal. Anger, I felt a lot of anger, I remember that clearly." She twirled her hair around her finger nervously as she remembered more and more. "But mostly, even though I did feel all of those other things, I think mostly what I felt was this crippling numbness. Like I could lie in bed for the rest of my life and it wouldn't matter to me. I was in shock. But that feeling dulled gradually, and then I had to get on with my life."

He sat silently nodding at his hands lightly clasped in his lap.

"Those feelings you had - like you're in shock – that's how it felt."

She waited patiently for him to continue.

"The night Itachi . . killed our parents . . . that night I felt the same thing, but a thousand-fold." He hung his head as the feelings flooded back to him as intensely as the day it happened. "It's like you don't know who you are. Like you've completely lost control of your life. You had obligations and alliances that forced you to return to normality, but me, I didn't have anyone to comfort me. Everyone I held dear to me in that instant was gone, never to return. I had to take care of myself and it's as if, I went into shock and I never snapped out. I've been in that shock my whole life, Sakura, never caring about anything or anyone but my revenge. And after I got it . . ."

He trailed off, staring out of her window and into the distance.

"Yes? After you got it . . ?" She prompted him.

"Well, I sort felt . . . empty."



He turned to her and smiled tenderly, in a way that a week ago Sakura would never have imagined in a million years that he would be capable of. She smiled back as she felt her heart clench painfully.

"Until now." He reached out and placed her hand lightly in his own.

"I never thought I would be capable of feeling this way about anyone, Sakura."

He sighed contentedly, then leaned forward and rested his head against her chest. She embraced him, placing one hand on his head and twisting tiny strands of jet black hair as she stroked his head and kissed his forehead softly.

"I can't believe I didn't see it before. Kami, what was wrong with me?" She was shocked to hear how chocked his voice sounded. "So many people, people who I've mistreated and ignored and neglected over the years. You all stood by me even though I didn't deserve any of it. You were all so sure I could be redeemed."

The corner of his lip drew up into a grin. "Even the Hokage, that crazy old witch. She knew it. Like she could see right through me from the minute I showed up here. I swear she's Freud reincarnated."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"The mission. She made it all up. It was just a ploy to get the two of us together, and she knew if she forced us to interact like that . . . she knew that I would snap and finally figure out what I should have eight years ago. That crafty old bat. There never was any mission."

Sakura's eye twitched dangerously.

". . . what did you say?"

They lay together, entwined on her bed and basked in the moonlight that flooded through her window.

It had taken quite some time to calm Sakura down, and even more to stop her from marching to the Hokage tower right then and beating the living shit out of her shishou. But in the end he had explained it as he saw it and Sakura's tiredness had won over her need for revenge on the Godaime.

So now the two of them lay in silence with their thoughts. Sasuke had closed his eyes and Sakura took the opportunity to study the man more closely and try to get her head around her own feelings.

She had a feeling she had contributed to his intense relaxation by the way she was gently stroking her hand through his mane. She loved the way his ebony hair felt like liquid silk through her fingers.

A small contented sound escaped his lips at her ministrations and she looked up to his peaceful face. She noticed a tiny line between his eyes, the result of too much frowning no doubt. She loved the way his forehead creased and carved that vertical line between his eyes when he was concentrating hard.

As she looked on him she thought about others things she loved. She loved his arrogance and his stubbornness. She loved the feel of his rough warrior's hands on her delicate skin.

She loved . . . she loved . . .

She loved him.

She loved him.

It all came flooding back to her then.

Suddenly she remembered exactly why she had been drawn to him in the first place.

She remembered her first day at the academy, looking out shyly from beneath her thick fringe at the many other members of her class, some shy and reserved like her, some talking to each other and making new friends, one strange boy who had brought his dog to class and was currently deep in conversation with it, a pretty girl who seemed even shyer than herself with blue-black hair and the strangest pearl-coloured eyes, and one loud over-eager blonde boy who was almost jumping out of his skin with excitement.

And it was then, as she gazed unknowingly upon her future family, that she saw him.

A quiet boy, sitting alone at the back of the room; a boy with black eyes and even blacker hair. Quiet . . . but not shy. He was staring off out the window with a terribly bored expression on his face, his thick black bangs perfectly framing his pale handsome face, seemingly oblivious to the throngs of twittering girls crowding near him.

She remembered as clear as day her feelings in that moment; her heart caught in her chest the second that her eyes fell upon him, and she didn't dare breathe for fear that he may vanish like some cruel apparition sent to tease her. Right then she felt as though she couldn't live without this person, her heart felt like it was dangerously close to exploding, and she knew in that instant that a little part of her had broken away from her soul and gone to him, and that she would never be whole again until they were together.

A single tear escaped from beneath her closed lid and ambled its way down her cheek, and she smiled.

She had been in denial these past years.

She had always loved him. She had never stopped loving him. She had just been lying to herself to try to ignore the pain that he had caused her when he walked out of her life all those years ago.

It made sense. Why had she never taken to anyone else since Sasuke had walked out of Konoha? Why had she discarded or passed by man after man after man as if she were comparing them against the one man they could never live up to in her mind?

Because she was.

And none of them ever even came close to measuring up.

As she leaned down to kiss his heavenly lips and he groaned softly as he pressed back against her, she knew that this time, the love they made together would be true. It would be passionate but tender, a gentle and all-consuming love that would bind them to each other for a lifetime. Through all of the adversity they had faced the crush of a naive girl had blossomed to full-fledged true love, and now they would take that love to new heights, for nothing could be a greater challenge than what they had already conquered.

A/N: Hi guys :)

First of all I'm sorry this took so long to get to you, and I know it's far from perfect. I really struggled with writing the last few chapters of this, because it was my very first story I started on ff, and I was learning a lot along the way about my writing, also because I really am not a SasuSaku fan at all it was really hard to write something I didn't really believe in. But I felt I owed all you guys who have been reading and reviewing this loyally since the beginning to not leave the story hanging unfinished and at least tie it up as well as I could.

While I have been procrastinating over this one I have been busy writing lots of other stories about couples that I am passionate about, one of which will be posted up shortly, it is a KakaSaku called Intimacy, so if you like that pairing please check it out.

As always I would love to hear your feedback, as I said this whole story was a big learning process for me, so reviews are appreciated.

And thank you so much to you guys who stuck around to see this through to the end! XD

Till next time. - O'smyman