This is what Sakura hates the most about him returning. Sometimes, he says and does things that make think nothing has changed at all. That everything is the same. He'll insult her and react like she used to expect and...
She'll have to steel herself once more when he closes himself. And she hates that. So she stopped taking his comments seriously, stopped thinking that those strange fits were permanent. Stopped trying to treat him like he was the old Sasuke and more or less treated him like a strange new companion, one that she met and while she grew close once more (started to fall once more), she kept that little distance.
For as long as she thought, "He's just a good agent" just another workmate, then she could ignore those small advances he makes and not get hurt again.
The town is small, smaller than she expected, and Tenten slinks in as the sun sets. Neji comes after (not slinking, because that goes against his pride and whatnot).
"Where are they staying?"
"The hotel down the street." Neji carefully slides his arm around hers and starts to walk. At her raised eyebrow, he adds, "Less conspicuous."
While this isn't entirely unwanted, it annoys her nonetheless and she holds his hand in a bone-crushing grip.
He doesn't complain, of course, but her smile broadens as he pales slightly.
When Sasuke returns, he doesn't sink on the bed and cradle his head. He doesn't pause and stare at her empty bed, her empty glass sitting on her side table.
Instead, he is a blur of movement, his hands swiftly packing her strewn clothing, his empty casings. He can't leave a trace of his (their) presence. His mind, his prized brain noted for his quick thinking, is already racing through thousands of possible plans.
(and there is still a part of it frozen, still watching the door slide shut)
He'll have to leave Sakura for now, get the information home. He can't waste her sacrifice and it's too risky to save her now. He'll have to get back-up and ensure the information has been safely passed on first.
And, there is that alternate plan, to just bust down the door and find her, but he knows better. He should know better.
There is no time for doubt or hesitation. What he wants to do and what he needs to do are entirely different.
Suddenly, he hears the doorknob slowly turn. Instinctively, he pulls out a small hand-gun, a small click heard as he turns off the safety.
The knob stops and a low feminine voice whispers, "Sasuke?" It's familiar and soft and for a small, irrational moment, he thinks Sakura.
But Sakura isn't here; she's trapped in that laboratory in the forest. Where he left her. Where he's leaving her still.
Cautiously, he creeps up to the door, his back flat against the wall as he starts to turn the knob. His left hands pushes the barrel through the crack of the door, his right hand ready to pull out a dagger.
"Hiya, Sasuke!" the voice continues, chipper, and he sees a brown eye.
Sighing, he pulls open the door, revealing a grinning Tenten. Her own gun is out as well, despite the cheerfulness of her greeting, and she sweeps in. Her partner silently nods to him before entering as well.
"Nice place," Tenten comments, sinking onto Sakura's bed. She bounces for a moment before glancing at Sasuke. "So, how's the mission?"
"...we got the information." He opens a small pouch tied to his belt, pulling out a small USB and a digital camera. Neji approaches him, picking up the camera and glancing at the photographs. "Apparently it's more dangerous than we anticipated."
Tenten listens, watching as her partner's frown deepens. Obviously, it's a lot worse than expected.
"So..." Tenten glances around once more, ignoring the sinking feeling in her stomach, "Where's Sakura?"
"She didn't make it."
Her body freezes, just like that, and she can't stop the shakes that rack her body at those words.
Lucian shivers, curling up into an even tighter ball as he sits on the sidewalk. The strange man hasn't appeared again. Not for hours, days, and it's getting colder. His stomach grumbles and he pets it softly.
"There there, it's okay," he isn't sure if he's trying to comfort himself now. "He'll come back, he said he would."
The snow falls softly around him, deceptively innocent. A harsh breezes blows, his ears turning redder and his nose clogged.
Still the man hasn't appeared.
"He will come, he will," because he has to because there is no other way out because he said he would.
Only, there is one thing he learned after all those years on the street.
Lies are exchanged as easily as handshakes.
"There was an ambush and she got captured." Simple and straight to the point and it tells Tenten nothing at all.
"That doesn't tell me what happened."
Sasuke ignores her, returning to his conversation with Neji. "This information is very important and urgent. They need to see it now."
Tenten taps her foot, angry. "Why did you leave her?" She thinks she might be growling a little.
He still does nothing.
"How are we saving her?" She shoves Sasuke to the wall, or at least tries to. He only moves back a few centimetres before stopping.
"We aren't." Sasuke pauses, then adds, "Unless you are willing to take the information back in my stead."
"..." Neji glances at the data, then back at the spy. "Is a level of authorization needed?"
"No. As long as it reaches their hands, it is fine."
"Then we shall do it."
Tenten watches, grinning. "Okay, so how are we rescuing her?" Already, the heavy pit in her stomach feels lighter.
"We're not going," Neji cuts in, frowning.
"Our duty is to take the data to safety."
"..." Tenten swings her legs off the bed, slowly stalking to his position. "Neji," she hisses, her voice low and her eyes glinting, "You are not going to tell me that I cannot save my best friend."
He takes in her anger, her controlled movements, and sighs lightly. "Wait two hours, I will be back by then."
"I knew there was a reason I partnered with you."