A/N - wow this took TOO long. I'm so sorry I've neglected this story. If you guys even remember it at this point...lol. There's no sex in this chapter, but don't fret! All will come in due time~

I also plan to update Beyond This Illusion, even though the plot is so vastly different from the manga now.

Happy ssmonth, all!


.:: euphoria ::.


o.

"For obvious reasons, I can't send Naruto."

Sakura considered this for a moment, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. "Then who do you propose?"

Tsunade leaned back in her chair, thinking quietly for a moment. "Kakashi is on a special mission for me now, so that's out of the question. I need Ino and Hinata to take care of the hospital while you're away, and Shikamaru just returned. I daresay admit that the Uchiha would perhaps be the best person to accompany you."

Sakura remained perfectly still for a moment. She had no doubt that Sasuke would be able to cast aside their personal situation in favor of professionalism, but the thought of being on such an important mission alone with him unnerved Sakura.

"Sasuke-kun is just getting over a cold, I don't think he'll be best for the…"

Tsunade interrupted her, "Do you have a particular aversion to pairing up with the Uchiha?"

Sakura hesitated, "no, but…"

"Then I need him to go with you. He's strong enough for something like this."

So he'd have to come, after all.

"Perhaps Sai could accompany us as well, shishou." She requested respectfully.

Tsunade nodded in agreement. "Fine. I don't trust the Uchiha fully yet, so this will be his chance to prove himself. But don't you dare tell him that. Come back in an hour with both him and Sai and I'll give you the briefing."

"Hai," Sakura murmured, standing and bowing lowly before exiting the room.

She exhaled a breath upon exiting.


"I heard you tried to prevent me from going on the mission." Sasuke blurted, staring at her intently from her bed.

Sakura was busy packing her traveling bag as quickly as possible, so they could depart first thing in the morning. She paused as he spoke, lifting her head to stare back at him quietly.

"Where did you hear-"

"It doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not it's true."

Biting her lip, Sakura glanced away. Should she tell him the truth? Should she admit that she still felt shy around him in battle? That he still – after all this time – didn't trust her to be competent enough to handle herself?

"It's true. You're getting over being sick and I didn't want you to risk your health."

Sasuke scoffed, sitting up more fully. "That's bullshit," he retorted sharply. "You know I'm more than capable of handling myself."

"Yes, I know that," she turned on him quickly, eyes blazing, "but sometimes I wonder if you feel the same way about me!"

Arching an eyebrow, Sasuke intoned, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Sakura turned away from him, stuffing things into her bag quietly. She ignored him for a good measure before reluctantly muttering, "you know what it means."

She heard footsteps, and the bed creaking. Suddenly, he was right behind her, hot breath fanning out across the back of her neck. "No I don't." Sakura could practically feel the narrowing of his eyes.

"You still think I'm weak." She whispered, throat tightening. She refused to allow her emotions to get the better of her, but all bets were out the window when it came to him. "You don't have to say it; I can just tell."

Sasuke's hand gripped her shoulder, forcefully tugging her shoulder and spinning her around to face him. He gripped her shoulders tightly, dipping his head so that she was at her level. "You shouldn't assume things, Sakura," he began harshly, "and don't think for me when I haven't said anything one way or another."

Releasing her, Sasuke walked out of her bedroom. She heard his footsteps disappearing down the hall, and after a beat, her front door closed swiftly.

Sakura remained frozen, slinking down to the floor as she stared blankly at the spot where he just stood.


At five in the morning, Sakura leaned against the great red archway of the entrance to the village. Her knapsack sat on the ground, and her arms were folded, eyes closed.

She was an hour early, but she really hadn't gotten much sleep last night, and she was tired of sitting in bed with her eyes wide open, replaying the words Sasuke had spoken.

Apparently, he didn't think she was weak.

Well, he didn't outright say as much, but his words implied it. Then why did she constantly feel like he was belittling her?

Opening her eyes, Sakura saw the first rays of the sun peeking through the trees. The sky was painted in various colors, illuminating the trees around her.

"You're early."

Sakura's eyes shifted from the sky to the raven haired ninja to her left. "How perceptive." she murmured softly in return, with a bite.

"Why."

Sakura rounded on him roughly, "Why do you even care?"

"Whatever."

Sakura watched as Sasuke settled himself about twenty feet from her, leaning against a nearby tree. He dropped his bag to the ground and closed his eyes, brows furrowed.

"For your information, I couldn't sleep." She reluctantly added after a few moments. He didn't answer.

Sighing in defeat, Sakura's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry about yesterday." She realized that starting a mission off with this tension wouldn't be good for either one of them. So she had to apologize in order to preserve the unity of their team.

Sasuke – of course – made no indication that he'd heard her, but she knew he was listening. She stepped closer to him cautiously, shaking her head. "I just…I always feel like I have to prove myself when I'm with you. Like I'm not good enough."

Part of this stemmed from that fact that they could fuck but not be together. She felt insecure; as if she wasn't worthy of being in a relationship with him or something. Even after all this time.

"You're not weak." He grumbled, finally opening his eyes. "You haven't been weak for years. I don't dole out compliments, Sakura, you should know that."

"I do know that! But you've never even acknowledged…" she trailed off quietly, looking down.

Sasuke sighed in frustration. Why did women need positive reinforcement all the time? "You're the best medic in the world next to the Hokage. How could you even think for a minute that I thought you were weak? I wouldn't trust anyone else to heal me, and yet you created this notion of my opinion in your head."

"I'm sorry, Sasuke." She murmured, stepping close enough to wrap her arms around his neck and bury her face into his shoulder.

He stiffened for a moment, but gradually relaxed under her touch, patting the top of her head once. Sakura pulled away before she overstepped the boundaries and gave him a watery smile.

"I'm such a mess, aren't I."

Sasuke smirked. "Yeah. The worst kind." He teased lightly, trying to restore their fickle whatevership they had.

The pair enjoyed the rest of the morning in comfortable silence, waiting for their final companion. Sakura wasn't particularly thrilled about being alone on a mission with Sasuke and Sai (the two have yet to get along), but she figured this would give the men some forced bonding time without Naruto.

They set off at a brisk pace, following the lead Tsunade had given them.

Apparently, a Hidan look-alike had been spotted in Kumo, in the Village Hidden in the Clouds. They were instructed to search the village, asking around for information. If necessary, Sakura was to use any tactics necessary to get information – including seduction. She hoped that wouldn't be the case though.

However, she was assigned captain of the team, and there was a secret envelope that she'd yet to open from Tsunade.

It took them a few days to arrive at Kumo, but their pace was quick and determined. They hardly stopped to rest, knowing that they'd rent rooms at an inn once they arrived in the village.

Tsunade had reserved three separate rooms for them, knowing that Sasuke and Sai didn't get along. Once they reached the inn, Sakura held a meeting in her room to regroup.

"Alright. So apparently there's a local bar here called Doujo's Den, and it often has ninja passing through. We're to hunt for information here. Tsunade gave me special instructions in a separate envelope, so I may not be with you guys the entire night. Either way, we'll meet at the bathrooms by midnight. If one of us aren't there, it's safe to assume that person is in danger. Got it?"

Sasuke and Sai nodded curtly. Sai muttered something about returning to his room to prepare. Sakura was half expecting Sasuke to follow, but he didn't.

Once Sai exited the room, Sasuke didn't hesitate to interrogate her. "What's in the envelope?"

Sakura shook her head. "I haven't looked yet."

"Look now."

Narrowing her eyes to indicate she didn't appreciate being bossed around, she reluctantly opened the envelope.

Sakura,

I'm sure you've guessed by now why I needed to tell you this separately, and I'm only sorry I have to ask this of you. The bar's owner – Doujo – is said to house any nin for the night if presented with the right price. I'm betting that Hidan stayed there when he was spotted last week.

I want you to confront Doujo and get information.

Do whatever you have to do to get him to speak, save killing him.

-Tsunade

Sakura stared blankly, rereading the last sentence a second and third time.

"What does it say?"

She handed him the letter wordlessly, closing her eyes. She'd never been on a seduction mission before. More often that not, Ino was sent on them, and Sakura could recall the blonde returning with horrible tales about the event. Of course, Sakura was trained to handle this situation, but she didn't like it.

She watched Sasuke fling the letter away from himself in disgust after hefinished reading. "No."

"Sasuke, this isn't up to you-"

"I said no. You're not resorting to that."

At this, Sakura stood. She had enough of his demands. "Last time I checked, I was the team captain, not you. I will do what I have to in order to ensure this mission's success."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, teeth clenched as he shot back, "I don't want you-"

"Want me what? Don't want me fucking him? Do you think I want that either? Trust me, Sasuke, I will do everything in my power to avoid that scenario, but if it comes to it, I have no choice. Not that you should care anyway. It's not like you're my boyfriend." She spit out the last part rather harshly.

So much for staying on his good side for the sake of the mission.

Instead of retorting back, Sasuke turned on his heel swiftly, muttering a, "be ready in an hour," before slamming the door behind him.

Sakura was left with her heart racing, veins pulsing, and lungs burning.

Had she really just said that?

She scrunched her brows, ignoring the burning behind her eyes that threatened tears to fall. She stomped to the bathroom and pulled out the makeup bag given to her by Ino for the occasion.

She had a job to prepare for.


Sakura exited her room stealthily, balancing lightly in the stilettos she had to wear. The simple black dress she donned was ill-fitting – much too tight for her tastes – but it'd get the job done. She knew instantly that Sasuke would critique her apparel, and therefore dreaded the moment he decided to exit his room and meet her in the lobby.

Sai showed up first.

He worse a grey button up shirt and black slacks. Sakura had to admit, he cleaned up pretty well.

"My, my Ugly, have you really become that self-conscious? Trying to hide behind face paint in an attempt to look pretty?"

"Shut up, Sai. I'm not in the mood," she grumbled, cracking her knuckles. "You know very well what this is for."

Sai's expression sobered, a serious frown marring his face. "Tsunade required you do go through those measures?"

Sakura nodded stiffly. "I'm to do whatever I have to."

"We won't be far. If something happens, flare your chakra. We'll also stick to meeting by the bathrooms at midnight."

"Okay."

A few minutes later, Sasuke walked down the hallway. His black button up had the first button undone, allowing Sakura to see part of the pale expanse of his chest. His black attire only forced his pale skin to stick out even more. He looked like a walking sin.

Sakura wondered why she'd never seen him so dressed up before. And of course, now that they were on a mission, and arguing to boot…she doubted she would get to benefit from his attractive looks tonight.

"Ready?" she asked.

Sasuke nodded once.

As they walked, Sakura slipped her arms inbetween Sasuke's and Sai's. Despite her height disadvantage, Sakura managed to keep up with their brisk pace – even in the heels she wore.

"Might as well use this time to go over our cover-ups. I'm Keiko, a civilian who loves to travel. You two are my very distant cousins, Daisuke and Haru. We're originally from Snow, but decided to take a trip across the countries."

"Who is Daisuke and who is Haru?" Sai asked pleasantly.

Sakura gave him a look. "You're Daisuke. Sasuke's Haru."

The rest of the walk was quiet.

Once they arrived, Sakura released their arms, and they slowed their pace considerably. "Keep your eye out for someone who looks important," she instructed, referring to the owner. She needed to find him as soon as possible in order to have ample time to get information.

They were seated quickly, and ordered drinks for show. Sakura's eyes scanned the crowd. "I don't see him," she murmured hopelessly.

"Nor do I." Sai replied. If there was one thing Sakura could count on with Sai, it was his perception.

Sasuke's eyes were closed, hands folded neatly underneath his chin. "He's upstairs," Sasuke stated. "He's with another girl right now."

Sakura cursed under her breath.

"Well we're going to have to change that, aren't we?" Sakura stood from her place at the booth, grabbing her clutch. "I'm going to go dance."

"What?"

Sakura looked at the dance floor and frowned. "I'm sure if I attract enough attention, someone will notify the owner. I doubt he'll stick to one girl for the night."

Glancing back at her teammates, she failed to see the deep frown marring Sasuke's features. "Bathroom at midnight. Good luck guys."

Without another look, Sakura disappeared into the crowd of bodies on the dance floor.

Sasuke took a swig of sake to get him through the night.


"See that girl there?" a man whispered quietly to his companion. The other man nodded slowly, transfixed by the women on the dance floor. She commanded everything around her, swaying her tantalizing hips to the sway of the music perfectly.

"The boss would like to have her, probably."

The man snorted. "I'd like to have her. Tied up and-"

"Shut up. I'll go get Doujo-sama."

Hmph. "Whatever."


Sakura could feel multiple stares on her, but she pretended to ignore them all. She pretended to be so overwhelmed by the music, that she didn't know anything that was going on around her. But, she was very aware of two things:

One, two important looking security guards who couldn't keep their eyes off her, disappeared upstairs.

Two, Sasuke was ignoring his job and also couldn't keep his eyes off her.

However, she had a feeling the latter meant she was in big trouble with him. But she couldn't worry about that now. Because there was a fairly husky man in a suit walking her way, and she'd bet anything it was Doujo.

"Do you mind?" he asked politely, a fake smile plastered to his face.

Business.

She smiled in return, nodding slightly. "Of course."

The man held out his hand, "why don't I get you a drink?"

"I'd love that."