Behind the Mask
Rated: T for language and violence
Disclaimer: Naruto characters (c) Masashi Kishimoto
Summary: We all wear masks. But that only makes it harder to tell the difference between truth and lies.

Note: Thanks for the wonderful reviews. 3 more till the next chapter?

018: 逃脱

It seemed as if fate was on Sasuke and Temari's side as the afternoon sun shown down on the wedding procession.

After Sasuke had been allowed to enter the Feng household, he sat down to eat with Governor Feng, Kankuro and Gaara. Temari had waited peaceably off to the side – at least peaceably in appearance. Temari had watched with muted horror as Sakura and Naruto had bounded out of the window, in pursuit of a fleeing Shikamaru. As she waited for her family and Sasuke to finish eating, her mind had swirled up infinite possibilities of what could have happened to Shikamaru had he been caught by the shinobi. Death was a possibility, although Temari tried to push that one as far back in her mind as it could go.

By the time Sasuke got up from the dinner table and bowed to Governor Feng and her brothers, the two shinobi had still not returned. Worse fears still in mind, Temari was guided outside, once again on the struggling back of Hyuuga Hiromi to where the bridal sedan was waiting. As she was helped in and rice was flung at her feet to ward off evil spirits, Temari's eyes darted around the vicinity, her ears keen to any sound. But there was no sight of Shikamaru and her ears couldn't hear anything beside the deafening cheers of the crowd.

As Temari rode the way back to the Uchiha compound, she tried her best to push Shikamaru out of her mind. She told him that they had to give up on each other and now it was time to put that into reality.

The walk through the forested pathways to the Uchiha compound was nothing like when Sasuke had previously walked the path with Sakura weeks before. The soft and tranquil sounds of the forest were replaced by cheering crowds, musicians and anyone who carried and gong or a drum. Sasuke was developing a headache not only from all the noise and dealing with Hyuuga Neji's pestering son, but also because he was irritated and anxious at having not seen the girl shinobi.

Sasuke's thoughts were interrupted as there were several screams and his sedan came to a rocking halt. Several members of the Peking Police Force broke rank and went rushing past him. Although technically, Sasuke was supposed to be at the head of the procession, there were several girls in front of him who had been throwing rice along the path to ward off evil spirits. Now the said girls were crowded around something a few feet ahead. Sasuke had been so deep in his thoughts he hadn't even been paying attention to his surroundings.

Temari felt the sedan rock to a stop as a scream tore through the forest. Her heart started to wildly beat. What was going on? Her mind flashed once more to Shikamaru. Was his broken and dying body lying out on the road? She was about to poke her head out of the sedan when a maid beside her said "No, Temari-xiaojie." The maid poked her head through the red curtain shielding Temari from the outside world. "I hear it's a dead body." She whispered fearfully.

Sasuke had been about to request to get down when Itachi came up, confidently striding past him. "Don't Sasuke." He said before passing by him.

Sasuke hesitated, watching as Itachi peered into the crowd. There were whispers among the crowd before Itachi started to bark out orders. He ordered for the procession to move to the Uchiha compound without him and for all of the police force to stay behind. He would catch up as soon as he finished up. There was murmuring among the crowd, but once again, they started to move forward. Sasuke watched as three members of the police force picked up a body and started to move it into the forest where the procession wouldn't be able to see it. Itachi ordered the procession to move around the crime scene.

Sasuke caught a glimpse of the body as the police carefully moved it out of sight. Kimimaro's left arm was resting peacefully over his chest, his right hand holding a now dried cloth over his nose.

Naruto and Sakura walked back slowly towards their guesthouse, knowing that by now the wedding procession had probably moved to the Uchiha compound. The tension between them felt high, but neither commented on it. Sakura reached wordlessly up and pulled her hair out of the bun, letting the strands fall freely around her face.

"It was kind of nice…with your hair in the bun." Said Naruto quietly.

Sakura glanced over at him. "Yeah?" She seemed too weary to say more.

Naruto nodded slowly. "But of course, I like it this way too…" Before Naruto could stop himself, his hand moved up of his own accord and his fingers ran their way through her loose hair.

Sakura suppressed a shiver and didn't say anything. Naruto cleared his throat uncomfortably and quickly brought his hand back to his side.

Naruto wondered if he should mention that he saw what had happened between her and Sasuke. Would Sakura be mad at him? But worst of all, would it change their friendship? Would it change this comfortable feeling that they had between them – the thing that Naruto cherished most in his life? Naruto bit his lip underneath his mask. He wanted to mention it to her, but he was too afraid. He didn't want to risk it. He wanted her to know that he would still be her best friend and be happy with anyone she chose, even if it was a psychopathic bastard that was at this moment getting married. But at the same time, he wanted to harbor the feeling that she was still single and therefore, still his.

"You have a crush on her don't you?"

Naruto whipped around and stared straight up into Kakashi's smiling face, his mouth agape. "I don't." Said Naruto, his eyes darting away from his teacher's face.

Kakashi jumped down off the branch he was perched on and landed beside Naruto. He draped an arm over Naruto's shoulder as the boy stared down at the ground. "Then why are you here by yourself watching her go home?"

"Beside I wanted to make sure she got in ok." Said Naruto defensively. "Her parents don't like me so I can't walk her to the door."

"Elaborate excuse." Said Kakashi with approval. "I taught you well."

"Shut up Kakashi." Snapped Naruto. "I don't like Sakura."

Kakashi smiled easily behind his mask. He bent down to Naruto's level. "You're ten years old. It's ok to have crushes on girls you know, especially pretty girls like Sakura."

Naruto blushed and turned away from Kakashi. "Sakura's not that pretty…"

"Hmmm…" Said Kakashi standing up, his arm remaining around Naruto's shoulder. "You say that now…but things change…"

Kakashi returned back to guesthouse rather drearily. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy weddings. They were all good fun and a rather nice affair, especially among richer families because it meant that they had plenty of money to spend. It also…most of the time, meant there were plenty of rich, pretty girls who would flirt endlessly with Kakashi because he was, in their words of course, a 'big strong shinobi'.

Today's wedding, however, lacked the joyous air that usually accompanied weddings. In accord with tradition, the Uchiha's had invited a large group of friends and family to the wedding banquet after the ceremony was over. Accompanying Tsunade, Kakashi had gone. Both Naruto and Sakura were surprisingly absent and it was only after the banquet did he stop by to see that they were both 'too tired' to attend. Something didn't seem right between them and it seemed like they were both hiding something. Naruto was never one to pass up free food.

It seemed to Kakashi that the Uchiha's were a drab bunch, albeit rich and powerful. The wedding couple ignored most of the good aired jibs and comments sent their way, each seemed troubled by one thing or another, but it seemed that Kakashi was the only one who noticed this. They both even refused to kiss each other after the drunken banquet guests had demanded it. Governor Feng had many pretty red-haired relatives that were invited to the wedding, but even they seemed drab.

"How was the wedding?"

Kakashi finished kicking off his sandals and saw Shizune waiting for him. He had asked her to keep an eye on Asuka while he was gone just in case. He would be a fool to leave a full-fledged shinobi prisoner in his home unwatched.

Kakashi shrugged. "Elaborate...but boring." He admitted.

Shizune chuckled at his response. "Too bad I missed it."

"Well Tsunade thoroughly enjoyed it. She's stumbling to her bedroom as we speak." Reported Kakashi with a smile.

Shizune's smile faded. "I hope she didn't make too much of a fool of herself." She said with concern.

Kakashi shook his head. "I kept her in check."

Shizune smiled and nodded gratefully. "Thank you. I'll go check on her now."

Shizune quickly slipped her shoes on and with a wave, was out into the darkness. As Kakashi was moving toward his bedroom, he heard a crash. Arming himself with a kunai, he quickly darted into the bedroom. Upon entering, Kakashi put away his kunai and crossed his arms over his chest. Sprawled on the wooden floor, lay Asuka. It was apparent to Kakashi that she had tried to walk and as he predicted, her legs had given out on her.

"I thought you would have tried it while I was gone." Mused Kakashi.

"Yeah well…then you deemed it appropriate that I have a babysitter." Said Asuka, the irritation apparent in her voice.

She tried pushing herself up again, but quickly fell back down. She paused a minute to take a breath before trying again. When she failed she shot Kakashi an exasperated look. She raised her arm. "Are you going to help me up?" She demanded.

"I thought I would watch you try instead." Said Kakashi, gaining back some of his good humor.

"Sadist." Mumbled Asuka. With effort, she managed to lift her upper body into a sitting position and straighten out her legs. "If you knew that I couldn't walk, then why did you have someone watch me?"

"I'm not an idiot." Said Kakashi. "No one leaves a prisoner unattended."

Asuka didn't respond and tried to gather her legs under her to stand up. She tried, but fell back down again. Her legs were starting to ache as there was still some residual paralysis leftover from Kakashi's attack. "Ugh!" Groaned Asuka. "It's so annoying being weak."

With a sigh, Kakashi entered the room and picked Asuka up before dropping her back down on the bed. She landed with a flop. "How nice you are." She muttered. "Do that to all of your girlfriends?"

"You know, I can help you." Said Kakashi, ignoring her dig. "Just tell me why you would betray your village and if it's true, the ties will come off. I'll even help you regain your strength." Offered Kakashi.

"Thanks, but I think I'll keep the shackles on. I'm growing fond of them." Asuka spat.

"I don't understand you." Said Kakashi, irritation showing through in his voice. "You come up with this whole scheme that Iwa is going to start a war with Konoha, you expect me to believe you, but you aren't willing to tell me why you would do this. Why?"

"You aren't supposed to understand it." Said Asuka. "You're just supposed to believe me."

"Sorry, it doesn't work that way." Said Kakashi darkly.

Asuka let out an aggravated sigh. "Well I'm not willing to tell and you're not willing to believe me. Situation seems moot doesn't it?" She asked. Her amber eyes looked at Kakashi and he could tell she was angry.

"Seems like it." He agreed. "But eventually, someone's gotta give."

Temari was sick. Not in the literal sense, but she felt that if she really tried, she probably could make herself physically sick. Temari sat rather calmly, despite the terror she felt inside, on the marital bed, its red silken sheets gleaming in the candle light. Sasuke sat on the other side of the bed, not looking at Temari, his long pale fingers entwined before him.

The anxiety of the wedding and the situation with Shikamaru had consumed most of Temari's thoughts, leading her to forget entirely about what was expected of her after the wedding banquet. And, she had absolutely zero desire whatsoever to be with Uchiha Sasuke. The thought of anyone touching her in that way besides Shikamaru repulsed her.

On the other side of the bed, Sasuke wasn't feeling much better. He could have thought of a million other better things to do. It wasn't that the idea repulsed him - he just was not interested.

Sasuke glanced over at Temari out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps if he asked her, they could just not do it and say they did. Temari didn't seem to be like most of the other girls in the city who would have gladly jumped at the opportunity if given the chance. Perhaps he really should just ask her. Come to think of it, Sasuke still hadn't even spoken a word to Temari.

"We should…probably pour the wine, right?" Temari's voice broke the silence. It was cold and emotionless.

Sasuke glanced at the two golden goblets that were sitting on the table near Temari. They both were connected by a single red thread.

"Please." Said Sasuke gesturing with his hand for Temari to pour the wine.

For a moment, it almost looked like Temari scowled at Sasuke, but before he could spend another thought on it, she was moving toward the table. She lifted her sleeve up delicately and poured the wine into both goblets. Taking a spoonful of honey from a jar, she put some into each goblet. Before she could move over to Sasuke however, they heard the sound of the front door being closed.

Sasuke snapped to his feet. "I…I'll be right back." He said, not looking at Temari. He swiftly moved out the door and shut it behind him.

Sasuke emerged into the main room as Itachi stood by the doorway, slipping his shoes and outer coat off before handing them to a waiting maid.

"Itachi…" Said Sasuke hesitantly when the maid disappeared. "What happened?"

Itachi turned toward Sasuke and although his posture was erect and his face bore the same stoic expression as always, there was something in Itachi's usual dark and unreadable eyes that exuded weariness. As if Itachi had seen far too much in his few years.

"Dead body." Said Itachi, his voice smooth despite the hint of weariness. "Looks like suicide. He used poison."

As Itachi explained the details of the case to Sasuke, it almost felt like they were brothers again, the type they had been before their parents and the whole clan had been murdered. But then, it came crashing down around them as Itachi remembered where Sasuke was supposed to be.

Itachi's brow scrunched down, distorting the mask that he had on his face. "What are you doing out here?" Itachi asked suddenly. "You left Temari in the wedding chamber by herself?" He asked, his voice raising in volume. "This is your wedding night, Sasuke." He spoke as if Sasuke were a young child who needed to be taught a lesson.

"I only wanted to ask you…" Protested Sasuke.

"Go." Said Itachi. "Before she deems you a disgraceful husband. I hope your disrespectful manners haven't caused irreplaceable damage as it is." The anger had left his voice and now he just sounded tired.

The words died in Sasuke's mouth and he turned on his heel, almost stomping back to his bedroom like a little boy whose parents had just yelled at him. Itachi stood rooted to the spot, his eyes closed. Would he ever be able to do anything right? There was a time in his life where Itachi would have scoffed at such a question, but lately…he wasn't so sure.

"Aww, little Sasuke is having marital problems already?"

Itachi bristled at the voice, but didn't turn around or open his eyes. "Did I give you permission to enter?" He asked in a low voice, emotions carefully controlled.

"Heh." There was a chuckle of amusement from the intruder. "Do I need to bow down to some wet behind the ears police…" Kisame hadn't finished his sentence as Itachi had whirled around and grabbed the taller man's neck, staring at him with his activated Sharingan. His skin was cool against Kisame's and Itachi flexed his long fingers threateningly.

"It appears you never learn. This is my house and I will tell you whether or not you can enter. Do not be under the impression that you can just barge in." Said Itachi, raising an eyebrow.

Kisame grit his teeth and threw Itachi's hand off to which Itachi let him. "I only wanted to tell you an interesting piece of news." Said Kisame, his eyes narrowed in irritation.

Itachi sighed, casting a quick glance back down the hall where Sasuke disappeared. It wouldn't do any good to have such a conversation here. Itachi motioned for Kisame to follow him as he led Kisame toward his study. When the door was safely shut, Itachi finally let Kisame speak.

"I learned through the grapevine that Orochimaru is after your kid brother."

Itachi's mask cracked for a second, his eyes sparking with brief anger, his mouth pulled into a thin taut line. "The Konoha traitor Orochimaru? What would he want with Sasuke?" Itachi asked sharply.

Kisame shrugged rather nonchalantly, however he was intrigued by Itachi's subtle reaction. "I'm willing to bet it's for those million dollar eyes of yours."

Itachi turned his face slightly away from Kisame and if the blue skinned man didn't know any better, he would say Itachi almost looked worried. But Itachi was never worried. Itachi thought back to dead Hyuuga that he found. Itachi speculated he was a victim of Orochimaru's no doubt, as were the other deceased kidnapping victims. Itachi would move the earth itself to keep his younger brother out of Orochimaru's deadly and lecherous grasp.

The only problem was, Sasuke's newly acquired wife seemed to have a disconcerting connection with Orochimaru, as became apparent after Umino Iruka served Itachi with the autopsy report from the dead body found in her room. Itachi knew that now, he would have to keep an extra close eye on the both of them, especially if someone was already threatening Temari...

Itachi turned his face back toward Kisame and his face was smooth once more, as if he hadn't even reacted before. His eyes were like calm dark pools. If Kisame hadn't spent so long learning how to read Itachi's normally unreadable face, he would have fallen into the illusion Itachi created that whatever he thought he saw was merely a figment of his imagination.

"Thank you for telling me." Said Itachi. "Anything else?" His voice sounded almost bored. Kisame held back a grin, noting that Itachi was almost too good an actor.

Kisame scratched the back of his head. "I don't think so, though I heard from Zetsu...remember that real creepy son of a bitch? The Leader may soon have a job for us."

Speaking with the Leader was rare. With members scattered across the country, all doing various assignments, sometimes it was easy to forget they were all part of something larger. Considering Itachi's status in high society, Kisame was the only one that he spoke with on a semi-regular basis. Yet even so, the Leader only spoke with members if he had something important to say. Itachi wondered what could be so important…

Grumbling, Kakashi hauled out a load of spare blankets and pillows from one of the guesthouse cabinets and made his way to the main room where he would be sleeping on the couch. As he dumped the load on the couch, he heard a knock on the door. "Pssst, Kakashi, It's me Naruto."

Kakashi opened the door and welcomed Naruto in, who quickly slipped off his sandals. "Is she uhh…asleep?" Asked Naruto, pointing down the hallway toward Kakashi's bedroom.

Kakashi looked to where he was pointing and then nodded his head. "I just checked."

Naruto removed his mask and then made a seat for himself perched on top of the couch. Kakashi moved about, spreading out the blankets and pillows. "How come you didn't go to the wedding banquet?" Asked Kakashi casually.

"Oh." Said Naruto scratching the back of his head. "Guess I didn't feel like it."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Didn't feel like it? I've never known you to turn down free food and alcohol."

"Sometimes I do." Said Naruto.

"When something is wrong." Said Kakashi. He finished what he was doing, and then sat on the couch. "What's going on?"

Naruto took one look at Kakashi and then began to spill about everything that had happened the past couple of days and everything that was bothering him, just as he used to do as a kid. He rambled about what he saw happen between Sasuke and Sakura and the insecurities he felt and about his indecision on whether he should tell Sakura or not. He told him about finding Shikamaru and his situation with Temari. He confided that he was scared that the same thing would happen between him and Sakura. Kakashi listened with rapt attention, not saying anything until Naruto had finished speaking.

"You want my advice?" Asked Kakashi. Naruto nodded his head, weary from all the speaking.

"You should be honest with her." Said Kakashi frankly.

"What?" Asked Naruto, raising his eyebrows in disbelief.

"Be honest with Sakura. You should tell her what you told me." Said Kakashi. He patted Naruto's knee.

"But…" Said Naruto frustrated. "I can't tell her…she'll…"

"Naruto." Said kakashi sternly, cutting him off from what he was about to say. "Don't you think by saying that she will judge you, you are judging her in return?"

Naruto looked at Kakashi speechless. "Give her a chance." Continued Kakashi. "Sometimes, people surprise you. You've known Sakura for a long time now. Has she disappointed you once?"

Naruto stared at Kakashi a second more before giving him a small smile. "Maybe you're right."

Kakashi smiled and nodded his head as Naruto jumped off the couch. "So what about you?" Naruto asked.

Kakashi turned to Naruto, surprised. "What do you mean what about you?"

"I mean there's a hot girl in your bed right now and you're out here sleeping on the couch." Said Naruto with a grin.

"You little…" Said Kakashi whipping a pillow at Naruto which he deflected with a laugh. "She's not in my bed…in that way. She's…injured." Said Kakashi. "So don't get any ideas."

"I'm just saying, maybe you should follow your own advice." Said Naruto shrugging. "Maybe not with that girl…whoever she is, but with someone else."

Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I mean, be honest, but with yourself. You can't go through life alone you know." Said Naruto earnestly.

"You would, if you never get the guts to tell Sakura." Said Kakashi.

Naruto frowned. "That's different. I like the place we're in now. It's comfortable and no one gets hurt. At least I know she'll always be by my side, even if it isn't in the way I want it. You on the other hand…" Said Naruto.

"I had someone." Said Kakashi turning away. "But she's gone now."

"Exactly." Said Naruto coming around the couch to face Kakashi. "You can't…hold on to her forever. She left you and I think it's about time you left her. You need to…open up." Said Naruto.

Kakashi tilted his head back and sighed. "Fine…Naruto-daifu. I'll think about. Now get home."

Naruto saluted Kakashi with a grin. "Think about what I said."

Daifu - Doctor

"She likes you, you know."

Kakashi turned around and found himself suddenly staring up into the eyes of an angry Uchiha Obito. His hands were clenched into fists and the orange tinted goggles over his eyes made him seem even angrier. Despite the older Uchiha towering a few inches over him, Kakashi didn't even bat an eye as he continued to stare at Obito unemotionally.

"Who?" Kakashi asked finally, not really caring if Obito answered or not.

This seemed to make Obito angrier as his eyes widened. "You know who, you stupid bastard!" Yelled Obito. "Rin!"

Kakashi merely shrugged and walked away. He made it no farther than a couple of steps before he was roughly grabbed by the shoulder and yanked around by Obito. Irritated, Kakashi threw Obito's hand off. "That's it? That's your reaction? To just…walk away?" Screamed Obito in his face.

"I don't care who she likes." Said Kakashi looking away.

Obito gritted his teeth and it seemed that it was taking a great deal out of him to hold his anger back. "You…don't deserve her…" Said Obito.

Kakashi shrugged. "Then you take her. If she prefers idiots that is." Said Kakashi neutrally.

With a scream, Obito tried to punch Kakashi, but he easily evaded. Obito swung around and aimed another punch, still missing. "I would!" Obito yelled. "But she's too caught up on you!"

Finally, Kakashi had enough of dealing with Obito, so he tripped him, just as he was coming at Kakashi for another punch. Obito fell flat on his back, the wind knocked out of him.

"You take her." Said Kakashi nonchalantly. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared casually down at Obito. "I don't date losers." And he walked away as Obito yelled out in rage.

Sasuke stared at the empty bedchamber for a while. The bed sheets were neatly in their place, no evidence that anyone ever so much as sat on them. The candle light flickered around the otherwise dark room. The window was locked securely in place. Sasuke did nothing, said nothing, didn't even move.

All he could really think was 'thank the gods.'

Character Corner

Name: Feng Temari
Age: 20
Height: 5'-6''
Specializes: Ninjutsu, Taijutsu, Kenjutsu
Temari is the middle child of Governor Feng and his wife Karura and their only daughter. After her mother died when Temari was young, Temari took it upon herself to care for her brothers. At the age of 9, the Feng's survived an assassination attempt which Governor Feng hired Yakushi Kabuto as Temari's bodyguard. As Governor Feng made political advances in his career, he sent his children to live in the Land of Wind. During this time, Temari trained in the shinobi arts. When Temari was 18, her and her brothers were journeying back to Peking when they were attacked by desert by bandits. Temari gave pursuit after them after one of the men took her comb. After chasing the man through the desert, she collapsed from exhaustion. Upon waking, Temari found herself in the care of Nara Shikamaru, the leader of the desert bandits. After a rocky start, they fell in love and Temari stayed with Shikamaru a month before returning to her family.

Temari has always been an insightful child and always wanted to explore more than she could. She has always hated the restrictive lifestyle of being a politician's daughter and often longs for freedom. She is often blunt and rude toward the maids in whatever household she is staying with. Her soft side is only shown occasionally around Kabuto or Gaara. Because of her mother's death, Temari assumed the role to both of her brothers and is thus respected by both of them. She is accomplished in the shinobi arts and mastered Ninjutsu on her own as Kabuto never taught her. She has a wind elemental affiliation.