Never Turn Your Back

-A TayMor and Addicted-to-GazettE collaboration...

AAHH! We love you guys! Kyaaa! Reviews! *too excited to speak, so give us a moment to compose ourselves...ahem* So... you're all wonderful, so wonderful, for reviewing! :D We always love hearing from our readers especially those that seem to be following the plot! We didn't mean to take this long to update, but illnesses, computer crashes, and unplanned occurrences kept us away from this chapter! *pouts a little* Anyway, we are glad you love Sakura and her plan so far... let's see how ya like the rest of it! *winks* Onward to Glory!

Chapter Four: Tayuya or Not Tayuya (Part 2)

Previously on NTYB...

"You're an Angel! My brother would be so distraught if something had happened to her!" Sakura looked up and scanned the ballroom. "Can you cover for me if someone asks about me?" Sakura asked. "I need to see how she's doing now that she's calmer." The maid gave her a nod and scurried off, just before there was a thump from inside the restroom.

Having heard the whole conversation through the wires, her partner piped up sounding vastly amused, "Now what, Pumpkin-chan? Gonna wave that magic wand?"

"I already have," Sakura let a devious smile pull at her lips, "Now my Prince Charming, Cinderella makes her debut. Let the magic begin."

Amegakure no Sato
Raikage Auditorium
10:44 pm

It was like magic, Tayuya's appearance tonight. He'd yet to see her in her evening wear, having left for business early this morning and arriving at the party late. So to say his first sight of her took his breath away was an understatement. She was stunning. Kimimaro felt his mouth go dry as he watched her descend from the balcony with slow, measured steps... like she knew he was watching. He felt his eyelids moving slowly, as if the entire vision of her was moving in slow motion.

Her dress was beautiful, even more so because of her shapely physique. A collar with a double row of purple stones with a purple mesh insert between the rows lay flat on her upper chest and shoulders. Beneath that was a form-fitting bodice with a mesh piece under her arms. The dress was a work of art, a testament to the small fortune he'd shelled out for it. It hugged her hips, then flared out in a bountiful plethora of feathers. Though her face was hidden by a mask, her trademark red hair was like a beacon to him, softly curled to rest on her shoulders, its sheen taking on the reflections from the lights overhead.

Kimimaro had not even realized how close she was to him until her glossed lips turned up at the corners in a confident smile. And then she was sliding into his arms, her hands smoothing over his shoulders.

"Konbanwa, Kimimaro-kun," she said, her usually brash voice low and husky. It was the stuff of dreams. Of visions. Of the masculine version of a fairy-tale.

Raikage Auditorium

"This fairy-tale isn't panning out like I'd hoped..." Charming-sama groused in Sakura's earpiece. "It's the worst, I say. The worst. Fairytale. Ever." He sounded genuinely perturbed, and if Sakura wasn't wrapped in the arms of Tayuya's lover in the middle of a crowded dance floor, dressed as said woman, Sakura would have laughed.

"Why is Cinderella wrapped in some other dude's arms, dancing the night away? What about Charming-sama, you adulteress?" He complained, his voice sounding oddly muffled as if he had something blocking his speech. "What does your faithful prince get? Babysitting duty, a bucket of fried chicken, and cheap third party thrills. My inner child has been slapped in the face by harsh reality. Nice guys always finish last - You know I punched the last person that said that to me," he added offhand, "Now, I feel like he's getting his revenge by rubbing salt in my maidless wounds."

Sakura bit the inside of her lip, thankful that her cheek was pressed to Kimimaro-sama's chest because that way he couldn't see her grin. Charming-sama was a remarkably talkative partner, one she would have been able to enjoy more had she been permitted to respond. She should have known better though, than to agree to the wire tap. He was really killing her with his narrations. Luckily she was distracted when a deep voice rumbled pleasantly under her ear.

"You're being quiet tonight," Kimimaro said suddenly, his voice low and smooth... and dare she say, pleased. "After that minor debacle with the maid, I thought I would have to take you to see Otou-san," the pale haired man continued, his slightly icy tone revealing a barely veiled threat. Instinctively, Sakura stiffened her spine.

"She was stealing," she hissed softly, hoping she could capture Tayuya's tone, but muffling her voice so any differences would be somewhat concealed. "What was I supposed to do? Let her get away with it?"

"Causing a scene with the help, and drawing undue attention to yourself is mindless and stupid, especially on a night like tonight. Be more careful from now on, hmm?" His voice was even, a carefully controlled baritone that almost seemed to drip tendrils of frost off every word.

Trying to think of a way to disarm the situation, Sakura hastily tried to come up with a 'Tayuya' retort. Finally she decided to take a leaf out of Charming-sama's book- hoping that she hadn't completely read her dance partners body language wrong. Pressing closer and hoping she wasn't blowing her cover, Sakura spoke.

"You seem awfully keen on defending that maid, dearest. Should I step aside and let her take my man, too? She already had her hands in my purse, so why stop there?" Sakura hissed with carefully contrived venom lacing her tone. To her surprise, Kimimaro chuckled lightly.

She ignored the choking sounds coming from the earpiece embedded in her ear, that sounded suspiciously like 'Hypocrite!'. Kimimaro's hand ran consolingly down her bare back left exposed by the deep V cut at the back of her dress, that warm palm moved with aching slowness halting just shy of propriety, fingers brushing dangerously close to her derrière. As shivers followed the motion, Sakura was a little ashamed that it wasn't disgust that had gooseflesh breaking out along her bare arms. It was a very telling action. It seemed she hadn't been wrong in her assumption that he and Tayuya had a thing for each other. The action all but branded her as 'Mine'.

Awareness floated along her consciousness that this was a tall, wealthy and extremely attractive male currently holding her captive in his embrace. Kimimaro was hot...she couldn't be blamed for a normal feminine reaction...right? Charming-sama thought otherwise.

"His hand is on your butt, isn't it?" he accused, tone morally offended, "You charlatan!" he ranted in her earpiece. "You wanton wench!" Instead of listening to Charming-sama's rantings, Sakura focused on portraying Tayuya. She relaxed against Kimimaro.

"I suppose you are like all men," she pouted, her painted lips taking on the look of a dejected, jealous lover. "You probably wouldn't mind having more than one woman to fawn over you." Kimimaro laughed softly at her, foregoing all propriety and giving her rear a squeeze. His hand had moved from her waist in one smooth motion and Sakura almost jumped, a squeak of surprise leaving her throat.

"You give me all the fawning I need," Kimimaro whispered in Sakura's ear. Sakura gulped at his smooth, suggestive tone.

"...My third wheel senses are tingling. Get a room already." Charming-sama booed before he heard the small sound of unintentional enjoyment Sakura made in her throat when Kimimaro whispered in her ear. "NO! Don't get a room! I joke, I joke! I kid, I kid! I spoke in jest," her partner said hurriedly having caught the gist of what the other man was insinuating. Sakura cleared her throat. She had to stay focused.

"So..." Sakura started, smoothing her hands affectionately - she was enjoying her role as Tayuya far more than she should - over the front of Kimimaro's expansive chest. "Which of our 'friends' have you seen so far?" Kimimaro's hands slid back up to her waist as he pulled her closer.

"Well, I spotted Uchiha Itachi a while back, but he was on the other side of the room talking with Sarutobi Hiruzen," Kimimaro responded, one hand sliding to her hip and the other moving up and down her back. Sakura shivered - and considering he was the enemy - for all the wrong reasons. Did this man have a problem with keeping his hands in one place?

Raikage Auditorium
11:02 pm

Kimimaro was having a problem keeping his hands in one place. Tayuya's dress for the night encouraged them to explore, what with that almost completely open back edged with fine purple mesh. Despite how completely sexy she looked, she still managed to pull off a level of class that made his chest expand a bit with pride. He wasn't at all surprised. After all for her rather dramatic and sometimes caustic personality, he'd always admired and been impressed by Tayuya's class... at least clothing-wise, since verbally she could be tasteless more often than not. What confused him wasn't her dress choice in the least.

The thing that baffled him a little was how she felt in his arms tonight. She didn't usually feel... like all. This Tayuya he couldn't seem to keep his hands off. Something about the mannerisms... She was still the same personality-wise, but... there was just something irresistible about her tonight. Actually, despite her normal sharp tone, she seemed almost like a different woman altogether in some aspects. When she'd stepped closer and blatantly showed her jealousy just a few moments ago Kimimaro's eyebrow had shot up. Tayuya wasn't one to admit her feelings openly. She was also being extremely affectionate tonight, while normally she would have balked at the display they were making. Not that he was complaining. It was a rather...enchanting change in his normally aloof lover. Almost endearing in fact. When she shivered in his arms and fluttered those lashes behind her mask, Kimimaro smiled slightly in a show of masculine pride. No he didn't mind the change at all.

"Uchiha Itachi? Why would he be here? He... he can't know, can he?" Tayuya asked, her hand sliding round his waist. Kimimaro dropped his face to her neck and inhaled her scent. For once she didn't smell like cinnamon. It was a softer smell, slightly floral with a hint of mystery. Almost like cherry blossoms.

"Most likely he has an inkling. Stay out of his way," Kimimaro said, his hands sliding over the smooth, soft skin of her back once more. She shuddered a little in his arms. It was getting late. Maybe they should leave? Considering how unusually aware she seemed to be of him tonight, this prospect was looking more wonderful by the second. His lips curved against the skin of her neck.

"D-did you see anyone else?" Tayuya asked, resting her forehead against his chest. Was it just him, or did she seem a little shorter tonight? He liked whatever it was that was different. If only he could figure it out.

"Well, I saw Hidan and Kakuzu..." Kimimaro started, gauging Tayuya's reaction. He had his suspicions that she might be … involved with Kakuzu... but he wasn't sure. He had sources that had seen them exit a hotel room on one occasion, and the thought irked him, but more so tonight than any other night. As he had predicted, Tayuya stiffened slightly in his arms.

"Hidan and Kakuzu? Why would they be here?" her voice shook slightly with nerves before she managed to control it, and Kimimaro felt jealousy curl in his gut like he'd just been punched. How odd. Usually he was more amused by her childish games than anything else. His hand tightened warningly on her waist, before they moved to more polite locations, disgusted that some other man had touched the same woman he'd been seducing not moments before.

"Maybe you like some extra fawning yourself," he hissed darkly. She stepped away from him, her brown eyes flashing angrily. Hmm... her eyes seemed a darker chocolate tonight.

"How dare you even suggest that? As if I would speak to him!" She sounded so... affronted, that Kimimaro felt the jealous heat in his gut subside somewhat, but still... His guard was up. Glass green eyes turned cold and his smile was not the least bit flirtatious now. In fact it was more of a sneer.

"Which him do you refer to? I suppose you mean Kakuzu, ne, Tayuya? Don't bother to deny it. You were seen together and we both know how you like to play your games." His hand tightened further before falling away from her coldly. "Maybe he didn't get enough the last time-" There was a sharp report as Tayuya's palm connected with his cheek.

"You impossible cretin," she snapped, nibbling her lower lip. "How dare you even hint at infidelity, when you know you're all I want." She turned away from him, starting to move away from him. Kimimaro felt satisfaction settle within his chest, and he reached for her arm.

"Tayuya..." This time, she tugged her arm away from him.

"Uchiha will be looking for us. If he sees us together, he will be able to identify me... so maybe it's best that we stay apart for awhile," she said uncharacteristically softly, and floated away from him. Kimimaro stood rooted to the spot, the knowledge that he couldn't call out to her frustrating him more than he could define.

Raikage Auditorium
11: 15 pm

Itachi was getting more annoyed than he could define. He'd been here for hours and he still hadn't been able to get near Tayuya yet, let alone talk to her. If that wasn't enough, Kabuto had yet to stop talking.

"Uchiha-san, whats the target's position?" "Uchiha-san do you have a visual?" "Uchiha-san why are you so quiet?"

Uchiha-san, Uchiha-san. Itachi felt the veins at his temple throb, and he wondered what he'd done to deserve being stuck with a noob. Kisame was better than this nutcracker. Irritated enough to pull out his earpiece, a rather rare state for him, Itachi nonchalantly snapped the piece of equipment and dropped it into a nearby trashcan. He'd contemplated stepping on the thing, but he figured Kabuto could talk to the rest of his kin there in the trash.

All was blessed silent in his head. Now if only he could get rid of the blasted microphone. Itachi was on his way to the bathroom to rip the damned microphone from his chest when he saw her again. Tayuya. This time, he knew it was her, because she was with none other than Kimimaro. Feeling a lot more cheerful now that he was no longer had Kabuto's irritating voice in his ear, and he wasmaking progress, Itachi circled the room covertly to get a better visual.

He'd wait patiently for the two to part before deciding when to make his move. This night might turn out better than he'd planned.

Raikage Auditorium

"How many times did I remind you that tonight was a masked ball, you thick headed moron?" Kakuzu hissed, miffed that he was stuck wearing a mask and his partner wasn't.

"Hell if I'd get caught dead wearing one of those conventionalist pansy ass looking contraptions. Can you imagine my Jashin's reaction? She'd laugh herself mute." Hidan scoffed running one manicured hand over his slicked back silver hair with a rakish sneer. "They look ridiculous, and do I look like one of these patsies? Actual masculine perfection shouldn't be hidden from the masses," he boasted, oozing self-satisfaction that drew more than one lady's lingering stare. He sent a busty blonde who sidled up too close a disinterested glare before continuing, " 'sides, Ya saved a buck, so quitcher bitchin' ya materialistic prick."

Kakuzu wasn't the least bit mollified by his associate's...reassurances. He was materialistic? Hidan was strutting through the crowd like a puffed up bird. Giving the 'peacock' at his side an annoyed look he spoke again, his voice low and craggly.

"Speaking of your supposed 'girlfriend', I'm sure she'd be delighted that you just ogled another woman's breasts."

The older of the duo made no bones about the fact that he didn't believe in this 'Jashin's' existence. Everyone in the Akatsuki, hell anyone that was unfortunate enough to be in hearing distance of Hidan's foul trap, had heard the sung praises of the man's 'Goddess Jashin-sama', but never once had any of them met her. Hell the man didn't even have a picture, claiming that perfection couldn't be captured properly by hedonistic machines created by man. There was even a betting pool back at headquarters. Sasori was of the opinion that the woman was some hideous occultist recluse. Tobi defended perhaps she was just shy, while Deidara just snidely said she was a figment of Hidan's desperately repressed imaginations. Kakuzu himself had to lean more towards his explosion expert co-worker's assessment himself; after all he spent so much time with the cocky platinum blonde potty mouth that he couldn't imagine anyone, let alone a woman, actually falling for the prick.

"Hmph as if. Not my fault the tart shoved them in my face," Hidan commented off hand, looking supremely uninterested. "My Goddess puts her to shame."

Rolling his eyes, Kakuzu grunted, "So you always say. Now... should we actually get to work or are you going to drag your feet all night?"

"Shut yer pie hole, ya scarred up freak," Hidan mumbled as he peered around the room. "Unlike your sorry excuse for attention, I've been scanning this place for Tayuya ever since we got here, and I've already found her. It's no sense trying to talk to her with Kimimaro glued to her ass."

"Where is she?" Kakuzu craned his neck as he looked about the room for Tayuya. Hidan grunted beside him.

"You blind ****," the silver haired male said, giving Kakuzu a look of disgust and disappointment. "Look on the dance floor. Fluffy purple dress on... she looks ****** fine tonight and you can't miss the way her boy-toy's practically ripping the broad's clothes off... but she still can't hold a candle to Jashin-sama." Kakuzu blinked at his partner.

"I should be getting paid better for this," he groused, stalking off in the direction of the dance floor as Tayuya moved away from Kimimaro. "Looks like there's trouble in Paradise, huh?" he muttered.

"Obviously," Hidan piped up, keeping pace with Kakuzu. "The woman's personality is like a freaking banshee. Like...the man-eating, scratch your eyes out variety. I don't know how Kimi-chan deals with it. If we didn't need her for this to work, I would have already sacrificed that loud mouthed cinnamon bitch to Jashin-sama. Never trust a woman who smells like a cooking spice. Sends all the wrong signals."

Yeah. All the people Hidan killed he claimed were sacrifices to Jashin. The man was seriously mental.

"What about vanilla?" Kakuzu asked absently as he pushed through the people. "When women smell like vanilla, it's not so bad." Hidan stopped walking.

"And all this time I thought you were like a eunuch or some shit? And you've been smelling women? Besides, why would ya want ta hang around some broad that constantly makes you hungry with her perfume?" A waiter with a tray full of empty glasses narrowly missed Hidan as he walked past, earning a scowl and a rude hand gesture from the silver-haired male.

"Speaking of perfume, she's headed toward the ladies' room. We swing around and cut her off?" Kakuzu confirmed the plan with his partner even as he walked toward the hall leading to the bathrooms. Hidan followed still glaring at the waiter as he hurried away, paling when he caught on to the gangster's foul mood.

"Slutty bimbos, rude bastards, and now I have to corner some broad by the loo. Isn't this considered sexual harassment? If we get arrested, you're the one I'm throwing at Jashin-sama's mercy," Hidan griped as the walked. "Somehow, this night is getting worse and worse. The only thing that could successfully top this whole thing off, is if I had damn Tobi for a partner instead of you," he continued grousing as he rudely shoved a masked gentleman out of his way.

Kakuzu chose not to respond, since Tayuya was, by now, only a couple paces ahead of them. It was time to report in.

Raikage Auditorium
11:20 pm

"Report in, Pumpkin-chan," Charming-sama piped up in Sakura's earpiece, "What have we got so far?"

Sakura nibbled the inside of her lip before responding.

"Well, it seems that Kakuzu and Tayuya have got something going on the side. Wait, have I been demoted? Am I no longer Cinderella-hime?" Sakura teased in a low voice, her lips barely moving. It would look a bit too interesting if she was seen talking to herself.

"Stay focused, Pumpkin-chan," Charming-sama said, his deep voice surprisingly serious. "You don't want to underestimate those two. Never trust Akatsuki."

The smile fell from Sakura's face. He was right, after all. She should stay focused.

"Well, I saw Kakuzu and Hidan somewhere about the place. I didn't manage to get much about the situation out of Kimimaro-san, but he wants me to avoid Uchiha Itachi for some reason. I think I'll make a point to talk to him," Sakura went on, looking about for the mafioso pair. If only she knew what Uchiha Itachi actually looked like... She had her hand rested on the restroom door when she turned and saw them... literally two feet behind her! How much had they heard?

Deciding not to say anything in case it was the wrong thing, Sakura faced the two men silently, and blinked expectantly at them. They weren't speaking. They were staring at her as if they expected her to say or do something. Sakura scowled from behind her mask.

"Well?" she demanded finally, planting her hand on her hip. "Are you going to keep me here all night, you annoying bastards?" A reel of scatological terms were streaming through Sakura's mind. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell was she supposed to do or say to them? It was times like this she wished she could rely on her Prince to save her. Unfortunately there was no chance of that being possible. She just hoped they didn't have some password or something, because she sure as hell didn't know it. Hidan and Kakuzu shared a glance.

"We hit pay dirt," the silver-blonde declared arrogantly, and hiding her confusion, Sakura raised one eyebrow in what she hoped came off as impatience. The taller and more muscular of the two shoot the man at his side an aggravated glare.

"We found someone," Kakuzu rumbled to clarify, his voice deep and gravelly. Sakura let a disdainful glance slide over the scars on his face that seemed to split his mouth into a bizarrely wide grin. The man's green eyes narrowed at her perusal, and she rolled her eyes.

"And?" she scoffed cocking on hip to the side and crossing her arms under her bust line in a show of impatience. "Are you going to actually tell me what's going on, or are we gonna play games all night?" She eyed them, a sneer pushing its way to her lips.

"You red tightwad witch," Hidan growled. He opened his mouth to continue, but was interrupted by his partner.

"We decided to go with someone... in house," the larger man said flatly, ignoring Hidan. Sakura blinked. What the hell were they on about. There was a suspicious choking noise over her earpiece.

"Pumpkin-chan," Charming-sama croaked, still choking.

"Yeah?" Sakura answered both Kakuzu and Charming-sama with the single word.

"Milk that thread of conversation," Charming-sama said after composing himself.

"Yeah," Hidan piped up at the same time. "We are going with the weed freaks." Sakura blinked. Okay. The situation was getting away from her a bit. Sakura felt like different angles and positions were swirling around her and it was getting harder to sort through them.

"Hold up," she snapped. "Do elaborate, geezer," she snapped at Hidan, covertly insulting his hair while desperately trying to retake the reins of control. "What house and what weed? I don't remember agreeing to that." She looked to the side and fanned herself with a hand. "And what the hell did Kimimaro give me to drink?" she mumbled loud enough for them to overhear, just in case this was something Tayuya really had agreed to.

"The Zetsu twins," Kakuzu snapped impatiently, but didn't continue. Apparently she was supposed to know who those were. Unfortunately, she didn't. She'd just have to wing this. Luckily her partner seemed to know a little more than she did.

"Secondary members of their organization, Pumpkin-chan. They run a marijuana farm. Keep up and listen close, we need this."

"Oh those two," she said vaguely. "And you made sure that they are appropriate? No offence, but I'm doubtful of their cred. I don't need for you to screw this whole thing up." This time, both men scowled at her and Sakura hoped to god she wasn't blowing this. Having heard Charming-sama's urgency, she might not follow what was going on, but if he could, they couldn't afford to lose this lead.

"You bitch," Hidan jeered. "Baka, of course we're sure. Have we ever bombed a plan before? We know our shit," he went on, puffing his chest. "I've told you before, Toots, the sooner you stop being a snob and trust us, the smoother the operation and the sooner the Cat will be in the bag."

Sakura was about to respond when she caught sight of Kakuzu's annoyed eye roll over Hidan's head. The gesture was clearly for her benefit. What? What was Kakuzu insinuating? She decided to go with his flow.

"Whatever. If you're so good, go make sure my stupid boyfriend doesn't see us talking. Go find a way to make sure he stays far from this side like a good little Akatsuki," she demanded, making shooing gestures with her hand. "I'm tired of being accused of lowering myself to sleeping with the help."

She was taking a gamble with that comment, but having judged both men's dislike of Tayuya, she didn't think it was a risky one. If there was something between 'her' and Kakuzu then she'd play it off. Ignoring the strange gagging noise Hidan made, she feigned disinterest as he muttered under his breath about 'Jashin-sama' and 'Cinnamon flavored blood smears'. Kakuzu grunted and sent his partner a telling look.

"Keeping watch isn't a bad idea. Run along Hidan. Make sure we're not... interrupted. My time and money is being wasted as it is with your interruptions." Hidan's face morphed into several shapes of unholy disgust at the innuendo hidden in those words before he did a whole body shudder crab walk backpedal away from the pair.

"Fuck this kinky shit I'm gone," he spat hurrying down the hall, "Jashin-sama, save me from the evil immorality of mortal man..." he prayed before stalking away. There was a strange, stilted silence as Hidan moved away, and it was not until the silver haired male disappeared into the crowd that Kakuzu shifted.

The large man closed the distance between Sakura and himself with a single stride. His green eyes darkened as his gaze dropped to her face and he put an arm out, locking her in against the wall next to the restroom door. Sakura was grateful for her mask, because she was seriously freaking out. What the hell? Tayuya and Kakuzu? Why did she have to impersonate someone with so many … interests? How many more were there?

"I thought he might never leave," Kakuzu rumbled, his gaze straying to her lips. "I can't deal with the Kami-forsaken waiting, Tayuya," he went on, his voice husky as he leaned forward. Sakura shuddered inwardly and wished the waiting would turn into eternity. Her despair was echoed in her ear by a more vocal complainant, Charming-sama.

"You know, I'm a normally jovial fellow, but even I can get a little disgruntled when so many spoons keep dipping into my pudding cup." Charming-sama sounded neither charming nor willing to be pleasant. That brilliant reminder of her partner's presence got Sakura into action before the mafioso before her could get any closer.

"Not now, Kakuzu-san," Sakura hissed, turning her face to the side. "Kimimaro saw us the last time. I don't need to shake the boat any more right now." A growl escaped the large man's lips as he backed up only fractionally.

"I thought you were leaving that idiot," he rumbled, his dissatisfaction eking through into his tone.

"Just... Just tell me what else you have," Sakura went on, pushing the Akatsuki member away from her with a palm to his chest. Clearly annoyed, Kakuzu took a step back and scowled at her.

"We took care of the situation in Konohagakure like you asked. Wings were clipped, and beaks were stunted, so no more birds can sing, just as you asked." His voice grew more and more menacing, obviously not happy at being treated in such a manner. His hand had manacled around her upper arm, and his painted fingers dug into her pale skin harshly. As Sakura's heart began to flutter slightly in panic, she heard Charming-sama hiss an expletive.

"Fine. And lose the attitude, Kakuzu-san," Sakura growled, hating the little tremble in her voice. Things were so different with Kimimaro-san. Kami, what could Tayuya see in such a violently terrifying man? She yanked at her hand, trying to pull it out of his grasp, but the attempt was futile.

"Well, what do you expect? You've been putting me off for-"

"This is hardly the time or the place, Kakuzu," Sakura snapped, channelling her nervous energy to make her flustered state a bit more convincing. "Let me go." She tugged at her hand again.

Kakuzu glowered at her. He raised a brow. She was not going to escape until he got what he wanted, and that much was certain by the set of jaw and despite her years of on scene training something in his eyes made her want to run.

'Dear Kami, is he exuding murderous intent towards a woman he is involved with?' She thought wildly that if he was willing to hurt a woman he loved, what would he do to her?

Charming-sama's voice rang in her ear, for once all humor absent. Her dear prince was now a cold tactician.

"Keep your cool, girl. Talk him down and around. We need to know what he knows."

Yeah, right. He could talk. He wasn't the one being stared down by someone whose chest was at her eye level. A very wide chest, with arms that looked as if they could snap her in half. Still, Sakura decided to attempt what Charming-sama was asking.

She angled her head to the side, baring her neck.

"Fine... don't leave a mark. And after that, you talk. We can continue all this somewhere else, some other time. It isn't like I meant to put you off. I just had to," she mumbled, not meeting his eyes. She just hoped the moment would pass quickly. The obviously unstable man before her, was terrifying. Kakusu paused for a moment before he was back in her personal space. He made no sound nor said any words. Before Sakura could even react, one large, warm and calloused hand was gripping her jaw and the other held her shoulder. This was it. She prepared herself for the urge to hurl.

It refused to present itself. Sakura's eyebrows would have shot off her face in surprise if they could; Kakuzu was good at what he did! Though she was far from mentally enjoying the sensations, she couldn't deny her body's chemical reaction. Eyes wide, Sakura's mind reeled at the notion, while his hot mouth slid against the skin of her exposed neck. When the hand holding her shoulder slipped around to her back, Sakura snapped herself out of the haze. No. Oh, hell no. She cleared her throat.

"Enough," she said simply... or rather, she whispered. Kakuzu stepped away from her without a fuss, and eyed her with a smug expression on his face. Sakura cleared her throat again and put her hand over the damp spot on her neck. Kimimaro and now Kakuzu? The men around Tayuya were... talented, though Sakura really couldn't say she cared for the way, the woman apparently kept them all in line, seemingly using them as she saw fit- especially since she herself had to imitate the loose woman's actions.

"We... I completed the last...personal objective without hitch." The man continued, oblivious to her inner thoughts. "It went just as planned. Our little hamster runs in his wheel at a nice pace. I know you were worried about me being able to secure a good one, but rest assured, this rat's firmly under our... my boot," Kakuzu went on, his gaze glued to her hand. Sakura pretended not to notice, instead focusing on the way he corrected himself, as if someone else was involved and he didn't want her to know about it. "We just need the next of your father's objectives now," the large man went on.

Sakura was thankful that he was staring at her neck, because her eyes must have taken on the most blank expression known to man. Tayuya's father? What did he have to do with anything? This was turning out to be much more than she'd thought it would be.

"I had to distract Hidan with the Zetsu twins while I took care of the Konoha situation. This partner crap the Akatsuki pulled is annoying me and wasting my time," Kakuzu complained, scowling. Sakura hid her frown as she heard her partner begin to curse fluently in the earpiece in a language she didn't understand. She did her best to tune him out for the man in front of her.

"It was a good thing he had some ceremony with Jashin or whatever, because he was contemplating joining me in Konohagakure, and that would not have worked out so well for us."

"Well, see that you keep our pet and your partner under control, Kakuzu, especially your partner. I don't want his eyes straying from the house cats, " Sakura snapped, folding her arms- mostly to hide the trembling in her fingers. The murderer... the one responsible for the deaths in Konoha... stood not a foot away and she could do nothing to apprehend him!

"I'm not ready to take the next step yet, so meet me later," she said in a low voice. "Here," holding out a folded slip of paper she'd prepared for just such an occasion, Sakura actual as casual as she could muster. "My number's recently and temporarily changed. If you need me, call that number." Turning away from Kakuzu and stalking into the restroom, she effectively dismissed him.

The restrooms were on the opposite side of the ballroom to the one she had left Tayuya in. Right now, she just needed somewhere to gather her thoughts and get away from all these people Tayuya seemed to need to meet and avoid. Leaning against the door to support her trembling legs Sakura covered her eyes with a hand that she could no longer keep from shaking. It was from fear as much as anger and adrenaline. Anger at the feeling that she was missing an important piece to the rapidly growing puzzle still, but not being knowledgeable enough about the situation to have been able to press for more.

"Oh Kami, what do we do now, Ki-" her partner cleared his throat before she could completely utter his name in still unsafe territory. "Sorry, Charming-sama...I just need a minute."

Raikage Auditorium
11:36 pm

It only took him a minute. One short sixty second span of broken eye contact and he'd lost her. Lips thin with displeasure, Itachi cursed the entire night to hell, wondering what else could go wrong. Prowling around the edges of the ballroom, his sharp black eyes scanned thousands of masked faces looking for the one he'd had in his sights not moments before.

It was frustrating and a little demeaning. He'd been here for hours, and still he had not been able to have that desperately needed tête-a-tête with the red headed Sound Syndicate diva. Though it was no excuse for his lack of progress, he supposed his personal issues were affecting his emotions too much. It was not a realization the man enjoyed. Uchiha's prided themselves on self-control. In the last couple of weeks, he'd made one slip too many. Itachi released a controlled breath. He had to pull himself together. Now. If he could just find that blasted Tayuya.

And there she was. Just in time to prevent him from thinking that his senses were being dulled while he was in his prime. He couldn't miss that elaborate mask even if he tried. Changing course with little fuss, the Uchiha stalked his prey. There was no way he was letting her escape this time.

Raikage Auditorium
11:39 pm

That waitress was not going to escape her full wrath. To drug her and then steal her clothing? Seriously? Tayuya was thinking thoughts stronger than her body was as she staggered to her feet. Standing took a lot of effort, and Tayuya's brain was foggy with what she already knew must be the after-effects of some drug. She'd felt like this several times before, but not in her recent history. Once the room - or bathroom stall, she thought, disgusted - stopped spinning, Tayuya was miffed to find herself dressless. That harlot had robbed her of a one of a kind priceless thousand dollar masterpiece. As if to add insult to injury, she'd been redressed in the unremarkable, scratchy and impossibly dowdy maid uniform.

Oh, she was going to kill that bi-

Tayuya stumbled into the stall door, the pain in her shoulder - which she used to stop her face from hitting the marble - making her forget the rest of her mental threat. Whimpering and hissing out a breath, brown eyes flashed with murder once she'd regained her composure. Her perfectly manicured nails scraped shrilly over the slick door's surface, imagining it was her opponents eyes.

Blood was going be spilt this night.

Raikage Auditorium
11:45 pm

Draining his fourth brandy of the night, Kimimaro paused as he spotted blood red hair across the room. Tayuya was making her way across the ballroom, her dress swishing gracefully around her legs. Even from a distance and covered with a mask he could tell her features were pale and distressed. Brow furrowing with worry, Kimimaro rested his glass on the tray of a passing waiter, and in so doing, his gaze flitted to the other corner of the room... the other corner where someone looking remarkably like Tayuya was stumbling from the women's restrooms.

Wait, what?

After he'd separated from his lover on the dance floor earlier, the Sound heir hadn't been able to shake the feeling that something was off. Now that very feeling was realized. Something was most definitely off.

First off, there were two Tayuyas, and that was something Kimimaro would never wish on the world. He might have drunk a lot of liquor tonight, but not that much. That was definitely Tayuya's dress on the woman gliding in his direction, but the expression of raw fury on the Tayuya stepping from the restrooms could not be replicated by anyone. Oh dear.

Kimimaro's eyes flitted from one woman to the other as his mind reeled for a plan of action. What the hell was going on, and who had he danced with tonight? Kimimaro had a sinking feeling that it hadn't been his hopeful fiance to be that had felt so perfect and made for his arms. Crap.

The mystery woman rushing toward him met his gaze and he watched her brown eyes become as confused as he felt, before her head snapped around. When the real Tayuya shrieked angrily, Kimimaro watched as her eyes went wide and she gathered her, or should he say his fiance's, dress up and bolted in the opposite direction. Kimimaro stood stock still, caught in a strange trance. How many times in one man's life did he see two Himura Tayuyas? Also, how many times in his life had he felt the way he'd felt dancing with the apparent imposter? The answer to both questions - None.

"What are you waiting for, you dumb blonde," the real Tayuya snapped as she approached unsteadily. "Go after her!" Kimimaro sighed internally. It was definitely not her that he'd been dancing with.

He was just about to obey his pissed-off lover when a wide shouldered form barrelled past him, knocking him slightly to the side. As the man passed him, Kimimaro saw two things at the same time: Tayuya's mouth opening to blast the man due to her already blazing temper... and the man's face.

Uchiha Itachi.

In a move so fast Kimimaro surprised himself, when his lover was in arms range, his hand shot out to cover her lips. His brain made a connection and he wasn't about to let this chance pass.

"Shh," he hissed harshly into her ear, jerking her against his chest. "Damn it, Tayuya. I told you to be quiet tonight." Tayuya spun to face him, and seeing the indignation in her eyes he tried not to notice how different she felt to him now.


"Don't say a word," Kimimaro said sharply before she could continue. "We are leaving now."

Raikage Auditorium
11:47 pm

After this, he was leaving, hot on the heels of his fleeing target.

She didn't even notice him as she ran. Itachi pushed his way around, moving faster than she could in her long dress and full skirts. She was glancing behind her as she barrelled through the crowd, not even noticing his presence a few feet to her left. Itachi pushed forward, dodging guests and staff and arms and glasses as he moved ahead of her. He couldn't lose her now, not before he got a good look at her.

His sharp black eyes refused to leave her form this time around even though the masses between them threatened to take her out of his periphery. Itachi halted for a moment, waiting for her to catch up. When she looked behind her, searching for someone supposedly on her tail, Itachi took a calculated step directly into her path of flight.

His toned body didn't even budge at the solid impact when she slammed into his chest. As she reeled backwards with a startled cry, her mask slipped from her face and clattered to the floor. He had her now. His arms snapped out and gently but firmly steadied her before she could follow.

Itachi watched as her eyes widened with recognition and she began to backpedal, trying to turn and run from him. Her panic at seeing him was clear but it was already too late for her. Her features had been memorized in a single glance and she was in his hands. She wasn't getting away. Not tonight. Not on his watch. Not gonna happen. His arm shot out again, fingers digging into the exposed flesh of her arm.

"You're coming with me," he stated firmly, dragging her behind him to the fringes of the ballroom. He was going to get the information he wanted from her, and he was going to get it now. Ignoring her struggles, Itachi firmly pushed her up against a wall and held her in place. He watched her quiet herself.

He watched... and for all his watching, he couldn't shake the feeling that he'd seen that face before. He'd seen the cheeks, the nose and the lips... but he couldn't place her. And why did he get the odd notion that her eyes were wrong?

Raikage Auditorium

The minute she saw the shock on Kimimaro's face and saw her 'double' shrieking at her, Sakura knew she needed to get out of there and NOW.

"Run Pumpkin, and don't let anyone stop you, unless you wanna be baked into pie," her partner's voice rang loud and clear, a clear edge in his tone despite the humor. He'd obviously guessed what was going on with little to no difficulty.

Instantly upon hearing Charming-sama bark the order in her ear, Sakura gathered her skirts and had bolted from the scene as fast as her pinching shoes would allow. The doors were too far away for her liking and who knew if they were on her tail?! It was then that the disguised pinkette made a fatal error. In her panic she turned to check for pursuers, and slammed full body into a wall. Letting out a startled cry, her mask slipped, cracking loudly on the shiny marble floor. When she looked up and saw a face she'd seen just nights ago, in a little mask shop in town, Sakura's heart nearly cracked under the shock as well. It seemed her 'wall' wasn't a wall so much as a human with a chest that felt like a wall.

And he'd seen her face.

Damn, Damn, DAMN!

"Oi, why do I not hear your pretty little buns hauling ass?" Charming-sama demanded, and she could faintly hear the sound of squealing tires from his end of the intercom. Sakura didn't have time to respond, she had to get away!

Sadly, before she could escape and continue running, the hand of the man shot out and grabbed her arm. His grip was so tight it hurt, and Sakura knew that no matter how much she struggled, she would never escape it. Dear Kami please don't recognize me. She begged and prayed in her already slamming heart.

"You're coming with me," the human wall said, his voice smooth and silky... and deep. Shivers ran down a spine that snapped immediately and unwillingly to attention. The tone he used was horribly commanding, and Sakura felt her struggles grow a little weaker even as her annoyance rose. Who the hell was this, and what did he want from her? This night was turning out to be far from what she'd originally expected. This last hour in particular was taking a turn for the worst.

"Woman, Charming-sama likes promptly answering princesses!" her getaway driver snapped into the mike. All the while she was being dragged and then was unceremoniously pushed up against a wall.

The man's dark eyes peered at her from behind his mask, but she would recognize them, and the shiny black hair... and the lips... anywhere. Also, she remembered the mask without effort.

"Where were you all night? Hiding?" he asked, his annoyance evident in his tone even though he was mocking her. Sakura blinked. What the hell? Was she supposed to know this man? Tired of games, Sakura glared and tried to think of a way to covertly answer her partner's questions, so that he'd stop making her ear ring.

"Who are you, and how dare you manhandle me like this!" She snarled loudly and mentally agreed with every curse words Charming-sama was currently uttering.

"Who caught you?" he demanded over the earpiece, even as her captor's eyes narrowed.

"Don't play games with me, Tayuya." The dark haired man didn't even raise his voice. In fact he lowered it; a silkily delivered warning. Sakura's mind reeled; this meant this man thought she was Tayuya still. Mind racing, Sakura quickly changed tactics. She'd have to play this carefully and try and find a way to slip out the man's identity for her partner's benefit.

"Well, you couldn't have expected me to make it easy for you," Sakura said in a matter-of-fact tone, trying to channel Tayuya for the umpteenth time that night. She was swiftly approaching her limit with this character. "What took you so long?"

"I have no time for your humor, on'na," he said blandly, his face straight and serious. "You owe me some information." Oh how formal he was. Not much fun at all. More like... not much to work with. How was she supposed to improvise when he gave nothing away. The way he was looking at her, which somehow gave the impression that she owed him something, and a lot of that something, made something click into place mentally for the ROOT agent.

"You must be... Uchiha Itachi, ne?" she went on, switching to a slightly playful attitude, because she had a feeling Tayuya's usual behaviour would get nowhere with this man.

"Fuck me blind, why of all people did you have to run into the damn big bad wolf?" Charming-sama whined sounding like a child who'd gotten his cake stomped on. "Forget baking pie, you're going to be eaten alive raw!" His next advice was given in a dead serious tone, clear with warning. "Do not poke the angry wolf with a stick. He bites. Run if you can."

Swallowing Sakura mentally berated her dummy partner that his dramatics were NOT HELPING!

At the Uchiha's answering glare, she whined, "Come on, humor me a bit. Kimimaro had me on a tight leash tonight. I'm feeling... repressed." To someone who wasn't looking for something, anything really, to go off of, it would look as if the stoic man in front her had not altered his expression, but Sakura was looking for something, so she caught his deadpan.

"I am Uchiha Itachi," he confirmed mildly. "Now, talk." Speaking of talking, he wasn't much of a talker, was he? It was like he chose only the most necessary words out of the plethora of applicable ones. Not much of a conversationalist. Which made her job so much harder! Damn it.

Desperately trying to buy some time, Sakura sauntered away from him, her mind reeling and eyes darting around for the real Tayuya, terrified she and her lover would descend at any moment.

"Why?" she asked, a little childishly. Something hard pressed into the small of her back. Her years of experience in the field told her that it was most definitely a gun. Shit.

"Talk," he commanded firmly, not even bothering to hide the veiled threat.

"A-are guns r-really necessary?" Sakura did her best not to stammer but this guy's repressive aura was making Kakuzu look like a cute kitten. "You're not much fun, are you?" she added, trying to hold onto Tayuya's shield of confidence. It suddenly occurred to her that Tayuya had been hiding from this guy, or had been attempting to, anyway. The 'why' was unknown, and currently making her tummy do strange unpleasant gymnastics.

"...which part of 'Do not provoke humorless carnivore' did you not get, Pumpkin?" Charming-sama dead panned, but she ignored him as to her surprise, the Uchiha began to chuckle. There was nothing friendly about the sound.

"Distractions won't save you." The gun in her back made his words sound just as serious as she presumed they were. The bastard. Where he was aiming probably wouldn't kill her if he shot her, but she would end up a vegetable, and in pain for the rest of her then miserable life. Great.

'Sadistic bastard', she thought sourly.

"Give him something, anything, and get out of there, Pumpkin. Midnight's approaching and your cover's already blown to the ones that matter; they won't be far behind."

"Give a girl a break," she snapped, as much to her partner as to the Uchiha, her nervousness aiding her act quite a bit. "There was a deal, between you Akatsuki and us... and you guys royally screwed us over."

"Liar," the Uchiha said simply, his gun still pressed up all close and uncomfortable against her spine.

"I'm not lying. You are simply misinformed," she said, as if it was the most logical thing in the world. Inside, she was facepalming at her lame response. This was going to get really bad before it got better. She needed to get out of there, and fast.

"You need to uncross your wires, Uchiha-san," she said snarkily, deciding that nothing would be too stupid an idea if she wanted to get away from him.

So she kissed him. That's right. Full on the lips, open-mouthed and closed-eyed. She could feel the gun pressing into her stomach, but her hastily gathered courage wouldn't let her back down. This was all she could think to do. She'd been told before that she was a good kisser, a great kisser even, so why not attempt this? The only other alternative was to come clean, and that was not even an option.

With that in mind, she crushed her lips to his flatter, warm, smooth ones and hoped for the best. Lingering longer than she'd like to admit, Sakura pulled away and whispered her cell number into his ear, taking advantage of his renewed shock. Not allowing herself to think about how delicious he'd tasted, Sakura stepped away as fast as she could.

She then got the hell out of dodge.

Amegakure no Sato
Outside Raikage Auditorium
12:00 midnight

Sakura pushed into the air outside the auditorium, its coolness refreshing as against the almost unbearable heat inside the building. She couldn't get caught by anyone else tonight. As it was, her impersonation was only clinging by a thread. She had not eaten since midday to make her character seem as crabby and unstable as Tayuya's seemed, and her hunger was catching up to her.

A deep breath set her at momentary peace, a feeling that was quickly stolen by her well honed senses. She was being watched. Not good.

The road ahead of her was empty of cars and people, but behind her, people were still milling about around, and their number was too great to make out any one in particular that might be watching her. Trained to live by her fear, Sakura took off down the road as fast as she could on her stolen five-inch heels. She glanced behind her every couple of seconds, trying to justify her fear with a visual confirmation of the sense that she was being followed. To make matters worse, her earpiece gave a sudden buzzing noise before it went silent, with only random spurts of static reminding her that it was still in her ear.

Panic squeezing her chest tighter each time her search came back without results, Sakura continued down the wet road, the streetlights bathing sections in pools of orange light, while some areas were cloaked in impenetrable shadows. She could even hear the footsteps of her pursuers, but not for anything could she see them.

The squeal of car tires made her breath hitch in her throat. At the intersection ahead of her, an unknown black car with tinted windows stopped in her path.

Charming-sama? Her steps quickened towards her ride, and her strides were as long as she could make them in the feathered ball gown, but Sakura's stomach sank as the next few seconds of her life happened in slow motion.

Her momentum in her heels too great for her to stop running, Sakura watched as the door opened when she was about ten feet from the vehicle. It was indeed her partner...but something was wrong.

The yellowish street light reflected off the car's windows, Charming-sama's teeth, and his gun muzzle.

Terror blindsided her in that moment, reducing the bones in her legs to the firmness of petroleum jelly in the midday sun.

Sakura felt herself falling the moment she saw the flash of light from the gun, and heard the blast, and soon after she felt the burning pain of betrayal in her heart. The Amegakure streets met Sakura's knees and elbows with enough force to implant pebbles into her soft skin as she collapsed hard to the cold pavement.


Tantantaa! Evil cliffie again! The most evilest yet! So, we are terribly sorry for the delay, and we hope the wait was worth it! Please let us know what you think! We live off your reviews! We really hope to be quicker with the next chapter!

Btw, we just noticed that Chapter 4 in its entirety is all of 16,218 words...Good thing we split in the end...yowza