Questionable Motives

AN: This is all Cheryl's fault. I was supposed to be working on my FF7 oneshot or even Malicious Intent, but no. She had to insert Sasuke and Sakura into my mind. Insidious!

Some of the editing is odd, probably, so if parts don't make sense it is because the fic started out very different in content. Sorry if I was sloppy.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any rights at all to it in any way, shape, or form. I'm just playing my usual game of "what if" and that's all.

Sasuke watched the lights of the apartment across the street with as close to apprehension as he could muster. For several weeks now he had been performing something resembling a stakeout from his own darkened apartment. Patience was something the young Uchiha had in spades when he was forced to, but even his rock solid determination to keep this vigil up was beginning to waver as his emotions were twisted by the expectant uncertainty he had had to face for far too long now. It deprived him of sleep, it made him even more taciturn and withdrawn, but most importantly it made him feel more helpless and rejected than ever before.

As things stood, Naruto had gotten an apartment across from Sasuke about a year ago when attempts to live next to his reluctant friend had ended in Sasuke moving out in the middle of the night to a new location. Predictably, Naruto did not take the broad hint and followed each time as their residences jumped around town at Sasuke's whim. Finally, Naruto could only manage to arrange to rent a place across the street from the dark and brooding Uchiha and it proved to be just enough distance for Sasuke to allow himself to put down some roots and not break lease yet again. It had been an expensive habit, anyway.

There had been few problems, oddly enough, when he was not on a mission and was expected to do something resembling socializing. In fact, he had almost perfected the ability to note when Naruto was coming over and to kill the lights to discourage the boy. Eventually, that and some of his stony cold silences in response to Naruto's invitations forced the cheery boy to seek out other avenues of companionship. It was about six months ago that he noted that Naruto was having parties twice a week at which a fair number of their mutual acquaintance friends from the genin days attended. The parties had been annoying, but not to the point of actually needing to complain about anything so he simply avoided the invitations as he always did and then went about his usual routines.

Whether it was an unusual night, or if that was what they were always doing over there in the first place, Sasuke didn't hazard a guess but when he saw Sakura emerge this particular night as he was entering his own apartment he noted the very unsteadiness of her gait. It implied a massive amount of alcohol in her system that she did not seem to be able to stand up very well anymore and that the only thing that seemed to be keeping her upright was in fact the strong and concerned arms of two individuals. The first person he barely gave another glance, as Naruto was harmless as well as no longer romantically attached to their former teammate, but the second person held an arm around Sakura that seemed out of place and far too proprietary for his peace of mind. He knew that coat, he knew those pants and that hair, but most importantly he knew that all those things only combined into one person who wore sunglasses even at night: Shino Aburame.

That first night he shrugged off the feelings of unease at watching Sakura being touched so familiarly by another man. It was none of his business. He had removed himself from the lives of both Sakura and Naruto as much as possible to afford time to perfect himself through harsh training and constant missions. There was no room for them in his world. Yet, as he watched Sakura walking away laughing loudly at something Shino must have said to her he felt something like nostalgia rip through him. There had been a time when her attention had been focused solely on him. Albeit, that had been an annoying and distracting time, but the realization filtered through that he actually missed those episodes in a weird manner.

The entire time it took to ponder this matter was about the same amount it to cross his apartment and fall into bed, but he found that once lodged there, the "nostalgia" was insidious. It began to take on a life of its own, this feeling, and blossomed into something more serious. There was no way to put a name to it, he just suddenly wanted to go to these bi-weekly parties he had previously shunned.

However, being Sasuke which was almost synonymous with "bloody minded" he stayed away. It would only take a little while for this feeling to fade, he figured, and until then he would do his best to forget it was even there. The next week, that proved both fruitless and frustrating. Ignoring it just made him more aggravated and likely to take that irritation out on others. When Naruto came by to invite him to the party, as he still occasionally tried to do, Sasuke actually opened the door to grump at him rather than pretend he wasn't home. It was a small step, but still a battle lost from Sasuke's point of view.

So he watched instead, waiting for some realization to hit again, something to give him back the disdain he cherished, but it wasn't going to happen. Then Sakura emerged as she had done the previous week, Shino next to her again. She did not appear to be drunk or in need of any sort of aid this time but the silent boy was still standing next to her with the obvious intent of continuing to stand next to her.

Sasuke fumed.

There was the connection. It wasn't just that he wanted to be around people, because he didn't. It had to do with Sakura somehow. At the moment all he had was an overriding urge to run down the street, challenge Shino to a battle and forbid Sakura to spend any time with the bug happy ninja. They were entirely unreasonable things to think. He didn't boss around other people with the expectation that they too would leave him to his own devices. Something was different with this situation and he was going to figure it out if it killed him. . . or Shino, as that option was still looking very attractive.

Tonight, however, he knew that he would discover this elusive and anomalous emotive response. His patience for getting answers had worn thin, and he was tired of trying to solve it passively in his head when the center of his consternation could most likely speed up the process of realization. As he crouched by the window, eyes peeled for a distinctive head of pink hair, Sasuke checked over his supplies. She was going to come with him either willingly or not and he was going to get some peace.

"I'll never be the same again." Sakura said with a wistful grin.

Naruto beamed proudly as he picked up all of the dishes at the same time. His cooking was steadily improving through extensive practice and to be able to please his friends with his efforts was becoming increasingly satisfying. It seemed rather odd to him that Sakura had been insisting that they keep meeting Hinata and Shino for dinner, particularly with such frequency, but any excuse to see people was a good excuse. It was almost like having a family.

"I feel like I'll have to roll my way back home!" Sakura finished her thought with a laugh that turned into a groan. "I think I'll just have to borrow your arm again tonight Shino, if you don't mind. Sorry to leave you with cleanup, Hinata, but I have to get up early tomorrow. . ."

The young man pushed his glasses up his nose and nodded silently while Hinata colored lightly and clenched her hands in her lap. "I'll catch up with you both soon. It's perfectly all right." She mumbled quietly, eyes glowing. Naruto began to make excuses for them to stay from his location in the kitchen, but Sakura was already making quick tracks for the door before her friendly and ever clueless friend could stop them.

"It was great! I'll get a hold of you soon Naruto! Good night!" In record time, Sakura was out the door, pulling Shino by the hand behind her.

It was crisp outside, as the winter chill had abandoned the nights for a surprisingly warm spring. With any luck tonight would be the night. It had taken weeks to set it up, but now she was sure with the lack of other possible distractions and people that Hinata would finally get the courage to directly tell Naruto just how she felt about him. Knowing Naruto, he would probably be ecstatic that someone liked him so much and even if the feelings he had started out shallow at first they had potential to grow. It was a little early to be counting chickens, but she had faith that they made a good match and Naruto would see that quickly enough,

"Your hand." Shino's voice, low and rich, broke through her reveries and forced her back into a present where she was still holding his hand and swinging it back and forth rather vigorously.

She dropped his hand with a guilty smile. "Sorry about that. I honestly didn't notice." The atmosphere became slightly uncomfortable. They had been in this situation many times before but tonight there was some other presence to this walk together. She thought she could tell that Shino was feeling particularly happy about something, but she didn't know him well enough to assume any such thing automatically. There was no harm in asking.

"Is there something on your mind?"

Shino, matching her brisk steps easily seemed to consider the question with a considerable amount of gravity. "Yes."

When the pause became ludicrous, Sakura chirped out a laugh. "Would you like to tell me?"

The corners of his mouth could be seen over the material barrier of his coat encircling his head betraying a wide smile. "You don't shudder anymore."

Mortified at how this had possibly hurt the feelings of her companion in the plot to fix up Hinata and Naruto, Sakura remembered how she had had to be so drunk that she didn't think twice about being in his presence. The thought of what lay just beneath his skin had given her terrible shakes previous to that. Quick on the heels of that memory was the far more embarrassing one of what she told him as he helped escort her into her apartment and onto her couch that drunken night.

"I'm sorry." She didn't know what else to say, as his easy forgiveness shamed her into silence for most of the rest of the trip. It was atypical for her, because often she was a regular chatterbox as they made their path the two miles southwest to her apartment. A prickle at the edge of her consciousness made her nervous as she slowed her steps and thought about how childishly she had acted before.

Outside the door to her apartment, where Shino usually left her, Sakura stopped him. Without saying a word, she gave him a hug and after stiffening beneath her embrace he softened and his arms tentatively made their way around her. It was a wonderful thing to hold someone and be held and something in Sakura told her that not enough people extended such physical signs to Shino. It wasn't pity that motivated her, naturally, but friendship and it was so much easier than trying to hold a two way conversation about it with him.

She eased up, dropping her arms, but Shino held on and tightened his grip briefly as he whispered into her ear. "Take care of yourself." Shino pulled away and leaned forward so that she could see his wide smile clearly this time even if the glasses still effectively hid his eyes. "It will all work out."

Surprise registered lightly on her features over these cryptic and unsolicited comments of encouragement, but she was so pleased by them when she figured them out that she felt her eyes tear up. While he was leaning forward, Sakura took the opportunity to give Shino a quick peck on the cheek and as they both pulled back quickly from on another Sakura had the pleasure of seeing the young man blush a rather delicate pink.

"Thank you." She murmured. There was nothing else to say besides good night, and they exchanged those with no other out of the ordinary behavior. Shino made his somewhat stilted and shocked way out into the darkness of the evening while Sakura turned to go back into her house feeling a bit exposed as she always did when her feelings ran over into actions. It had been somewhat inappropriate, but it had been so long since someone had reached out to her and Shino had been a particularly kind friend to her after the whole "drunk incident". . .

Her excellent instincts still failed her despite the fact that she reacted more quickly then most normal assassins would have been able to follow. Whoever had that cloth clamped over her mouth was particularly good at what he or she did, and if she wasn't dead already Sakura figured she would have plenty of opportunity to think over what she had done wrong and how to better guard against similar attacks in the future. Live and learn, or so the adage went, but that counted on living and at the moment she was unsure if that was going to be the case.

When Sasuke brought the rag to Sakura's face to stifle the scream he only experienced a brief moment of regret before the rage refilled in his soul. It crackled inside of him in dark lightening streaks, chirping in his mind, and filling him with something akin to holy righteousness. The betrayal had been so clear, but if anyone had dared ask him how she exactly had betrayed him he would have been hard pressed for a clear cut answer. Her struggles were shortened by some deft passes over certain pressure points. Sakura went limp in his arms, her struggles dying suddenly. All that extra training had been worth it. Even Sakura, ever sensitive, could be caught in a state of surprise.

The moment he had seen them leave he had followed, careful to remain out of the sensory range of his two fellow ninjas. It had been surprisingly easy as they were entirely absorbed in one another. The flare of ire he experienced at the initial thought had been stifled eventually for the sake of maintaining his cover but the intensity of the experience was nothing compared to how he reacted when he saw Sakura hug and then kiss (kiss!) Shino. Death was too good for that smear of guts on the window. He swatted flies everyday. After he took care of Shino for that insult he was going to step on every beetle he came across from then on. Even that would not be cathartic enough, but it was a move in the correct direction.

Sakura was heavier then he had thought she would be. It must be her muscle mass, he assumed, because she had had to go through difficult training as well to get to the level she was at, medical nin or no. Even so, he had expected more of a struggle then she had actually put up. Perhaps it was so unexpected because of the strange way she simultaneously seemed to find him everywhere and yet hold such a blind spot as well. The way she pretended not to see him used to be a relief, but he wasn't sure he wanted to experience it in the future. Recently he hadn't seen her so much, and when slowly the months he envisioned became more than a year in his mind he cringed. Had he been avoiding people that well and for that long?

He ran through the streets with Sakura on his back, moving so quickly no one would give him a second glance. It took very little time for him to decide on a location to take her for the interrogation. Sasuke's apartment was out of the question, naturally, as there was too much chance of her making enough commotion to attract attention and get prematurely released. She would be out for some time, and he had made enough preparations. The only thing he wasn't sure on was how much he would have to move around. Her absence would be noted soon enough, so he would have to wrap this up within a day or two, (dependent on her cooperation level). The flow of thoughts was interrupted by the low groan and the shifting of the warm body on his back. Her face burrowed into his back and reflexively he smiled before he could eliminate the rogue twitch of facial muscles.

Trouble. This was trouble. It was a bad idea, the worst, and he knew it, but he was too far in to go back now. He might as well continue with his plan and see if it didn't succeed.

Goosebumps rose up on his skin as she sighed into his shoulder.

Where was her precious Shino now, eh? His smile was entirely acceptable now that it was a smug reflection of his superiority. If Sakura was his something like this would never happen to her so long as he was there.

Sakura woke up feeling cold and somewhat damp. It was still a little dark, but when she opened her eyes she discovered that this dark was simply the interior of a small shack. Through a window streamed sunlight, but the day was cloudy. She was not restrained in any way, which shocked her, but then maybe she was no real competition to the ninja who had kidnapped her. She was grateful to still be alive. That was the best place to start.

Picking her body up off the ground, she brushed off some dirt from her simple blue dress and ran a hand through her hair. It was shame she felt so grimy. She always took a shower in the morning, and this disturbance in her routine was almost more upsetting then the fact she had been kidnapped. Sakura liked things to be neat and orderly, but other than the fact that the floor seemed to be clean enough, she didn't see anything that made this shack anything better than what it was.

Except for what must have been a very fine lock on the outside of the door.

Just to make sure she jiggled the handle again. She cursed her luck to be caught in such a ridiculous situation. Internally she swore and thrashed about, but in the morning light that barely filtered through the small window the physical Sakura did none of that. It would have been wasted energy. There were a couple of options open to her. She could formulate a plan of escape and then enact it before the person who kidnapped her came back, or she could wait and try to discover what the agenda was that had led to this kidnapping. She herself was not an important person, but she knew many important people. Sasuke was one of the most skilled ninjas around, and his eyes were infamous. Naruto was just Naruto and there were a number of reasons why interested parties would want to have leverage against him. Sakura, wanting to protect her dear friends as best she could, felt obligated to find some answers before she took action.

Her stomach growled as she sat down to wait. It looked as if that dinner hadn't lasted as long as she had thought it would. She contemplated the brief glimpse of tree through the window against the bleak skies. The leaves were just beginning to sprout on the trees, and she appreciated the delicate bright green buds with a half smile. Even if Sasuke and Naruto were moving up in the world, and so was she, she was still in the midst of examinations and field testing with her medicinal internships to move up a rank. All her teachers told her she had potential to be great, legendary even (though that word rested in their minds more than on their lips). It would be nice to be able to match up to the men in her life in some way, in other words to find her specialty and be appreciated for it. That it would help them too in the future made her all the more dedicated. She took the initiative to recite the new techniques she had been forced to memorize recently. If nothing else, she was going to ace that next test with no thought at all.

A few minutes passed, it seemed, but it could have been longer. Time always raced along when she was studying, applying her great big brain to problems that seemed too trivial for it. What her great big brain was telling her now was that there were noises coming from outside, or rather that there was a sudden deep quiet unnatural for the woodsy surroundings. Carefully, she went limp as if she was still asleep. Her features were serene, despite the turmoil in her question filled brain. When the door was unbolted and opened, she closed her eyes and composed her breathing. Not a single gasp escaped despite the nervousness she felt she was exuding.

Footsteps neared her motionless body and Sakura considered taking some sort of aggressive action. Then again, that would probably just make her kidnapper do something bad to her in retaliation. It was difficult to stay still, however, when it was perfectly evident that the person who had come across the packed dirt was simply standing next to her. The presence of them was overwhelming, and her heart beat hard in her chest as the nervousness eventually forced her breath to come a little faster then she wanted it to. The problem compounded when a disembodied hand entered her body's sensory awareness and rubbed some of her hair between its fingers before gently tracing a line down her jaw. The calloused palm cupped her chin and turned her face back and forth ever so slightly before removing itself.

When she dared to open her eyes all she could see was a back clad in mottled camouflaging colors. In one hand was a knife and in the other was a freshly killed rabbit. Before she could look up, her kidnapper had walked out the open door towards a fire, just beginning to crackle to life outside. A headband forced some pointy black strands of hair at odd angles. It was almost too much, that her kidnapper was so brazen as to not even conceal himself in her presence. Perhaps it was her huff at that arrogance that alerted him, but regardless a strong voice asked her in a blunt manner:

"You hungry?"

Now, there would have been a time in her life when she could have suspended disbelief about what a certain male she knew was capable of. Then he had hit puberty and become rather, to put no fine words on it, an asshole. Even so, she had always been able to forgive him and move on just as she was expected to as a growing and maturing young person. After all these years she thought maybe he had grown up too, or at least had progressed beyond the selfish and self absorbed person he had been. Everyone had hope. At this particular moment, unfortunately, she was totally willing to believe he was still the same asshole he had been at 13.

"Sasuke. You had better have a damn good explanation or there will be hell to pay." She picked herself up and dusted off her hands and clothing again.

"No." Was his simple reply as he regarded her, dark eyes expressionless.

Those mesmerizing eyes of his caught her in their spell when he turned to face her. She hadn't seen him in so long and other than a worrying thinness, he was as handsome as ever with confidence and assurance just oozing from him and blanketing her in a fluttery feeling for just a fraction of a second like she used to feel all the time in his presence. This was the man she had obsessed over and worked beside for what felt like most of her young life. His power over her had always been substantial, even when she had fought against it for her own peace of mind.

But now she was nearly an adult, and so was he. And he had chosen to exercise his adult judgment by kidnapping her. The lingering rosy feeling of infatuation died as she asserted her indignation.

"Tell me this instant or I promise you you'll have to kill me in self defense!"

"That's a bluff." That self assurance which she found so sexy a moment before now made him an unreasonable monster in her new interpretation.

Sakura marched out of the shack and poked him in the chest, feeling her finger prod the strong muscles beneath the skin. There was only a moment of hesitation there when she realized she had touched him, then the inner anger she could no longer contain burst forth again.

"Want to try me? I'll beat you black and blue, heal you, and then beat you again just so you can enjoy the sensation twice."

The pull at the corner of his lip, as if he was laughing internally at her just pushed her over the edge. Now she just wanted to hurt him in any way possible. Her hand came up to slap him, an impulsive action that she never would have taken if not for the mocking smile that played on his lips and in his eyes. Sasuke never wanted to take her seriously, it seemed. He caught her hand before it struck him, and they stood there, Sakura fuming, Sasuke smiling. With a jerk, Sakura retracted her hand and spun away from him, arms crossed.

"You done?" came his droning voice.

"For the moment."

"You hungry?"

"Yes." She sighed.

Sasuke continued to prepare the rabbit he had caught. It didn't take to long to cook, in which time she sat there and tried to keep her body from falling asleep. By the time Sasuke offered her some meat, some fruit, and a canteen of water Sakura was ravenous and ornery from the pain of sitting in an awkward position for so long. Her right calf had been cramping on and off for the better part of an hour. She ate out of necessity, since it was lunchtime and Naruto's dinner was far away, but she tried to pack as much fury into every glance at the young man who fed her.

"Are you ever going to tell me what this is about?" She demanded of him when he was cleaning up their meal. "Or do I get to guess?" Sarcasm was all she had the will for at the moment.

"Just give me a minute." He sounded irritated now. Good. He had been far too calm and it had been particularly upsetting. She wanted to provoke him as much as she could since she didn't really have any fear of him. This was Sasuke! She could trust him to be twisted but ultimately good, right? This was just some bad joke, probably.


Oh god, what if he really was going to kill her?

That wasn't likely. He would have to have been brainwashed or something. It was possible. If a person knew the right tactics he was an easy person to manipulate. Apprehension lit her face, drawing lines between her eyes and forcing her lips into a thin line.

". . . I don't remember ever doing anything all that bad. I don't even follow you around anymore and—"

"What's your relationship to Aburame?!" It blurted out loudly and Sasuke seemed to go pale at the words, as if he was just as shocked that they escaped. Still, in time his stony expression fell again as he waited for an answer.

The spark of hope that there was jealousy lighting fire into his words was something Sakura was careful to section off in her mind with bright red tape. Therein lay dragons. If Sasuke was feeling aggressive towards Shino, it might only be because he was feeling protective of her. She wouldn't put it past him to have listed her off as a possibility for the restoration of his clan and she had enough pride to think she might be a prime candidate (even if that cold thought also enraged her). Was she an object to him or was she flesh and blood, mind and spirit? Regardless, she wanted to know more, and so Sakura reacted as a sensible and independent person would when faced with such an imperious question.

"I don't see how that is any of your business." There was a playful edge to her words that he didn't seem to catch.

Sasuke seethed a little. "Answer the question."

Sakura took a deep breath before continuing on. There might be a way to play this to force the ever emotionally unavailable Uchiha to give something away. "Shino is my friend and he and I have been. . ." Something unusual occurred to her. To someone else it might have occurred sooner, but she was dealing with Sasuke and this was a suspicion that had no place in her previous dealings with the brooding young man. "You're upset because I kissed him, aren't you?"

Sasuke leapt up at her accusation, pacing away with hands weaving through his dark hair. Giving off dangerous waves of energy he stalked into the bushes, leaving behind the source of his troubles for the moment. With vague satisfaction, Sakura watched him go. Something told her that she had guessed correctly. Now, even if he wished her to, so that he could gain back some of his poise and peace of mind, she was not going to move from this small clearing until he returned. She and Sasuke were going to have a talk whether he liked the outcome or not, and already she felt as if she had the upper hand.

It was nearly nightfall when Sasuke finally returned to the campsite. Even though he told himself that Sakura would no longer be there somehow he knew better and her head of pink hair was no shock to see. She was wrapped up in the blanket and poking at the fire with a stick. Of course she hadn't left. Life wouldn't be so kind to him as to let this mistaken situation solve itself. This was exactly what he had been afraid of. Yet, he couldn't deny that he had been the one to initiate this sequence of events, and when it came down to it, he was the one who came back. He could have just gone back to his apartment. Sakura would have given up on him eventually. Given up on him. Those words burned unexpectedly inside his chest, followed closely by a picture in his mind of her going to Aburame for comfort. That caused a burn of a different sort as the world became a haze of red for a fraction of a second. Maybe he should just continue and try to see if he could salvage some answers for himself. So long as she was here she wasn't with Aburame.

The problem was that he was almost certain that, in a nutshell, she had identified exactly what the issue was that he couldn't figure out on his own.


It was a strange concept to him. He had felt all sorts of rage before, but now he saw how clearly tied to attachment this particular type was. There had been little for him to connect to before, nothing he would admit to anyway, as largely his sense of belonging and security that allowed for such a thing had been destroyed with the rest of the Uchiha clan. At some point he had, despite not being aware of it, claimed Sakura in his mind. Perhaps she had forced it upon him by simply being there so much. Her consistency and affection were the security he had had ripped from him. But more than that, he didn't just passively accept her attentions with little acknowledgement, he wanted to monopolize her. Aburame endangered it. That's all. It was very clinical and logical. He didn't want to lose his friend. Then again, the reactions he was experiencing when Aburame was near her seemed far too intense to be so simply explained away.

"Sasuke, don't just stand there. Come over and sit by the fire." The invitation in her eyes made his heart hammer in his chest in a way that logical and clinical explanations failed to calm.

"I'd prefer to stand here."


He sat down across from her, a fire safely between them. Of course he would be damned if he was going to be the first to speak. This was unwelcome and she should just go back home before people worried too much about her being missing. If she had disappeared like this both he and Naruto would have been distraught, he was willing to admit his own emotions on that eventuality, and even now the giddy blond man-boy was probably tearing up the town looking for her. This sudden distracted line of thought had nothing to do with his naked fright at talking to her. Not at all.

"You don't have to glare at me like that. I'm not the one who is acting like a child right now."

"I'm not acting like a child."

"You are, actually. A tall, handsome, broody child, but a child just the same."

Sasuke crossed his arms and sat up taller as her compliments sank in along with her criticism. "This was all a misunderstanding."

Sakura took a deep breath. In and out. In and out. "So kidnapping me was just a way to show me how much you appreciate me as a friend, right?"

The scowl on his face deepened. "It's complicated."

"Obviously. Enlighten me then."

The only concession to expression was the twitch of an eyebrow as Sasuke tried to piece together a decent response. In the end, he copped out. "You tell me. You seem to have it all figured out." Even to himself he sounded like a petulant child. Sakura let the blanket around her shoulders fall and the dress she had been in the evening before exposed to him smooth expanses of skin around her neck and shoulders. The blue of her dress seemed to glow in the firelight and his eyes traced down from her shoulders to her chest almost magnetically. It must be cold in that outfit, he noted with great interest before shaking himself out of this trance.

Sakura, given an opening followed by a nervous silence, decided to go for the gold. She had had hours to think things over and she was sure she had something that would at least provoke him into admitting something even if she was way off base. She stood and paced around the fire, like a detective at the end of a mystery novel.

"I think that you, having spent years alone and purposely shoving people away so that you will stay that way, finally saw something you couldn't bear. With Naruto being so close, you had the opportunity to seek people out and we all still sought you out but once you finally made yourself a complete hermit we hardly came over anymore to find you. That was the first step." Sasuke didn't give any indication that she was right or not, but his stomach felt like it was sinking into his knees. "Now it wasn't you rejecting us, it was us rejecting you and that was not acceptable."

She stopped pacing, and stood behind Sasuke who remained sitting by the fire like a particularly indignant piece of statuary. The hairs on his arms stood at attention, while the rest of his body became so aware of her presence he was sure he could feel the way her facial expressions changed as she spoke.

"The situation was compounded by the fact that I, having been one of your most faithful taggers-on in the past had finally gotten my own life." Here is where she really decided to take her chances. It was a mean attempt at manipulation, but she never really thought it had a chance of working. "I don't know how much you saw or if you've even been watching. There was a night a while ago, when I first spent some real time with Shino. When he spent the night I felt things I had never allowed myself to feel before. His very presence was so reassuring and I never realized how freeing being with another person can be." He wasn't moving. She decided to push a little harder then.

"What you don't seem to understand is that people don't have to monopolize one another. With Shino I can spend as much or as little time as I want to and he doesn't worry about me." Her heart began to beat quickly as her words poured out of her mouth, half in desperation. "There's something really special about him, the way he holds—"

Sasuke jumped up and grabbed her by the shoulders, her perfect skin sliding along his calloused hands. "Shino! Shino shino shino!" He yelled into her face. "Is that all you can talk about?! If he is so great then where was he when you were facing the Demon Brothers, or when Orochimaru attacked!" He was gasping a little as he looked into Sakura's face, all too aware of her body and her rounded and shocked lips. Her eyes were closed, a reflexive action to the violence and the volume of his voice. She opened up one green orb to the world a little when it seemed as if he was done screaming. "Where was he when I came for you? I can't give you to someone who deserves you so little. Hell, I don't know if I can give you to anyone."

Suddenly, to her inordinate shock, Sakura found herself grasped tightly by Sasuke in a hug that threatened to crush her bones.

"I didn't realize I was yours to give." She struggled out with strangled lungs.

His response to this new challenge was to roughly push her away. It had been worse than if she had slapped him. Sasuke didn't know what he had expected her to say, but something more loyal to him or responsive to this weakening in his icy exterior than what she had just whispered. Somehow she had become someone he didn't know. What happened to the girl who used to follow him around? He had lost track and somewhere she had gone on without him. Desperation tinged his thoughts as he saw her with her head bowed.

"So you'd rather have Aburame than me?"

Sakura looked up at him as if he had grown another head through some sort of strange technique. "When was 'you' ever an option? I didn't exactly see you stepping up." The way she glowed, furious at herself and Sasuke for years of being ignored only to have all these revelations come up at a time when she suspected his sincerity. Why did it have to be jealousy? Was he going to lose interest as soon as she gave away how much she still loved him? Sakura didn't want to leave herself open to hurt yet again. "Prove it, Sasuke. Prove to me this isn't a fluke."

The kiss was entirely different then the hug had been. The flavor of it moved from angry competitiveness to gentle acceptance. Sasuke broke away from Sakura and didn't even attempt to get his bearings before moving down to capture her lips again with a greater sense of purpose then he his reaction before had possessed. The reasons he had had for touching her to prove something fled from his mind and it became vital somehow that he remain connected to her like this just so he could stay close. With that in mind one of his hands wound into her hair as the other snaked around her waist to pull her closer, bunching the material of her dress in his palm.

Why had he resisted this for so long? Now, in the midst of Sakura's rapidly welcoming embrace, Sasuke reached his epiphany: it was ok to care for others. Right now he felt more alive then he had felt in months, and it was all due to the miracle of being with another human being. Or maybe it was just Sakura he wanted to open up to. . . as well as her warm tongue probing his mouth evocatively. He rose to the challenge eagerly, pressing her close enough for her to feel just how enthusiastically he was enjoying her feel and taste.

Naturally, he needed to start small with this emotional stuff. But this was a big step comparatively. Right now he was particularly interested in getting as close to Sakura as possible, starting with shedding some of this constricting clothing. . .


He was shocked to find at some point he had moved down her neck and was now nipping at her collarbone when Sakura managed to return him to the his immediate surroundings again. Did she want to stop this? Were they moving too fast? At the moment he felt like they were going too slow if anything. This had just been lying dormant for years, hadn't it? His hands were itching to pull up that dress a little more and see if the skin on her thighs was as soft as the rest he had felt. . .

"Sasuke!" She called him back from the abyss of his thoughts once again. "Listen to me, we need to cool down and talk things over a little more calmly." Her words were breathy and sexy, causing his eyes to burn dark with lust. "That was. . .surprising, for one thing, but I need more than just that to know what's going on in your mind."

"You wouldn't understand." The condescending way he was treating her almost made her want to react angrily and walk away. The honest answer was more along the lines of he didn't particularly understand to the point of putting satisfactory words to it but she didn't know that. Inner Sakura, for once, was conflicted on this point: anger or desire. Intellectual Sakura ended up being the one to take over.

She withdrew from his warmth, crossing her arms over her chest to compensate a little bit. Sasuke didn't attempt to reach for her. "I want you to know something before you give me an answer," Sakura grabbed him by the arm. "About Shino,"

"I said I don't want to hear it." Sasuke felt his heart tear. While a part of him, the naturally (but mostly trained) disinterested part, didn't care about what she and Shino had done, the violently possessive part that had prompted this kidnapping wanted to think that she always had been and would be only his.

"I lied."

"Nothing you can tell me would. . ." He narrowed his dark eyes at her, glowing like a demon's in the fire light. "What do you mean you lied?"

Sakura looked a little embarrassed, and pulled her hand off of his arm, any blush obscured by the flush on her cheeks that their shared kiss had brought. "Well, Shino and I really are just friends." Sasuke paused, waiting for more. After an uncomfortable silence Sakura obliged him. "He never, er, touched me, and the only kiss we ever shared was when I kissed him on the cheek."

"So he never spent the night." Sasuke seemed to tense up, fists clenching white at the knuckles.

"That was true, actually." His sharp indrawn breath caused her to quickly add: "But all that happened was that I talked to him all night about, hm, everything."

Sasuke looked at her reflectively, ardor briefly dampened by this twist to the evening. "And everything entailed. . .?"

"Mostly me complaining about you. A little bit about how Naruto was stupid for not noticing Hinata's feelings. Some embarrassing revelations about a mole that had appeared in an awkward spot. . . which I then showed him. I was very drunk, remember. . ." She unconsciously rubbed a spot on her right side near her bellybutton. Sasuke swore to himself he would see this mole as soon as humanly possible.

Sasuke rubbed the junction in between his eyes as if to ease a headache there. "That wasn't very good of you to lie to me." He made a quick mental note to gouge out Aburame's eyes for daring to see parts of Sakura that he hadn't, yet.

"Well, it wasn't very good of you to kidnap me." They stood there without much idea of what was supposed to happen next. Sakura coughed. "If you wanted to stay here tonight, we could talk a little more." Sasuke looked dubious. "Don't think this is all over just because you kissed me."

Somehow, he had hoped maybe it would be that simple.

With open arms, Sakura welcomed Sasuke back into a loose hug. "It won't hurt to talk, I promise." She moved closer to him and turned up her head to brush her lips over his but leaned back when he seemed to press for something more fulfilling. "And if you're good then maybe I'll show you my mole. I'm getting more satisfying answers from you tonight if it kills you."

Sasuke just grumbled, but his grumbles were silenced when Sakura's small hands found their way under his shirt to trace teasing patterns on his flesh.

"You're not the only one with persuasive tactics." For once Sasuke wondered if he could win this battle against the self proclaimed weakest member of his former genin team. . . or if he even wanted to.

Naruto poked Hinata to get her attention. The shy girl was wearing as radiant and confident an expression as she had ever sported before. Even if her stumbling words to Naruto those weeks ago hadn't been entirely understood, she was working on him and he seemed glad for her love and attention. Once he actually realized he was in a relationship, which all their other friends now took for granted, then maybe they would get somewhere. As it was, he was taking his own pace at everything, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Look look!" Naruto was beyond shocked, stunned into probably the calmest state he had achieved by rights of having nothing else going through his head. "It's Sasuke." He said 'Sasuke' in the way some other person might have said 'Dodo' or 'Unicorn'.

From the center of the room, Sakura smiled and began to talk to Ino in the startled but quickly recovering party. With no hesitation Sasuke confidently and directly found a corner and shot dirty looks at any and every person who attempted to come up to him. Naturally, Naruto proved an equal to this scare tactic and before anyone knew it Sasuke actually engaged in voluntary useless conversation. The only time when he seemed to skip a beat in his steady but excruciatingly slow process of socializing was when Shino entered and he and Sakura had a long conversation with one another.

"Why is he mad at me?" Shino asked Sakura simply, rather than saying hello. She was used to his abrupt nature. It reminded her of Sasuke in some ways, though Shino had a tempered quality that Sasuke had yet to grasp.

"It isn't important. He'll get over it." She waved at Sasuke who, rather shockingly, blushed just enough to be noticeable before catching himself and turning away to fiercely answer a question of Naruto's.

Shino looked at Sakura while she focused on Sasuke in the corner who was trying not to look bored when Naruto grabbed yet another person to talk to him as if by throwing guests at him he would accrue enough witnesses to confirm Sasuke had indeed attended a gathering of his.

"Congratulations." Shino offered, truly happy for his friend that her love was slightly less unrequited then it had first seemed.

Sakura beamed a sunny smile at him and laughed gaily, earning another glare from the corner of the room for Aburame. "It's a bit premature, but I'll accept it anyway."

After considering things a second, Shino picked up Sakura's hand and said something into her ear that she laughed rather loudly at. Unable to take it anymore, Sasuke rushed from his corner, leaving Shikamaru talking to air as he grabbed Sakura's arm and nearly dragged her to the bathroom, where he locked the door behind them.

"What did he say to you?" Sasuke demanded.

"He said, 'I bet I know how to speed things up for you'."

"What was that supposed to mean?" Came his grumble, as he unconsciously and protectively drew her against his chest.

With a soft snort Sakura held back a laugh. "Nothing. But you better look out, he's fast becoming my favorite friend."