AN: No big gap since the last update. Good, right?

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Chapter Eight

Still insensitive. He was apparently trying not to be, but it wasn't enough. Sakura had decided that as much as she wanted to simply accept him for who he was, she couldn't. She had needs too, and she was tired of trying selflessly to meet his and not have the effort returned.

Cherrylover2: So what is it that you could possibly offer me after all of this?

A half hour of her fingers flying across the keyboard, and they had gotten nowhere. True, it hadn't turned into an argument, but it was still conflict. This was not a time where Sakura would back down, and seeing as how Sasuke never backed down, she knew that if they were to resolve anything they would be sitting for a while.

Noir18: Who said I wanted to offer you anything?

Sakura smirked. At least that was an easy question.

Cherrylover2: You did.

Noir18: Explain.

Cherrylover2: Oh, maybe it was when you showed up at the Jounin dinner and purposefully sought me out.

Cherrylover2: Or maybe it was when you got jealous of Neji simply for being with me.

Cherrylover2: Or, when you went after me in the rain demanding that I talk with you.

Cherrylover2: Take your pick.

Sasuke raked his fingers through his hair and blew out a heavy breath. Why couldn't she just go back to doting on him? It made things so much easier. He didn't have to deal with her stubbornness then, and at least he knew that eventually he would win every time. This was a challenge.

A challenge…Sasuke hadn't thought of it like that until just now. A slow smirk spread across his lips. It just might turn fun; it was a game of chase. Not that he wanted her—she was just providing so much resistance that it was hard to pass up the temptation.

Noir18: All right. Maybe I do.

Sakura's eyes widened. What the hell?

Noir18: Say I did want to offer you something.

Noir18: Sakura.

Noir18: What do you want from me?

She caught on to his game. Her eyes narrowed; he was doing it again. Intentionally toying with her feelings because it entertained him. She had no idea when in his teenage life he had discovered that he enjoyed messing with people's brains, but it was a sadistic quality she supposed he'd always had. The bloodlust he possessed since the death of his parents was just another way of showing how much he enjoyed the torment of others. And now he thought he was going to get away with messing with her.


Cherrylover2: You know, there are a lot of things I want from you.

Cherrylover2: And it sounds like there are a lot of things you want from me.

Cherrylover2: Trouble is, you can't have me.

Cherrylover2 signed off at 10:59 PM.

Sasuke growled. It was war.


"Sakura, you're acting odd again. What'd he do?"

Sakura jerked from her trance and stared at Neji. He had caught her spacing out.

"What did who do?" she asked him defensively.

"You know perfectly well whom I'm referring to," he said easily. Sakura turned away from him to hide the guilty frown pulling at her eyebrows.

"He didn't do anything," she assured him. He lifted an eyebrow, unconvinced. "He just acted…like himself, I guess."

Neji chuckled a little. "Which is all it takes."


"Don't worry, Sakura," Tenten cut in with a smile. "If I catch him bothering you, I'll make him walk funny for weeks." She grinned as she said this, earning a laugh from Sakura.

Eating out at Ichiraku with Neji and Tenten, just the three of them, proved to be somewhat therapeutic. Sakura no longer felt depressed and weighed down like when she was alone; rather, she felt defiant and ready to take on anything Sasuke could throw at her. Judging from their last conversation, this was clearly not over.

"Besides," Tenten said through a mouthful of shrimp ramen, "he can't ignore all of your good qualities and focus on tormenting you at the same time."

"Oh, believe me, he can." The pork noodles in Sakura's bowl didn't seem as appetizing to her as they had a moment ago. She imagined them crawling around, over and under one another, arranging themselves into a smirking face…

Stop it.

"You know, I'm already full," she said as she pushed her bowl away a few inches for emphasis. "You two enjoy. I think I'm gonna go find Naruto and train."

Neji, ever the perceptive one, knew what was on her mind. "Don't get too frustrated," he called after her. "Poor Naruto won't be able to stand the abuse if you take out your aggressions on him." Sakura merely scowled at him before walking out.

Sakura had no intention of going to train. Nothing wrong with a little white lie. No harm in going back to her place and moping for a while, was there?

Of course, fate just had to come and ruin everything.

Or maybe it was just horrible timing.


Don't look at him, don't look at him, don't look at him, Sakura repeated to herself in a kind of insane mantra. Despite her inner warnings, she still found herself raising her eyes to meet the cold Uchiha's. Only, his eyes didn't seem so cold this time.

"What do you want?" she asked crossly as she folded her arms.

"I'm taking you to lunch."

Sakura fought back a smirk and gazed off into the distance as if the subject bored her. "Sorry, but I just finished having lunch with Neji-kun. I was on my way to Tsunade-sama's."

Her eyes held a triumphant gleam at the taken-aback expression Sasuke held. Obviously he did not like the name "Neji-kun." She could have fun with this.

"Maybe some other time. Me, you, and Neji-kun can all go together!" she said excitedly. She had to admit she was feeling quite masochistic today. She enjoyed every flinch Sasuke made at the mention of her friend's name.

"Maybe," he admitted, furiously attempting to match her. He stepped closer, just a little, enough so that she was visibly aware that he was invading her personal space.

"But I'd much rather be with you alone," he breathed.

Sakura sneered. "I don't know, Neji-kun's pretty protective of me. I don't think he'd be too happy that I was off gallivanting with the village traitor." Ooh. Sasuke winced. That was hitting below the belt.

"Then how about if you were off enjoying a meal with a redeemed jounin?" he asked her. Heh, trying to turn it around so he's in a good light? Sakura thought. We'll see.

"I don't think that will be a possibility, Sasuke. He doesn't like too many of the people who've hurt me in the past. You saw what happened to Lee-san a couple months back." Indeed, Sakura had decided to give Lee a chance with a small date at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and it had fallen flat when Lee had announced to the entire room of couples that he was going to marry her. That took some damage control, and poor Lee had found himself at the receiving end of Neji's Gentle Fist for it the next morning.

As Sakura waited expectantly for his retort, she analyzed his face. He was clearly thinking hard, desperately trying to figure out how he could refute her words. But the truth was, there was nothing he could say. He was one of the people who had hurt her in the past. In fact, he was the worst person to have hurt her.

"Well, then," he said slowly. Time to realize when to step back and come up with a new game plan. "I guess I'll see you soon."

But Sakura wasn't ready to quit so fast. "I'll be busy with hospital work and missions more than usual, so I doubt it." Without bothering to say goodbye, she vanished.

Damn that girl.


Round Two. Like he was giving up that easily.

It was the holidays. December 10, to be exact. No way was he letting this chance slip. And no way would he have done this if it weren't for a challenge. But he had decided long ago that he wasn't about to let this go.

Sakura would be Christmas shopping soon, as Sasuke found out after some digging that Tsunade had given her time off from the hospital to do just that. In between still training with Kakashi and working, Sakura hadn't had a spare moment to herself. What an advantage.

He spotted her leaving her home from the café window he sat by, and watched as she headed to a roadside vendor. He grinned. Time to make his move.

"Hmm," Sakura said out loud as she examined a pretty rhinestone barrette. "How much do you want for this?"

"Nice choice," the male cashier complimented. Sakura suppressed a snort. He was only trying to make a sale. He really shouldn't waste his thoughtless flattering on her. "That goes for…let's say…twelve dollars."

Twelve dollars? Sakura thought. Outrageous. It's amazing what vendors can charge simply because it's the right season. Graciously, she set the barrette back onto the tablecloth. "Thanks anyway," she said sweetly.

"I'd like to buy this," a rough voice said from behind her. There's plenty of room around the stall, Sakura noticed, aggravated. Does this guy have to stand right behind me?

A hand reached over the table from behind her, and Sakura whirled around. This was an invasion of personal space!

"Sir, you don't—" she started angrily.

Sasuke stared at the cashier, not giving any indication that he had even seen her, the blue barrette in his palm. Wordlessly he reached for his wallet.

"Good choice," the vendor said.

"Shut up," was the reply.

Sakura held back a smile.

"Well, Sasuke, I never knew you were the feminine type," she teased. "Or maybe it's for a woman? Ino, maybe?"

Sasuke looked away with a frown. "You know very well that Yamanaka's with Shikamaru." He tossed the barrette to her, and Sakura yelped in surprise as she caught it. "Keep it." He turned away from her, ready to leave.

"I see what you're trying to do." Sasuke halted his steps at her accusation. An amused smirk lifted the corner of his mouth, and he glanced at her over his shoulder.


"You think you're so sneaky, trying to make me fall for you just because you see it as some personal game," Sakura spat. "I'll tell you right now, it won't work. Trying to play with my feelings like this isn't going to make anyone very happy."

"And what if I was just trying to give you a gift?" he asked.

Sakura snorted. "Pretending innocence isn't exactly one of your strong points, Sasuke."

"I'm insulted. Merry Christmas, Haruno." He disappeared, leaving Sakura to wonder just what he thought he was doing.

"Merry Christmas, you bastard."

Her fingers unconsciously closed over the barrette.


Round Three.

Arranging the two-person mission was so simple. All it took was a little bribery for Tsunade to pull a few strings, and there it was—the scroll containing the mission details for he and Sakura.

"What is the meaning of this?" Sakura shouted when Tsunade summoned her. Sasuke leaned against the wall in the corner of the room, an evil gleam dancing in his eyes. "Since when am I assigned missions with this traitor!"

"Be reasonable," Tsunade commanded sharply. "Uchiha's past affects nothing in this. He is a citizen of Konoha, and this mission requires both a fighter and a healer. You two are the best in both fields. Now go."

"Tsunade-sama, send someone else," Sakura pleaded. "Kairi-san's moving up in the hospital, she's becoming a decent healer—"

"Sakura!" Tsunade barked, and Sakura's voice faltered. "Do not argue with me. I expect the mission to be completed in three days. Leave as soon as humanly possible."

Sakura trudged out of the Hokage's tower with a glum expression and a poorly rolled-up mission scroll.

"You should be grateful it's such a short mission," Sasuke said from behind her as he too exited the tower. Ignoring him, Sakura quickened her pace. "It's just beyond our borders."

"Why did you make her do that?" Sakura demanded to know as she spun to face him. "Isn't this ridiculous challenge going too far?"

Sasuke looked down at her, the humor fading from his face. "You started the challenge. 'You can't have me,' you said. Naturally, you wouldn't expect me to just take that without proving you wrong."

"That's what this is about?" Sakura threw her hands up and glared at him. He was insufferable. "Then fine. I suppose if you suddenly had amnesia and woke up with a complete personality change, I might consider dating you. But oh, wait—you're still an ass. Sorry."

Sasuke didn't react to her words at all. Instead, he lifted his hand until it touched her hair. Smirking, he gently removed the glittering rhinestone barrette and held it for her to see.

"Caught you wearing it."

He just loved catching her off guard.

"I-I was going to buy it anyway. It doesn't matter who bought it."

"You had it on all wrong anyway." Sasuke smoothed her hair behind her ear, and slid the barrette back into her pink strands. When he let go, her hair was held away from the right side of her face, and he could see her eyes that much more clearly.

Sakura's heart was pounding, that much Sasuke knew. It was odd; he was going to such great lengths to do things that a boyfriend might do, when otherwise he never would have. He was not a nice person. If Sakura had been standing there, still very much in love with him, and with a true smile on her face, Sasuke would not have done these things. Why now? Why when she wanted nothing more than to be rid of him? It was all part of the challenge, wasn't it?

He was jerked away from his thoughts by the confused frown making its way across Sakura's face. This time, though, her expression was not so much of loathing as it was of worry.

"Sasuke." Her eyebrows were knitted, but her eyes held sadness. "Please."

"What?" he asked her.

"Don't play with me like this. If you need someone to satisfy your sadistic little needs, there's always a past girlfriend you can use." She gestured with her hands as she spoke, Sasuke noticed. "D-Don't…" she sighed, long and slow. "I thought I at least meant more to you than that."

A stunned silence followed. Sakura gazed at him with saddened eyes, and before Sasuke could think of a response she had walked past him.

"See you at the gates in an hour. We've got a mission to do, don't we?" she said professionally, but her voice was laced with hurt. Sasuke blinked, and she was gone.

Sasuke made no attempt to move, only standing still as the Sakura-less market street buzzed with people around him.

Suddenly this whole game didn't seem as entertaining.

AN: Unpolished, written in haste, and overall a bit messy, but I figured you all wanted to see it. And I know Sasuke sounds OOC, but think—it's been forever since his return, and he's bound to have changed a little bit, at least enough to function properly as a human being :P Review, please!