I'm sitting here with my half-full can of orange soda, and I keep thinking to myself, "Why is it so hard to update like I used to?"

My alter-ego, of course, chimes in, "Because you're busier now than you were before."

And then I think, "Well, yeah. But when I really sit down and just write, then I can pump out a chapter in a few hours."

Which is, essentially, what happened with this chapter. I'd had a little over 2,000 words written, then picked around in the story 'till I breached the 3k mark. Then something interesting happened. I challenged myself. I said, "Hmm. I wonder if I can write 3,000 words in an hour..." So I tried. And I came damned near close. (Wrote 2,456 words by the end of the hour, bumping this chapter up from a measly 3,000, to a lovely 5,456.) Another hour has passed, and now I'm finished.

The moral of the story? Sometimes challenging yourself is the easiest way to get things done.

Alright. Thank you guys so much for the wonderful reviews for the last chapter! I hope you enjoy this one~

- Kodu

Chapter 34

- Sakura -

I hated that he felt warm.

Absolutely hated it.

Because his heat contrasted with the cold night air, his hot breath ruffled the stray locks of hair on top of my head, and his very presence was completely undeniable. I couldn't close my eyes and pretend it was Sasuke holding me, because the smell of desert and death was far too strong, and Sasuke smelt more frigid, more crisp. I couldn't block out the world and pretend I was back home, tucked safely beneath the covers of my bed, and that I was hugging a pillow instead of a frightening little boy, because I could feel each trembling limb that held me, and could hear his labored breathing.

My cheek settled along his collar bone, and I shifted just a bit further up his neck so I could lay my ear on his shoulder.

Humor him.

That had become my new mantra, and it repeated over and over in my head.

I was done playing games now. I was sick of being so... so weak... and having no control over the situation. All my life I'd been the weak one. In childhood, I had been emotionally distraught when people picked on me because of my only-so-slightly-infinitesimally-bigger forehead. ('Yeah!' declared Inner Sakura, her words complete with the mental image of a fist pump.) I countered those teasing remarks by filling up my brain with all manner of facts and figures, showing up those bullies by rising to the top of my class. It had really been a blow to their pride, too, when they had realized that Sasuke was at the head of the class, as well, and that by gaining intelligence, I had gained a lead on the perpetual contest every girl was in to win the brooding boy.

I was that much closer to winning Sasuke.

Only... I was too much of a wimp, in his eyes, for him to even acknowledge me. I was petulant, and... and...


God, I hated that word. It was worse than a curse. Even when cussing someone out, all you used were pre-designed words that only scraped the surface of their skin, or grazed right past them. There was nothing personal about it. But 'annoying'. That was as good as a slap to the face. And for two people to call me that - frequently, I might add! - was simply ridiculous.

My thoughts were interrupted as Gaara leaned down and nuzzled my neck, his breath coming out in ragged pants.

I swear, this boy was about as cuddle-crazed as anyone could get... and a murderer, to boot! Those things just did not mix.


"... If you call me an ass again, I'll kill you."

There was a certain tone to his usually toneless voice that made me believe he was actually joking. Then again, Gaara plus death threats was no laughing matter. If I threatened to kill someone, they would instantly know it was a joke, or laugh it off anyways, even if I was being serious. Why? Because I wasn't physically strong enough to kill anyone who might actually pose a threat to me... And even if I managed to get close enough to take away their life, I was pretty certain I still wouldn't deliver a fatal blow. The thought of killing another person... I mean. I knew it was all part of being a ninja, and everything. But to actually stand there and do it? To see death before your very eyes? It was frightening, and not something I would wish on anyone.

The red-head below me knew all about death, though, and he had the power - and will - to take away human life at a whim.

He was the perfect weapon. The emotionless shinobi who killed with destructive force; the cold ninja who carried out a mission with detached precision. His country no doubt valued him greatly. Where else could you find a boy so focused on his task? Not in Konoha, that was for sure. The shinobi of the Leaf Village were strong, smart, and capable... but few could call them ruthless. Sunagakure, from all the textbooks I had ever read, seemed the very definition of callous. Gaara was a child of such cold detachment. He was flawless, almost graceful, in his desire to kill.

Gaara was the perfect ninja.

... Gaara was barely human.

The thought made me shudder, my spine turning to ice even as the heat of his body made my cheeks flush pink. I had never been this close to another boy before. Oh, sure, there were the occasional sparring matches between my teammates and I where one or the other would pin me down with their weight while I struggled helplessly beneath them, but they always got off the moment I conceded defeat. Admitting defeat to the red-head, though, would either get me killed, or... or worse.

I had to be in control of the situation. Yes, he knew I was a spy, and yes, by all accounts I had failed my mission miserably by letting that fact leak out, but I was still determined not to make a complete fool out of myself. Besides, he had agreed to cooperate with my original plan of gathering information about him. This minor setback could easily turn to my advantage, if I would just use the resources given to me. Right now, Gaara was in control of the situation, and I had to think of some way to take back what should have rightfully been mine.

... No. I already knew how to gain some level of power over the sand shinobi.

I only had to act on that knowledge.

I paused, wanting to test out this new theory.



"... We're supposed to pretend to be 'courting', right?"

The slight lift to his lips showed me he was amused I had brought it up. He didn't answer, only shifted the hand toying with my hair downwards, stroking his fingers along the small of my back. Just that simple motion made my cheeks burn hotter, and I chanced a slow glance upwards to find the redhead watching me in unveiled amusement. I should have been annoyed by his unassuming touch... but I couldn't find the will to hate him for it. Honestly, it felt rather nice, which was a surprise in and of itself. Taking his silent touch as some kind of signal to continue, I took a long, deep breath, then leveled my gaze with his.

I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it just as quickly, licking my suddenly dry lips.

I didn't know what to say.

Obviously, I wanted to come up with something logical, something intelligent and clever that would get this ball rolling, so to speak. I had to report back to the Hokage in a few days, and I needed, needed, needed some kind of information to give the man. I knew how to get that information, too, and it was high time I sucked up my own foolish pride - my own hopes and dreams for a much darker shade of hair to run my fingers through - and did my duty as a kunoichi of the Leaf Village.

"Gaara..." I began softly, lifting up as much as his hand would allow to give him as level a look as I could muster. "... I'm going to touch you now."

His breath hitched in his throat - I could hear it - and the hand rubbing absently against my back stilled its movements. For half a moment, the redhead's light blue eyes widened a fraction in complete and utter surprise, before he forced his features into a more neutral position. That, I knew, was not something he had been expecting. Good. I wanted to throw him off guard. I wanted to keep him questioning. When Gaara held all the control in this... this 'relationship', it only left me helpless and begging for some grasp on reality. The disorientation was unnerving, and, frankly, the Sand shinobi himself was downright frightening.

It was high time the tables were turned.

There was a sudden heat in the air that had nothing to do with the surrounding climate. My cheeks still burned a deep crimson, and his piercing gaze was still locked on my wavering features, but in that moment something far deeper, far more primal, had shifted. I felt it, and I knew he could feel it, too. As I leaned in closer, I could feel his ragged breath flutter across my nose and tickle the edge of my mouth. It was a frightening concept, to think that I was merely inches away from a boy who had murdered without a second thought just the other day.

No... No.

I had to force such thoughts out of my mind, if I was ever going to accomplish this mission. I couldn't quake in such terror. I couldn't cringe at the thought of his touch. He would sense it, exploit it.

So instead, I filled my mind with more logical reasoning.

Hadn't Kakashi-sensei killed countless numbers of enemy shinobi in his lifetime? Hadn't Sandaime-sama done the same? Didn't Sasuke want to kill someone himself?

... Wasn't I bound to kill someone, eventually?

These quick, angry thoughts didn't quell my fear, but at least it separated that mental classification I had put the redhead in. He wasn't a 'killer'. He was a shinobi.

I would believe that, even if I was blatantly lying to myself.

Sighing once, slowly, I shifted off of Gaara, rolling to the side so I was now laying beside him, instead of on top of him. His hand remained at my back, supporting me - or, rather, trapping me. If someone had walked up at that moment, they would have seen an image of two lovers laying side-by-side on a chilly rooftop, ignoring the brilliantly shining stars above to gaze at each other with utmost scrutiny. It was a good thing no one was there, then. I would have died of embarrassment. The image manifested in my head already, refusing to leave, and made the blush on my cheeks - the one that had nearly dissipated by now - flare back to life.

Gaara didn't move. His breathing was shallow, and his eyes stared at me unblinkingly, as if afraid my closeness would disappear, or I would go up in a puff of smoke if he moved the wrong way. That inadvertent compliance warmed my heart more than I would have liked to admit. He radiated such an evil, horrifying aura... yet he seemed so childlike. It was almost hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this little boy was a weapon capable of destroying all of Konoha. I could barely believe it, and was even apt to doubt my superiors' judgment on this matter.

Sabaku no Gaara, eh?

Surely he wasn't that bad.

... Right?

Shaking away these questioning thoughts, I focused entirely on the moment - on the here and the now. On the boy beneath me, and his wide cerulean eyes. He was quaking, I could feel it through our clothing, and I needed to do something to calm both him and myself down.

Talking aimlessly had always helped before.


He didn't answer, but the way his eyes snapped up from my lips to my own gaze told me that he was at least listening.

"How... How are you?"

I licked my dry lips, trying to fight back the incredulous smile that tried to break through my composure. After all we'd been through, I was trying to break the ice with small talk? Laughable, really.


"Good, I take it."

If he didn't want to give me full-out words (even single syllable ones) for an answer, I would translate his unintelligible grunts myself. Jerk.

"How's your... ah... team?"

It was the only other thing I could think to ask at the moment. I didn't know anything about him, but I did remember his teammates; the frightening set of the other guy's lips, and the intimidating smirk that seemed to sharpen the busty blonde's features.

Something in Gaara's gaze shifted, but the emotion was lost on me, and gone before I could even begin to fathom what it was.

"Hn. Fine."

Ah, progress! The smile threatening to break my composure grew a little wider.

"Good! So... you're not planning to kill me yet, are you?"

I had meant it as a joke, but the half-frightened, half-scathing glare the redhead shot my way made me think twice about my words.

"Oh... right."

"Are you going to touch me or not?" His voice was cold, clipped, and I knew that he was restraining himself from not crushing me against his chest in an effort to get closer. For the first time since my mission had started, I thought once again about the ramifications of coming so close to an enemy shinobi. Mentally, he was a taxing case. It would be easier to crack a coconut open with a rubber band than to try and pick this boy's brain for anything he wasn't already entirely willing to give. Physically, I'd already seen several bruises manifest on my upper arms from his rough handling, and even one that was plain as day on my wrist - something I'd had to cover up with makeup to keep my father from noticing earlier. Emotionally...

I didn't even want to think about the emotional trauma of this whole situation.

I was fairly certain that, once this whole ordeal was over, I'd be seeing psychiatric help for the next five or so years of my life.

Gaara didn't move beside me, nor did he show any signs of preparing for an attack, but the look he gave me was enough to freeze fire, and sent an entirely different wave of chills down my spine.

Oh, right. The touching thing.

I should probably get on that...

'I agree!' piped up my inner self, and I nearly rolled my eyes at her too-eager words.

Gaara was still watching me, his eyes still cold, his body tense and frozen, as if prepared for an attack.

I could barely blame him. If I were him, I'd be afraid of me, too! I had every right to smack him, for all the hell he had dragged me through. I let this anger fuel me, give me confidence and strength as I leaned in closer towards the redhead. He... wasn't unattractive, when I really looked at him. Gaara didn't have the stark beauty of Sasuke - the dark, handsome stature and noble, fine features. It was like the Uchiha were bred to be gorgeous, on top of being deadly. Like some kind of night hawk - something one admired from afar, but never dared get too close, for fear of losing a finger or an eye. Gaara wasn't like that. He wasn't starkly attractive, or strikingly gorgeous.

Gaara was like... a snake. Cold, with a nasty attitude, and enough venom to stun the most unsuspecting of victims.

It was that very deadly quality that made him almost... beautiful. His sand was sinuous enough, its movements unnatural, malformed and frightening. And his eyes! Those eyes were a poison all their own - mesmerizing, like the snake had finally charmed the charmer. Heck, he even had the bright streak of blood-red color to warn those around him to stay away!

But he wasn't ugly.

Terrifying, maybe, but not ugly.

Still, I was essentially leaning down to kiss a snake. The irony was not lost on me. (Snakes creeped me out.)

My eyes flit upwards, watching Gaara's own gaze fall half-lidded as he watched me come closer. He knew what I was going to do. He expected it. His tense body relaxed just a fraction, but the sand around us slithered back and forth, either excited by what was about to happen, or warning me that if I tried anything funny, I would die then and there.

Or both.

Our lips were a breath apart. My hair had fallen to the side, resting languidly on the other's shoulder and neck, and I tried to block out everything else around me, so all I could focus on was the boy at my side. I licked my lips once, then swallowed hard, not surprised to find there was a lump in my throat that was currently trying to suffocate me. My breathing grew harder, which I was fine with, considering the fact that the Sand shinobi's breathing had been quite erratic for a little while now, and a strange fluttering had started up in my stomach. I felt sick. Throwing up on the redhead would definitely not look good, though. I had to make him like me, after all.

Oh God, here I go...

I leaned in, my nose brushing along his, my lips quavering in anticipation, waiting to feel the warm press of his mouth against mine.

Ohgod ohgod ohgod...

- Gaara -

There was a heat there that I didn't quite understand. I'd never felt warm before - not really. I'd felt hot, and had suffered through the humidity of Konoha's air. I'd breathed in the arid, dry taste of the desert, and suffered in its penetrating heat. But inside, I'd always felt cold.

Now, though, with Sakura mere moments away from kissing me again - of her own free will! - I was struck by how warm I felt on the inside. Part of me didn't like it - I felt uncomfortable, and itchy, like I wanted to crush the girl against my chest and rub her against me to stop that odd ache from growing any further. Another part couldn't imagine living without it. I settled for remaining frozen, letting her make the moves, as long as they remained relatively harmless.

She inched closer, hesitantly, and I couldn't help the hitch in my throat at such intensely close proximity. Face-to-face. Skin-to-skin. I could smell her all around me, her distinct scent permeating the air, and was distracted by how positively edible she smelt. I had to physically keep myself from pulling my lips back in a silent snarl. It was the demon within me, I was fairly sure, that loathed being dominated like this. I wanted to reverse our position, to pin her down and show her who her Master wa-

'That's right, pup. Just like that.' Shukaku's voice broke my thoughts, loud and clear, and I blinked at the distraction. Sakura's body invading my personal space, Shukaku's voice invading my mind... I was fairly certain I just might go into sensory overload.

Get out. I could barely think the words. Time seemed to stop. My thoughts and movements seemed increasingly sluggish.

'That's your own fault,' the demon said bitterly, hinting at the fact that I didn't release him more often. But I wasn't very fond of the idea of setting the tanuki loose to eat away at my personality, thank you very much.

Shut. Up.

Dammit, why did he have to ruin everything!? It was enough to make my blood boil, and send me into a mental fit of rage. I nearly wanted to whine at the injustice of it all. Why me? Why me?

'Sorry. Can't.'

That was a lie. He simply didn't want to be quiet.


'Because it's boring in here.'


My mental tone screamed of the words, 'I'll kill you', but I knew such a frivolous thought was pointless. I couldn't kill him. No one could, really.

'You're making progress with the girl, I see.' The chuckle in his words threw me off. 'It's only a matter of time, then.'

Time? What are you talking about, demon? If I could have growled the words, I most certainly would have done just that.

'Oh, lots of things.' I could feel his cold, maniacal grin. Shukaku's madness was my own, true, but sometimes I forgot that the demon was actually more insane that I was. He had enough insanity to pass around, after all. 'Power. Death.'

A chilling laugh.


... WHAT?

'You heard me.'

I had, but I dared not admit it.

Just what the hell are you planning!?

Another chuckle, one that sounded decidedly unhinged.

'Why, your future, of course, little pup!'

I-... I literally had nothing to say to that one. My demon was planning my future? Essentially looking out for me? Or was there some kind of ulterior motive (There had to be. He was a demon.) behind this sick sort of kindness?


Hell yes I was.

... You're an idiot.

It was my fallback phrase, when I didn't know how else to respond.

I dug further into my mind, hoping to draw the bijuu closer to the forefront of my thoughts, so maybe I could catch a glimpse of what he was planning, but was once against distracted by the closeness of Sakura's body, and the way her bubblegum pink locks brushed against the sides of my face.

The kiss.

A kiss.

It all came rushing back to me, making my fingers twitch and my eyes ache with the need to fall shut. Sakura was hovering above me at this very moment, her lips so warm, so hot, so achingly close I suddenly couldn't even think about the conversation with my demon, or his confusing, stilted words. The only human being capable of touching me was going to kiss me. Again. Properly, this time, and on her own terms. I could barely comprehend that this was happening. It felt surreal, like a dream - I imagined this heady rush of bottled up emotions was the sort of feeling a dream might invoke. I'd never known the experience, of course.

My lips parted slightly, as if I was about to say something, but no words came out. The pink-haired girl's eyes fluttered down to gaze at my mouth, a quick look of worry entering her light emerald eyes before a strange sort of determination settled in them.

A kiss.

I was going to get a-

A sudden, dominating presence chilled my skin, making me snap my head in the direction of the intruder even before he coughed loudly to gain our attention.

Uchiha Sasuke.

Leave it to the orphaned brat to ruin my moment.

Sakura froze above me at the sound, a dark blush staining her features at the thought of being caught with the likes of me. Served her right, then. If she was ashamed to admit our fake 'courtship' in private, then I would only gladly make her suffer even more under the scrutiny of her so-called friends. He blush darkened when she finally looked up and snapped her attention towards the looming figure standing on the peak of the rooftop, just behind us, staring at our provocative position closer to the edge of the roof.

"Sa-Sasuke!" Sakura was the first to break the increasingly awkward silence, her cheeks going an ever brighter red as she put a name to the face now staring at her with a look that was a mix between anger and disgust.

I'd bet the arrogant Uchiha thought himself skilled at hiding his emotions. Compared to the shinobi of the Sand, the pitiful boy was practically an open book.

The kunoichi blanched, pushing off of me as if my very skin now burned her. I didn't protest - didn't stop her. What was the point? She would have hated me ever more, later, and I was fairly certain even that small show of possessiveness would grate on the Uchiha's nerves enough to start a fight then and there. Something I wouldn't have minded, really, save for the fact that me and my teammates were supposed to lay low for a while.

Killing a village's child prodigy would most likely be frowned upon. Despite how satisfying the act would be.

I breathed out once, slowly, then lifted up, standing with a sort of clumsy grace - expending too much effort for the task of standing was simply too pointless. I didn't have a natural grace or ease of movement, like the Leaf shinobi glaring at me now. My sand was flowing enough for the both of us. I supposed over time, with more training, I would be able to handle myself in hand-to-hand combat better than now, or evolve my technique with the sand beyond its already superior defense and attack mechanisms. But even though I hadn't yet reached my full potential, I couldn't help but smirk at the decidedly arrogant thought that crossed my mind.

I was still stronger than the Uchiha.

He knew it, too. I could tell by the defensive stance he took up in my presence, even when I simply walked over to retrieve the gourd that had been pushed to the side a little earlier. I took my slow time in adjusting it back to my body, aligning the straps and buckles just right for a more comfortable fit. There was nothing worse than getting a rash on your back from a heavy gourd rubbing against it all day. Awful, really.

Sakura herself decided to fill this awkward void with mundane conversation.

"S-so... Sasuke-kun! How have the exams gone? I'd heard the written test was really tough this y-"

"Shut up."

I, personally, bristled at the Uchiha's tone, even though the words weren't even directed at me. Briefly, I wondered if the kunoichi would stand for such a thing as-

"Ah, yeah. Sorry, sorry."

... Of course. Typical female.

This time, I did roll my eyes, though my back was turned towards the other two. Honestly, their interaction sickened me. Why would Sakura submit like that? She never submitted so much with me! I realized that I was intensely jealous of this fact. True, Sakura was terrified of me... but she didn't idolize me like she idolized the Uchiha. She didn't respect my words, no matter how clipped a tone I gave her. She wasn't so... so... utterly whipped!

"What are you doing here? With him?"

I smiled at the stress on that last word. I'd heard that tone many, many times before. It only served to amuse me now. 'Him', the monster. 'Him', the bastard.

'Him', the one who could kill you with a simple motion of the hand, if you didn't watch your words.

You'll learn, soon enough, Uchiha.

I determined, then, that I would especially enjoy crushing the arrogant prodigy's skull when the invasion finally took place.

After a moment of silent, morbid contemplation, I turned around to witness the sight of a nervous, stuttering Sakura, and a rather blatantly furious Sasuke...

... Who was staring directly at me.

Hn. Of course.

I flashed him a smirk, lowering my head a bit and glancing up at him with narrowed eyes. Truly, I considered the boy before me as nothing more than a less advanced mirror-image of myself. He was on the road to becoming what I already was. Now, he simply needed to destroy all his ties to this world, kill off the bonds and precious ones that kept him safe, and allow his mind to stew and rot in insanity for a few long years. Then he might be at my level.


It could have been arrogance dictating my thoughts, but I liked to think otherwise.

"Well... Um. You see, I was just taking a walk. And, ah... Well, it's not what it looks like!"

It most certainly was what it looked like.

I flashed Sakura a contemptuous glance to show my displeasure. She sputtered, glancing between me and the raven-haired boy, obviously trying to determine what to do next. Side with her long-time obsession? Or side with the shinobi currently blackmailing her?

Decisions, decisions.

Fortunately, Sasuke took the choice out of her hands by taking a step closer to me. His head lowered a bit as well, and the cold look he flashed my way very nearly rivaled my own. His eyes... they were the same as mine. Lonely. Hateful.

I second-guessed my first assumption.

Maybe he already was insane?

... I was still stronger, though. My pride wouldn't let me think otherwise.

"What were you doing with her?"

Just lounging around, fully prepared to touch and/or kiss your little lackey into oblivion.


"That didn't look like 'nothing'." He took a step closer.

"Maybe you should get your eyes checked, then?" I full-out smirked, basking in the heated glare he threw my way.

"My eyes are fine," he said, smirking a secretive kind of smile which, for a moment, puzzled me. He was supposed to be angry at the comment, dammit! Not amused!

We stood for a moment, staring at each other, at a complete standstill. Sakura had taken up Sasuke's previous position standing atop the apex of the roof, her emerald eyes glowing bright in the night as she stared at us with a torn expression on her face. If the Uchiha was an open book, then Sakura practically dictated her every thought to any passerby that happened to look at her with some level of attentiveness.

The Konoha prodigy followed my gaze, glancing back, then whipped his head around to stare at me with a hateful glare.

"Stay away from her."

"We're teammates," I stated blandly.

"No, we're teammates! Stay. Away."

Jealousy? Now that was interesting. I didn't think the Uchiha had any emotional ties towards the girl. In fact, I had been fairly certain he utterly despised her - and I was usually a pretty good judge of character, despite my own antisocial tendencies. The look in his eyes was far from concerned, though, and it took me only a moment to place it.

... It was a challenge.

He wasn't telling me to stay away from someone he cared about. He was telling me to stay away... simply because he could. He must have felt that Sakura, being a shinobi of the Leaf village like himself, would remain utmost loyal to his cause. He was confident in his ability to wrench the girl away from my grasp, effectively depriving an addict of his drug.

My smirk widened as I realized he had no idea what kind of deal Sakura and I had made. A deal that, if broken, would mean making her appear both incompetent, disloyal, and dead. Still, her utter obsession with the boy would prove a challenge, but I wasn't completely out of the running yet. I simply had to lie to her. I had to make her think that I was better than the Uchiha.

Oh, it was on.

"Sakura," I spoke, my voice still monotonous, but a notch lower than the raven-haired boy's harsh tone. "Come here."


She was confused, standing on the rooftop in a neutral, though tense, stance. She had probably determined to sit this one out, and remain detached from the preceding. There was no way she could win, after all.

"Come here." My words were still quiet, but held a hint of command to them. She would not disobey.

The Uchiha seemed to recognize my game instantly, though, and as soon as Sakura had taken a hesitant step forward, he spoke up.

"No, Sakura. Stay there."

The way we were positioned, Sakura was standing roughly behind Sasuke, his back turned towards the girl as he faced me defensively. Like some kind of 'protector.' Like a hero.

I could have snorted, but settled for crossing my arms instead.

The kunoichi froze, so used to following her teammate's every command, glancing between him and me. Unlike the Uchiha, my back wasn't turned towards the girl, and instead of gracing the other boy with the same kind of hateful glare he was directing towards me, I turned my eyes towards Sakura instead. She watched me for a long moment, though her gaze held a different kind of scrutiny than the Uchiha's. Hers was softer, more open. More willing to understand, you could say.

The pink-haired girl wasn't stupid by any means. I'd found that out over our short amount of time together. She knew that I was trying to one-up her precious 'Sasuke-kun'. I only wondered if she realized he was trying to one-up me, as well. She might have been too blinded by his sudden protectiveness to see it for what it really way. I wasn't sure. The thought bugged me, though. More than I would have liked to admit.

"Sasuke," she finally spoke, her voice soft and just the slightest bit quavery. "We... we were talking about our mission."

She was such an awful liar.

"Oh, really?" The prodigy wasn't convinced, and I couldn't really blame him. Still...

I took a quick step forward, an action that caused the Uchiha to tense and shift into a fighting stance. He was quick - I would give him that much. I shot him a cold, arrogant smirk, then took another step forward, this time a little further away from the other boy, angling my body towards the girl behind him.

"Really," I stated flatly, watching Sakura the whole time. She blinked once, twice, and threw me what was almost a grateful look.

Tch. Whatever. This lie was for my benefit, as well.

"You're not going anywhere."

So confident, the raven-haired boy. So confident, and so misguided.

"Oh, really?" I asked, mimicking his words from a moment ago, and throwing him a blunt look. "We're leaving," I said to Sakura, in a tone that would indicate two friends who had just been intruded upon, rather than two enemies who were simply trying to perform a business transaction.

"Gaara, wait, I-"

"Don't you dare run away from me, you little-"

Too late.

I had already taken the five short strides it took to reach Sakura's side, and before she could even protest, my arms wrapped around her in what most certainly looked like a crushing embrace. I caught a glimpse of the Uchiha's livid, angry features, and thought for a moment that his eyes had gone red, but quickly brushed the little hallucination off. Sakura clutched angrily at the front of my shirt, her fingernails scrapping harshly along the buckles that held my strap in place. Quickly, before either of them could protest, my sand began that quick, familiar swirl around my form, gaining speed with each passing moment. It created a vortex around Sakura and I as I hunched over, blocking her body from the harsh sting of tiny sand granules. I held the hand seal behind her back, fingers threaded together to form an effective clasp in an effort to keep the girl pressed as closely to me as possible.

I'd never teleported with someone else before, but I trusted in my abilities enough to keep from accidentally fusing both our bodies together when we reformed. I simply had to concentrate on Sakura's shaking form a little more than usual. I didn't want to accidentally miss transporting a particular limb, after all. Something told me the kunoichi wouldn't appreciate that.

She would hate me in the morning. I was fairly certain of that. But at least I had won this battle.

Besides, the Uchiha was taking that mundane Chuunin exam, while I was otherwise occupied with teaming up with Sakura for most every day.

I had plenty of time to win her over.

The Uchiha had set a challenge, and I wasn't about to back down.

R&R? :)

I'm actually thinking about doing the next few chapters in a different style. The fiction that inspired me to write this story in first-person POV in the first place (Which, surprisingly enough, isn't even from the Naruto fandom.) just updated after about a year. I adore their style, and was just thinking that it might actually be better to try something a little more active - going a little more quickly between important scenes, instead of focusing on just a single day or two for ten chapters. -.-

We'll see.

Also, I certainly didn't want to come off as bashing Sasuke. Remember, all that was written in Gaara's POV, not necessarily mine. ;)

Hope you liked this chapter, and thanks again for the wonderful reviews!

- Kodu