title: persuasion

pairing: SasuSaku; for now, anyway. Hints of other unimportant background pairs later.

summary: AU. Non-massacre. SasuSaku. It was, Sakura rather thought now, those two last words—"even me"—that had sent her feet walking out of the room without her even realizing it. Was he so promiscuous? More importantly, was she really so undesirable?

notes: Better late than never? :) I know, I know—considering my absence, this is quite short, but quality is better than quantity? Also, still love SasuSaku. Yes.

disclaimer: Neither Naruto nor Pride and Prejudice are mine; the former belongs to Masashi Kishimoto and Friends, and the latter, to...public domain, I guess. But before that, it belonged to the amazing Jane Austen.

Sasuke saw Sakura less often after the luncheon meeting, but he could not say he was sorry for it. His recent revelation - the realization that she had, of late, crossed his mind far too frequently - prevented him from mourning the loss of her company. Sakura, inadvertently or otherwise, had made herself something of a constant in his life, and until the incident at the mission's office, he had regarded her as an acquaintance, a teammate. It would, he thought, be best that he maintain his distance—his routine—away from her until he could decide what space she occupied in his life. This, he decided, was for her own good, as well as for his own peace.

Despite what the villagers said, Sasuke considered himself far from unfeeling. If anyone he deemed worthy of a response had ever asked - and no one ever had - Sasuke would have replied that he felt too keenly—reacted too quickly—to emotional stimuli. Moreover, while he would never go so far as to style himself the most empathetic (nor was he, some would argue, a particularly sympathetic) man in the village, Sasuke was, nonetheless, fairly sensitive to the feelings of the people he considered close to him.

Haruno Sakura, he decided, was one of those people.

Consequently, he was no stranger to her affection for him, was not unaware of the lingering glances and hushed sighs she had, in past years, bestowed upon him with alarming frequency. As a child, the extra scrutiny had been vaguely menacing. Sasuke remembered wondering why she stared at him with such rapt attention. He had spent many an afternoon in front of his mother's vanity table, staring at the lines of his face and searching desperately for some special mark that distinguished him from all the other little boys in the daycare classroom.

As an adolescent, he had thought such trifles irritating; how could Sakura reach her potential, distracted as she was by something as inconsequential as the way his eyelashes brushed against his cheek? (Young girls, Sasuke had learned, were wont to find the silliest of things endearing.) He had spent over half his lunch hours in tussles with Naruto for the sole purpose of marring whatever facial feature she (and her friends) felt like immortalizing in their terribly-written poetry that day. Sasuke did not even want to remember the conversations he had been unfortunate enough to overhear; he had learned quite early in life that the imagination of any girl in the grips of "true love" was very rapid; it jumped from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. (1)

Her advances had (thankfully) tapered off after she had been selected to be Tsunade's protege, and after he left on his own training missions, Sakura had begun to bloom. The invitations for dates, once delivered with such enthusiasm, gradually decreased until one day they stopped altogether. After a long day of sparring, Sasuke no longer found her homemade bento lunches (which, he grudgingly admitted, were second only to his mother's) waiting at the training grounds he frequented. And while she still smiled that same small, slightly bashful smile, when she saw him, Sasuke now wondered if it were out of habit than out of any particularized, specifically romantic affection.

Then again, he reasoned, she did spend an unhealthy amount of time blushing in his company. And if his brother were to be believed, Sakura had thrown something of a tantrum when she had overheard (and misconstrued) his refusal to accept her as his partner on the escort mission they had been assigned.

And she had said she would wait for him.

In any event, Sasuke thought to himself, it would far better to ruminate on such matters without her presence as a distraction.

It was but a scant three days later—during the aftermath of what should have been Team 7's alternate-Tuesday training practices, but what had, with Naruto's absence and Kakashi's tardiness, turned into a private, somehow more intimate sparring session—that Sasuke found himself face-to-face with his pink-haired teammate.

It was, moreover, at this moment, that he fully realized the change in her.

Gone was the Haruno Sakura of years past, the girl who paled at the sight of blood, and tittered over the possibility of sharing his air. In her place was an almost-stranger. She had not even blushed, Sasuke noted, when he had taken his shirt off at the beginning of her examination.

Now, he watched as she healed his scrapes and scratches with the lightest touch, careful not to linger. She was, he realized, the epitome of cool professionalism; there had been no instance of suspect touches, and at no time did he wonder whether she was purposely taking her time in assessing his condition. Her fine eyes had seen everything at the first glance.

"I've repaired what damage there was, Sasuke-kun," Sakura said. "You should have ducked before that last punch—I'm fairly certain I broke a few ribs."

He grunted, and slipped his shirt on over his head. "Get your things together. I'll walk you home."

Sakura supposed it was his roundabout way of showing his thanks, and in another time, she would have been thrilled—would have happily accepted, content to remain in his company for the additional twenty or so minutes his offer would have allotted her. Now, in the wake of her own exhaustion, Sakura wanted nothing more than to sink into a hot bath, and wash the remnants of the day's spar away. Only the thought of peaches, ripe and sweet, threatened to distract her. She would stop at the market first. Perhaps she could even find a bottle of that sparkling plum wine Ino had been gushing over a few weeks ago.

Sakura stood from where she had been crouching, only slightly aware of Sasuke's eyes on her. He was, she realized, still waiting for a response.

"Another time, Sasuke-kun, though I do thank you for the offer. In any case, I don't think I'll be going home quite, yet."

"We have training tomorrow," he said, his eyes still fixed on her. Sakura could hear the surprise in his voice at her refusal. "It would not serve you well to stay out late, tonight."

"I'll only be out as long as it will take me to find the freshest peaches, and the sweetest plum wine, at the market tonight. Then it's off to bed for me," Sakura said, resenting the words even as they left her lips. Why, oh why, do I always feel that I need to explain myself to him, she wondered ruefully.

Sasuke huffed, and stood up from where he had been sitting.

"If you'll hurry up, I'll go with you."

Sakura huffed, now truly irritated. "You really needn't bother, Sasuke-kun. I'm perfectly capable of making it home on my own. I would not be very good company this evening." And neither would you, she added silently.

Without warning, Sasuke turned pinned her with a searching, not entirely amiable, look.

"You were fine enough company for my brother, weren't you?"

He slipped past her silently, leaving her to follow after him.

Despite the late hour, the markets were still heady with the energy of the day upon their arrival. Sasuke muttered a few choice words about his intention to purchase goods for his mother, and left Sakura at the fruit stalls with express orders to await his return before leaving.

This left her a few moments to reflect upon the strange happenings of the day. Why, she wondered, after everything that had happened, was Sasuke so insistent on accompanying her to the market? On her errands, no less. It was all so very domestic, so very droll, and so—so very dangerous.

It was the sort of thing, Sakura thought somewhat wistfully as she picked through peaches, that a man and a woman did, not together, but Together—the sort of thing a woman might get used to, if she were not the careful sort.

It was, she thought further, precisely the sort of thing that she had no business doing with Uchiha Sasuke.

"Are you nearly finished? That peach in you hand has been turned over so often that it is probably bruised now."

Sakura, who had been lost in thought, was startled by the sound of her Subject's voice so close to her ear. She recovered admirably, and offered him a smile that any onlooker might have taken for carefree.

"You should go on ahead, Sasuke-kun. I will be a bit longer, and I can certainly find my own way home. I would rather not have you wait for me."

He was unmoved.

"All the same, I will wait for you. If you are truly worried about being an inconvenience, then I suppose that it would be best for you to stop wasting time by talking to me, and finish your shopping. Like it or not," Sasuke said, in a tone that dared her to not, "I will wait for you here, and then, I will see you safely home. I watched while my brother," he continued, his lip curling just enough to emphasize his disdain, "accompanied you through the market a few days ago—many of the choices you made that night were substandard at best."

Sakura wished fervently that she had already purchased the wine Ino had been so enthusiastic over—mostly so that she could happily break the bottle across her companion's condescending face. She felt what goodwill she had gained during the cafe outing with Itachi, and this singular, infuriating, devastating man in front of her, vanish into the ether. His thank you, she thought, could not be enough tonight. Tomorrow, she would wake and wait again. But tonight—just tonight—covered in the day's dust and filled with her own hurt, she would pause.

"I apologize," she began heatedly, "if I have kept you from some important appointment. However, I do remember insisting that I would be perfectly capable of finding my own way. Please do not feel that you are doing me any favors by standing beside me like an overgrown watchdog, when all you have been doing—besides, of course, insulting me—"

"I have not been—" Sasuke interrupted, before he, too, was interrupted.

"—is scaring the fruit vendors into stunned silence. And furthermore," she said, her voice suddenly softer, "I do beg your indulgence, but the next time you have...doubts about me, or my skillset, or the perceived lack thereof, I do ask, as your teammate, or as whoever, or whatever I might have been to you once, to please tell me first, instead of broadcasting it to the mission room at large where all-and-sundry might be privy to how little you think of me." Now, Sasuke-kun," Sakura said, her voice tired and somehow diminished, "I do bid you goodnight."

She stalked away from him without further word, leaving him staring after her and wondering where, exactly, the evening had gone wrong.

(1) Adapted from Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice

What to say, but that I got lost on the road of life? Please enjoy this late offering.