Chapter 1

The room was full and everyone seemed to be chatty. There was a warm, inviting atmosphere in the room, complete with drifting scents of cinnamon and nutmeg. It was nearing that time of year again – holiday season. Smiling faces could be seen around the room, a little chitchat, and eyes wondering to every face to see if they caught someone who looked interesting. No, this wasn't a party and, no, the people present were not cheerful because of the approaching holidays - well, some were, but that wasn't the reason they were smiling tonight. They were smiling, looking their best, and were filled with hope that they might find that special someone tonight, because this was the night for speed-dating.

There were several wooden tables set up in columns and rows, a place card atop of each numbering them, a pair of chairs pushed in on either side. And sitting on one of these chairs, bored and just the slightest bit apprehensive, was Sakura Haruno. She tapped her fingers on the tabletop, waiting patiently for the event to start. This was her seventh time attending, all within a month. At first her 'dates' had mostly seemed interested, but shortly after telling a little bit about herself they usually backed off.

…Actually, they all had backed off. It didn't matter though; desperate times called for drastic measures, and Sakura was really desperate. No, it wasn't that she felt as though she needed man to be happy, or that she would die single. It wasn't that she was introverted and socially constipated either. Sakura was here for a different reason entirely, and because of that reason she would keep coming here until she found the one.

"Okay everyone, thank you for coming! We are about to start, so if all the ladies could find a table and sit down on the side nearest the door. Men, once the ladies are situated and we know we have enough tables, feel free to find a place across from one of these lovely women." A brunette said cheerfully, standing at the head of the room. She resembled a receptionist, Sakura thought, with her hair done up in a bun, her grey pencil skirt and her recently shined black heels. As all the other women were finding seats, receptionist-lady made her way over to Sakura's table.

"Hello, Sakura. See anyone that looks interesting tonight?" she winked, nodding to the group of men in the room. Sakura was now put in her book as a regular on speed-date nights.

"A few, I guess. But I never really know if I am until I start talking to them, you know?"

"Ah, I understand. You're more interested in personalities than looks. It's an admiral quality; I see so many people here just searching for eye candy."

"Exactly." Sakura nodded her head in agreement. You could tell just by watching a person for a little while at one of these events which ones were looking for a deep, meaningful relationship that would last against hardships, and which people were looking for a hot date or a fun fling. It was all in the way they conducted themselves.

"Well, good luck to you tonight. The next time I see you in this restaurant it would be nice to see you at normal hours for a real date. You seem like a sweet girl, you deserve it." Sakura didn't know how to respond to that, but she was saved as the woman walked back to the head of the room. The men started seating themselves, and soon Sakura was looking across the table at a man with brown eyes and rustled brown hair.

"Now that you're all seated, let's begin with the rules: no phone numbers or contact information shared until all rounds are through. This way you can give more people a chance, and if you decide that there's date you prefer, you won't be crushing someone else's heart by canceling on them." Receptionist-lady said, speaking to the room. There was quiet, respectful silence as she spoke, although many weren't really listening. They were too wrapped up in thoughts and staring or, in some cases, looking anywhere but the person sitting across from them.

"Secondly," she continued. "At the end of each round, every man will get up and move to the next table. The tables are numbered to avoid confusion. Each round will last two minutes, so tell a little bit about you and then let the other person have a turn. To help with this we have a bell to let you know how much time has passed. One ring means you're at the halfway mark and two rings signifies the end or start of each round. Now, without further ado, let the first round begin. Have fun and good luck!" The bell rung twice and everyone turned to the person across from them.

"Kiba Inuzuka." The man sitting on the other side of Sakura's table stretched out his hand. Sakura shook it, glad that he was friendly.

"Sakura." She smiled, giving her name. "You wanna start?"

"Sure, why not?" Kiba laughed and leaned forward, his hands now clasped together on the table. "Well, what can I say? I'm 28 years old, never been married – but I want to someday. I just haven't met 'The Girl'; you know what I'm saying? I'm a risk taker, love extreme sports. I'm sort of an adrenaline junky." He smiled sheepishly. So far, she really liked him. They could get along just fine…

"But most of all, my passion would be for dogs. I love them – train them, actually. It's what I do best, and I'm fortunate that it's my job as well. I have a dog named Akamaru. Raised her from a pup, and wouldn't trade her for the world." His face showed such a fond expression, she noted, when he talked about his pet. He turned to her. "So, Sakura Haruno, what about you? You like dogs?"

"Well, actually…" she looked at the table and back at him. The grin was off his face; he noticed. He didn't seem mad though – just a little let down. Then he laughed.

"Oh, don't tell me you're a cat person. You are, aren't you? But if that's all, I bet we could still work something out. Akamaru's a sweet girl, well behaved too. I don't think you'd mind her…"

"Actually, I'm allergic to dog hair." Sakura said quietly. It was a shame – she really started to like this guy.

"Oh…" He leaned in his chair before looking back hopefully. "How allergic are you?"

"I have difficulties breathing and have to use an inhaler if I'm in the same room as a dog. Outside is fine, because of all the fresh air and wind, but it tends to collect too much indoors. Plus it's not as ventilated…" She trailed off, not knowing anything more to say.

"Oh." And that marked the end of their conversation. What he loved the most turned out to be the deal breaker. Sakura didn't have anything to add, so they sat there in uncomfortable silence. The halfway bell hadn't even rung yet. The situation was, in a word, awkward.

After what had seemed like an eternity, the two minutes had passed and people had switched tables. Sakura talked to man after man, some seeming interesting and others not so much. But all of them, each and every one of them, turned her down and decided that they really weren't that interested after hearing her piece. It was frustrating to be sure, but not unexpected.

By now 75 percent of the men there had met her and turned her down. Sakura was ready to call the night a failure and just up and leave, but the stubborn part in her - the part that also kept her working on a project until it was all the way finished no matter how long it took - kept her in her chair and refused to let her leave. So instead, she thought of a different tactic to use.

Instead of Sakura asking him to tell about himself first and try to push away the inevitable, the next man who came to her table would hear her out before anything else happened. Then they wouldn't get hopeful or have to embarrassingly admit that they would like to 'change their mind' and really weren't 'that interested'. No, Sakura would lay all her cards on the table and get the man scared away before he could do a thing. It was fast, efficient, and hurt her a lot less that way; it was just like ripping off a Band-Aid. If any guy had the guts to stick around after that, she didn't know what she'd do. She just hoped that someone would.

The bell chimed twice and the last man Sakura had talked to – was his name Jeffery? - rose quickly from his chair, somewhat clammy from the situation and glad to get away. She watched him gratefully sit in the seat at the next table down and smile at the other occupant. The woman smiled back and shyly introduced herself, apologizing that she was somewhat awkward at these types of things. Jeffery laughed, leaned closer, pointed a thumb towards his left and said "Don't worry, anything you say will make you seem like a goddess compared to the crazy lady over there." The women laughed a bit uneasily at this, making Sakura wonder how many similar statements the woman had heard that night. Jeffery glanced to his left, only to catch (and cower under) Sakura's glare. He looked as if he might wet himself, and she hoped that he did.

"Ahem." Someone, whoever had taken the seat across from her cleared his throat and snatched her attention back to what she was supposed to be doing.

"Sorry, it's been a rough… night…" Sakura turned to meet her new 'date', but stumbled when she found his dark onyx eyes looking directly into hers. His gaze was penetrating and intense, but Sakura refused to cower. So she stared him back, somewhat dejected about the fact that she knew such a handsome man was about to refuse her. She also found he looked somewhat familiar, but couldn't place her finger on it.

"Do I know you?" she asked with squinted eyes, hoping it would help jog her memory of where she had seen him before.

"Excuse me?" He looked taken aback, offended. Then she realized how her words must have come out to him.

"Oh, no, sorry… It's just that you look familiar, like I actually know you from somewhere. I just can't put my finger on it."

"Don't bother, we've never met." He kept his face emotionless, but looked away from her nonetheless.

"Do you have a name?" she pried.

"…Sasuke." She narrowed her eyes at this. He was the first person whom, like her, had not given a last name. What was he trying to hide? Or was he trying to hide anything? Was she just being paranoid?

"Well, Sasuke, let me tell you right now that in less than a minute you're going to wish you'd never met me, so let's get the inevitable over with. This is just a warning to you now." He raised an eyebrow at this before responding to her, his low voice contrasting with her own high pitched tone.

"Try me, I like accepting challenges." He wasn't flirting, he was being completely serious. He looked agitated, but Sakura assumed that it wasn't because of her; she had spotted him earlier that night and he had acted the same way.

"You know, you really don't seem like the kind of guy to do speed-dating."

"I'm not." He didn't elaborate, but seemed to get even more annoyed. "Are you going to tell me about yourself or not? Cause we're running out of time." The halfway bell rang, as if proving his point.

"Fine." She waved him off and clasped her hands together neatly, looking much like a businesswoman. "I am a woman whom as much as she hates to say this, needs a relationship fast. In fact, I need marriage.

"I need someone who I will get along with and won't mind that our relationship is going to be super quick, because I need to be engaged in at least a month. I need someone who also will not cheat on me, will not flirt with other women, and will agree to make a contract saying what will and will not happen in this relationship, because I need to be ensured that we're both treated well and I want this marriage to work. It needs to last, and I do not plan on getting a divorce."

This was usually where the guys started sweating, adjusting their ties and coming up with the best way to let her down. This was when they looked anywhere but her and considered just leaving all together to get away from the lunatic woman with pink hair. But as she watched the man across from her, she realized he was doing none of these things, and Sakura got scared. She was used to being rejected; not once had someone responded like this.

Sasuke clasped his hands and leaned forward, mirroring her businesslike position and smirked. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

For clarification, I have no idea how speed dating actually works. Everything here is purely made up. Hope you enjoyed! =)