Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.

Rated T: Due to coarse language.

The comforting, yellow glow cast by a staggered line of post lanterns lights her way across the quiet campus. The globes are cheerful beacons of civilization in an otherwise deserted landscape of academia. As it's only the second day of the new semester, Sakura is one of the few dedicated souls who have already begun to stake out territory in the university's library. Shifting the messenger bag slung across her body to adjust the strain on her shoulder, she feels the cold kiss of frost on her nose. The first snow of the new year.

Clasping her coat collar more tightly around her exposed throat, Sakura inwardly bemoans the fact she forgot her scarf in this morning's mad dash to make it to her 8:00 a.m. biology lecture. Wednesday is her busiest day of the week with four lectures and one lab session to attend, leaving her with little time to grab lunch and navigate through the mass of students swarming the sidewalks with hoods up and earbuds firmly planted in their ears, the standard look to achieve an essence of DO NOT APPROACH ME WITH PETITIONS OR SIGN UP SHEETS FOR SCHOOL CLUBS.

Sakura herself has employed just such a tactic at various times throughout her short stint at college. There's only so many peppy sorority sisters and determined student activists one can lend an ear to.

But now, at nearly seven o'clock at night and an uncomfortable thirty degrees Fahrenheit, there are no such obstacles in Sakura's path to the bus stop. Sliding her phone from her coat pocket, she reluctantly plucks off one of her neon pink gloves to access her touch screen. Luckily, the campus bus system at her university had decided to get with the 21st century a few years back and had saw fit to create an app that allowed students to look up bus times on their phones.

As her thumb lazily types in her desired bus route, she decides to take a shortcut through the small cluster of classroom building just up ahead, rather than walk around their perimeter. During her first semester, Sakura had decided to get some of her general education requirements out of the way, leading her to enroll in a beginner's painting course. She had been anything but happy about having to waste time and tuition money on a class that did little to benefit her in the pursuit of becoming a medical doctor.

It's no wonder they say artists are starving. The paint brushes alone cost a small fortune. And the paper!

Sakura unconsciously shakes her head in disapproval at the memory.

Needless to say, Sakura's pocket money had been wiped out by her art supplies list, leaving her to endure the whininess of her best friend, Ino, whose adventurous and gregarious personality often led her to various coffee shops and dance clubs (toting Sakura along with her, of course).

Still, it didn't turn out so bad.

In fact, much to her own surprise, Sakura found herself enjoying the experiences as she practiced different brush strokes and was given a crash course in color theory. She had never before considered the idea that so many possible color combinations could be formed from so few to start out with. Mixing the colors had been a blast and because she was in a class with so many others like her that were just trying to fulfill a course requirement, Sakura didn't have to be her usual competitive self. She laughed, she joked, she made a mess.

And perhaps best of all, she managed to scrape away with an A-, a grade that she could gladly accept in a subject so outside her realm of comfort.

Approaching the familiar cluster of red brick buildings with their stunning arches over the entranceway and long strips of windows to let in plenty of natural light, Sakura can almost glance upon the long, L-shaped structure with fondness. It's the largest of the art classrooms and where Sakura accidentally decorated her pair of red Converse with yellow paint.

My ketchup and mustard shoes as Naruto calls them.

Sakura rolls her eyes to herself. Her childhood friend isn't known for his eloquence.

The gray asphalt of the paved walkway cutting through the campus green gives way to cobblestone in this little sector of campus and Sakura can feel the change in evenness under the soles of her moccasin boots. She rather likes the old, classical feel of it.

With snow crystals now falling steadily and collecting like dandruff on the furry material of her coat, Sakura scrunches her nose in distaste, swiping her gloved hand across her arms and shoulders to remove the flurries. Glancing at her phone, Sakura sighs as the loading icon flashes on her screen, testing her thin patience and empty stomach.

Ok, if the bus doesn't get here within ten minutes, I'll go to the student union.

If that's the case, there's a tall cup of chai tea latte calling her name from the cafeteria…And with any luck, the cute barista boy from last semester too.

He'd even started remembering her usual order, and she wouldn't mind sharing pleasantries over how her Christmas break went.

Giggling softly to herself, Sakura passes between the two art buildings rising up on either side of her into the deep blue velvet night sky. Along with the larger L-shaped building where she took her painting class, the art department makes its home in two smaller buildings for more advanced pupils. Altogether, the buildings enclose a small courtyard of stone benches and a modest cluster of planted trees serving as the heart of the space that the art students typically occupy during smoke breaks or seek out as refuge in times of oxygen deprivation. Breathable air could become a hot commodity when some of the more toxic products were in use for projects.

Reaching the center of the courtyard and resting her back softly against the trunk of one of the trees, Sakura glances down at the phone resting in her gloveless hand.

Ugh, you've got to be kidding me.

Without remorse, the app informs her she has a twenty-two minute wait until the next bus.

Sighing with self-pity, she slides on her glove and deposits her phone with its frigid face back into her pocket.

Truthfully, she'd much rather skip on getting the chai tea, cute guy or no cute guy. Her toes are freezing despite the thick, wool socks and fur-lined boots and she hasn't eaten a single morsel since the granola bar and fruit cup she wolfed down a little after 11:00.

She'll have to walk about five more minutes until she reaches the student union with its warm, spicy beverages…Or she could just hunker down here. Surely, the building is still unlocked for students to come and go.

Tapping her foot indecisively against the cobblestone, Sakura peers up into the night sky, stalling for clarity as to what to do.

"Hey, you there, do you like art?"

At first, Sakura stiffens in alarm, caught by surprise at the genial tone of voice. Surely some stranger isn't calling out to her. Glancing around briefly, however, she is forced to conclude that she is indeed the one being addressed and her eyes slide over to the right where a guy sits alone, his hands cupped around something too small for her to see at such a distance. Apprehensively, her hand tightens around the strap crossing over her chest.

Cool it, Sakura. It's just another student.

Still, reports of mugging around the area had made the local news shortly before finals had forced Sakura into a reclusive hole of stress…

And students wandering around alone would make for an easy target…

Slowly, Sakura extricates herself from the shadows of the bare-branched trees, stepping forward into the light of the lamppost to get a better look at the guy calling to her.

"Sooo…Is that a no?" he drawls, a hint of a laugh twisting up the corners of his mouth.

"U-Uh, no. I mean yes! I mean, um..." Sakura trails off as heat flushes into her cheeks.

He laughs good-naturedly, and as Sakura takes a few steps closer, she is certain in her assessment that it is indeed a he. Some small, subconscious part of her brain had noted that another person was present in her peripheral vision as she entered the courtyard, but all the details she had taken in had been long, blond hair. Long enough to rival Ino's, in fact.

"Sorry," Sakura fiddles with her gloves, tugging at the material around her fingers, "You asked me about, um, art?"

"Come take a look, yeah. I doubt you can really see it from there," he pats the spot next to him on the bench, dusting off some of the snow with his bare hand.

Now that the thought of danger has been wiped from her mind as she stumbles into a social interaction with all the grace of a giraffe in roller skates, Sakura hesitantly walks up to the young man whom she quickly guesses can only be a few years older than herself.

Gingerly sitting on the edge of the bench, she half turns toward her new acquaintance, inwardly berating herself for her innate awkwardness. Ino would be laughing her ass off if she could see this.

Nervously smiling up into a face kissed by the sun despite the cold season, Sakura quickly glances back down into his hands that are expertly massaging what she identifies as a light gray clump of clay. With palms facing up, he reveals a small bird sheltered from the snow by his protective fingers.

"Here," he grins, "Give it a good look."

Holding it out to her, pinched between his forefinger and thumb, Sakura carefully accepts his offer as though he's passing her a sacred relic.

Inquisitive eyes scan the form of the bird, and truly, the boy has some skill as not a single dent or crack can be found in the clay bird. It's perfectly symmetrical and balanced with its wings fully spread out to either side as though caught in flight.

Yet, Sakura's brow scrunches in concentration, her thoughts tumbling over one another as her tongue moves sluggishly in her mouth, knowing he's expecting an answer.

"It's…really well-made. Much better than I could do."

But her words are nervous and self-conscious even to her own ears and she thinks for sure that she's insulted him.

"Ha, be honest now, yeah," he says with mock reprimand, "Say what you really mean. You don't really like it, do you?"

"W-Well," the intonation of that single word is enough confirmation for the blond.

He can read her like an open book. While Sakura can admire his handiwork for his efficient dexterity, the actual design of the bird isn't exactly in her taste. It's more like an impression of a bird rather than an accurate portrayal, something born more from a nightmarish imagination than a study of nature's beauty.

"It's ok, yeah," he says, gently taking the bird from her fingers, bringing it to eye level, and Sakura doesn't miss the tenderness that fills his single, visible blue eye as he rotates the bird's body, dragging a finger along the stream-lined edge of its back

"Not everyone gets my art," his shrug is slight, but dismissive.

"Is that what you major in?" Sakura asks, half her attention on engaging this strange boy in conversation after rejecting his clay bird, and half her thoughts revolving around the steam coming off a fresh cup of chai. Maybe she'd get some whipped cream on top too just to spite Ino's new health craze.

"Yeah, my sculptures are about the only thing that I've ever been able to focus on. And you," his keen eye alights on Sakura's face before dropping to her hands lying slack in her lap, "You have the slender, delicate hands of an artist, but I'm guessing it's not your thing, yeah?"

Sakura laughs a bit bashfully, "Yeah, I'm actually a chemistry major, but I'm hoping to go on to med school after this," waving her hand around at the campus as if to indicate what all of "this" is.

"Ah, I see," he replies thoughtfully, turning his little creation over and over again in his palm without looking at it, relying on his sense of touch alone to see his work.

"But," Sakura perks up, "I did take an art class last semester. I was definitely out of my element, but it was fun."

"Yeah? What'd you take?" he asks, casting a sideways glance at her, though a curtain of blond hair obscures her view of his other eye.

"Just a beginner's painting class."

"No way, yeah!" he beams, clearly delighted by this news, "Do you know Sasori? He's one of the grad students."

"Yeah!" Sakura responds eagerly, the boy's excitement spreading like a contagion, "He was the TA for my class. He was a bit…stiff," she settles for a descriptor after short deliberation.

At this, her companion openly laughs, "That's a polite way to put it. More like he has a stick shoved up his ass, yeah."

Sakura snickers into her gloved hand in agreement.

Sakura had been appreciative that her painting TA had been a fine piece of eye candy, a rare find in her college courses thus far. However, his charm dried up once she moved past appearances. There wasn't anything overtly awful about him, but he had a way of setting her nerves on edge and making her hyperaware that she was being watched. During the periodic practice sessions they had in any given class meeting, she frequently found the brooding, young artist lingering behind her back, his critical, practiced gaze scouring every brush stroke on her paper. Sometimes his presence would become so overbearing she would turn around to shoot him a meaningful glare to either move along or speak up, but he never commented on her work, not even during the class critique days though his sharp tongue had certainly not held back on many of the other students.

"So you know him?" she asks, intrigued that such a boisterous man like – well, she has yet to learn his name – would befriend someone as sardonic as her TA.

He nods, "We go way back, yeah. And let me tell you something: don't listen to any of his rubbish on art theories and beauty. He's got it completely wrong. Although," he ponders aloud, "I suppose even though his views are wrong, it doesn't really detract too much from his craft. He does some sculpting of his own, only his medium is wood."

"Oh, he does more than paint? I had wondered…He never showed our class any of his work, but the teacher had him do some of the demonstrations."

"Ah, don't be too offended, yeah. Most likely, Sasori deemed you commoners trying to fulfill some nonsense credit as too uneducated for his 'fine art,'" he opens his palm out, flat and level with his eyes, staring face-to-face with his creation.

Sakura hmphs in mock indignation, "Well, all I know is that he was a total ass when it came to taking attendance," she says, turning her body to face him completely to convey the significance of her next words, "He marked me as tardy when I came in one morning while the bell was still ringing," she raises her eyebrows to emphasize the ridiculousness of it.

"That sounds like him, yeah," he replies with a laugh, leaning back on his hands and stretching his legs out in front of him. The bird rests on the small portion of bench separating them.

For the first time, Sakura takes a good look at the guy she's spent the last few minutes conversing with. He's rather dressed up, for a typical student anyway, with a pastel orange and blue striped dress shirt and dark jeans, and a rather stylish navy peacoat. His feet are clad in a pair of shined up, brown boots, and Sakura wonders if he's even considered how the snow might ruin the rather expensive-looking leather.

Not that Sakura knows much about fashion. That's her best friend's department of expertise.

Still he's got a very artist chic vibe going on.

This is only accentuated by the beanie and pair of gloves she notices have been discarded on the edge of the bench at his other side.

"You know," he pipes up, snapping Sakura out of her self-deprecating thoughts of being out-dressed by a man, "I've been wondering something…Why are you out here in weather like this, all by yourself?"

As if to emphasize his point, he wipes away the light layer of snow resting atop his knees, prompting Sakura to do the same before she tucks her hands back into her pockets for warmth.

How in the world can he stand to not wear gloves?

"Oh," Sakura laughs lightly, wondering if he's picked up on just how odd it is to be talking to a complete stranger in the snow, "I was coming from the library, but the bus isn't due for another ten minutes at least."

"Huh, a chemistry major and a library rat. You do know the semester just started, right?"

Library rat?

"Are you trying to insinuate something?" Sakura asks, a playfully angry edge to her question.

"Nah, not at all," he holds up his hands, smirking, "Just that you might need to learn how to relax a tad more, yeah."

Sakura arches a brow at him, "Oh?"

Nodding earnestly, he points a thumb at himself, "Take me for instance, yeah. Wanna know why I'm here right now?"

Sakura nods encouragingly.

"I'm here because I'm a slacker," he shakes his head in mock self-deprecation, tsking his tongue, "At least that's what all my professors will tell you."

"Why's that?" Sakura questions.

"Well, I missed a few deadlines to turn in my projects, skipped a few critique days," he waves his hand as if to shoo away an insignificant pest, "But it's not like I didn't do the work. It was all done on time, even early."

"Soooo," Sakura drawls, a confused expression in place, "Why not turn it in?"

"Eh, I couldn't, yeah. It was destroyed," he shrugs as though to say his artwork being destroyed is no big deal, as though it's just something that happens and he rolls with it.

"How?!" Sakura asks, leaning forward, truly intrigued. Thoughts of jealous classmates and plans of sabotage float through her head.

"I did it, of course," he grins, causing Sakura to lean back in shock, "You see, that's part of my art. It's beautiful in its transience. It's an explosion, yeah!"

Sakura stares back, wide-eyed and speechless in the face of her enthused companion.

"Anyway," he dials back the excitement and sighs tiredly, "A lot of what I burned up was meant to be part of my portfolio that's supposed to be reviewed halfway through my education and then again at the very end as part of a graduation requirement. Sasori put in a good word for me, and got the department to grant me an extension of sorts, yeah. So guess who spent all of break up to his elbows in clay?"

"You sure do have an interesting view on art," Sakura shakes her head slightly in disbelief, "So you're here working on your portfolio then?"

"Oh no," he chuckles, "That's done with. Tonight is the review, yeah. Basically, I get to go in there and listen to a bunch of snooty, pompous old geezers who haven't turned out an original piece in the last two decades, if ever, tear apart my work and pose suggestions for what they think everything symbolizes. As if I don't know better than they do," she watches as his fingers curl into fists against his thighs, "As if I'm not the one who moulded everything into life."

Sakura remains silent for a moment, feeling the obvious rise in tension, but the artist seems to be inwardly stewing on his thoughts.

"So," she speaks up hesitantly, "You're feeling a bit nervous, huh?"

His eye darts over to her and for a moment, Sakura catches her breath, thinking he's about to explode.

"I guess you could say that, yeah."

He admits it so tightly and reluctantly that Sakura can't help but let a small smile slip into place.

"Well, I may not know much about art, but I do know you can't let others make you doubt your own greatness. You won't get anywhere that way."

"I suppose you – ''

But he's cut off before he can finish, and both their heads snap up in alarm at the sound of a door squeaking open, breaking the stillness of the snowy night.

"Oi, Deidara, what the hell do you think you're doing out here? They're tired of waiting for you."

Sakura's eyes land on the red-head leaning out the back entrance of one of the smaller buildings across the courtyard. Wearing the familiar charcoal gray cable-knit sweater and black jeans she had seen him in so many times before, she is left only to wonder for a moment if he remembers her. Appraising eyes land on her form, and though he refrains from even the slightest of smiles, he nods his head in her direction.

Well, well.

"That's my cue, yeah," Deidara stands, backlit against the snow as the warm glow of the lamp casts a golden halo against his hair.

Grabbing his discarded gloves and hat and bunching them up to fit in his coat pocket, he lingers for a moment more, and Sakura can bet that her old TA is just boiling with barely contained impatience.

"You can keep the bird, yeah. But I want something in exchange."

"What – "

But her lips are too unhurried, her thoughts running on a slow motion reel as Deidara bends down to peck her on the lips. It happens so fast her eyes are left open and bug-eyed for the whole thing, even as Deidara pulls away and straightens up.

Something other than the freezing temperature has left her face dusted with a rosy hue.

"For luck, yeah." Deidara replies simply with a smile stretched wide across his face. Before Sakura has time to collect her tumbling thoughts, he's turned around and walking briskly toward his friend holding the door open for him, an amused expression marring Sasori's normally indifferent demeanor.

The door closes behind the two artists with a soft, satisfying creak, leaving Sakura to school her emotions into some semblance of stability as she sits alone in the drifting snow. Almost in disbelief of the events that have just transpired in the last ten or twelve minutes, her neck turns slowly to look down at the bird staring up innocently at her bewildered expression.

Pocketing the creature with care, she stands to make her way to the bus stop, the possibility of chai tea lattes having long ago disappeared from her thoughts. Perhaps, if her mind hadn't become so clouded, she'd be able to feel the numbness in her stiff legs as she ambles through the courtyard, but Sakura is too preoccupied with assembling possible schedule changes. Surely, she'd be able to add an art class in there somewhere.

It's only the first week of the new semester, after all.

Author's Note: This is just a cute, little scene that popped into my head a day ago and I just had to write it down. Nothing particularly special or elaborate about this, but hopefully it was a quick and enjoyable read.

Thanks for reading!