Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.

Rated T: Due to coarse language.

"This is so pointless," Sakura mutters quietly to herself, eyes flicking back and forth across the nearly deserted hallway. Through some of the open classroom doors she eyes the busy figures of students consumed in a fit of artistic passion. Donned in paint spattered aprons and with hands coated in a milky brown slime as they perch on uncomfortable stools in front of their pottery wheels, Sakura's expression turns from irritated to bemused as the more serious art students seem lost to the outside world. As she rounds a turn in the hallway that will (hopefully) lead her to her designated classroom, she hurriedly trots past what are now lecture rooms, a few bored faces glancing up at the pink-haired girl walking by.

I'm going to be late.

The beginnings of panic leak into her chest as her lower lip is caught between worried teeth. Feeling heat creeping up her neck, Sakura desperately wishes she wasn't such a goody-goody that gets worked up about being a few minutes late to class. She's in college for goodness' sake!

But it's the first day of her college career and she'll be damned if it isn't going to go off without a hitch. She has a precedent to set. After two lectures, one in biology and one in French, it's the last class of the day, a three hour session that meets twice a week: Introduction to Painting.

Sakura had laughed with incredulity back in the summer when she came to campus to speak with her guidance counselor about scheduling and was made wise to the ways of college degrees and the extra courses each student is obligated to take in a variety of fields for his or her own personal growth and development. With gritted teeth and a tight-lipped smile, she had sat rigidly and paid polite attention to the overworked, middle-aged woman on the other side of the desk who was clearly already burnt out from this type of work. And while she could agree that being a well-rounded, knowledgeable individual is always a good thing, when it's at her own wallet's expense, Sakura can't help but feel a bit duped.

Student loans are a hell of a beast.

All I want to do is go to med school and become a surgeon so I can save lives. Instead, I'm going to be left living out of a box and eating packages of uncooked instant ramen before I even finish my Bachelor's degree.

To fulfill one of her nonsense credits and tick off an item on her list of courses before graduation, Sakura had hesitantly chosen a painting class, thinking that perhaps it was her time to face the music after an admirable run in high school of avoiding such classes.

With a sigh of relief, desperate eyes land on the tan plate nailed to the left of an open doorway at the end of the hall, baby blue numbers reading 118. Slowing down her hectic pace to a more leisurely stroll after a quick check of her phone to reassure herself she has two minutes to spare, Sakura breathes in deeply before exhaling and stepping into the brightly lit classroom. Immediately, her nostrils flare out against the strong odor of paint, and the day's humidity certainly isn't helping to disperse the fumes. Several heads turn to watch as she enters the room and, self-consciously, she takes one of the few remaining empty seats that are circled around a central point in the classroom. Dropping her tote bag with a light thud next to her sandal-clad feet, she glances up surreptitiously at how her classmates have arranged themselves upon the odd-looking benches the classroom has been outfitted with. Functioning as both a seat for herself and an easel to prop up her canvas against, the blue, paint-chipped bench has certainly seen many students in her position before.

Swinging a leg over the other side, Sakura settles herself astride the bench as though straddling a horse and looks around, taking in the various lockers and locked cabinets within the room whose windows are left naked of any blinds or curtains to block out the glaring sunlight filtering through the open windows. No one appears to be the professor, and Sakura frowns worriedly as she takes out her phone again. It's already a minute past.

Most of the students keep to themselves, a few with large headphones still in place and glazed over eyes to show their attention is nowhere near the realm of classrooms and academia, while a few others are too preoccupied with the conversations displayed on their phone screens. A small smile curves her lips as she notices a boy poring over a crumpled print out of his class schedule, a confused frown pulling down his mouth.

At least I'm not the only freshman.

The girl on Sakura's right shifts in her seat, a mild sigh of frustration escaping past purple-painted lips as she struggles to tuck her skirt modestly underneath her while sitting sidesaddle on the bench. Sakura scrunches her brow in thought.

Note to self: Only wear pants on painting days.

Not that Sakura is one to bother with dressing up for her classes. She'll leave that to her friend Ino in her pursuit to draw the attention of every male on campus.

After another five minutes of waiting, a woman barrels through the doorway in a flash of orange and yellow, her arms swathed in the sleeves of a gauzy shawl, fluttering like the wings of a butterfly.

"Welcome, welcome! So sorry, I'm running a bit behind today, everyone. But, I can talk a mile a minute so we'll get back on track in no time!"

Sakura's eyes widen in alarm at the boisterous woman as she flitters around the classroom, opening unlocked lockers and filing cabinets, apparently on the hunt for something. It's only in a single moment of still contemplation that a pencil is held out to her, seemingly summoned out of thin air. It is only then that Sakura and what seems like the rest of the class finally takes in the figure planted firmly just inside the classroom doorway: a young man in his early twenties with red, disheveled hair and wide, heavy-lidded eyes that, despite their sleepiness, still convey a lethal dose of irritation.

"Oh my," the girl next to Sakura whispers under her breath.

Oh my indeed.

Sakura may just end up finding something redeeming about this silly class after all if looks are anything to go by.

"Ah, yes! Very good," the professor beams at the young man before turning her attention back to the classroom of wide-eyed, expectant students, "Class, this is Sasori. He's a grad student here in our art department and he'll be acting as a kind of teacher's aide since we have such a large group this semester. Now, I'm going to leave you in his very capable hands for a few short minutes as I need to go track down a few supplies for a demonstration."

And with that, Sakura's painting professor, seemingly oblivious to her TA's lack of enthusiasm for the job, bustles out of the room, her sandaled feet clacking briskly down the barren hallway and out of hearing distance. The class sits in silence with baited breath. With a soundless sigh and brooding eyes, their TA stalks up to the teacher's desk where she had deposited several large canvas tote bags, and procures a large stack of packets from one along with a clip board.

Syllabus time Sakura inwardly groans.

"I'm passing around the syllabus for this course. I expect that because you're all here, you're all at a proficient reading level that I don't need to hold your hand and go through it with you. Do it on your own time," his curt tone doesn't hold even an ounce of joy compared to the overflowing abundance that their professor's had. Still, Sakura would listen to his voice over hers any day. She can't really think of a word that describes it adequately enough, but she'll settle for something like as delicious as melted chocolate on the tongue.

"The only thing that I will point out is that the last page is a list of materials you will need to purchase. You're expected to have them by the next class. I've included two art supply stores at the bottom of the page that are close to campus that should have everything you'll need," brown eyes scan over the faces in the class and Sakura suppresses the instinct to look away as his gaze floats across her.

Shifting his attention to the clipboard, Sasori resumes his duties with a business-like detachment, "Listen up for roll call."

As a smattering of voices call out their presence around the room, Sakura stops skim-reading her syllabus and skips to the last sheet. Conscious that her mouth has dropped open, but too upset to care, her eyes rove up and down the typed print, as though expecting the letters to crawl around and scramble back into order, preferably some kind that costs a little bit less.

This has got to be a joke! I need all this crap for one measly painting class?!

Sure, she had jokingly envisioned a class with a bunch of college kids gathered around and dipping their fingers into paint to smear on the walls, but she hadn't honestly thought that some goofy art class required for non-art majors would be taken so seriously.

This is going to eat up at least another $100 from my savings.

Most likely, even more.

Clenching her jaw shut, Sakura crosses her arms and stares spitefully down at the list lying innocently on her bench. But her anger must hamper her hearing as her delayed reaction prompts Sasori to call her name again, this time bothering to look up from his attendance sheet.

"Sakura Haruno."

Jerking herself to attention, Sakura looks up with comically wide eyes.

"Wha – Yeah, here!"

Internally, she's bashing her head against a brick wall until it collapses into a pile of rubble.

Ugh, that was cringe-worthy.

And it's only made worse by the slight pause her moody TA takes as his narrowed eyes lock with hers before he moves along.

Thankfully, the benevolent professor returns in a flash of smiles and colors just as Sasori finishes up, saving the class from their growing anxiety.

But while their teacher explains the process of sketching first and then goes over painting primer and the importance of ensuring the paper is prepared before even laying a single brush bristle to it, none of the students, including Sakura, can completely ignore the foreboding aura emanating from the back of the classroom. While the teacher chatters away in her thick Spanish accent and the class's attention is drawn to her masterful brush strokes, Sasori watches dispassionately from a back corner of the room, perched on an open windowsill.

Like a lush rose in bloom, their TA's beauty can only mask his bitter bite for so long. Eventually, every student is made weary of his thorns, even the girls who had fought with themselves so valiantly to keep alive the image of a drool-worthy piece of eye candy.

Looks aren't everything.

Sakura is loath to make any contact with him. She dares not ask for help or advice from the snarky TA, instead, opting to patiently wait for the professor to come around and check on her progress.

Someone isn't going to get a very good evaluation at the end of the semester.

With this thought – more like a promise to herself to write the most scathing review possible for her holier-than-thou TA – Sakura smirks as she studiously attempts to capture the form of the bouquet in the delicate lines she sketches with her 2B graphite pencil. Though a bit surprised to learn she finds keeping a sketchbook comforting (a bit like keeping a diary), she has grown appreciative of the fact she's more attuned to the visual details around her. From the differences in hard and soft outlines, to the play of shadows, Sakura feels as though she's unlocked some new, hidden eye power that's been lying dormant.

With frequent use, the scent of acrylic paint no longer bothers her though it lingers in the air even heavier than it did during the first week of classes. Now, nearing the middle of the semester, she has become familiar with the art building her classroom resides in and has even managed to become a bit fond of her art bench, though she frets over the poor posture she has accrued because of it.

Though she can't place complete fault on the bench. No, there's someone else who is equally to blame for the way her spine curves outward and her shoulders hunch forward as though she's trying to force out a protective shell from her skin to shield her exposed back. Someone whose hazy eyes hold a bewildering level of inquisitiveness as he circles around the classroom, eyeing the sketches whose bare, graphite skeletons will eventually be layered in coats of color.


She can feel his eyes on her again and the skin on her back crawls with heated irritation. She knows she should count herself lucky; unlike practically every other student in the class, she's escaped his verbal barbs and "constructive" criticism. She doesn't really know how that's happened or how long her luck will hold, but she hopes fervently that whatever force field surrounds her to make her invisible to his eyes will last until the end of the semester.

Except, "invisible" isn't really the right word for whatever keeps him at bay.

Maybe "immune" is better?

How fitting, considering she wants to get into the medical field.

Forcing her concentration back to the task at hand, she glances up periodically to the small still life scene assembled in the center of the circled benches. One bloom in particular has captured her interest as it stands on a stem taller than the rest, out-competing the others for sunlight and rising triumphantly in its dominance.

At least, this is what Sakura imagines.

The drawing time necessary to even start a painting is what tests Sakura's patience the most. She wants nothing more than to get out her paints and start mixing. Only two other students have reached that step of the process and Sakura can't help the coil of jealousy that tightens within her.

Grunting in frustration to herself, she takes out her well-used eraser to touch up a flaw. For some reason, her hand just isn't cooperating with her today. Of course, she feels she might do a bit better without a living shadow at her back.

Inhaling a deep breath to release some tension and school her features into a bored, blank face, Sakura turns slightly to look back over her shoulder and, sure enough, Sasori is there. Leaning relaxed against the wall, he regards her sudden attentiveness to his presence with the minute raise of a single eyebrow.

Sakura exhales loudly through her nostrils. What was just a spark of frustration is now kindled into a flame of anger.

What's he looking at?

Glancing up over the top of her sketch, Sakura spots her professor across the room, immersed in conversation with another student. Forcing herself to at least pretend like she's busy drawing, Sakura refuses to turn back around to check if Sasori has moved on. Neither student on either side of her seems aware of her distress or their TA's habit of frequently stopping behind them. She wonders how it doesn't drive them insane.

But at last, she catches sight of him in her peripheral vision as she brings her pencil to paper once more. Sasori has begun to make a lap around the classroom once again, a few of the less intimidated students actually stopping him to ask for advice.

Good. Keep him busy.

For a short while, Sakura is able to dive back into her work and although she isn't entirely satisfied with her drawing, she supposes it'll suffice.

Well, probably.

Tilting her head to the side and squinting her eyes as though to see if the image looks any better with distorted vision, Sakura is in the midst of considering whether she wants to go to the trouble of erasing and redrawing a few parts when her inner dialogue is cut off by the lazy drawl of a velvety voice she has come to know very well.

"If you have to hinder your perspective just so you can bear to look at it, you won't be satisfied when it comes time to view your painting straight on."

Prickles run up and down her spine.

Straightening back up and inwardly berating herself for the heat pooling in her cheeks, Sakura turns to the side and is a bit taken aback to suddenly be face-to-face with her TA who has tread into her personal bubble undetected. Kneeling down to eye level with her, his emotionless gaze turns back to the drawing propped up before her.

Sakura is prompted to look as well, this time without cocking her head to the side.

"It's supposed to be a flower," she murmurs softly, feeling a bit foolish for even contemplating being done. And feeling even more foolish for stating the obvious.

But if she's being honest with herself, it is a pretty weak representation of the real thing.

She knows she can do better.

"Ah, of course," heavy-lidded eyes flick to hers, and without another word he rises to his feet and moves on to the next student.

Sakura is left momentarily frozen, unsure exactly of what just took place.

And what is that supposed to mean?

Sakura huffs, stowing the butt of her pencil between her lips as she sets to work on vigorously erasing the flaws in her drawing.

However, a slight smile loosens her lips, causing her to lose her grip on the pencil. It clatters to the ground, but Sakura is too focused to bother fetching it. She has plenty more at her disposal anyway what with the vast array of supplies she was forced to purchase.

By the end of the day's lesson, Sakura has corrected her image, mixed her paints, and has even begun on applying her first choice of color. All in all, she's left feeling rather accomplished as she stows her painting away to dry and cleans out her brushes.

With a quick reminder from the professor about the field trip to the art gallery downtown scheduled for the next class meeting, Sakura exits the classroom in high spirits as she eagerly seeks out her friends waiting for her at the campus diner.

In her haste to get to her friends and a chocolate milkshake with her name on it, Sakura is for once unaware of the eyes that follow her departure and linger on the work bench she just vacated.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

Jostling her messenger bag so thoroughly so as to feel the hard corner of her physics binder gouging into her hip with each leap and bound, Sakura is left out of breath and flustered as she swings open the heavy entrance door to the art building after her mad dash across campus. Why she thought she'd have time to wait in line with Ino to get coffee she doesn't know, but she has less than a minute to reach her classroom before her perfect attendance is marred.

True, no disciplinary action will be taken against her for such a minor transgression, but Sakura has read her syllabus and despite the bubbly personality of her professor, the woman has a rather strict attendance policy. One too many tardies or absences and she'd be faced with a drop in letter grade.

No coffee is worth that.

While not outright running, Sakura's pace is somewhat quicker than a jog as she flashes past classrooms where on-time students have already settled in their seats.

She inwardly groans with self-loathing.

I'm a despicable excuse for a student.

At last, breathing desperately from her mouth, Sakura is in the homestretch as she hurries down the hallway to the open classroom door, beckoning her forward with abundant light and the voices of her classmates. Just as her body glides through the doorway, the bell goes off, signaling the start of the class session.

"You're late, Sakura," a voice calls out to her left, and Sakura turns to see her TA sitting atop the teacher's desk, a carry-out cup of coffee held half-way to his lips, reminding her of why she's in this predicament.

I'm swearing off those evil beans forever.

"B-But, I came in right as the bell was ringing," Sakura's eyes narrow in confusion.

"Precisely," Sasori leisurely takes a sip, before reaching for the pencil tucked away behind his ear, "By my definition, that's late. Take your seat so I can finish taking attendance and we can all leave for the gallery."

She wants to argue, wants to debate, wants to shove a dictionary in his smug face so hard that the definition of tardy is permanently printed across his eyes, but she knows she won't get anywhere with him.

Sighing in defeat, Sakura turns to shuffle her way to her bench as Sasori begins calling out names. Glancing back at him, she wonders if he's even bothered to remember any of the students' names. She would think at this point in the semester, he would have had them memorized so as to make this little roll call unnecessary.

He did remember my name though…

It's as she's sitting at her bench, the atmosphere light and filled with shushed chatter at the prospect of not having to do any actual work today, that Sakura notices a flash of yellow near Sasori's hand as he ticks down the list of names.

Yellow like the paint she accidentally dribbled across some of her supplies on her first attempt at painting, including the pencil she was using during the last class to sketch a flower.

The one she dropped and never picked up.

But someone did.

And worse still, that someone had just used it against her to mark her down as tardy.

Silently, Sakura fumes. Thinking up all the medieval torture practices she's read about and how she'd use them against her TA until he begged for mercy. Perhaps it's a bit much for such a small slight, but that's just the kind of mood she's in today.

Her coffee hadn't even been any good after all.

As the students file out the classroom door after the professor, Sasori observes them as he drains the last of his cup, impatient so he can turn off the lights and lock the classroom door behind the last straggler.

It just so happens that his pink-haired student is said straggler and though he doesn't show it, mild amusement flares within him as she brushes past the teacher's desk, a determined look of I'm-going-to-wear-this-scowl-all-day plastered on her face.

Curiosity gets the better of him as he taps the end of his pencil against the clipboard, drawing back her attention enough so that she halfway turns to face him through the doorway. Her eyes instantly snap to the pencil in his hand as he stares back at her, apathetic, but waiting.

She shoots him a look that would knock him dead if her eyes could fire bullets and this causes a small, triumphant smile to break the normally stoic calm he wears like a second skin.

She's so confounded by the rare expression on her TA's face that she turns around and marches after her classmates, refusing to give him a second glance the rest of the day.


For the remainder of the semester, Sakura is forced to endure the routine roll call though she ensures she is never tardy again lest she risk ruining her grade. Still, she must sit silently through Sasori's taunting game, watching as his hand moves down the list, her yellow-splattered pencil in hand.

He seems to have no intention of ever returning it.

Author's Note: This idea wouldn't leave me alone after I briefly mentioned it in the story involving Deidara. I thought it would be fun to share some of the details of Sakura's experience with Sasori as her art TA, and I'm considering writing a sequel to The First Snow that will involve Sakura with Deidara and Sasori in some shape or form.

Thanks for reading!