Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.

Rated T: Due to coarse language.

"And fools rush in
And I've been the fool before
This time I'm gonna slow it down
'Cause I think this could be more
The thing I'm looking for."

Shards of plastic cut into haphazard polygonal forms dangle from the low-hanging branches of the trees lining either side of the entrance to the small park where tonight's festivities are already beginning to liven up. As Sakura warily eyes the potentially eye-gouging, face-scratching recyclables above, her ears pick up on the warm-up tunings of a band somewhere in the distance.

Meanwhile, her hand picks up something else. Or rather, something else picks up her hand.

With a light blush burning high on the apples of her cheeks, Sakura glances up at the man walking leisurely at her side. In the warm glow of the setting sun, his hair looks a shade lighter and his eyes a tad softer. He acknowledges her probing look with a squeeze of her hand to which she smiles shyly, glancing away in search of a distraction from commenting on the fact that Itachi freaking Uchiha just so casually decided to claim her hand.

Already she's at a loss as to what she should say. Somehow it seems she used up all her conversation points in the short car ride to the park. She really needs to break her habit of nervous rambling; now she's left with nothing but the awkward sensation of being on a date with a complete stranger.

Internally shaking her head, Sakura instructs herself to get a grip. She's known Itachi since her early childhood…if only in passing. There's nothing to get tripped up over.

Diamond. Diamond. Remember you're a diamond.

Yet, for all her self-assurances, she can't untangle her tongue from its well-tied knot. Biting her lip, Sakura once more casts a furtive glance at Itachi from the corner of her eye as they meander their way around the pond to all the artist stalls and concession booths. Her gaze swiftly diverts back to the cement walkway underfoot after she matches gazes with an equally inquisitive look from Itachi.

Caught between an embarrassed cough and a giggle, Sakura clears her throat and clamps down on her wavering confidence.

"Sooo, what do you want to do?" her voice is high and girlish with nerves and Sakura inwardly cringes at the sound, but if Itachi notices, he doesn't comment.

"Well, we would be remiss if we didn't stop to see Deidara's submission," Itachi replies with an air of polite submissiveness lest he face the artistic wrath of his dramatic associate.

Sakura nods agreeably, a short giggle slipping past her lips before she can suppress it.

Get ahold of your head, girl! Eesh. He's going to think you have nothing going on up there.

Leisurely they stroll down the lane of crafts booths, occasionally stopping as something pretty or merely bizarre catches Sakura's eye. For his part, Itachi seems content to let Sakura mosey along at her own pace, his hand gently wrapped around her own as she points out one oddity after another. He notes the way her eyes linger on a particular woven bracelet done in repeating patterns of pink, white, and green beads. The fingers of her free hand gently brush over its ends, her eyes drawn to the design so intently that she misses the way Itachi's mouth parts open to speak.

"This reminds me of when I was little," Sakura begins slowly, as though to herself, before she glances up at her – er – well, she doesn't know what to title him as just yet.

"We used to make things like this at summer camp every year. Never anything nearly as good as this though," she admits with a laugh, remembering the many bracelets she and Ino had exchanged, only for them to come unraveled and ruined after a few days' wear.

"Ah, are you referring to The Camp Hidden in the Leaves?" Itachi asks, fond memories surfacing in their minds of peaceful afternoons spent lakeside with hot dogs and corn on the cob roasting a short distance away while juice from freshly sliced watermelon drips off their fingers. It seems like a lifetime ago.

"Oh yeah, summers were the best until the owner passed away. I was upset anytime my parents planned a family vacation in place of sending me to camp. It seemed like every kid in town went there," Sakura turns away from the display of bracelets and Itachi easily keeps pace as they enter the main walkway once more, lawn lights staked low to the ground on either side and dimly beginning to glow with life as the sun takes its sweet time descending below the horizon.

"That's where I met Naruto a-and Sasuke," Sakura recovers with a casual tone, eyes roving over the stalls they still have left to cover, "Back when we were so little we could only attend half day sessions at the camp rather than spend the night."

"Yes, I remember those days. Sasuke was reluctant to leave with Mother while I stayed behind."

Sakura catches the amusement in his voice, something humorous left unsaid, but Sakura already knows where his mind is going despite his attempt not to besmirch his little brother's "cool" reputation.

Sakura huffs noisily through her nose, "Oh yes, I remember seeing that. I'm pretty sure Iruka still hates him."

"I wouldn't blame him. It was a lot of green paint to clean up," Itachi replies with mock seriousness.

Sakura hums in agreement, thinking back to the day Sasuke had made his great escape from the daily corralling of the youngsters waiting for pick-up so that he could sneak away to his big brother. It was the day they all learned just how stealthy and devious the young Uchiha could be.

"Pretty sure that was the day he and Naruto became best friends," she chuckles.

And from there it's easy. The conversation flows between them without any jitters or awkward pauses. They move from topic to topic, covering Itachi's family and moving to Sakura's parents, her friends, her studies. She doesn't miss the way Itachi carefully guides their chatter around anything too personally close to him unless it has to do with Sasuke. Their playful banter concerning the absent Uchiha eases Sakura's lingering fear that she'll never be able to surmount the uncomfortable obstacle of an ex-boyfriend and brother to her current…pursuer?

Is Itachi her boyfriend now?

She doesn't want to break whatever it is that currently exists between them so delicately like threads of glass. It's beautiful but feels irresistibly fragile. Something is bound to cut them, but she refuses to be the one responsible for it.

"I wonder where Deidara's could be?" Sakura asks aloud, eyes roving ahead to the remaining stalls. They've made their way through nearly half of them already. Truthfully, she has no idea what she's looking for. Deidara never said what kind of art he made. She doesn't picture him as the type to make kitschy portraits of pets dressed up in human attire or to knit the variously patterned teapot cozies that are on display at the booth the pair is currently stopped at. Catching the eye of the apparent artist and entrepreneur and noting his spark of enthusiasm at having stopped a potential buyer, Sakura quickly turns her head and moves on, feeling guilty at having ignited false hope.

"Well, I know he's partial to sculpture so that's what I've been keeping my eye out for. All he told me is that I'd know it when I saw it," Itachi replies.

"How helpful," Sakura remarks dryly, eyes now scouring the stalls for ceramics.

"Could this be his?" She asks, leading the way over to a table covered with a selection of hand-painted bowls and cups.

Itachi shakes his head minutely, "No, it wouldn't be anything like that. Deidara's one for making statements rather than anything functional."

Sakura hums in amusement at this, continuing to make her way through the stalls and tables, though not without interruption or distraction as various artists attempt to catch the attention of passerby, and her own interests briefly pull her away from her mission. She smiles to herself at the artfully folded paper creations adorning a small, artificial pine tree like Christmas decorations. The folded birds, cats, bears, and fish are made from a multitude of colored papers and the largest piece of all, the angel resting atop all the greenery, is hand-painted with such loving detail that Sakura is stopped in her tracks to admire the mastery it must have taken to craft it. The wings themselves are something of a marvel with each and every feather painstakingly creased to form a beautiful, spiky array that encloses the bowed head and pious pose the figure strikes.

Sakura isn't particularly religious, but the posture and careful selection of blue tones sparks something almost reverent inside her. She can nearly guess what emotion must have filled its maker. Like a kind of longing…

"Hey, Itachi, look at – " Sakura turns her head to get Itachi's attention, but finds that he's moved away toward the back of the stall where, shaded under the canopy that makes the roof of the temporary shop, a lady lounges serenely in a director-style chair. He seems to have just finished conversing with her as he turns to meet Sakura's searching gaze. Sakura's observative eyes take in the shiny blue hair cut in a slightly angled bob, a pale blue rose – paper – tucked behind one ear.

She must have made the angel.

Amber eyes pierce through her, but Sakura can glean nothing from her expression. All she can read is calm, flat coldness. The woman gives away nothing, but any curiosity Sakura may have had over his interaction with the stony-faced artist is quelled as Itachi returns to her side without any change in demeanor.

"I think I may know where Deidara's exhibit is."

This catches Sakura's attention and she willingly follows after Itachi as he passes by the remaining booths without pause, heading toward the round fountain sitting in the approximate center of the festival with half the park dedicated to art while the other half is crammed with food vendors and carnival games to amuse bored children and empty the pockets of tired parents. The fountain has been drained of water and several people scurry about it, installing a – well, something – at its center.

"What is it?" Sakura gapes at the towering mass of twisted and contorted metal striking a confident pose against the evening sky. It's approximately person-shaped…if that person was basically a triangle and she squints. Two arm-like projections are held up to the heavens and the sound of a drill buzzes inside Sakura's skull as she watches several men busily labor at securing the metalwork to its stand, with one up nearly toward the top of the creation's head, precariously leaning off of a ladder to secure a particular attachment point.

Itachi sighs as though not at all surprised, "Another excuse to light a fire."

Sakura raises an eyebrow in question and Itachi elaborates, "This is what Deidara meant when he said he'd been accepted to be a part of the grand finale. They'll be setting off fireworks from this point once it gets dark enough," he nods his head to the massive pile of boxes and crates left just inside the brickwork of the fountain, "And Deidara has a penchant for seeing his work go up in flames."

"Fire sculpture?" Sakura asks, the thought suddenly dawning on her as she regards the behemoth of welded scrap metal with new eyes.

"Exactly." Itachi affirms.

Sakura gazes skyward a moment longer, imagining the sculpture engulfed in flame against the backdrop of night. It was already impressive due its sheer size, but on fire? It may even be inspiring to behold.

"We'll have to come back once it's lit," Sakura smiles.

Itachi nods in agreement, once more claiming her hand to Sakura's immense pleasure. With the plan to return for the sculpture lighting filed away for later, Sakura realizes she needs to figure out what to do in the remaining time.

"Are you hungry?"

Sakura grins appreciatively at the suggestion, "I can always go for a soft pretzel."

And so it's decided that the two should head for the snack area, weaving through the masses of parents and baby strollers. The night air is just beginning to cool off as squealing children give chase to one another as well as to a stray cat that has wandered into the park after the wafting aroma of fried foods. They wait in lines for Sakura's soft pretzel and cheese and for Itachi's warm apple dumpling topped with a generous scoop of ice cream – perhaps, a little more generous than others, Sakura notes with a side eye to the girl handing over the treat with an extra cheery "Have a good evening!"

But who can blame her, really?

Sakura sneaks bashful glimpses of her date between bites as they rest side-by-side on one of the park benches.

He's really just too handsome to be real…And kind.

His gentle kindness above all else is what draws Sakura in. She's used to pretty boy faces, and knowing that Itachi is more than that has her stomach fluttering with the want for more, for this to be for real and for always and –

Whooooaaaa, girl. Slow down there.

She can't get ahead of herself. This is just one date. And yet, Itachi has already made his feelings for her about as clear as a person can.

Though it still begs the question of how and when such feelings for someone like her even developed. It's a complete mystery to Sakura.

It's a mystery Sakura wants to crack.

Dusting off the salt crystals from her fingers, Sakura disengages from her crowd watching to find Itachi looking at her with the sort of unveiled expression that makes something soften in her chest and warmth pool in her stomach like honey.

"C'mon, let's go for a walk around the pond," Sakura suggests, lightly rising to her feet and clasping her hands behind her back.

No ulterior motives here. Just a romantic view across the water from a hopefully empty gazebo. That's all.

"Lead the way," Itachi smiles.

This time, Sakura is the one to confidently take Itachi's hand, tugging him to his feet with playful insistence.

It's difficult work at first to make progress through the growing crowd as the sun finally sets, drawing more people toward the good smells and music emanating from the park. But once Sakura and Itachi carefully step through the tangle of bodies and make it to the far side of the pond, they can finally hear each other without straining. Sakura watches the bouncing reflections of the garden lights as a talkative duck couple glide across the blackened surface of the pond, sending expanding ripples outward until they collide with the bank. A flicker of movement catches the corner of her eye and she looks up just in time to watch as a trail of flame blazes up Deidara's sculpture before the whole thing is engulfed in fire. The fireworks show will be starting soon.

Could it get more perfect?

Sakura's heart is swelling with contentment. The night is going off without a hitch.

"Do you want to go to the gazebo? We should have a good view of the fireworks from there."


"Sounds good," Sakura replies, tucking a bothersome strand of hair behind her ear. Itachi glances down at Sakura, amused by the carefree way she swings their joined hands.

"Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?"

The question catches her off guard, but she doesn't miss a stride as she expertly recovers with a teasing pout, "Only once."

Itachi smirks, "Ah, well, it must be because you've left me so tongue-tied."

Sakura chuckles. Of all things Itachi is, easily flustered isn't one of them, though that does spark the idea that she'd certainly like to see what it takes to get the careful and tightly controlled Uchiha all hot and bothered.

"But I do want to thank you for giving me a chance. After your reaction at the club, I was afraid I'd scared you off," Itachi continues.

"Ooohh, that," Sakura laughs nervously, guilt gnawing at her for the way she had left Itachi waiting for an answer. Not exactly a rejection, but still.

"I was just really…surprised. I didn't know what to say to you suddenly – well…" Sakura fumbles for the right words as they approach the gazebo with its white posts and green shingled roof. Itachi releases her hand, crossing the short distance to the far end of the gazebo. Fortunately, none of the art festival attendees had roamed this far away from all of the activity. They have this small shelter all to themselves and Sakura is overcome with the sense to speak in soft whispers in this secluded place.

Itachi half turns back to face her, shadows overtaking his features in the dim light. Little is provided by the nearby post lantern lights plotted at intervals around the paved walkway looping the perimeter of the park. It's off-putting to her eyes to see how darkened everything is in close proximity to her, yet everything across the pond where the festival is in full swing is clearly illuminated.

"You didn't know what to say when you heard I have feelings for you," Itachi approaches the subject delicately, almost stiffly, and Sakura wonders if her clumsy wording has offended him.

Sakura's teeth sink into her bottom lip and she moves to close the distance between them, placing a soft touch at Itachi's shoulder to turn him fully toward her. He obliges her easily, and Sakura isn't sure if she feels relief or disappointment at the perfectly apathetic expression he now wears.

"It's just that I never really knew I was even on your radar," Sakura begins, noting the amused quirk of Itachi's eyebrow at this honest statement, "I thought you only saw me as your little brother's friend. I mean, I know you knew we started dating, but even then it's not like we ever really associated with one another."

Ugghhh. You moron, you had one job. Don't bring up dating Sasuke!

But Itachi doesn't appear bothered by it. And perhaps, Sakura reasons, there's no reason for him to be. Why be troubled by the truth at this point?

"I was always aware of you, Sakura."

Sakura's eyes widen.

Itachi sighs, raking his fingers through his bangs and all the way back to the band that neatly gathers the length of his hair together.

"I'm not going to lie and tell you it was love at first sight," he pauses to meet Sakura's captivated expression and Sakura, unbidden, releases a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, "You were still a little kid, after all, when we first met."

"So were you," Sakura retorts playfully. Itachi acquiesces with a slight shrug.

"But you were always interesting. The way you kept my little brother and that Uzumaki kid in line."

"You make me sound like their keeper," Sakura laughs, moving to rest her elbows against the gazebo's wooden railing. In the distance, a small crew of staff working the festival is putting up barricades around the flaming sculpture guarding the collection of fireworks ready to be shot off into the night sky. A crowd is starting to build around it and Sakura wonders how much longer they'll have to wait.

"No," Itachi amends, "But it makes me glad to know my brother had someone like you looking after him, someone who truly cared about his well-being. I suppose it was a relief as his big brother," Itachi explains, coming to rest alongside her to gaze at the crowds forming in anticipation.

Sakura looks up to the man beside her and smiles softly.

"Though at the same time, I think I was envious of Sasuke. For having you."

Some spell seems to have woven itself around Sakura; there's simply no other reason for the irresistible impulse that overcomes her. Leaning forward on her tiptoes, she presses her lips gently against Itachi's cheek.

"Well, you're the one that has me now," Sakura murmurs, lips tickling against Itachi's smooth skin before she pulls back, pleased to find she has the Uchiha's undivided attention. A guiding hand at her waist has Sakura moving impossibly closer still as they turn to face one another. Itachi's head dips down with a knowing smirk before he returns the favor with a kiss of his own pressed squarely against Sakura's eager lips.

"This can't be real," Sakura mutters, mostly to herself once they break apart to catch a quick breath. She colors instantly at Itachi's chuckles, arms folding across her front defensively.

"Don't get such a big head, Uchiha, I didn't mean it like that," Sakura sniffs daintily, but the corners of her mouth are wavering in the struggle not to smile.

"I just mean that it's so bizarre," she unconsciously raises a hand to flutter between them, "I never really thought of you and me as a couple."

"You really know how to wound a man's pride," Itachi remarks drolly, but there's good-natured humor in his tone.

Sakura gives a playfully light smack to Itachi's arm, careful to moderate her strength well below her usual Naruto-smacking levels.

"Please, you're an Uchiha, you have plenty of pride to spare," Sakura rolls her eyes, enjoying the joking mood that has settled over the two. As wonderful as a serious and romantic Itachi can be, she'd be lying if she said it didn't put her on edge. She's waiting for the big reveal of a camera crew and TV host to jump out of nowhere and scare the crap out of her, letting her know that this has all been one big prank at her expense.

This seriously can't be real.

Surreptitiously, she pinches the skin on her forearm and delights in the sting.

The two settle once again in their side-by-side positons, though with a notable lack of space separating them this time. Sakura relaxes against Itachi's side when he wraps an arm around her.

Part of her is reveling in the warmth radiating off the man beside her while part of wonders why such a simple display of affection was so beyond Sasuke's ability.

A third part abruptly stomps out the second part for even daring to give Sasuke a spare thought. Not now.

"Soooo," Sakura drawls pleasantly. A husky edge has entered her voice that normally would never wrap its way around her tongue except in rare cases of inebriated boldness. But she feels just like that. Intoxicated. Dangerous. Alluring.

She hasn't a clue what she's doing that seems to be working so well on her date, but she's darn sure going to use it. She feels equal parts ridiculous and seductive at the same time.

"It seems unfair that you know quite a bit about me, but I know so little about you. I'm curious. What makes Itachi Uchiha tick?" she lavishes over each syllable in that name as though savoring a melting chocolate, and she'd be lying if she said she wasn't watching for his reaction.

Nor could she say she missed the way his eyes darkened just a bit, his throat bobbing marginally with a subdued swallow. Inwardly, she preens. Outwardly, she calmly admires the lights dancing across the surface of the pond. She doesn't want to overdo it here, not when she has no idea what the end game of all this could possibly be. Right now, she just wants to enjoy the moment of someone else enjoying her company.

"I assure you I'm not that interesting," Itachi responds, fingers moving to stroke through the hair beginning to fall forward across Sakura's cheek. For once, she can't be bothered to tuck the damnable strands behind her ear if she's going to receive these kinds of ministrations. It's odd how one brother can be so averse to touch while the other seems to initiate it at every turn.

At Sakura's disappointed expression, he tries again, "I'm sure there is little else to tell from what you already know."

Sakura waves her hand dismissively, "That's just the surface stuff. You're an Uchiha, you graduated at the top of your class in high school, you got your law degree, you hang out with some rather colorful characters…" Sakura ticks off the items on her mental checklist of 'Things I know about Itachi' and comes upon something she had never delved into too deeply.

"I don't think I even know the surface details all that well," Sakura states, slightly perturbed, "What exactly do you do with the Akatsuki? I mean, they're a gang, right?" she asks, voice needlessly lowered as she softens the initial blunt question with one that's little better.

Itachi's expression loses some of its teasing good humor and Sakura instantly regrets asking.

Then again, doesn't she have a right to know if she's going to be involved with him?

Sakura swears she can even feel his body stand up just a bit more rigidly, as though preparing himself to let her down.

"It's best we not talk about my work."

Troubled green eyes turn to bottomless obsidian ones, the very obvious question of "Why?" hanging between them. But Sakura surprises both herself and her date by tamping down on her suspicions.

"Ok," she says simply.

For now.

"I can be patient. I think we can take our time getting to know one another better," Sakura clarifies, blushing with new pleasure as Itachi plants a chaste kiss to her forehead in silent thanks.

"A lot better," Itachi agrees.

"But there is one thing I need to know – "

An incessant ringing emanates from Itachi's back pocket and Sakura barely catches the near imperceptible sigh that escapes him, even in such close proximity. His eyes quickly glance at the screen before flicking to Sakura's inquiring gaze.

"I'm sorry."

Something cracks inside Sakura at those words, said in that tone with that kind of look. She knows she isn't going to like whatever comes out of his mouth next.

"I need to go," Itachi continues, taking a small step back to break contact with her, phone still ringing in his hand though he's muted the volume. The screen is lit up, a single illuminated rectangle of light floating in the cozy darkness Sakura was looking forward to sharing with him for the duration of the fireworks display.

"What is it? Is something wrong? You haven't even answered – "

Comprehension dawns on Sakura with growing dismay.


Itachi nods, "Again, I really am sorry, Sakura. It's terrible timing. Let me give you money for a cab home."

Sakura watches dumbfounded as Itachi reaches into his wallet to extract a bill that's way more than she would ever need for the short trip to her duplex. Mentally shaking herself into action, she puts a hand out to halt Itachi's gesture.

"It's fine. I can just take the bus."

She hates the way her voice sounds.

I'm a diamond, damn it.

Itachi hesitates, clearly unhappy to be leaving her the way he is, but pressed to answer the call and whatever obligation he has to the Akatsuki.

The phone finally stops ringing, its screen blank and the gazebo cast in darkness once more so that Sakura can barely make out the features of Itachi's face. But she feels the featherlight kiss against her mouth before he's backing away once more to leave.

"I promise, it's ok," Sakura assures, her voice steadier this time, more confident. She even tries to smile though she doesn't know if Itachi can see her attempt.

"Please let me know when you make it home."

Sakura nods, "I will."

With that, Sakura watches as Itachi turns to leave, his legs carrying him away at a brisk pace, phone up to his ear as he exits the park onto one of the quiet, surrounding side streets. Soon, he's lost to her view and Sakura can feel her mouth pulling downward into a frown. This wasn't how tonight was supposed to end.

Belatedly, she realizes the show has already started as she turns back to the crackling hiss of a firework cascading over the park in blues and reds. Another pierces through the afterimage in a fierce shade of pink. Slowly, Sakura turns to shuffle her way back to the spot she had fully intended to be in while wrapped in Itachi's arms and enjoying the show.

Not this again.

Determined, Sakura watches dry eyed throughout the entire event, earning a crick in her neck for her troubles of gazing up from under the gazebo's roof.

But even so…

Was it worth it?

"I was walking down the street the other day
Tryna distract myself
But then I see your face
Oh wait, that's someone else."

As Sakura exits through the heavy doors of the library, her souring mood hits an all-time low for the day as she takes in the gray skies and light drizzle already peppering the cement walkways. She had just come from the impromptu homework session her lab mates had hastily organized due to the quickly approaching deadline of their bi-weekly assignments, and it had been of little benefit to her. The one question that she had left unanswered – the one question that still remains unanswered – weighs heavily in the back of her mind. She'll be pissed if she forgets to do it after having spent the last hour and a half guiding her slacking classmates through the rest of the problem set. She really needs to stop being so helpful.

Roughly grabbing the handle of her umbrella from the outside pocket of her backpack, she presses the button that releases her shelter with satisfying speed.

It's almost weapon-like…

And really, that thought alone should warn her that she's in a dangerously stupid mood.

Of course, the last-minute sense of scholarly obligation that struck her wayward friends is not fully to blame for the gray clouds gathering overhead or in her mind. No, mostly she's mad at herself and the persistent cycle of self-doubting thoughts that have plagued her all through yesterday and into today.

She hasn't heard from Itachi in nearly forty-eight hours. And that truth burns angrily just beneath her skin, heating her unpleasantly despite the cool mist slanting across the quad.

What was it exactly that she had been expecting? For their date night to go perfectly? For it to draw to a leisurely, gentle close with Itachi walking her to her doorway and timing it just right to plant a single, sweet kiss on her lips as she turns back from the door to bid him good night?

And did she imagine he'd promise to call the next day? Promise that this wasn't some one time deal?

That junk is for the movies. The really corny, low-budget, no-name actors kind of movies.

This was likely where things would fall apart. He'd get caught up with his own life, his own work and responsibilities and Sakura may be important, but she isn't that important.

Isn't that always how it is with these Uchiha men?

She had even been willing not to press him on what exactly his line of work entails. For now, anyway.

Sighing aloud to herself, her mood too dark to worry whether or not the passing students notice her grumblings, Sakura switches her neon pink umbrella from one hand to the other so she can more easily access the phone jutting out of her back pocket. Checking the time, she sighs once more as her eyes drink in the unappealing sight of the digital numbers.

She's missed the scheduled dinner her housemates had set up, and although she knows it won't be the first time nor the last and that her friends won't be upset with her, she's upset for missing the one part of her day she had been looking forward to. Ino can be a pretty decent cook when you can manage to take her phone out of her hands so she can focus.

Another dejected sigh tears past her lips.

Fantastic. She loves twenty minute walks home in the rain. On an empty stomach.

I should have just gone out to eat with the rest of the group.

They had planned on going to one of the diners to grab dinner and celebrate being (almost) done with their chemistry homework, and Sakura is pretty certain at least one of them would have offered to pay for her meal in thanks for all of her help. But after being cooped up with them in the tiny private study room they had taken over in the library and forcing herself not to act on all of her strangling fantasies every time one of them looked at her with a blank stare after she had just explained the same concept for the fifth time – well! It had been quite enough time spent in their company and Sakura just wanted to get the heck out of there and into her PJs at home.

And now here I am. Alone. Hungry. With wet feet.

Her frown grows in intensity at her poor choice in footwear for the day as her sandals slap loudly against the sidewalk with her brisk strides. Her heels are already wet, providing the perfect surface for the grime and pollution of the streets to adhere to the soles of her feet in a filthy layer of grit.

She waits impatiently at the crosswalk at one of the busy intersections she must cross over to reach her neighborhood. And sure, maybe she pushed the button one or twelve too many times despite her insistence having no bearing on illuminating the walk sign any sooner.

But she's tired, damn it!

And of course that's when life decides Sakura needs a pertinent lesson. Patience is a virtue, after all, and when it rains, it pours. So, really, she's going to get a two-for-one deal.

A surprisingly strong gust of wind blasts through the area, rattling the street signs and shaking down the leaves off the nearby trees lining the street.

And, unfortunately for Sakura, this early breath of chill warning of the oncoming autumn causes an alarming snap! from somewhere in the mass of now sagging nylon in her face. Sakura can feel her jaw go slack with disbelief. Turning the umbrella around, Sakura finds not one, but two of the ribs formerly maintaining the structure of the umbrella's canopy now broken and limp.

Cheap piece of crap!

Sakura can feel the flush in her cheeks as well as the half amused, half wary glances of the few people waiting with her at the intersection. She's pretty certain steam might be coming off her head.

It's at this point that the light finally changes and as the other pedestrians make their way around the silently fuming girl, Sakura takes a few breaths to collect herself before dunking the now useless contraption in the nearby trashcan…and yeah, maybe she used a little too much force as the loud clang catches the attention of the driver stopped to allow pedestrians to use the crosswalk. But Sakura doesn't look up from the black pavement as she storms across the lines of traffic. The last thing she needs at this point is to miss her chance to cross.

The rain is already beginning to worsen, the light drizzle having turned to fattened drops that ping off the top of her head and glide into her eyes. Tromping around the puddles as she keeps up a lively barrage of insults in her head aimed at the poor city planning that didn't account for proper drainage of walkways, Sakura can't even find it within herself to cringe at her heavy usage of the word "fool." Maybe she's turning into a Disney villain.

With envy, she glances at the warmly lit storefronts that slowly turn into apartment complexes and houses the further away she gets. Maybe she'll take a nice hot shower before she scavenges whatever her friends left of dinner. It's during these musings that the first streak of lightning pierces nearly horizontal across the sky like a great crack, closely followed by a clap of thunder that has Sakura clenching her teeth at its nearness. She loves watching storms…just not while she's actually in them.

Fucking terrific.

Grimacing, Sakura attempts to quicken her already hurried pace as the wafting aroma of wet asphalt assaults her nose. Yet, with her overburdened backpack slowing her down with the weight of her ridiculously huge chemistry textbook, she can't easily break into a full run lest she desire a sorely bruised back. And at this point, she's already so wet that there's little point in trying to avoid more rain. Now, the only concern is over the flashing lightning streaking through the sky.

At last, Sakura turns onto her street and feels the inkling of relief at the sight of her front door. Her feet are dangerously slipping within her sandals despite the straps buckled around her ankles and she'd really like to avoid spraining one.

Wouldn't that just be the fucking icing on the cake of this shitstorm day?

Maybe she's beginning to sound a little too much like Hidan.

Sakura's exposed arms have broken out in gooseflesh by the time she's mounted the short flight of stairs up to her front porch and it's at this point she notes that her home is oddly darkened at this time of day. Even with the curtains pulled shut, she should be able to see the living room light on, but all appears dark as she turns the knob on the front door.


Grunting with frustration, Sakura rings the doorbell as she hefts her backpack off her shoulders to rummage for her keys, knowing that she could very well be faster in finding them than either of her housemates might be in answering the door.

Kneeling down, she slides out her textbook with disdain for its cumbersome weight, scooping out various other odds and ends from her damp backpack, eyebrows drawing together as she nears the limit of its contents.

Pens, paperclips, lip gloss, a tangled phone charger…everything but her keys.

"You've got to be kidding me," Sakura groans to herself, shutting her eyes and biting down the next words that rise to her tongue. She's cussed enough for the day. And Ino and Temari still haven't come to the door. Sakura rings the doorbell once more, but already any hope of having it answered has begun to shrivel. It's just been that kind of day. Why should she expect anything to go right at this point?

Ignoring the mess of rummaged belongings scattered around her, Sakura straightens to her full height and pulls out her phone, quickly dialing Ino's number. It rings for what seems like forever before going to her annoyingly cheerful voicemail. Pacing across the length of the porch, Sakura tries Temari next only to receive the same treatment as the automated tone of the voicemail drones in her ear.

Jerking her phone away from her face, Sakura's eyes alight on the text message waiting for her attention, finally discovering where her two friends have wandered off to.

The movies. Great.

She really wanted to see that one too.

And now Sakura is left soaked, hungry, and locked out of her own house. And she still needs to finish her chemistry homework in time for tomorrow. Based off of the time stamp on Ino's text, she only missed them by about twenty minutes, which means she'll likely have close to two hours before they make it back.

Typing out a quick text of 'locked out' so her friends understand her calls, Sakura pinches the bridge of her nose, trying to muster up some smidgeon of patience to weather out her unfortunate circumstances.

Dismally, Sakura casts her gaze up to the skies, noting that the conditions up there haven't gotten any better. Now that she's out of the rain thanks to the little protection her covered porch offers, Sakura wrings out the water in her loose hair with both hands before pointlessly trying to shake them dry so she can fetch her things.

It's as she's kneeling down to do this, back to the road and pouring rain, that her ears prick up at the sound of tires roving over pavement. The quiet hush following an engine shutting off. The slam of a car door as, likely, one of her neighbors returns home from school or work.

She wishes she had the money to afford a car right now, but at least Ino had one so the girls could make grocery trips without the hassle of using the buses. As her thoughts turn from cars to dryness, Sakura puzzles which one of her friends might be willing to come pick her up so she can wait out the storm at their place until her housemates return to let her back in. Naruto is out since he's as car-less as she is. Tenten is likely at work. Kiba's is broken down nearly every other week. Hinata has a car she barely uses because she approaches near panic attack levels almost every time she gets behind the wheel…Who does that leave?


No, not me! What a stupid answer.

"Huh?!" Sakura's head jerks up, eyes unclouding from her internal monologue as she takes in the figure leisurely climbing the steps up to her, a black umbrella shielding his perfectly styled hair and leather jacket.

Her face scrunches in confusion.

"What are you doing here?"

The question is pointed, but not as sharp as she had intended for whenever she did actually come fact-to-face with him again. She blames it on the avalanche of inconvenient occurrences that has plagued her ever since she agreed to meet at the library today. Her mind has simply been split in too many directions of thought to solely focus on the annoyance standing arrogantly before her.

"Seeing you."

And that's it. That's all the response she gets. It really pisses her off that Sasuke never managed to develop better conversation skills.

"Well, gee," Sakura's tongue drips with poisonous sarcasm as she rolls her eyes, replacing the last of her items back in her backpack and standing up to be at eye level, "Please excuse my manners. I'd love to invite you in for tea, but I'm currently locked out of my own house."

Sasuke's eyes widen slightly at this, a slight smirk quirking the corners of his mouth. Sakura doesn't like that look.

"You forgot your keys again."

It's not a question. Sasuke states it knowingly, likely because this isn't exactly the first time Sakura has done this.

Sakura crosses her arms over her chest, partly in defiance and partly for warmth.

"So what? That's hardly any concern of yours."

Even she knows she sounds ridiculous and Sasuke's raised eyebrow tells her he isn't impressed by her show of indifferent bravado. She really just wishes he'd leave so she can resume moping in self-pity on her porch until her friends return from their night out.

"And your roommates aren't home?" Sasuke questions, eyes already combing over the usual area Ino likes to park her car.

"Maybe," Sakura bites out as though the answer costs her an arm and a leg.

Anything would be better than my pride…Not that there's much of that left that he hasn't claimed.

Sasuke sighs at her attitude, taking several steps closer so as to enjoy the covering of her porch so he can close his umbrella with the click of a button.

Oooohhh, faaaannncccyyyy. Is that an automatic retractable umbrella? I bet his mother got that for him.

And really, Sakura admits to herself, she needs to tone back the ire. She has no qualms with Sasuke's mother, but she's fast approaching the end of her rope and any weapon she can use against Sasuke will be utilized.

"Why don't you come wait for them at my place?"

He says it so easily. So off-handedly. So…


Sakura feels her muscles tense, locked in a moment of hesitation between fight or flight and looking for that last telling sign to push her over the edge in one direction or the other.

"And why would you offer to do something like that? People might start suspecting you possess a shred of common decency, you know," she snips back.

Fight it is.

Sasuke grunts in a way that Sakura can't quite decipher if he's ticked off or amused, but it's likely the former.

"C'mon. I don't have all night and you're going to get sick out here."

Sasuke turns on his heel, gliding back the way he came and shaking open his umbrella. Pausing on the steps leading down to the sidewalk, he glances back up at the obstinate girl glaring at him, noting she hasn't budged an inch.


She really hates that tone.

She also really hates standing around in the rain when she's cold and missing dinner.

Internally screaming at herself for what she's about to do, Sakura lurches forward one awkward step before her mind finally lets her go freely.

Though perhaps not completely free of guilt.

Quickly catching up to Sasuke, she's surprised he keeps pace with her as they descend the stairs together, him sharing the wide, arched protection of his decidedly more expensive umbrella until they reach his car.

Sakura rolls her eyes as Sasuke rounds the other side of the vehicle without so much as a spare word. The day Sasuke Uchiha opens a car door for a lady will be the day Naruto swears off ramen.

Not that she needs him to or anything.

Sakura sniffs disdainfully at the very notion as she tugs on the door handle and ducks out of the rain.

"I know I'm not the center of the universe
But you keep spinning round me just the same."

And that's how Sakura finds herself in Sasuke's plush car. It's been a few months since she was last in it, but it's still in immaculate condition thanks to Sasuke's obsessively tender care.

He loves this car more than he ever cared for me.

Honestly, she's surprised he even allows her to sit in it considering her clothes are still soaked with rainwater and dampening the passenger seat she buckles herself into. Her eyebrows hike up even further when Sasuke reaches over to adjust the heat for Sakura's benefit, a gesture she never thought possible of him without prompting.

Where the hell did he learn manners?

Had he picked up a self-help book for dummies?

Sakura warily eyes this new alien creature from the corner of her eye as he eases out of the tight parking space with a careless ease that's so typically Sasuke she wants to gag. Why had she found him so appealing for all those years? He's cocky and rude, pushy and demanding, completely lacks basic people skills, and acts like the world owes him something. Sure he's kind of cute the way his overly gelled hair sticks up in the back, but whom other than some kind of conceited pretty boy would go to the trouble of carefully styling their hair like that in the first place?

No, she decides, there can be no redeeming qualities about Sasuke anymore.

And it's just now that Sakura realizes she's completely trapped in a small, confined space with the exact person she told herself she'd be content to avoid for the rest of her life. She's completely at his mercy, at least until he stops the car.

Even so, Sakura's brain is already whirring through a few estimates and quick calculations at how best to land if she needs to make a hasty exit from a vehicle moving at approximately thirty-five miles per hour.

"Have you had dinner yet?"

The question completely takes her off guard, leaving her with the oh-so intelligent response:


Sasuke shoots her his patented you're-a-moron-stop-wasting-my-precious-time look and surprisingly tries again.

"Have you eaten yet?"


Sasuke exhales loudly, the car jerking to an unusually unsmooth stop as they catch a red light.

"Cut the bullshit, Sakura," Sasuke turns to face her, his once placid expression morphing into a familiar scowl, "I'm asking if you're hungry or not. I'm trying to be nice."

"Is that what you call it?" Sakura gives a bark of laughter, unable to control the visceral anger so abruptly seething to the surface. But anger is an emotion she's comfortable with seizing and running with; better that than the inexplicable confusion whirling around like a tornado through her head.

"Yes, if you wouldn't be so stubborn and just cooperate."

And at this point, Sakura has to ask just what exactly is she doing with Sasuke in his car? Why did she go along with this?

The rhythmic glide of the windshield wipers across her view of the street clues her in to the obvious, but why had she more or less just acquiesced to Sasuke's suggestion? It had almost been easy. Even though she's furious with him. Even though she's unsure of how to even act around him now that they've broken up…Especially when she considers that lip lock he attacked her with in the library last week.

Are they starting anew? Was that just a confused one time slip up on his part? Is this Sasuke trying to have some kind of friendship with her?

What in the actual hell.

She really doesn't have the energy to deal with this right now. Leaning over to crank up the heat even higher, if only to get a reaction from the driver at her boldness to operate his car, Sakura replies honestly, "I'm starving."

She's looking out the passenger window now, using her eyes to trace the trek of a fat, wayward raindrop as it cascades down the curved surface, colliding with other raindrops to merge into one and fall out of view. Sakura misses the way Sasuke's hands loosen marginally from their tight grip around the wheel.


But her ears do pick up on the casual quality that has leaked back so fully and effortlessly into Sasuke's voice.

"I'm hungry too."

And she decides that she can tolerate this new Sasuke at least temporarily. Not because she owes him the pleasantness of her company or because she misses him or because his brother hasn't contacted her since so hastily departing from their date.

No, Sakura can do this because she knows Sasuke has the best stocked refrigerator of any student on campus.

"It's like a test, it's like a game
To see how much I can take.
I'm curious to live and learn
So light me up and let me burn."

As it turns out, Sasuke's odd mood leads him to ordering take-out for the two of them from a nearby Italian restaurant that delivers. And Sakura tells herself that the non-home-cooked meal is likely for the best for despite the well-prepared kitchen, Sasuke's culinary skills are mediocre at best and Sakura isn't about to walk into her old role of cooking his meals and cleaning up after him considering their current state of affairs.

It doesn't stop her from snagging the container of hummus and a bag of tortilla chips though. Settling down on the couch with their order placed and Sakura wrapped in a towel over her wet clothes, she munches on her snack with a vengeance in an attempt to drown out the blood rushing through her ears.

This is so weird.

So awkward.

And yet Sasuke lounges beside her on the couch, kicking off his shoes and letting them sprawl messily on the floor as he locates the remote and begins searching for one game or another on the enormous flat screen Mommy and Daddy Uchiha purchased for him last Christmas.

It's sort of like how they used to be when they were dating, and yet it's completely different. He isn't speaking and yet Sasuke just feels more open to her. Like he's relaxed and doesn't mind her presence. And is it just her or is he sitting a little closer to her than he would normally elect to do?

Sakura stuffs another handful of hummus-dipped chips in her mouth to fuel her consternation.

What game are you playing, Sasuke?

However, she doesn't have long to stew on the thought as the quiet bubble enveloping them in the living room is quickly pierced by the exuberant entrance of Sasuke's roommates coming home. Like some kind of clichéd horror movie scene, the front door is thrust inward on a clap of thunder with Suigetsu framed within the doorway and the larger figure of a soaking wet Jugo lurking behind him. An encore of lightning cracks across the sky and the door is slammed shut a second later.

"Daaammnn, it's getting nasty out there," Suigetsu complains, kicking off his shoes in a haphazard mess before tromping into the kitchen. Amusingly, he seemingly hasn't taken stock of her presence, and Sakura watches with soft eyes as Jugo bends down to straighten up Suigetsu's footwear by the door before taking off his own.

Poor guy.

The discordant symphony of cabinet doors opening and slamming shut reaches her ears from the kitchen and she can only imagine the snack plundering taking place.

"Hey, who ate the last of the hummus?!"

Sakura rolls her eyes at the indignant squawk accompanied by the slam of the refrigerator door, but tensely braces herself at the impending meeting between her and the little violet-eyed creeper. Heavy footsteps quickly approach the back of the couch and Sakura notes with annoyance that Sasuke hasn't so much as deigned to turn his head to acknowledge his fast-approaching housemate.

Oh, no worries, Sasuke. I'll deal with the little headache.

"Wait a minute, what are you doing here?" Suigetsu drawls.

"Well, hello to you too, ass," Sakura snips, crunching on another chip in the face of Suigetsu's accusatory expression.

Violet eyes narrow further, a dangerous smirk curling his features as he languidly props his forearms on the back of the couch between her and Sasuke, leering a little too closely into Sakura's personal space.

"So, you're the culprit," Suigetsu deduces, eyes greedily roving over the bowl of hummus perched temptingly in Sakura's lap.

"I'm a guest," Sakura counters dismissively.

Suigetsu drums his fingers across the top of the couch, seemingly in thought though Sakura knows Suigetsu's mind rarely thinks – it schemes.

"So, are you two, like, back together or something? Living for the drama?" Suigetsu asks, an offensive finger poking Sasuke in the side of the head to get his attention.

Sasuke bats the hand away with a scowl and an icy, "Knock it off."

Suigetsu mimics a sudden chill running through him.

"Uggghh, he's so cold, Sakura-chan," Suigetsu whines playfully, "Quick! I need ten cc's of hummus stat!"

And with that declaration, Suigetsu snags an arm across Sakura, making a bold grab for the bowl of coveted mashed chick peas.

"Abso-fucking-lutely not," Sakura deadpans with a twist of her body to shield the bowl away from her attacker.

Curling her body around the prize, Sakura is confident in her assumption that there's no way Suigetsu will chance wrestling it away from her with Sasuke present. No way does he want to be caught manhandling what's considered Sasuke's…

Not that I am or anything!

Suigetsu huffs in annoyance, disdainfully eyeing the girl balled in on herself, all limbs carefully tucked in and cradling the bowl to her front like a precious child, her head resting on the arm of the couch.

"You don't even live here!" he gripes, gaze sliding to Sasuke for some kind of back up, though he quickly gives up on that half-formed idea when he realizes just exactly who it is he's appealing to for some support. Sasuke's eyebrow barely twitches to indicate the entire interaction is of little consequence to him aside from being incredibly grating on his nerves.

Groaning in defeat, Suigetsu flops onto his back, draping himself over the back of the couch so his head rests upside down in the space between the pink-haired hummus hoarder and his housemate.

"Only child syndrome over here," Suigetsu mutters to himself.

"I resent that!" Sakura quips, shooting a glare over her shoulder at the sprawled out man who has effectively wedged himself between her and Sasuke – for better or worse.

"Sooooo," Suigetsu drawls after a moment of silence as Sasuke finally settles on a sports talk show that already has Sakura bored and eager to return to her homework.

"Are you guys just hooking up for old time's sake or what?"

Sakura smacks Suigetsu in the gut with the half-empty bag of tortilla chips at the same time Sasuke forcefully tugs on Suigetsu's legs, sending him heels over head off the couch to land on the floor in an undignified heap.

"What the hell, you bastard!" Suigetsu whines, disentangling himself in the tight quarters between the couch and coffee table. For his trouble, he earns a nasty connection with his elbow against the coffee table that leaves him shrieking curses and rolling helplessly around on the living room rug.

Sakura shares a glance with Sasuke, smirking at their handiwork.

Just as she's about to generously offer a truce to the nuisance picking himself off the floor and allow him to share the hummus, the doorbell rings. Sasuke rouses himself off the couch at a leisurely pace to answer it, tossing the remote in Sakura's direction. Staring at his back in bewilderment at his silent display of kindness, Sakura startles at the prod to her foot. Raising an unamused eyebrow at the man now lounging on the floor, chin propped in his palm and hair disheveled, Sakura decides she doesn't like the studious expression playing over Suigetsu's features.

"What?" she insists when he offers no comment after earning her attention.

Suigetsu seems to catch himself, sniffing haughtily and turning his face away, "Nothing, it's just weird having you back here."

Miffed, Sakura decides to ignore his weirdness and picks up the bag of chips only to throw them back down on his stomach, setting the bowl down on the floor more carefully.

"Enjoy," she replies with all the sincerity that could fit on the tip of a toothpick. She can hear Sasuke rummaging through the carry-out bags in the kitchen and decides to join him. The smell of pasta ensnares her and lightens her mood.

"I want you forever
Even when we're not together
Scars on my body so I can take you wherever."

When the last of the tortellini has been speared and devoured and Suigetsu somehow finagled his way into stealing two of the breadsticks, Sakura feels too lazy to contemplate arranging a pick-up from her roommates even when she notices the rain has started to let up. The three find themselves comfortably sinking into the couch with sated stomachs. Sakura slips down onto the floor to more easily spread out her homework and notes as she peruses her chemistry textbook for the section addressing her remaining homework problem. Suigetsu talks Sasuke into some video game and Sakura almost feels at ease as the two insult each other's mothers with reckless abandon while abusing their cordless controllers.

It's weird…This is almost…kind of nice.

Sakura muses to herself over the oddity of it all. She had only been over to Sasuke's place a handful of times and usually only long enough to make dinner (and clean up after said dinner) and maybe watch a movie – oftentimes, with one or both of his roommates lingering around. She had always felt so special to be allowed over at Sasuke's home, like it was some sort of honor or rare privilege. She rolls her eyes at the thought. He's just a regular guy, after all. One who plays video games, has loud roommates, and enjoys the luxury of living off of mommy and daddy's money.

But Sasuke had in some ways seemed so untouchable until their recent break-up. So…above her. Now that her rose colored glasses have been shattered and tossed in the trash, the reality is kind of refreshing if not a bit jarring at times.

Why did I treat him like some kind of celebrity? Like I should be grateful he even knew my name?

It was unhealthy now that she considers it, rubbing at an absentminded doodle on the edge of her notebook paper with a well-chewed eraser.

But now? Maybe there was a chance to really get to know the boy she had idolized since childhood. Maybe she could actually be friends with him?

"Sasuke. Suigetsu."

Sakura's meandering thoughts are stopped short as Jugo walks into the living room, his cellphone clutched in a large hand. Sakura has always marveled at his bulky, muscular frame that seems so oddly paired with his almost hesitant, shy nature. She wonders how a guy like that could befriend the guy next to her, crudely excavating his ear with the tip of his pinky finger.

"What is it?" Sasuke asks.

"Just got a call in for work. Dr. O wants us there by 8:00."

Suigetsu groans in answer, abandoning his ear picking in favor of stretching indulgently to pop his back with a disgusting series of cracks before lightly jumping to his feet.

"Doesn't he know it's a school night?" Suigetsu grouses, already reaching for his shoes to lace up.

"Like that matters to you," Jugo returns with a slight smirk that earns a grin from Sakura.

Sakura watches the boys prepare, uncertain of exactly who this Dr. O is or what kind of job all three are employed in. It's the first she's hearing of any of the boys having jobs. It's hardly like Sasuke needs one. She can hear Suigetsu running the tap in the kitchen, likely filling up one of his trusty liter-sized water bottles that he's rarely without. Jugo is already shouldering on a backpack that appears stuffed with something and she takes notice of his change in wardrobe, having opted for looser, more athletic-looking clothes.

Suigetsu returns a moment later as Sakura begins the process of shuffling and paper clipping her papers back into order, realizing this sudden "job" will mean it's time for her to head home.

"Hurry it up," Suigetsu chides, raising Sakura's hackles at his bossy tone before she looks up to see Suigetsu looking pointedly at Sasuke.

"I'm not going this time," Sasuke replies lazily, crossing an ankle over the opposite knee as if to emphasize his stance on the matter.

Suigetsu eyes his friend questioningly before rolling his shoulder back and sighing.

"Fine, but you know how I hate dealing with him. You're obviously his favorite. Gives me the creeps."

Sakura is clearly out of the loop as Suigetsu's words fly over her head, but she mentally shrugs it off, figuring she'll find out what all of this is about if it's truly important.

"I've got better things to do than run errands for him," Sasuke replies boredly.

"Like I don't?!" Suigetsu scoffs.

"You guys can take my cut."

"Obviously," Suigetsu grunts, already taking a sip from his water bottle, "Fine. We're outta here. Don't get freaky on the couch, you two."

Sakura shrieks at the suggestive comment, throwing an unopened plastic wrapped fork from dinner at Suigetsu's retreating back.

Jugo turns on his heel as well, murmuring a soft "See ya later" to Sakura as he follows after his housemate who is already shouldering on his own backpack and opening the door onto the quiet, darkened street of their residence.

When the door slams closed thanks to Suigetsu's overly rough pull, Sakura turns around to regard the sole and silent occupant of the couch, watching as he pretends to be engrossed in whatever movie is playing on TV.

"So, you have a job?" Sakura prompts with obvious curiosity.

"It's nothing,"

Sakura sighs in irritation. This again. The same old tired dismissal. Never letting her in on the details of his life. In the past, she had found his aloofness kind of alluring and mysterious. Now, she just finds it a pain in the ass. Can't he see she's just making conversation?

Perhaps picking up on her irritation, Sasuke surprises Sakura by actually asking a question of his own.

"What are you doing?"

"The most impossible problem in the history of chemistry," Sakura groans, head falling back to rest against the couch.

"I doubt it."

Sakura hates the way his mouth quirks up in the corner, hates that Sasuke, despite having different interests form her, has always excelled at practically everything he's ever tried – well, except maybe for cooking. Without even being in her class, he could probably figure out her homework.

Dragging herself up to the couch and lugging her book with her, Sakura gleefully drops the text in his lap, enjoying the wince Sasuke tries to conceal with a slight shift in position under the unwieldy weight of the book.

"Prove it," Sakura commands, crossing her arms and leaning back into the plushness of the couch in challenge.

Sasuke's eyes narrow at her ploy, but she delightedly watches as his gaze drops to the open book before him.

Who would've thought I'd be getting Sasuke Uchiha to do my homework for me tonight?

"This is annoying," Sasuke mutters, hand already seeking out a piece of paper and pen from Sakura to begin working out the problem.

"Told you."

"No, you said it was impossible. I'm saying it's just a pain in the ass," Sasuke clarifies, pen scratching out a number in his conversion calculations.

"Hhhmm, that's not the only pain in the ass around here," Sakura hums.

Sasuke's fingers halt in their rapid-fire punching of her calculator, eyes rising to meet her amused green ones.

"Watch it, Haruno. Or I'll let you fail your class."

The warning has no bite behind it though and Sakura refuses to acknowledge the little flip in her stomach in reaction to this playful side of Sasuke.

Covering her delayed response, Sakura gives a dramatic gasp of indignation.

"I'll have you know I get the best grades in the class!"

"Yeah right. You spend too much time around Naruto. His stupid is contagious."

Sakura is caught between laughing in agreement and defending her intelligence, but gladly accepts Sasuke's help as he explains what he's doing. She doesn't notice until sometime after she's neatly packed away her school things and Sasuke notes her hair is still damp from the rain, that the space between them has eventually narrowed down to a few scant inches. It all happened naturally and without awareness or anticipation on her part.

Yawning as her eyes begin to remain closed just a little longer with each blink, Sakura pulls out her phone to check the time.

Shit, it's late.

Nearly eleven o'clock. Why was she still here? It was hard to tell based on Sasuke's usual lack of conversation, but he appeared to be tiring down too.

I should go.

Opening her texts to summon Ino to the rescue, Sakura first opens the few unopened messages waiting for her attention.

The first is from Itachi.

'Sorry, things have been hectic this weekend. How was your day?'

Biting unconsciously on her thumb, Sakura skips to the next one from Ino.

'At an emergency party planning committee and these bitches are cray. I can't fix all of their life problems no matter how amazing I am. Text T to let u n when u get home xoxo'

Realizing Ino and – perhaps more importantly – Ino's car are gone for the night due to another sorority planning/gossip session, Sakura's eyebrows furrow as she taps on the last text.

'Hey since neither of us have heard back from u in a while I'm going 2 Shika's. Hmu if u need 2.'

Great. Now, she'd need to pull Temari away from Shikamaru to let her back into the house. She knows Temari would do so, but Sakura would feel bad about it when the blonde so rarely gets any alone time with her boyfriend…Wait, are they even dating? Temari doesn't really like girly labels like boyfriend and girlfriend and tends to cringe at the very sound of them…

Shaking her wandering thoughts away, Sakura realizes she's left with a bit of a conundrum.

How is she getting home?

Had Ino been available, she would have just walked to the coffee shop on the next street over. It was still suspiciously close to Sasuke's place, but it would've worked in a pinch with the excuse of meeting up with her classmates to work on their assignment. Now, if she convinces Sasuke to extend his kindness once more (and she fears it's been stretched to infinitely thin threads after today), she'll have to deal with a protective Temari wondering what the hell she's doing hanging out with him after she's been avoiding him like the plague for the last week.

And why am I trying to hide the fact I spent the day with Sasuke?

Sakura scratches behind her ear in thought. Surely, her girl friends could learn to accept the fact that she could maybe, somehow, manage to befriend the guy she just broke up with? Maybe?

Or maybe she just doesn't want anyone else to know, well, other than Sasuke's roommates. Because allowing her friends to know Sasuke is back in her life would make a very big statement. And it would feel like…like…

Betrayal? Of Itachi?

Moving from scratching behind her ear to massaging her temple, Sakura attempts to rationally tackle her dilemma, but no matter which way she turns it, she can't seem to find a perspective that doesn't leave her feeling guilty.

She either hides Sasuke from her friends and feels guilty because of the effort he's displayed today, or she feels guilty because she actually enjoyed today and Itachi is currently none the wiser.


As though he can feel her eyes on him, Sasuke's head swivels to the side to regard the pink-haired girl looking suddenly…nervous? Conflicted? Sasuke can't tell. The only light cast on the two comes from the soft glow of the TV screen rapidly flickering through explosive action scenes.

"Do you want me to take you home?"

Sakura's hands clasp together in her lap, unsure of how to field the question.

"Weellll," her voice wavers, as though to signal he's not going to like her answer, "Temari and Ino are still out. Ino won't be back tonight and Temari is over at Shikamaru's…" her voice trails off.

"Do you want to spend the night here?"

Sakura's wandering gaze snaps up to Sasuke's face, noting the reflective shine in his dark eyes and wondering how he can just suggest something like that so off-handedly.

Clearing her throat as inconspicuously as possible to remove the spit caught in it, Sakura seriously considers his offer.

What would it hurt? It's late. She's exhausted. She'd have to bother Temari to walk all the way back home just to let her in.


"Sure…If that's ok."

While her expression remains placid, her heart is fluttering frantically with anxiety on the inside. What the hell is she agreeing to?

Sasuke shrugs, legs falling away from the coffee table as he stirs to his feet.

"It's fine with me. C'mon, I'll show you where my room is."

Blinking in surprise, Sakura dumbly follows, wincing as she steps onto her half asleep foot and slowly mounts the darkened stairs behind her gracious host. Once they reach the second floor, Sasuke expertly locates the light switch so Sakura can stagger behind him as her eyes struggle to adjust against the sudden brightness. They enter the first door on the right and Sakura is confronted with a starkly furnished room. Without question, everything is tasteful and rather expensive for a college student, and Sasuke doesn't appear to be a slouch when it comes to keeping his room clean. Sakura is struck with the realization that this is the first time she's set foot in Sasuke's room.

And she isn't doing it as his girlfriend.

Her skin feels itchy and wrong at the thought, as though her instincts are telling her to back out now. Sasuke seems unaware of her misgivings of the entire situation and she watches as he sits on the edge of his bed to peel off his socks and drop them to the floor.

"You can have the bed. I'll take the couch downstairs," he offers nonchalantly. Moving to pick up a pair of shorts hanging over the back of his desk chair, he turns back around to regard Sakura staring at him dumbly.


"I'm going to sleep," he replies slowly, as if explaining himself to a simpleton.

"Not that," Sakura snips, gaining a bit more wakefulness when confronted with Sasuke's familiar attitude

"Then what? Do you want the couch?" Sasuke crosses his arms, clearly growing impatient with the hold up.

"Wh- No! I mean, I don't know…" Sakura's eyes flicker to the bed in comprehension of exactly whose bed she would be taking up.

Reality is stranger than fiction.

Sasuke runs a tired hand through the back of his hair, ruffling it even more.

"Look, the sheets were just washed and I'll get you one of the extra pillows."

"It's not – Thanks," Sakura replies, a hand raising awkwardly to rub the back of her neck, "But, it's not that. I – I just…thank you. I mean, for giving up your bed. For dinner tonight. For giving me a place to stay..." she trails off, unsure of how to conclude her little list when Sasuke merely stares back at her expressionlessly.

The room goes silent, enough for Sakura to hear her own breathing. She's on high alert when Sasuke steps toward her, hand raising to trail through the long strands of hair that have mostly dried out in soft, light waves.

"Your hair is so long now."

It's true, she'd been letting it grow out for the last year although she rarely leaves it down. Just yesterday she had contemplated having it cut.

For a moment, she thinks he lowers his face as though to kiss her, but just as her eyelids lower in acceptance, he pulls back, hand falling away from her face as he turns to retrieve something from his dresser drawers.

Sakura mentally slaps herself, irritation causing her hands to curl into fists. Memories of the stolen library kiss flood her mind.

Get a grip!

When he comes back to her, he holds out a pair of basketball shorts and a T-shirt that will fit little better than a shapeless sack. Sakura understands immediately that he means for them to be her pajamas and gratefully accepts them.

"Thank you," Sakura murmurs, a wave of bashfulness suddenly crashing over her.

Sasuke grunts in reply, grabbing a pillow from the bed and his phone charger from the nightstand before making his way to the door.

Sakura looks up from the soft cotton fabric in her hands to catch him go.

"Good night," she calls after him, watching as his hand stills on the door knob, his head turning to the side just the slightest to acknowledge her words.


The door shuts softly behind him and Sakura sighs as she pulls her shirt over her head to begin changing. Once donned in baggy boy clothes, Sakura warily faces the bed, as though approaching a wild animal. When she crawls toward the middle of tonight's sleeping arrangement, she's surprised to find her hands sinking down into the bed. She had pegged Sasuke as the type to prefer a firm mattress.

Leaning back against the headboard, she pulls up the comforter around her legs and takes her phone out, bringing it up to her lips in thought.

She hadn't replied back to anyone yet. Least of all Itachi.

Figuring her roommates are likely too preoccupied with their own activities to be checking their phones at this late hour, but reasoning she'd want a response for some peace of mind if she was in their place, Sakura shoots off two quick texts to let them know she's ok.

As for Itachi…

It's already so late and he's been busy. He's probably in bed already.

With her thoughts assuring her the polite thing to do would be to wait until morning, Sakura sets the alarm on her phone and places it on the nightstand before turning off the light. The room is pitch black with the curtains drawn across the window to block out all streetlights. Settling her head back onto the pillow, her nose is confronted with the scent of Sasuke. His shampoo. His cologne. His Sasuke-ness…

It's all so familiar and such a confusing mix of comfort and disappointment.

"Don't fall for it," Sakura whispers aloud quietly. The darkness drinks in her words, but offers none of its own.

Dragging a hand down her face, Sakura resolves that sleep is the only answer to this mess of a day.

"Love me, love me
Say that you love me
Fool me, fool me
Go on and fool me
Love me, love me
Pretend that you love me
Leave me, leave me
Just say that you need me."

A light knocking rouses Sakura from a dream that's already dissolving away from her memory. Confusedly, she sits up on her elbows, calling out a hushed "Yes?" into the darkened room and wondering where she is. Her pillow smells too nice to abandon and she just wants to bury her nose back in it.

However, as the door cracks open and a sliver of light from the hallway backlights the figure entering the room, Sakura immediately recalls what has happened and instantly feels the recharge from her few hours of sleep vanish.

As Sasuke approaches the side of the bed, Sakura forces herself to fully sit up, rubbing at her eyes as a yawn forces its way free.

"What is it?" she asks, but the question sounds garbled even to her own ears.

But either Sasuke manages to translate her sleep-filled mumbles or he completely steam rolls over them.

"I need to sleep in here."

"What? Why?" Sakura squints, eyes straining to adjust to the dark. She can barely make out the edge of Sasuke's head and she hears the rustle of what seems to be the pillow he must have carried back upstairs.

"Can't you hear them?"

"W-Who?" Sakura fights to articulate around a yawn.


Sakura would bite back something nasty at his bossy assholery if she wasn't so exhausted, but as silence stretches between them, Sakura's hearing finally picks up on what Sasuke is likely referring to. A few voices coming from downstairs filter up the staircase to Sasuke's room and though she can't quite make out the words, she can hear one distinct male voice and one distinct female voice – distinct mostly due to its unnecessarily high-pitched shriek-laughing.

Falling back so her head is comfortably cradled in her pillow once more, Sakura aks, "What is it?"

She closes her eyes, the insistent tug of sleep already pulling at the outer edges of her mind. She's too tired for this.

"Suigetsu brought back some chick from the bar and they're going at it in the kitchen. I'd really rather not be in hearing distance."

"Uuuggghh, on a Sunday night?"

"It's technically Monday morning," Sasuke corrects, equally unamused at his friend's untimely antics. Sakura perks up just enough to briefly glance at the digital clock on the nightstand and regrets it. It's a little past 2:00 am which means she has about five more hours of sleep to get in before making a mad dash home to shower and change before class.

"Fine," Sakura grumps exasperatedly, "I don't care. Just let me sleep."

With eyes already closed, Sakura scoots her half asleep body over to the side and pushes back the blankets to show Sasuke he's invited to share her space although he's not particularly welcome. Turning over to face away from her bunkmate, Sakura's mind barely manages to compute how messed up this entire situation is. Mere weeks ago she'd be elated to the point of hyperventilation that she's sleeping in bed next to Sasuke. Now all she can do is curl her fists in frustration as she sinks lower into soothing unconsciousness.

She feels the slight shift of the mattress as Sasuke's weight is added to it.

This is just another complication.

"One, don't pick up the phone
You know he's only calling 'cause he's drunk and alone.
Two, don't let him in
You'll have to kick him out again.
Three, don't be his friend
You know you're gonna wake up in his bed in the morning.
And if you're under him, you ain't gettin' over him."

Sakura's cheek shifts comfortably against the mattress, having lost the pillow over the edge of the bed sometime in her few blissful hours of unconsciousness. In truth, her mind is still pretty much in a dim fog tapering off into the beginnings of waking. The bed beneath her is the only solid, real thing to her awareness.

Well, that and the warmth radiating against her back.

Between her shoulder blades, she can feel the press of Sasuke's face through the thin cotton of her borrowed shirt, his exhales creating a concentrated spot of heat in an already wide expanse of warmth. Scrunching her eyes shut against the unfairness, Sakura presses her own face into the coolness of the mattress to block out the reality and her need to extricate herself from this rather uncomfortably intimate situation.

Maybe if she digs deep enough she can plummet back into dreamland.

However, time is not on Sakura's side.

The first week rays of light have barely begun to peek over the horizon when two occupants of the same bed are startled completely awake to the insistent – and atrociously obnoxious – call of Sakura's rooster alarm ringtone. Sakura's reflexes are so finely tuned to its beckoning shrieks that she blindly locates the phone and turns it off in under three seconds.

Sasuke, however, is not accustomed to such a rude, rather peasant-like awakening.

Sakura's face lights up with mirth as Sasuke half falls over the side of his bed, dragging the comforter with him and away from her curled up form. With bleary, squinting eyes and hair even more mussed up than usual, he pegs Sakura with a glare that should, by all accounts, cause her to burst into flames.

Miraculously, she remains unburnt.

However, Sakura restrains the laugh threatening to break free; its strength is liable to shake the walls of the apartment. After all, she needs this disgruntled case of serious bedhead to drive her home.

"Come on, I need to get going," Sakura reminds the Uchiha slipping back into bed. She moderates her tone with a brisk, business-like attitude. Turning her back to him as she slides out of bed, Sakura pops her neck before deciding a quick trip to the bathroom is in order before she'll be good to go back to her normal routine where everything makes sense. The faster she gets out from under Sasuke's roof, the better.

Upon returning to the bedroom, Sakura frowns impatiently at the boy now claiming the middle of the bed, a pillow covering his head to block what little light is breaching his window.

Sakura stomps to the side of the bed, none too gently ripping the pillow away and flinging it away where it accidentally knocks over the small deskside wastebasket.


"Hurry it up, Sasuke. I need you to take me home."

A dull hum emanates somewhere from the general vicinity of said boy's mouth, but it's too unintelligible to decipher with his face pressed firmly into the mattress.

"Pleeeaaassee?" Sakura tries again, attempting to muster a little sweetness.

When that earns her no response, Sakura's eyes rove over the room until they alight on the object so neatly and perfectly sitting out on top of the dresser.

Grabbing the keys and being sure to give them a definite rattle, Sakura tromps back to the side of the bed one last time.

"Ooook, I guess I'll just be borrowing your car to drive myself home. See you later, Sasuke."

She barely makes it two steps to the door before Sasuke is out of bed, angrily holding out his hand for her to return his keys as he stuffs his feet into sneakers without bothering to locate socks.

"As if."

Sakura smirks in victory as she follows behind the grumpy Uchiha rubbing his eyes clear of sleep. She's never been privy to Sasuke's waking habits or morning routine, so she mentally files the information of Sasuke decidedly NOT being a morning person into her trivial information folder. Amusedly, her eyes watch as he drags a tired hand over the back of his head, fingers trying to inconspicuously work at tugging some of the untamable locks into a semblance of purposeful arrangement as he lumbers down the stairs.

Give it up, pretty boy. You can't be perfectly coiffed all the time.

But her attention is snapped away from Sasuke's half-hearted grooming to stare with disbelief at the catastrophe awaiting Sasuke and the rest of his housemates. The kitchen is in complete disarray with what looks like an imploded bag of microwave popcorn scattered across the floor and several plates smeared with some kind of sauce that is now encrusted on the ceramic. Dish towels have fallen on the floor and one of the bar stools is propped against the wall, missing a leg.

I guess Suigetsu was busy last night.

Said boy is lightly snoring in the living room, sprawled out on his back with the hem of his shirt hiked up to expose a surprisingly sculpted abdomen. Sakura watches with muted bemusement as a wandering hand scratches unconsciously at the exposed skin before falling limp once more. Her eyes next alight on a rather brightly colored head of hair spilling over the side of the couch, hair so bright, in fact, that Sakura pales at the mere sight of it.

However, her brain manages to point out to her erratically beating heart that the colors aren't an exact match, the length isn't long enough, and the girl sports a tan in contrast to the light tone Karin flaunts. Lungs deflating with a sigh of relief and adrenaline spike plummeting in a dizzying crash, Sakura snatches up her backpack, noting the same one Suigetsu had toted the previous night now lies discarded and decidedly empty next to it.

Sasuke doesn't comment on the wreckage as he unlocks the front door, but she doesn't miss the clenching of his jaw. A certain little rat is in for a reaming she almost wishes she could be present to witness.

Slipping on her shoes at the front door, Sakura looks out the window to note that at least the rain has finally let up. A slight chill leaves goosebumps creeping up her bare legs as Sakura plods tiredly behind the silent Uchiha, grumbling at the obnoxious weight of her backpack as the straps hit the same tender places around her shoulders where they always rest.

Sasuke probably got even less sle –

"Hey, pinky! Your ride is waiting."

A series of ear-splitting honks punctuate that bellowed outcry with an exuberance that leaves the street's trees barren of birds as they take to the skies in squawking indignation.

Sakura all but collides with Sasuke's back, her eyes previously having been trained on the wet ground. Head whipping up in alarm at the voice who can only be indicating herself with an unoriginal nickname like that, Sakura finds a sharp pair of shades and an even sharper set of teeth relishing the surprise overtaking her face.

"K-Kisame?" Sakura all but squeaks, edging around Sasuke for a less obstructed view to admit to herself that yes, that is indeed said Akatsuki casually lounging against the bumper of a sports car that looks way too tiny to house such a hulking beast of a man.

But Sakura has little time to offer more of a greeting as Sasuke shoulders in front of her once more, stance widening.

"What are you doing here?"

Ah, there's that condescending derisiveness she's come to know and detest.

Kisame calmly whisks his shades from his face, tucking an earpiece down the collar of his shirt. "I'm kindly escorting this young lady home," Kisame barely raises an eyebrow at Itachi's kid brother and his snotty attitude, instead opting to train his focus on the still partly gaping pink-haired girl behind him.

Uncrossing his arms and shifting his weight back onto his feet, Kisame easily glides over to the passenger side, swinging the door open wide in invitation.

"Your chariot awaits, Pinky," Kisame winks, "And hop to it. I got a schedule to keep to."

"Uh, I – "

"She doesn't need you," Sasuke huffs, reaching out to touch Sakura's elbow with every intention of steering her toward his car in the driveway, "I was just about to take her there myself."

Kisame makes a dismissive sound, eyes narrowing tightly with cruel enjoyment, "No need, kid. I'd be happy to do it for you. I know how much time you need to style that mop of yours."

Sasuke's eyes widen at the barb, keys tinkling together as his fist tightens. Sakura can't help the small peep of a laugh that escapes and she's encouraged to step forward as Kisame's grin widens. It's enough to make Sasuke break physical contact with her and Sakura looks back to his decidedly stormy countenance with an apologetic smile.

"Really, Sasuke, it's ok. You've done enough to help me out," Sakura musters as much gratefulness as she can, given the circumstances, "I'll wash your clothes and get them back to you as soon as I can," Sakura says looking down at herself with Sasuke's baggy gym shorts hanging loosely past her knees and her feet clad in contrastingly girlish sandals.

She moves past him, a bit hesitant to share a ride with another Akatsuki, particularly considering the uncertain ground she stands on when it comes to Itachi, but the need to break away from Sasuke and whatever uneasy…thing they have going on between them compels her forward.

Unfortunately, Sasuke isn't one to be ditched so easily. As she should well be aware.

Angrily, Sasuke follows suit, ignoring the warning glare from Kisame as he reaches out once more for Sakura, managing to grasp hold of her hand. Sakura turns her head, caught by surprise at Sasuke's insistence and suddenly odd pattern of initiating touch.

"What is this?" Sasuke asks, "Why is Akatsuki suddenly offering themselves up as a taxi service?" Sasuke scoffs, not backing down from the older man whose own posture loses some of its nonchalance in the face of such pompous demanding. Though he's holding onto her, this is clearly a conversation that excludes Sakura. Kisame maintains the glimmer of a smirk.

"I would think that'd be obvious," Kisame taunts, gesturing for Sakura to relinquish her backpack and pass it to him so he can stow it in the car for her.

Sakura worries her bottom lip nervously. Obviously, whatever is going on clearly involves her, and yet here she is, fairly clueless as to what in the hell Itachi truly feels for her, much less Sasuke who is now chasing after her. Is she just the rope in this game of tug of war?

Ugh, I need to get home and get ready for class.

At this point it doesn't matter. She's standing in borrowed, ill-fitting clothes, needs to shower, and will have to haul ass to make it to her recitation so she can hand in her assignment on time.

"Itachi needs to back off," Sasuke nearly growls. Sakura's eyes widen at the venom in that proclamation. For as long as she's known him, Sasuke has adored his older brother to the point of idolatry, and even if his affection has toned down as he matured, she had never believed him capable of hostility toward Itachi. Could this really be just about her or is there something deeper at work here?

"Don't be so sour, kid. Admitting defeat with grace can go a long way," Kisame says, gently prodding Sakura into the car, Sasuke's grip on her having loosened enough to pull her away without resistance now that he's been distracted.

"Oh, and in case it isn't clear," Kisame turns back to the fuming Uchiha before him after ensuring his charge has seated herself comfortably, "Itachi's won."

With that said, Kisame seems inclined to leave the young Uchiha fuming on his front lawn as he shuts Sakura's door and makes his way around to the other side. Sakura is both relieved and surprised to watch as Sasuke turns on his heel without another glance her way to return back inside his apartment, the front door slamming shut just as Kisame pushes the button to start the ignition.

Kisame sighs tiredly, backing out of his parallel parking spot as he glances at his curious passenger out of the corner of his eye.

"Those Uchiha, always so moody," he grumbles good-naturedly.

Sakura has to concur.

After a few moments of silence, Sakura finally plucks up the courage to ask one of several (read hundreds) of questions plaguing her mind.

"How did you know where I was?" Sakura asks as she takes in the tan interior of the vehicle. It still has that new car smell and is oddly roomy inside despite outward appearances. The radio is off, allowing her to hear the nearly silent hum of the tires rolling over pavement.

"It wasn't that difficult," Kisame manages to shrug against the restraint of his seatbelt, "One of our watchdogs saw you get in Sasuke's car last night and you were never spotted coming back home."

"I really need to have a word with him about that," Sakura growls under her breath, thoroughly displeased about what could practically be called stalking, "Wait! Do you mean to tell me someone just watched me find myself locked out of my own home and sitting in the rain AND they didn't offer to help?!"

Sakura's mounting irritation is broken by Kisame's bark of laughter.

"It's not that funny," Sakura mutters petulantly, "If none of that happened, I wouldn't have had to play sleepover with Sasuke."

"Ah, well, Itachi will be relieved to hear that," Kisame comments, fighting to subdue his chuckles.

"W-What do you mean?" Sakura asks, face heating for reasons she doesn't want to examine too closely.

"We weren't quite sure what you were up to. Let's just say the guy who had to let Itachi know you spent the night with his little brother nearly pissed himself," Kisame replies, not without a hint of fondness at the memory.

Sakura groans with annoyance at the implication, doing her best to tamp down on the surge of…of what? Hope? Warmth?

She really needs to speak with Itachi.

With the early hour, the roads are fairly clear of traffic and Sakura soon finds herself riding down the familiar street of scraggly lawns and tired brick buildings in need of a fresh coat of paint on the doors and shutters.

"Oh, before I forget, Itachi wanted you to have something," Kisame pipes up suddenly. With a concentrated eye on the road, his right hand shifts on the wheel as his left reaches into the side pocket on the inside of the driver's door. After a moment's worth of patting around, he triumphantly pulls it out and deposits it into Sakura's awaiting hand.

Jewelry. This has to be jewelry.

Boys don't get long, thin boxes like this for anything else. The box is small and rectangular, plain white and tied with a golden cord in a neat bow to keep the lid on. She knows Ino would be squealing with glee in her place, but all Sakura can manage is a nearly imperceptible swallow of apprehension as she prepares to reveal –

The bracelet.

Kisame comes to a stop along the sidewalk in front of her duplex, but all Sakura has eyes for is the beaded pink and green bracelet nestled atop a small rectangle of cotton padding.

"Oh! It's…"

But she can't finish the thought with words. Words don't describe the nostalgia, the bittersweet longing for childhood and friendship and carefree summers of the past that are embedded within the fabric of this piece of artisan craftsmanship. What she wouldn't do to recapture those days, and Itachi…

He knew it.

He understood that much about her at least.

Kisame eyes the girl who has apparently yet to realize they've made it to her home, so captivated by the little bracelet as she is. He had raised his eyebrow at Itachi's choice of gifts when he asked Kisame if he would do him the favor of picking up the wandering girl. Itachi certainly wasn't hurting for money and it had been Kisame's belief that women wanted gifts of a pricier commitment – gold, silver, gemstones, and the like. And yet, Sakura only has eyes for this small scrap of woven fabric found in some stall at a community art festival.

Sakura shakes herself out of her inner musings, closing the lid firmly on her gift before lifting her face up to find herself exactly where she's supposed to be.

"Oh! We're here!" Sakura hastens to unbuckle herself and grab up her belongings, giving her sincere thanks to Kisame who dismisses her with an amused wave and the joking admonishment that she better hurry or she'll get detention.

"I met you in the dark
You lit me up.
You made me feel as though
I was enough."

Despite the overcast sky and resuming drizzle on her near jog to campus, Sakura is warm with exertion and nearly panting after the rapid ascension of four flights of stairs. She knew it would be worth it to skip the horrendously slow elevator to make it in time to class and snatch her preferred seat.

With a sigh of relief, Sakura sinks into the hard plastic of her chair, slapping her completed assignment down on the tiny excuse for a desk, ready to be collected by the teaching assistant wandering lethargically up and down the aisles with a sleep-deprived stare.

She greets Shino once she's caught her breath and manages a sip from her water bottle, assuring him that she's fine.

More than fine, actually.

Admiringly, Sakura glances down at the hand resting atop her completed assignment, more specifically at the bracelet encircling her wrist.

"Just please don't say you love me
'Cause I might not say it back.
Doesn't mean my heart stops skipping when you look at me like that.
There's no need to worry when you see just where we're at
Just please don't say you love me
'Cause I might not say it back."

Author's Note: Confession: I don't have a clue where any of this is going. I have about five different scenarios as to how this whole story is going to play out romance-wise. SasuSaku, ItaSaku, SasuSakuIta, Sakura with no one, or a complete surprise! So yeah, that's where this is at right now.

Based on some of the reviews from the last chapter, I know some readers aren't a fan of Sasuke in this and this chapter seems very Sasuke-oriented. I hope this didn't come as a huge disappointment, but I had some of these interactions planned while writing the previous chapter. However, don't despair! Sakura isn't all on board the Sasuke train in this chapter. She's very confused by him. Speaking of, this is really the first time I've written his character to have a significant part and it just feels weird.

And I apologize for seemingly disappearing. Nothing is abandoned, but I'm in grad school at the moment and free time is little more than a concept at this point in my life.

Lyrics came from the following songs:

"Please Don't Say You Love Me" – Gabrielle Aplin

"Bad Liar" – Selena Gomez

"Heavy" – Linkin Park ft. Kiiara

"Break My Heart" – Hey Violet

"Bad Things" – Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello

"Lovefool" – The Cardigans

"New Rules" – Dua Lipa

"Say You Won't Let Go" – James Arthur

Reviews are fuel.

Thanks for reading!