|flash flashy eyes
Author: rawrchelle PM
Neji/Sakura/Gaara. AU. With the single flip of a coin, she knew. She knew where she belonged. For al2010.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Neji H. & Sakura H. - Words: 8,340 - Reviews: 45 - Favs: 94 - Follows: 6 - Published: 09-19-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5388473
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
dedication: this is a request from al2010. :) if you're interested, check out my forum. all requests are now to be dropped off there!
suggested listening: the perfect scene – mercy mercedes
"Stop staring at Sakura-chan like that."
"I'm not staring at her."
"Yes you are. You're ogling her like she's a piece of meat, you nasty closet-pervert."
"Fuck off, dobe."
flash flashy eyes
all in all, it's the perfect scene, and there's no where else that i'd rather be.
PART ONE: PRELUDE.
"Coming to Suna was the best decision we've ever made," Sakura gushed, skipping down the streets of the sweltering city. "Sasuke might even get a tan!"
"Hey, Sakura-chan, look at all of the restaurants! Let's have dinner!"
"It's four, dobe."
Linking both of her arms with her two best friends, Sakura marched them into the next air-conditioned store. "There're still so many stores we haven't been in yet! Let's go!"
"Just out of curiosity," Sasuke pointed out, "how much money will Naruto and I return with by the end of this trip?"
She grinned. "If all goes well, none."
They had entered a quirky little shop, bearing cute little accessories and unique clothing that Sakura hadn't quite seen before. This only set off the fire in her veins, and she rushed off to look at the different assortments of jewelry.
"Hey, Sasuke, what looks better?" She held up two pairs of lock-and-key earrings; one pink, and the other black.
He barely spared her a glance. "Whatever."
"The orange one, Sakura-chan!"
Finding no help from the two boys—why couldn't she have some normal girl friends?—she stared at the two sets of earrings, contemplating on which one she should get. She'd normally go for the pink, but she had a lot of pink things—and she was sure the black wouldn't be too bad, either.
Blinking in surprise, she turned towards the unfamiliar voice. She found a redheaded male, around her age, leaning against the counter for the cashier.
She held up the black pair. "These ones?"
"They'll be more noticeable against your hair than the pink ones."
"Oh. That's true." Peering at the jewelry thoughtfully and wondering why Naruto and Sasuke couldn't be as helpful as that red-haired guy, she put the pink earrings back down on the table. "Thanks."
"Gaara." The way he was looking at her without a single change in his expression was a little creepy.
She looked at him strangely. "What?"
"My name is Gaara."
"Oh." She smiled. "My name's Sakura." Now that she looked closely, he was very odd. It looked as though he hadn't slept since the day he was born, and he had an interesting tattoo on his forehead. Attractive, in an exotic way. She turned away from him and found Naruto and Sasuke lingering in the clothes section.
"Are you done?" Sasuke asked, voice blank.
Completely ignoring his question, she nodded her head as discreetly as she could towards Gaara on the other end of the shop. "That guy over there is kind of hot."
"I've told you numerous times that I'm not gay. Tell Naruto."
"I'm not gay either, teme!"
"Denial at its finest."
"I'm going to pound you to a pulp once we get out of here."
"Neither of you will have children if you guys don't shut up." Looking at both of the boys evenly and enjoying the fact that their lips immediately sealed shut, Sakura held up the earrings. "I'm going to go pay for this, so wait like good boys, okay?"
When she went to the cash register, Gaara was the one behind the till.
"You work here?"
"Yeah." He took the earrings from her and ran it under the scanner. "Five forty-two."
"I thought the price tag said seven bucks."
"Discounts go to pretty girls." Sakura averted her gaze to her wallet, realizing that counting money could be fascinating. "Would you like a bag, or do you want to wear them right now?"
"Oh, thanks. Right now would be alright." She pulled her hand away a little too quickly when his fingers brushed hers when he handed her the jewelry. She fumbled with them as she put them on, trying to look busy so she wouldn't have to make eye contact with Gaara. The entire time, he didn't look away from her. It was a little overwhelming, and just a bit awkward. Just a bit.
She sensed Naruto and Sasuke standing near her, waiting. Hastily securing the second earring to her ear, she smiled. "Thanks, Gaara."
After waving goodbye to him, the tinkling of the shop's bell rang in her ears as they left.
"Naruto, wasn't he hot?" she gushed the moment the door closed behind them, grabbing onto the blonde's arm and shaking it vigorously.
"Sakura-chan," he whined for the nth time, "I'm not gay!"
The next time she saw Gaara, she was sure it had to be more than just a coincidence.
So, Sakura knew someone. It was this super smart guy named Shikamaru, who had a girlfriend who lived in Suna. And through some nice phone calls and all, they got to spend the day at the girlfriend's house.
Which had a pool.
Oh, Sakura was going to have fun.
Shikamaru's girlfriend's name was Temari; she was an older, spunky girl who had a rather charming grin. Sakura had no idea how she and Shikamaru even found anything in common between them, but she was happy—because now she had a free pool to swim in.
And get this—Temari had two brothers.
And one of them was Gaara.
While she and Naruto were in the pool (and Sasuke in a beach chair), Gaara came out of the house in a red t-shirt and white shorts, bare-footed. He glanced in her direction, and when their eyes locked, he nodded at her in acknowledgement before disappearing again.
Odd, she thought, but kind of cute in an antisocial way.
When they returned inside a little while later, Sasuke making them drinks in a professional manner (one of the advantages of being friends with someone as socially retarded as him), Gaara appeared again. She smiled and waved a little at him, not quite sure of how to address him. He just spoke to her once in a shop, and now she was intruding into his house—was it really appropriate? She wasn't sure.
"Sakura," he said suddenly, voice a monotone—comparable to Sasuke's, which was rather impressive in itself—"I would like to speak with you."
"Hm?" Taking her smoothie from Sasuke, she raised her eyebrows at him while sipping on the straw. "What is it?"
"If you'd come with me."
It was a little awkward, following someone she barely knew around in a house she didn't recognize, wearing a pink bikini with a green towel hanging around her neck. He led her to what she assumed was his room. Opening the door, he stepped back to allow her in first. What a gentleman. (Unlike some people she knew.) Not that she was saying any names.
(Naruto and Sasuke.)
Gaara's room was messier than hers (and that was saying something). The single-sized bed was made, but everything else was out of whack. Clothes were strewn everywhere, books of all shapes and sizes scattered the area, and the desk was covered in little colorful bits and trinkets.
"You make jewelry?" she asked in fascination as she set her drink down on one of the few clear spots on the desk, admiring the beads, wire and other things that she didn't quite understand.
"All of the jewelry in that store is of my creation." Gaara came up beside her. "I would like to ask for your opinion on my latest collection."
"Oh, don't ask me," she said hastily, smiling sheepishly. "I don't know anything about this."
"It's based off of you."
That caught her off guard. She was silent for a few moments, unsure of what to say as she looked at him, his eyes even lighter than hers. "Off of me?"
"I am constantly searching for inspiration. No inspiration, no profit. You are my most recent inspiration."
"Oh. I see." She nodded, understanding now. For a moment, she had thought that he was some creeper who stalked her around the city or something—but needing inspiration to earn money made sense.
Picking up a necklace that appeared to be incomplete, he held it up against her collarbone. "It suits you."
Taking it from his hands, she inspected it closer. It was a small cherry blossom pendant set in place on a plastic, almost invisible wire. "It's cute." And it really was. "Where did you get the beads from?"
"I make those as well." He shifted a little closer to her as he reached for a ring farther across the desk. "This is also part of the set." Set on a simple silver band was another cherry blossom. "I'm thinking about making an entire flower collection."
"That'd be so cool!" Slipping the ring onto her ring finger, she held it out farther so she could inspect her entire hand. "I'm sure it'd sell." She paused. "Except for orchids, I suppose, because orchids don't seem very pretty on jewelry."
"Of course," Gaara said, nodding solemnly. "No orchids."
She smiled a little as she pulled the ring off of her finger and held it out to him. To her surprise, he took it and placed it into her palm, wrapping her fingers around it. Both of his hands enveloped hers, large and warm. It was hard to think that hands like those made such art.
"What's this for?"
"Well, I know that," she said, laughing nervously. "But why?" She felt their friendship could hardly even be considered a friendship, so therefore giving gifts at this point in time was absolutely unnecessary, and could be used for guilt-tripping later.
"Because you are my inspiration." And with that, his grip tightened around her hand, and he leaned forward and kissed her.
And it might've been the heat of the summer or the smoothie in her veins or even the adrenaline of such close contact, but Sakura pressed her mouth harder against his and kissed him back.
"Ow, my eyes!" Naruto exclaimed, covering his eyes with his hands. "No more PDA, please!"
"They're only holding hands," Sasuke said flatly—but Sakura could detect the discomfort in his voice, too. Gaara was her second boyfriend—her first being Shikamaru, but their relationship had only lasted two days and they barely even touched each other except for the initial kiss—and she was sure they didn't appreciate them showing any more displays of affection. Sasuke's eyes kept on flitting to their held hands, and it made her a little uncomfortable, too.
"Tch." Temari placed a hand on her hip. "If Shikamaru was here, I'd show you what real PDA is."
"I think we've all seen enough of you two sucking each other's faces off," Kankurou said, making a disgusted expression.
Sakura was about to laugh and say something about Naruto's virgin eyes not being able to handle it, but Gaara squeezed her hand, and she couldn't quite think straight anymore.
"Lunch?" her boyfriend suggested. It was only one month into summer—one month into Sakura's vacation—and they were spending a day at the local mall.
Naruto was suddenly very enthusiastic. "Yeah, let's! Can you get any ramen near here?"
Gaara raised a free hand and pointed to their left. "Over there." She looked at him oddly, because he was pointing right out of the food court. When Naruto sprinted away with Sasuke, Temari and Kankurou following behind him at a slower pace, she pulled at Gaara's hand to go as well.
"Gaara?" she asked in question when he didn't budge.
"We're going somewhere else," he said blankly. He was always vague about things. It was his turn to tug at her as they went in the opposite direction.
She would've expected something sweet and cliché, like taking her to the most recent chick flick that was playing, or buying ice cream for her. But Gaara did none of that. Sakura had learnt, and will continue to realize that everything Gaara did was out of the ordinary and heartfelt in the oddest ways.
He took her to an art store—and it was by far the most romantic thing that could've ever happened to her.
The place was large and colorful, smelling of paint and fresh paper. As if knowing the place like the back of his hand—which he probably did—he brought her to the crafts section, where there was an assortment of materials that she couldn't even begin naming. He then began to sift through certain materials, picking a few and moving on. Sometimes, he'd beckon her over and he'd hold a ribbon to her hair or her collarbone before turning away again, all in silence.
One might've thought it was boring, but Sakura thought it was fascinating.
Gaara was an artist. At first glance, she would've never expected it, but he was an artist. And seeing him in the midst of work was almost, if not, magic.
After paying for the supplies, they then returned to his house. He worked on the large kitchen table with the assorted ribbons, wires, clays and paints spread over the entire surface.
"What are you making?" she asked, leaning forward to see more clearly when he began to mold some of the clay.
"What would you like?" he asked right back at her.
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. He had already given her a ring—and it was more than enough. She would begin to feel guilty if he kept on making her things without her giving anything in return.
"I don't need anything," she said hastily. "Why not make something for Temari?"
"She hates jewelry."
She blinked. "Oh. Well, make something to sell, then. You never know when you need to restock on supplies, right?"
"I have two weeks' worth of extra supplies, ready to be sold at any time. What would you like?" Never once did he look up at her; his fingers worked deftly with the clay; and she bit her bottom lip.
"Well," she said slowly, "I guess a bracelet would be nice…I don't have many of those. But don't make it too fancy or anything—I don't want you to waste your time."
"My art doesn't waste my time."
And the strange thing was, even though Gaara wasn't a person of many words, nor was he someone who lived and breathed physical contact, Sakura found him to be one of the best boyfriends ever (not that she had much to compare to). Because now she knew, relationships weren't always based on how much you made out, or how many candlelit dinners there were.
She never wanted it to end.
She jinxed herself. That was probably it.
"You're an intelligent person," he was saying. "By now, you should know what kind of person I am."
Swallowing, she nodded once. With the way Gaara was talking to her, she was sure this wasn't going to end well.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut our relationship short." His tone was detached, not revealing anything he might've been feeling underneath that cool demeanor.
At his words, Sakura wasn't sure of what to feel. "Why? We don't have any problems, or anything." And if he said something stupid and cliché like it's not you, it's me, she swore, she was going to strangle him.
He was quiet for a moment before he spoke again. "I'm not an emotionally stable person. You should be aware of that." She did know. One time he had lashed out at Naruto because he had kissed her on the cheek—something that they did quite often to show their close friendship and affection. She thought what Gaara did was a little possessive, but it was sweet.
"But I'm okay with that," she insisted. "Really."
He looked at her evenly. "I'm not." She was sure her expression was crestfallen at his words.
"What do you mean?"
A long sigh escaped his lips and he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I live in Suna, Sakura, and you in Konoha. You're entering your first year of university—I'm never going beyond high school. I'm an artist, and you're striving to be a surgeon. We're very…different."
"There's nothing wrong with being different!" Sakura protested. "There are a lot of couples who are basically polar opposites!"
"The main problem is the distance. I'm not going to go as far as to say I don't hold feelings for you anymore, but the distance makes me feel insecure." Oh, so the problem was him, and not her, after all.
She bit her lip. "It's not like I'll do anything behind your back…"
"You won't," Gaara agreed, "but you'll be tempted to."
Okay. Now, she was just angry. Did he just accuse her of wanting to be with someone else? Because she would never do that, long distance relationship or not.
"You know what," she snapped, "fine. I'd rather not go out with someone who thinks of me that way—" She was cut short when he grabbed her arm and yanked her towards him, successfully catching her in a helpless position as he kissed her hard.
Was this guy bipolar, or something?
When he pulled away, she was blushing furiously, breathless, and unfortunately, not angry at all anymore.
"I don't regret you," he said, voice low. His breath was warm against her lips, and it made her head spin. "And if we meet again under different circumstances, and you're not seeing anyone, I will undoubtedly sweep you off your feet again."
She didn't know if that was a good or bad thing, but it left her aching inside.
PART TWO: CRESCENDO.
Since the whole Gaara incident, Naruto and Sasuke had taken care to not mention the redhead. And even though thinking about him still dampened her spirits, Sakura didn't think badly of him. Because Gaara wasn't a bad person. She knew that. In his own way, he had showed that he cared.
He set her free.
For now, her top priority was school. Being a surgeon wasn't exactly a stroll through the park—it was a long and tedious path, and it took up every moment of her time. She was far too busy to remember how Gaara's lips tasted or how her finger felt bare, because his ring was now at the bottom of her desk drawer. She was even too busy to look for someone new.
And that was a good thing.
She didn't plan for anything big or irrational to enter her life anytime soon—but of course, things just always had to go wrong.
There was this theory that Naruto knew everyone. It was almost entirely true; most of Sakura's friends were her friends because they were also Naruto's friends. And it wasn't a bad thing—especially for Naruto. He always got help from everyone.
Apparently, there was this girl that he was expressing a little interest towards. Her name was Hyuuga Hinata; a quiet girl, but really compassionate once you got to know her. Her cousin, who was only a year older than Sakura, attended the same university as her—taking all of the same courses as well. He was apparently aiming to be a surgeon, just like her. He was offering to tutor a few of his underclassmen—and she jumped at the first opportunity.
Don't get her wrong—she wasn't stupid. Her marks were exceptional, and she was one of the top in her class—but sometimes, that wasn't enough to get into medical school. So she was going to take every chance she got.
Hyuuga Neji officially became her tutor two months into the school year.
It didn't take long for her to realize that he was a "no play, all business" type of person; perfect for the career he had in mind. He was quick and diligent, and there were points when she found it hard to keep up, but he kept her on her toes, and she liked that about him. They occasionally spent lunch together, either reviewing or making small talk, and she found that, despite being a little socially inept, he was rather nice company—just like Sasuke.
(Once in a blue moon, she would compare Neji to him, and she'd think about how they were completely different, and how Neji was everything he never was.)
(Which also meant that he was everything Neji never was.)
And somewhere along the lines, she sunk. She didn't like to say she fell, because falling would be unexpected and quick—and Neji was anything but. It was slow and unnoticeable, until it was too late and she was stuck.
Maybe he was rebound. She wasn't sure. But so far, Gaara's words had been right, and it made her a little angry with herself.
"Of course, sulfur also helps with detoxification—Sakura-san, are you listening?"
Startled out of her reverie, she sat up a little straighter in her seat. "Yeah. Sorry." The library was stuffy and she was tired; it was difficult to pay attention.
(And generally, she found it difficult to pay attention to anything when Neji was around.)
It was nearing Christmas before her obvious interest in her tutor leaked out to anyone.
The first to realize was Sasuke. He had always been sharp; an observer, rarely saying anything about what he saw. Sakura never noticed him watching her carefully when she interacted with Neji—she never noticed anything but Neji when she was with Neji.
The second was Hinata. Ever since Naruto had spoken to her more, she had spent more time with the rest of them. Of course, the moment Hinata spoke her thoughts, Naruto burst out in loud indignation about how Neji wasn't suitable and what the hell, Sakura-chan, what happened to Gaara and Neji doesn't even have pupils! Oh, not that it's bad, Hinata-chan—
Needless to say, it was an eventful day.
"Neji-nii-san doesn't make advances," Hinata had told her. "Not until he's sure he'll have the upper hand, at least."
"I'm not even looking for a boyfriend," Sakura had replied, trying to appear nonchalant as she flipped through her notes and filled out a review package. True; she wasn't looking for a boyfriend—
She was looking for Neji.
The Christmas break only provided her with minimal amount of homework. She finished it within the first two days.
This posed to be a problem—because now, she had too much free time on her hands, and free time always caused her mind to wander. To bad places.
She spent the majority of her days with Naruto and Sasuke—something she was grateful of, because ever since school started, she had been seeing less and less of them. She was working towards her own goals, while they were working towards theirs. They had no classes together—they were even in entirely different faculties.
"I think," Naruto said, licking clean a finger that had cupcake batter on it, "we should have a Christmas party. With booze and everything, 'cause we're legal now."
"I oppose," Sasuke deadpanned, never stopping with mixing the batter in the bowl. They were going to separate it later and add different food coloring to it so they could make rainbow cupcakes.
(She loved rainbow cupcakes.)
"On the contrary," she said, tone clipped and business-like (she liked to talk like that, because it made her feel smart and like a surgeon), "it might be okay without the alcohol."
"But it's no fun without the alcohol!" She knew Naruto was frowning without even looking at him. "I was even thinking of spiking Sasuke's drink so he could finally lose his virginity."
"Fuck off, dobe."
"C'mon, man. We're nineteen. Sakura-chan's a girl so it's okay, but us guys can't still be virgins. I'm determined to get laid at our Christmas party."
"If we're going to have booze there, we're not going to have a Christmas party at all," Sakura snapped. She went ignored, though.
Sasuke turned away smugly. "What made you assume that I was still a virgin?"
There was a long pause.
Sakura spent most of Naruto's Christmas party sitting on the couch with Sasuke. She wasn't much for parties; she'd rather spend a Friday night reading than out in a club.
This year was a lot quieter than the past ones; Christmas carols were playing in the background and people were yelling at each other as they played Wii Sports on the television. Others were just talking and playing board games over bags of chips and soda.
"Merry Christmas," she said conversationally to Sasuke, smiling.
Just then, Naruto bounded up to them, grinning. "Sakura-chan, will you dance with me?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "To what? Christmas carols?"
"Heh." The blonde scratched the back of his head. "Why not?" Jingle Bells was currently playing in an upbeat groove. "I could crank up some All Time Low, if you want—"
"No, it's okay," she said hastily, standing up. Naruto was known for his All Time Low obsession. It was nastier than it was admirable, more times than not. "Let's dance." Turning around, she faced Sasuke. "Do you want to come too?"
Naruto's warm hand enveloped hers when he pulled her until they were in the center of the living room. Sakura felt pretty stupid, jiving to Jingle Bells while others were doing normal things—but it only took a minute or so before Kiba dragged Hinata into dancing with him as well. Lee seemed to really be getting into it, pulling a poor Tenten along. Ino had even gotten Shikamaru to do it.
"Oi, teme!" Naruto called towards Sasuke, who seemed perfectly content, sitting by himself on the couch. "She's yours!" And before Sakura could understand what he meant, she was spent spinning uncontrollably towards Sasuke.
What the hell. What the hell. Who even did that in real life?
What was even more ridiculous was that Sasuke actually stood up and stepped forward to catch her. She was teetering dangerously on her feet as she spun, but he caught her, with that arrogant smirk of his.
Why was she friends with these two, again?
"I'm glad you didn't let me fall on my face," she muttered as he helped her steady herself on her feet. "But that's pretty much all I'm glad for."
"Hn." Sasuke's hand, large and dry, held hers as he raised her arm around her so she was hugging herself. "Hyuuga," he said, voice a little louder so someone from farther away could hear him. Sakura visibly stiffened at the name. She was sure he was talking to Neji; he addressed Hinata by her first name.
Neji had been a presence she had tried to avoid during the entire party; she wasn't used to seeing him outside of school, and for purposes other than studying, so it would've been awkward if she talked to him. She had intended to stay as far away from him as possible for the entire night.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Neji look over in their direction. He was, like Sasuke, sitting on a couch like an egotistical loner.
Sakura was filled with dread the moment Sasuke spoke. "Take care of her." And she was being spun again.
What the freakin' hell.
She forgot about being angry at Naruto and Sasuke and how she was going to castrate the both of them once the night was over the moment she bumped into a body—one which she was very positive was Neji's.
"Sorry," she muttered, cheeks flaring as she pulled away and straightened her sweater. She took care to not look up at him.
"That's quite alright." His voice never ceased to send butterflies to her stomach and her heart pounding in her ribcage. "Would you like to dance?" By now, Jingle Bells had ended, and Silent Night had begun playing. She blanched.
"However, I am not educated in this type of dancing." When she finally got the courage to look at him in the face, he was gesturing towards the other people who were slow dancing, arms locked around waists and necks. "Would you mind teaching me?"
"Oh, so I'm the teacher this time around," she said playfully, trying to calm down her nerves. "It's pretty simple, really. You just put your hands on my hips—" Her voice promptly got stuck in her throat as he did as he was told, his hands falling to place at her sides. "Yeah. Like that. And my hands go here." She placed hers on his shoulders.
And that was good enough for her. Ino had herself practically glued to Shikamaru, but she and Neji had some good distance between them. It would've been incredibly awkward otherwise. Her hands had grown sweaty, and the silence between them was palpable. Sakura searched for a place to look—anywhere but at him.
"How are your studies coming along?" Neji said lightly as they swayed to the music.
"They're okay. I'm done all of my homework already."
"Even the extra workbooks I assigned you?"
"Yes, sensei." A smile played on her lips. "And you? Don't forget that you're a student too."
"I do the majority of my homework during class."
"Oh, right. Sorry, I forgot that you were a prodigy. Excuse me for my moment of blatant stupidity."
"Your sarcasm never fails to dent my ego in unexplainable ways." The more she spoke to him, the less tense it got—until she felt his grip tighten on her hips for a moment before growing loose again. She was sure he noticed her stiffen for that split second.
"It's okay. You degrade me just by being around me."
"And how does that work?" His tone was lilting; she could tell that he was half genuinely curious, and half amused.
"Your presence constantly belittles me," she muttered. "I think you have a superiority complex."
"I see." His brow knots in mock concern. "I suppose I must spend minimal time with you, then. I wouldn't want to ruin your self-esteem." Just as he dropped his hands from her waist and began to pull away, Sakura panicked and yanked him by his shoulders so he stumbled forward towards her. (If anyone ever asked, it was a muscle spasm.)
"No, it's okay," she said hastily, wrapping her arms around his neck for a sense of stability. Because of that, he stood much closer to her than before. "I-I'll be alright." There was a pause, before his arms locked loosely around her waist, more secure than before.
And suddenly, the room got that much warmer.
At this rate, Sakura was going to go mad.
Throughout the evening, she and Neji had drifted in an out of conversations as they mingled and spoke to different people. Sasuke was up and about, talking to (or maybe just standing around) Naruto, so she couldn't sit with him anymore.
But that was the least of her troubles. Her problem? Well, see, it was this thing called a certain Hyuuga driving her up the walls.
Neji was a wonderful person. Of course he was. Why else would she be utterly infatuated with him? The thing was, after their little dance, he had done so many…unnecessary things that didn't fail to send her stomach into a pathetic spasm of butterflies.
Like brushing their hands. Surely, there was more than enough space at the refreshments table so he didn't have to bump into her and graze his hand along hers when he reached for the lemonade pitcher? And since when was the couch small to the point that he'd have to sit close enough so their thighs were touching? Every time he did something stupid like that, her heart stopped beating for a moment, or she just forgot to breathe. Surely, it couldn't be healthy.
But since when had she ever been healthy?
When the party was coming to a close, she was rushing Sasuke to his car so he could drive her home. She had gotten her weekly—monthly, maybe—fix of Neji. She couldn't take anymore.
Sasuke, however, seemed to have a different idea. He very much enjoyed taking his time saying goodbye to Naruto (for once in his goddamn life), which gave Neji all the more opportunities to approach her again. What was up with him tonight? Did someone spike that lemonade he drank?
"Sakura-san." She stiffened visibly when her voice was called. There was only so much she could take in one night.
"Yes?" Her voice was strained, but her smile was genuine. She was happy that Neji wanted to talk to her a lot, but she was only a girl. Not a superhuman.
They were outside in the cold. She wouldn't have been able to make out the features of his face, if it weren't for the colorful Christmas lights decorating Naruto's house. Taking her hand and nearly killing her from a heart attack in the process, Neji slipped a small package into it. "Merry Christmas." And with that, he left.
What the hell was up with him?
When she was finally in Sasuke's car, she unwrapped the gift, hands trembling slightly. Upon seeing it, though, she couldn't help but smile. It was a scalpel keychain—he knew exactly what would tickle her fancy.
There was also a note attached.
Noon at the local skating rink on Christmas day. I'll be waiting.
Neji's touches were like ice, kisses like fire, and whispers like cold water trickling down her spine, sending shivers throughout her entire body. When with him, she didn't even have time to scold herself for being everything Gaara said she was. When with him, she couldn't even compare the two boys. Every moment, Neji was one step closer to having her in the palm of his hand. Every moment, although moving slowly, he was taking possession of her.
Slow and steady wins the race.
PART THREE: DEVELOPMENT.
"Sakura-chan." It was early April when the snow finally began to melt. "Y'know what I heard the other day?"
"What?" She didn't even look up from her homework. Over the course of her life, she had learnt to listen to Naruto and do homework at the same time. Being friends with him allowed her to train and refine her multitasking skills.
"Gaara's visiting Konoha."
Her pen stopped momentarily on her paper before moving again. "Really."
"Yeah. We're all going to hang out. You're coming too, right?" When she didn't answer, Naruto added, "You can bring Neji too, if you want. I'm bringing Hinata-chan."
"Mm." She twirled her pen in her hand and looked up at him, tucking a lock of pink hair behind her ear. "Maybe. I'm not sure yet." Because, truth be told, she still wasn't sure what would happen if she saw Gaara. She wasn't sure if her old feelings would resurface, or how he would react if he knew that she was doing exactly as he had predicted. There were a lot of things about Gaara that made her afraid. He thought quickly and acted on these thoughts just moments after—which were what made him excellent at his craft.
"You should! It'd be fun!" Naruto's page was empty in front of him, but clearly, homework was at the bottom of his priorities list. "We're meeting up this weekend. You have some time, right?"
"Maybe." Shifting her full attention to the worksheet in front of her, she tuned him out.
There were more important things to do than to attempt untangling the large, tight knot that her heart had tied.
Over the course of their friendship—and now, relationship—Sakura had told Neji many things about herself and her life. One of those things was Gaara.
He knew everything there was to know about the redhead, and she was completely fine with that—but she really wasn't ready for what Gaara had in store for Neji. Gaara was a spontaneous, unpredictable person. Sporadic and bright. The complete opposite of Neji.
Despite all of her insecurities, though, she ended up going to the get-together anyway. She blamed it on Naruto for encouraging her. She blamed it on Neji more for backing him up for once in his life.
"You're never going to know what you're missing," Neji said, tilting his head to the side. "We're still in the first stages of our relationship, and neither of us are too attached yet." This stabbed her a little, because she was completely attached to him. "It's better to resolve things now than later."
"But it's unfair to the both of you," she protested, but her argument sounded weak.
He regarded her, his pale eyes hard. "I refuse to date someone who doesn't know if she wants to be with me, one hundred and ten percent." She swallowed at this, shrinking away from him. "And I'm sure Gaara doesn't want you doing anything that'll make you unhappy."
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she found it completely stupid that two amazing guys like Gaara and Neji would even consider liking her.
"I feel like…" She paused, searching for the right word. "I feel like Bella."
There was a long silence.
"Do me a favor"—Neji's voice was calm and collected—"and never compare your life to Twilight ever again."
"I hate Twilight, but it's true! I feel disgusting!"
"Sakura-san. Shut up. Just go."
Which was how she found herself in Shikamaru's backyard, roasting herself a hot dog. It seemed lately that she and Sasuke were growing much closer, as they were spending a lot of time together during parties and get-togethers, off in the corner or on the side.
"Why aren't you talking to him?" Surprised, she turned towards Sasuke. Since when did he ever speak first?
"There's nothing to say," she said, knowing immediately that he was referring to Gaara. "It'll be awkward."
"Are you going to let awkwardness stop you from solving a problem that can only be solved now?" She glared at him, because as of late, she realized, he was being really straightforward, and she didn't like that. She used to hate him for his cryptic messages, but maybe those weren't so bad after all.
"I don't have a problem," she retorted, turning away from him and biting into her hot dog stubbornly.
"You can fool the world, Sakura, but you can't fool me and Naruto. We've been friends for years."
She rolled her eyes. "All you've ever cared about was stealing Itachi's nail polish."
"All you've ever cared about was your abnormal hair color."
"It's better than yours, Mr. Duck-Ass."
Sasuke's eyes flashed. "Go. Talk to Gaara."
"I don't want to!"
"Do you want me to tell Naruto about that sexual fantasy you had of him?"
"It was not a sexual fantasy! It was an unintentional dream!"
"You woke up moaning his name."
"Do you want to have children, Sasuke?"
He backed off a little at her comment, but didn't surrender. "You know this is for your own good. Have I ever done anything that'd be bad for you?" She turned away indignantly, because she knew he was right. Damn Uchiha.
Just as she was about to gather the courage to talk to Gaara, though, she realized she didn't have to. He approached them on his own.
Sasuke, being the wonderful friend he was, stood up and left so they could talk in peace.
It was silent between her and Gaara for a while, and she found great interesting her hot dog. Everyone else was shouting and chasing each other around the backyard, but it seemed so far away. Especially when her heart was beating this fast, and Gaara was sitting on the bench right next to her.
"You seem like you're doing well," he said finally. Had his voice gotten deeper?
"Y-You too," she mumbled, blushing a little. Just hearing him reminded her of how he used to whisper in her ear petty words that always made her heart flutter. "How have you been?"
"The usual. Taking care of the shop. Making jewelry."
She nodded. "That's nice." Now that she thought about it, she was a terrible conversationalist.
They sat there for a small number of minutes, watching people talk and laugh (why wasn't she with them?) while she sat there, having a civil war with herself. When Gaara spoke again, she nearly jumped from surprise.
"Have you found someone new?"
Sakura took a moment before answering, because she wasn't sure what he was expecting to hear—what he wanted to hear. But she had always been a terrible liar, as Sasuke had never failed to point out.
"Does he treat you properly?" His tone of voice didn't sound any different—he sounded detached, almost. Indifferent. Not there.
"He treats me really well." Her tone went quiet. "I suppose you were right."
"I'm rarely otherwise." She didn't know what to say to that, but it seemed like she didn't have to say anything. Standing up, Gaara looked down at her, bright eyes staring without hesitance. "My time's limited, so I'm going to talk to others. I hope you have a good day, Sakura."
She swallowed, almost wanting to ask him to stay. "You too."
"You're confused." It wasn't even a question.
"Shut up, will you?" she snapped. "I feel like a whore!"
"No need to. You're not the only one who goes through things like this." She glared at him, but knew he was right. But that didn't stop her from feeling what she was feeling—and she really wished it did.
Sasuke was one of the most perceptive people Sakura knew. With one glance, he could see right through her.
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked.
Her shoulders slumped. "I don't know."
Talking to Gaara—for however short amount of time—had made her realize that she hadn't lost her feelings for him quite yet. But at the same time, she knew Neji wasn't rebound—because she liked him just as much.
She hated herself. Really.
Sasuke's dark eyes burnt holes in her head. "I'm going to toss a coin," he said flatly. "Heads is Gaara, tails is Neji. You choose whoever the coin chooses."
"What—but that's unfair!" she protested. "That's completely based on chance and luck!"
"It's not chance and luck if you're unbiased." His words caught her, and she fell silent. Who did she want to pick? What would be morally correct? "Are you biased?"
Her gaze fell to her feet. "I don't know."
Sasuke looked at her for a moment longer before placing the coin on the nail of his thumb and flipping it. She opened her mouth in surprise and reached out to stop him, but froze when he caught it and slapped it onto the back of his hand. She waited, tense and impatient. He peeked under his hand to see what it was, but didn't show her.
"What is it?" Her voice was quiet.
The way he was looking at her without a sign of hesitance unnerved her. "What do you want it to be?"
And she clenched her fists, because she knew, at that moment, when the coin was flipping in the air, who she wanted to be with. Her hand fell back to her side, and she swallowed.
Sasuke's tone was soft, lacking the cold edge it usually had. "Now you know." Slipping the coin back into his pocket, he walked away.
PART FOUR: DIMINUENDO.
Neji appeared surprised to see her at his front door. "Sakura-san," he greeted.
Her bottom lip quivered, and she bit if stubbornly to keep it from doing so. "Hi."
His expression darkened immediately. "What's wrong?" He moved away from the door so she could come in. Trust him to be able to tell that she wasn't in the brightest of moods. But then again, she always wore her heart on her sleeve.
"I…" She swallowed. "I talked to Gaara." She didn't move from her spot on the doorstep.
He raised an eyebrow. "And?"
Sakura opened her mouth, but found that it was difficult to say. She had practiced it in front of her mirror several times before coming, but it really was different when it came to the real thing. She couldn't believe she was doing this. Just thinking about it made her want to curl up in bed and not come out for a week. At least.
He pursed his lips at her silence. "Your heart doesn't belong with me."
"No, that's not it," she said immediately. "Well, it is, but…it isn't."
"I told you I refuse to date someone who doesn't know if she wants to be with me fully and completely." His tone was clipped, and he paused. "But that doesn't mean that we can't be friends." His lips were pursed.
What was she doing to him? What was she doing to herself?
The all-too-familiar lump at the back of her throat formed, and before Neji saw her eyes brimming with tears, she stepped towards him and brought her hands to his face, pressing her mouth against his, one last time. Because his touch and his taste and the way he talked to her when they were alone wasn't something she wanted to let go of yet. So for that moment—
She pulled away, when all she wanted to do was never stop.
"It's not fair," she said, voice cracking. "Not towards me. But towards—towards either of you. You and Gaara, I mean." She swallowed. She was babbling. "I mean, to like the both of you—I didn't even realize I still had feelings for him until I talked to him—it's not fair."
His face was still between her hands, and his pale eyes regarded her evenly. "So you chose neither."
Breathing in deeply, she dropped her hands and took a steady step back. "Yeah."
There was a long moment of silence, before Neji bowed his head, shoulders shaking in quiet laughter. In Sakura's opinion, it seemed a little broken. Her heart lurched at that.
"I'm glad I found you," he said quietly, looking up to meet her eyes again.
She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Me too."
And she meant it.
She sat beside Sasuke on his couch, watching her favorite movie, but not really watching it.
"How do you feel?" Sasuke's voice was blank.
She laughed, sounding a little empty. "I'll be fine by tomorrow."
"You've been crying on and off ever since you set foot into my house."
"The Titanic is a touching movie, okay?"
"How does it feel, having the girl of your dreams confide in you about her romantic endeavors, when all you want to do is take her for yourself?"
"Heh. I didn't know you had feelings."
"Whatever makes her happy."
"Good man, Sasuke. Good man."
notes: THIS IS THE LONGEST FREAKIN' ONESHOT IN MY HISTORY OF ONESHOTS. THIS IS TOO MANY WORDS FOR JUST A ROMANCE. and this is also the first time i've written gaara/sakura of any kind, so i hope it's not too bad. feedback would be great.
BY THE WAY, SAKURA CHOSE NEJI. BUT SHE JUST WASN'T READY FOR A RELATIONSHIP YET. YEAH.
I HAVE SEVERAL ANNOUNCEMENTS:
1. requests will now be dropped off at my forum. things are just easier to manage that way.
2. for those who follow me on deviantART, they'd know that i posted some emo original stuff. (because all original stuff must be emo, yeee.) they're now going to be published on my fictionpress. for those who are interested, the link is on my page, filed under the story ugly words on pretty paper.
3. school really is getting to me. on top of eleventh grade (and ib, no less -dies-), i have two extracurricular choirs, piano, and music history. so i am so sorry for the pathetic updates.
4. i miss you guys. and your reviews. :(