Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto.

Rated T: Due to coarse language.

"Well my heart is gold, and my hands are cold."

"You're doing what?!" Naruto sputters, the jerky reflex of a knee sending a cascade of papers spilling to the floor from his open-ringed binder.

"Naruto!" Sakura rebukes with exasperation, moving to save her own belongings from taking a similar tumble over the edge of the bed.

Still gaping, Naruto blindly reaches a hand out to save his sliding phone. He couldn't afford a third one this month.

"I know I probably need to clean out my ears 'cause you can't have seriously just said what I think you just said," Naruto says in awe, eyes wide.

Sakura's cheeks puff out, lips pursing as she releases a huff of breath that sends her bangs fluffing upward.

"Why are you making such a big deal out of it?"

"Why are you not?" Naruto returns quickly, kneeling on the floor to collect his things while Sakura self-consciously tucks her legs beneath her, suddenly regretting sharing the news with her long-time friend. This is the sort of talk more in Ino's area of expertise, but the other blonde is currently unavailable as she's taken to the gym in the week following her birthday celebrations. All of that indulgence really called for some self-care and detox.

"Look, I need to get going anyway. Let's meet up again Thursday to knock this problem set out of the way, 'k?"

Sakura smoothly directs attention away from the elephant stamping indignantly in the room and demanding notice. Sliding off of Naruto's bed, she toes her feet into her flats and swings her backpack over her shoulder in a practiced maneuver, leaving Naruto sitting in the middle of his dorm room's floor looking utterly lost amidst the scattered lecture notes and PowerPoint slides.

"Sakuuurrraaa-chaaaannn," he whines, greatly over-exaggerating his distress as he tilts his head back to demand for divine intervention from the cracked ceiling above.

Sakura ignores his pleas for help with little difficultly. It's only on her good graces that Naruto is even passing his physics class as she essentially completes his homework for him, having taken the class in a previous semester.

How he does on the tests is entirely up to him.

Besides, it's not as though she had just told him she was shaving her head, dropping out of school, and joining a nomadic band of cannibals. If that had been the case, she could easily see his cause for concern. But no.

She had only informed him that she was intending to go to the art festival being held downtown this weekend.

With Itachi.

Sakura sighs, a mix of anxiety tinged with a hint of excitement as she waits for the ping! of the elevator to signal her transport has arrived.

Pulling out her phone to check how much time she had just invested in Naruto rather than her own mounting pile of homework, Sakura distractedly taps at her waiting texts, eyes widening as the small type sucks in her attention.

'Alert! Alert! Devil is at the door. Stay away.'

Sakura's mouth purses at the implication. It's code for Sasuke's new and unfortunate habit of dropping in at her apartment to catch her for a very unwanted conversation. Miraculously, all three times he's stopped by unannounced so far, he's either been intercepted by Temari and "persuaded" to leave, or Sakura has been truthfully out of the house. She can only imagine Temari's temper at encountering the Uchiha once again at their front door. Their stubborn, strong-willed personalities don't tend to mesh too well.

Typing back a quick thank you to her friend, Sakura ponders where to go as she steps into the elevator. Sasuke isn't one to debase himself and hang around waiting like a dog with his tail between his legs, but he can be doggedly persistent when there's something he wants.

And she's certain he doesn't want her. No, he just wants to know why his brother suddenly does.

Leaning against the mirrored interior of the elevator, Sakura acknowledges it's an answer she'd like to possess as well. Truly, it's a mystery as to why the elder Uchiha has suddenly been so forward in pursuing her. Could it really be that he'd just quietly been abiding his time in the background, longing for her, yet not wanting to interfere with his little brother's relationships?

The very idea makes Sakura snort out loud and she's thankful to be riding the elevator down to ground level alone with that unflattering outburst unleashed in the confined space.

It's preposterous. And yet, it seems to be exactly what has come about despite her careful treading of the situation. Since last week's breakfast outing, Itachi had been keeping up a daily, albeit short rapport with her through texting. The shortness of his messages doesn't come as a surprise to her – he has always been a man of few words – but the fact that any sort of conversation exists between them certainly has Sakura pinching herself from time-to-time just to ensure she's not in some dream world. She doesn't know whether to be completely dazzled by the prospect of someone like Itachi taking notice of her, or whether she should be going into hiding at the backlash such attention might come with.

Mainly in the form of Sasuke.

Because Sasuke had finally taken notice of Sakura's cold shoulder to all of his attempts at contacting her. It just wasn't reasonable that the girl that would text him every morning on her way to class and call him every night before bed would suddenly start avoiding him. Never mind that he had crushed what little self-esteem and dignity she had been scraping by on throughout their year-long relationship. No, she wouldn't just quit him cold-turkey.

Sakura mentally sticks her tongue out at the very idea of Sasuke confidently waiting around for her to come crawling back to him. She hopes it eats away at him with a slow burn that she's not acting in the way he expects her to.

There's a point at which every person breaks, Sasuke.

She had found hers.

Striding out of Naruto's dormitory and into the early evening, she slides her free arm into the other strap of her backpack, preparing to make the fifteen minute trek to her favorite coffee shop on campus. By the time she gets her order, she's confident Sasuke will have either been thoroughly berated by Temari to turn back from whence he came, or he'll eventually grow bored and irked enough to leave on his own.

Sakura smirks smugly to herself, daydreaming of Temari giving him an earful for all the neighbors to listen in on with hungry ears. He wouldn't like that, not one bit.

She knows that eventually she'll need to face him like an adult, but right now, she's feeling just a tad spiteful as a vindictive little voice inside her head tells her to give the Uchiha a taste of his own special brand of annoying medicine. Let him know what it's like to be ignored and forgotten. Surely, those were things he's never been familiarized with before.

Besides, he has Karin waiting to comfort him.

Sakura sniffs at the thought, but only partially with contempt because Darn it! it still hurts.

Pushing thoughts of Sasuke aside with a frustrated mental shove, she nearly groans in exasperation as thoughts of the other Uchiha quickly invade the vacated space. It seems she is cursed to have her head full of one Uchiha or the other.

With the sun just beginning to sink as the minutes tick ever closer to the time people begin to contemplate dinner, Sakura pulls open the door that leads into the warm, rich atmosphere of her favorite coffee shop. It's small, but comfortable. In about another week she knows the shop front will be decorated with wisps of spider webs and fat, rubber arachnids. But for now, she admires the gleam of the polished wooden counter and stainless steel espresso machine.

Java time, bitches!

Of course, Sakura keeps such sentiments to herself as she sweetly places her order with the tired looking cashier dully ringing up purchases. As Sakura pays and moves off to the side to wait for her iced caramel macchiato, she idly wonders what the weekend temperatures will be like for the nighttime art festival. She wants to dress cute for her, er, meet-up with Itachi.

"Sakura! Hey!"

Startled, one hand still pulling absentmindedly through her ruffled hair, Sakura catches the sharp blue gaze of a surprising acquaintance.

"O-Oh, hey," Sakura's tongue rolls over the greeting as though it were a question as she straightens her posture and works to fix a welcoming smile on her face for someone she's heard has a penchant for explosive violence.

Swallowing her nerves, trying to remember that nothing truly dangerous had happened the last time she crossed paths with the other members of Akatsuki, Sakura closes the distance to the fast-approaching blond.

"Still waiting, yeah?" Deidara asks, pointedly glancing down at Sakura's empty hands, but not waiting for the obvious answer, "This place is shit on getting things done quickly, but at least it's never full of those pretentious sorority girls on their phones. With the speaker on," Deidara huffs.

Sakura can sense a personal vendetta against such poor public etiquette and a small laugh escapes her before she can think better of it.

"I'd have figured you'd enjoy such pretty surroundings," Sakura jibes, referring to the primped and perfect collegiate girls.

"No substance on the inside," Deidara waves off the remark carelessly, "Completely artless."

Ino would not take kindly to such judgement.

But Sakura prudently keeps her lips sealed.

As he turns forward to share in her expectant watch of her order being prepared, Sakura is left open and vulnerable to his next statement, imparted in a considerably lower tone of voice.

"You should know that I'm not exactly here for the stellar coffee this hole in the wall boasts about, yeah," Deidara begins, eyes glancing down at the shorter woman to his side who peers dubiously back at him.

"Itachi wants you looked after, when at all possible," Deidara continues, eyes flicking away to cast a lazy perusal of the cramped room with its handful of lounging occupants, "You've been marked by him as someone important. You should know that, yeah."

"Wh-What – "


Sakura is left blinking and confused as the barista barks her name, sliding her drink forward across the counter. She is too slow to react and Deidara strides forward to the bar, claiming the order and returning swiftly to the pink-haired girl left standing dumbly in front of the large bay window.

As he presses the chilled beverage into her slack hands, he has to admit that the Uchiha has good taste, even if he would never pay the man such a compliment – even on pain of death.

"I don't understand," Sakura finally finds her voice, "You're looking out for me? Why?"

"Honestly, it's a little early to be concerned on anyone picking up on your connection with him, but Itachi has always been an overly cautious shit," Deidara shrugs, "But once people begin to see the two of you together more frequently, talk will start, and that talk will eventually and always end up finding its way to the ears of someone you'd rather it not, yeah," he explains softly.

At the call of a name decidedly not his own, Deidara picks up a steaming cup of something smelling rich and roasted before returning to a befuddled Sakura waiting expectantly for answers from him. Internally he sighs, cursing Sasori for leaving him with tailing duty for the day. It had all been rather boring to the point he broke protocol and decided to make conversation with the subject of his unwanted guard duty. It would likely be an action that would lead to him getting sorely chewed out later, but he figured the girl had a right to know her admirer – and he really didn't know what to make of Itachi's sudden pursuit of Sakura – was keeping tabs on her for safety reasons, welcomed or no.

"So," Sakura begins uncertainly, "You've been following me all day in case someone else was following me? Because Itachi asked you to?"

At his nod, Sakura's eyebrows pinch together.

"That's just creepy."

Sweeping a tired hand over his bangs, Deidara decides that this may have been a lot more trouble than originally estimated.

"Look, yeah, as you may already be aware, we're kind of well-known."

There was no need to specify who the "we" was.

"We do some…things that are a bit outside the bounds of the law and – "

"And I don't want to know," Sakura interrupts in a hushed voice, holding a hand up to ward off any forthcoming information.

"Smart girl, yeah," Deidara grins, guiding her out of the coffee shop. The chime-like tingling of the bell over the doorway pricks at Sakura's ears.

"And people, some very bad people, mind you, would love to do anything that might hurt us. It's all well and good for us to go about our lives as we please and take chances being seen out in public, alone and unprotected, but Itachi isn't about to risk your safety."

Sakura wonders what that could mean for the rest of the people Itachi would care about. Did someone watch over Sasuke? His parents?

Not to mention, she isn't about to try and clarify that she does not, in fact, think she feels so comfortable with her permanent and significant standing in the Uchiha's eyes.

It's not as though she and Itachi are dating…Right?

Oh fuck. He's taking this way more seriously than I thought he would.

As they round a corner that takes them to a slightly less shop-infested side street and into the beginnings of the off-campus housing, the first worms of anxiety begin to wriggle in Sakura's belly. She may have bitten off more than she could chew that day she accepted Itachi's invitation to breakfast.

This is all too much, too soon.

Deidara, seemingly unaware of the impending freak-out coalescing within her, sips calmly at his coffee before adding, "And of course Itachi is concerned with his little brat of a brother's reaction. He's such a little twat showing up at your doorstep every day to harass you, yeah," he snorts derisively.

"Yeah, I need to have a word with him," Sakura replies demurely, too shell-shocked to comment on the rest of everything she's trying to process. And here she thought it was just going to be another usual night of dinner, movies, and homework with her roommates.

I wish.

Deidara raises an eyebrow at this, but doesn't raise any objection or even comment on the dutiful tone with which she speaks of such an unsavory task. He knows firsthand how frustrating the older Uchiha can be; he can only guess at how much of a prick the entitled little brother is.

As Sakura slows noticeably in her walk, Deidara is stirred from his musings of setting both Uchihas on fire and ridding himself of many future headaches when Sakura's question pierces through his cloud of fantasy.

"Are you walking me all the way home?"

It's the tricky call of being an Akatsuki and interacting in a frequently personal capacity with those not involved with the organization. Deciding whether to assign someone to tail them from the shadows or making an open show that someone is under the Akatsuki's protection is a judgement call – and this particular situation is not one that Deidara had intended to be making decisions about. Especially not if he makes the wrong decision that could bring about the wrath of one particularly cruel bastard. Not that Deidara is actually scared of him or anything…

Making up his mind as they approach an intersection in an exclusively residential sector, Deidara smirks down at the girl awaiting his response and bestows her with a familiar smirk.

"If you could only be so lucky, yeah."

Boldly, he leans forward to place a chaste kiss on her cheek and turns left, knowing Sakura's path has her continuing straight ahead. Without glancing back at her stunned expression, he throws up a flippant hand in a gesture of good-bye.

"Be sure to check out my work at the art festival!"

Sakura shakes her head at the abrupt departure and the strange turn her evening has taken. She treks the rest of the walk home alone, unaware of the stealthy follower that keeps a concealed and parallel route to her own.

Deidara always finishes his job if nothing else.

"Oh, she don't see the light that's shining
Deeper than the eyes can find it
Maybe we have made her blind."

"Took a whole twenty minutes this time," Temari's frustration is bright and fierce in her near growl, "And that was after I finally gave up and slammed the door in his face"

Sasuke is turning into a real nuisance.

The only thing Sakura has to be thankful of on the Sasuke front is that she doesn't share a single class with him this semester – a truth that deflated her mood at the beginning of the semester, but now finds her grateful for their very different interests.

Sakura pats her friend on the shoulder and quickly offers to take tonight's clean-up duty off her hands in thanks. Appeased by this, Temari leans back in her chair as Sakura starts to clear the table. It's impossible for the three of them to stick to the same meal schedule on a day-to-day basis, but Ino had insisted they make an attempt at it at least a couple times a week. Said pig-girl is already occupying the living room, fluffing up the couch cushions and sorting through the DVDs scattered across the rug.

Sakura has tried one too many times to reason with Ino that the DVDs are just a waste of time. The girls inevitably always turn to Sakura's Netflix account for something to watch.

Scraping the remnants of dinner from their plates before taking them to the sink for rinsing, Sakura voices the thoughts plaguing her mind.

"I think it's about time I have a talk with Sasuke. I can't let this continue much longer."

"Truth," Temari agrees, a smirk spreading her lips, "And I want a play-by-play of when you put Ass-ke in his place."

A hiccup of a laugh bubbles forth from Sakura at the mention of Temari's newly preferred nickname for Sasuke.

"You've earned it," Sakura acknowledges, stowing the rinsed plates in the dishwasher before grabbing the disinfectant spray to wipe down the counters. It's a step in the cleaning process that her roommates tend to skip over. As she turns to attack the kitchen table her friend is still seated at, Temari's mood notably shifts as she catches Sakura's eyes.

"You need to be careful with that guy, Sakura," her eyes slide away, apparently in thought, "Both of them, really," she amends.

Sakura's repetitive wax on, wax off motion over the tabletop barely falters before she replies with a quiet, "I know."

She's not ready to reflect too deeply on the repercussions of her involvement with either of the Uchiha brothers. Either side of the coin has its own set of sticky consequences.

Sasuke is someone she's known since the early days of elementary school when the two were sorted into the same class. Over the years, he had grown from a cocky, proud little boy to a stoic, confident young man. And one glaring personality trait that had never dissipated over all their years together was Sasuke's unfortunately foul temper when he didn't get his way.

And then there was Itachi. Calm, quiet, older Itachi who had always been a prominent fixture in Sasuke's life, but had previously been delegated to a more peripheral role in Sakura's. Her perception of Itachi is fairly shallow, but if she's honest with herself, she truly likes what little she knows of him. Though his involvement in Akatsuki leaves a big question mark lingering over what kind of future the two could even have together. A very big question mark.

And still, what of Sasuke? Sure, she's still fizzling with anger and humiliation over his treatment of her, but had everything she ever felt for him just up and disappeared? She isn't certain on that one either.

"Hey, Ino doesn't know about all of his surprise visits, does she?" Sakura mutters lowly, eyes darting to the living room where she can just barely steal a glimpse of the back of said roommate's head.

"I haven't mentioned it to her," Temari returns slowly in an equally quiet tone for which Sakura is thankful.

"Good. Don't."

At Temari's puzzled expression, Sakura elaborates, "You know how she'll react. I'm already in a big enough mess, no need to pile on more drama."

Sakura knows she'll eventually need to open up more to Ino about her break-up with Sasuke, but the anger is still a bit too raw to add Ino's own special brand of self-righteous fury into the mix. She doesn't need a vengeful Ino egging her on to claim some form of retribution from her ex.

"Alight," Temari relents with a sigh, unable to take Sakura's pleading eyes any longer, "But you really do need to do something about him. My next move is to call the cops if he's going to keep me from my evening meditation."

Sakura fights to keep a straight face at the mention of Temari's newfound interest – a hobby she just so happens to know was picked up from a certain lazy genius. However, Temari hasn't known Shikamaru nearly as long as Sakura has, and Sakura isn't about to reveal that meditation is just Shikamaru's cover for taking impromptu naps.

With that, Temari stands and stretches her back before retiring to the living room, leaving Sakura to finish her clean-up routine.

Sighing as she flicks off the kitchen light and joins her friends in the living room where Ino has shoved the DVDs away and is already scrolling through the genre categories on Netflix, Sakura decides to similarly shove the Uchihas out of her mind, if not from her heart.

Taking out her handy, ever-growing stack of homemade flashcards, Sakura expertly shuffles the deck before thrusting the entire stack in Ino's face.

"Quiz me."

"Bitch. Check my calculus," Ino replies, eyes glued to the TV screen as she refuses to accept the cards without promise of payment.


"Done," Ino's blue eyes crinkle in happy triumph as she tosses the remote into Temari's unsuspecting lap.

"Are you deranged like me? Are you strange like me?
Lighting matches just to swallow up the flame like me?
Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?
Pointing fingers 'cause you'll never take the blame like me?"

"Freaking library. Ordered by the Dewey Decimal System my ass," Sakura grumbles under her breath so as not to be overheard by the small cluster of students dutifully pouring over their literature sources at a nearby table (or browsing cute puppy videos in the case of one girl).

Though if the work-study students employed through the library happen to overhear her mutterings, she wouldn't mind in the slightest. The boy that Sakura had tried to acquire clear directions from had been less than helpful, leading her to travel down several rows of bookshelves in the general direction he had indicated.

It was only by sheer luck that her eyes had snagged on a few titles that seem to be drawing her closer to what she is actually looking for.

With further grumblings of "not worth the minimum wage" and "stupid tetrapods" and even the unique "I'm just going to grow a tail and be a mermaid when I grow up," Sakura slows her travels through the closely packed stacks of books. The lighting is unfortunately dim in this section of the library where the books are well insulated from any of the natural light streaming in through the windows on the tenth floor of the library tower.

Sakura has been tasked with the assignment of reporting on an evolutionary feature she finds particularly fascinating. In truth, she realizes it's more of a busy assignment that will likely only be skimmed over (if that) by the harried teaching assistant for her biology lab, but let it never be said that Sakura Haruno turns in half-assed work.

And with pride propelling her onward, she continues to scan the titles of books that clearly have not been pulled from their dusty encampments in quite some time.

This will be the most amazing report on the mobility of lungfish ever written or so help that useless dimwit at the help desk…


Caught in her rather colorful imaginings of toppling over all the shelves onto said useless dimwit, Sakura's ears twitch at the voice, wondering if that cold annunciation of her name was merely a product of her daydreams too. Surely, she wouldn't stumble across him here within the musty confines of the library's tenth floor. Hardly anyone ventures to this place so far from the floor-level snack shop and without the boast of the skyline view of the top floor. This is a place somewhere in the middle, forgotten and unused. Why would he go here?

Clenching her jaw, Sakura's hand drops from the spine of the book she was checking out for confirmation of its call number and turns to face the figure waiting for her attention at the end of the row of books she has yet to venture down.

Something in her, old and animalistic, raises its hackles in warning of the young man leisurely closing the distance between them, strolling forward in his customary way with his hands in his pockets.

"Sasuke," she greets, forcing down the temptation to take a step back.

"You've been ignoring me."

His face is slack of nearly any emotion. All that registers across his countenance is chilly indifference, but Sakura knows that can change in a fraction of a second if she triggers his temper.

"Glad you understand that much," she sniffs in contempt. To hell with it, she wants to push his buttons.

Sasuke scowls and she internally damns him for his pretty-boy good looks that don't lose any of their power despite the ugly expression.

"What are you doing here?" Sakura presses, crossing her arms "Tired of waiting on my doorstep?"

Bet that got him Sakura inwardly congratulates herself.

"Tch. Stop being a child. We need – "

"Ooohh, so there's a 'we' now, is there?" Sakura widens her eyes in false surprise, ignoring the deepening of Sasuke's frown at being cut off, "I was under the impression we're two separate entities, much like we were for that year-long excuse of a relationship we were in!" Sakura hisses, well-ingrained manners forcing her voice to sustain low, hushed tones.

Sasuke has no such hesitancy over disturbing the peace and quiet enjoyed by the rest of the library. She knows his voice is relatively raised in comparison to hers not because he wishes to draw the unwanted attention of the nosy public, but because he couldn't care less about bothering them. If they are bothered, they should be the ones to move elsewhere, not him.

"What have you done with Itachi?"

Sakura can't help the short bark of laughter that causes Sasuke's dark eyes to narrow. He makes it sound like she's some beastly dragon that's captured a dainty Itachi to hold prisoner.

Now finding the humor in this absurd situation, Sakura places a hand on her hip, ready to let Sasuke have it.

"Please. As if I could make Itachi interested in something he didn't already have an interest in," Sakura's lips curl into a grim smirk, "He's much like you in that regard, isn't he?"

Sasuke's eyes burn and Sakura wonders if perhaps she's overstepped her bounds.

"No, Sakura," Sasuke begins, his voice scarily calm, in stark contrast with the danger practically boiling off his skin as he steps forward, "You misunderstand. I asked what have you done with him."

Sakura's eyes widen in shock at his meaning, unconsciously allowing herself to take a step back, barely registering the bump of her hip bone into the nearest bookshelf.

"What do you even care?" Sakura asks, her voice transparent and void of her earlier false bravado. She's genuinely confused, maybe even a little nervous at this newfound interest Sasuke has in her.

She can feel his breath fan across her lips as his face leers ever closer to her own.

"I have a right to know when he's laid a hand on what's mine."

Sakura doesn't miss the glint of decision that sparks through Sasuke's shadow-shrouded gaze. In one moment she's opening her mouth to protest and in the next she's shutting it at the press of cold, soft lips across her own.


What the hell is this?

Memories of an all but forced New Year's Eve kiss flash through her mind. The disappointment that lingered on her still mostly glossed lips from that brief second of contact and the surprised whoops that broke out around them in celebration despite her insides turning to quivering Jell-O at the realization of how much Sasuke hadn't wanted to do it.

This is nothing like that moment. This is…

Like Itachi.

It's so different and so unexpected that she doesn't put a stop to it. At the sensation of Sasuke's fingers splayed across her hip, she may have even reciprocated for a moment.

But something tears in her mind. A warning that this isn't right. That this will only lead to more pain, more regret, more destruction of the fragile remains of her taped together dignity.

That is what Sasuke gives her.

Sakura pulls away, a difficult feat as she finds herself leaning into the hard edges of the line of books at her back.

"What the hell, Sasuke."

She wants it to sound like an accusation, but even to her ears it's little more than a breathy, disbelieving whisper.

"I won't let him have you."

It's a declaration, of exactly what she doesn't know, or if even Sasuke knows himself. But she relishes the flame of ire that rises within her at his words.

"I'm not something to have," she hisses quietly, shrugging out of his surprisingly light hold and stepping to the side. Sasuke turns to match her movements, and she catches the old and familiar anger fighting to be unleashed, but it merely manifests in a derisive frown.

"I don't understand where any of this is coming from all of a sudden," Sakura implores for him to see the absurdity of this entire mess from her perspective, her arms fluttering in the air before falling listlessly back to her sides.

If Sakura is frazzled, Sasuke sounds even more sure of himself as he replies, "There is nothing sudden about this."

A snort of air is expelled through Sakura's nose as she lightly stomps her foot.

"Don't give me that!" she jabs a finger with surprising strength into Sasuke's chest, "Where was any of this the past year, huh?" she asks, gesturing to the space in front of the books where the two had just been sneaking a public lip lock that Sakura had only envisioned in her most secret fantasies.

She hates the heat she can feel rising to her cheeks, hates the way Sasuke's eyes alight on it knowingly and the small upward quirk of his mouth.

"And what about Karin?" Sakura's eyes narrow dangerously as she grasps onto something concrete that is sure to stoke the flames of her self-righteous anger.

"What about her?" Sasuke's eyes narrow though his tone remains careless.

"Don't play dumb with me," Sakura punctuates her sentence with a second poke of her finger, "She's been working to come between us since the very beginning! And you let her!" she adds, turning on her heel to stomp down the aisle from whence she came.

Sasuke sighs, trekking after the pink-haired girl moving away from him and grabs her hand which she yanks away to free herself, but only succeeds in drawing him closer to her.

"Karin is nothing to me. Maybe a friend. But hardly even that," Sasuke explains, and Sakura can read the impatience laced through every fiber of his being as though he has a right to be exasperated with her.

"You sure have a funny way of showing it," Sakura turns her nose up at him, this time successfully pulling her hand free of his hold as she continues to the elevator with Sasuke hot on her heels.

Deciding she'd rather not be stuck in a confined space with her current antagonizer, Sakura makes an abrupt change of direction for the stairwell, heaving it open with both arms and not waiting to see if Sasuke manages to catch it without the door smacking into his pretty, annoying face.

It would serve him right.

But the clatter of his footsteps doggedly following her crushes that wish and she quickly continues downward, not daring to spare a glance behind her shoulder as he hollers at her to stop.

"No," she bites out, "You know what, I don't care what's going on with you now, but I'd say it's just a typical, insignificant case of jealousy."

With her back turned to him, she doesn't catch the sneer that mars his face.

"That's right, Sasuke. This sudden interest in me is just a result of your jealousy over your brother suddenly wanting something you once had," and here Sakura does halt in her decent, swiveling on her heel to face Sasuke so suddenly that he nearly crashes into her.

"I'm not stupid enough to believe you actually want me back," Sakura spits, venom in her words, "You know what would happen if I went back to you? Other than the complete loss of my self-respect that is," she chuckles humorlessly, "You'd go back to being content, uninvolved Sasuke and I'd go back to being the pathetic mess that awaits any scrap of attention you carelessly fling my way."

Sakura huffs, disgusted with herself at the image she once painted and turns to resume the descent at a more moderate pace now that she's said her piece.

"And you know what?" she asks without stopping, knowing that Sasuke has slowed his pursuit after her, but has yet to give up, "I'm not going to let that happen."

She doesn't expect Sasuke to respond to that, so her heart beats erratically when he throws off her safely assumed presumptions about him.

"Me neither."

But she doesn't rise to the bait, nor do her footsteps falter as they glide down the stairs. She can no longer hear his footsteps following after her, but she can feel his eyes piercing into her back. She dares not look back at him lest his gaze stop her in her tracks.

Not able to stand another minute of the tense silence (save for her soft footfalls) or the eyes-on-the-back-of-her-head sensation as Sasuke lets her leave in peace, Sakura decides to escape his watch on the fifth floor landing. She'll find the elevator on this level and beat a hasty retreat. Sasuke can stay in that stairwell like an eerie specter for the rest of the night if he wants. She's not sticking around to stop him.

At last, after a short elevator ride and a brisk jaunt through the front lobby of the library packed with students and alive with their many conversations, Sakura bursts outside feeling as though she's just run a marathon. Her mind is exhausted and her legs feel weak enough to collapse under her own weight.

What is Sasuke doing?

What is Itachi doing?

What is she doing?

What are any of them doing in this screwed up, topsy-turvy mess she thoroughly blames on the boy roosting in the library stairwell?

Massaging her temples in a bid to stave off the headache brewing, she heads home at a slow, forced pace before one thought nearly has her freezing in her tracks in utter contempt and disbelief.

Damn it, Sasuke! I didn't get the book!

The lungfish will have to wait for another day.

"Love to watch you try and turn your back to me
But I know that any minute you'll be back to me."

"Inooooooo!" Sakura whines, pounding on the bathroom door with both fists in a desperate attempt to persuade her friend to allow her access to the bathroom, but the blonde is having none of it.

"Sorry, Sakura," an airy, feminine voice rises from somewhere behind the locked door, "The bathroom is only for friends who share in the details about their dates with tall, dark, mysterious men."

Sakura's head thumps against the wooden door.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Sakura mumbles in aggravation, before knocking her head back to let out an irritated, "Ino!"

But the blonde doesn't seem to hear her as she's well into her own diatribe that seeps through the bathroom door to Sakura's ears.

"And to think that you'd tell that Neanderthal, Naruto, before your own best gal pal about this. What did I ever do to you to deserve this?! I dress better than him, I eat something other than ramen three times a day, I'm properly toilet trained unlike him – "

Speaking of which, Sakura practically howls, "If you don't open this door right now, I'm peeing in your favorite pair of shoes. Don't think I don't have it in me, Ino-pig, because believe me, I do!" Sakura pounds on the door once more, "I've got a half gallon of iced tea waiting to be unleashed and I am willing to make good use of it to teach you a – "

"Calm down, ya psychotic freakazoid," Ino appears on the other side of the opened door, hands raised and placating as she steps aside from the evil-eyed Sakura that barges in, forcibly shoving Ino out into the hallway and slamming the door behind her.

When Sakura at last emerges from the bathroom, she isn't surprised to find Ino waiting for her like a nosy, gossip-starved creep. Sighing, she trudges downstairs for the inevitable spill session she knows her long-time friend is expecting. Dropping gracelessly into the couch cushions, wishing they were a bit plumper to swallow her whole, Sakura groans to express her displeasure, but both girls know it's all for show.

"Name your grievances," she waves her hand in Ino's general direction, the other pressed over her eyes as she collects her patience.

Ino scoffs, "Ha, as if we have all day. But fine, mainly, why does Naruto get the honor of hearing about your date with Itachi first? What else am I here for?!"

Dropping her hand from her eyes, Sakura fixes her ridiculous, overdramatic friend with an incredulous stare.

"Gee, maybe because someone was busy doing guilty work in the gym after killing her liver for an entire week." Sakura poses the sentence as some barely substantial theory and Ino pouts unhappily.

"I told you to come with me! There are some major hotties in the weight room," Ino raises a questioning eyebrow, "Not that you're apparently in need of one?"

A faint blush rises to Sakura's face as she averts her eyes from the quickly forming cat-like grin taking over Ino's face.

"Don't be getting ahead of yourself, Ino-pig. It was only breakfast."

At this, Ino's eyes pop.

"Breakfast?! As in the meal that comes after a night filled with – "

Sakura screeches, sending a rapid-fire decorative pillow into her friend's face with a satisfying smack.

Ino's expression is clearly unamused as the pillow falls into her lap.

"I'm going to ignore that only because you have more information that YOU ARE GOING TO SHARE WITH ME, FOREHEAD."

Sakura knows Ino has practically been frothing at the mouth, waiting for Sakura to come around of her own free will to share in her rendezvous with Itachi, but truthfully, school had pretty much impeded on any girl time she could appease Ino with. The fact that rough around the edges, no girly nonsense Temari was privy to more of Sakura's involvement with the elder Uchiha brother was a point she had been carefully hoping would go unnoticed.

And so, straightening her posture, fingers attacking the tasseled fringes of one of the throw blankets unfolded on the couch, Sakura divulges her early morning outing with Itachi, glosses over their short back-and-forth texts, and informs her of the date they have scheduled two nights from now.

And, reluctantly, she informs Ino of her run-in with Sasuke in the shadowy stacks of the library. Ino's baby blues look ready to pop from their eye sockets as Sakura divulges the aggressive assault on her lips and Sasuke's dogged pursuit of her down the stairwell.

Whistling, Ino drags out a low, "Daaammmnn, Sasuke is a piece of work."

Sakura heartily agrees, hugging a pillow to her torso as she contemplates the drastic change in her ex-boyfriend. As the girls share a few minutes of some rather colorful insults and criticisms of the Uchiha who has garnered their deep-seated ire, Sakura begins to feel a slight lessening in the tension that has been pooling in her shoulders for several days.

Now pacified with being caught up to speed on her best friend's suddenly chaotic love life, Ino hunts for the frequently hiding remote and settles herself beside Sakura to lazily peruse the channels of cable television. As images flash before Sakura's eyes without her truly seeing them, she vehemently tamps down the very unwanted truth floating to the surface of her mind: that kiss with Sasuke had kindled something within her she thought he had effectively destroyed the night he stood her up. Fingertips unconsciously raising to her lips, Sakura snaps out of her inner stupor, hands clenching into fists as she bites down hard on her lower lip where Sasuke had so tenderly nibbled.

She will not spare another thought for him tonight.

Gaze flicking over to the engrossed expression on her roommate's face, a smirk tugs at Sakura's abused lips.

"I need to ask you a favor."

Ino hums in response, signaling she's listening as she flips through the channels, looking for what Sakura knows will be the trashiest reality TV program currently airing.

One of Ino's many guilty pleasures.

"I need you to go get a book for me on lungfish."

Ino's nose scrunches up in confused distaste at the bizarre request.

But there's no way in hell Sakura is about to go back to the tenth floor of the library anytime soon.

"Haven't seen my ex since we broke up
Probably 'cause he didn't wanna grow up
Now I'm out and wearing something low-cut
'Bout to get attention from a grown up."

Breathing in deeply through her nose, Sakura mentally layers every last nerve she has over herself like a coating of invisible armor. She may be draped in the latest boho fashion trend sweeping across campus, but underneath the gauzy, lacey exterior with its floral prints in pastel colors, she is as hard as diamond. Sharp, bright, and impervious. She recites this like a mantra as she carefully descends the stairs in her wedges to answer the door.

I am a diamond.

She steals a glance at her reflection cast on the glass pane of the framed photograph adorning the wall.

I am a diamond. I am a diamond.

Nervous fingers rove through her carefully angled bangs one last time.

I am a diamond.

Her palm closes over the doorknob, her wrist twisting to the right.

I am a diamond. I am a diamond! IAMADIAMOND!

"You look beautiful, Sakura," a low, poised tone hums pleasantly through her ears, turning her brain to mush, "Then again, you always do."

I am chalk! Weak, crumbly, breakable chalk!

And maybe she is chalk fool heartedly pretending to be a diamond, but in that moment, Sakura can't contain the warm smile lighting up her face like a beacon as she gushes her thanks at Itachi who passes a bundle of fresh, pink roses into her arms with a small, sincere smile. It's only as Sakura rushes back to the front door a bit breathlessly, having placed the bouquet on the kitchen table, that she realizes the man accompanying her to the art festival is doing so on less than platonic terms.

Moreover, she doesn't know if the tingle in her stomach is anxiety or anticipation for what's to come.

Author's Note: Uuummm, yeah, so here's a second chapter of this. The original plan was that chapter one was just going to be a stand-alone piece with no intention of doing anything to follow up with where it left off…Except I'm a doofus and somehow didn't label this work as complete when I posted it. Then, because reviewers are awesome and asked about seeing Sasuke's take on the whole matter, I decided what the heck, I'm at a tricky point in Of Much Madness and Reason, so I might as well stall a little more on that.

Speaking of that other story I'm working (coughdawdlingcough) on, I have been slowly progressing on the next chapter – by no means is it abandoned! This story is just a side project for fun and distraction and will likely be sporadically updated, but I will attempt to give it an ending. As it stands, this story has no conclusive end pairing so that goes to show you how much I planned for this.

Lyrics came from the following songs:

"Gasoline" – Halsey

"Scars to Your Beautiful" – Alessia Cara

"Back to Me" – Marian Hill (feat. Lauren Jauregui)

"Guys My Age" – Hey Violet