This fic was written for entirely therapeutic purposes, so I can't say if it's any good. But still, I felt like sharing with you guys so I hope it will make up somewhat for the time I've been gone.

My muse is finally starting to show signs of life so I hope my writer's rout will get better. This will be posted in two parts… the second chapter should be up by the end of the week. You can expect some mature content in that one.

Looks like I'm growing fond of these two-shots.

There's some people I want to thank for helping me with this fic:

Mitsuki, for giving me the visual of Gaara strapped to a bed that triggered the idea for this story.

Zelha, for the brainstorming of the title (which ended up being something else altogether!) and for providing the name of Sakura's ex. Just a little therapy for our recent break ups.

Insomniawatcher, who led me to the Damien Rice song that provided the exact inspiration I needed.

This one goes out to all three of you.

Hope you like it!


What am I darlin'?
A whisper in your ear?
A piece of your cake?
What am I, darlin?
The boy you can fear?
Or your biggest mistake?

Cheers Darlin', Damien Rice


PART I

~xxx~

"Don't worry dear, you'll get over this soon," Ino said softly while she reached out to take Sakura's hand. The pink haired girl held her fingers tightly between hers for a few seconds before letting them go.

They were sitting outside one of the city's cafés, having a hot cup of cappuccino under the afternoon sun. It had been Ino's idea to go out for some coffee and Sakura appreciated how her friend used very subtle and discreet ways to get her out of the house when she most needed it. Ino didn't throw your feelings of hurt and loneliness in your face nor did she force you to talk about things. She simply let you speak what you wanted to speak and was there for you when you needed her.

Sakura knew she was extremely lucky to have a friend like Ino and she appreciated her efforts to cheer her up immensely. She had been wallowing in misery inside her 3rd floor apartment for days and she really needed to get out again.

In the history of her life she had gone through some notorious break ups, but this one had to be the worst of all.

There wasn't much you could do when you found your boyfriend in his bed with another woman.

She had relived the scene a thousand times inside her mind and she still couldn't believe what her eyes had seen. Shune was not the type of man who did this; he was not the type of guy who lusted after women. He was an intellectual, an educated man deeply involved in his medical research. His profession was his life. He was not some kind of babbling idiot whose neurones were filled with testosterone. He simply didn't do this.

But then again, he did.

Now, after all was said and done, Sakura didn't believe anything he had ever told her, even doubting his devotion to his medical investigations. Come to think of it, he probably used them as an excuse not to see her, as an excuse to prance over to the nearest room with the bimbo she had seen on his bed. It just went to show you, no matter how much you thought you knew a person, they would always manage to surprise you. Sometimes in the worst kind of way.

"Earth to Sakura," Ino said, snapping her fingers in front of her face.

She blinked a couple of times, realizing she had lost herself in her thoughts… yet again.

"You really should stop thinking so much about it," her blond friend remarked patiently. "I know it's hard not to do it but you'll only torture yourself more than you need to if you do so."

"I know," Sakura replied weakly, taking a sip from her double-cappuccino.

"He's a pig and that's it," Ino added as she drank from her own mug.

"The term 'pig' would be a terrible understatement," Sakura replied, emerald eyes hardening.

Ino instantly knew it was time to change the topic. "So, are we going to Lee's dinner party?" she asked.

"I was thinking about going," Sakura replied thoughtfully.

"We could go just for a little while," Ino said, relieved to realize her friend had taken the bait and had started talking about something else. "If you get tired we can leave early."

"Yeah, sounds like a good idea," Sakura replied, trying to muster as much enthusiasm as she could. She was aware she would only be able to handle the company of a crowd over a relatively small period of time. People were bound to ask questions about her personal life and she really wasn't in the mood for talking about what had happened. It was enough torture to relive the experience by herself already without having anyone else remind her of it.

But she also knew she needed to get back on track and needed to resume her normal life. She wasn't about to stop doing the things she liked just because of some jerk. On any other occasion, she would've been helping Lee with the preparations for his party! Sakura really needed to go back to being the woman she was before Shune and there was no better way to do it than jumping head first into the fray. Still, she wasn't about to overexert herself; she knew her limitations well. A broken heart needed time to heal and she planned on giving herself just that.

Even if the sleepless nights were long and filled with tears.

"You're doing it again," Ino scolded as she snapped her fingers in front of Sakura's face once more.

"Sorry," she apologized, "I just can't seem to help it."

Sighing in resignation, Ino decided to let the matter drop. She looked over her friend for the umpteenth time that day and didn't like what her eyes were seeing. Sakura was pale, with dark rims around her eyes tarnishing her pretty face. It was clear she hadn't been getting enough sleep and had been crying more often than not. Ino knew this was usual post-break up behaviour and that it would end soon enough. But still, she didn't like seeing her energetic and happy friend like this.

If she could only hire a professional assassin to go after the bastard… a girl could dream, couldn't she?

Ino shook her head and dismissed such thoughts from her mind. It seemed Sakura's introversion was rubbing off on her. Both of them needed a distraction, desperately.

"Do you want to catch a movie?" Ino asked.

"What's playing?"

The blond asked the waiter for a copy of the local newspaper and a few moments later, she was going over the cinema schedules. There were a couple of romantic comedies, which she knew they should definitely avoid due to obvious reasons. There was a detective film playing but it probably required one's full attention to understand the plot, something she knew Sakura wasn't really capable of pulling off at the moment. Finally, Ino settled for an action film where not much thought was required and that offered a healthy dose of violence for those who wanted to wring the necks of every cheating idiot on the planet.

Sakura wholeheartedly agreed with her choice.

They paid the bill and made their way down the street, both of them looking forward to some much needed diversion.

-XXXXXXXXXXX-

Being alone in her apartment was, by far, the worst part of the day for Sakura. In those moments when she found she had nothing to do and there was nothing worth watching on TV, her mind tended to diverge and it would usually go in the direction she had been trying to avoid all day.

She found herself climbing the stairs of Shune's house after finding the front door unlocked. It was a custom for him to leave the door open for her when he was immersed in some sort of research. He tended to bring home work from the office, and she would typically find him in his study, eyes plastered on his computer screen and his fingers typing away. But this wasn't how she had found him this time.

Refusing to think about the situation and clamping her willpower on her thoughts, Sakura closed her eyes and filled her mind with visions of the hero in the movie she had seen with Ino earlier that that day. In one scene, the guy had kicked the ass of five thugs with nothing more than his quick and deadly martial arts moves. She wished she had a black belt in karate or shidokan so she could've thrown Shune's sorry behind out the second floor window of his room… along with the stupid airhead in his bed.

Feeding on the rage, she decided it was preferable to be angry than miserable. She wasn't the one to blame here, it was him. She had been nothing but a perfect and caring girlfriend; if that wasn't enough for him, then she was better off alone.

Sakura tried to keep hold of that thought and to hold on to her pride. But the treacherous spasms of pain coming from her heart wouldn't leave her alone and the sense of betrayal she had been trying to bury for almost a week came bubbling up to the surface again.

Yet, she refused to shed another tear. The idiot didn't deserve it. Sakura bit her bottom lip in an attempt to stop her devastated emotions from overwhelming her.

Deciding she would surf through the channels one more time, she sat back on the sofa of her small TV room, hugging a fluffy cushion to her chest with one hand while holding the remote with the other. All the programs were the same as five minutes ago and so, she settled for a local news channel and strove to pay attention to what the woman on the screen was saying.

She wasn't very successful and she found her mind wandering once again. Looking up at the digital clock on her DVD player, she found it was already past midnight. She really should be sleeping but she knew she wouldn't be getting any rest; just like the previous night… and the night before that… and the night before that.

Her body was experiencing all the common symptoms of fatigue but she really couldn't bring herself to sleep. Her morbid thoughts about Shune would hit her full in the face whenever she lay down on her bed, a bed they had shared several times, and it was simply impossible to doze off.

Thus, she finally decided to lay down on the couch, her head propped up on one of her cushions while she watched the news with a blank expression. Maybe if she was lucky enough, she would fall asleep without noticing and would manage to get some rest.

Fortunately, her plan worked. As she forced herself to pay attention to the television while the monotonous voice of the newswoman droned on, she floated unknowingly into the land of dreams for the first time in days.

-XXXXXXXXXXX-

She was standing in front of her college building, her books in her hand, while a throng of people came in and out of the main doors. She was waiting for someone, as she usually did after class, but when she tried to think who it was she was meeting, her thoughts would get muddled up.

Sakura was aware, in some corner of her mind, that she was dreaming. She had graduated from university years ago and she knew there was absolutely no reason for her to be on campus. However, here she was standing, wearing her favourite pair of jeans from back then and thinking of all the homework she had to do.

The midmorning sun was shining brightly upon the trees besides the building and she suddenly remembered how beautiful it was to go to school during the spring. People she knew passed her by and waved in greeting. She smiled back at them and nodded, but didn't move from her spot.

He hated it whenever she wasn't where she had told him she would be.

'He?' she thought, confused. 'Who's he?'

Before her mind could come up with an answer, the crowd seem to part in front of her and a sight she wasn't expecting greeted her surprised emerald eyes.

There, in the middle of the throng of people, Shune was making his way directly towards her, holding the hand of the woman she had found him in bed with. They looked like the perfect college couple, smiling into each other's eyes and blissfully unaware of the people around them.

Sakura thought she would be overwhelmed by the sudden nausea that kicked her in the stomach. She wanted nothing more than to flee.

But her feet wouldn't move, despite the fact that she was desperately willing for them to run. She found herself glued into place as Shune looked up towards her and recognized her. He smiled, that charming and delightful smiled she had grown to love so much, and started to make his way towards her, the woman trailing behind him.

Sakura knew she needed to get out of there; she needed to get out there now.

But her body wasn't responding. It wasn't moving.

A dreadful wave of anxiety overcame her and she could feel her heart beating thunderously inside her chest. This was an encounter she wanted to avoid at all costs; coming face to face with Shune was the last thing in the world she wanted to experience. But it seemed she wouldn't be able to prevent it.

She tried to close her eyes but they were focusing on Shune's face as he came nearer and nearer. It was like looking directly at a demon hiding behind a handsome face, threatening you with desolation and despair, as it approached you.

But something uncalled for happened. Out of nowhere, Sakura suddenly felt a strong hand grasp her upper arm from behind and instantly, the spell she was under was broken.

She could breathe again and her limbs reacted to her orders once more.

Turning her head to look down at the hand on her arm, in the moment she recognized the man's fingers she heard him whisper in her ear.

"Ouka, are you alright?"

The deep baritone voice reverberated through her whole body like it had done countless of times and the hairs on the back of her neck swiftly stood on edge in anticipation of what his whispers would usually bring.

The familiarity of his voice raced through her and as she turned to look at Shune once more, she had found he had disappeared from the crowd in front of her and there was no sign of him or the woman anywhere.

Despite the people all around them, Sakura's attention zoned in to the presence of the man behind her. As she breathed in deeply, her nose suddenly caught that intoxicating male scent that would always surround him wherever he went. She found herself smiling widely as she remembered what it was like to sleep through entire nights wreathed in that enticing smell.

Turning around slowly, she allowed herself to look behind her.

Her breath caught in her throat when her eyes fixed upon the intense jade orbs looking intently at her.

He was as handsome as she remembered him to be.

-XXXXXXXXXXX-

Sakura woke with a jolt at the deafening sound of her telephone ringing. She fell from the sofa and landed with a yelp on the carpet.

Trying to get her bearings as sleep slowly left her, she jumped to her feet when the phone rang for a second time and attempted to discern its location. After a third ring, she realized why it had sounded so loud: it had been sitting on the couch next to her ear and was now buried underneath one of the cushions.

She grabbed the cordless phone and pressed the talk button.

"Hello?" she answered, sounding flustered.

"Don't tell me you were still sleeping?" Ino asked from the other end of the receiver.

Sakura blinked. "As a matter of fact, I was!" she replied, trying to sound angry.

"Girl, it's past midday already!"

Sakura gaped at her friend's words and turned towards her DVD clock once again, only to find Ino was telling the truth.

"Holy crap! How could I sleep so much?" she asked, bringing her hand up to grip her short roseate hair.

"Well, I wouldn't worry too much about it. You haven't slept in days and your body was probably making up for it," Ino replied casually.

But Sakura wasn't convinced. She never slept more than 8 hours, no matter how tired she was. If she did her math, she had slept for almost 12 hours last night! It was unheard of.

Ino was babbling in her ear but Sakura wasn't paying much attention. She was sure she had been having a curious dream before she woke up. From the feelings still floating at the edge of her perception, it had been something pleasant. But what was it?

"…around 4 o'clock. Is that ok with you?" Ino abruptly asked.

Sakura did a double take and shook her head. "I'm sorry?"

Across the line, her friend sighed in resignation. "I said I'll be coming over around 4 o'clock to help you choose what to wear tonight. I think you should put on that little dark blue cocktail dress you have, the one with the crossed straps on the back…"

"What to wear?" Sakura asked, still confused.

"Lee's dinner party, girl!" Ino accentuated, "I already told you, it starts at six."

"Oh yeah," Sakura replied, finally catching on. "Sure, 4 o'clock is fine."

Ino mumbled under her breath before saying, "Try to stay connected to this world in the meantime please. I'm going out to lunch with my mother and sister, so I'll drop by afterwards. Gotta go now."

"Alright, see you then," Sakura said in farewell.

Plopping down on her sofa after hanging up, Sakura rubbed what remained of her sleepiness from her eyes. Strangely enough, she felt extremely rested, something that rarely happened whenever she fell asleep on her sofa. It had been the best night she had had in a whole week and for the first time in days her body was feeling like normal.

The cloud of depression that had been hanging above her head was gone, for the time being, and she found herself smiling as she stretched languidly. Maybe she was finally starting to get over this whole thing.

Feeling proud of herself, she stood up to get something to eat, thinking that this dinner party might be just what she needed after all.

-XXXXXXXXXXX-

Despite the fact that the odds had been against her all week, Sakura had to admit she was genuinely having a good time. She was talking to friends she hadn't seen in a while, catching up with their lives and, miraculously, none of them had brought up the subject of her break-up even once.

Looking over at Lee and Naruto, both of whom were talking animatedly to Chouji, Sakura was sure two of them had spread the word around long before the party, making sure everyone knew it was a touchy subject. For once, she was grateful of their nosey attitude. She made a mental note to thank them for going out of their way to make her feel comfortable in her first social event after her disastrous split up.

She had been chatting casually, doing the rounds for over an hour, looking like if nothing had happened in her dark blue cocktail dress and with her short cherry hair tied up into a casual bun. All in all, she was proud of herself for being able to look the part without any effort, something she hadn't been sure she would be able to pull off. The bags under eyes had disappeared thanks to the long hours of sleep she had surprisingly gotten the previous night and her eyes showed no sign of her having cried her heart out for several consecutive days.

Sakura was proud of being able to pull herself back together in such a short time and as she made her way towards the small bar to refill her drink, she welcomed a deviously smiling Ino to her side.

"Shikamaru is looking cuter than ever," the blond said in a rush, just before swallowing the last remnants of her martini in one gulp.

Sakura laughed at the predictable statement. Ino had had a crush on their extremely intelligent friend since high school but had never had the courage to make her move. "Maybe tonight's the night," Sakura remarked with a grin.

"Do you think so?" Ino asked, biting her lip nervously. As she waited for the bartender Lee had hired for the occasion to make her another drink, she casually looked over to where Shikamaru was standing.

"There's no better time than the present," Sakura replied.

"I know, but I'm a complete coward," Ino said miserably.

"There really isn't anything to be afraid of," she said, trying to comfort her friend. Sakura knew Ino had no problems approaching men and making advances towards them. She was confident in herself and in her sex appeal. But Shikamaru had always been the exception. "Just treat him as if he were any other guy."

"You're right," Ino said, trying to convince herself. "I should. I'll approach him after dinner."

"Good for you," Sakura replied with a wide smile, taking a sip of her cranberry vodka. "Just be casual. It's not like you just met him! I'm sure you could have millions of natural conversations with him."

Ino was nodding her way as if she were taking mental notes.

The two of them kept talking to each other for a while, until Sakura realized she was getting hungry.

"I wonder when we're eating dinner?" she asked. "I'm famished."

"Soon I hope or else I'm going to pass out too," Ino replied, bringing her hand over her tummy. "Lee said his special guest was running late but that he shouldn't take much longer."

"Oh, I see," Sakura said. "Well, he'd better hurry his ass or else we're all going to die here."

"I hear you, sister," Ino said, raising her martini glass.

"Well, if it isn't the most beautiful pair of women in the whole of Konoha," a nearby voice said with a chuckle.

Sakura turned around to see an old friend she hasn't seen in a while stepping up to them.

"Kiba!" she shouted in glee as she engulfed him in a tight hug. "When did you get here? I hadn't seen you!"

"I arrived around 5 minutes ago, work had me running late," he replied apologetically. "I'm sorry if I kept you guys waiting."

"Well, we were getting hungry," Ino said, stepping forward to give him a kiss on the cheek. "How have you been?"

"I've been doing alright, thank you, though I've been extremely busy. We've been running dog shows all over the country," he replied with a wry grin.

"Yes, I heard Akamaru won his third contest earlier this year," Sakura remarked, "Congratulations!"

Kiba laughed proudly. "Thank you. We have worked really hard."

They were soon immerse in conversation, discussing bits and pieces of their lives. Their lifelong friendships allowing them to talk, tease and laugh with effortless ease. Consequently, it was only after a while that Sakura realized Lee still hadn't called them to dinner yet.

"What's taking so long?" she asked with a groan.

"I don't know," Ino answered with a pout. "Kiba arrived a while ago so everything should be ready."

It was then that Lee walked into the large living room where all his guests were gathered and clapped his hands to get their attention.

"Everyone, I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting but this is a really special occasion. The person we've been waiting for has finally arrived and I'm sure many of you will be extremely happy to see him since he hasn't been around in a while."

Turning around with a huge smile, he turned towards the small corridor he had just emerged from. "You can come in now!"

A tall, well-built man wearing a dark-green dress shirt and a pair of black trousers made his way into the living room, emanating waves of self-confidence with each step he took.

When he finally reached Lee's side, a communal gasp went all around, followed by gleeful shouts of welcome.

Naruto jumped from among the crowd to embrace the newcomer.

"GAARA!" he exclaimed, ecstatic. "It's so good to see you!"

Sakura thought she was going to pass out.

Thankfully, Ino was beside her and had caught her arm as Sakura's gaze started to lose focus.

"Steady girl," her friend whispered in her ear. "It'll be alright."

Suddenly, the dream she had had the previous night came flooding back into her mind. Belatedly, Sakura realized that it had actually been a warning; an admonition she had been to uselessly unable to remember on time.

After years of having walked out of her door, the temperamental and extremely sexy redhead had decided to stroll right back into her life in the most casual way ever… and in the worst possible moment.

'I'm stronger than this,' Sakura thought to herself. 'I can face him without any problems'.

As Gaara a crowd surrounded Gaara, most of them old friends from their time at school, Sakura looked up directly at him and caught him smiling at those he was greeting; it was something he had rarely ever done before.

In that moment, the realization hit her, like a lightning bolt travelling through the sky before hitting its mark on the ground.

He was as handsome as she remembered him to be.

-XXXXXXXXXXX-

She was going to kill Naruto… and she was definitely going to enjoy it.

How could he not tell her Gaara would be attending Lee's dinner party as the guest of honour? How could he?

Sure, Sakura had locked herself away in her apartment for the past week and hadn't answered her phone nor heard any of her voice messages, but that was far from the point. When it was something this important, you made sure to go out of your way to let your friend know. Naruto was more than aware of what Gaara meant to Sakura and she would be damned if she didn't give the loud blond a verbal lashing before the night was over.

Breathing deeply she took the last sip of her drink, which she had downed in record timing, and waited until almost everyone had gone into the dining room before going in there herself. Thankfully, Ino was offering silent support next to her. Sakura knew she would not leave her in any kind of vulnerable situation.

She thanked the heavens for the umpteenth time that week for giving her such an amazing friend.

Sakura steadied herself and straightened her dress unnecessarily. She was suddenly very conscious of her appearance and hoped that signs of her recent break up weren't really noticeable. The last thing she wanted was to look like she wasn't doing well in front of Gaara. But she caught herself before the anxiety descended completely over her and took a deep breath.

In truth, if she really thought about it, there wasn't anything to worry about. She had never actually dated Gaara officially and you could never call what they had shared together an actual relationship. It was more like the coming together of two entities that were lethally attracted to each other; two bodies that no matter how much they tried to prevent it, always ended up at each other's side.

They had met through Naruto during Sakura's 3rd year at college and the magnetism they had felt towards one another had been something neither of them had been able to avoid. Sure, he had been cranky, volatile, possessive and extremely jealous but the times she had shared with him had been some of the best in her life.

Whenever she had been with Gaara, Sakura had felt she could be herself, something that hadn't happened often in her history with men. The redhead had accepted her for who she was, with her quirks and all, without complaining even once.

They had only been together for a month. But dear God, what a month it had been! It had been hard to approach him at first, since he wasn't the easiest person to talk to; yet once she had managed to climb over his initial barriers, he had left her completely and utterly breathless. True, their liaison had been primarily marked by an all-consuming physical attraction yet there had always been some deep undercurrent of acceptance and caring beneath it all. Sakura, in the years that had gone by, had always wondered how things might have turned out if they had allowed each other free rein to explore it further.

But as fate would have it, they had never been given the chance.

Gaara had enrolled in an exchange program of a martial arts academy, meaning he would be leaving the country for an undefined period of time.

Thus, Sakura had taken the initiative, and even though it had broken her heart, she had decided to 'be mature about it' and had proposed they remain as friends.

Gaara had protested the decision, in that temperamental and angry way of his. She remembered how he had thrown a tantrum of cosmic proportions in her small dorm room. Sakura wept through it all because she knew it was useless. He was leaving and she couldn't go with him. If she did, then she would be giving up her dreams to become a doctor; and if she asked him to stay, then she would be forcing him to give up his dreams.

It simply wouldn't do.

After brooding about it for a few days, he had finally conceded her wishes and they had parted ways as friends.

It had ended as quickly as it had started. Sakura, whenever she had found her thoughts deviating towards him, would sometimes think of him as a flame: one that burned so intense and so hot, its light was gone before you knew it. Once it disappeared, all that remained was the memory of its intense and passionate heat.

Eventually, she had been able to move on with her life. Yet, the feeling of 'what if' had been something she had never been able to shake off whenever she remembered Gaara or heard news from Naruto concerning his life.

And now, he had walked through Lee's door without any previous announcement! It was simply too much for a girl to take.

Shaking her head vigorously, Sakura came back to the present with a jolt. She pulled herself together and made her way into the dining room, followed closely by Ino. She noticed then that almost everyone was already sitting down at the long dinner table. There were around 25 people in total and chairs were quickly being taken.

She grabbed Ino by the hand and steered them directly towards two empty seats on the opposite end of the table from where Gaara was sitting next to Naruto. It was when she was sitting down, that she felt the hairs on her arms stand on end. The chill down her nape told her a pair of eyes she had once known very well were now boring into her.

Bracing herself, she casually looked up to the see the aforementioned redhead staring directly at her. His jade orbs did nothing to hide his surprise at finding her unexpectedly sitting at the other end of the room. It seemed he hadn't noticed she had been in the living room when he had walked in.

Good. Her adverse reaction to his sudden appearance would have gone unnoticed then.

Sakura forced herself to smile at him and wave in greeting, as if it were something she did every day. In the same breath, she turned away so she could engage Tenten, who was sitting to her right, in conversation.

Catching the slight narrowing of his eyes before she looked away, Sakura decided to dismiss the passionate glint she had caught in his jade orbs. She couldn't afford for him to come into her life just for him to leave again, especially not after all the heart break she had recently been through. Sakura simply wasn't ready. Her emotions were just too ravaged and spent.

The caterers Lee had hired entered the room then, plates in hand and everyone was suddenly busy with the food in front of them.

Sakura was glad for the distraction.

She just might make it through the night alive.

-XXXXXXXXXXX-

"Is she seeing someone?" the redhead asked Naruto, his words only for his ears to hear.

The blond didn't have to ask who Gaara was talking about. He was well aware of what Sakura meant to his friend. Back in college, the redhead had developed a mounting obsession with the emerald eyed beauty, a fixation that hadn't lessened with the years. He had been counting the days until he would be able to return to the city; to return and to claim what he thought was rightfully his.

"She just broke up with someone recently," Naruto replied, taking a casual sip of his wine. "The bastard cheated on her."

"WHAT?" Gaara snarled through clenched teeth, trying to keep his voice low but failing miserably. Several guests looked up towards them in surprise but quickly resumed their previous conversation.

"I would've beaten the jerk up but she wouldn't let me," Naruto added after a moment.

"I wouldn't have asked for permission," Gaara retorted, looking up towards the cherry haired woman sitting some distance away. She looked absolutely stunning. The memories he had been feeding on throughout all these years simply couldn't live up to the gorgeous reality of her.

"She's been miserable about it," Naruto said. "Tonight's the first time she's come out of her apartment in days."

Gaara didn't offer any reply. He just stared at Sakura thoughtfully.

This could be the chance he had been waiting for all this time… and he would be damned if he didn't take it.

XXXXXXXXXX

All in all, Sakura behaved like a champion throughout dinner, laughing, talking and making all the right comments at all the right times. She could almost pretend that an ex-flame wasn't sitting a few chairs away; could almost forget she had broken up with her cheating boyfriend just days before.

Thankfully, the cheery atmosphere allowed her to relax enough to really enjoy the food and to take pleasure in the company she was in. Gaara's reappearance didn't have to mean anything; they could both handle the situation like the adults they now were. They should be able to put the past behind them and face each other in a civilized fashion like the acquaintances they were.

Although, if she was completely honest, Sakura had the underlying suspicion that if given the chance, the fiery redhead would definitely try to get into her pants.

She felt his eyes on her a few times while they were eating but decided to ignore him. Sakura knew she really shouldn't abuse the wine but there was no helping it. She really needed it if she wanted to make it through the night.

When everyone had finished eating, they all moved back into the spacious living room. Ino stuck to her like a shadow as they chatted happily with different groups of people. But Sakura knew her friend was dying to strike up a conversation with Shikamaru and was throwing glances at the man more often than not.

Sakura wasn't about to ruin her night, thus, making sure Gaara was engaged in what looked like a deep conversation with Neji and Lee, she turned towards Ino.

"Go talk to Shikamaru," she told her.

"What?" the blond asked, perplexed. "But what about you?

"The crimson demon is busy, I'll go hide in the balcony," Sakura explained. "I'll slip out there without anyone noticing. Come look for me when you're done."

"Are you sure?" Ino asked, trying to hide her giddiness at being able to go talk to Shikamaru but failing miserably.

Sakura shook her head at her and replied with a wry grin. "Of course I'm sure. Now go!"

"Alright, alright," Ino said, throwing her a grateful look. With a deep breath, she turned around and made her way across the room to where her crush was sitting.

Sakura didn't waste any time. She hid behind a group of people, exchanging a few comments with them, before making her way quickly to the glass doors to one side of Lee's living room. She opened the doors sinuously and slipped through. Once outside, she ducked behind one of the walls, her back to the concrete, making sure none of the guests inside would be able to see her.

She stood still for what seemed an eternity, but after a few minutes, she realized no one had followed her and allowed herself to relax. She took sips from her wine glass as she surveyed the cloudy night and looked down upon Lee's garden.

The only problem was now that she was alone her thoughts came tumbling without restraint into her mind.

Sakura hated to admit it but Gaara looked unbelievably stunning. She could swear he was even more handsome than before. If there was something she had never been able to control, it had been her attraction towards him. And it seemed the years had done nothing to diminish the reaction her body experienced whenever she laid eyes upon him.

It had been completely different with Shune, who had seduced her through her mind. He was an intellectual, a man with an amazing academic background. It had taken a single night of his passionate words to get her all worked up.

Despite the fact that both had reached her through different ways, Sakura ruefully admitted that neither of them had really done her any good. When the curtain dropped at the end of the act, she had ended up alone and hurting. On her own and emotionally distraught while attempting to pick up the pieces to try and glue herself back together. It just went to show you how you could never be prepared for what life threw your way.

'I think I'm going to swear off men for a while,' she told herself. 'It's the best course I can follow if I intend to keep my sanity.'

She stood in silent contemplation upon the balcony for a long while, wondering if she was destined to remain single for the rest of her life. There were many factors and much evidence to thoroughly back up such a theory. Ultimately, it might really be for the best. There had been too many tears shed, too much anguish.

It was then that she heard the balcony door open; someone walked up to the railing and leaned forward against it.

"Ino, how did it go?" Sakura asked, coming out from her hiding place.

But she belatedly realized it wasn't her friend that had stepped out into the balcony.

"So this was where you were," a deep baritone voice answered with a hint of spite. "I thought you had gone home."

Sakura gaped at the strikingly handsome redhead standing a couple of paces away.

"Ahaha, yes, well…" she started to say nervously, but knew her words were futile. So much for staying on top of the situation!

Gaara turned completely towards her then and looked directly into her eyes. The lights of the living room created long shadows across the balcony but she could see his face clearly. He was staring at her, a predatory smile on his full lips. He leaned back against the railing casually, as if finding her alone in the dark of the night was something he was used to.

But despite his laid-back demeanour, Sakura could tell that he was tense. His body betrayed him even if his face didn't and she wondered what it was that could put such a renowned martial artist like himself on edge like this.

Their eyes locked for a few silent moments as they took each other in.

Letting out a breath, Sakura mustered up the courage to approach him and decided she was going to play nice. There was no point in making a big deal about this whole issue.

They were simply friends that were meeting again after some time… right?

"How are you?" she asked with what was, surprisingly, a genuine smile.

"I'm fine, thank you."

"Well, it seems the years have been good to you," Sakura added without thinking, eyeing him appreciatively.

She suddenly realized her mistake and almost brought her hand up to shut her mouth. Stupid wine! It always made you say the most inappropriate things. He was going to get the wrong idea! She was in for it now.

Gaara shot her a questioning look before the devious grin on his face increased tenfold. "They've been good to you too," he said, reciprocating her glance while taking his time to eye her legs thoroughly.

She laughed nervously. "Ahh, thank you," she said, clearing her throat. Trust her to put her foot in her mouth at the very beginning of their first encounter in years.

Another batch of silence followed and Sakura wished the ground would swallow her whole. But she wasn't one to back down from a challenge. She decided there was still time to correct her mistake.

"So," she continued, unaware of how his jade eyes lit up with amusement at her forced tone. "Where have you been all this time?"

"Many places," he responded without taking his eyes off her.

"I see," she replied, fidgeting with her wine glass. She had completely forgotten that to have a casual conversation with Gaara, you basically needed to pry out the words from his mouth with tweezers.

He was more a man of actions rather than words. Giving herself a violent mental shake, Sakura refused to follow that line of thought.

"And did you visit many dojos?" she asked. She knew she sounded like the biggest idiot alive but she was desperate here.

"Yes I did," he answered. He stood up straight then and took a step closer to her. "Some of them were amazing."

"That's good," she said, trying to ignore the fact that he was diminishing the distance between them.

But he kept coming closer and suddenly, a soft nightly breeze surrounded her with the scent of her previous night's dream. All at once, Sakura found herself losing her resolve. After all this time his scent was still the same; he still emanated that intoxicating male aroma that no other man alive could ever hope to match.

If he took another step, she didn't know what she would do.

She shouldn't have worried. Without warning, Gaara's face hardened and he stopped his advance. A spark of anger shone from his eyes and Sakura speculated on what had caused the sudden change.

"I heard you broke up recently," he said, trying to sound casual.

Sakura could not believe her ears. The mortification swelled in a rising tide she was unable to stop. Trust him to bring up the last subject she would ever want to discuss with him! She was sorely tempted to throw herself off the balcony.

She took a step back, regaining her composure. "Yes I did," she answered with as much nonchalance as she could muster. Who had been the blithering idiot who had slipped him that bit of information? It took but an instant to pinpoint his identity.

For the second time that night, Sakura tried to control her urges to strangle Naruto.

"Did he hurt you?" Gaara asked, his barely contained anger evident in his voice.

Sakura had been expecting for him to lash out with jealousy but she really wasn't expecting this. She opened her mouth to answer but no words came out. He was actually worried about her? He was concentrating on her feelings instead of going out on a rampage to kill the impudent bastard who had dared to touch her?

People did change.

She eyed him curiously before speaking. "Well, to tell you the truth, he did. I've been feeling really bad about the whole thing. But I'm feeling better, slowly improving. Thanks for asking," she finally added.

He nodded but didn't say anything.

They shared another moment of silence, surveying each other in the interim.

But Gaara abruptly resumed his approach towards her and Sakura jumped slightly at his sudden closeness.

That feral grin he had given her before returned. "Why are you so jittery?" he asked.

"I'm not jittery," Sakura replied defensively, wanting to take a step back. But her pride prevented her from doing so. "I'm just cold."

"Is that so?" he asked. "I think I might be able to help you with that."

He was so close she thought she would die from the chaos his scent was wreaking on her senses. His demeanour had shifted completely in just a few moments, as it was wont to do. He had gone from being hesitant to being angry to lustful in the time it took you to take three breaths.

His unpredictability was something that had always amazed her.

She laughed nervously again. "I don't need any help."

"You're trembling," he stated matter-of-factly.

"No, I'm not," Sakura replied, rubbing her arms in an attempt to hide the slight shaking of her limbs. She definitely needed to learn to control her body's reactions to his proximity… she really should.

"And you're doing it again," Gaara teased as he leaned forward.

"What am I doing again?" she asked irritably, her temper starting to kick in.

"Biting your lip," he answered.

When she found she was doing exactly that, she clamped her mouth shut and crossed her arms in front of her.

"Do you remember what I used to do whenever you bit your lip like that?"

Sakura gulped visibly.

Of course she remembered. How could she ever forget? He used to kiss her senseless whenever he found her abusing her lower lip and… oh God!

He chuckled wickedly when a look of shock crossed her beautiful face.

'This can't be happening!' Sakura thought in desperation as he leaned even closer towards her. 'This can't be happening!'

His lips were so close, so close… and she was drawn towards them like a moth to a flame.

"Sakura, you won't believe it!" Ino shouted happily as she stepped unto the balcony.

Sakura thanked the heavens for her friend's impeccable timing.

"Oh," the blond said as she took in the scene before her, a sudden blush covering her face. "I'm so-"

"I'm sure I'll believe you when you tell me all about it in the car," Sakura cut in abruptly with exaggerated enthusiasm. She swiftly stepped around Gaara and grabbed Ino by the hand.

She walked into the living room, making a beeline for the front door. She didn't dare look back at the smouldering redhead standing on the balcony. If she risked just one glance, she knew she would have to finish what they had started.

And in honest truth, she didn't think it would do either them any good.


Ouka: another word for cherry blossom; it can also mean 'song of praise'. It's the same nickname Gaara used for Sakura in Magnetism. I really like it so I thought I'd use it again.

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