A/N: It has been...the longest time. I'm sure many people would have given up, were it not for the alerts. Thanks so much to everyone who came back to read this :D

Here it is, chapter 9, the Arcade chapter. I have a thing with arcades. Unfortunately, here in Portugal there are no decent ones. But a girl can still dream, I guess.

If this isn't by best chapter yet, I don't know what is. Come on. After you read this you HAVE to give me some sugar (In the form of reviews of course) !!! This is the longest one yet, too. Take it as my apologizing gift, for taking so long (I usually write 3 pages, this one's got 7).

Ok, won't keep you here any longer.

Disclaimer: Own nothing recognizable except plot. But I don't have the money for a lawsuit anyway, so if you wanna sue for it, go ahead.


"Go, Sasuke, go!" Was probably the one thing Sakura had heard the most, in the fifteen minutes they'd been in the arcade. It was a greyish, dim-lighted small shop, the only lights being neon and coming from the machines. Neither Sakura nor Hinata had ever been there; it was hidden in a small shopping mall downtown, and it attracted an older and mostly male crowd.

Sasuke kept speeding up in his simulated car, his eyes intent on the monitor and his hands gripping the wheel tightly. The many fangirls standing around his game-car seat wouldn't stop yelling, singing or even chanting in encouragement, which made, Sakura noticed, the people closest to them and the old manager sitting behind an equally old counter narrow their eyes at them. Sasuke didn't need encouragement, it was obvious he was winning against Shikamaru, who despite driving slowly kept hitting every single turn.

Sakura sighted in annoyance; clearly, this wasn't real one-on-one time with Sasuke. She had stood awkwardly with his fangirls, but decided it wouldn't do her any good, and was now browsing through the machines, trying to find something for her and Hinata to play.

"How about…bikes?" Sakura suggested, pointing at two pretend bikes attached to a gaming machine. Hinata visibly grimaced.

"The bikes a-are way too t-tall…" she said, then mumbled quietly "…I'm n-not that fle-flexible…"

Sakura giggled, her friend's behaviour always, even if unintentionally, cheered her up. There had to be something that both of them could play. She checked the time; they still had about an hour until the next class started.

"Come on Hina, there just has to be something. Besides, I already bought tokens."

"O-okay…how a-about…that one?"

Hinata nodded towards a brightly colored machine with holes where plastic mice would come out and had to be hit with plush hammers hanging by the side. Sakura merely stared.

"No frigging way. I am not playing…oh my god, Hina, DDR!" She screamed out the last part, running towards the machine. It was huge, neon-lighted, and so much better than the simple mat she had at home.

"We just have to!"

It was also placed in a surprisingly ample and relatively well-lit corner, which would allow for a small audience.

"But…e-everyone's go-gonna watch!" Hinata said. She was pressing her pointer fingers together, which was, Sakura knew, a sign that inside Hinata's quiet and unassuming head, little Hinata brain people were running around her brain like headless cockroaches in panic.

"Don't worry, there aren't that many people in this corner. And most people are hanging by Sasuke anyway." The name was almost spit out. Hinata lowered her face in agreement.

"Okay…i-if you say s-so." Sakura grinned and quickly took the tokens needed from her jeans pocket, and inserted them into the machine. As soon as she did, a loud, very loud techno song with an impossibly quick beat and an irritating melody was thrown out the speakers, making the floor tremble and Hinata look around very anxiously as she walked slowly to her dancefloor beside Sakura's.

"I ho-hope nobody's wa-watching…"

"Shall we start?" Sakura yelled over the music, as she randomly picked a song. Hinata looked at the screen in horror.

"I-I don't kno-know that o-one!"

"Makes it all the more fun! Here we go!"

xxx

"Hey, Ino, what's going on over there?"

"Where? Oh, I've no idea, and I'm not gonna leave until Sasuke wins."

"Okay, I'm gonna check it out anyway, see ya." Said one of the girls from their class, as she left the fangirl huddle to find the source of all the cheering.

"Yeah sure, I'll meet you."

xxx

"I am going to kill you!" Hinata screamed over the obnoxious music coupled with the cheers and whistles coming from behind her and Sakura. Sakura laughed loudly as she glanced at the crowd that had formed around them, not missing a single step. Thankfully they were mostly nerdy-looking guys within their age group, so there was no need to get in touch with her tougher, inner self. As she went back to jumping around wildly, she realized something.

"Oh my god, you didn't stutter!" She squealed to her rival. Hinata really hadn't, which showed just how murderous she was, for once, feeling. She sure wasn't looking too cheery; she was redder than usual in the face, her forehead held a visible layer of sweat, she was panting, and obviously losing. She didn't reply or even look at Sakura, too busy trying desperately to match her clumsy steps to the arrows on the screen.

"Come on, I know you're better than this!"

"At ho-home, sure!" The stutter is back, the killing intent is gone. Oh well, Sakura thought, she must be feeling very intimidated, but it won't do her any harm to be the centre of attention for once.

"Almost over, don't lose hope!"

"Yeah, ri-right!"

As the song ungracefully came to an end, and the cheering turned into loud clapping, Sakura jumped off her dancefloor and went over to Hinata, who had her hands on her knees and was breathing hard, helping her stand and guiding her to some plastic chairs against the wall.

"See, that wasn't so bad." She said, as she patted her friend on her back. Hinata merely looked up and gave her the Evil Eye. Sakura held in her giggles and watched as the crowd slowly dispersed back to whatever they had been doing before. She noticed three or four of the nerdiest boys whispering in a huddle and looking back at her and Hinata nervously; before she knew it, one of them plastered an overly determined look on his face and literally marched over to her and Hinata, looking at her in the eyes since Hinata had her head between her knees. The boy's words were rushed, showing just how nervous he was, despite the heroic look he had on his face. In the back, his friends kept whispering and looking over.

"Young lady, me and my colleagues have deemed it our duty, as frequent attendees of this establishment, to congratulate you and your partner on a spectacular show of true female strenght, which we very rarely have the pleasure of observing here."

Sakura allowed a few seconds to go by as she stared at his face. Even Hinata had looked up and was now looking at him like he had fallen from the sky.

"That rarely, huh?"

"Yes, unfortunately. Again, we congratulate you." He rushed, as he all but ran back to his friends. The girls looked at each other and just laughed.

"See, being the centre of attention every now and then can be fun." Sakura said to her friend. "At the very least, it won't kill you."

"Spea-speak for yourself." Hinata replied, fanning herself with her hand. An ominous shadow fell upon them; Sakura looked up and, to her (slightly lesser than on the other days) joy, it was Sasuke, standing in front of her and Hinata with his hands in his pockets, looking put-together as always.

"Hey. Nice show you gave out there." He said simply, with the now-customary hint of a smile. Sakura wasn't sure of how to reply; she was happy he was speaking to her, but at the same time she had thought his invitation implied them being together, which hadn't happened. In the less-than-one-second she had to decide, she decided that they weren't close enough for her to show him she wasn't happy.

"Thanks. Were you watching?"

"Uh yeah. My game ended, and everyone started coming over here." He said, then in a lower tone bordering on conspirational. "And I needed to get away from them."

Sakura laughed heartily. It almost seemed like he was afraid of them. Knowing some of them, she thought fleetingly, he should be. Hell, I was one of them. What happened?

They fell into a silence. Hinata looked at Sakura unconfortably, when out of nowhere, a tall blonde girl walked over to the three of them, stopping beside Sasuke to give him a dazzling smile (to which she didn't get a reply). Sakura knew this girl only too well.

"Hey, Ino." Said girl looked at Sakura, which seemed like her true purpose for having gone there. She scrunched her face in contempt.

"Sakura. Nice game. Wanna battle?"

Hinata looked at her friend wide-eyed, and Sasuke looked at the two girls with moderate interest.

Sakura knew it was obvious Ino wanted Sasuke's attention as well. This was a battle for Sasuke, though a fairly misguided one. Sasuke wasn't going to talk to Ino if she won, not even to congratulate her. He simply had no interest...she had realized this very recently. But she was not one to back down from a battle, much less a DDR one. So she smirked at her opponent and declared "Game on."

Xxx

Hinata had opted to watch Sakura from the chair she was in anyway, rather than mingle with the crowd that had gathered around the gaming platform. The crazily-speeded, non-stop-jumping competition had caught the attention of practically everyone from school who was there. At the sight of Naruto, up front, cheering for both girls alternatively, she blushed deeply and cringed. Pathetic, she thought. Pathetic for crushing on someone impossible, for blushing uncontrollably, for feeling like she'd run a marathon after a DDR game. Sometimes she felt trapped; like she was sealed inside a giant plastic bag, the kind you store things in the freezer. She felt like she could never get through with anyone, and she never knew if it was because she genuinely didn't appeal to people, or because of her own impairing insecurities. She sighted, as she often did when thinking about herself.

The crowd was growing denser, and soon it became impossible to see through, and pushing through the people wasn't an option she wanted to face. She opted to stand up and walk around a bit; maybe she'd find someone else from school she could talk to. She spoke to a number of girls on occasion, though her only close friend was Sakura.

Walking around the machines, she spotted someone from school, just not someone she spoke to. Gaara was very focused on some kind of gun game. She didn't want to impose, and from what she had gathered, nearly any kind of interaction meant exactly that for the redhead. But at the same time, she didn't want to sit down, and watch and think, like she did every other moment of her life. It was a liberating stunt; something she wouldn't normally do that she needed to do. She knew if she didn't she'd feel pathetic and weak. So she shakily walked over to the boy, grabbed the other game gun attached to the machine, and despite him merely looking at her from the corner of his eye for a second, she timidly asked, "Mi-Mind if I joi-join in?"

He kept shooting at the screen, still focused. "When this one's over."

She sighted with enormous relief. He hadn't rejected her. This was extremely positive.

"Okay." She stepped back a bit, giving him room so as to not feel intruded on, as she observed his game. It seemed somewhat brutal, but there was no turning back now.

"Right, it's over. I don't have any more tokens, do you?" He said, turning back to look at her.

"Uh, yeah." She said, fishing some from her jeans pocket. She gave them to him, hoping he wouldn't notice her shaking hand. He inserted them into the slot, the game started, and as Gaara chose some settings he briefly explained the controls. She swallowed the lump in her throat and braced herself.

Xxx

Sakura stepped off the platform shakily as people came over and congratulated her. Ino was a worthy rival, she'd give her that. But ultimately, it all came down to experience, speed, focus and talent, all of which Sakura had.

"Nice work, Sakura." Ino all but spat out. "But I'll get you next time."

"I'll be waiting, Ino." She cooly replied, as she continued to stuggle to get off the platform. Her muscles were completely sore. People, mostly girls from school, kept coming to her and gushing about how great a player she was. She dismissed them with a tired smile, and soon the crowd that had once been there started to disappear, as people went away to busy themselves with something else. Ino's friends came and took her away in the meantime.

She chose to hold onto the rails on the platform and wait for the feeling in her legs to come back. She wondered idly about Hinata. When she could see nearly no one else there, she felt a strong hand on her forearm, helping her down. She had been looking down, but from the clothes, she knew it was Sasuke, and smiled.

"Need any help?"

"I guess. Thanks."

"No problem." He replied, moving so that her arm was around his shoulders. He carried her off and sat her on one of the chairs she had been previously on, sitting next to her. She shyly laughed.

"You must think I'm ridiculous. I mean, you play football for hours without complaining, and I play DDR twice and can barely walk."

"Hey, that was one vicious battle." He replied, smirking. Sakura smiled again for the milionth time, and changed the subject. She had never been actually alone with him, and she fiddled with her hands a bit nervously.

"Where's, uh, Ino? And Hinata? And everyone else, for that matter?" Before the battle had started, some people from school had been hanging around nearby, but not anymore.

"I guess they must be heading back to school. Don't worry, Shikamaru said he'd wait."

"Oh, okay then." She said. The only people hanging around the machines in this corner were a few guys they didn't know. They were pretty much alone, which made her nervous.

Sasuke kept quiet and seated, and she wondered why he hadn't stood up to go back to school. She decided to risk it and ask him.

"Um… I don't wanna sound…stupid, but…do you have anything to say?"

He looked at her and made a small smile. He seemed hesitant.

"I'm not sure. I mean…there's something I wanna say…or do…but…" He scratched his head discreetly. His apparent hesitance and unsureness had Sakura even more nervous. What was going on? "Okay, here's the deal. You're the first girl who's ever actually been nice to me. Not psycho, just nice."

She smiled unsurely. Was this heading somewhere…good? "Thanks…I guess."

His deep black eyes were set on her. "And…I like being with you, so far. And I've never actually done the relationship thing. You know, boyfriend and girlfriend. Well, once, but it was plain weird. Have you?"

"Uhm…no." The guys at school are morons…and besides, I always hoped that…

Xxx

Game over, player one wins. After a few seconds of intimidating silence, Gaara raised his head.

"I think it's fair to say that was the worst game ever."

Hinata dared not meet his eyes. She was blushing furiously, like always. Her immediate response would have been to apologize. But from what Sakura had told her about him, that would be like playing with fire. Despite all her issues, Hinata knew there was no real reason to apologize, it was just a defense mechanism that made her more of a victim than she already was. If she showed him weakness, he'd make her feel worse.

"Some pra-pratice should do it." She said, ina very low tone, but apparently he heard her because he nodded. He got on his knees to search for something on his backpack, which was on the floor by the machine. Hinata could still hear the crowd cheering for the girls, even on opposite corners of the arcade. She checked her watch and casually commented "We-we should hea-head back, it's al-almost…"

"Listen." He interrupted, standing up and crossing his arms. "You wanna go somewhere?"

She meekly stared at him. "So-somewhere?" He snorted in response, ruffling his hair. Shiny…

"Yeah, somewhere. Other than school, which would imply ditching. With me. Wanna?"

The way he said it made it sound like a dare. She had a few nanoseconds to think. She didn't ditch. She'd never ditched. She shouldn't leave Sakura alone. She shouldn't be going with him heaven knows where. With him. She barely knew him, and from what she knew, he wasn't an easy person. But…she would have never spoken to him on any other day, right? As unwise as it seemed, she knew she'd regret it afterwards if she didn't go with him. She needed to act on her life, she needed to do something and not just watch.

She'd take his dare. "Okay."

Xxx

Sasuke chuckled a bit, uneasy.

"This is slightly different from what I thought."

Despite how nervous and confused she felt, Sakura had to ask.

"Sasuke…I really don't get what you're saying." She said, looking at him. Despite how nervous and confused she felt, she felt confortable with him, on some level.

"I said a while ago I'd tried a relationship once. But it was like a crash test. I wanted to know what it was like, and ended up pretty disappointed. She was just like the other ones. I could kill her in the most horrible way, if she could keep staring at my face, she'd be willing." He sighted annoyingly. He'd had his head turned, and now his eyes were boring into hers again. She marveled at how he didn't seem nervous, just hesitant.

"But you, you know me. You know what I'm like, as a person. That's why this is a bit scary. What I say can't make you think I'm uglier or prettier. But it can make you think I'm a worse guy."

"Or a better one." She said, unsurely. Her ribcage was likely to explode in a while, and out would come her ridiculously fast beating heart.

He smiled, unsurely as well. "I'm not getting anywhere with this, am I?" They looked at each other awkwardly. They were sitting beside each other, Sakura turned to him, and Sasuke had his legs tucked under him. He began to lean closer, almost imperceptibly. "I don't think I need your permission, but…"

She looked at him, still confused but strangely giddy, as if she suspected something good might happen. He kept leaning closer, to the point where she could clearly see the eyelashes on his beautiful eyes.

Xxx

"This is…rea-really beautiful." Hinata whispered. It was around midday. The sun shone brightly, reflecting against the river. Gaara didn't reply.

Once she had said yes, he'd grabbed her hand and led her out of the mall. They walked through the busy streets, until they reached a bus stop. Since it was still early and a week ay, there weren't that many people waiting. Hinata and Gaara didn't speak, or even trade looks. But the silence didn't, strangely, bother her. Usually, they made her feel inadequate, like she should be saying something. But with Gaara, she felt he honestly didn't have much to say. And neither did she, and it was okay.

They got off in a familiar place. It was still downtown, just more peaceful and less entertainment-oriented. She had been there with her family on several occasions. It was typical for family weekends and tourists. There was a wide, paved, round plaza, with several historical statues and fountains, right next to a recognizable and imposing monument. Farther from the monument, there was a park, huge and very green, the kind where you can sit comfortably on the grass, as many people were doing. Some picnicking, others drawing, tourists taking pictures. They walked across the park. Hinata found it very peaceful and different, almost exotic. Like a world apart from school and home and the here with her family, she didn't get this feeling.

Gaara held her wrist unpractically, as they walked across the park, for some time until they reached a metal rail, stopping people from falling into the river Hinata was currently busy observing.

Maybe it was the adrenaline of skipping school, but she felt like talking.

"You ha-have no idea ho-how free I feel right no-now."

This time, Gaara looked back at her. He was leaning against the rail, feeling the wind and the sunrays. The slightest ghost of a smile was on his face.

"Good."

This made her happy. She felt free, peaceful, and happy, and never more out of her comfort zone.

"Does thi-this make us frie-friends?"

"If you want."

She smiled again. She busied herself looking for her cellphone on her bag, so she could text Sakura and explain. Gaara kept looking afar.

"Why do you think people get together?"

She studied him. It was the kind of question she'd never answered. Weird, but he was a weird person. Almost mechanically, her thoughts went to Naruto.

"Love?"

He scoffed., and replied somewhat morosely. "Yeah, automatic answer. I don't see any other reason for people to be together apart from either fucking or needing an ego boost. Even if you say you care about someone, and only want what's best for them, who's to say you're the best for them?" He turned to look at her meaningfully, and then sat on a nearby bench with his legs crossed under him. Hinata realized what Sakura had meant about his eyes. They held…a lot. I guess the ego boost thing is true... she thought. It came to her like a ton of bricks on her stomach, slightly disrupting what she had been feeling before. If Naruto were to have feelings for me...I'd feel better about myself. And that's basically it.

She took it one step further and went over to sit beside him. She needed to sit down, she had never thought of this before and it upset her. He didn't react. She marveled at how she was so careless around him. Maybe because she knew he was an outcast in everyone's eyes, just like her. They were alike, different from the rest. (Was she really that different? Was she just shy?) Even with Sakura, whom she loved deeply, she had sometimes a small but underlying uneasiness.

"Maybe be-because they feel alo-alone and ha-have no one else?"

Gaara kept silent, and faced the sky.

"It's pure selfishness, any way you look at it."

Xxx

Her heartbeats were erratic beyond normalcy. This was so much more than her dreams; it was real. She could see him, smell him, hear his breathing, if she wanted to she could feel him and taste him. That last thought had her blushing. All in all, she was drowning in Sasuke. And she wanted to die by drowning, if that meant she could have more of him.

He kept leaning in closer and closer. When their noses almost touched, he stopped. They simply looked each other in the eyes for what seemed like longer than it was.

She had pictured this so many times, but it was so different. For one, she felt more instictive and natural than she'd imagined. And she usually saw her and Sasuke as an outsider. To see nothing but his face up close was a bit uncomfortable…but new and exciting, when she could guess what was coming up next.

Both of them leaned in at the same time, pressing their lips together.


A/N: I put a lot of work into this one, so I'd realy appreciate criticism, especially constructive. I wanna know everything you thought of it ;)

So, yeah. No, I didn't change the story, it's ultimately Sakura x Gaara. It's just gonna take a while to get there.

Now, for the thank-yous. Reality's the worst nightmare, Vannah-chan, a thousand cranes, ihkny, silver lone wolf, Lela Rye, and the amazing author of Workplace, Riz-I :) These are the people who reviewed the last two chapters. Obviously I want to thank everyone who puts this on their favorites or alerts, but I don't have their names. But, a gigantic thanks anyway.

Hope you enjoyed this, review please!

xxx Jo