~ As of 12/11/09 ~ This is the revised version! Here that? It's been revised!!
I've mostly added details (it was seriously lacking and poorly written) but I also extended some scenes and gave some more information. I changed around some dialogue too make in more in character and so it will fit better with the plans I have for the rest of the story (as of now at least).
I'm much more satisfied with the way this has turned out. I'm still a happy girl these days so this is even sweeter than the first version. I hope you don't throw up. Things aren't going to stay this sugary. I have just become a girl who appreciates cuteness.
So... Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Sakura stood outside the door of her superior's office and thought hard about what she was planning to do. Could she really just barge into Orochimaru's office and accuse him of a conspiracy?
There was no doubt in her mind that he was responsible for the attacks. She didn't know why she hadn't seen it sooner. Part of her had known the entire time.
He had threatened her and immediately afterwards the attacks had begun. She was almost raped and her apartment had been trashed all because Orochimaru wanted to play mad scientist. It made Sakura's blood boil. She had to put an end to it. She refused to be manipulated.
Sakura took a deep breath, knocked on the door, and walked inside. "Dr. Orochimaru?" she called.
Orochimaru looked up from his desk and smiled. "Dr. Haruno, to what do I owe this visit from you?"
His false courtesy made her sick to her stomach. "I'm here to talk to you about scare tactics and why I'm immune to them," she said boldly.
"I can't say I know what you're talking about." His voice was impassive but his glare was menacing. He made it clear he knew exactly what she was talking about.
"Cut the crap," spat Sakura. She knew it was unwise to speak this way to her one of her bosses but she felt like after all he had done to her he deserved to be disrespected. "What ever it is you're trying to accomplish with this harassment isn't going to happen. You're not going to bully me into doing anything unethical. If you want to give people an unapproved drug find someone else to do it for you. I'm not going to have any part in it."
"We'll see Dr. Haruno…" he flashed a sinister smile. "We'll see."
Sakura shook her head. "No, this stops now. Stay away from me, and stay away from my patients."
"I think it's time for you to go back to your own office," said Orochimaru. "You have a lot of work to do before the second trial starts. Your future in the science research world depends on this trial. Don't screw up."
Sakura's jaw clenched. More threats? "I won't," she said firmly. "I won't do anything wrong."
Nothing he could say or do could possibly change that.
Sakura left his office knowing full well that this was not even close to being over with. But whatever the steak might be, Sakura was ready for a fight.
"Um, hi," he held out a bouquet of lavender roses, "these are for you."
Sakura's face broke into a goofy smile. She couldn't help but notice how strong his grip was around the stems. "Thank you," she took them from his hands and buried her nose in them, "they smell wonderful." She gestured for him to follow her through the door. "Let me just find a vase for these and then we can go."
"Take your time," said Gaara casually. "I sort of know the owner."
Gaara had connections now? He had connections and knew where a flower shop was? Sakura tried to hide her shock. He was serious about this and this was the start of a real relationship. Gaara was making an actual effort. For once she didn't feel like she was forcing him into a relationship. They were finally on equal footing. They both had so much to gain and so much to lose.
"Do you eat out a lot?" Sakura asked in an attempt to make conversation. She wanted to put him at ease.
"I don't know how to cook." He sat down on the stool across the counter from the sink and turned his head to survey the room. His eyes shifted from the Persian rug to the vintage leather couch. He blinked twice. "I like your apartment. Is all of this stuff from your house in Konoha?"
Here it was. It was her perfect opportunity to tell Gaara about Orochimaru and his evil plot. This was the time to tell Gaara about the attacks against her. It would be best to enter in this relationship with honesty and openness. If she didn't want him to keep secrets from her she had to trust him too. And as much as she hated to admit it, Sakura wouldn't mind hearing someone telling her that it was all going to be okay.
"Yeah, most of it is, but I did pick up a few things at an estate sale upstate. I guess I just wanted a piece of home," she answered vaguely. "I don't really have a flair for decorating."
It was for his benefit that she had lied. She didn't want him to hear her story and then go and do something rash. She didn't know him well enough to guess how he might react. History told her that it wouldn't be pretty. She didn't want him to get into trouble for her sake. She was doing the right thing. With any luck she could fix her problems without him ever having to know.
"Nor do I," said Gaara. "My apartment came with furniture"
Sakura tried to picture what Gaara's bachelor pad might be like. She hoped she would get a chance to see it for herself. Sometime soon perhaps? She imagined it to be plain and modern styled. In her mind his apartment was decorated in hues of blue, green and brown. He had a working kitchen that was virtually untouched. Abstract art adorned the walls and tall, wide windows let streaming sunlight into his living room. She hoped that he kept his bedroom neat and tidy.
Did Gaara do his own laundry? Sakura realized with a tiny smile that she wouldn't mind doing Gaara's laundry. She would use the expensive and fresh smelling detergent. She would iron and fold too. Oh! And she had been in a department store last week and found the softest cashmere sweater. She could get it for him in that shade of steely grey that she had a feeling would really set off his eyes.
Sakura resisted the urge to sigh and put the filled vase of flowers on the hand painted coffee table that had once stood in Tsuande's living room. She clasped her hands together and bit her lip. Her chest felt warm and she wondered if his did too. They had just finished their first official conversation as a couple. Life was good.
"I'll go get my purse, it's in the other room." She pointed to the door at the end of the hall.
Gaara nodded. "I'll wait right here."
Sakura couldn't resist taking a quick peek in the mirror on her vanity. She just wanted to make sure she still looked clean and natural, just the way that she knew that he liked her. Sure enough, her appearance was plain and inconspicuous. Her face wasn't painted or colorful, and her dress (a different one from the one she wore on their original date) was not too gaudy or provocative. She was wearing the perfect outfit and she was wearing it well.
She knew better than to expect any compliments from Gaara. He was obviously on his best behavior but he was still Gaara. In a way, she didn't want him to say anything. That was not the part of him that needed to change. Though, she had always been curious about why he disliked makeup and glamorous clothes. It made her happy to know that he also liked her the way she was. Other women out there would kill for a man who was attracted to them even when their eyes were red from crying or when they were in post-op.
Sakura was slightly terrified that Gaara was too good looking for her now. He looked so yummy in his crisp white dress shirt. If he would just undo a few of those buttons he could be one of the men in one of those cologne ads. Men in cologne ads are always wearing unbuttoned white dress shirts. Gaara was that perfect combination of fiery and exotic that produced a sexiness that no woman could to deny. Sakura was hardly magazine spread material.
"Ready to go?" Sakura asked, emerging from the bedroom.
"Sure," Gaara replied straightening up. "It's not too far from here so we can walk if you want to."
"Okay." Sakura brushed past him to open the door. "Shall we?" she asked, holding it open.
Gaara nodded and started towards her. He stopped midway and stood frozen to the ground. "This isn't right."
"What isn't right?" asked Sakura cautiously.
Shit. They hadn't even made it out the door. He was already pulling this shit and they hadn't even made it out the door. Fuck him. Gaara was a fucking low life. How fucking dare he come all the way out here if he was going to chicken out? Did he have even a minute amount of respect for her? She was going to kill him. She was going to take her shoe off and stab him.
"Um, I forgot…" Gaara put his hands over his face, took a breath, and then put them back down again. "I forgot… I forgot to tell you how beautiful you look tonight."
It was a miracle that Sakura didn't crumple to the ground after he spoke those words. He wouldn't have said them if he didn't think they were true. Sakura's cheeks were gradually turning pink. This was real, wasn't it? This wasn't some sort of dream?
If this was a dream then Sakura didn't want to wake up. If she could just stay sleeping for just another couple hours… she had to see this night through. For once she actually had a good feeling that the night wasn't going to end in tears.
He didn't hold her hand but he did hold the restaurant door open for her. She hadn't been expecting it so an awkward moment passed between them where she stood there staring stupidly at him. When she finally realized what was going on she hurried through the door to hide her blush.
When Gaara had called her to ask her out, Sakura had been surprised that he suggest that they go to dinner. It was far too normal. His voice had been so calm on the phone but the words had sounded… rehearsed almost. The idea that he had been practicing his lines before picking up the phone to call her, made want to grab him by the ears and kiss his face. She couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day. Thoughts of cancer and Orochimaru never crossed her mind.
Naturally she had been fantasizing about the date all week. But she didn't even try to imagine what kind of restaurant he would be taking her to. They weren't exactly in the nicest neighborhood. The streets were deserted and several stores seemed to be boarded up with wooden planks. There were shards of broken bottles littering the streets. When she walked through the doors of West on the corner of 16th and K Street she wasn't the least bit surprised at what she saw. It was a dimly lit hole-in-the-wall.
The tables were oddly misshapened out of weathered wood. The tables and chairs didn't match. In fact, no two chairs were anything alike. Some were metal, some were mahogany, some were oak and some were covered in ugly paisley fabric. Sakura raised her eyebrows but kept her mouth shut. The floorboards were unfinished and creaked with every step she took. Long strips of the water stained paper were pealing off the grimy walls revealing deep cracks. Again Sakura refused to pass a judgment. The paintings were dusty and the windows were filthy. The place had character alright. A frighteningly thin woman was playing disturbingly nostalgic tunes on the dilapidated piano in the farthest corner from the entrance. There were a few couples seated at tables and a man sitting at the bar across the room. His eyes lit up when he saw Gaara and her walk through the door.
"Gaara!" called the man, seemingly delighted. "How the hell are you?" He stood up and met them at the front of the "restaurant".
"I am well," said Gaara in a voice that did not match the other man's in enthusiasm, though there was no hostility in his tone.
The man smiled a dangerous and reckless smile that contradicted his warm brown eyes. "This is her, isn't it?" he asked.
Gaara's expression turned sour. "I want food not conversation."
The man's smile grew wider. "This is her." He turned and offered Sakura his hand. "I'm Ken. It's nice to meet you, Sakura. I've heard so much about you."
Sakura almost choked on her tongue. Gaara talked about her? To other people? He talked about her? She couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of things he said about her. Did he tell him that she was pretty? Or smart? Or did he tell him that she was an evil bitch? Sakura laughed nervously, "All good things I hope."
Ken winked and gave a nod. "Oh yeah… he told us that he had never had a girlfriend before- we believed him of course, he's got a stunning personality. Then one night we stole some liquor from the Sarge's office and got completely pissed. The next thing I know, this guy can't shut up about some chick he's in love with. You should have heard the things he said about you, he-"
It was all Ken was able to say before Gaara's fist collided with his stomach and he was doubled over holding his gut in pain. "We want food," Gaara said through gritted teeth.
Ken groaned. "What the hell, man? You didn't have to hit me that hard!"
Gaara glared at him. "Maybe you deserved it."
"Maybe you deserve this," Ken said, socking Gaara in the shoulder.
"Fuck you." Gaara punched him again.
"Fuck you." Ken returned the blow.
Then it was Gaara's turn again, and then Ken's, and then Gaara again.
Sakura had to keep her hand over her mouth to contain her giggling. This was her Gaara. Completely and utterly incapable of communicating or conveying his emotions appropriately. A minor scuffle with a man who Sakura presumed to be a friend of his didn't alarm her. As long as he wasn't beating strangers to a bloody pulp she was okay with a little bit of fighting. She took his hand in hers and tugged gently. "Not that I'm not enjoying watching you two boys make complete idiots out of yourselves but I haven't eaten since breakfast. I'm a little bit starving."
"Right," said Ken, straightening up and brushing his shoulders off. "Go ahead and take the empty table in the middle of the floor. I'll have Anoushka bring you something to eat.
Sakura almost died. Gaara had pulled out her chair for her. He was being chivalrous! It was only after she had sat down that she realized that something was missing. "Where are the menus?" she asked.
"We don't need them," Gaara replied, helping to push her chair in. "They only serve one thing here."
What kind of restaurant was this? She was almost afraid to ask. "What do they serve?"
Gaara shrugged and sat down. "It's some noodley stuff."
"Okay…" could he have been any more vague? What culture didn't sever some variant of noodles? She would just have to trust him not to poison her. "So how do you and Ken know each other?"
"We were roommates in military school," explained Gaara. "We've known each other for almost ten years."
So did that mean that they were… friends? Gaara had a friend? What else had changed in the years they were apart? Did Gaara speak Swahili now? Did he wear women's underwear?
"So, do you want wine or something?" he asked after a long silence.
"Yes," Sakura answered automatically. Hell yes. She needed something to settle her nerves. Just when she was starting to feel comfortable the reminder that she didn't know him as well as she used to gave her the first date jitters.
"Lang!" Gaara called. "We want wine."
"Red or white?" Ken shouted back.
Gaara looked at Sakura expectantly. "Red," she answered quickly.
"Red!" relayed Gaara.
"Do you want that stuff in the carton or do you want one of the good bottles?"
Gaara growled. "What the hell do you think?"
Sakura wondered if Gaara had ever brought the Ice Queen to such an establishment. Sakura imagined that the cobwebs in the rafters and the chipped china would horrify a woman that snobby. Sakura on the other hand… she thought it was nice that Gaara had brought her somewhere that he was comfortable enough to relax. She wanted to keep him calm. There would be no freaking out on their first date. Things were already going so well and she had a good feeling.
She studied the man across the table from her. There was something about his face that made her want to smile. She could never tell what he was thinking. She could never understand how his features looked chiseled and strong while his eyes held a shadow of sadness. Her hair was still messy and wild. Sakura just knew that the only brush he owned was the one he used to clean his pearly white teeth.
"So," said Gaara's mouth. "I hear you're employed."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. Was this his way of attempting to start a conversation? She gave him an 'A' for effort but an 'F' on logic. He knew where she worked. He had been to her office. He had barged right in. He had donated thousands of dollars to her laboratory. Sakura realized as an afterthought that this had been his way of trying to impress her. Part of her wanted to giggle but the majority of her wanted to bang her head against the table. Of course she was employed!
"Yes," Sakura said, deciding to play along. "I have a great job." This was another perfect opportunity to tell him about Orochimaru. An opportunity she was going to go right along and ignore. "I hear you're a novelist."
Gaara nodded. "I'm working on a new book."
"What's it about?" she asked curiously. Was it another miserable pile of crap that would only serve to depress her? She knew that he had it in him to write something better than that. There was more to life than drowning. Gaara could write something heartwarming if he tried hard enough.
"It chronicles the journey of three single women living in the city who support each other through the trials and tribulations of love."
Sakura stared open mouthed at him. Did Gaara Sabaku just use the phrase "trails and tribulations of love"? Gaara was going to write chick lit? Was he out of his mind? Sakura realized that she didn't want Gaara to write something sweet and sentimental. "I'm sorry, but what did you just say?"
"I lied," said Gaara with a small smile. "I'm not working on anything right now."
"Oh god," Sakura laughed and put a hand to her chest. "You looked serious. It's hard for me to tell with you sometimes." She didn't know why she felt so startled.
"You're a little more obvious," he said. "You weren't being truthful before when you said you liked my book."
Sakura blushed. She didn't think he would remember that particular lie. But then again, he told some of the biggest lies of all. Still, he had made a joke. A funny joke. This was the kind of change she could consider an improvement. She was in much too good of a mood to feel embarrassed.
It would be nice if she could say that after Gaara's little joke the conversation picked up and they had an in depth discussion about their lives and dreams. They could have talked about the history of paper bag making and she would have died of happiness. But no words left Gaara's mouth and Sakura was feeling too shy to press him. So instead they sat silently, watching the skeleton lady play songs with haunting melodies on that ancient looking piano.
But Sakura knew that this was not necessarily a bad thing. It wasn't an awkward silence per se. She would like to think that it was more of a comfortable silence. There was certainly no tension in the air. But still, she needed to be sure about it. She had reasons to be insecure with him. Nothing in their past relationship had been remotely secure. She decided to take a leap of faith. Sakura tentatively reached out and took his hand. The music seemed so fade away. She knew his skin would be cold. "Hey," she said quietly. "I missed you."
"That's stupid," he replied, his hand limp in hers.
She furrowed her brow. She hoped that this wasn't the start of his furious efforts to backpedal his way out of relationship territory. "Why's that?"
"I'm no one important." He started to pull his hand away but Sakura held tight.
Sakura was not about to sit there and listen to him put himself down. It made her heart clench to know that his self-esteem was still nowhere near where it should be. "You're someone very important." She nodded over to where two drunks were clinging to each other while they stumbled around on the floor in front of the piano. Sakura wanted an excuse to put her arms around him. "Ask me to dance."
"Dance?" Gaara repeated as if he had never before heard the term.
"Yes," she replied patiently. "You know where two people put their arms around each other and move rhythmically to a beat?"
"Oh." Gaara stood up. "Let's do it."
"Do what?" She wanted him to ask her properly. What happened to his chivalry?
He shifted awkwardly. "Dance."
Sakura sighed. He was hopeless. She could appreciate the flowers and the politeness but all she really wanted was for him to take a deep breath and relax. He was allowed to be a little nervous and unsure. It didn't make him any less of a man. Roses made her smile but that wasn't one of the things about him that made her knees weak.
Sakura was positive that Gaara knew how to dance. She had seen him dance with the Ice Queen. But that didn't mean she expected him to break out his happy feet. He did however rest his hands on her hips and sway slightly. Sakura put her arms around his neck and she decided that this was good enough for her. She leaned in and kept her face close enough to his shoulder that she could feel the heat radiating from his body. His scent was unfamiliar and that excited her. It gave her something to think about. Why did he smell like nectarines and leather? She smiled stupidly and pulled him closer. She was more than a little pleased when she felt his grip on her tighten.
"This is… nice," Gaara said, his face expressionless.
Sakura couldn't gage his level of seriousness. He didn't sound like a man who was enjoying himself. Did he not want to dance with her? She felt her heart sink. "Yeah," she replied lamely. "Nice."
"I've been meaning to ask…" his voice trailed off.
"Mmm?" Sakura leaned back so she could look him in the eyes. Had Gaara been worrying about something? If it was important enough for him to open his mouth about it, Sakura was eager to listen.
Gaara avoided her gaze. "What happened to your boyfriend the artist?"
Sakura felt relieved of all things. Was he jealous? She liked the idea of him feeling a little possessive. It reinforced that he didn't just love her he wanted her too. Could she use this to her advantage? She didn't want to manipulate him. "He wasn't my boyfriend." She decided to tell the truth for once. "He was just a date."
"Good," said Gaara seriously. "He wasn't your type."
"Yeah," Sakura bit her lip and brushed his bangs out of his eyes. "I prefer redheads."
"Girls with pink hair are nice," Gaara murmured. He looked like he wanted to touch her face but his hands didn't leave her waist.
Either way Sakura was beaming at him. It was a compliment. Those words were Gaara's way of being sweet. This was the best date they had ever been on.
"Food," called a woman with frizzy grey hair. She set two plates down on their table. "Eat while it's hot."
Sakura eyed the steaming grey mass on the plates doubtfully. What the hell was that supposed to be? Would Gaara be hurt if Sakura couldn't stomach this mystery meal? She was just waiting for something to go wrong. Vomiting on the first course would constitute a dating disaster.
Gaara must have noticed her hesitance. "Just trust me on this one. Okay, Sakura?" He pulled her chair out for her and stood behind it. "This is my favorite."
Well, if it was Gaara's favorite…
Best. Meal. Ever.
The food was at least. The conversation was of course non-existent, but that might have been because Sakura had been too busy stuffing her face.
"I'm glad you're not one of those women who's shy about eating in front of men," Gaara said with another small smile.
"Fuck you, Gaara Sabaku," Sakura replied between mouthfuls. "I wasn't lying when I had said that I hadn't eaten all day."
His eyes were smiling now too. "At least save some room for dessert."
Sakura looked up from her plate. "Dessert?"
"Yeah, it's some cake-ish thing."
Sakura fought the urge to roll her eyes. Of course it was a "cake-ish thing". That was helpful information because before she had been picturing a lawn mower. Seriously though, what the hell kind of restaurant was this?
Well, it was Gaara's favorite. Gaara had taken her to his favorite restaurant. Everyone knew that you took a girl you didn't like to a random restaurant. A girl you wanted to sleep with you took to a fancy restaurant. But that special girl, the girl you really care about, you take her to your favorite restaurant.
So, Sakura could deal with it being a little bizarre. They were both a little bizarre. It was one of the reasons why she was crazy about him. It would have been disappointing if he took her someplace where normal couples went. They weren't a normal couple.
She had high hopes for them just as she had high hopes for "the cake-ish thing"
Sakura had heard the rain beating on the roof of the restaurant but she had ignored it, hoping that it would stop by time she and Gaara were done with the delicious cake-ish thing. It didn't of course. This was Gaara and Sakura's first date. It was supposed to be raining. She wouldn't have had it any other way.
Ken lent them a giant umbrella to share. He leaned in to kiss Sakura's cheek in a farewell gesture, but Gaara landed another blow to his stomach before his lips could get anywhere near her face. Was it so wrong that Sakura found this romantic?
"Goodnight, Ken," she said. Thank you for everything,"
"No problem," Ken replied in a somewhat strained tone. He was grinning nonetheless "Behave tonight, kiddies."
Sakura blushed. She hoped that Gaara didn't forget that he was on probation. She wasn't read to hop into bed with him just yet.
The couple left the restaurant together under the umbrella but as soon as they were outside Sakura realized that they couldn't walk separately under the umbrella and not expect to get wet. Gaara seem to have come to this conclusion as well but he didn't make any move to solve the problem. Sakura sighed. One step forward two steps back. Gaara needed to make up his mind.
Sakura took hold of Gaara's arm and draped it over her shoulders. She pressed her body against his and wrapped her arms around his chest. "Take me home?" she asked quietly. Gaara nodded and she felt his hold on her tighten. He kept the umbrella over their heads to shield them from the rain and they started down the street.
Unlike their first date a million years ago, this was a warm rain. The raindrops that made it past the umbrella didn't burn. The temperature was quite comfortable aside from the fact that they were both soaked to the bone. Sakura didn't mind the feel of the wet fabric on her skin.
The downpour strengthened and the raindrops pelted down on them like bullets from the sky. Sakura was slightly annoyed now. The forecast hadn't even called for cloudiness. She buried her face in Gaara's neck and she was vaguely aware of him leading her a storefront over hang. She looked up into his eyes and they wordlessly agreed that they would wait it out. She rested her head on his shoulder, and they watched puddles fill and steam rise off of the streets. They watched taxicabs drive by but neither of them made any move to hail one. They were in no hurry.
"I kind of like the rain," said Gaara absently.
"Yeah," replied Sakura softly. The citrus smell was stronger now and it was turning her legs into jelly. "I think of you when it rains."
She looked up and saw that he was staring intently at her face. She knew that when a man said such few words a girl had to rely on what his eyes told her. Gaara's eyes had never been more unreadable, but she was able to discern one thing, and that was that he was thinking about her and his thoughts were not lighthearted. His gaze traveled downward and halted at her lips. Sakura felt her heartbeat slow. "Do you want to kiss me?"
"Kiss you?" Gaara repeated, his face gradually moving closer to hers.
Sakura could feel his breath against her face even in the humid air. He was so close she could almost taste him. She lifted her hand and brushed her fingers against his mouth. "It's when two people press their lips together."
"Yes," said Gaara. His mouth was just a hairs width away from hers. "I want to kiss you," he whispered.
Sakura's face broke out into a grin. "Well," she said releasing him, "you're going to have to catch me first!" She waited to see the look of confusion surface on his face before she dashed out into the rain.
She didn't know what had possessed her to do it. There had been a sudden rush of adrenaline and she had to move. She didn't want the night to end yet. A kiss would be the climax. She wasn't ready to let go of the thrill of anticipation. She wanted to draw it out and make him work for it.
"Wait!" he shouted. "Where are you going?"
Sakura didn't answer. Instead, she kept running across the street towards the park. She had no doubt that his legs were stronger and could carry him faster than hers could. It was why she needed as much of a head start as she could get. The rain felt so good on her skin. The water was washing away all of her problems and fears. There would be nothing to worry about now. She was getting a fresh start with Gaara, a new trial was starting and her apartment was freshly decorated and furnished.
Somewhere along the way she lost her shoes. They were an obscenely expensive pair, but her mind was too bubbly to care. She was only slightly inebriated. It wasn't the effects of the wine that were making her dizzy, it was Gaara. Gaara was intoxicating. It would only be a matter of time until Sakura was addicted. Gaara was dangerous.
And he was gaining on her. Sakura smirked. He could only catch her if he could find her. Sakura veered left and ran into the sculpture garden. It was the perfect place for a game of hide and seek. She weaved in and out through the sculptures, looking for the ideal piece to cover her from sight. The light from the street lamps illuminated the path and cast long shadows on the grass. She dashed underneath the bower to shelter herself from the rain and found a great marble statue of a general riding a horse. Sakura crouched down on her knees and tried to silence her panting.
The park wasn't the safest place to be after dark, and with her recent luck, it would be smart to avoid it altogether. And yet, she felt safe. It was foolish and irrational but Sakura didn't care. Gaara was somewhere in the vicinity and he would never let something happen to her. In the off chance that she couldn't protect herself, (which Sakura thought was highly unlikely), Gaara would fight for her and keep her out of harm's way. By this point she felt as if she could handle anything the world threw at her.
"You're insane!" Gaara called from somewhere in the distance. "Where are you?"
Sakura didn't answer. She didn't want to give away her position. Her heart was thumping against her ribs. She was acting like a teenager and she didn't care. She deserved a night of frivolity. She deserved to be happy. Life wasn't' about being perfect or being the best. It was about finding happiness and loving and making mistakes and giving second chances. When was the last time that she had to cover her mouth to stifle hysterical laughter? When was the last time that she had felt wet grass between her toes? It had probably been at least fifteen years since she had let go of her inhibitions like this. She was taking a chance. Hard work could only get you so far. Sometimes you had to risk it.
She didn't hear him approaching. He really did have this stealth thing down. She really didn't expect any less from him. The next thing Sakura knew, there were two strong hands gripping her waist, lifting her in the air, and twirling her around so that she faced him. "You're fucking crazy," he whispered between labored breaths. His words were harsh but his tone was just the slightest bit amused.
Sakura laughed. "You fucking love me for it." It took her a moment to realize the gravity held by that statement. The sound of the rain falling was deafening. He didn't know that she knew. He didn't know that she had heard his confession. What was he going to say now? Would he deny it? Sakura hoped that he wouldn't but she didn't know if she wanted him to say those three words just yet.
"It's getting late." Gaara dropped Sakura back onto her feet. He put his hands in his pockets and turned away from her. "I'll take you home now."
Sakura would be lying if she said that she wasn't disappointed. After all of that he was just going to let her go? They had been so close. Would another inch really be that big of a deal? When was he just going to let himself admit that this was what he wanted? He was already starting to walk away.
She wasn't going to let this moment go to waste. "Wait. Gaara, wait."
He turned back around. "Yeah? Hurry up, I left the umbrella on the sidewalk."
"No." Sakura sighed and reached for him. She wanted to show him what she was offering. "Give me your hand.
The idea seemed to trouble him, but he complied. "I don't know what…"
"Shhh. Just be quiet for a minute." She closed her fist around his wrist and pulled him closer. "I'm not going to hurt you."
She covered his hand with hers and she forced him to touch her face. The sensation was indescribable. Her heart began to race. She forced him to trail his fingers down her neck and across her throat. She left his hand on top of her breast and on top of her heart. "And you're not going to hurt me," said Sakura.
Gaara swallowed. He brought his hand back up and pushed the wets strands away from Sakura's face. "I promise," he murmured, threading his fingers through her hair. "That I will never hurt you again. I will always keep you safe."
And then he kissed her. He put his lips on top of hers and he kissed her.
Sakura's heart stalled, her breath caught in her throat, and the earth stood still. It was silent. Gaara tasted like rainwater. He was soft and he was hesitant but he was sincere. Sakura wanted to show him that he had every right to kiss her, that she liked his kisses and that she needed his kisses. She opened her mouth and let his tongue slip inside. They weren't the kind of kisses that left you hot and aching, they were the kind of kisses that filled your heart with helium and melted your mind. They were Gaara's kisses. They were incomparable to any other kisses that had ever been given or taken in the history of kisses.
She didn't want to let go but she needed oxygen. She gently pushed him away and couldn't help but laugh breathlessly. "You're a really good kisser."
Gaara rested his forehead against hers. "This might work."
This had better work. This had to work. Sakura didn't think that she could lose this again. "This is how it's supposed to be. We're meant for each other."
"I could get used to that idea." He took a step back and looked down at her feet. "I thought that you had shrunk or something. What happened to your shoes?"
Sakura shrugged. "They're somewhere around here."
Gaara sighed and ran a hand through his wet hair. "Alright, Cinderella. Let's go find them." He shook his head. "This is going to take all night," he muttered.
"Yeah." Sakura winced. "Sorry about that."
"Unless…" started Gaara thoughtfully.
"Unless?" echoed Sakura.
"I could carry you home, I guess."
What the hell was it with this man? He can't hold her hand but he can carry her home? He's shy about sharing an umbrella with her but it was okay to carry her home. She hoped to the science gods that he didn't mean that he was going to throw her over his shoulder. "Yeah, that might be easiest," she said with an air of nonchalance. "If you're strong enough, I guess."
A look of determination crossed over his features. "Of course I'm strong enough." And to prove it he bent down and lifted Sakura up from under her knees and tilted her body so her back rested against his other arm. Sakura squeaked and scrambled to wrap her arms around his neck. Without uttering a singled word he started off into the night, walking as if her weight were nothing to him.
"Promise that you're not going to drop me?" asked Sakura nervously.
Gaara smirked at her. "Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how annoying you get. You're pretty heavy. Did you really have to eat all of that cake-ish thing and noddley stuff?"
"Go to hell, Gaara Sabaku." Sakura sat up and nipped at his ear. "I just love a good meal."
"Just wait until I take you to the place with the chickeny thing," said Gaara.
Did he just suggest another date? Long term relationship?! He was serious about her. Sakura sighed happily and rested her head on his shoulder. This really was the best date they had ever been on, and she was looking forward to what was to come.
"This is probably going to make me sound nuts." Sakura laughed. "My boss is trying to intimidate me into doing something unethical. He's hired thugs to attack me and trash my apartment." Sakura had been dying to tell someone, so why not tell the person who she was paying to listen?
Dr. Soto was quiet for a moment. "Okay."
"Okay?" repeated Sakura. "Just like that?" Doctors were supposed to call their patients crazy after accusations like that. She had been expecting a little disbelief.
"Well, you're not paranoid or delusional." Dr. Soto smiled. "And believe it or not, I can tell when you're lying. Therefore you must be telling the truth."
Sakura felt a rush of affection for the doctor. The last thing she needed right now was someone telling her she was crazy. "I told him to stop but I know he won't. He's insane."
Dr. Soto blinked. "Call the police."
The police wouldn't understand. Orochimaru would find a way around it. His crazy experiments had been going on for a long time. He hadn't met any resistance yet. It was obvious that he had connection. The police would ignore Sakura. And at the very least she would also look weak. Sakura Haruno was not weak. She could handle this by herself. "I don't-"
"Why is it that successful women are incapable of asking for help? Sometimes you just have to accept that it's beyond you. Your life could be in jeopardy." Dr. Soto sighed. "Just call the police. Don't be stubborn. You don't want to get-"
"Do you think I would make a good mother?" interrupted Sakura. There was no point in wasting any brain energy on Orochimaru. If Dr. Soto's only advice was to call the police then Sakura didn't need the lecture. She had other things on her mind too. Some of her thoughts were more important then that creepy bastard.
Dr. Soto shifted in her seat. "I'm sorry, what did you just say?
Did she not hear Sakura or was she appalled that Sakura would even ask that kind of question? "Me, as a mother. Am I too screwed up to be a good mother?"
"Sakura…" Dr. Soto was silent for a moment. "You're not screwed up. I think that you would make a wonderful mother."
"I have a boyfriend you know…" Sakura tugged at the hem of her skirt. She had Gaara now. She wasn't ready to have his babies or anything like that, but she did wonder what it might be like to have a family with him. She was getting way ahead of herself but the thoughts themselves were fascinating. "I mean we've only been dating for two weeks, but I think we're pretty serious."
Dr. Soto raised her eyebrows. "Boyfriend?"
"We went out on our second date last night." Sakura smiled at the memory. "We went to this restaurant in little Italy. They hand make the pasta there. I've never eaten so much in my life. It was a little embarrassing though. Apparently he goes there often, only alone. So everyone was staring and whispering."
On the bright side, the head chef himself came out and served their food. He gave Sakura a carton of desserts to take home and sang to her in Italian. Gaara had once again been unable to make up his mind over whether he was thoughtful and romantic or bored and aloof. At least he was consistently handsome. Wherever they went, girls couldn't take their eyes off of him. Sakura decided that dinner with him was the highpoint of her week.
"And after dinner?" asked Dr. Soto.
"He took me home." Though they took a cab this time.
"And after that?"
"I went to sleep." She had been exhausted.
"Dr. Soto, it was our second date!" cried Sakura. "I'm way classier than that."
And he was still on probation. She had to be sure of him first. She was already so emotionally invested in him. Having sex would make it too real. It would just be better to wait.
But that didn't mean that they both didn't want it. Because they really, really did want it. With the way their wet clothes were plastered to their bodies… Gaara's dress shirt outlining every long and lean muscle… Sakura had invited him inside to dry off, and he had flat out refused. She had been confused at first until he explained to her that he wouldn't be able to control himself. If he took even one step into her apartment he would lose it. He told her in great detail exactly what he wanted to do to her and how long he wanted to make it last. Then, he turned around and left without even saying goodbye. Sakura was half tempted to call him back and make him deliver those words.
And last night had been just as bad, if not worse. Gaara had her pinned to the wall outside her apartment with his lips furiously kissing hers, one hand fisted in her hair, and the other inching up the inside of her thigh. When without warning, he suddenly dropped her like she were a sack of hot coals, and he again fled the scene without a goodbye. Sakura had been left dazed and struggling to regain her breath. It was almost funny if she could get over the fact that it was pure torture. Why again had she insisted that they take it slow? But it was sweet that he was playing along.
"My, Sakura," said Dr. Soto. "You've had a busy summer."
"Yeah." Sakura laughed. "I suppose I have. So much has changed. I've changed."
"Is he going to make you happy?"
Sakura smiled and bit her lip. "He already has. When we're together… I feel… like its my birthday and all of my friends have thrown me an extravagant party, and I get exactly what I want. I get him." She shook her head. "I'm being so girly right now." She put her head in her hands. "Ah, this is so embarrassing."
"I take it that you have connected on an emotional level with this man?" said Dr. Soto. "It's okay to be excited about a new relationship."
Sakura's emotions were all over Gaara. She just wanted to be with him. Every minute of the day she just wanted to be with him.
Unsurprisingly, when they were together, she did most of the talking. But Gaara was a good listener and after a little bit of coaxing he even shared with her a little bit of details about his life at military school and what he studied in college. Some of the time they just sat in silence because just being in each other's presence was enough. He wasn't good with words and she didn't want to pressure him. When they were together she knew that he was thinking about her and that made her happy. She liked him just the way he was.
"I am excited." Sakura couldn't keep a smile from spreading across her face. "I've never felt this way about another person before."
"I'm excited for you too, Sakura," said Dr. Soto. "But don't forget about taking care of yourself. Don't get distracted. You have problems to deal with."
"Of course. I'm on top of it all."
Dr. Soto continued with her lecture and Sakura stopped listening. She was supposed to meet Gaara later in the week. They were going to have breakfast together at the pier. He was taking her to his favorite breakfast place. He said that he had something that he wanted to show her. Sakura couldn't wait to find out what it was.
She had Gaara in her life again. She couldn't even imagine what was in store for her next.
It was the first time in years that Sakura had watched a sunrise. It was a beautiful sight, but Sakura couldn't help but think that the red in the sky was nowhere near as vibrant as the red in Gaara's hair.
He looked adorable trying to balance the glass of orange juice in his lap and eating his powdered sugar covered waffle with his hands. Sakura had a sneaking suspicion that the shirt he was wearing now was the same that he had worn to bed. He didn't seem tired but there was a certain stillness to him. He was at peace. Sitting on the edge of the pier with breakfast, his girlfriend, and the sunrise gave him peace. Sakura didn't think it was possible that there was anyone else as remarkable as Gaara on the planet.
"This is good." Sakura folded in half the manuscript for Gaara's new book and tucked it under her thigh to keep it from flying away. There was a pleasant breeze this morning. She watched it blow Gaara's hair out of his eyes. He never ceased to amaze her. "This is really good."
Gaara shifted awkwardly, but Sakura could tell that he was pleased. "It's just the first chapter."
"I know I'm a bit biased, but Gaara, this is going to be an amazing book." Sakura wished that there were more for her to read. It was unlike anything he had written before. There was heart in it. The narrator was determined. The odds were against him, but by the end of the book Sakura knew that he was going to survive and triumph. He was going to get the girl too. He wasn't going to go nuts and jump ship. Those days were over. Sakura had known all along that he was capable of writing something with inspiration.
"I just couldn't sleep. I just had to get it down on paper." Gaara took a sip of his orange juice. "I have the entire thing thought up in my head."
What else was going on in Gaara's head? Sakura didn't have a clue. Where was this energy coming from? Was it natural? She hoped that it wasn't drugs or mania. Sakura reached up and brushed the powdered sugar off of his cheeks. He stiffened for a moment and then relaxed. Sakura kissed his shoulder. There was only one way to find out. "We need to talk about something."
Gaara sighed. "I know."
"Are you…" Sakura didn't know how to ask. She stared into the water below them. She deserved to know. She should have asked him in the beginning. "Are you okay?"
He was quiet for a moment. "Yeah."
"Yeah?" Sakura needed him to elaborate.
"I have ups and downs."
"Do you take your medicine?" That had been his downfall before.
"Yes." He stared into the water and began to absently trace indecipherable patterns on Sakura's bare thigh. There wasn't anything overtly sexual about it. It seemed to be more of a nervous gesture. "Everyday," he added.
"I smoke the occasional cigarette," he admitted.
Sakura could live with that. She wasn't sure what to ask next. "How long has it been since you… you know…?"
"I haven't had an episode in years." He continued with his ministrations on her leg. "But I'm not perfect. I still get angry sometimes."
"I don't need you to be perfect. It's okay to be angry sometimes." She kissed his shoulder again. "You don't have to change. I should have said it before. You really don't have to change. There is nothing about you that I can't accept." As long as he wasn't hurting himself. Drugs and mood swings hurt him. She couldn't stay with him if he was hurting himself. It would hurt her too much.
"I don't deserve you," Gaara said quietly.
Sakura smiled. Gaara deserved so much more in life. How was it that he didn't know how wonderful he was? "Too bad," said Sakura. "You're stuck with me. I've sunk my claws into you."
"Sakura…" he rolled his eyes. "You are so weird."
"I just want you to be happy," she said in a small voice. "I'm happy when you're happy."
Gaara sighed. "Fine."
"I'm happy, okay?"
She leaned back and looked up at his face. His face was calm and his eyes were serious. "Really?" she asked.
"Really." He said it with such finality that there was no way she could question it. His hand moved to hesitantly touch her face. "This is more than what I could have ever asked for."
Sakura always knew that Gaara could be effortlessly charming when the time was right. And the fact that he was unaware of this skill made it all the more sincere when those tiny compliments left his mouth. He really did care about her. She reached upwards and kissed him sweetly on the lips. "Why didn't we do this months ago?"
"We're idiots," he deadpanned.
Sakura scoffed. "Speak for yourself. I'm brilliant. This was my idea to begin with."
Gaara smirked "If by brilliant you mean insane, then yes, you are brilliant."
"Shut up, Gaara Sabaku!" she punched his arm lightly. She loved it when he let his playful side show "I am the brains of this operation. You're the brawns." Sakura did love Gaara's muscles. She fought the urge to giggle.
"Right." Gaara downed the rest of his juice and then lifted himself off of the ground. "Alright, time to go."
She forgot how quickly playful-Gaara liked to vanish. "Go? Go where? It's a Sunday!"
Gaara rolled his eyes. "Well, Dr. Haruno, your new trial is starting tomorrow. We both know you have a mountain of paperwork to do." He offered her his hand. "And I want to get started on the next chapter."
Sakura let him pull her upright. She didn't want to do work! She wanted to spend the day with him. "I might not have time to see you again until next weekend."
"Go to hell, Gaara Sabaku." Sakura grumbled. He really was a jerk. "Can't you even pretend to be disappointed?"
"Neither of us are going anywhere. We spent ten years apart. Six days is nothing."
"Okay," Sakura sighed. He had made a good point. "But next Saturday there is someone I want you to meet."
"Yeah?" Gaara called over his shoulder, already making his way up the pier.
"Yeah," said Sakura, running to catch up with him. "Her name's Naomi."
Okay. So that's the new version. Do you like it? I realize that you can't review a chapter more than once, but if you didn't review last time and have an opinion on the revised version of the chapter would you mind sharing?
Thanks! To everyone who did review the first version. You reviewers are one of my favorite things in this world.