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Chapter Fifteen…

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Light streamed in through glass panes; pink beams where the sun glinted through her curtains fell across the floor and part of her bed. She was sitting up, no longer allowing sleep to hide her beneath the bounty of pillows and bedding wrapped about her. She still wanted to hide; part of her did. It would be so easy to curl back under all the soft cotton and fall into a self induced hours-long coma.

A tap came from her door and it creaked open. Sakura offered a faint smile as her mother came in; she didn't even care anymore how pitiful she looked. Her hair felt tangled and fuzzy; she knew her mascara was probably running twin-stained trails down her cheeks; she was thankful she wasn't icky with sweat. She still wanted a shower, though.

"How do you feel?" her mother asked as she took a seat next to her on the edge of the bed.

Sakura sighed, long and raggedly. "Fried… but better."

Her mother nodded, still watching her quietly.

Sakura bit her lower lip, her eyes settling on the comforter across her legs. "Thanks… thanks for being there. I'm… I'm sorry about—." Her mother stilled her as she placed her hand over hers and squeezed.

Her voice was soft and soothing; a tone she hadn't heard since she was a child. "I need you to hear me first this time."

Tentatively, she nodded. "…Ok…"

Her mother took in a deep breath and squeezed her hand again; her gaze remained locked on her face, even if Sakura wasn't looking at her. "To start, I never wanted you to be a model; I never expected you to follow in my footsteps to make me happy. I'm not going to lie and tell you I wasn't happy when you decided to do that as a little girl, or that my happiness waned when you stuck with it through the majority of your teen years… But," she said very quietly as her gaze softened on her, "I never expected it.

"Second… I've done a poor job of being your mother. When you were young I could afford to get away with being easy on you because I didn't take your goals seriously enough yet. However, when that changed… I had to figure out how to be both a good mom and a good teacher; in the end I didn't know how to be both. I couldn't be. I decided that for you I would put myself in the position of teacher over mother because I assumed you needed that more.

"Thirdly… and most importantly…" she whispered, tightening her grip of her hand, "I love you, Sakura." As the pinkette's eyes drew up to her, ridged with tears, she forced herself to continue; her voice was the same, urgently painful whisper, "Regardless of what you do with your life, the choices you make, the mistakes you learn from and people you place yourself in the company of… that will never change. I will always be here to accept you for who you are.

"And for the record? I never stopped being proud of you."

Relief was the first thing that flooded Sakura; immense relief. Her smile was wobbly and she tried once again to hold back tears. She'd cried enough the night before. She lifted her hand, covering her mouth as she clamped her jaw shut and tried to swallow back a sound she hadn't realized she'd been holding it.

"Here."

"Thank you," she whispered as her mother handed her a wet towel from the nightstand. She wiped her eyes and took a tissue from the box there also and blew her nose. She dropped the latter in the trashcan next to her bed. "I'm… I'm sorry about last night. I didn't mean what I said." When her mother raised a brow at her she continued. "I mean… I didn't I blame you." She wiped her face again and took a breath. "It's not your fault I did what I did. I did it because I wanted to; because I thought it was the right thing to do. You gave up so much for me when—."

"What did I give up?"

Sakura's expression shifted to partial confusion. Was it a trick question? "Everyone says so… in not so many words. You were at the top of your career when you got pregnant with me. You could have done anything you wanted."

"And I did."

Sakura blinked.

Vivian smiled and shook her head. "I never once regretted having you, nor did I regret choosing to spend my time with you as you grew up. I didn't give up my dreams, Sakura; I traded one dream in for another."

Sakura frowned, brow furrowed with doubt. "But, you always looked so sad when your friends came over and talked about you, told you about what they were doing with their lives and how much they admired you."

Vivian laughed. "I looked tired, Sakura. Not sad. Sometimes sitting down with my friends, even with you there, was the only time I had to relax. You were a handful as a girl and I wasn't use to being a hands-on mom, a hands-on person. I came from money, unlike your father. Do you think my mother ever took the time to bring me up as I did you, or give me any sound advice on how to do that? I learned what hard work was with you. And I'm ok with that.

"When you grew up a little bit it became easier for me to have a life of my own; especially with you doing the same."

"I… I didn't know," she whispered, feeling like an idiot. In some ways all of her life decisions seemed like some sort of cruel joke.

"Don't get me wrong. There are some parts of me that wouldn't mind going back to that life; to being the person everyone invited to every event. And there were days I wanted to, especially when you were a little girl; however, I wanted to be here for you more.

"I'm proud of the women you grew up to be because I was there."

Sakura smiled faintly, nodding as she looked down again; her hands were shifty in her lap. "I still want you here, Mom," her voice was quiet again.

"I'm sorry?" Her mother gave her a questionable look, as if she hadn't heard her or she was confused.

Sakura bit her lip as she looked up at her. She didn't know why she was afraid to say anything about it; that's what all of this was about. "I want you here; in my life. I hate it when you go on week-long business trips and when you're not here for dinner; I hate it that you don't call me when you're gone.

"I want you to know who my friends are, what movies and music I'm watching and listening to, and I want you to question me about the guys I date.

"I want you to be my mother, my mom."

For a long while both women stared at each other; to Sakura it felt like a long time. She wondered what her mother was thinking, if she was upset with her. Regardless of what had already been said she was still trepid about everything. Her life had taken a total flip in a matter of less than twenty-fours ours…

"I'd like that."

She blinked a moment, as if just then registering her words. And then… then she smiled as her mother smiled. She reached out, hugging her. She couldn't remember the last time she'd hugged her mother, hugged her because she was happy, because she needed her. She smiled because she was happy.

"But, I still want to talk about your grades and what you plan to do about it."

"Can I get a shower first? Maybe something to eat?"

There was a chuckle. "How about we make a day of it and go out?"

"…I'd like that."

.

"A whole new wardrobe, is it?"

"I'm experimenting."

Vivian glanced over at her as they walked side by side through the mall corridor. A few shopping bags were in their hands. "Well, I didn't expect you'd want to do all this."

Sakura blinked, turning to look at her mother. "If you don't want to we can stop now. I mean, if money—."

Vivian laughed. "Money isn't the issue. I'm just a little overwhelmed. It's fun though. I haven't been shopping with you like this in a while."

Sakura smiled.

"What kind of new look are you going for, though?"

It wasn't just curiosity that piqued her mother's interest; she genuinely wanted to help, Sakura knew. This was what she did; it was a part of the industry she moved through, even now.

"I'm not sure. I mean, I've bought a little bit of everything." She frowned in thought.

"Well, you've done my preferences for a while. We could start with what you don't want to wear."

"Rap star is a no go. I'm into the bling." She shook her head and wrinkled her nose.

"Big no."

"And the whole extreme punk thing doesn't work for me either."

"No ten foot high hair in my daughter's future?" She gave her a sideways long glance.

Sakura chuckled. "No thank you. But, I've always liked bright colors. I wear too many pastels. They're pretty, but, I'm tired of being drab." She gave her mother a quick look. "No offense."

"None taken."

Sakura stopped as she came in sight of a store.

"What?" Her mother followed her gaze.

She eyed it, contemplating for a moment; her expression was that of one making a decision.

She looked back at Sakura. "Is that really where you want to base your new wardrobe change in?"

"Why not? I've never been in there before. Besides, inspiration is hitting me and it'll work for me once I get my hair back to its natural color."

Her mother frowned. "Not to be concerned, but…"

Sakura rolled her eyes and took her hand, dragging her along in a way that could be described as humorous. "Come on, Mom. I'm not going to start cutting my wrists or writing suicidal poetry. Give me a little credit."

"Alright, alright." She tried to keep up.

They spent over an hour in the store. She went through piles of clothes in the changing room, filtering out anything she considered to be too much or too little. There were a lot of bright colors, a handful of darker tones. She bought jeans in black, grey and blue; she bought them in stretch, baggy and with belts. She bought shorts that hung just past her knees, some with chains and straps hanging off. She bought tank tops, fishnet shirts in ten different colors, and ones with printed messages on them (something she'd never been able to get herself to buy). She bought hats, at least three different types.

She'd almost forgotten what shopping with her mother use to be like. Every five minutes she came back with more clothes and took away the ones Sakura wasn't interested in. She commented on her choices with keen eyes, suggesting she make changes in what shirts she combined with that pants, with what knee high socks she combined with what shorts, and an array of others. It was nice, though, having a mother that happened to be in the designer world as opposed to have someone in the designer world who happened to be her mother; the difference, though practically overnight, was amazing.

"We should take this to the car first and then go to eat," the older Haruno said as they exited the shop.

"Sounds good. I'm famished anyway. After that though I'd like to go get my hair taken care of and I'd like to change into something new."

"Agreed."

Sakura spotted the restroom. "Do you mind if I go to the bathroom and make a quick phone call, though?"

"Not at all. I'll sit over here and wait for you."

Sakura set her bags down as the older took a seat at a bench. "Be back," she got out before striding across the way to the girls restroom. Thankfully it was relatively vacant. She did her business, washed her hands and stood in the large entryway hall before the main part of the bathroom. Here she made her first phone call.

"Hello?" someone said after a few rings.

"Hey, Tenny."

"Sakura?" There was a smile in her voice. "I'm glad you called. How are things today? Better?"

"Yeah, a lot better. I'm making some choices I should have a long time ago."

"Really? Does that mean you have a plan for dealing with Ino?"

Sakura sighed. "I'm not plotting anything, Tenten. I'm going to talk to her… soon, but, I'm not getting revenge on her if that's what you're thinking."

"I would," the darker haired girl muttered.

Sakura smiled. "Yes, well, I'm not."

"Have you talked to Naruto yet?"

"No, why?" She frowned. "Did he say something you…?"

On the other side of the line Tenten shook her head. "No, but no one's seen him since last night when he showed up with you. I was hoping you'd know something."

"Well… I was planning on calling him next."

"He'll probably answer the phone for you."

Sakura nodded, forgetting Tenten couldn't actually see her nod.

"Look, I know you're not cheating on Naruto, but, I know something is going on with Sai. What are you going to do about it?"

Sakura sighed and pressed her back into the wall behind her; she looked down at the floor, kicking a speck with her foot. "I'm just not in love with him, Tenny; Naruto, that is. And, honestly, while Sai is a big part of what's going on in my life right now… I haven't been in love with Naruto for a long time. He's a wonderful guy, but, the last week has made me realize that I can't lie to myself or him anymore; it's not fair to either of us—Sai or no Sai.

"I'm going to break up with him."

"And Sai?" Tenten asked tentatively. "Who's to say he'll go for you now, Sak? I mean… after last night…"

Sakura shrugged. "I have to try."

"Alright, well, good luck. Hopefully it'll all work itself out. Right now I have to go; mom's calling me. But, keep me posted."

"I will, thanks. Talk to you later."

"Bye. Stay strong."

"Bye." After that she snapped her phone shut and stared down at it. She took in a deep breath and sighed. "And now Naruto." She flipped it back open and found him under the contact listing. She punched the key for dial and held it up to her ear as she pushed her hair out of the way. It rang a few times and then…

"Hello…?" He sounded groggy.

"Did I wake you up?"

"Sakura?"

"Yeah. Are… are you alright?" She frowned, concerned at the tone of his voice.

"Yeah… I'm fine. I just don't feel well. What's up?"

The frown remained. She'd never heard him so… well, there wasn't a word for it. Sakura had seen Naruto at his worst case of the sniffles ever; even then he hadn't sounded like this; he was always positive. "Well…" There was no way she was having this talk with him today; she wasn't about to do it over the phone either. "I wanted to know if we could talk tomorrow sometime. Can we meet up?"

"Yeah, I need to talk to you too," he replied, coughing next to clear his throat. "They're setting up for some art show at the school; it's going on Monday morning before classes start. Any student who shows up and get's each person participating to sign a piece of paper gets twenty percent extra credit in any one of their classes. So, a lot of people are coming. They enlisted the soccer team to help get everything set up Sunday. I should be done by six if you want to come by and talk."

"Ok… where do you want to meet?"

"It's in the gym. So, wait for me there?"

"Alright."

"I'll talk to you later, Sak."

"Same… Naruto…" And then he hung up on her suddenly, surprising her. Slowly, she snapped her phone shut and slid it into her pocket.

"Sakura?"

She turned to sound of her mother's voice. "Uh, yeah?"

She smiled warmly at her as she adjusted her purse on her shoulder. "I got everything in the car; you were taking a while so…"

Sakura nodded.

"Lunch?"

"Right now that sounds brilliant."

.

The day with her mother had come and gone. Night had evaded before she realized it and dawn stuck through the panes of her bedroom windows, glittering a path across her bed and floor. A box remained on the floor, stacks of books strewn. Countless dresses and other clothes were half falling out of black bags and across her unkempt mattress; the after image of a woman in the process of blooming and escaping the cocoon of her self-inflicted entrapment.

She left it this way, long gone beyond the threshold of her front door, long gone from the driveway and long traveled down the road to her final destination in a little less in the literal sense.

The distinct slam of the gymnasium doors behind her echoed in the clatter of movements around her. Green hues scanned the busy atmosphere, looking just beyond cotton candy strands and the black of a short brim of a hat; it was long now, no longer in curls and straightened to drop just to the top curve of her breasts in such a way that it waved subtly.

Her lips pursed, glossed pink and shimmering only slighting in a wet look that appealed to her angular features and inquisitive emerald depths.

She sighed and placed her hands on her hips, just above the low rise set of her baggy, black capris held in place loosely by a belt with studded peaks of silver. Her shirt was loose as well, but, hugged her in a way that was almost sensual; it too was black, but, blotched with florescent words like splatter paint; the sleeves looked cut off. Under it, hugging her form and tucked into her jeans was a fishnet shirt the color of hot pink.

She tapped the front of her shoe, bending her knee as she did so, onto the wood floor beneath her.

Where was Naruto?

She stepped forward, avoiding a few shirtless sweaty soccer players as they moved a stack of four by fours. There were a series of sheeted cubical-like booths section off that she passed. Boxes and other supplies were set inside each one in preparation for the exhibition.

She rounded a corner and looked from left to right. Her arms crossed over her chest as she stopped and turned around, looking for any sight of the blonde peaks.

"Sakura?"

She turned again and smiled as she caught sight of him—finally. He had a large box in his hands and a few books stacked on top of that looking precariously close to falling. He blinked at her for a moment then tried to stabilize himself. "Shit!"

She dashed the rest of the distance between them and placed a hand on the box and the books on top. Both parties exhaled when nothing fell.

"That was close," she murmured out.

"Thanks for the save."

"No problem."

He peeked at her with unusually curious azure hues. She could tell he was analyzing her. "I almost didn't recognize you," he said next, still halfway caught between appraising her and probably trying to decide if he liked it.

She scratched the back of her head, looking nervous. "Ah… yeah… I needed a change…" She bit her lower lip, eyeing him hesitantly. "Is now a good time to talk, or are you still busy?"

He walked over to a nearby table and she followed. He set the box down, wiped his hands together and grabbed a towel. He dabbed at the sweat on his face. She had to admit… he still didn't look all that bad… toned, sweating and slick in a white tank top stuck to him almost a wet, second skin.

"I have time. I was waiting for you to stop by to take my break." He looked about quickly, searching for someone. He cupped his hands over his mouth. "Coach!" Once the dark-haired male turned and spied him he continued, "I'm taking my break now!" After his quick nod Naruto turned back to her. "Want to go somewhere with less…"

"People?" she offered. "Yes, please."

He nodded with a soft grin, showing his teeth. "Come on. We'll use the back door and step outside. Everything's in here now, so, people have stopped using the emergency exit to haul." As he spoke, he turned and headed in the back direction of the gym. Sakura followed him.

They passed by a few more people, avoiding teens working and setting up more booths and tables. The door was just ahead, bright red exit sign lit up overhead. He stepped through first and held it open for her so she could follow.

Always the gentlemen… Good old Naruto… She frowned a moment later, sadly, as she recalled what she was here to do today. She reinforced her resolve; this was the right thing to do. She was a new person, the person she wanted to be and was still discovering.

The door shut behind her with a soft click and she turned to face him. The back end of the gymnasium was grassy and a semi-large field drew outward until it reached the road a short distance; there, a chain-link fence kept students in and others out.

She watched as he reached up and scratched his head, upsetting strands while he looked down. She knew that look well; it didn't matter that she wasn't in love with him… he was still the closest thing to her best friend at that moment.

"I'll go first," they both said at the same time, causing both parties to blink, smile ruefully and then chuckle.

"You go ahead," Sakura said next.

"No, it's fine I—."

"Mine might take a while, so… it's fine," she interrupted, smiling softly still.

He exhaled long as he looked at her for a moment; his gaze was hard, almost analyzing her before he looked away. He focused on a far off point on the road at the edge of the school.

"I don't think I can do this anymore."

She was struck with his admission, but, did not speak; in part because she was a little shocked and in part because she wanted to hear him out.

"I've… I've got some things going on I need to figure out." He scratched the back of his head. "I…" he sighed again and closed his eyes, dropping his hand to his side. She could see this was hard for him; he was frustrated… but why?

"I'm…" he stopped again, "I think I'm gay…Sakura."

She froze.

He looked over at her, eyes soft and apprehensive. "Or, maybe bi… I…I don't know..." He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair and dropped his head, eyes closing; it was a ragged and aggressive action. She watched as he gripped the strands, knuckles turning white.

She blinked, finally coming back to herself. How… why? She reached out for him and placed a hand on his shoulder. He jumped under her touch; more out of fear. She imagined he was lost, overworked, in his thoughts.

"How…" she started to say, finally voicing her own thoughts; her face was a wash of confusion and inadvertent scrutiny.

He looked over at her, lashes rising and lips parting. "Sasuke," he murmured, as if that answered it all. He closed his eyes. "It's been a long week, Sakura. I haven't figured it all out yet… I do know that I can't go on with you like this…"

Her mind naturally went back to all those times she'd talked to Naruto, and the one time he'd left Sai's house a mess. She hadn't talked him much this past week, but, it did make a little more sense. "It's ok," she whispered, squeezing his shoulder. She took a step forward and embraced him. "It's ok, Naruto," she said again, quietly as his arms enveloped her; he needed her. She didn't fully understand what happened, but, she knew it couldn't be easy for him.

"Do… do you love him?" she asked softly, into his shoulder.

A moment passed on, but, he didn't move or push her away. "I think so…" he whispered, squeezing her again.

She pulled away just far enough to look at him. His blue orbs sunk into her, pained and fearful—of himself, of what it all meant. She let out a soft sigh, smiling equally so. "Naruto…" she began, "there is nothing wrong with you." He needed to hear that.

"Then why does it feel that way?" His question was more of a rebuttal than an actually question.

"Because, it's new and… let's face it, society isn't kind to those who dare to be different—themselves." She shook her head as she spoke, watching him. "It doesn't matter what anyone thinks of you; it doesn't. You are perfect regardless of what or who you are.

"Don't let yourself get sucked into what you want to make yourself into to make everyone else happy." Those words were so close to home, she mused as she reached up and wiped a tear gathering in his eye; she caressed down his cheek. "I'm not doing it anymore and neither should you."

He closed his eyes and stepped away from her; he rubbed his face, his eyes as he pressed into them and exhaled.

She took hold of his wrists, gently, concerned.

"I'm alright, Sak…"

"Naruto," she whispered strongly, "you don't need anyone to tell you to be with Sasuke. If you want to be with Sasuke then be with him." She paused, brow furrowing. "He does want to be with you, right?"

"I think… I'm not sure," he replied with a sigh, dropping his hands, but, not quite looking at her. Eventually though, his eyes found her and he looked to have calmed down, hands resting on his hips. He regarded her quietly, again looking at her as if he were trying to read her. "I didn't think you would react this way…"

She rolled her eyes, but, not in frustration or aggravation. "A lot has changed about me; not just the clothes. And… believe it or not, I'm happy for you. I ah…" she smiled sheepishly. "I actually came here today to break up with you too."

He blinked at her, but, gradually smiled. "Well… that's a relief."

"Yeah," she agreed, rubbing her arm. "I've just decided I'm going to be me… and, due to some recent company… I've realized I'm not… I'm not in love with you, that it's just not fair to keep this up. It's not fair to you or me…" She looked down, still rubbing her arm, "I'm just glad in the end you weren't mad at me…"

"Same," he admitted with another sigh before turning and leaning back into the wall, hands stuffed into his pockets. He regarded her, eyes narrowed. "So… it's Sai, right?"

Her eyes shot to his, widening a fraction.

He laughed at her, chuckling in that deep baritone she'd come to know. The whole action appeared odd considering his disposition a moment ago. "Sakura, I'm not the brightest crayon in the box, but, I'm not a complete idiot either."

She smiled sheepishly again, tinge of pink coating the bridge of her nose and her cheeks.

"You're going to see him today, right?"

"I wanted to…"

He raised a brow. "You know he's here today setting up, right?" When she didn't say anything he rolled his eyes. "He's an artist, Sak. It's an art exhibition."

"Oh…"

He shook his head and sighed long this time before looking back over at her. "Well… do you love him?"

She smiled then at his play on words and responded in kind, "I think so…"

"Then you should go tell him."

She chuckled. "You should follow your own advice."

He looked at her wistfully. "Maybe I will."

She walked up to him and gathered him in a final hug; her eyes closed as she tucked the top of her head under his chin and squeezed. "I won't tell anyone, Naruto. And, for what it's worth, I'll be here if you need me."

"Thanks…" he murmured; he squeezed back, and then…. then he pushed her away playfully, grinning unabashedly. "Now go. I've got work to finish."

She grinned back, waving for a moment before turning and running off.

.

When she found him it was through the paned glass of Rin's art room door—their classroom together. She dug her hands into her pockets, relaxed her stance and stared at him. She watched as he packed pieces into a box, carefully and with a gentleness only someone like him could manage. His eyes were half shut, long lashes as pitch as night hooding them as he looked down and worked.

She blew air upward, upsetting the bangs that framed her face only slightly; her heart was heavy in her breast, the air she breathed thick and hard to take in; in short, she was nervous. She was, perhaps, more nervous than she had been with Naruto before. Her insides were jittery and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, wishing—deeply so—that she had some sort of guidance in dealing with this; she desperately wanted someone to tell her it would be ok and to go for it.

But… there wasn't anyone; there was just her… a girl… alone in a hall… trying to gather her courage to…

…Talk to the boy she loved…

She bit her lower lip, closed her eyes, summed her strength and reached for the handle.

.

He bent over, monotonously scribbling out a line of text in a growing list. He checked off items that he'd already placed in the box on the length of the table, the teacher's in the front of the room. The pencil was set down ordinarily and with little clatter; he stared at it.

His face held no expression; it wasn't wholly abnormal. What was beneath the surface however…

He reached up and took the box; he set his mind on the task at hand and turned to the door. But, then he stopped as it opened; he watched as the heavy wood drew back and as light reflected off the small window pane in movement.

And then his heart stopped.

He could stare at nothing but her hair at a first; the long, tapering pieces of silk thread that hung down; it was so unlike the curls she'd previously primped up on a regular basis. Her face, rounded and angular, was framed by it. The color… it made her eyes, emerald depths, appear brighter, bigger, and endless. Somehow, it suited her; it was as natural as anything else about her should have been.

His eyes drew lower, his breath unconsciously catching at her clothes. He wasn't a materialistic individual by nature; she could have worn a paper sack, he realized, and he would have found her beautiful, breathtaking and incomparable to anyone else. However, seeing her there… dressed in something he easily found… sexy… it was like throwing a gallon kerosene on a modest campfire. He hadn't even thought someone could make black, semi-form fitting capris look sexy; somehow… she did.

He swallowed, feelings overwhelming him at the sight of her; it was a combination of her clothing, her hair, everything, as well as, what he realized she meant to him—how he felt about her.

"Do you like it…?" she asked, jarring him out of his senses.

His lips became a flat line and his eyes narrowed. "It suits you," he murmured, keeping inflection and tone out of his voice as he turned and stepped away from her; he walked towards the open supply closet.

"… I came to talk to you."

"There is nothing to be said," he replied, voice clipped, as he set the box on the floor and entered the room. A light was flicked on before he went about inspecting the shelves for a something. He moved a bin of paint brushes out of the way, inspecting.

She was right next to him; he could feel those green eyes boring into him, filled with a pain that affected him in a way he'd never even imagined feeling, much less for another person; it tore at him, shredding...

"Please, Sai… listen to me," he heard her whisper. "I'm… I'm sorry about Friday night. I should have said something, stood up for myself—you." He heard her pause and out of the corner of his eye he saw her head drop. "I was afraid… afraid of Ino… myself, being myself," she went on quietly.

His jaw tightened, eyes closing a moment. He was… angry… so damned angry; she made him angry. "Your friends are more important; your image," he found himself saying, control slipping.

Her eyes flashed up to him and he was moving again, looking again; he couldn't look at her, not after he'd said that.

"You're my friend, Sai…"

"Forgive me if I somehow missed that Friday night."

"I should have left with you; I know that now," she rebutted; he could hear the strain, the urgency in her voice as she followed him slowly. It called to him, but, anger…

"I should have—."

He found himself stopping suddenly, back to her still. "I… I have a lot of work to do. The exhibition is tomorrow and Rin expects certain things of me. Please go." He stiffened, eyes wide, as he felt a hand on his back, two hands.

"Please…" her breath whispered across his back, stilling him, unexpectedly softening his resolve as he closed his eyes. "I'm… I'm sorry… I…"

He took a breath in, calming the hammer that was his heart. He ripped himself away from her, turning around and stepped around her. "If you won't go then I will," he muttered, heading for the door.

She jumped in front him, nearly tripping him as she stood in his way and shut the door to the store room in one motion. Her eyes locked on his. "I'm not leaving, you aren't, until we solve this."

He let out a heavy, quick breath as the reality of what she'd done hit him. It only served to anger him more; Sasuke had never pissed him off so much. His voice was tight, his eyes cold and hard on hers, "Brilliant. You've effectively locked us in, Mona Lisa."

She frowned, testing the handle before looking back at him. "Someone will come by—."

He closed his eyes, trying to temper his anger, anger he didn't even think himself capable of feeling. "There won't be anyone in here until tomorrow morning."

She didn't have much to say to that; as such, the silence spanned on between them; it created a divide somehow much larger and much more deafening than before. For a man who was accustomed to the quiet, for a woman who was accustomed to being quiet… it was unnerving and laden with tension.

He turned away from her, taking a few steps towards the back wall of the room that was, perhaps, no larger than two and half cubicles.

"I broke up with Naruto."

He didn't move; he didn't speak.

She moved towards him, slowly. Her eyes locked on his back; she bit her lower lip and told her nerves to calm, to be still, once more. She stopped only when she was right up on him, a hairsbreadth away. She could smell that combination of paint and turpentine on him, on his shirt. She reached out again, hand shaking and pressed into the center of his back carefully.

His turned; his hands snapped over her wrists.

She jumped; wide green hues locked on his as a gasp escaped her. She was still, unspeaking, unmoving as he stared at her; his face was less than an inch away from hers; she could feel his breath, warm as he expelled it across her lips. Ebony; she could see nothing else. Caught, willingly entrapped in his gaze. His thumbs rubbed at the inside of her wrists, lightly, gently; the contrast to his heavy, aggressive gaze was as black and white as it could be.

The feeling was back again; it wrapped around her, expanding from her core and warmed her. A hum traced down her spine, settling below her abdomen. The heat of him, both literal and non, swathed her in a sheet of euphoria… she felt both overwhelmed and wanting by him.

He exhaled lowly, through his nose; he fought against the urge to both push her away and draw her in closer. He couldn't find the will to release her; he couldn't stop being angry at her. She was drowning him in the way she made him feel about her. His chest ached in both rage and compassion and he didn't know what to do with it. He was angry at himself for feeling this way, at her form making him feel this way, at her for not telling Ino to fuck off, for not knowing how to deal with any of it, and …

"Sai…"

"I'm going to kiss you," he whispered, his voice both strong and shaky, "I'm going to kiss you, and, if you don't stop me then—."

She was kissing him; her hands snapped out of his hold and came around his neck. At the same time his encircled her in his arms, pulling her flush against him as he opened his mouth to her, entangling his tongue with her own.

Her hand curled around the base of his neck, tickling the small area there before she drew her fingers up into his scalp. Her nails scraped a light path before grasping, tilting his head further to angle herself for the kiss better.

He sucked air through his nose sharply, through the passage of his lips every time they broke contact just barely. She was warm… soft… her hands lit a trail of tiny shocks across his skin. He felt himself jerk as her fingers curled through his hair, tugging, scratching his scalp; he lost his balance and grunted as they fell against the door. It rattled in protest against their combined weight.

His fingers curled around her back, tugging on the two shirts, almost ripping as he searched for bare skin. His palms flattened against the heat of her, fingers spreading; he rolled his thumbs around, gripping her hips.

She heat… passion… every caress burned in a way he hadn't known possible; it was something he read about, painted about, looked for in string of colors combined on a canvas created by others before him.

He felt her tug at his shirt, pulling on it as she pulled his bottom lip into her mouth and gently bit down. A groan escaped him as he jerked against her again. She released him, broke the contact for only a moment as he accommodated her; he wasn't sure where this was going, where she was going.

Where they were both going.

The moment swept through him, past him, burned through him. And when she was standing before him, in nothing, in the same nothing he was in, he stopped. Green hooded eyes looked up at his, shaking with something he couldn't put a name to. His heart caught, choked him in the space of his throat.

She stilled him.

He hated Shakespeare; he loathed Romeo and Juliet, and yet…he felt an unmistakable kinship in how the young Montague must have felt looking up through the breaking dawn of his beloved… he could understand. She wasn't beautiful; the word was a waste, an abomination. She was…

"How do you do that?" she whispered.

"Do what?" he found himself saying as he reached up, fingertips trailing an invisible path down her temple, her cheek, her neck…

"Look at me as if…"

His eyes drew up from her collar bone where his fingers rested; ebony locked with emerald.

"…as if you can't see anything else."

He leaned forward, the hand on her collarbone spread up her neck, cupping it; his cheeked pressed into hers, breathing her in. Her scent… "I drown in you," he whispered, "And then there isn't anything else."

There was quiet again; stillness ever present. He felt her stiffen against him. He felt her shake, shudder. Her forehead dropped against his collarbone and she leaned into him, closed into him as she drew her arms to her chest. His brow furrowed.

He felt the first tear.

It rolled down his shoulder, his chest and faded into his consciousness. He pulled back, his hands came to gently rest against her lower back as he looked down at her. "Sakura…?" he whispered in question, a little worried.

She lifted her face up to his, wiping her eyes and smiling brokenly. "I love you."

He was staring at her; it was with that mixture of contemplation and curiosity again. He didn't stop her as she reached up, fingers fanning across his face, her palms cupping his cheeks as she searched his eyes.

He reached for her wrists; his thumbs rubbed the inside… that place where the skin was soft, sensitive. "I love you, too." He pulled her hands aside and brushed his lips against hers. She kissed him again, slowly, languidly, and in a way that had his blood rushing through his veins once again.

They fell to the carpeted floor of the supply closet onto a strewn pile of their clothes. As he pulled away from her lips and moved down her body Sakura pulled up on her elbows, watching him. His fingers trailed gooseflesh across her, dancing over the peak of her right nipple… her left… then her stomach, eliciting a gasp. They made circles on her skin, outlining every curve she had, every ridge, bump or tiny scar. His eyes were focused with something akin to child-like fascination. They were warm, careful, concise, and flickering back forth, following the movement of his hands.

Was he memorizing it all?

She felt a faint heat come to her face at the feel of him, the way he was looking at her; her gut coiled, flipped and left her feeling high. When he looked back up at her there was no surprised laden in his features. He reached, leaning on his side still, and touched her hair; he ran his fingers through it and allowed it to fall back onto her chest, ticking her inadvertently; he appeared to analyze this in much the same fashion.

"You're flushed."

"Yes."

He ran his fingers down her face, his thumb over her lip; he caressed over the bottom, holding her chin as he locked his gaze there. "I wish…"

"What?"

He trailed his hand down further again, a path straight down her stomach and across her abdomen; the knowledge of where his hand was going set her one fire, electrifying her flesh further. "I want to draw this."

"Me?" she asked in half gasp as he feather touched that place between her legs, eyes now holding hers.

"No…. this…" he whispered, touching her, rolling his fingers over that bundle of nerves.

She arched slightly and her eyes closed; her lips parted and she gasped softly, again. Her toes curled and her legs shook; at the same time he inserted a finger, drawing the wet out; he rolled it back up with a faint nail over her clit.

"Sai…" she breathed, as he kept working on her. Her hands curled into fists as she strained to hold her upper body up.

He nipped at her ear; she cried out softly, shaking under his ministrations. "I've never done this before," he admitted with that same fascination in his voice against her neck. "The way you react…" he trailed off. "Your skin is so pink…"

His words, as innocent and as directed as they might have sounded in his head, were working a number on her in combination of his fingers. She fell back, finally, onto the floor and reached around with her left hand, holding onto him; her nails dug into his skin. He gasped in her ear, expelling hot breath over her neck and the underside of her ear.

"Sai… I'm…" There was an ache in her voice, a want. She was so close, still arching under him, pressing her breasts into his chest, clawing at her back . And then, in a brilliant tug, she let go; she cried out, her body going taunt as she pulled him hard against her; she panted, her chest rose and fell with quick beats.

She exhaled and inhaled slowly, catching herself, eyes closed as her body calmed down. Her heartbeat came back to normal for gradual moments and her blood stopped rushing in her ears. When she opened he eyes he was looking down at her; his soft, straight bangs hung about his face as he watched her. She could feel the hardness of him as he bumped the inside of her thigh. Was looking at her, his hesitance, his way of asking her if it was ok…?

She leaned up, slowly, faintly, and captured his lips in a gentle… lazy… beautiful kiss. Her lips caressed over his, dragged over them; her tongue lightly swept in and out of his mouth as he matched her at the same pace.

She reached for him, taking him in her hand fully. He jumped under her, gasped into her mouth. She moved her digits over the length of him, tugging; her thumb ran over the slit, the thick head of him. She continued her ministrations until he gasped her name.

She let go, drawing her hips up to his as he reached between them and slid inside. The motion, the movement, was quick and without thought. She cried out, clinging to him, clawing at him as a minimal pain cut through her. She felt him still; his face was pressed next to hers.

"…Should I stop?" he asked.

She shook her head, resisting the urge to laugh despite the situation. He hadn't wanted to hurt her; he may not have even been aware that he was going to. "No, keep going." And he did.

It started slow; it built up and she met his thrusts, grinding her clit against his pelvic bone. That, in combination with the thick manner in which he drew in and out of her brought her closer and closer. Her breaths were heavy again, her hips burned from movement; sweat gathered in places she didn't think it ever had. He was lapping at her, nipping at her ear, grabbing at her hips and thighs as he tried to angle her better to get that sound she knew he wanted.

And when he finally came, jerking against her, she rode that wave with him, crying out as he groaned into her throat. Her body poised in that same taunt fashion as before, as he drew back and watched her for those fleeting moments of euphoric ecstasy.

"No…" she heard him whisper in some sort of reverence. "…I want to draw this."

She smiled, opened her eyes, and stared up at him; her breath was still short and she was still sweating, but, it didn't seem to matter much. "You're going to have an awful lot to draw then. There might not be an end to it."

He smiled and reached out, fingers running down the side of her slick face.

"Perhaps not," he murmured, his gaze haunting and sensual at once. "Mona Lisa."

.

She didn't know what time it was. Hours might have passed.

They were lying together under and on a few props used for still life; a velvet blanket and few decorative pillows made a nice makeshift bed. She had her back pressed up against the wall, propped up in a sitting position. His leg was drawn over hers, he was propped up on his elbow, hand supporting his head as he traced circles into her hip; he couldn't stop touching her.

"You changed," she heard him murmur.

She looked down at him, at the top of his head. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "I got tired of the blonde… and the pastels." She reached out and idly ran her fingers though his hair. "I'm not sure if the punk, goth, emo… whatever thing suits me, but… I'm feeling it out."

"…I like it," he whispered.

"Sai."

He stopped and turned, lifting himself a little more to meet her gaze; he sat up, crossing his legs in part.

"I'm sorry… I…" She let out an exhale, but, kept her eyes on him. "I'm not going to let anyone tell me who I should be anymore… or who I should be with. Not my mom and not Ino.

"What she did Friday night was wrong; to me and you. But, I was more wrong because I didn't do anything about it. I'm not sure how I can make up for that, but…"

He leaned over as he took her jaw in his hand, cradling it more than holding it, and kissed her; it was soft, sweet and made her feel all those things she always felt with him. "It's ok," he said, whispered, once he pulled back only an inch or two, staring into her eyes.

Her forehead dropped lightly against his and she closed her eyes, smiling. "Ok…"

"…I still like it."

She chuckled, happy.

Hours passed on still; at some point they got dressed before they passed out, deciding, logically, that if anyone came upon in that manner there would be any number of questions raised they not want to answer.

When Sakura opened her eyes, light breaking through the crack of the door, she expected Rin, or a Janitor, or any other level of school employee. What she did not expect was…

"Ino."

"Sakura!"

Aw hell.

The blonde turned on her as Sakura scrambled to get up. She was leaving the closet as Sakura went after her.

"I can't believe you!" she practically screamed in the classroom. She spun on her heel back at Sakura, eyes glaring and hands on her hips. She opened her mouth to speak, but, then she caught an eyeful of her.

"What the hell is…that?"

"What the hell is what?" Sakura asked back, voice rising.

"That!" she snapped, jerking her open hand at Sakura, indicating her clothes. "Have you lost your mind? You went out in public like that?"

Sakura exhaled and reached up, pinching the bridge of her nose, trying to gain strength and calm down before she did something stupid like she wanted to.

"Sakura!" she snapped again. "You spent the entire night in a closet with Sai. Sai! What the fuck is wrong with you? You're with Naruto. At least if you're going to sleep with someone do it with someone who on the same level. Sai? Of all people…

"And now you're dressing like him. What happened to your hair? Does your mother know about this? Does Naruto? Do you know what everyone is going to think about you when they see you? When they find out you spent the entire night in the closet with the gay, faggot, emo—."

"Shut up,Ino."

The blonde blinked. She took on a look of mild disbelief combined with budding aggression. "Excuse me?"

Sakura's eyes flashed up to hers. "I said, SHUT UP!

"Shut up about Sai, about me! Quit thinking you have a right be judge and juror of everyone and everything. Quit telling me what to do with my life, my clothes, the guy I'm with; quit deciding everything for me. Quit gossiping about me and Hinata and Kiba and saying how he's not good for her. Quit forcing me to go to parties I don't want to go to. Quit putting words in my mouth." With each admission her voice got louder and louder and she got one step closer and closer to Ino. What she didn't see was the group of students gathering outside the open door.

She was right on top of her; she wanted to poke her in the chest, but, resisted the urge. "I don't have to be who you think I'm supposed to be, or what anyone else thinks else for that matter. I don't have to be a model because my mother was; I don't have to be with Naruto because he's the most popular guy in school and everyone just assumes that's how it's got to be; I don't have to wear heels everyday to school because someone thinks it fits my image.

"I am my own person," she whispered in finality. "And I'm not," she continued with emphasis, with direction and drive, "going to let anyone, even you, suffocate me.

"Anymore."

When she turned away from Ino, ignoring the rage in her former friend's eyes or the way she couldn't find words, she found Sai. She took his hand and she walked out, pushing past all the people gathering as she laced her fingers through his.

Her heart pounded in her ears and she was smiling; grinning; the relief never felt so good. Years of just being bottled up, closed, covering up her feelings and her anger and the way she felt about Ino; it was all the things she wanted to say and never had. She did and she felt so … amazing.

Suddenly, there was a jerk on her hand. Sakura stopped and turned as Sai pulled her into his arms. She chuckled as pulled her into a kiss, warming her all the way to her toes. She ignored the cat calls and whistles twenty feet away or so from them. She didn't care who saw her anymore; she didn't care who saw them.

She was free.

.

One Month And A Half Later…

"So, you told him, right?"

Pause.

"You didn't tell him…"

Pause.

"Naruto!" Sakura ran a hand through her cotton candy strands; she flopped on the edge of her bed. "You can't go making plans to have dinner with your parents with him to come out to them and not ask him first. Did you trying to apologize?" Pause. "Naruto!" She rolled her eyes listening to him with phone still glued to her ear. He was frantic, she could tell.

"Look," she said once he'd taken a breath, "you guys have only been together for a month. I realize you tend to jump the gun, but, he's still getting use to things. You can't possibly expect Sasuke to happy about this."

She looked up as the door to her room opened; her smile was tight as she held a hand up, trying to get Sai to wait for her. Of course, he just slid across the room and sat down next her… touching her thigh. She closed her eyes, exhaling as she tried to listen to Naruto.

"You're mom left," he whispered in her ear. She ignored him.

"Give him a few days. Cancel the dinner with your parents and then go talk to him you idiot. Alright?"

His hand trailed further, running up under her shirt; his nails drug across her abdomen. She turned, glaring at him when all he did was smile. Stupid smile.

"I have to go Naruto… Just … do what I told you." She stopped, listened, and glared as he reached to unbutton her jeans. "Alright, bye." Click.

In a swift movement she had him on his back, straddling his thighs; her hands rode up his shirt and she held him down. "That wasn't nice."

He was still smiling. "Did you call Ino?"

She frowned. "Yes."

"And?"

"And…" she spoke as she rolled her eyes at his decisive change in topic to try and save his ass, "We're having dinner tomorrow night. All of us."

"Good."

She frowned at him. "You're going to be nice."

"I'm always nice."

Her eyes narrowed. "She wants to apologize."

"I know." Still smiling.

"Mhm…" she muttered in part, leaning down as he pulled himself up on his arms; he propped himself up to meet her. "Promise you'll be nice, Sai."

"I promise I'll be nice," he mimicked smoothly before he rolled her over and settled between her thighs, flush. His lips brushed hers. "To her. You're still up for consideration."

She laughed. "Am I?"

"Yes." He gave her a peck, teasing her as she smiled back.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, looking quite content. "What should I do about it then?"

He sighed a little dramatically, looking to be thinking a moment as he stared at her; dark, abyssal depths locked on emerald hues. "It might take some doing but…"

"But..?" she whispered close to his lips, brushing still with half hooded eyes.

"I think you can start with a kiss, Mona Lisa."

-End-

AN :: Hello, readers! I almost split the final chapter into two… but, in the end the last one would have been super short and I didn't feel like uploading two, so here we are! I'm glad you enjoyed the run as much as I did. I hope you did, anyway.

I had a time of it writing the lemon in this chapter—mostly because I wanted it to come off with the right feeling. It was important for it to not be cliché and… heated or ravenous. I want it to be a learning experience, but, not on that whole super nervous kind of level. I wanted it to be… artistic, and, befitting of how I see Sai.

I do want to thank each and every one of you who have stuck with this piece of fiction. Sai and Sakura are not a popular pairing. Quite of few of you gave this a chance because you like my writing and I want you to know I appreciate that. Thank you, readers.

Anyway, it's over.

As for new works, I'm collaborating on a NejiTen fic with a writer buddy of mine, Nokito-chan. If you enjoy my writing, or just enjoy NejiTen then please head over there to her profile and give it a go. It's got a lime in chapter two -sneaky smile- It's called Right Kind Of Wrong if you go looking.

If you enjoy ItachiSakura then keep an eye out for Chapter One of Nightingale by yours truly. Thanks and much love!

Blade