I have no clue where this is going. I just wanted something I could use to try to get my groove back. Input appreciated, but know that this will most likely be short and irregular. I may be using this setting for drabbles or other forms while I exercise my creative writing brain bits.

There is no plot to speak of, I just want to see where I can take it. It may change to romance later if I can be clever enough to get that to follow naturally, but right now I'm not assuming that's what will happen.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Not one bit. Just playing in a personality sandbox.

It was usually the smell that got to her, after these past years, and Sakura lingered outside of the doors to savor the early spring aroma of dirt and growth before stepping out of the rain and into the facility. It was the third Sunday of the month, and she had to remind herself it had only been two weeks since her last visit. Even if the time between visits never changed, somehow it had started to feel like they were coming faster upon one another. Naruto was the only one besides her who even bothered to show up anymore, but it was impossible to keep him on a schedule so she had taken to coming alone.

The guard at the front desk greeted her, recognition mixed with pity in his glance giving her every reason not to start up even a polite conversation with him. What did he know, anyway? She had been coming here since before he was hired and she probably would still be coming here long after he had moved on. There was no real impetus to make friends here, a mental institution was not a place well adjusted people went to socialize.

Shizune, one of the few nurses that Sakura actually did talk with now and then was the one to show her back to the open area where a few of the patients were milling about or playing cards. Some were watching TV, others were watching the windows, and still others were watching the wall. If some of them recognized her, they gave no sign, and Sakura quickly found the person she was looking for by himself in a corner. She forced a smile on her face, knowing that he knew it was forced but never allowing it to falter anyway.

"Hello Sasuke!" She said brightly. "I brought you a book that Naruto said he thought you'd like. I tried to read it but it's all about death and honor and all that and I just couldn't get through much of it. Anyway, here." He had his headphones on today, but that didn't necessarily mean he was listening to music. Sometimes he did it so people would simply not approach him.

"I had a pretty rough week in school, but it's looking like I'll pass organic chemistry which is more than I can say for a lot of people in my class. The teacher says that I'm doing plenty well enough to have a strong application to med school, and I need to start putting together the materials for that soon." Some days she would talk and he would listen and respond, but mostly he just listened these days. Naruto said that when he came to visit all they did was play basketball, or cards or something. At least with things like that you could pretend like it was a normal interaction, but when all you did was present monologues the lack of response didn't allow any kind of rosy illusions.

As she slid the book across the table to Sasuke he actually took and it flipped the pages before meeting her eyes and nodding at her. "If it isn't better than the last one, tell the idiot to just send me some crossword puzzles or something."

It was almost a normal response. Sakura's heart sped up even as she forced a cap on her excitement. If Sasuke knew how pleased she was that he had spoken he'd probably stop talking. She had noted long ago how he took delight in her frustration. Despite not wanting to encourage it, she knew that even getting him to speak to her directly had taken a couple years of tandem visits with Naruto.

"Like I said, I wasn't thrilled, but you might think differently."

"I know I think differently. But it still might be crap."

"Naruto seemed to think it was moving. He said to at least read to 'the part with the horse' and then told me you'd know when you got there." Sakura knew the exact moment Sasuke turned off and tuned her out. His teeth were clenching and unclenching and his eyelid had a distinctive twitch. She called moments like this being "faded out" and they always signaled the times he was lost in his own delusions. It was counted as progress that he had gotten less and less violent over the years, and since he spent more time in reality he had a better chance of successfully navigating therapy. Sasuke was like her brother, no matter how bad he got she wasn't going to give up on him.

"Come here often?"

Sakura started and turned to face the feline smile of a redheaded man with eyes nearly as striking green as her own. At first she was on her guard, but as soon as she saw the doctor's coat she felt at ease again.

"You must be new here. I'm Sakura and I do, in fact, come here often." She extended her hand and the man hesitated for a long while before he took it in a grip that was surprisingly strong for his wiry stature.

"What's the connection?" He asked, paying such intense attention to her that she found herself shifting in her seat.

Thinking that he had a terrible bedside manner if he interrogated guests like this, Sakura knitted her brows and tried to put some distance between them as she picked up her bag and fished out a candybar she intended to share with Sasuke when he tuned back into reality.

"Childhood friend, but he was more like family really."

"Admirable loyalty." The man said it as if he didn't quite believe it and the sneer in his voice took Sakura from defensive to annoyed.

"Well, sometimes people who touch your life can't and shouldn't be forgotten, even when things are hard." It was tempting to raise her voice, but that would just agitate the other patients in this minimum-security area. "I don't think I like your tone, Dr…"

"Gaara." Her frustration seemed to amuse him, which made her even more frustrated. Unlike when Sasuke pulled this same childish manipulation she couldn't seem to get centered again.

"Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to be left alone while I visit with my friend." Her teeth clenched around the forced politeness.

With measured steps Gaara walked over to Sasuke and snapped his fingers in front of his face a couple times. "Yes," he finally said as Sakura fumed and considered calling a nurse. "I can see you have a lot to catch up on."

Before she could get the angry retort out a frantic man burst into the wing, and as soon as Gaara spotted him some cross between rage and anticipation lit his face. Made mute by spectacle, Sakura saw the man point in Gaara's direction and begin to advance without breaking eye contact with the man. A nurse entered the scene shortly after while the nurse on duty came out of her station to calm down some of the patients who looked upset by the interruption and sudden noise.

"Gaara…" the man advanced slowly with his hands palms up on either side of him. "If you'll just come back with me I promise you there will be no punishment for this infraction."

Sakura felt a chill pass through her as she suddenly was confronted with the very real possibility that this man was not a doctor.

"I didn't break anything this time if that's what you're worried about." Gaara said, before he trained his glance on Sakura with a smirk. "Or anyone."

The dark haired doctor advanced a few more steps until he was an arms length away from Sakura and only a table away from Gaara. He approached slowly, as if Gaara were volatile and could go off at any time. Taking her cue from the doctor's behavior, a heightened sense of dread made itself known in her body blossoming out from her tight throat and circulating in her blood.

"Just return my coat to me and come back to your room. We'll talk about what this means after lunch."

"Back to jail, I take it." Gaara was deadpan, but she saw him tense so hard he quivered.

The doctor smiled, reminding Sakura of the smile she put one every visit for Sasuke. It was the one that said 'it's not ok, but I'm trying my damndest to make it ok.'

"Your room is not jail, and you knew that by doing this you would create trust issues that we'd have to talk over later." He held out his hand. "Now just hand over the coat and come with me."

Gaara removed the coat with a shrug and tossed it over the table, revealing a nondescript set of black clothes and the bracelet all patient were obliged to wear. He locked eyes with Sakura even as he spoke to the doctor.

"There's your coat, but I'm not moving from here, Iruka." She was the first to look away, but immediately chided herself internally for lacking nerve. To be intimidated by a total stranger! It was a bitter taste.

Burly orderlies appeared and Gaara stayed still as a stone as he was bodily removed to whatever part of the institution he had escaped from. Until the very last moment he never took his eyes off of Sakura.

Once he was gone Iruka tried to talk to her about the incident but she didn't have much to say. Unfamiliar patients had tried to talk to her before in the past and so in theory what had happened was not as unusual as if she were new to this environment, and nothing Gaara had done had made her feel threatened until he had been exposed. But all the same something bothered her about his unwavering interest in her as he had been removed.

"Why me?" she asked the doctor. And Iruka had the grace to look chagrined.

"This is just a guess because I only started working with him a couple days ago, but I think you reminded him of someone. He actually doesn't have a history of speaking to anyone outside of his doctors, so I have to admit I'm curious as well."

"Should I be worried?"

"No, of course not. Not at all." But the way Iruka wouldn't look her in the eye as he said that didn't convince her.