Woo! I only took like a two year hiatus before I felt so guilty I had to finish this. So here goes. Epilogue tiems.
Thanks all who were encouraging and constructive. Sorry for the errors or inconsistencies, I know where they are so thanks for not shoving them in my face too hard when you see them. Heart you all! Always more room for GaaSaku love out there.
Honestly didn't think this would end up romantic at all so this is as close as we're getting here. I feel like this is a great place to leave them. All possibilities.
Summer had passed like a dream, if in your dreams you worked as an unpaid intern in a large hospital. It had been heavenly for Sakura, coming home tired every night and feeling like she was one step closer to her goal. Her conviction was what drove her. It had just been a little internship, and she hadn't really been doing anything super meaningful, but it had been good to be on a team and to be recognized as good at something. Validation from her mentor Tsunade this summer had meant the world to her. If she had had any doubts, getting out there in the field was erasing them one by one and building in her new confidence.
She was bouncing around in her kitchen, making blueberry pancakes and celebrating a job well done before the fall term began, while making a mess of everything. Cooking had been a luxury she hadn't had any real time for and she was happy to really take some time for herself now that she had a couple days of break before school but after her internship. Life was good. Naruto had surprised Hinata with a proposal a couple weeks ago and she was going to be a bridesmaid in their wedding next summer. Ino was dating some guy she was so happy with she didn't have a critical thing to say to anyone about anything. Sasuke had apparently become a lot more responsive, but she had only heard it second hand from Lee since she hadn't been to see him since late winter.
Everything was coming up Sakura.
Singing loudly to one of her favorite songs on the radio, she plopped a wad of batter in the pan and heard it sizzle. Flour coated her in various noticeable places, and she curled and uncurled her painted toes on the cool floor. It was going to be another hot day, but this early in the morning on a Saturday you wouldn't have known it.
The hot buttery smell was wafting up and her mouth was beginning to water as she picked up her ringing cell phone. At once her body stiffened and the buttery smell took on a burnt edge as she registered the person at the other end. She had one word answers for everything, before she hung up, swore and sprang into action to dump the burnt pancake into the garbage. Sakura had lost her appetite.
Dinner with Gaara. Today.
Everything about the day proceeded to be a blur until she found herself sitting in some hole in the wall Chinese restaurant a few miles away. She actually wasn't that far from campus, and the implication wasn't lost on her. Gaara was going to her university. She had gone through half a pot of tea in those tiny ceramic cups before she even had a glimpse of him, having gotten there an hour earlier than planned. Sakura had built in the time to relax but instead had simply slowly wound herself into a ball of nerves. The caffeine in the tea might have exacerbated her unease; she wouldn't have been able to tell. One hand played with her phone, spinning it around on the table as if half expecting him to text that it was all a joke, or to simply fade away into the night again.
He saw her and made a beeline past the waiter who began to ask him a question, only to be completely ignored. His legs weren't particularly long yet someone he crossed the distance between them fast enough to make her hold her breath a bit. White shirt, black jeans, brown work boots, you'd never pick him out of a crowd except for the red hair, the prominent scar, and the aura of menace.
"You're early." He said flatly, and she couldn't tell if he was displeased or not.
"So are you."
"Ten minutes hardly counts as early."
Sakura picked up her menu but he continued to stare, not bothering to look at his own. This was so awkward.
"Good evening tonight's special is—" The waiter barely started when Gaara cut him off.
"General Tso's chicken. Hot." The waiter was sputtering a bit so Gaara gave him something between a condescending sigh and a growl. "Take her order, get us a new pot of tea, and get out of our hair."
"I'll have the sweet and sour pork." Sakura tried to smile extra bright, as if her cheerfulness would make up for Gaara's rudeness.
The waiter wandered away with a scowl.
"If he spat in our food I wouldn't be surprised. What the heck are you up to?"
"For one thing I know what I want. For another they have the same things at every Chinese place so I don't need to know they have it. And lastly I didn't come here to talk with him." He took what she could only assume was a steadying breath because he closed his eyes as he let it out and she saw the circles around his eyes were as bad as ever.
The doctor in her had to say something. "Are you getting any sleep at all?"
"It isn't as quiet in the city. Some things take more acclimation than others." He sounded snappish, defensive.
He hadn't lived in the world in a long time, she tried to remind herself, so maybe this was him just doing the best he could. "You still apartment hunting?"
"So you found something already? That's lucky, this close to the start of school."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "I got out two months ago."
"Well, do you like your place?"
"It'll do for now."
"You know, this is the part of the conversation where you supply some kind of information I can comment on like, oh, 'my bedroom has their weird stain in the corner and the landlord won't do a thing about the hot water pipes that keep banging around in the walls.' And then I say something about how terrible that must be," the waiter plopped their tea down unceremoniously and scurried away as she continued. "But if you don't provide at least a few more details then this conversation might as well be texted to me and I can go home and watch an episode of House again."
She poured tea for him and for herself again before sipping it and burning her lip immediately. Damn it what a crappy date this was, if it was a date.
"I bought a house."
Sakura almost spat out the tea she was drinking, as it was she began to choke a bit.
"Everything is more expensive than I remembered it."
"You bought a house?"
"I just said that." He looked wary. "Did you hit your head recently?"
"But who does that?!" She hadn't thought he had that kind of money. I guess there's no guarantee of a good childhood or a happy family just because money was involved.
Gaara took a sip of his tea and grimaced. "I didn't want to live with anyone else around me. It's easier this way."
"Not everyone can do that, you know." She knew some envy was creeping into her voice as she thought about how closely she watched her own budget. Even helped out by her parents she was just scraping along.
"Money is a funny thing. It's not much use for anything other than stuff. Once people know you have it they treat you differently. You're already treating me differently. Look how angry you got when I said I had bought a house."
"I can envy that a little bit. That's a normal reaction, and I refuse to let you shame me for dreaming of a better life." She picked up napkin and meticulously placed it in her lap while she seethed a little.
There was silence, filled with nothing but sounds from the kitchen and two loud old men discussing their fishing trip that morning two tables away. A couple of teenage girls were behind them giggling and showing each other videos on their phones while they picked at a plate of chow mien.
"Why'd you invite me here Gaara, other than that you said you would?" She said it gently, honestly.
He ran his fingertips over his scar briefly, and then stared intently at her. "You know why. You just want to hear me say it out loud? Fine. I like you. I'm attracted to you. I want to spend time with you. I never hid any of this from you and I have everything to gain from what this is. I think the better question is why did you agree to meet me here?"
Sakura squirmed, put on the spot. "I don't know."
"I guess I only have one option then." Gaara said gravely. She felt briefly alarmed. "We'll keep doing this until you do figure it out."
The food came, steaming plates that smelled wonderful but tasted like cardboard as she woodenly thought about her future. They ate without speaking, and Gaara got up to pay the bill without saying a word to her. She tried to put down a tip but he just growled and stuffed the money back in her purse while she protested weakly.
"I'm doing this right tonight." Was his way of explaining. And she wondered if he had ever been on a date in his life because he looked at a total loss when they exited the restaurant.
"Let's just take a walk." Sakura suggested and Gaara looked relieved. "Did you take any pictures of your house? I'd like to see it."
He shrugged. "It isn't far."
"You bought a house near campus?" Nothing here was cheap. This wasn't some trashy neighborhood full of fixer uppers.
He obviously didn't want to talk about it. "It's just an empty house. It isn't anything special. I don't want a car."
"Well you can at least show me the outside of it I guess."
Eight blocks later she was in front of a rather smart modern looking thing that was all glass and steel. It looked unfriendly and the realtor's sign was still in the lawn with the sold sticker on it.
"It's very nice."
"You hate it. You're a terrible liar. That's fine, I hate it too." Gaara produced the stress ball, looking a little worse for wear, but still serving its function.
"You're right, it's about as friendly as a knife's edge. Let's go walk around campus. I'll show you my favorite place." She slipped the last bit in like an enticement, and it appeared to work.
Her excitement was enough to draw him along, and she wondered why she had offered in the first place. She pointed out things on campus as if she were a tour guide and Gaara said nothing, just listening while Sakura rambled. In between random facts about the campus and various professors she talked about her friends and things they had done together the past few years. About the band Naruto had been in with Chouji and Kiba, where all their songs had been about food. The time Lee had gotten drunk and gotten hauled away by the cops for fighting. When she had gotten her acceptance to her pre-med program that would fast track her to acceptance in med school proper.
"You have a good life." Gaara finally said.
"I guess I do," Sakura beamed. "And here we are."
Gaara looked around and she pointed excitedly. She had to take his hand and lead him over to it in the end, and she felt all his muscles tense when she touched his skin.
"It's a tree."
"It's a climbing tree." She corrected him. "This divot right here is perfect to sit in when you want to read. And this flat part is like a natural desk to take notes on. On a warm day it's the best. Oh come on, we all need somewhere we can relax."
Gaara shook his head and started to walk away.
"Hey. Hey! Where are you going?" Sakura felt a little peeved that she had showed him something that meant a lot to her and he couldn't at least be civil. It wasn't surprising, but it was still upsetting. "Fine then. GOODNIGHT."
But she couldn't leave it alone and she chased after him once he started to fade into the distance, having to trot a bit to keep up with his unnaturally fast gait.
"What is this about?" She huffed a little, realizing it had been a while since she had gone jogging. "Gaara, stop. Talk to me."
He halted suddenly and she ran into him with a grunt. Gaara turned on his heel, his face so close to hers their noses were nearly touching. "You drag me across campus to show me a tree. I don't want to be your gay best friend or your guy pal, I want more. Is this what you do with the other guys you've been on dates with?"
"I don't date." That halted him mid-tantrum. "So stop acting like you know me so damn well and give me some time. You can't have the world from me yet. Tonight you get a damn tree." The voice inside of her cheered, for once aligned with her outer self.
She held out her hand and he looked at it as if it were a serpent poised to strike. Eventually she sighed and grabbed his hand herself, finding it surprisingly warm, and interlaced her fingers with his. He gripped her almost painfully and she tapped him on the back of his hand, trying to remind him to relax which he eventually did just the barest amount.
He was sweating bullets by the time they got back to the tree so she let him go again.
"Come up here and sit with me."
"It's a nice night." Some drunk kids were screaming and laughing coming down the nearby path. "See, everyone else is having fun. You can allow yourself a little fun too."
Gaara leaned against the trunk, and somehow she found herself running fingers through his hair as they both watched a cloud obscure the moon and then pass making her blink at how bright it seemed again.
"I could get used to this." She whispered as she watched Gaara close his eyes and let her run her fingers over his scalp. The expression on his face was almost sinfully happy. Her own lips curled up to mirror him.