Blink

Waking up in the morning took conscious effort. Sakura's eyelids were heavy, and it took three tries to even get them open all the way. She was curled in an awkward position around her fox, her body still accustomed to sleeping with the bear.

The bear.

It all came rushing back, the fact that her life had wrecked like a derailed train the night before. Sakura's instincts urged her to close her eyes and sink back into another bout of hopefully dreamless sleep. She was tired, so tired, and she did not want to face what was coming. It would be much easier to sleep.

But the unforgiving numbers of her alarm clock set her in motion when she realized she had only twenty minutes to catch her bus if she wanted to get to class on time.

With a burst of profanity, Sakura pushed back her covers and slid open the closet door. She pulled on the first pair of jeans she found, and dug out a jacket. She scrambled to brush her teeth and swipe on mascara to give her appearance at least some kind of order before rushing out from her bedroom and over to the kitchen.

She came to a full stop inside. On the counter sat a small thermos and a bento. Further investigation revealed black coffee inside the thermos, still hot. She peeked in her bento, and found that Hinata had woken up who knows how early to make her dumplings for lunch. Sakura closed her eyes and offered a prayer of thanks to fate for making Hinata her roommate. She promptly opened her eyes and barked out a laugh, realizing that technically, she had just offered thanks to Neji. Oh, the irony. She'd have to text him later.

Sakura gathered her things, slipped on her shoes, and took off jogging. Luck was with her, and she slipped through the bus doors right before they closed. Once settled in her seat, Sakura took a moment to sip her coffee, and then closed the thermos and dumped it in her backpack. She clasped her hands and tilted her neck to lean against the padded seat.

Her hands felt awkward, and she hated the reason. Her fingers were used to the metal of her ring. She unclasped her hands, and began clenching and unclenching the left. Her fingers still felt strange. Though Sakura was used to removing the ring for cooking and cleaning, she never left her apartment without it.

She sighed, and made a fist. She needed distraction, and quickly.

She pulled her cellphone from her jacket pocket and scrolled to Neji's name. Might as well start the day with some humor, because it was bound to just go downhill from there. She texted, "Boys suck, Hinata rules. Except you, cause I've made you my official deity."

She fiddled with the phone after hitting send, flipping it open and closed and snapping the battery cover on and off, a habit that annoyed Gaara to no end. To distract herself from that thought, she sent a text to Hinata thanking her for her kindness.

A chime signified a response, and Sakura flipped her phone open to read Neji's answer. "Was that supposed to make sense?"

Sakura chuckled half-heartedly, and clicked the buttons to respond. "More than my life does at the moment. Wedding's off."

She waited for the chime.

"Hold on. Tenten wants to call."

Her phone belted out its cheerful tune, and Sakura flipped it open, ignoring an annoyed look from the man across the aisle. "Hello?"

"What the hell is that jackass thinking?" Sakura winced at Tenten's impressive volume, and hastily tapped her volume button to spare her ears. "What's his problem, changing his mind like that? I hope you kicked the crap out of him, Sakura, because if you didn't put him in the hospital, I sure as hell will! Oh, get away, Neji—"

Her friend cut off a moment, and Sakura could hear her muffled shrieks. A moment later, Neji's voice cut in. "What happened?"

Sakura noticed that the man across the aisle was still staring at her. She hunched her shoulders into herself and turned into the window. "It happened last night. He just called it off. Said that he didn't think it would work with him trying to do military service and me trying to do medical school, so basically, he's out."

"I'm surprised he was this indecisive." Sakura could hear Tenten hollering, "Indecisive men are weak and stupid!" before Neji's voice cut her off again. "Do you think something else triggered this? This can't have been the first time he's thought of those complications."

"I don't even know, Neji." Sakura spread her hand and covered her face, wishing for a moment that she could just hide from the world. "I... I..." her voice quivered.

"Sakura," Neji's voice was firm, and Sakura clung to it like a lifeline thrown during a tempest. "You're going to be okay. We've survived worse than this."

Sakura chuckled half-heartedly. "I suppose we have. It doesn't really feel that way right—"

Neji cursed, and then Tenten's voice was back on the phone. "Please tell me you socked him. Please, please, please tell me socked him."

"For crying out loud... Tenten, he did it over the phone!" Sakura snapped, her voice rising. "Because that's the kind of man I fell in love with. Okay?"

There was silence on the line as Tenten, and perhaps Neji as well, processed this information. Sakura scowled, and then noticed the man staring at her again. "Oh, will you mind your own business?" she half-yelled across at him. "Can't you see I'm having a quarter life crisis over here?"

The man blanched and turned away, and Sakura scowled and slumped back into her seat.

A moment later, Tenten's voice sounded in her ear, much softer this time. "I'm sorry, Sakura. I didn't realize. He's weak, though. Doing it over the phone is a coward's move." Sakura shrugged, even through Tenten couldn't see it. "Neji and I will come down as soon as we can."

'No."

"No arguments."

"You two cannot take that kind of time off."

"What's the point of being part of a family company if you don't get some perks? Neji will call in a favor, and we'll be there soon. Just hang tight, ok?"

"It's an twelve hour drive."

"Eleven, if I'm behind the wheel."

"Let me talk to Neji."

"Nope. You can talk to him when we're there."

"Tenten—"

"Enough. We're coming. End of story. See you soon."

A click sounded in her ear, and Sakura glowered at the blinking timer on the screen. Everyone in the world was picking on her. A moment later, the phone chimed, and she clicked it open, still scowling. A message from Neji. "Never forget that you are strong. We'll see you soon."

Only slightly mollified, she dumped her phone back into her bag, and pulled out her thermos. The coffee was cooling a little bit, so she sipped at it until they reached campus. Zipping up her backpack, she stood, and with a final glare at the cowering man across the aisle, she stomped off the bus and onto the sidewalk.

The day was, unfortunately, beautiful. Spring was creeping up everywhere, from the buds on the trees, to the new sheen of green on the grass. A couple early flowers were opening up to greet the sun. The girls on campus were taking advantage of the hints of warmth, slipping off their cardigans to show off new floaty dresses to the boys lounging in between classes. Sakura narrowed her eyes at the sight, zipped her jacket just a little higher, and marched off to her building.

The anatomy lab was on the third floor, easily found by the formaldehyde scent overpowering the hallway from the open door. Sakura entered, dialing a code into the office door right next to the lab entrance. She dumped her backpack in the office, grabbed a pair of gloves from the TA desk, and then returned to the lab where Karin was busy unzipping the cadaver bags in preparation for open study.

Sakura snapped on her gloves, but instead of joining Karin in setting up the lab, she pulled out a stool and pulled herself up onto it. Karin looked over, confused, and Sakura exhaled. "I have news."

"Ok."

"Bad news."

"Oh, fun." There was a pause. "Are you going to tell it to me, or just sit there and sulk?"

Sakura should have been irritated by Karin's tone, but she was entirely focused on trying to get the words out of her mouth. They somehow got stuck in her throat, so instead of speaking, she just held up her hand.

"Holy crap!" Karin exclaimed. "You lost your ring? Where? Do you want me to call Shoko in so you can go look? Does Gaara know?"

Against all reason, this reaction made Sakura laugh. It's wasn't a pretty laugh; it resembled a sob more than anything else, and she buried her face in her ringless hands.

Karin paused, and then said, "Wow. Are you serious?"

Sakura nodded, hands still covering her face. Her arms fell until they were braced on her knees. The lab went dead silent, and Sakura just wanted to escape, go home, and burrow back under her covers. Anything was better than this strained awkward feeling, knowing that someone else was pitying you.

A moment later, she heard the distinct thud of Karin stamping her foot. "You're kidding!" Her voice shot into the silence like a rocket. "I just found the perfect shoes to go with my bridesmaid dress! Who does he think he is?"

Sakura looked up and blinked. "Seriously, Karin?"

"Well, yeah. I bet he thinks he's being so cool staying single, but hello, what about my needs? Jilting you is bad enough, but affecting me? That's unforgivable." Karin returned to the lab prep work, yanking open the zippers with force. "And really, what an idiot! A future doctor who's willing to tie herself down before she's thirty-five and filthy rich? He should be dragging you to the altar. You're a catch. Look at you. I mean Gaara's not that bad to look at, but his personality? Is kind of freaky at first. What are the odds he's going to find someone as awesome as you ever again? Try slim to none. In ten years, you'll be a famous surgeon with a hot husband and a huge house, and where will he be? Alone and miserable, that's where. What an idiot."

Against all reason, Sakura smiled. Karin smirked in return, all too aware that she'd just forced that smile onto Sakura's face, and Sakura shook her head, chuckling. Karin was self-centered and often a bitch, but there was a reason she was Sakura's best friend. She had an uncanny ability to say exactly what needed to be said to cheer Sakura up. Of course, by contrast, she was also fully capable of being very precisely annoying, and could switch back and forth at will.

But for now, cheered, Sakura hopped off her stool and moved over to help unpack the cabinets and set everything out.

"So was there a reason for this catastrophe?" Karin asked.

"Military service and medical school."

"Well that's stupid.

"Agreed."

"So," Karin said, bumping Sakura with her hip. "You ready to go clubbing with me tonight?"

Sakura shot her a dirty look. "I just had my life wrecked, and you want me to provide your weekend entertainment?"

"Well, yeah. I don't have to share you anymore. I need someone to make me look good in front of all the boys at the bar. Hey, hey, put those angry eyes away! I'm kidding!"

"Of all the days for you to joke—"

"I'm not joking. Mostly. But if I know you, you're planning to stay home and mope and get fat on ice cream and make hundreds of phone calls to cancel your entire wedding in one night. Well, I'm all for you doing that, but not tonight. It's not healthy. You need a night to be a little angry and get revenge by looking gorgeous and flirting with hot men. You need to get your mind off all of this. Being my boo for the day is just an added bonus for me."

"I really don't want—"

"Do you really think I'm going to give you a choice?"

"No, not really." Sakura stopped setting out the models and looked over at Karin. "Can we at least invite some people I know?

"We'll get the whole group there. You'll have fun, I promise." Karin winked, before turning back to the cadaver. "On the other hand, you and the heartbroken look… You know how to work it. Maybe I should just make you stay home."

Sakura shook her head, smiling.

The next few hours were spent answering questions to students flocking in and out of the cadaver lab preparing for their finals. Karin's brusque business mode tended to appear during work hours, so most students posed their questions to Sakura. The work was a welcome distraction, as Sakura was able to distance herself from her own issues by focusing on the panicked studying of others.

After work and her bus ride home, Sakura finished off her dumplings and then sat at the kitchen table staring at her backpack, trying to decide whether she should start her weekend reading or not. She didn't really want to focus on school right now, but it was better than the alternative of thinking about her cancelled wedding. She grudgingly pulled out her Developmental Genetics book, but before she could open it, her phone rang.

She opened her phone without glancing at the number, and was greeted by Naruto's voice. It took a moment to understand what he was saying, due to his volume.

"Don't you even worry, Sakura-chan; we're gonna take care of him for you! Me and Lee are all set to go beat the crap out of him!" Lee's loud "YOSH!" echoed from the background. "We'll even recruit Shikamaru; Temari'll get over it! Just you wait, we'll have him crawling back to you to beg for forgiveness!"

"Naruto—"

"I know he's my best friend, but you're my Sakura-chan!" More affirmations from Lee sounded in the background. "And hurting your feelings is totally asking for it!"

"Naruto—"

"So we're making out a battle plan right now, on how to take him unawares. We can handle it on our own, but if you're feeling vengeful, we're flexible. We need Shikamaru to get here though, because he's the best at drawing our little chibis—"

"Naruto!" Sakura half-yelled into the phone.

"Sakura-chan?"

Sakura groaned. "Have you even thought this little plan through?"

"Huh?"

"Our engagement is off, idiot. This isn't a fight, or a disagreement, or anything that can be fixed with a punch to the face. Though if you still want to attack him, I'm not standing in your way. But seriously, please do not go out and try to get us back together or anything, okay? It's not happening."

"But Sakura-chan—"

"No buts. Please, Naruto, just drop it. I know you love to fix everyone's problems, but it's just not going to work with this one."

"If you say so," Naruto said, the hesitance in his voice making it perfectly clear that he doubted her interpretation of events.

But the damage was already done. Even if Gaara came back... and Sakura's chest tightened as she though of the possibility... But still, even if he came back, it would never be the same. He'd betrayed her, and after something like that, it was impossible to go back. It was over.

She didn't say so to Naruto, but he'd probably understand. Not right away, but eventually. She drummed her fingers against her textbook, restless. "Are you sure there's nothing we can do?" Naruto asked.

"Well, you can do me a silly favor. Karin's already started Operation Break-up Recovery, and she's dragging me out tonight. I want to make sure I actually end up with friends there."

"Yeah, I know, she told me. I'm inviting the guys; we'll be there."

After finishing up the conversation, and talking briefly with Lee, who offered his enthusiastic condolences, Sakura made a face and pushed her book off the table. Leaving it where it landed on the kitchen floor, she hopped up and padded over to her bathroom.

Her shower was long, partly because she pulled out the multitude of beauty products hiding under her sink. After buffing, exfoliating, and moisturizing every bit of her skin, she got out of the shower feeling much better. She spent the next couple hours painstakingly curling her hair. By the end, when she looked in the mirror, she no longer looked like a heartbroken girl just getting through the day. Instead, she looked like someone out to break a few hearts of her own.

She and Hinata made a quick dinner and then raided each other's closets in preparation for the evening. Sakura was digging through Hinata's pretty hair clips when a knock sounded at the door. She answered and Karin burst past her into the hallway. "Would you look at the rat's nest that is currently masquerading as my hair? I look awful. They're not even going to let me in the bar I'm so ugly."

Sakura chuckled and followed her down to the bathroom, where Karin yanked open a drawer and pulled out Sakura's hairbrushes. "You do realize you look fantastic."

"Ha. Liar. I look demented, and why, exactly, did I think an a-line haircut was a good idea? My boots, however, look fabulous. As do yours; where did those come from?"

"These," she said, showing them off, "are Hinata's."

Karin blinked. "Seriously? Hinata's got Sexy Boots?"

"Yep. I teased her about it and told her she needs to start wearing shorter skirts to show them off, but she's going with flats tonight."

"Worried about tripping around Naruto? That's so cute."

Sakura sighed, and moved forward to take the brush from Karin. "You're making it worse. Here." With an expert hand, she parted Karin's hair, and started working on getting the shorter side to flip out the way Karin liked. "I don't even know why I'm letting you drag me into this."

"Because you need it." With her hands free, Karin started raiding Sakura's make-up. "Seriously, the best way to get over Gaara is to go out and remind yourself that you are a young, single, and gorgeous. If he's too stupid to keep you to himself, then screw him. Actually, don't, the goal here is for you to screw someone else, but you get what I'm saying."

Sakura rolled her eyes, and snatched the bottle of perfume Karin was dangerously close to pocketing. "I'm just going out to maybe get a drink and dance a bit. I'm not like that."

"You should be! Kiba's single; you should totally sleep with him! It would be fun and help you recover." Undaunted by the snatching of the perfume, Karin moved past Sakura and into her bedroom to flop on the bed. "I'm not saying you have to date or commit to him, but just have yourself some fun! It would really be good for you."

"Not likely."

"Oh, we'll see about that."

Karin drove one of the crappiest cars Sakura had ever seen. She bought it for next to nothing on one summer's savings in high school, and flirted a college auto-mechanic into fixing it up for dirt cheap. Made of second-hand everything, it was ridiculous, mis-matched, and yet somehow reliable. Karin had splurged on one item for the car: her speakers, and she kept them blasting with terrible rap music at all times.

Karin made multiple stops on the way to the club; first at a restaurant for okonomiyaki, then at her apartment so she could switch to a different wallet. Then they had to stop at a convenience store so they could all sip fruit juice from little paper cups before entering the club. By the end of Karin's antics, Sakura was laughing freely and ready to loosen up and forget her troubles for the evening.

By the time they entered, the dance floor was already packed. Karin sauntered onto the floor without hesitation. Sakura grabbed Hinata's hand, and the two elbowed their way through the crowd to follow. Accustomed to Karin's agendas, Sakura knew her friend was deciding which boy looked most likely to buy her drinks for the rest of the evening. She shouted at Hinata to look for Naruto, and the two craned their necks while trailing after Karin.

The redhead settled on a tall, broad shouldered, brown-haired man whose name Sakura didn't catch in the din. Sakura rose on her tiptoes, trying to see over everyone's heads. She kicked Karin, wanting her to ask the tall male to find their friend, but Karin was already half-simpering and focused on getting her drinks.

Sakura finally caught sight of bright blonde hair through the crowd, and swung Karin around to face Naruto and his table. Karin twisted right back around to keep talking to the guy, and so Sakura huffed and placed a hand on Hinata's shoulder to boost her up to see the table.

And that's when she saw him.

He was dark-haired, with dark eyes that were examining the grain of the table as though nothing of interest was happening around him; he was above all that. His demeanor was one of boredom; he lounged back in the booth with his hands in his pockets, ignoring the drink set in front of him. Dressed in a black shirt with a face that almost seemed noble, he was absolutely gorgeous.

Sakura smiled, glad that she'd spent so much time on her appearance tonight. "Hello, rebound," she murmured.


Notes

What's up, Sasuke?

Haha, I suck. Like seriously. But at least it's not a dead fic! This may be a bit rough (writing Karin was harder than expected), but I don't know how much writing time I'll have in the next couple weeks (having 4 jobs blows!) so here it is! And I will do my best to have the next chapter to this, and all my other projects, out by Christmas. See you then, and make a girl happy! Leave some reviews!

SJ