They didn't notice the cuts.

They didn't notice the way his hands tremble.

They didn't notice the weariness that hid beneath his intensely dark eyes. Despite all the fawning they do over Sasuke Uchiha, no one saw the effects of severe training like Sakura Haruno did. She watched him, always from the shadows - behind teachers, stands and corners – never brave enough to go up to him. But it didn't mean that she didn't notice the littlest things about him.

Like how Itachi Uchiha didn't come by the Academy anymore.

She saw the hesitant way Sasuke would step out of the school building. It was just a flicker in his eyes – the hope, the expectation of his older brother coming for him – and then it was gone and replaced with coldness and passiveness as another day passed and he had to walk home by himself. Each time that anticipation shattered, she wanted to walk up to him and grab his hand and offer him company. She wanted to be the girl he would talk to and open up with.

But she saw the way he shot down the rest. And more than anything, she was afraid that the fragile kindness he showed her would disappear.

So the pink-haired girl timidly watched as he hurried back to the Uchiha compound but this time, she followed. If he saw her, he didn't care. She raced behind him, breathless trying to catch up as he ran into the midst of a forest and for a moment, she was afraid she would lose him. How could she find her way back? What if she got lost? How could she possibly explain that she was trying to –

Her thoughts disappeared as an opening presented itself. There was a dock set on the northern face of a miniature, clear lake. Several yards away were the gates of the intimidating Uchiha neighbourhood. She gasped. She had never ventured out here before, in fact, she was sure that no one did – not Ino, not the other fangirls…no one but those that lived here. She fell back into the role of hiding behind a tree, her palm on the sturdy trunk as she watched him bandage up his hands. A new type of nervousness fluttered in her stomach as she watched, waited.

He simply stared ahead. He looked in front of him and his eyes were set in a determination that intimidated her. It was a look on the young boy's face that was rare for anyone his age, shinobi or not. Then he took in a deep breath and made hands signs so fast that even Sakura couldn't decipher them. Next thing she knew, he breathed out fire – fire! She gasped. He was so…so good. Like he was a part of another world completely.

But then Sasuke Uchiha groaned and grabbed at his hair.

"Why, why can't I get this?" he shouted and his voice broke as he doubled over. He punched the dock and Sakura wanted nothing more than to run up and comfort him, to bandage up his wounds and tell him that he blew fire and if it that wasn't good enough, she didn't know what was. But being the girl she was, she just turned around, her back facing the tree. She held her breath.

Then she heard the roar of fire again. And again. And again. And even as the sky fell and turned a warm orange, even when it darkened and the stars came out, she still heard the incessant burst of flame. And each time, she felt the heat grew hotter and hotter.

When it got too late, she finally blinked and snapped out of her trance. She didn't even notice how fast time had flown when she simply stood there and watched as the world continued on without her. Shyly she tilted her head, her hair falling over her shoulders as she leaned out to look at him. Sasuke was panting, his hands shaking and burns and blisters growing. She bit down on her lip. Hard. The way his eyes were squeezed shut and torn away made something in her heart stir.

This was her chance. She had to go to him.

She took one step but then she felt the presence of another almost immediately. A man walked towards Sasuke, and she immediately recognized him as Itachi Uchiha. The strength and assuredness that radiated off him was impossible to ignore. He wore the standard ANBU outfit and his expression was guarded. He spoke quietly and she strained to hear him, only catching brief words. "…inside, Sasuke, you don't have to do this."

"I have to prove to father!" Sasuke cried back out indignantly. There was a desperate plea in his eyes that stunned her. In school, around the village…she had never seen his face crack with emotions quite like that until he was talking to his brother. Itachi's back was to her but he leaned down and moved his arm, making Sasuke flinch back as a reaction.

But as Itachi Uchiha walked away, Sasuke's eyes narrowed into a glare and he turned back around. The way his face transformed made her green eyes glaze over in terror. The look in those too passionate black eyes was reignited and once again, the world around her got lost in the sound of violent flame lashing out one after another.


He didn't come to school the next day.

Sakura waited on the playground, looking around. She decided that no matter what, she was going to talk to him today. She was going to tell him how great he was, and she wasn't going to care that all those other girls said the same thing because this time, she had proof that he was great.

But even when the bell rung and Iruka-sensei called her in, Sakura decided to break her good student record to wait for him to arrive. Yet when an hour passed and the Academy was silent but the sound of buzzing from the classrooms, she was still standing out there alone.

Then someone else stumbled upon, late.

"Hey, hey Sakura!"

She spun around, her eyes wide as she took in the boy in front of her. She took an instinctive step back when she took in the blue-eyed boy in front of her. He had a huge, eye-crinkling grin on his tan face, his blonde hair in disarray. Be careful around Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura. Just…be careful. "Naruto," she said quietly and then she blinked. A hand flew to her chest, closed in a fist. "What-what do you want?"

Naruto blinked, his sapphire eyes wide. He scratched his head. "Well…I don't know," he said slowly, dumbfounded but good-naturedly. "Nothing."

She stared.

"What are you doing out here anyway?" he asked. His voice was loud so she took another step back. "If you're planning to ditch, you should probably leave!" he snickered, his eyes disappearing as his smile grew.

Something inside of her felt unrest at his assumption. "I'm not ditching!" she defended herself immediately, her eyes wide and fearful. She looked back at the Academy quickly before turning to Naruto. "Why would I do that?!"

He still had that puppy look of confusion and flushed slightly. "I-I don't know," he frowned. He wondered why she was so tense. Usually, Sakura was quiet and shy around large crowds of people. Then again, they were alone. "What are you doing then?"

"I'm waiting for Sasuke!" she said quickly, as if she had to prove her point that she wasn't ditching class. Although technically, she was. Naruto's face darkened immediately and he pouted, crossing his arms and turning away from her.

"Pft," he rolled his eyes, "why would you do that? He's probably just in class like the boring guy he is," he mumbled. Sakura froze, and remained silent but the heat in her chest grew. "Not that he needs to be in class since he's so great just 'cause he's a Uchiha or whatever." Her fist clenched, and she felt the pain of her fingers digging into her palm. Still, the boy tittered. "He's not like us, right, Sakura? I bet he never even trained once –"

"Shut up!"

Naruto's eyes widened. His lips parted.

"Shut up, shut up!" Sakura shouted again and squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head. "You are so stupid, Naruto! You know nothing about Sasuke!" Nobody did! Nobody saw the way he laboured over that jutsu, the way his face broke as his armour slipped when he didn't get it right. Nobody saw the hopeful expression, and the horribly disappointed one. And here was Naruto – thinking Sasuke was so – so…"Don't say that about him!"

"Geez, Sakura…" Naruto mumbled, abashed. He looked at the dirt and kicked the ground. "What are you getting so worked up over?"

She was breathless, so angry for whatever reason. Just because Naruto didn't care for school, it didn't mean that Sasuke carried that same nonchalance and the lazier he was being, the angrier she became. What gave him the right to mock Sasuke like that? Nothing. "Don't you get it? He's the best for a reason – he trains all the time! Unlike you, who just goofs off and causes everyone trouble!" She stomped away, unable to stare at the clueless blonde haired boy anymore. She couldn't handle his scolded-puppy expression, nor could she handle her own anger. But when she hastily threw open the door, she didn't hear the expected slam of it behind her.

Instead as she turned around, someone's hand was on it. Bandaged fingers and scraped skin. She gasped and slowly turned around and suddenly, she was staring at Sasuke Uchiha. His eyes were dead and they seemed to look past by her. But without a doubt, in those black eyes was the very loneliness, the determination that she saw in him last evening. Then his eyes regained focus and he was staring at the girl with pink hair until he finally was staring right at those green eyes.

She heard it before, heard that the eyes were the window to one's soul. But never before had she ever felt so exposed until it was Sasuke Uchiha that looked at her.

I really enjoyed writing this, not quite sure why. I guess because it gave more depth to Sakura's early relationship with Naruto?

Longer than usual, but I'm in the holiday spirit. Happy Valentine's Day! Forget about roses and chocolate, reviews would be lovelier :)