Okay, so I'm supposed to be working on the second chapter for Runaway (I'm turning that one-shot into a two-shot, for anyone who just went 'huh?'), but instead all I could focus on was finishing this fic. Eh. I'll get back to it later.

Anyway, this started off, in my head, as a quick, 2000-3000 word fic, but as you can see, it grew. I kept adding to it, reorganising parts of it, never satisfied. And MONTHS later, here it finally is. ;) It became more of a 'The Story of Us' high school fic, if that makes sense. Normally I try to copy actual Japanese school life, but this fic kind of derailed from that, like the bloody thing has a mind of its own (though to anyone who knows anything about Japanese High School life, there will definitely be some familiar aspects).

And no, this is not remotely connected to GaaSaku Month, though I still plan to post it on Tumblr. Though now that I think about it, I probably wouldn't have finished this fic yet if not for GM. Hm. Oh, and sorry about the length. What can I say, it got away from me. Enough of that, just sit back and enjoy, k? ^_^


Tattoo

'When did I get a tattoo?'

Sakura frowned, running her finger along the sensitive skin.

'And how?'

She was still seventeen, underage, and most definitely not the proud owner of any sort of fake identification. Her best friend knew a good forger, but as far as Sakura knew, had never convinced her to make one for herself. She couldn't remember if Ino had seen it or not, since she was the only one who'd been with her all night and the damn thing was definitely new.

'Why can't I remember?'

The mark was distinctive, an indication to a secret she'd kept from everyone, friend or family, for the last twelve months. It was also another reminder that she needed to do something about Sasuke.

They'd met in Middle School.

In Elementary school, Sakura had gotten used to being teased for her overly large forehead, and the bullies in Otogakure were the worst in the country. But the moment she stepped onto the campus of Konohagakure Junior High School, the eyes that followed her did so with interest and what she would later realise was envy. Where her forehead and unusual hair would once upon a time land her in either the nurse's office or alone, in the playground and crying, it was now a subject of incessant but positive gossip.

That was why the first guy to approach her after the bell had been none other than Sasuke Uchiha. He wasn't the king of this school – there was currently one more high school grade above them where the reigning heartthrob was none other than Neji Hyuuga – but everyone knew he would be when their last year of Middle School finally rolled around. That made him as good as king as far as many were concerned; the best analogy was crowned prince. It made all the girls weak at the knees and all the guys incredibly jealous; even the teachers showed him due respect. It helped that his family was powerful, and the richest in the city, probably the entire of Japan.

And Sakura had fallen in line. She was hooked the moment he opened his mouth and that godly voice of his spoke her name.

He asked her out, introduced her to the classiest places Konoha had to offer and by the time she was getting ready for High School, he'd long since taken her virginity. She wasn't the airhead her persona would have others believe – she knew her relationship with Sasuke was just about appearances to him. He got his hooks in her on her first day, paraded her around, and taught her right from wrong in upper class society. But they never fought. Sasuke opened doors for her, bought her expensive things, and treated her well. They were the golden couple from that very first day in Middle School.

But appearances aside, and despite Sasuke's natural beauty, Sakura had never actually loved him. She had the fangirl thing going, just mildly, since everything about his appearance stood out first for her. But that wasn't love, not by a long shot. It was just childish infatuation.

Sasuke wasn't the one who occupied her thoughts the way a real boyfriend should; even when there was no-one else, it was never the youngest Uchiha. No, her fantasy Prince Charming was the guy she'd dreamt about the night after she first saw him, after the first time she heard his voice, and after their first argument… and most nights since then. That honour belonged to the least Prince Charming title worthy person in school.

Sakura gingerly dusted at the kanji on her bikini line, sighing deeply.

While she'd been new to Konoha in Middle School, Gaara Sabaku had come in at the beginning of High School, a little over twelve months ago. And just like her entrance, his did not go unnoticed. Enrapt eyes followed him, excited giggles surrounded him, and pretty quickly, the entire school was captivated by the crimson stranger.

But his personality ruined whatever chance he might've had to be truly popular. He got caught toting pot, destroyed an inter-school project (for an art competition), and burned down the science lab when his teacher told him he couldn't smoke in class; and that was only in his first few weeks at school. But while trashing school property and doing drugs was typical bad boy behaviour, he still maintained a following – even larger than it should've been. Sakura believed it had more to do with his good looks and his big time businessman father than anything else. The Sabaku family was well connected, and Gaara was only ever suspended, never expelled.

They weren't the Uchihas, but were cut pretty damn close to them.

Sakura remembered the first time she'd seen Gaara; those pale eyes offset by tousled dark crimson hair, that blazing kanji tattoo, and his "I don't like you" stare. Black pants, a long sleeved red shirt under a black tee-shirt boldly depicting his favourite punk band, silver chains, buckles and low hanging cuffs, and a few unassuming piercings… yeah, the rebel in her (albeit the unspoken one) saw him as perfect.

"Sakura! Time for school!" Her mother's voice was one of those that walls couldn't muffle. There was no shriek in her shout, her dulcet tones were even and strangely easy on the ears; she was a strange woman indeed.

Sakura took one last look at her now marred skin and got dressed for school. She moved as though in a daze, terrified of seeing Sasuke now that she had the kanji for 'love' tattooed on her pelvis, and worried of what Ino might say if indeed the blonde knew what she'd done. The same mark was on Gaara's forehead, for the rest of the world to see. The connection was obvious.

Now she remembered.

Last night had been a parental certified girl's night out before they went back to school, and Ino had bugged her until she agreed to go bar hopping. They were underage, but her best friend knew a bouncer (or ten) that didn't care. Hinata and Tenten had been with them; at some point during the night, they'd each slunk off to go home or meet up with their respective boyfriends, whatever. The night ended with Ino and Sakura in a tattoo parlour, a taxi ride, and some form of self-recreation – she wasn't sure if she'd dreamt that part though. She wasn't the type to resort to pleasuring herself.

Sakura plastered a smile to her face and as usual, her mother didn't notice when her daughter wasn't really happy. She was a genius in the board room, but personal matters were alien to her. Mebuki Haruno shooed her daughter out the door, to the family chauffeur and promptly disappeared. But the pinkette was used to it. Her mother hadn't tended to her personally since she learnt how to say 'gimme'.

Sakura spotted Gaara as she entered school grounds – he stood out, no matter how thick the crowd ‒ and as always, she felt a tremble of anticipation run through her body. At first, Sakura had worried she was just transferring her infatuation for Sasuke's good looks to Gaara's, but the feelings wouldn't go away. It had already been a year for Kami's sake! She denied them of course, even to herself, and for that first year of High School, she had everyone fooled, even the deceptively content young woman staring back at her from the mirror.

And so she continued the façade; then a drunken Ino decided that tattoos weren't disgusting anymore, but cool, sexy, and "to die for". This was a story that would make good gossip: popular Sakura Haruno gets hammered, has the symbol for 'love' tattooed on her bikini line, and now the whole school is wondering whether or not she'd been cheating on Sasuke all along.

Sighing, Sakura headed in the opposite direction to where Gaara was going, resigned to looking for her best friend instead of stalking Gaara Sabaku. She found said blonde in their usual place – a set of table chairs in the south-east quad. She remembered mildly, that Ino too had a new tattoo: she had her face covered, with her head in her arms, and her arms on the wooden plank of a table when Sakura plopped down next to her.

"Ino," she whispered, poking her softly. "Are you okay?"

Her blonde friend shrugged her shoulders. "Depends."

"On what?"

"On whether or not you're willing to rob a bank with me."

"Huh?"

Ino sat up and Sakura realised she'd been crying. "My parents saw my tattoo Sakura; they've grounded me for two weeks and said if I've learnt my lesson by the end, then and only then, they'll pay to have it removed."

Sakura winced, looking Ino over. A thick woollen scarf covered her neck and her choice of clothes was borderline "nunnery". There was no tactful way to ask her where the tattoo was, so she just jumped right in.

"Where is it?"

Ino growled. "Midriff: yours?"

Sakura turned a distinct shade of red and fell silent.

Ino peered at her suspiciously. "Sakura, did your mother see yours too?"

"No."

"Then what…" Ino broke off, looking horrified. "Somewhere under all‒" (she waved her hand carelessly at Sakura's clothes; she was wearing denim shorts and a white strap shirt) "‒that?"

"Yes."

Ino giggled. "Can I see it?"

"What? No!"

"Oh come on, I'll show you mine if you do."

"Yours isn't under your knickers," Sakura hissed back, lowering her voice. They were in a public place after all.

Ino looked like she wanted to throw her head back and laugh; her own predicament fighting with the hilarious mortification on her best friend's face.

"Sasuke's gonna get a kick out of it then," she said instead.

Sakura shook her head. "Uh, no; he's not going to see it."

"Unless you remove it soon, he'll have to eventually, unless you intend on going celibate."

Sakura mentally slapped Ino.

From across the south-east quad, a familiar voice caught the pinkette's attention: Naruto Uzumaki was probably the only real friend Gaara had. He was the only one tolerant enough to put up with his shit for long. And thinking about the redhead, her eyes were instinctively drawn to him; he'd been here for a few minutes. It looked like he'd been heading to the quad all along. How had he gotten here so fast? He'd been heading in the opposite direction earlier.

She kept her eyes on him for a moment, but he didn't look over at her – he never did.

Sakura shook herself and tore her eyes from the pleasing form. There was no reason to dwell on something she couldn't have. The pinkette growled, remembering her promise to herself regarding Sasuke. This was going to be painful.

Ino's head jerked up. "Fuck, I just remembered: you took your underwear off in the parlour – did you get it back?"

Sakura turned crimson. "Shut it Ino; gods, why do I put up with you?"

The blonde glowered. "It was just a question."

"I'm not going back there," Sakura said, and Ino gave her a cheesy grin. "Shut up: this entire thing is your fault."

"Yeah, yeah: go tell Sasuke – I'm sure he'll care."

Sakura just snorted, and Ino gracelessly dropped her head back on her folded arms, returning to her sulking session.

"I'll see you later," she said abruptly to Ino, who just let out a noncommittal groan that she heard her.

Sakura stood up and stalked away, her mind on her new tattoo. Even if she removed the kanji from her person, it wouldn't change the fact that she'd been thinking about Gaara, not Sasuke, when she'd had it done ‒ this was a wake-up call twelve months in the making. Ino thankfully, hadn't seen the tattoo, so she was safe on that front, and hopefully the blonde wouldn't get one of her post-drunk epiphanies and recall everything in great detail, a week later.

No matter how much she'd forced him out of her head since his arrival a year ago, the former Suna heartthrob had never truly left her thoughts: she just fooled herself into thinking he had. And from day one she was stealing looks at him from across the school cafeteria, the classroom, the hallways… you name it. And she had to do something about it now, because no matter what, she could no longer pretend she had feelings for her boyfriend.

She finally tracked Sasuke down when the bell for lunch rang, and as usual, he wasted no time in pulling her to him. She'd have thought upon meeting him, and him being something akin to an emo most of the time, that he would be the type to shy away from public displays of affection. But she supposed the possessiveness had won him over a long time ago.

Sakura gently pulled out of his grip. "Sasuke, we need to talk."

And that's where everything went downhill, from her sweaty palms and the feeling of foreboding in the air. If she hadn't brought it on herself, she'd be angry. His eyes widened slightly and darted about to make sure they were at least relatively alone.

"Sakura," he said. "What is this about?"

How exactly did someone break up a five year relationship without sounding like the villain in the piece? She'd never done this before. Sasuke deserved more than "you're dumped" or "I love someone else", but she didn't think there was a perfect way to say this.

Sakura fidgeted and rambled out the only words she could think of: "I-I want to break up."

'Crap.'

To her ears, she sounded like an uncaring harlot… well, only she knew what was going on her head, so she doubted Sasuke was screaming "whore" at her in his. But surprisingly, Sasuke just narrowed his eyes curiously at her. She knew that look: he didn't believe her.

"Sasuke I…" She cleared her throat and stood a little straighter, preparing herself for battle. "It's over between us."

Damn: she needed a reason. But she couldn't think of anything that wouldn't give away the fact that she'd been checking out another guy for months. She felt like a bitch and didn't want to topple further into that territory. The only saving grace was that Sasuke wasn't the type of person who cared for excuses, just action.

"Sakura," Sasuke warned her. "Now's not the time for one of your jokes."

"I'm not joking," she said. "It's over Sasuke. I… I um… I can't be with you anymore." He just stared at her, and she inhaled deeply again before muttering, "I'm sorry" and turning to leave away.

"I'll be here when you change your mind, Sakura."

Sakura kept walking. Sasuke's words were strong, even and confident, but whispered; the undertone gave away his belief that this wasn't over. It had been five years, so where else was she going to go? She understood why he wasn't taking her seriously. She picked up her pace, all but running out of the hallway, but fleeing that piercing gaze like it was fire.

She didn't notice the stares, didn't care that people were watching her flight from Sasuke, noticeably curious and concerned. Sakura didn't stop until she realised she'd run in the opposite direction of the quad, where she would normally meet Ino for lunch. But she couldn't go back there right now; despite the relief that came from what she'd just done, she couldn't help the hammering of her heart. She'd never been in a relationship before Sasuke, and even after five years, there was still more to learn.

Breaking up was more difficult than she'd imagined.

So Sakura found a lone tree, got comfortable under it, and just took in the serenity that being on her own was affording her. This was an area of the school only frequented by the degenerate, the misunderstood, and the troublesome. She was an outsider here, but the curious glances weren't horrible as she tried to sort out her thoughts.

'I just broke up with Sasuke Uchiha!'

She wondered if her social life was over now, considering how many people – male or female – were "in love" with him. Or maybe they'd just be grateful, since he was back on the market, so to speak. And then there was Ino; the girl who'd conveniently befriended her shortly after news of Sasuke dating the new girl began to spread. Would her friend dump her on the wayside now, thinking there was no need to be so close with her if she wasn't a portal to the more accurate Sasuke-gossip? She wasn't immune to Uchiha fandom.

Sakura groaned at these thoughts, annoyed with herself; Ino had been a good friend, so there was no reason to believe she would suddenly turn on her.

She looked up as a shadow fell over her. That artist who everyone knew shot up before every class was standing in front of her. The tree provided ample shade, but Sai's arrival still blocked out what little sun she was getting.

"Yes?" She asked.

He just stared at her for a moment, mumbled, "you're sitting on my spot" and waited for her to move.

Sighing, she stood up, quickly apologised, and ignored the fact that he continued to watch her as she walked away. More than likely, he was too high to recognise the fact that the Sakura Haruno had never been in his spot before, let alone contemplate why she'd suddenly turned up in forbidden territory. Realising she was hungry, Sakura headed toward the cafeteria.

No matter what happened now, she was now a free agent, free to do as she pleased, when she pleased and with whom she pleased. A certain redhead flitted about her thoughts, despite her common sense. There was a "mourning period" after a break up, so one that had gone on for five years, she guessed, would be longer. Not that she had much of a choice where Gaara was concerned.

She knew she liked him – hell, it was probably closer to love than anything else – and fantasising about dumping Sasuke for him had plagued her mind and dreams for over twelve months.

But there was a problem: Gaara Sabaku hated her.

'Why am I even here?'

He should have been expelled a long time ago.

'Stupid father and his fucked up connections.'

He had been toeing the line for twelve months, and was considering on giving up on getting expelled; he'd have to do something he'd actually regret, like putting some insignificant kid in the hospital, to create a problem even his father couldn't cover up. Life was unfair, and he didn't want to go to military school.

Gaara was in the quad, unhappily eating his sandwich (a late breakfast), when his eyes were inevitably drawn across the courtyard to a certain pinkette. She looked slightly annoyed, talking with that weird Yamanaka girl. Not that he could rightly judge: his best friend was an annoying blonde as well. Naruto was also his only friend.

He shifted on his seat as the knucklehead went on again about some football game. Despite being friends with the social pariah, Naruto was popular – being childhood friends with that Uchiha probably helped. No-one, to the redhead's knowledge, had ever given Naruto grief about hanging out with him.

"You should totally come," Naruto said, startling him.

"Hm."

Naruto gave him a knowing grin. He'd figured out a long time ago that the redhead had a crush on a certain unavailable pinkette, and was constantly trying to get him to admit it. The blonde would never go behind his back and tell Sasuke, but sometimes Gaara thought he saw the cogs in the guy's brain working on squeezing out a confession.

"I'll square it with teme," Naruto continued.

"Sasuke Uchiha?"

"It's his party I'm inviting you to."

Gaara shook his head, glancing toward the pinkette once again and ignoring the strange look on Naruto's face when he did this. The last thing he wanted was to go to some preppy party and watch the object of his affections do the whole perfect girlfriend routine for that raven haired son of a bitch.

"Pass," he said.

Naruto started complaining but Gaara blocked him out, watching Sakura as she stormed away from her respectively annoying blonde friend. Something was up with her; it was obvious. Almost immediately, Gaara gave a gruff "see you later" to Naruto and stalked off in a similar manner to Sakura. He wasn't a stalker, not really, but he found himself looking for her. Every time he talked to her, they always argued, they always threw about words he didn't mean. It killed him every time she glared ice daggers at him, so he kept his distance, walking away when she came close to his person, and going three hallways out of his way to avoid her on the way to class (he knew her schedule off by heart). And on the rare occasion he ate his lunch in the quad, he tried to avoid looking at her ‒ though that was next to impossible.

His first day at this godforsaken school, he'd pissed off the Principal almost immediately with his, quote, "delinquent inadequacies". He didn't care about respecting the teachers any more than they did him; what was the point of respect if it only went one way? His father's money bought him what he needed, wanted, and everything in between: he was the epitome of the youngest, troublesome son in a cultured family with none of the concerns for having all the bells and whistles.

Gaara had to stop following the pinkette when the bell rang, but by the time lunch had rolled around, that distinctive pink hair popped up in his peripherals again. He didn't claim to be an expert when it came to the female mind – any he let come close to him only wanted him for his body or his family's connections. None of them opened up any more than he did. But Sakura was different – not like the preppy girls who talked more than they breathed (preppy wasn't his thing anyway). She wore her heart on her sleeve, but wasn't weak or easily brought to tears. She was perfect.

And it burned him that she'd been dating that Uchiha bastard for five years.

She deserved better.

Gaara kept his distance, watching as said Uchiha came into view as well. Normally at this point, he'd turn around and walk away – he had no desire to watch Sakura make happy with Sasuke – but something was different about her. She approached him with trepidation, a sad smile, and a tenseness he'd never seen on her before. It had him curious. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but Sasuke for one, was not happy about it. That smug look didn't waver however, even as Sakura turned and walked away from him.

Gaara watched her all but flee the scene, slightly weirded out. Giggling Uchiha fangirls caught his attention and the redhead looked around, aquamarine eyes meeting black. Sasuke looked livid, almost psychotic; what the hell had just happened?

There was an underlying accusation in the Uchiha's stare as he continued to glare at the Sabaku. Distracted by another hoard of rabid fangirls encroaching on his position, Sasuke thankfully turned and strode away – the opposite direction Sakura had just taken.

And as if the look on the Uchiha's face hadn't been proof enough, those girls giggling three feet away from Gaara were gossiping over the news. It was true: Sakura Haruno had just dumped Sasuke Uchiha… he gripped the wall next to him, letting that sink in for a few minutes. Sakura was now a free agent. Given an acceptable time for mourning, this was his first chance since he'd realised he wanted her.

But there was a problem: Sakura Haruno hated him.

The next few days were weird for Sakura. Sasuke avoided her, and with his parting confident words that she'd come running back to him, she'd braced herself for something, anything from him. It didn't come and she felt like a heavy weight had been lifted off of her shoulders, despite the lingering anxiety.

By the end of the week, she had reminded herself enough times that he wasn't psychotic, so she eventually let her guard down. Naruto approached her a few times, trying to get her to come to Sasuke's party, which she knew was planned for the weekend, but she had no intention of showing up for those "events" ever again. The blonde was being unusually persistent about it, but not once did he even suggest it would be the perfect place for her to reconsider dating Sasuke again – Sasuke's knucklehead best friend was acting even weirder than usual.

The last subject for Friday was Creative Writing, and Sakura didn't notice how strange Mr Hatake was acting – even stranger than normal. She spent the entire lesson either staring out the window or glancing around furtively whenever her thoughts became cohesive enough to focus on a certain redhead. Ino had been exceptionally weird as well, but Sakura just chalked that up to her promise to her parents to behave herself so she could have her tattoo removed. She wasn't going to Sasuke's party either.

The entire world had gone mad.

So Sakura and Ino spent the weekend holed up in her bedroom, after Mebuki Haruno assured Ino's parents they would be watched closely (but she hadn't actually bothered them since). They ate syrup soaked pancakes for breakfast, chocolate and ice-cream for lunch and ordered pizza for dinner; Ino flirted shamelessly with the delivery boy before realising he was the same guy she'd slept with at Sasuke's last party and promised herself she'd avoid from then on like the plague.

"He sucks in bed," Ino said crudely, after relaying the specifics to her. "He was so quick, so tiny, and kept making these weird sounds that reminded me of my next door neighbour's dog." She sighed as Sakura laughed unremorsefully. "Poor puppy."

And somehow, the conversation wouldn't get off of Ino's sex life. Sakura mentioned Sasuke once and the blonde looked scandalised. But she was fine with explaining what he was like; it wasn't like she was pining. And Sakura had only ever slept with the Uchiha, so had no-one to compare him to, like Ino seemed to do with every guy she'd slept with. She needed to swallow her pride and create a clone of herself to ask Gaara out just in case if he killed it, she would at least know where she stood on that front.

Sakura laughed out loud at herself, and then promptly spent the rest of the weekend mumbling "no-one Ino pig" when her best friend cottoned onto the fact that she had been thinking about someone other than Sasuke when saying she missed having sex.

Monday was depressing. Sakura missed her bedroom walls and the cackling of a certain blonde when she regaled her about how domineering her ex-boyfriend was, no matter the position. School sucked. But Monday also brought her within inches of Gaara Sabaku; he was in the principal's office during the first lunch (of course), when she knocked on the door. Tsunade Senju was very motherly to her students, even when reprimanding them, which made her the worst person to chastise the redhead. But Sakura was surprised to hear her yelling from the hallway. She only interrupted because the secretary said she should ‒ apparently, Tsunade would yell at Gaara forever if someone didn't stop her.

The part-time secretary – Shizune Kato – was also a teacher's aide. Sakura was sure she just didn't want to be the one to redirect the busty woman's rage.

"What?"

The scathing response was not one Sakura had ever heard before, but she swallowed down the urge to flee, while avoiding the curious, soft turquoise eyes that had settled on her the moment she opened the door; Gaara had turned to look at her and she fought the blush threatening to colour her skin.

"Mr Umino said you wanted to see me?"

"Oh yes, sorry Sakura, come in and close the door behind you."

The change in her tone was so drastic, that two sets of eyes stared incredulously at her as Sakura did as she was told. She quickly noticed the second chair across from Tsunade and dutifully sat down in it at the principal's waving hand. It was mere inches away from Gaara's chair… her heart was having problems keeping in time. The palpitations got worse when his fingers brushed hers; she stared resolutely ahead, ignoring the annoyed redhead next to her.

It was a few moments – in which the blonde took to calm herself completely – for Principal Senju to tell Sakura why she was actually here.

"As a part of Gaara's punishment for his latest stunt," Tsunade said, emphasising her displeasure on the last word. "He is scheduled to do community service this week and I thought your fundraiser would be the perfect place for him to start."

"Huh?"

Sakura's mind went blank… and then the darkness was suddenly filled with images of Gaara in some sort of swimsuit, or shirtless. His body was chiselled, the tone perfect and his… uh, what fundraiser? Oh… right. Her mother was a ditz, but also Konoha's leading philanthropist. She had Sakura roped into a number of fundraisers, but the only one Tsunade could be talking about – the only one this week – was the car wash.

She'd forgotten about that.

'No, no, no!' People would see her tattoo! Sakura gripped the edges of her chair, trying to calm down. Of course, she didn't need to wear a bikini, or any other manner of clothing that would reveal it to the rest of the school. 'Calm down you idiot!'

That tattoo was causing her emotional distress, but she didn't want to get rid of it.

"Sakura?" Tsunade asked – both of them were staring oddly at her. The principal thought highly of the pinkette, rarely calling her by her surname, as other teachers were supposed to; she was also a good friend of her mother's.

"The car wash," Sakura said slowly, and the normally indifferent redhead next to her suddenly paled.

"No way," he grumbled, and pointedly ignored the principal's glare as he stared down the pinkette. "I'm not doing that!"

"You don't have a choice," Tsunade snapped. "It's this or an overnight stay in our illustrious Maito Gai's 'Joy for Youth' workshop."

Gaara groaned at that, but fell silent and slumped in his chair nonetheless.

Tsunade took his silence to mean the rest of this was going to go smoothly. "Good, now you two stay here and behave while I have Shizune rustle up the paperwork."

No matter how much she wanted to jump him, Sakura did not want to be left alone with Gaara in the principal's office. And since when did they need paperwork just to add another name to the list of people coming over to the car wash? She groaned, royally pissed off.

"Calm down, princess," Gaara said. "It's not the end of the world for you."

Startled, Sakura sat up straight and spun to face him. Ignoring the heat building up in her stomach at that pointed but aloof stare of his, she narrowed her eyes at him. "Stick it Sabaku – I'll have you know you've upset weeks of planning. What the hell did you even do this time to warrant this?"

"None of your business."

"Since you've dragged me into it," she snapped, "it is my business."

But he didn't answer her, just crossing his arms over his chest and turning his head away from her. The lip piercing trembled slightly, like he was holding back his anger at her, and she took the time to rake her eyes over his form. It really would be nice to see him in something other than his usual punk inspired ensemble.

"Stop staring," he said a moment later, and blushing furiously, Sakura swivelled away from him, suddenly finding the stapler on Tsunade's desk very interesting. He turned his turquoise eyes on her and smirked. "Something wrong, princess?"

Sakura turned red, this time from anger rather than embarrassment. Why did he have to push her buttons like this? She had never done anything to piss him off to deserve this!

'That's it,' she thought furiously. 'I'm biting this in the butt, now.'

But before she could form the words she was thinking, the door opened and Tsunade strode back into the room. "Nice to see you're both still alive," the principal joked.

Gaara rolled his eyes at her and Sakura forced her frustration down, going over the schedule for Wednesday afternoon with the busty blonde. She may not like his attitude, but she really was excited at the prospect of spending more time with the enigmatic redhead.

Gaara was incredibly nervous, thinking not only about how he would be spending an entire afternoon in close quarters with the Sakura Haruno, but near her bikini clad body (or at least barely clothed). He was excited and terrified at the same time. Car washes weren't a normal sight in Konoha – it was more of a Suna thing. Having lived there most of his life, he'd seen more than his fair share of them. Teenage girls, barely clothed and bending over provocatively as they inefficiently cleaned some strange man's pride and joy.

Gaara understood the visual allure, but had never participated. All girls who did that were preppy, snobby and stuck up as far as he was concerned. He liked the bookworm, the biker chick, the shy, and diminutive… anything but preppy. He ignored the voice in the back of his head that claimed Sakura fell into that category – she didn't do cheesy smiles. Nothing about her was forced. And when it was… it wasn't to get attention.

And of course, he now worried what Kankuro would say once he told him where he would be Wednesday afternoon instead of heading home. His siblings were his de facto guardians (by law, it was actually his father of course, who was gone so often that it didn't really count, in Gaara's opinion), and took the responsibility seriously.

Temari would be in class come Wednesday afternoon – she was studying at Konoha University, while Kankuro had an apprenticeship ‒ so his brother would be the one to notice his absence. And to think, those two had arranged their academic schedules to make sure at least one of them would be home when he was.

He had two days (technically) to tell them, and was dreading it. Kankuro was a notorious flirt, and "the right to ogle" had no age limit in his mind – barely not paedophilia if you ask him. Gaara didn't want him to come to the car wash: he didn't want his brother to see Sakura barely clothed and whistle obnoxiously.

It would be hell on earth.

Not to mention embarrassing.

And what if Kankuro's suave charm worked on the pinkette? It was just another reason to keep him as far away from the place as he could. So Gaara tried to come up with an excuse his brother would believe. Or a distraction – that was easy to do. Kankuro's Achilles heel was his lust after all.

Gaara walked in a sulk, hands in pockets, eyes straight ahead and shoes scuffing the surface of his school's polished floors. Who could he get over there? Who would attract his attention? He didn't know any girls that well here in Konoha (since meeting the pinkette, any girl who had drawn his attention in order to relieve his needs hadn't stayed long anyway, in his bed or out). And of course, taking a day trip to Suna to collect on any number of the debts owed to him was out of the question – it would just be another noted absence and a dent in his plans.

No, there was only one person he could turn to now.

Gaara veered in the hallway without slowing down or increasing his speed. He wished he had a car, a driver's licence, and the ability to sneak out of school without someone recognising and reporting him. Teachers and students alike were bribed, blackmailed, and pressured to keep an eye on him while he was here. He fully intended on doing something drastic again soon – just as soon as he figured out how to keep Kankuro away from a dozen, underage teenage girls in two days' time.

It was still lunch time, so that meant Naruto was either off trying to make Sasuke feel better about being dumped, or waiting for him in the south-east quad. Hoping for the latter, Gaara finally picked up his pace, and a minute later, was pleasantly surprised. The blonde had been so "comforting" for the Uchiha lately that he didn't dare to hope he was here instead.

"I heard," Naruto said, grinning at his approach. He proceeded to speak in a sing-song voice: "You get to spend an afternoon with Sakura-chan!"

"Keep your voice down, baka."

"When you admit you like her… ugh!"

Naruto made flailing motions as Gaara's hand shot out, finding his throat. The redhead squeezed lightly; not enough to actually cut off his airflow, it was however, a reminder that he could. There could be no doubt in Naruto's mind that Gaara would at least knock him unconscious, to keep him quiet and flee the scene. Fortunately for him, he'd never been on the redhead's hate list, and had no desire to know what that felt like.

"O-okay!" Naruto groaned, throwing up his hands. Gaara released him. "I'll keep it down, promise." He rubbed his throat gingerly. "Sheesh, why do I let you do that to me?"

Gaara smirked, knowingly full well the blonde stayed friends with him regardless of faults. He knew he was never going to change completely – once upon a time, Gaara had had difficulty functioning outside his own house, and meeting Naruto had really helped. They'd known each other for years, despite Naruto living in Konoha his whole life.

A weird quirk of fate.

Naruto chuckled. "Well, I'm still going to tell you that if you fuck it up on Wednesday, there'll be no way Sakura-chan will look at you with anything other than contempt. Still… you two would look so good together."

"She hates me, Naruto." Out loud, the words rang with a truth he'd never realised before. While he tried to avoid her, on the occasions they were forced to converse, he had a bad habit of pushing her buttons, regardless. It was instinctual by now. There was no way she liked him. He was incredibly irritating.

Naruto scoffed. "Don't be stupid."

Gaara gave him a quizzical stare before remembering what he was doing in the quad. "I need your help."

"With Sakura-chan?"

Gaara brought his hands up quickly, mock attempting to throttle him – Naruto jumped back half a foot and watch warily as the redhead instead ran his fingers through his hair. The blonde slowly sat back down, eyes still narrowed as Gaara answered his question.

"With Kankuro."

"Huh?"

"You know what he's like."

Naruto thought about that. Kankuro was fun to hang with, even with his dirty mind. "Huh?"

Gaara sighed. "The carwash."

"Oh yeah! Pretty girls, lots of skin!" Naruto grinned shamelessly. "I can't wait." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Is Kankuro going too or something?"

"No, but I have to tell him where I'll be."

Naruto shuddered. "And then he'll follow you, and scare all the girls off!"

"How did you even pass last year's exams?"

"I'll pretend I didn't hear you say that but, Hinata-chan's really sweet and offered to tutor me."

"Really?"

Naruto nodded enthusiastically. "She saved my life."

"Back to Kankuro."

"Hm… you want him out of the way."

Gaara nodded, watching his blonde friend expectantly.

"Okay, I know just the thing." Naruto jumped up. "Meet me at my place after school!"

He darted off, heading Kami knew where and Gaara wondered briefly if Naruto had fully understood his meaning. But the blonde was smarter than most people gave him credit for, even if he did act like a goof most of the time – it was just his personality after all. So Gaara decided just to trust him. He sat down, and stared out over the quad, ignoring the blatant stares of the girls who gushed over him despite his social status, and mused on Sakura.

He was a masochist, he had to be, but if there was any chance she might be open to him, he had to take it. Naruto's words struck a chord in him too: "Don't be stupid."

Like the mere idea that Sakura might hate him was absurd. He fingered his shoulder through the material of his shirt, thoughtfully. If he was going to do this stupid carwash thing on Wednesday, he needed a 'pick-me-up'.

'Maybe a new tattoo.'

He tugged on his shirt, bored. Perhaps it was time to see how long it took one of these ridiculous giggling idiots in the quad to go running to a teacher if he lit up in the open like this. The fire alarms were all indoors and near the more important buildings, so this time at least, he wouldn't be bringing the fire brigade onto school grounds.

Gaara patted the pockets of his shirt and pants, finding a couple of smokes and one lighter – he collected the latter, like another person might stamps or coins, but it had nothing to do with his habits. He'd collect them whether he lit up or not. There was something about the flame; the mesmerising flicker of dangerous life contained in the fire that drew him.

He paused, cigarette in his mouth and lighter in hand; like a magnet, his head jerked upwards and his eyes drifted toward the source of his body's enticement.

Pale aquamarine eyes met jade orbs across the south-east quad for the first time in twelve months. And Gaara couldn't bring himself to look away. They continued to stare at each other until that idiot Ino Yamanaka drew Sakura's attention and the pinkette broke their silent staring contest; suddenly uncomfortable, Gaara stood up and left the quad, leaving his cigarette lighter behind.

Wednesday came regardless of his own fears, and Gaara quickly found himself in the back seat of a red Daihatsu Copen. It was cute, but he had his eye on a silver Lexus: that is, if his father ever gave in. It was long overdue, and the reason he didn't have a car of his own was because of his "antics" as the man liked to call them. If Gaara believed that ridiculous excuse, he'd have stopped breaking every rule that pissed him off a long time ago.

He didn't believe him.

Gaara used to do as he was told, and his father always made an excuse not to do anything for him. It got old quick, hoping the old man would one day make good on his promises. And inwardly, he knew his rebellious acts had really started the day his mother died – shortly before they all migrated to Konoha. He might've let the iconoclast in him go eventually if another excuse hadn't presented itself in the form of unrequited love.

Love.

He really did love her. There was no other way to describe that magnetic pull, the involuntary shiver of anticipation he barely managed to repress when he saw her, and his urge to kiss her lips, hold her close, and never let go… Sakura Haruno was perfection. And she would never be his.

'Think positively,' he reminded himself, as the Daihatsu began to move.

Naruto had put the idea in his head, and now it wouldn't let go of him.

His chauffeur was a friend of Naruto's called Kiba Inuzuka. If he didn't already know that the car actually belonged to Kiba's older sister, Gaara would have accused the man of being a woman. The clean smell and haphazardly 'cute' decorative touches to the inside of the car were a dead giveaway. Even the hell on wheels that was Hana Inuzuka had a feminine side, it seemed.

While Kiba was driving (thankfully, the strange dog he occasionally succeeded in sneaking onto school grounds was absent), his girlfriend, some girl called Kara, sat next to him, rambling on about how psyched she was to be doing the (blasted) carwash. Gaara had taken a window seat, uncomfortably close to Shino Aburame – the other window seat occupied by some weird looking guy he'd never met, that Kiba called Lee during the initial introductions. Gaara figured he was in the grade above them, or something.

He spent the car ride remembering his meeting with Naruto on Monday afternoon. It turned out that some cousin or rather, of the blonde, had a thing for perverted guys. Her name was Karin, or something of the sort, and she'd just come out of a dysfunctional relationship with some weirdo with white hair and Naruto convinced her that an afternoon of harmless eroticism with Kankuro was just what she needed to feel better about herself.

Gaara did not want to go straight home after the car wash.

He was grateful to Naruto, he really was, but this was just insane.

"Last stop: car wash central," Kiba said in a sing-song voice.

His girlfriend immediately gushed and told him how adorable he was and Gaara rolled his eyes, trying not to gag. They piled out and he was all too happy to report immediately to Sakura, the overseer of this philanthropic event, to get away from those idiots. But the pinkette hadn't arrived yet – or was out the back, he wasn't entirely sure. So he was stuck listening to that idiot blonde, Ino, as she ran down the rules with him, never looking at him, just spouting the words like a broken record, and once she was done, she silently handed him a sponge and walked away without hesitating.

'Stupid, stuck up whore.'

Sakura had seen Gaara arrive with Kiba and the others, but made some excuse to Ino and darted out the back. She had no idea why she'd done that. Barely dressed, she wore her favourite bikini (red and black floral design) under short denim shorts, her hair tied up and out of the way, and no makeup. She'd been here for ten minutes and was already covered in a thin layer of water, though she hadn't actually washed a single car herself.

And Gaara… when he exited the car, he wore a simple shirt and pants; a full five seconds later, he was shirtless and she could tell the material of his clothes knew how to breathe. His muscles tensed when someone like Ino or a half-naked girl came near him, contracting and expanding, stretching as he bent over to sponge some barely dirty, stranger's pride and joy… Sakura placed a quivering hand on her bare stomach.

'Get a hold of yourself.'

Taking a deep breath, she snuck out into the open, glancing up at the relentlessly bright sun before turning her attention to the other annoying blonde in her life as he arrived, not noticing immediately that Naruto had Sasuke with him.

"Looks like you took that thing off-road again," Sakura said, pointing to the jeep a few feet away.

Naruto just shrugged. "You know me."

"Yeah, you always overdo everything."

Sakura's eyes drifted to the dark obsidian orbs of her former lover. "Sasuke." She glanced over at Gaara before moving away to deal with something or other, not noticing the Uchiha's angry glare.

Naruto dragged Sasuke along with him as he moved closer to the real reasons he'd come to this thing.

He gazed at the sight of the barely clothed teenage girls hosing down the jeep his father had splurged on for him months ago. He'd gone out of his way to deliberately dirty up his prized joy; having talked Sasuke into riding with him as he skipped his Chemistry class and lunch (he brought some pre-packed ramen just in case) for the two hours it would take to drive between Konoha and Suna – taking the back roads of course. It was worth it. The sight before him was one he would ingrain in his memory, forever burned in beautiful swaths of bounteous, voluptuous goodness.

Girls were fucking hot.

His eyes lingered over Hinata's two piece bathing suit while lamenting on the short denim shorts she'd chosen to wear to cover the bottoms, and smirked devilishly when his staring inevitably drew her attention. She blushed furiously and tore her eyes away from him, but he continued to watch her anyway.

"What is he doing here?" Sasuke asked, going rigid next to his friend and startling the blonde.

"Eh?" Naruto followed his pointed glare. "Whatcha got against Gaara?"

"Dobe, he's a loser."

"You look too angry, what's up?"

Sasuke turned his obsidian eyes on the blonde, remembering that despite his airhead persona, Naruto was very in touch with both his own emotions and that of every person he'd ever met. He didn't even have to know the person for more than a few minutes before knowing full well what would make them happy for the rest of their lives.

Naruto frowned innocently at him, well aware that Sasuke had figured out that Sakura had a thing for the redhead a while back. Naruto hadn't told the Uchiha that the feeling was mutual – he didn't want to have to attend that murder trial.

But now they were broken up; Naruto kept his mouth shut on both sides however. Because no matter what anyone else thought or said (and clearly it had passed Sakura's notice as well), Sasuke Uchiha had been in love with Sakura Haruno for a very, very long time.

Sakura had actually approached him, without concern for the fact that Ino was nearby, or any of those other preppy bitches, and Gaara struggled not to turn into Naruto and start jumping for joy. Seriously, the blonde was a bad influence on him. Firstly, he gets his brother laid (shiver), now he inspires a grotesque childishness in him of all people.

"Any problems?"

Gaara shook his head silently, glancing sideways at the pinkette, very aware of their proximity.

"Sorry about Ino," she said apologetically. "She can be a handful."

"So is Naruto," Gaara interjected, fighting a smirk when Sakura giggled at his comment. This was nice, just talking without arguing.

"That he is," she said. "It's so obvious he deliberately dirtied Kurama just for this occasion."

Right, Kurama was apparently the name Naruto had christened his jeep. His father had given it to him. Gaara was currently hosing off the outside of some sleazy looking man's Subaru (lame), so he didn't have to be scrubbing or soaping while talking. Sakura was all smiles, which both surprised and excited him, so he humoured her.

"I think it was more about that Hyuuga girl."

Sakura's eyes drifted over to where Naruto was chatting up Hinata, offering to carry her bucket, fix the broken nozzle on her hose, and blatantly ignoring the fact that he'd left Sasuke alone to deal with a very excited looking Rock Lee. "Right…"

Sakura squirmed, unsure what else to say. Gaara cleared his throat, glancing down her body before quickly looking back at the car he was supposed to be focusing on.

"Um… can I ask you a question?" Sakura said finally.

"You just did."

"Right, um I was just wondering, what you did to land yourself here." She'd already asked him this of course, but was hoping this pleasant version of him would be more forthcoming.

Gaara frowned at her question, now looking over at the Uchiha – Sasuke had turned to glare at him and it occurred to the redhead that he knew Gaara liked Sakura. He'd given him that same look moments after she'd dumped him and, despite recent events, hadn't previously given him the time of day, let alone glared at him. He always ignored Gaara, not causing him trouble, perhaps out of respect for Naruto. But all of a sudden, all his hatred, all his lingering angst over Sakura, seemed to be directed at the redhead.

Gaara honestly couldn't think of any other reason the arsehole would suddenly glare daggers at him.

"Um, Gaara?"

"Nothing, forget it."

"But‒"

"I said shut up," he growled; it came out far more malicious than he'd intended.

Sakura gave a strangled groan, glared at him, spun on her heel, and left to keep from physically attacking Gaara. Why did he have to be so infuriating?

Gaara meanwhile, was mentally slapping himself.

'Fucking idiot!'

It was one week after Sakura dumped Sasuke that he finally made his move. It came in the form of her best friend; Sasuke asked Ino out on a date (a real date, not just "let's snog in the back of the art room" like the guys coming up to Sakura were saying). He apparently had everything organised already, and Sakura couldn't be happier for Ino. But the blonde was asking for Sakura's permission, having pulled her aside when the bell rang, in the hallways outside their English classroom.

It struck Sakura as slightly suspicious that Sasuke would suddenly do this, but she couldn't bring herself to wipe the hopeful look off of her best friend's face. If anything, this proved that Ino cared about her, and no matter what her original reason for being friends had been five years ago, the blonde valued their friendship, highly. And to deny her now would be cruel. Besides, despite his sudden interest in Ino making absolutely no sense whatsoever, Sakura knew he knew how to treat a girl.

"Yeah, go ahead."

"You really don't mind, forehead?" Ino asked, looking half excited, half terrified.

Sakura shook her head. "Sasuke and I had a good run, but there are no more feelings there."

"I don't know," Ino said, uncertainly. "I'm not sure he's over you."

"Understandable," the pinkette said, smirking. This earned her a scrunched up pout from her best friend, and she giggled. "It's fine; and if he's going to be able to get over me, he needs to move on, okay? Give him what I can't anymore, okay?"

Ino threw her arms around her friend. "Thanks billboard brow."

"Just don't say I don't ever do anything for you, Ino pig."

Gaara watched the pinkette hug her best friend before the blonde half skipped away to look for that pathetic chicken's arse. He'd wondered why the school princess would dump her prince, vaguely aware that it would be akin to social suicide for most people to dump Sasuke Uchiha. But Sakura Haruno retained her status, her fan clubs and the previously jealous girls were now hanging on gossip over who she would date next.

His own hopes that Sakura might like him were becoming less possible, and no matter what, it was his own fault.

The past week had been a flurry of gossip and excitement, but still the school's popular pinkette made no move to date, and she turned down every "offer" since her breakup. It was the perfect opportunity for him to do something, anything, to get her attention. But Gaara was a coward.

He ruined his chances; why couldn't he be nice to her when they talked? He was never going to be able to ask her out without insulting her.

Gaara started, realising he'd been caught. Sakura fixed her wide green eyes on him, having noticed he was staring, but he couldn't pull away. His pride had disappeared and every muscle in his body was content just to take in the sight. Neither of them broke the stare – it was interrupted by the untimely arrival of crowds of rampant, teenage idiots, spilling out of the nearby classrooms and from adjoining hallways. Gaara, ever aware of his unending torment, took the opportunity to slip away.

Sakura made her way through the crowd, toward Gaara; the weight of her fellow classmates swarming through like locusts forced her to watch the back of him as he left instead. Maybe it was just her, but the way Gaara had been looking at her hadn't been… normal, not even for him. Longing and regret filled him, she could see it – she just didn't understand what it meant.

Gaara's newest cry for attention had the entire school buzzing another week later.

And Sasuke Uchiha was not the only one looking to kill him for it.

Apparently, their fathers were both vying for the contract to some drilling company, and the very rich, overseas owners were looking into their families, history and under their dirty carpets, to decide which one was better suited to buy. This wasn't the sort of thing Gaara cared about, as he had no intention of getting involved with the family business – not that he knew what he wanted, Sabaku Industries just wasn't for him.

And what had Gaara done this time? He aired Sasuke's dirty laundry, that's what. As far as he could tell, the brat had never cheated on Sakura, and treated her well, but Ino was another matter. The Uchiha was just using her, still hung up on the pinkette; his most recent conversation with that strange ex-boyfriend of Karin's proved this.

'Thank-you for introducing her to Kankuro, Naruto.'

Gaara was now eternally grateful to the blonde, not that Naruto was happy about the outcome of this. And as it turned out, Karin was an ex-girlfriend of Sasuke's as well – granted, that was in Elementary School, but whatever. So why did the entire school care? High schools were equipped with surveillance cameras. Granted, it wasn't in every hallway, every corridor, or in most classrooms, but for this purpose, it was exactly where it needed to be. Looking for a way to cause more mayhem, Gaara had found that stoner, Sai… something, who apparently had been bullied by the Uchiha, and it turned out the guy wasn't just some emo artist. He was a computer nerd. He didn't look it, but once he realised what it was that Gaara needed, it was quickly obvious. He was also weird in the fact that he always called everyone by their family names.

He drawled slightly, and didn't seem to understand why this was so funny – the dirt on Sasuke, that is – but Gaara decided he liked him. And Sai had a story to tell.

"That popular chick," Sai said slowly, after walking with the redhead, back from the drama building. "Haruno, you know her?"

"Yeah."

"She turned up in forbidden territory a while back."

Gaara scoffed. "Yeah right." Clearly, someone had misjudged the dose on his latest medicinal "treatment".

"No lie," Sai continued, seemingly unaffected by Gaara's tactlessness. "She was upset, and in my spot, and I saw her shaking."

He'd probably been too high to properly register it at the time, he wasn't entirely sure, but Sakura had definitely looked like a frightened animal. And as soon as Gaara realised the timing, all he could think about was making that chicken's arse pay for it. So the entire school was treated to a one minute show of Sasuke having a quickie in a closet with some girl called Mei or Mia or whatever, and nobody doubted who'd done it.

Really, it had been a whole year since people remembered that Gaara wasn't the only one who pulled pranks around here – apparently, Naruto had made it into an art. But this was huge, and Sasuke was Naruto's friend. So the blame went to Gaara. He'd done it of course, but for some reason it bothered him that he was blamed so quickly.

'Only have myself to blame I suppose.'

It escalated of course, and Gaara took to the shadows and being careful going around corners as Sasuke attempted to get him alone after that. The Uchiha was getting a lot of attention for his indiscretion, as was that Mei (whatever) chick who apparently, was not all that popular until now, despite the fact that she was incredibly gorgeous. And that changed overnight. All the guys wanted a piece of her – from what Gaara had heard, she delivered…

And Ino Yamanaka hadn't been to school since.

Sakura had never been angrier at anyone in her entire life. She just wasn't sure who to direct it at more, Sasuke or Gaara. She supposed, since it had been Sasuke humping that bitch Mei, Gaara wasn't really to blame; it wasn't like he'd put a gun to their heads and told them to fuck in that closet.

But his actions had hurt Ino, regardless of Sasuke's betrayal. She couldn't just ignore that.

"Sakura Haruno, here to see Ino, please."

The intercom buzzed and Sakura was let into the Yamanaka residence; it was more like a miniature mansion, as the Yamanaka family was old money in Japan. More stylish than the Uchiha, fervent than the Sabaku, more secretive than even the Hyuuga, and less impulsive than the Uzumaki, this family was both refined and connected. Their ties went back to before the Uchiha, Sabaku, Hyuuga or Uzumaki ever came into money. On par with them though, would be clans such as the Nara, Aburame, Inuzuka, and Senju.

Sakura's family was well off as well, but even newer to money than the Sabaku, for example. Konoha was full of families in either high class or lower-middle class. It was weird that way.

The butler – Yori Tanaka – let Sakura in, but didn't bother her any more than that. She knew her way and was a trusted friend. Besides, she seriously doubted Ino was in her bedroom right now. With her parents at work, there was only one place Ino would go when thoroughly depressed, and that was the liquor cabinet of her father's private study/library.

She'd had the key for years and he still didn't know.

Sakura knocked, heard her friend's whimpered replies, and opened the door tentatively. The lights were low, but the room wasn't dark; soft illumination led Sakura to a corner, where her friend was huddled against the wall, a bottle of brandy in one hand, and several empty ones on the floor next to her.

"Ino?"

The girl looked about ready to pass out.

"Ino," Sakura repeated. "If your dad sees you like this, that tattoo of yours will be the least of your problems."

Ino snorted, looking up at her. "Go away."

"No."

"Pfft, like it matters. I'm the l-laughing stock of the s-school now."

Ino threw the half-empty bottle in her hands, not registering the sound of it shattering against the edge of the mahogany carved fireplace. She slumped further into the floor, now sobbing openly. Sakura attempted to pry her off of the floor, and struggled against Ino's long fingernails before depositing her on the nearby leather chair.

Seriously, what was it with studious millionaires and their fetish for skinned animals?

"Mm…" Ino groaned; her eyes were bleary and bloodshot from the alcohol. "Sakura?"

"I'm here, Ino."

"What happened to me?"

"You went off the deep end."

Ino giggled slightly. "I can't swim."

"Yes, so it serves you right."

The blonde laughed. "Thank-you S-Sakura."

"Come on, let's get you to bed."

Ino didn't fight her this time, so Sakura quickly cleaned up the mess from the bottles Ino had unceremoniously emptied and half carried her friend up the internal staircase and down the hallway to her oversized bedroom. As soon as they entered, Sakura headed straight for that canopy bed. Ino slumped into it, falling asleep immediately, and Sakura climbed on next to her, deciding on keeping her friend company. She waited patiently, staring at the ceiling and fingering her tattoo through the material of her skirt; Sakura's thoughts went to that night in the tattoo parlour. Seemingly lost in a sea of drunken confusion and underage frivolity, its presence was like a lingering reminder of her own faults: if they hadn't gotten their tattoos, if Sakura hadn't dumped Sasuke…

Sakura closed her eyes, drifting off despite her desire to stay awake. She'd missed Ino at school, and it was now the afternoon – and sunset wasn't far away. She slept for hours, waking to darkness, to the sound of Ino shifting next to her, and chirping from whatever insect was hanging around outside Ino's bedroom window.

Actually, it was more like a balcony.

The feeling of contentment in the air was pleasant however, and even as she woke enough to realise she hadn't told her parents where she was going after school, Sakura didn't move. She didn't care. She would call them soon, but for now, she didn't want to move.

Ino's bed was so comfortable. Too comfortable; it was like a drug.

The blonde stirred, groaning as her hangover kicked in, even though she hadn't been asleep for eight hours, and she rolled over, noticing rather quickly that she hadn't gone to bed alone. She giggled slightly.

"I don't remember having sex with you," she joked.

"Shut up Ino pig, I'm trying to enjoy the quiet here."

"Hm. I had sex with Sasuke in this bed."

There was no emotion in her voice and Sakura tilted her head to look at her. "Really?"

"No, don't worry; we did it in the study."

"Ino."

Ino smiled. "Seriously, we only went on the one date; but yeah, we had sex. I'm serious this time: it was in his car."

"Why do you look so happy?"

"Because… I'm an idiot."

"And that's a good thing?"

"Right now it is."

"You're not sad?"

"Of course I am."

Sakura groaned. "Whatever." She returned to staring at the ceiling. "Do you blame Sasuke or Gaara?"

"Sasuke," Ino said softly. "And that Mei bitch. I want to hate that arsehole Sabaku too but, I guess I should thank him."

Sakura's head jerked toward her, startled. "I thought you hated him."

"I do, kind of – he's too hot to hate thoroughly. It's evil, really. But without meaning to, he did me a favour. I just wish it hadn't been recorded for the rest of the school to watch while jacking off."

"Ino!"

"Stop being a prude Sakura."

"Is this how you move on?"

"No." Ino shook her head. Truth be told, the alcohol had absorbed all the tears and rage, and somehow, Ino felt free, lighter perhaps. She didn't regret having sex with Sasuke, in the end – though it would've been nicer on her bed – but she hated him too. Again, just like Gaara, he was too hot to hate thoroughly. So she would just settle for being quietly upset and who knows, maybe come morning, she'll want to get shit faced again.

"You're still crying."

Ino brushed her own cheek, realising Sakura was right. Her friend looked wary, and she didn't blame her – Ino didn't cry often, and most of the time, she needed alcohol to spur it on. But these were silent tears, and she was resigned to them.

Sakura rolled onto her side, lacing her arm around Ino's midriff. "I know just the thing to cheer you up."

"We're not having sex."

"Stop joking around."

"So you want to?"

"Pig!"

"Forehead!"

Silence.

"And how exactly do you intend to cheer me up?" Ino asked, breaking their glaring contest.

"By making you laugh."

"You couldn't possibly make me laugh," she said. "Not the way I'm feeling right now."

Sakura gave her a sly smile which the blonde frowned at, and pointed to her own hips. "I'll show you my tattoo."

Ino was on a mission. She hadn't felt this driven since sneaking out of her room for her first underage rave a year ago – she hated having overbearing parents. Sakura didn't know how lucky she was.

'Sakura…'

What had that girl done? The pinkette wasn't getting away with this. And Ino knew just who to speak to in order to correct this major oversight. Another week had passed, and while Ino wasn't being pointed at anymore, and no whispered conversations followed her through the school halls, she still felt self-conscious about her return shortly after she'd seen the kanji on Sakura's bikini line.

What she was about to do now, she'd been putting off, wanting to come to terms with her own problems first – and quite frankly, procrastination had played a heavy part of it as well. But if anyone knew what was going on in Gaara's head, it was Naruto. He'd played peace maker and, after a skirmish that had landed him, Gaara and Sasuke in the nurse's office, the Uchiha had backed off and agreed not to physically attack the Sabaku again.

Naruto really was a miracle worker, but Ino wished Gaara had gotten in a few more punches.

Sasuke was still the talk of the school but, it seemed to be doing wonders for his sex life, and Ino knew without seeing, that a number of girls had found a place in his pants. It still bothered her – she didn't think it would go away so easily – but she was determined to put it all behind her, if not merely to distract herself until she could fully move on.

Now she needed to help Sakura.

The girl was going to age beyond her years at this rate.

"Ino?"

Ino spun around, realising Naruto had inadvertently found her first. He had Hinata next to him, holding his hand, and blushing slightly.

"H-hello Ino-san," the shy girl said, giving a quick bow as greeting.

"Hi Hinata, Naruto. Um Naruto, can I talk to you alone?"

"Heh?"

"It's about Sakura."

"Ah huh?"

"And Gaara."

Naruto blinked heavily, understanding. "Uh, Hinata-chan, I'll meet you outside, okay?"

Hinata accepted his kisses and waved goodbye.

"Sorry to interrupt," Ino said.

"Ah, it's fine. So, what about Sakura and Gaara?"

Ino jerked her head toward an empty classroom and the knucklehead took the hint, leading the way.

"I need to know if Gaara likes Sakura."

"Blunt," Naruto complained, once the door was closed. "And yes, he does."

Ino frowned. "For how long, exactly?"

"Why?"

"Because forehead likes him too, but thinks he hates her."

He knew it; Naruto knew Sakura liked Gaara. But it was nice to hear someone actually say it. Still, he needed to know… "Are you sure?"

Ino refrained from hitting him – it was just an impulse she suddenly had. She couldn't tell him about the tattoo, so he was suspicious, and rightly so.

"Yes," she snapped. "Call it a sixth sense, woman's intuition, or‒"

"She told you."

She groaned. "Something like that. Well, are you in?"

"In what?"

Where were this guy's brains? "Obviously we need to get them together!"

Naruto fidgeted immediately. "Can't we just… wait for them to realise‒"

"What's the matter with you? Gaara's your friend."

"So is teme!" Naruto snapped back.

Ino just stared at him. She hadn't thought about it like that. It must've been weird for Naruto, to see Sakura with Sasuke, knowing that Gaara liked her as well. But Sasuke clearly had little to no respect for the five years he'd spent with Sakura, given he was sleeping with every girl he found remotely attractive.

The guy was a jerk.

"I understand," she said softly. "But Sasuke's made his bed Naruto; it's time for you to think of Gaara instead."

'Wow, did I really say that?'

She didn't like Gaara, at all; the outside didn't excuse the inside, as was now clear to her about Sasuke. But she'd just defended him to Naruto!

"Never repeat what I just said to anyone," she ground out angrily, and the grinning knucklehead lost all the mirth he'd obtained from her words.

"Okay."

She sighed. "Look, I get that Sasuke's your friend too, but‒"

"Before you say anything Ino, he does still love her."

"Huh?"

Naruto attempted to smile, but it just came out looking more like a grimace. "I know teme, and he's loved Sakura for years."

"Then why does he‒"

"He's hurting," he said softly, now looking around the classroom before sitting on the teacher's desk. He shifted uncomfortably as Ino took a student's chair. "He's lashing out. I'm not saying it's smart, nor am I trying to apologise for what he did to you, but that's Sasuke. He's so smart in the classroom, but so stupid out of it. I'm not sure he even realises what he's doing."

Ino nodded, checking her cuticles unnecessarily. "Have you talked to him about stopping?"

"Yeah! I totally knocked his block off," Naruto said vigorously. "But the teme won't stop. He never listens to me on these things."

"I find that hard to believe."

He shrugged. "He'll burn out, wake up one morning with six girls draped over him, in some remote part of the Botanical Gardens, and it'll hit him then. I just have to wait. Itachi at least got him to stop lighting up, so that's a start."

"He's been smoking?"

Naruto nodded.

Ino sighed. "Alright, but you still have to help me get Sakura and Gaara together."

He frowned. "What do I have to do?"

"I'm not sure yet."

"Hey!" He jumped off the desk. "The only problem is that they each think the other hates them, right?"

"Yeah, what are you getting at?"

"We just tell them."

Ino scoffed. "Sakura would just laugh at me."

"Uh…" Naruto deflated, suddenly remembering vaguely hinting to Gaara that he was stupid for thinking Sakura hated him: the redhead had scoffed at him, so there went that idea. "This is so hard."

"They won't believe it unless…" Ino drifted off, thinking about that. "They need to hear it from each other."

She was thinking about that stunt Gaara pulled, and now wondered how he'd gotten the equipment – he was good at causing trouble, but surely no-one in their right mind would help him. She stared intently at Naruto, who shifted uncomfortably in response. He was pretty good at pulling pranks, so maybe this situation called for something a little more underhanded. After all, if everyone else is doing it, why not?

"You're making me uncomfortable," Naruto interrupted her thoughts warily.

"Do you know how Gaara managed to get the school security cameras to record Sasuke?"

He shook his head. "No, not for sure, but I did see him hanging out with that stoner, Sai, and that guy's pretty tech savvy."

"Sai who?"

He shrugged.

Ino stood up and gestured to the knucklehead. "Come on, let's go find him."

Obediently, Naruto followed Ino out. They'd been talking so long, that lunch was almost over, so they needed to hurry.

"There's a forbidden area," Naruto said. "Sai is always there."

She scoffed. "Sounds inviting."

"I like it."

"You'd like a mud hut."

Naruto grinned, mocking cuddling himself as they stepped out into the sunlight. "Warm, cosy, and private."

She giggled. "Where is it?"

Naruto led the way, keeping an eye out in case Sai had already left his spot, considering the time. The guy was weird, but Naruto liked him – he'd met him through Gaara, even though those two never hung out. It made sense to him, now that he finally thought it through, that perhaps Sai was merely a facilitator to the redhead – in Gaara's school based rebellions. It would explain a lot.

Fortunately, the raven haired teenager was sitting under his tree, in his spot, and just staring out into space. He didn't look to be shooting up, but then again, they were still on school grounds, so he wouldn't want to be too obvious about it.

"Sai," Naruto said, having to step into the guy's sun to get his attention (Ino kept her distance, wary). "Do you remember me?"

"Uzumaki," Sai said, without looking at him. "What do you want?"

"It's about Gaara."

"What about him?"

"I need your help with a little project."

"One involving Sabaku?"

Naruto nodded. "See, there's this girl he likes, but neither of them will admit it and…" He cleared his throat. "I realised you must've helped Gaara with his project, you know, the one where he recorded Sasuke having… ahem, you know."

"Sex?"

"Yeah, right, sex."

"What do you have against the school?" Ino piped up. This guy turned to stare at her, and even though she'd already seen what he looked like, it was only now that she saw his resemblance to Sasuke.

"I have nothing against the school."

"Why do you help him then?"

"He pays me."

Naruto frowned. Considering his father was such a tight wad, and Gaara didn't have a job, where did he get the money? "Uh…" He drifted off, when it seemed like Ino had quickly run out of questions.

"Then we want to hire you too," Ino said quickly.

Sai didn't respond, just watching her intently.

"She means with money, not drugs," Naruto said.

"How much?" Sai's eyes didn't leave Ino.

She pulled out her purse, biting her lip and wondering if she wasn't making a horrible mistake. "I have twenty-five on me right now and can get you more later."

Sai nodded, and then stood up before accepting the cash. Again, he was staring at her. They worked out the details, and Ino half expected Sai to come to the defence of Gaara, considering they knew each other, but she had to remind herself that they weren't actually friends. This was just a business transaction to him.

Once they were done, Ino realised Sai still hadn't stopped staring at her. She kept her eyes on Naruto as she asked him, "So you're up for this?" She was worried he was still worried about Sasuke.

"Of course!" Naruto grinned. "I've been trying to get him to admit he likes her for months."

Ino smiled. "Who'd have thunk it huh?"

"I thunk it of course," he said, making her giggle.

"Well, at least he's hot," she played with a loose thread on her shirt. "Even if I don't understand how forehead's happiness could depend on someone so irresponsible; Gaara is a troublemaker, and I worry for my little pinkette."

"He's not a bad guy," Naruto insisted.

"Yeah, yeah, he's just totally misunderstood. Okay, if we're going to do this, it has to be quick and ruthless; there's to be no room for them to wriggle away from each other, got it?"

Naruto nodded. "You're scary."

"I'm in charge Naruto, so no mouthing off."

He just grinned.

"I'm leaving now," Sai said, finally removing his eyes from Ino.

Ino watched Sai walk away with her money. She'd begged and bribed her parents (who had recently lifted her from her punishment after getting her tattoo removed) for that money, and wasn't looking forward to asking for more, so this had better be worth it.

Ino called it 'Operation Ino' while Naruto had voted for 'Operation Kick Ass'. She then proceeded to hit him over the head with her school bag until he changed his vote: needless to say, she'd won. Ino didn't plan to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get those two idiots together. She'd never met two more oblivious people, and that count included Naruto. Sai had done most of the work anyway, considering he was actually getting paid.

It had occurred to her to simply lock Sakura and Gaara in a room, but the two butted heads every other day and she was beginning to see the sexual tension in the air whenever she saw the two of them at the same time. With Sakura sitting next to her in the south-east quad, and Gaara avoiding looking at the pinkette while Naruto prattled on next to him like the idiot he was, it was obvious to her now that they liked each other. She saw the way they looked at each other when one of them wasn't looking and it dawned on Ino that the entire school was stupid for not noticing.

But apparently, Sasuke had known about Sakura's end of it for months, which in turn made Ino feel stupid.

The other option that had occurred to Ino, was for Naruto to tell Sakura, while she told Gaara. But that went out the window when Sai told her what the redhead really thought about her. She had a colourful vocabulary, but Gaara's took the cake.

Why oh why did Sakura like Gaara? He was trouble.

And another fun fact: the redhead seemingly had another plan for mayhem and carnage up his sleeve. Ino and Naruto would never have discovered something was about to go down if they hadn't told Sai they intended on using the dance hall as the place of choice for their plan with the ridiculous duo (Naruto wanted to call them 'The Twin Temes' – his next idea was 'Brainless Bakas').

"The dance hall won't be available," was all Sai would say about whatever Gaara had planned over the weekend. Even money did nothing to change his mind. Ino had to hand it to him – he may be willing to sell his delinquent skills to the highest bidder, but he was respectful when it came to confidentiality. She supposed it would be bad for business if he didn't.

"Let it go," she told Naruto, who looked annoyed.

And so it was that, the Monday after Sai had finally stolen a copy of the keys that open the one and only entrance to the school (and after the weekend in which Ino saw fire trucks heading to Konohagakure High), that their ridiculously overthought plan could finally come to fruition.

"And why can't we have this conversation at my house?" Gaara asked, annoyed. "Or yours?"

"Karin's still with Kankuro," Naruto said, waving away his friend's concerns.

Gaara visibly shuddered. He'd forgotten that three afternoons a week, Karin Uzumaki spent 'quality time' with his older brother from about midday to six at night, in Kankuro's bedroom. Temari's last class for those days ended at six thirty, so that gave Karin time to get dressed and – he shuddered to think – other things… before leaving. Temari apparently, hated the girl, intolerably.

"And your house?" Gaara growled.

Naruto looked sheepish. "My parents‒"

"You know what, never mind."

At Naruto's insistence, they'd left school at the appropriate time, lost Gaara's "trackers" (professionals hired by his father to make sure he went where he was supposed to) as he was quite proficient at by this point, and then turned around and headed back toward school grounds.

"And while we're on the subject," Gaara said, rather more talkative than Naruto had remembered him being all day – it was a whole other level of annoyance for the redhead. "Why do you have a copy of the keys to the main entrance?"

Naruto started, having pulled out said keys, and was about to unlock the door when he registered what Gaara had said. "Main entrance?"

Gaara scoffed. "You don't honestly think everyone heads to the one door when there's a fire, do you?"

"Not to mention windows, and…" Naruto continued to mumble under his breath as he unlocked the doors.

He led the way, not waiting for Gaara to continue his questioning, and mentally reminding himself that they were the last ones to arrive, as planned.

At first, Gaara thought they were heading to the dance hall, but he'd burnt that (the building was made of tougher stuff than he'd thought, so it wasn't a complete write off, apparently), so it couldn't be their destination. Naruto stopped them outside the practise hall. Gaara missed kendo lessons – one of the few things about school he actually enjoyed, the last time he'd been in a practise hall had been back in Suna. As a senior, he was expected to devote more time to his studies (though some students didn't need to), and his father had vehemently forbade him from joining any clubs this year.

Kami bless video conference calls.

"Why are we here?" He asked.

"I have to show you something."

"Did your mummy finally explain to you where babies come from?"

Naruto shook his head. "She still thinks I believe in the stork. Come on."

Gaara was visibly stunned: Naruto hadn't snapped at his comment. Something else was going on here… he followed the blonde out of more curiosity than anything now, looking around for booby traps or the such. His friend was up to something and it left a strange, twisted feeling in his stomach (but surprisingly, a part of him that was suddenly excited. He had no idea why). A feeling of foreboding passed over him when he heard the door lock; the door they'd just come through had seemingly locked itself…

Naruto glanced back at the door, knowing they were now locked in. Still, there was no-one around to catch them – they'd deliberately waited until all staff were off-grounds before breaking in. And Japanese schools didn't hire cleaners, of any sort. As a part of their daily activities, students cleaned the classrooms – some more diligently than others. They were taught to clean up after themselves. And if Sai had done his final job (Naruto pitched in some more money at this point, since even Sai was reluctant to do this part), everything was about to sort itself out in much the same way.

Gaara however, wasn't so reassured. "Naruto‒"

"We're here!" Naruto interrupted, calling out happily.

Gaara groaned at the sight of the stoner, still wondering what the hell was going on. "What‒"

"You're a stubborn arsehole," Naruto complained, turning on the redhead. "I had to practically beg you to admit you like Sakura-chan." He made a weird sound half-way between a scoff and hiccup. "And Ino! Lucky bitch just had to bring the subject up for Sakura to confess."

"Who you calling a bitch?"

Gaara had already gone stiff at the mention of Sakura's name, and then Naruto's claim that the pinkette liked him… he felt faint all of a sudden, as said girl had entered via another door, following behind the blonde idiot that was her best friend.

"You, Ino," Naruto answered her. "I'm calling you a bitch. Gaara's a pain, and Sakura wasn't!"

"Stop arguing and do what you came here to do," Sai interjected calmly. His eyes were again, on Ino, but he'd at least noticed that Gaara and Sakura were staring at each other like they were in a trance. "Get these idiots together so I can go."

"Sakura," Ino said, grabbing her friend and pulling her forward. "Gaara likes you."

The pinkette's eyes widened.

Naruto groaned. "Gaara, Sakura likes you too."

Silence.

"They don't believe you," Sai noticed.

"Give me your phone, baka," Ino snapped at Naruto.

"Right."

Sai watched as they exchanged phones. He didn't actually care if they got together, but he supposed it would be nice gossip for the school – the princess and the rebel had a nice ring to it. But as he remembered hooking the school security feed into his computer, recording these two and uploading it into both Ino and Naruto's phones (he didn't trust something like Bluetooth – too easily hacked), he wondered what the big fuss was. Ino was now showing Sakura that conversation where Naruto had complained until Gaara admitted his feelings, and Naruto stared thoughtfully at Gaara as the redhead watched Ino gently probe Sakura moments before similar words fell from the pinkette's lips.

Sai had stolen and copied the keys to sneak back into the school, but had deliberately delayed until after the weekend because he knew that Gaara was having problems at home (that stint on the dance hall notwithstanding) and would be in no condition to receive life shattering news – even Naruto didn't know about that problem. He wondered if that meant he cared. Did that make Gaara his friend? The redhead was the only one who knew his adoptive father Danzou Shimura beat him, treated him like a possession rather than a person, and had wanted to send him to some overseas trafficking ring before he realised the details of Sai's parents' last will and testament would only keep the money coming if he kept him as is.

Getting high was his escape from the real world, his conduit toward actual, human emotions, and the only way he'd ever enjoyed sex. It was sad, but there was nothing he could do about it, at least not until he turned eighteen and inherited the majority of his parents' money.

He supposed that Gaara, unlike Naruto, understood such things, which was why he'd told him. Naruto hadn't had the happiest childhood, but both of his parents loved him, so that was enough.

"Gaara?"

"Sakura?"

The two blondes had spoken at the same time.

"Let's leave them alone," Sai suggested, and reluctantly, he was followed as he made to leave.

But he agreed with Ino: way too much thought had gone into that plan.

Neither of them moved. It was like a badly drawn dream.

Gaara was wondering if he'd fallen asleep in Homeroom and just imagined the rest of the school day.

Sakura was wondering if anything in her Biology Class could have described the strange sensation running through her body. She licked her lips, inadvertently drawing Gaara's attention, and decided to break the silence.

"Well, that's blondes for you, huh?" The soft, nervous giggle that slipped out was unintentional. She sighed when all Gaara did was continue to stare at her. "This is a two-way street you know," she said. "I'm not going to stand here and just talk to myself."

"You don't like me," he said softly, and finally. "You're lying."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, like I'd believe that the school pariah could have feelings for someone who actually knows where all her classes are."

He snarled. "Well with all the other preppy bitches nipping at your heels I'm sure a classroom would be a step up in opulence."

Sakura opened her mouth to retort again and then shut it quickly, realising what he was doing. "You're trying to make me angry so I'll deny having feelings for you."

His eye twitched slightly and she knew she was right.

She hugged her midsection desperately. "Aren't you tired of pretending?"

To her great surprise, he nodded softly, his eyes flickering over her mouth; she knew from when Sasuke would do it, that it meant he wanted to kiss her. She wasn't very good at this sort of thing, so Sakura decided just to let her instincts take over – she wanted him to kiss her too. But Gaara wasn't moving, and she wondered if perhaps he was even more frightened than she was. They both had their reasons for avoiding each other: she had been nicknamed the 'Konoha Queen' from the moment she started dating Sasuke (and funnily enough, no-one had stopped since she dumped him), and his appellations ranged colourfully through the broad range of their language: the most popular of which, seemed to be 'The Prissy Pauper'.

Whatever that meant.

Hesitantly, Sakura held out her hand, traced his lips like she was drawing them and ignored the curiously stunned look on Gaara's face when she pulled her finger away. She leant forward slightly, coming in close, their lips inches away and waited only long enough to see if he would draw away before closing her eyes and pressing her mouth to his.

The kiss was tantalising on contact. They could've stayed still and Sakura would never compare him to Sasuke, ever again. But she craved more, as anyone would, and deepened the kiss immediately. Her hands wrapped around his waist and neck simultaneously, and Gaara gripped her hips. Her body was trembling with barely contained relief when he reacted fervently, and her heart was pounding in her ears.

The last time she'd been forced to spend time alone with Gaara, it had hurt too much, and she'd been just as bitchy as him. Keeping her distance both physically and emotionally, while painful, had also been about survival. But now she knew, he liked her. He really liked her. Sakura felt the tears hit her cheeks before she realised she was crying.

She pulled away, stammered, "I'm sorry," and turned away from Gaara without looking at him. She expected the scoff, the scathing response to her obvious weakness, just as he'd been doing for twelve months. But the warm arms embracing her from behind replaced the contempt he'd thus far shown toward her. She never wanted him to let go again.

"I'm sorry," he whispered in her ear, holding her close. "I was always so cruel to you. I never gave you a reason to be nice to me." She hiccupped as he continued. "Seeing you with that Uchiha burned me up so much, but that's no excuse."

She nodded, leant back into him, and closed her eyes, marvelling at the insanity of it all. She was in Gaara's arms… she was in Gaara's arms! She'd only dumped Sasuke because of that tattoo. Sakura's eyes snapped open and she wriggled until Gaara let her go, turning around to stare at him. Should she tell him?

"What is it?"

He had let his façade drop, letting go of the rough, angry delinquent she'd seen so far. Gaara wanted her to see what he showed to so few – the softer side. He wasn't very good at it, but she needed to see it right now: the part of him that was in love with her.

When she didn't answer his question, he instead decided to let it go, taking the initiative this time. This kiss was deeper and, if possible, much more exciting than the first. The jolt of electricity that shot through him was unlike anything he'd ever felt. He wondered vaguely what it would feel like to sleep with her, to feel himself throbbing inside of her; he groaned, hardening at the very thought. But Gaara held back on these impulses, wanting to know where they stood now before even thinking about undressing his cherry blossom.

But when he pulled away, Sakura inhaled deeply, attempting to steady her breathing, and took the words right out of his mouth. "What does this mean for us now?"

This was the first time in over twelve months that Gaara had caused the school to overflow with gossip, and actually hated it. He'd always revelled in the chatter that followed one of his "exploits", even if he didn't show it – and even if they only knew it had been him, without really knowing. This however, was getting on his nerves.

The Konoha Queen was dating the Raggedy Pauper, like some kind of twisted version of Cinderella, apparently. His father made more money than most of theirs combined thank-you very much! The idiots were supposed to know this.

Oh yeah, and he hated the blatant attention.

At least before, he could stand in the shadows, eavesdrop on the opinions of others when it came to his choice in lighter fluids, but this time he couldn't hide. Not that he regretted agreeing to start officially dating Sakura – she seemed to be taking all the initiatives in this relationship, and he was starting to wonder if he should just stop wearing pants for real. There was enough gossip however.

And when it came to Sasuke Uchiha, everyone was waiting for him to attack Gaara in the halls, or at least spray paint something inventive across his locker, or something. But he didn't. From what he managed to gleam from Naruto, Gaara realised the Uchiha was still in love with Sakura. He'd been a horny idiot, drinking and smoking himself into the ground over it, but the sight of Sakura beaming, walking the hallways and holding Gaara's hand (her idea, not his), and basically just being happy, had not turned him feral after all. The blonde was grateful: Sasuke was finally cleaning up his act.

It would be too much to ask for Sasuke to give them his blessing, but Gaara didn't care about that anyway. He received a thank-you note from Itachi however, and was stunned into a temporary catatonic state when Naruto tried to convince him the Uchiha heir was actually propositioning him.

Idiot.

Oh yeah, and there might have been some news about Ino Yamanaka and Sai (why couldn't he remember his family name?) getting together, but he hardly saw how that could be gossip worthy material. He only paid attention to it because of the title in the school paper, which read:

'CONTAGIOUS CINDERELLA FEVER: IS IT IN THE CLASSROOM OR THE CAFATERIA? THE ADMINISTRATION DENIES ALLEGATIONS OF DELIBERATE POISONING.'

Everything was backwards.

"Earth to Gaara."

He glanced sideways, hyperaware and severely emasculated by the fact that Sakura was driving him home instead of the other way around. He'd explained the situation with his father to her and she nonchalantly understood, but he still felt pathetic.

"Hm." He really needed to hurry up and turn eighteen. It was Friday afternoon and he was finally getting used to the fact that his girlfriend had a greater attention span than he did.

"You wanted to come around to my house, right?"

Right… she wasn't actually driving him home. It was Temari's turn to be home when he got there and she'd given him the go-ahead to come back late, or tomorrow (whatever), promising to keep it a secret from their father and bribe and/or blackmail Kankuro into doing the same thing. He nodded. Mebuki Haruno, as it turned out, was far easier to convince. All anyone had to do was tell her what they were planning and she just answered with "that sounds nice, you kids have fun" and she would promptly leave the room and never to be seen or heard from again.

Sakura didn't know how lucky she was.

Even if she hadn't made a point of getting to know him far more thoroughly these past five days, Sakura still would've known what Gaara meant with every little sound he made – he was more like Sasuke than he'd be willing to admit. Except the redhead's silent affirmation wasn't an excuse not to speak. He could talk for hours about the right subject; usually how his siblings pissed him off, how much he hated his father and looked forward to Winter the most out of every season because it was the only time his uncle Yashamaru would definitely be in the country and they always went skiing.

She was ninety per cent positive he wasn't aware how much he rambled on about his family. He just had a little problem when it came to his mother; her death was still too recent for him, apparently only two months before his father decided to move them from Suna to Konoha. So she left that one hanging, hoping he would eventually broach the subject with her again, and on his own this time.

Sakura accepted Gaara's nod. Her place was nice – Ino had often compared it to a life sized replica of her own mini-mansion – and she was pleasantly surprised by how much Gaara seemed to like it, considering his own family's wealth. This would be his third visit this week.

"Mum, I'm home!" Her mother wasn't home. "Good."

"I need a shower," Gaara said.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah; anyone would think you live here."

He smirked at her, ignoring the fake indignant look on her face as he invited himself into her house and beat her to her room. She was getting used to this – the one time she spent time at his house, Kankuro wouldn't leave them alone for long, so they preferred spending time here. Tomorrow, she planned on introducing him to the concept of a 'shopping spree'.

Sakura giggled to herself, languidly making her way to her room, and not surprised to hear the shower already going when she got there. They'd kissed, made out heavily, and shared some stories about the bedroom (Gaara got annoyed, hearing about Sasuke, but cheered up considerably when he heard that she'd never been with anyone else), and she was looking forward to the next step.

Sakura was humming to herself, reading some romance novel, when Gaara emerged, wrapped only in a towel. He rolled his eyes at her sudden alertness, and wouldn't let her touch him until she'd showered as well. The cute little awkwardness in her when he was anything other than fully dressed was adorable, so when she finally emerged from the shower, Gaara watched, entranced as Sakura turned a distinct shade of red. She'd taken the time to get dressed, wearing denim shorts, and a tight strap shirt, and Gaara was still barely covered by a white towel, now draped across her bed.

He patted the bed next to him as a silent demand and watched smugly as she complied.

"Gaara, I…"

"You don't have to feel so embarrassed around me," he said, gently pulling her toward him. "And you're really overdressed, did you notice?"

"Yeah, I did." She bit her lip. "Maybe you could help me with that?"

He smiled. He really smiled. It made all other hints at mirth seem like darkened alleys by comparison; it lit up his face, and Sakura melted into him when he rolled on top of her. The strawberry flavour of her mouth mingled with sandalwood and she shifted, her knees parting to make the position more comfortable for him.

"Are you sure?" Gaara asked, when Sakura pulled away and fingered the edge of his towel. She nodded. "Okay, but I'm still not calling you a princess."

She'd been insisting on that since people started calling her 'Porcelain Princess' instead of 'Konoha Queen'.

"Princess Sakura," she said, smirking.

He frowned. "No."

"Oh come on, call me Princess Sakura!"

Gaara shook his head. "When you agree to call me your Sand King."

She fell silent.

He grinned, now kissing her jawline. "I'll just make you scream it instead."

She giggled. "Never going to happen."

"Hime." He ran a forefinger over her chin and Sakura's breath hitched. "My hime."

He tasted her parted lips, his tongue skimming the surface delicately, as though afraid it might shatter. Then he ground his hips into hers, smirking into her mouth when Sakura moaned, lifting her knees, and curling her toes at the sensation.

But the gorgeous redhead wasn't done yet. He had pent-up energy and she was going to bear the brunt, whether she complained about it or not. Twelve months of picturing her naked, twelve months of wanting to know what her skin felt like pressed against his, twelve months of dreams where she would dump Sasuke for him, and twelve months of ridiculously quixotic poems that he kept hidden under a floorboard beneath his bed…

It was time she paid up.

His hands slid up her shirt, fondling her breasts before pulling the shirt over her head; she wasn't wearing a bra, and he took a moment to take in the sight of her heaving chest before lowering his mouth over the left nipple. Sakura made all the right noises, grasping his hair roughly as he entertained himself. When she gave a particularly violent tug on his hair, Gaara pulled back, dragging her away from the pillows in punishment.

He growled into her skin.

"Wait Gaara, hold on." He frowned at her but she just pushed him gently. "I want to show you something first."

"What?"

"Impatient," she scolded cheekily, and leant back on to the pillows; he smirked at her, thinking she was just giving him a show. He was part way there.

Sakura undid the button of her shorts, watching him as his eyes inevitably followed her movements; she continued to undo her shorts, unzipping them just enough to expose the top of her knickers. Sakura took his hand in hers, slipped her free hand under her lacy red underwear, and slid it aside to reveal the kanji tattoo. His eyes widened slightly as she guided his fingers to the symbol.

Sakura let go of his hand and it began to move of its own accord.

Gaara caressed the reddened symbol gently, and lowered his lips to kiss the skin. His tongue played over the intricate outline of the kanji and she moaned; he held her down as she bucked, keeping her hips motionless as he continued to lavish the area.

"Gaara…"

He smirked into her skin. "You like that, huh?"

"Hm."

Sakura gripped his crimson locks again, and sighed. He pulled her shorts further down, over her hips, keeping his mouth on the kanji; her knickers went next and here he paused, taking in the sight of her now naked underneath him, exposed, and flushed under his lustful stare.

"Beautiful," he murmured, returning to her tattoo, more excited at her being marked by the kanji for love than he was letting on.

Gaara refrained from biting the skin however, just tasting her, before moving to her wet lips. Sakura let out a guttural moan as the heat of his mouth sent a raging fire through her groin. He drank her deeply, nibbling gently and gave a deep, contented sigh once he was done, looking up into her post-orgasm eyes.

She was beyond beautiful, above perfect, and he took a moment to take in her flushed form before moving his mouth back onto hers. His thumbs played with her nipples for a minute as she returned the fervour of his kisses. Sakura had never felt more turned on – every inch of her body was on fire; she'd only orgasmed once before, but it held nothing compared to this. Gaara's mouth was like magic, his body hot like fire, and his every breath intoxicating.

Sakura wondered if it was different because she was in love with him. She pulled away and stared into those gorgeous aqua eyes of his, both of them panting. Her hand traced the kanji on his forehead. "I love you, Gaara: I've loved you for so long."

Swallowing heavily, Gaara attempted to order his thoughts, trying to repeat the words back to her. He stuttered once, before they fell from his lips in haste. He licked his lips, nervous suddenly – emotions were never his strong point. But she got the idea.

Once he gathered his wits, Gaara remembered he still had a towel wrapped around his waist (it wasn't even loose…) and promptly rid himself of this impediment. Sakura traced his pectoral muscles, and massaged abdominals before fisting his member greedily. She smirked at his involuntary hiss. "You like that, huh?"

Gaara groaned, struggling against his inner animal; it wanted to drag this beautiful flower, shove her against the wall and take her hard and fast. She was making it hard, in every sense of the word.

"Hm?" She asked when he tried to mumble something. "What was that?"

"Protection," he growled out, and Sakura's eyes widened.

"Right," she said sheepishly.

She pointed, and eagerly, Gaara rummaged through the top drawer of her bedside table, quickly climbing back on top of her. He was coming across a little more needy than he'd hoped, but this was nothing compared to how he felt. He'd wanted this so desperately for so long. Sakura giggled softly at him, watching him as he readied himself. He ignored her tease and manoeuvred between her legs once more.

Sakura pulled him back down into her kiss, lifted her knees, and he rocked into her, tightening his hold on her hips, like he was afraid that she would suddenly disappear from underneath him. He gave her a moment, pulled out quickly, and then buried himself all the way in; he directed his thrusts to her g-spot, but kept the pace steady.

Gaara kept kissing her, holding onto that sentiment as long as he could before the sheer intensity of their movements forced him to break his lips away from hers and he let out a low toned growl. Sakura's noises grew in volume and he pressed their chests together, biting her neck as gently as possible. The temptation to speed up overwhelmed him, and Gaara gave into the primal, driving force that was screaming in his ear to just let go and take her, hard and fast. Sakura lifted her knees higher, forcing him into her deeper than before and threw her head back as she came for what felt like the umpteenth time.

Sakura saw stars; a blinding white light that preceded Gaara's final thrust and when she finally came down from her high, she realised he was panting into her ear.

"Gaara," she said softly. "That was…" She inhaled deeply. "Amazing."

"Best you've ever had," he said smugly.

"I didn't scream 'you're my Sand King'," she reminded him.

Gaara growled. "Give me a little bit to recover, and I'll try again."

Sakura brushed his hair out of his face, grinning. "Can't wait."

Gaara smirked back at her, and then rolled off of her before shifting his position; his head onto her stomach. He traced the kanji on her skin, mesmerised, and growled unconsciously. "Mine."


X X X

I think I have a thing for AU modern GaaSaku, in particular, that is.

I've gone through this so many times since I first started writing it so I don't really feel like editing any more of it. Just tell me if you saw anything… weird. Lotsa love. ^_^

R&R.