original concept by Diet Soda
written by A. E. Stover
this version is not edited

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Two birds perched on top of the gates that had swung open earlier that day to let the steady flow of university students in and out. They were small, dainty little birds, both pale blue in color, that peered down together at the bustling crowds with bright, black eyes.

From that angle, a spot of pink could be seen heading up the path moving further and further away from the crowds that morning to take a journey all on its own. It was one of the university students; a girl, almost a woman, with a sweet face and soft, pink hair that dropped just to her shoulders. Her vibrant, green eyes were focused straight ahead, brows furrowed in determination as she trekked through the campus to her destination wearing a maroon colored university tee with jean shorts and a pair of white tennis shoes.

She walked with a brisk pace, stubbornly dragging a heavy black suitcase behind her. It was starting to wear at the bottom with each bump and skid it made against the rough path every now and then. The wheels rattling and shaking noisily down the path muted her footsteps and could be heard around campus.

And then, it all stopped.

The noise her suitcase had been making was paused, the air around it stilling awkwardly from the sudden absence of sound. She too, had stopped as well. There was something that struck her as incredibly odd and disturbing. The nineteen-year-old narrowed her green eyes, fixing a suspicious look straight ahead of her.

Sitting on the front steps of the dormitory she had been assigned to sat a grinning, blue-skinned man, appearing positively pleased to be in her presence once more. His sharp, white teeth gleamed, not in a menacing way, but in a manner that she supposed was intended to be taken as amiable, as he looked at her without saying a single word in greeting.

She could feel her fingers tighten around the handle of her black suitcase and her jaw clench together, sealing her mouth shut. Finally, she straightened herself up, as she saw no way to go but forward, summoned up every ounce of courage she had in her petite form, schooled her face in what she hoped was a calm look, and continued on her way to the dormitory building that stood before her.

“So,” the strange man finally spoke as soon as her foot landed on the step he sat on, “our paths cross again, little girlie.”

Her hand clutched the handle of the suitcase so tightly, she feared for a moment that the cheap plastic would break. Her hand hovered over the knob, and she hesitated for a brief moment before grasping it in her hand. She twisted it violently and shoved it open. “It’s. Sakura.” she ground out in a voice of barely contained frustration. Both she and her large, black suitcase disappeared into the house with a loud slam.

 The blue-skinned man sitting outside only grinned.

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She closed the door behind her, eyes sliding shut as she leaned against the door with a heavy sigh. An odd feeling surfaced inside her, one that told her that this person, somehow, was not a stranger in the way she would have liked him to be.

Sakura huffed, a short breath of air passing sharply through pursed lips, and scowled darkly. She turned to her left and caught sight of a large window next to the door, facing the front yard. Despite knowing that the only thing she could possibly see through that window was the stranger sitting outside and the front yard, Sakura peered out through the glass anyway, not surprised to find nothing of real interest but the old, jagged cobblestone path that had led her to where she was now.

The front yard was barely a sight to see; a plain stretch of grass on either side of the stoned path, and shrubs of brush lining the property grounds. Then, she glanced at the oddly colored man still sitting on the steps. He was leaning back on the front steps, resting his weight on both palms, and tilted his head back to soak in the warmth of the sun on his face.

There was a sudden chill that went down her spine when she looked at him from her place at the window. In her mind’s eye, she saw the man — this same man — younger and looking as normal as any other man, leaning back on his palms on a warm summer afternoon. She seemed to be able to remember that it had just rained that day, and that this man was a good friend of someone she knew.

With a barely audible gasp, Sakura drew back sharply and pressed her back flat against the wall between the window and the door. Blurry faces and voices she could not place replayed a multitude of times in her mind’s eye, making her feel terribly lightheaded.

 “Sakura-san.” A smooth, velvety voice rumbled through her thoughts again and again. “It’s time to go home.”

And over and over, she saw the strange-looking man laugh and tilt his head all the way back, grinning toothily. “Ah, let the kid stay a while. S’not like nothing bad’s gonna come out of it, right?” The man craned his head around to look at her with a grin that revealed all of his shark-like teeth and winked. “Right, princess?”

Her heart hammered away in her chest and her eyes widened a fraction of an inch. What, she wondered in alarm, was that? What had she just seen? What that a memory of some sort? She held no recollection of when or where that took place. Why…? Sakura brought a shaky hand up to her forehead and shut her eyes, calming her rapidly beating heart by taking slow, deep breaths. Why couldn’t she remember the rest?

She heard another voice, a deep, masculine one, that sounded familiar to her. Her heart began pounding furiously away just when it had slowed. Panic streamed through her veins when, all of a sudden, all she could hear was a man’s voice ringing in her ears. She could barely make out the words, until―

“…do you keep coming here? You don’t even belong here anymore,” the voice grouched.

She heard someone give a humored snort. “Nice to see you too.” She recognized this voice also; it was the man sitting out on the steps.

Outside, Sakura then realized with a heavy sigh of relief. These voices were from outside.

Suddenly the door rattled loudly, making Sakura cry out in surprise and back away to the center of the empty room. Her black suitcase fell to the floor with a slam. The door rattled violently two more times before it finally flung open, banging hard into both her suitcase and the wall where it made a dent. Her suitcase spun wildly across the floor until it stopped to rest just underneath the window.

Sakura gaped open-mouthed at the tall man with silver hair and recognized him immediately as the same angry man from earlier that week who had been at the restaurant she worked at.

A nervous laugh slipped past her lips when the man just stared at her from the door, looking as if he was wondering whether or not she was even here in the first place.

His eye seemed to twitch. “Your hair’s pink,” he said, the corners of his mouth trembling as he tried to keep himself from cracking a grin. He caved in after about three more seconds, throwing his head back for a good laugh.

His exclamation and abrasive laugh struck a chord deep down inside of her, somewhere she thought she had buried and taken care of a long time ago. But she found out otherwise as old voices started to breach the surface of her consciousness—

“Lookie here, forehead girl’s trying to hide her monster brow with all that ugly, pink hair!”
“Nothing can hide that billboard, stupid, cos your stupid pink hair is so bright!”
“You know what’d be great, if we cut it all off!”
“Yeah, nobody likes it anyway!”

 —and Sakura bit the inside of her cheek. The astonished look melted away from her face and she tried for a glare.

Still grinning, the man gave her one last look before taking a step back and turning to the blue man still outside. “Oi, Kisame,” he began with amusement, “who’s the pink chick?” he asked, absolutely humored.

Sakura narrowed her eyes at the man, trying to be brave. She was different now, she kept telling herself. She was older. She knew better. “It’s Sakura. Haruno Sakura.”

That only seemed to fuel the man’s amusement. “Sakura!?” he exclaimed with a barking laugh. “Like the tree? Goddamn, your parents named you after a pink tree!?”

There was a crack in her resolve and it began to crumble, but the nineteen-year-old dared not show it. She gathered up what little confidence she had built up over the years and held fast, even as old voices and memories continued to play—

“Ha ha ha, even your name is stupid!”
“You’re named after a stupid tree, so it’s no wonder you can’t speak ’cause trees can’t talk!”
“Say, if your hair is supposed to be all the leaves, does that make your head a branch?”
“What good is a tree with only one branch, it’s better off not having it at all, isn’t it?”

—again and again in her head, echoing in her ears as if the same group of girls were standing just before her like so many years ago.

They didn’t fade away until another voice broke raucously into the conversation. “Give it a rest,” Kisame called from outside, “she’s your new resident advisor. She could kick you out for harassment, y’know.”

The man raised an eyebrow at the short, pink-haired girl, and nodded in her direction with a leering gaze. “Ain’t that right, now?”

Never before in her life had only one person ever managed to make her feel so humiliated and furious at once. It took all her confidence just to maintain what she dearly hoped was a threatening look on her face, and she felt her fists clench tightly at her sides.

“So, miss R-A,” he continued tauntingly, “whatcha gonna do? Are ya gonna kick me out for makin’ you cry? Cause ya look like you’re about to burst into tears right this minute, pinky.”

“What’s with all this godawful noise…?”

Sakura heard a woman’s voice from coming above, sounding as if she had just woken up. She craned her neck to look up behind her and caught sight of a woman with fiery red hair dressed down in an over-sized white shirt that read “KAGAWA” and maroon gym shorts putting on her black, horn-rimmed glasses. As soon as her glasses were on, her eyes immediately locked onto the silver-haired man.

“Oh. It’s you, Hidan.” Her voice was flat and she scowled in displeasure, moving forward to lean on the banister running along the second floor veranda.

“Fuck off,” Hidan snapped, waving a strong hand dismissively in her direction.

“Geez, would you look at yourself? Picking on the new girl… How pathetic. You make yourself look like you’ve got some extreme insecurity issues about your masculinity by terrorizing all the younger girls on campus, you know.”

“Shut up!” Hidan snarled after her, giving her a threatening look. “And who asked you, anyway?” he demanded.

Sakura watched the loud, exchange speechlessly. She had been told that the position for resident advisor at the Kazehito dormitory had been open for a while, but she hadn’t thought to wonder why. She wondered if this was what Ino had wanted to tell her yesterday afternoon at their café.

 “Well, you were practically asking for some outside commentary with the way you were screaming. Besides, you’re the reason why we’re always losing our dorm advisors. And sure, some of them were pretty whacked up in the head, but this one looks pretty decent. I’m not gonna let you scare off someone we actually need.” The redhead looked down at Sakura then and adjusted her glasses, studying her carefully. “And she’s probably younger than you, too. Cut her some slack, you insensitive brute.”

Hidan sneered at her. “Damn right she’s younger ‘n me. And there ain’t no fuckin’ way I’m gonna be listenin’ to somebody who should be takin’ orders from me,” he barked, the sneer turning into a heavy frown.

“You never shut up, do you…?” the woman’s voice faded as she disappeared from the banister, and Sakura silently begged her return.

With or without her, Hidan’s mouth continued to run, spiteful words spewing out of his mouth unlike anything Sakura had ever seen or heard. “That’s right, walk away. I can’t stand you and your fucking attitude, you bitch. And don’t think you know anything about me after just a fucking year, ’cause you fucking don’t. I yell at people who fucking piss me off, and so do you and everyone else in this shitty world, got it? And so what if I “scared” everyone else away? You think I give a damn? I don’t give a flying fuck about none of that shit! In fact, I think it’s damn motherfucking good we don’t have to deal with anymore stupid shitheads and bitches like you! I don’t want no fucking weak-ass pansies runnin’ around here anymore after the last time―”

An alarm clock came out of nowhere, cutting past Sakura, who gave a terrified gasp, flying straight into Hidan’s face. It fell to the floor with a dead clonk.

Hidan gave a painful howl and grabbed his face, kicking the broken clock with his foot.

“Oh my god,” Sakura gasped breathlessly, a hand coming over her mouth in shock. “A-Are you alright? You’re bleeding!”

“No shit I’m fucking bleeding,” Hidan shot back furiously. “The fuck do you think, asking me if I’m alright? You got eyes, can’t you see for yourself if I’m “alright”? Fucking brainless, pink-haired first year…” He looked up and, using the hand that wasn’t against his face, pointed his finger upwards. “And you! Fucking red-haired whore! What the hell was that for!?” he screamed, blood running down from his nose.

Clearly, the woman was back. Sakura glanced over her shoulder uneasily to see the redhead leaning against the banister of the second floor and looking at Hidan as if he were an unwanted blemish on her face. “To shut you up?” she replied in a tone that questioned his intelligence. “God, you’re like a broken record sometimes, always saying the same shit over and over and over—”

“I’ll fucking kill you!” Hidan threatened violently, though it didn’t come off quite the way he’d wanted to because of the blood that flew out of his nose. It sounded more like “I’ll fuggin’ keel you!” instead.

“There we go again,” Karin said in a mock groan, waving a hand in the air. Then, her eyes glinted with something murderous as she gripped the banister with both hands and leaned forward. “Bring it on, assface!”

Hidan looked ready to kill when Kisame suddenly stopped him with a hand at his shoulder. “There’s a limit to how much stupidity goes on in one afternoon, and I think you’ve all gone way past that,” the older man said placatingly.

Kisame left Hidan’s side and came towards Sakura, patting her back as gently as he could, which wasn’t much, since she had to root herself to the ground to keep from flying forward. It was when his hand came to rest on her head that she was suddenly submerged back into her childhood, feeling completely unable to fend for herself and needing to depend on others, her friends; Naruto, Sasuke, Ino.

People like Naruto, like Sasuke, and like Ino: they all had something that made others want to listen to them. They were leaders in their own way who got what they wanted, when they wanted. Naruto had an fun, easy-going nature that made it difficult not to agree with him. Sasuke possessed a magnetic charisma that drew people in. Ino attracted everyone with her bombshell looks, playful nature, and strong confidence.

And Sakura had nothing. There was nothing that drew attention to her except for the ridiculous color of her hair.

“Let’s all just calm down, okay? Don’t make this any harder for her than it needs to be.”

Hidan snorted, though it sounded congested, still holding a hand to his face. “Always stickin’ up for the noobs, aren’t ya?”

“Somebody’s got to, as long as people like you are still breathing,” the redhead above snarked.

Hidan opened his mouth to retort something when he caught Kisame giving him a look. Instead, he tossed her one final irritated look before he traversed into the kitchen.

The woman ran her fingers through her unruly hair with a scoff, rolling her eyes. Then, she turned her attention to the pink haired stranger on the first floor. “Hey, you. Sakura, right?”

Sakura lifted her head to look up at the red haired woman. “Y-Yes,” she answered, growing uneasy from the woman’s intense gaze.

The woman studied her a bit more before she finally spoke. “What are you, eighteen? Nineteen?”

Sakura felt Kisame take back his hand. Her head suddenly felt light and she inched a little away from him as she replied, “Nineteen.”

“I’ll leave you two to get better acquainted,” Kisame interrupted gruffly. “I’m gonna check on Hidan to make sure he’s alright.”

“Don’t even bother. That guy’s like a cockroach. He won’t die no matter what you hit him with,” the redhead said with a roll of her eyes.

Kisame just waved a hand in the air in response before he pushed through the doors to the kitchen.

Sakura watched him walk away, torn between wanting him gone and wanting him here. At least he was a familiar face, she reasoned as she turned back to the woman still standing above. The fiery woman was dressed down in maroon colored gym shorts and an oversized white shirt, looking down at Sakura as if trying to figure out what to do with her.

Sakura offered her a small smile, suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable being alone with this stranger. To her great relief, the woman smiled back.

“Is that yours?” she asked, pointing to the black suitcase on the floor in front.

“Ah, yes! It is,” responded Sakura.

The woman stared at the black suitcase for a moment before shrugging her shoulders. “Bring it up here. I’ll show you where you’re staying.”

For the first time that day, Sakura felt a small twinge of cheer that quickly spread through her body. She grabbed her suitcase, rolled it back to where she had been standing, and quickly lugged it up the stairs.

“It’s down the hall,” she told Sakura as soon as she saw the younger girl at the top of the stairs. She waved her over and headed down the hall first.

Sakura noticed the woman was barefoot and wondered if she should have taken her shoes off at the door. She placed a hand on the banister and looked down at the front entrance but saw nothing there.

“Are you afraid of heights?”

“Ah, no.” Sakura pulled away from the banister and continued down the hallway. She passed by three of the many doors on the way, all decorated according to the dormers’ tastes.

The first she passed by would have been completely bare were it not for a cork board with some notes and reminders pinned to it, and the second door had an scroll painting of a mountain landscape hanging over it. The third was extremely colorful and covered with paper origami animals taped to the door. “Deidara-sempai and Tobi’s room!” was what the dancing orange letters spelled out.

Sakura thought it was cute.

“Here, this one. You don’t share it with anyone, and you have your own bathroom.”

Though half the fun of dorming was gaining a roommate, she couldn’t help but feel relieved that she didn’t have to dorm with anybody here, especially after meeting Hidan. At least she wouldn’t have to deal with roommate drama, she thought. And then she realized that it must have been set up like this purposely, so that she could have a place to stop and rest in the midst of dealing with the other residents’ problems; she was the RA, after all.

“Thank you,” Sakura said gratefully.

“It’s fine. I’m Karin, by the way. Glad to have you here.”

Sakura smiled her thanks. She took a look at her room; the bed was pushed against the opposite wall near the window, and there was a desk against the wall to her left. The bathroom door was on the back corner of the room, at her right, and the closet and dresser were on the same wall.

She walked in hesitantly, looking around slowly with a hand in her hair. “I… guess I should start by unpacking,” she said, and hauled her suitcase onto the bed.

Karin stood with her arms crossed in the doorway, watching Sakura with an unreadable look. “Hey,” she suddenly called out softly.

Sakura rummaged through her clothes. “Yeah?”

Karin hesitated. “Hidan isn’t always unpleasant to be around,” she began. “He’s mostly all bark and no bite. He only gets uptight like that after he sees his parents.”

Sakura stopped and turned around. “Oh.”

They looked at one another in silence for a moment longer, each wondering how to break off their correspondence without appearing rude.

Finally, Sakura cleared her throat and gestured to her open suitcase on the bed. “Well, I’m going to get settled in. If you need me for anything…”

“…Right.” Karin moved away from the door frame and ran a hand through her unruly hair. “I’ll see you later then,” she said as she left.

Sakura stared down at her messy suitcase and listened to the sound of the woman’s bare feet padding softly down the carpeted hallway. There was a door that creaked open and shut a moment later.

Sakura walked to her door and shut it softly, hearing it click shut.

And then, the dormitory fell silent.

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Her second surprise of the day, the first being her not-so-pleasant events of the morning, came in the form of a young blond man trudging up the stairs with a brunet talking animatedly and trailing after him at his heels.

“And then ― and then, Deidara-sempai,” she heard the brunet say, “there were these boats I saw and they were filled with fish this big!” he exclaimed excitedly, stretching his arms out all the way. “And I got to try shark fin soup too! Oh ― let’s not tell Kisame-san about that.”

“That’s nice, Tobi.”

Sakura furrowed her brow as she made her way down the steps, catching their names and matching them to the ones on the colorfully decorated door she had seen an hour or two ago. She walked slowly with one hand sliding down the banister, feeling something nagging at the back of her head about the two boys coming closer and closer.

The blond man looked up suddenly.

Sakura’s hand squeezed the banister and her eyes flew wide. It was the man from the train, and the cute brunet who had asked her about pork at the restaurant. They stared at one another in silence, him with a surprised look and her with one of disbelief. There was no way this was all just a coincidence, she thought. But then again, Kagawa was a small city, and it wasn’t unusual bumping into the same person twice in one week.

Tobi poked his head out from behind the blond man, peering over his shoulder. There was a flicker of recognition in his eyes. “Ah!” He lifted a finger over Deidara’s shoulder to point at her. “I remember you! You’re that waitress from the ramen shop!”

Deidara batted Tobi’s hand away and stared pointedly at her. “…Are you stalking me?” he asked bluntly.

An incredulous look slapped on Sakura’s face. For a moment, she felt like she was speaking to Hidan all over again from the way he was staring her down. She finally snapped out of it and shook her head vigorously. “I could ask you the same thing,” she snapped back fiercely.

Deidara waved a hand in the air. “I was just joking,” he said dismissively as he continued up the stairs. “Chill out. Don’t be so paranoid.”

If he even remotely cared about seeing her again, he sure did a good job at hiding it. She watched him walk past without giving her a second glance, acting as if he had seen her all his life and thought her annoying. She felt foolish then, at making a big deal out of them seeing each other again in the small city of Kagawa.

It occurred to her then that perhaps this person had helped her onto the train because he knew she was a student here, as the students here generally felt a necessity to help out one another whether they knew each other personally or not. Not, she thought with a hint of embarrassment coloring her cheeks, because he found her to be attractive, or interesting, or―

Tobi startled her a great deal by suddenly sticking his face in hers. A face-splitting grin was on his face and he looked positively ecstatic. He paused a moment before he said, “You know? You’re even prettier up close.”

She blinked her eyes wide in surprise. The way he was looking at her, with his bright and eager grin, made him remind her of someone she knew all too well. She smiled at him. “Thank you,” she said.

“What the hell is this crap on the door?!” came an angry shout from above.

Tobi’s back went ram-rod straight and he pulled away from her. “Ah! Deidara-sempai, don’t look! It’s not finished!” He scrambled up the stairs with lightening fast speed. “It was supposed to be a surprise!”

Sakura descended the stairs to the sound of the two men bickering and shouting behind her. As the RA, she should’ve gone back up and settled their squabbling, but she could tell that it would blow over soon enough.

Besides, she reasoned as she opened the door to let herself out, she had a class to get to.

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There was someone sitting in the seat next to where she usually sat. Sakura hadn’t expected to see him again so soon and went up to him curiously. She dropped her bag on the empty desk next to his and plopped down in the seat sideways, looking at him with a curious gaze. “What are you doing here?” she asked in a tone of mild incredulity.

He didn’t turn away from the window when he answered her. “Oh, you know,” he answered vaguely, his head bobbing this way and that.

“Were you worried about me?” she asked knowingly.

He turned to her then with a sheepish grin. “Ah. I got caught.” He turned around fully to sit sideways like she was doing, and gave her a bright grin. “So? Did you meet your children today?” he asked teasingly, referring to the residents of the dorm she was assigned to.

A flat look descended on her face. “No,” she said irritably, “and I don’t think I want to.” She groaned and collected her face in her hands. “I’m starting to regret this whole thing.”

He raised his brows in question. “What? Why? Being an RA is fun!”

Sakura gave him a miserable look. “Maybe for people like you and Ino,” she grumbled as she turned around to sit properly in her seat when she saw their professor walk in. She placed her bag in her lap and pulled out a notebook.

“Sometimes, you just gotta give ’em time to warm up to you. I’m sure they’ll like you lots, Sakura-chan,” he said comfortingly. “You’re cute, nice, and you’re really, really, smart! And―!”

“Naruto!” Their professor slapped his attendance sheet down on the desk and gave him a warning look. “I’m glad to see you’ve decided to grace us all with your presence, but perhaps your long absence has made you forget what you come to school for,” he said, adjusting his dark glasses.

“Sorry!” The boy beside her scrambled to sit right in his seat. “Won’t happen again!”

Their professor mumbled something and brought the attendance sheet up. He cleared his throat. “Arai Hatsumoto!” he called out, starting at the top of the list.

“You could’ve told me,” Naruto whispered loudly to Sakura during roll call. He kept his head down to avoid being caught.

“Really now?” Sakura mused aloud in a barely audible tone.

Naruto forgot to keep quiet. “What?” he asked, picking his head up. A pen flew into the side of his head with a loud smack. Naruto hissed in pain and grabbed the pen off the floor where it had landed. He stood up and shook the writing instrument in the air. “This is harassment!” he reproached.

Their professor’s jaw clenched. “If you don’t sit down right this instant, I’ll show you what harassment is!” he cried, brandishing his textbook in the air.

Naruto was taken aback. He dropped the pen and looked frightened. “Yes, sir! Sorry! I’ll be quiet!”

“Sit. Down!”

Naruto dropped himself in his seat without another word.

Sakura gave him a quick, apologetic smile before turning back to her notebook.

Naruto only shook his head, a grin spreading on his face at the scene he had created, and returned Sakura’s apologetic look with a wink.

For the most part, they were quiet and well-behaved. Sakura worked hard to catch the words that fell quickly from her professor’s lips, the pen moving furiously across her page. Naruto couldn’t sit still and kept passing her notes and trying to get her to talk.

It was almost as if they were back in high school again. On one of the rare moments Naruto was paying attention (when the professor was facing the class directly), Sakura sneaked a glance at the empty seat behind Naruto and sighed. If only Sasuke-kun were here, she thought nostalgically. Just like the old days.

“Remember! Midterms begin next week! Prepare yourselves well!”

Sakura shut her notebook with a groan.

Only, it can’t be like before again.

“Sakura-chan, I’ll catch you later,” Naruto said hurriedly as he shoved what little things he brought into his bag. “I’ve gotta be somewhere in half an hour, and I can’t be late again. Bye!”

We’re too grown up for that now.

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Sakura was at the small little café near the university she had been at earlier this week with Ino. She didn’t think it was a good idea to consult Ino for a level-headed conversation and Naruto was already occupied, so she was left with just one other person she trusted.

Uchiha Sasuke.

Said person was currently sitting across from her in the seat Ino had been in the other day, looking as calm and as stoic as ever. They had been sitting in the café for a while now, Sasuke having stepped out of a meeting to see her (Sakura had apologized profusely, but Sasuke assured her it was nothing of importance ― if it had been, he wouldn’t have even answered her phone call) and Sakura sitting awkwardly with a strawberry milkshake on the table in front of her and chattering away nervously. Being alone with Sasuke had always made her nervous.

“I’m really thinking of locking myself in my room to study, because I’m totally not ready for midterms. I don’t think I can even tell you what I did in class today, let alone what we did for the whole semester.”

Sasuke sipped his coffee, glancing discreetly at the expensive watch he kept turning over in his hand.

“And I saw Naruto too, which was something I wasn’t expecting. He made a scene and got the professor angry again.” Sakura laughed. “Maybe that’s why he never shows up. He’s always doing stuff to drive the instructors up the wall.”

“That’s nice,” was Sasuke’s uninterested reply.

Sakura stirred her milkshake with her straw. She had taken off the plastic cover and it lay upside down on the table in front of her. Of course he wouldn’t be listening to her babbling. He wasn’t Naruto. And Sasuke was never one for small talk anyway. “Actually, Sasuke-kun,” she began, a frown forming on her pretty face, “I wanted to tell you something.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to confess your undying love to me,” came Sasuke’s wry response.

Sakura bit the inside of her cheek and flung her plastic cover at him. He knocked it away with a finger without even looking up at her. “I’m being serious, you jerk,” she said sternly.

“Are you going to stop wasting my time, then, Sakura?” he asked, finally looking at her.

Sakura managed to hold his gaze for about a minute before she had to turn away. “Remember the time I applied to be an RA? Well, I got picked and I’ve been assigned to a place and… I’m going to be staying on campus from now on.” She looked up at Sasuke.

He stared back at her, though the expression on his face was unbelievably stoic.

Sometimes, Sakura wanted to punch him square in the face, to be able to see Sasuke react to something. Like, right now, for instance. She had this deliciously frothy strawberry milkshake in her hands, and she could throw it in his face and just run.

But that wouldn’t be very ladylike of her, now would it?

“The Kazehito have strong connections with the city’s council members. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say that they hold a strong influence over the council.”

Sakura gave him an incredulous look. “…How did you know where I was assigned to?” she asked him in shock.

Sasuke gave her a pointed look. “Naruto told me.”

Sakura felt herself grow red again underneath Sasuke’s scrutinizing stare. “O-Oh,” she managed to say.

“Why do you two always leave me out of things like this?” he asked her, with a hint of a scowl on his face. “What do you possibly think I’m going to do?”

Get paranoid and run an investigation on everyone? She answered inwardly, struggling to keep on a neutral look. She sipped her milkshake to keep from answering and only shrugged.

A flat look came over his face, the first expression she had seen on him today. It disappeared as quickly as it was made. “Do you want me to run background checks?”

The seriousness in his tone was not missed. Sakura looked at her friend with a contemplative expression on her face.

Uchiha Sasuke ― nineteen years old and already an incredibly successful and feared CEO of the ever-popular software company, Uchiha Corps. He took over the company when he was only fifteen, making him the youngest CEO after Kaiba Seto (1). And of course, being one of the most powerful CEOs in the country meant that he knew how to pull strings one way or another.

Which was where Naruto came into play.

“Do you want me to run background checks?” he asked her again.

“I’m not sure if that’s necessary right now,” Sakura spoke slowly, trying to hide her incredulity as much as she could.

Sasuke leaned back in his seat, turning his expensive watch over and over in his hand. “It’s not a good idea to be in close contact with the Kazehito family, Sakura. It’d be best to be on your guard.”

“I just want to be normal for once,” Sakura said quietly. “You can understand that, can’t you?”

Sasuke turned the watch over in his hand, keeping his gaze on the young woman’s face. Sasuke slipped the watch over his hand and shook it around his wrist. “You’re a fool,” he suddenly said coldly, causing her to glance back at him from the corner of her eyes. He saw her turn back to him, her vibrant green eyes fixated on his face. And he felt a little piece of himself break when she gave him a little smile.

“I know,” she said quietly.

Sasuke stared at her, his expression stony. He stood up a little while later, when the silence settled between them became too thick.

“Sasuke-kun,” Sakura suddenly spoke, her voice soft and sweet.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at her.

Sakura smiled brightly and tipped her head to the side. “Thank you. For coming out to see me today.”

Sasuke looked down at her, his expression completely blank. And then he reached out with his hand and ruffled her hair with a scoff, ignoring her scowl at the fact that he was messing up her hair. “I’ll see you again,” he said softly, the corner of his mouth tugging upward in a smirk.

Sakura glared at him, a hand reaching up to fix her hair, and watched Sasuke leave the café without so much as a second glance.

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She had two classes that day with a break in-between, giving her enough time to see Sasuke and grab a quick bite to eat with Ino during those two hours before her second and last class. It was close to eight at night, and she found herself quickly looking forward for some time alone to wind down and start on her work. And studying, she added reluctantly, squeezing her textbook in her arms. Midterms began next week.

She trudged down the cobblestone path, swimming mindlessly through thoughts, until she smelled smoke wafting in the air. She lifted her head and saw Hidan sitting on the front steps.

He was smoking a cigarette and looking oddly at peace until he caught sight of her. He raised an eyebrow and plucked the cigarette from his lips. “What’re you lookin’ at?” he asked gruffly, gesturing to her with the hand he held his cigarette.

“Nothing,” she said quickly, trying to avoid confrontation with this man. She eyed the cigarette in his hand uneasily. She didn’t like the smell of cigarettes and didn’t like smokers because they always smelled like nicotine. She swallowed nervously and clutched her textbook closer to her chest, hoping her dislike wasn’t too apparent.

Unfortunately for her, things never worked out the way she wanted.

He scowled when he saw her looking at the lit Marlboro in his hand. “You better not go off into one of those ‘smokin’s bad for you!’ rants like the last one,” he warned her, his voice going up into a high falsetto at imitating their last RA. He scratched at the white bandage running across his face and nose, applied after he had been hit with Karin’s alarm clock earlier that day.

Sakura made no retort, just glowered at him in disdain. No matter what it was that he said, it seemed it was said for the sole purpose of riling her up or upsetting her. She couldn’t find it in herself to bark back; there was a very dangerous air that seemed to emanate from him that she didn’t want to stir up.

But she held her head high and marched, glaring at the door instead to avoid eye contact with the silver-haired man.

He stopped her when she grew close. “Wait a sec.”

She paused and looked down at him. Smoke curled out from Hidan’s mouth and hit her nose. She took a step back with a cough, fanning her hand in front of her face to get the smoke away.

“Sit down,” he groused, patting the space beside him with a sound smack of his large hand. “Have a smoke.”

“I’m busy,” she said quickly, ready to open the door.

Hidan made an impatient noise and mumbled something under his breath. His hand shot up and snatched her textbook from right under her nose.

Sakura didn’t feel her book slipping from her arms until it was too late. “Hey!” she protested, reaching for it in vain.

He kept it out of her reach and slid it under him, sitting on her textbook and lazily blowing out smoke. “Didn’t I tell you to sit down?” he asked her, tone serious.

Sakura hesitated and swallowed down her fear. “I need that,” she insisted, resisting the urge to childishly stomp her foot; she very much might have done exactly that, standing there with a pouting glare on her face that did nothing to convince him to hand it over.

Hidan patted the empty space at her feet again, rather calmly. “Relax, pinky. A few minutes won’t kill you.” Smoke billowed out from his mouth as he spoke.

She wondered what he thought she was being reluctant towards; staying out for a bit longer or breathing in the smoke from his cigarette.

She gave him a long, measured look before giving up and plopping down next to him on the front steps. She was still in her jean shorts, and the granite bit into her skin where it met the rough surface. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, sitting as far away from him as she could get away with.

He didn’t offer her a cigarette despite his earlier suggestion, and for that, she was grateful. Instead, he sat in silence and smoked by himself, staring out at the front yard with a disdainful twist of his lips.

Sakura watched him out of the corner of her eye. He scratched at the white bandage going across his face, and she bit the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from telling him not to do that.

“How busy are you, anyway?” Hidan asked after a minute of silence ticked by.

“Midterms are next week.” came her quick reply.

“That’s it?” He tapped the burning end of his cigarette off to the side with a finger. It stayed in his hand as he spoke. “I thought you got a date or somethin’,” he said with a chuckle. The cigarette returned to his mouth and he took a long drag.

Sakura didn’t say anything, eyeing the textbook the man was currently sitting on. She wrinkled her nose and madly waved her hand in the air when he blew smoke out of his mouth. She began coughing again.

Hidan scoffed. “You’re as bad as fuckin’ Deidara,” he said.

For a minute there, Sakura had forgotten who Deidara was. And then his blank face came to mind and she remembered. At least she had something in common with somebody here, she thought dryly. Smoke blew into her face. She stood up coughing, hastily walking forward to escape the smell of nicotine and smoke, and stood with her back to him just a few steps away.

Hidan ran a hand through his hair. He eyed her a bit before rubbing the top of his head. “Look,” he suddenly began hesitantly. He sighed loudly and rolled his eyes, as if trying to think of something right to say. “A bunch of us get together Friday nights to go out and eat.”

Sakura held her hand over her nose and tried not to breath in too deeply; she could feel the smoke entering her body with every breath she took and blacken the walls of her lungs. “That’s nice,” she managed to say in a nasal-sounding voice, still facing away.

Hidan made a face. “Yeah, if you like shit like that,” he muttered, suddenly awkward. He rubbed the back of his neck as he continued, a thoughtful expression coming over him. “But, uh… You should come.”

Sakura stilled and turned around, a narrow-eyed look fixed on his face. She wondered briefly if he was pulling her chain.

He stared back at her with a slight frown. He was sitting hunched over as he looked at her, chin in hand as he let the cigarette burn between his fingers, and arched one eyebrow.

He looked serious about inviting her.

She bit the inside of her cheek in thought. “How many are going?” she asked, the hand from her face lowering back to her side.

Hidan appeared surprised to see that she had actually answered. “I dunno,” he answered honestly, his frown deepening. “Does it matter? All you women travel in packs, anyway.”

At this, Sakura gave him a deadpanned look. “Are you going to return my textbook to me?” she asked instead, reaching toward him with her hand.

“Are ya gonna go?”

Sakura didn’t answer. The idea was appealing to her, as it was a good chance to meet everyone. “Yes.” She watched Hidan extend the book back to her with one hand. The skin on his arm grew taut as the muscles underneath rippled and tightened. She had to take her book back with two hands as opposed to his one.

“Feh. You always end this late?” Hidan asked, getting up to his feet. He flicked his cigarette away somewhere, the embers still burning softly in the night.

Sakura only frowned at him, her gaze straying to the cigarette he had tossed away without meaning to.

“I’ve been sitting out here too long,” he said with a groan as he straightened up. “Thought you’d end earlier or something. You’re just a freshie, right?”

Sakura looked at him strangely. “No,” she answered after a moment. “I’m a sophomore.”

Hidan snorted. “Same thing,” he said indifferently. “We leave in five, by the way. Walk a little faster next week, alright?” He opened the door and walked in.

She couldn’t be sure of it, but she had a feeling that he had been sitting out front for a while now to catch her on her way back to the dorm. She tucked her textbook securely under her arm and walked in. She walked quickly up the stairs and saw Karin head down with a tall, slender blonde.

“Did Hidan say anything to you?” asked Karin.

Sakura blinked slowly. “Are you going?” she asked her.

“Ah? He actually told you?” Karin gave a surprised chuckle and placed a hand on her hip. “That’s good, I guess. We’ll wait for you then, Sakura. Hurry up, okay?” She raised a hand to her as she descended the steps with the blonde woman behind her.

Sakura quickly made her way down the hall, sparing a glance at Deidara, who mumbled a hello with Tobi clinging to his back and shouting his cheer at seeing her again, and into her room. She changed out of the maroon Kagawa University t-shirt and into a long-sleeved red sweater, and quickly stuffed her black clutch with her wallet.

An apology, she realized in her room. The invitation was meant to be some kind of apologetic gesture. Because guys like him, she continued thinking quietly to herself, never uttered the words “I’m sorry” unless they were desperate. She thought it was sort of sweet, and a wry smile appeared on her face as she looked around for her room keys. She snatched them up from the bottom of the bag she had carried that day and was out of her room and in the hall in a matter of seconds.

“I’m missing something,” she said aloud to herself, as she came to a slow halt. Ah, she realized, my phone. She turned on her heel in the middle of the hallway, not hearing a door shut somewhere down the hall or the floorboards creak under the carpet in her rush, and ran right into a tall man in black.

“I’m so, so, sorry,” she sputtered, wildly taking a step back to look at the man. “I forgot my phone, and I…” Her words died on her tongue. Her eyes widened significantly, and her heart stopped.

Staring down at her was a man with coal black eyes and dark, dark hair. He studied her carefully for a moment and opened his mouth to speak when suddenly,

“Hey, you two! We’re gonna leave without you!” a girl warned from below.

“Sasori no danna doesn’t like to wait,” Deidara contributed. “You know how he can get. Hurry up, already. You guys can get acquainted later.” He was the first to leave, kicking the door open with a loud bang.

At the sound, Sakura jumped and quickly turned to the side. The man in front of her moved.

“Deidara-senpai! Wait for meee!” Tobi cried below as he scrambled after him.

“Excuse me,” the man in front of her said in a smooth, velvety voice. He descended down the stairs and joined the group fairly quickly. He seemed to exchange greetings with Kisame, who grinned at seeing him and roughly patted his back.

“Ah, Itachi-san,” Kisame’s voice rumbled up to her ears. “Good to see you again.”

Once the shell-shocked Sakura joined the group, they began to spill out of the house and into the night, with the streetlights their only guide down the darkened path. The sky was black with ink and no stars twinkled prettily that night. The pale moon hid behind a dark cloud that muffled its light.

“Hey, are you okay?” Karin asked her softly, brow furrowed in concern.

Sakura managed to give an awkward laugh and a quick smile. “I’m just thinking about midterms,” she said half-honestly.

“Gaah! I don’t wanna take them!” a girl with sea-green hair cried. “I’ve got Hatake-san, and his exams are just horrible!”

“Fuu, I’m sure you’ll do fine.” The tall, slender blonde woman who had come down with Karin earlier tried to reassure the eighteen-year-old with a gentle smile.

“No way,” a man with pale blue hair and sharp teeth cut in with a dark look. “That guy is crazy. He’ll eat you alive with just the first two questions.”

Karin slugged the man in the arm. “Suigetsu! Don’t be such an ass!” she snapped. Suigetsu just scowled.

Fuu seemed turn pale and her eyes started to water. Beside her, an orange-haired girl squeezed her shoulder tightly. “Don’t worry! I had him last semester. I can help you study, okay?” she offered amiably.

Fuu engulfed her roommate’s body in a hug. “Sasame-chan!” she cried. “You’re the best!”

They went on like this together, the group splitting into their own cliques amongst themselves. They were too lost in their own conversation, the bickering and the jokes, to notice a girl slowly drift away from their group and grow farther and farther away.

She walked on alone in the midst of laughter and friendly banter, feeling terribly disoriented and out of place. As she walked on, she looked up frequently at the back of the man she had run into before, and saw only his back for the longest time.

Not once did the man ever turn to look back at the girl he had left behind at the top of the stairs. If he had, he would’ve seen the glimmer of recognition and hope in her vivid, green eyes. He would’ve seen the pale face of a lost girl; an expression of uncertainty and shock adorning her lovely heart-shaped face. He would’ve seen that, and more, if he had only turned back. But he didn’t.

And the gap between them widened before her very eyes until there was nothing but emptiness and black.

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1. Kaiba Seto is a fictional character I lugged over from Yu-Gi-Oh! I just thought it’d be fun to stick him in here 🙂

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