The summer nights in Suna were always a welcome break from the relentless prickly heat of the day. It was also at this time of year that the 'Kimono Sleeves' were at their most bright. The Godaime Kazekage and his wife were seated on the veranda looking up at the shimmering white dots as they shared the evening together.
"Come on," she said knowingly, "What are you stewing about?"
A pair of glassy green eyes flickered in her direction for a second before returning to the skies. "Stewing?" He tested the word on his tongue and then smirked. "I do not believe I've heard the term before."
"Alright, is there something on your mind, dear?"
His lips curled at the edges. She never called him that. She complained it made her sound like Amelia. So whenever he was addressed in such a manner it usually meant that she was about to lose her temper.
"Yasu, I want a more substantial escort this time."
"Not this again!" Lady Leaf crossed her arms. This was their last evening together before Yasu was due to return to Konohagakure. For this year it would be the autumn months they were apart. "We've talked about this. I'll be fine!"
The Kage turned towards her a terrifyingly serious expression on his face. "Do not say that to me. Every year when you have made this journey you've been attacked."
"And every year Temari and I have handled it!" she said defensively.
It was true that the ninja assassins were growing bolder. Someone was sending them and they knew about the rotation system of the seasons. The Fifth Hokage however had refused to budge. At first Gaara couldn't understand why she would want to put her sister in such danger. But she explained that by continuing the way things were it would actually be to their advantage. For both enemy and target it was free game for those three days. It would be better to continue this pattern rather than to invite more desperate covert tactics such as: infiltration, sabotage and spies within Konohagakure or Suna itself. Open attacks could be planned for and managed. They were safer and so the journeys continued.
Gently he took her hand. "There is a more at stake. Think of Risa. Think of the baby."
She went quiet. Two hands protectively wrapped over her stomach and then she looked at their beautiful three year old girl sound asleep in Gaara's lap. Sometimes it was still hard to accept that she was theirs.
"Temari will be with us all the way, and Shikamaru is heading up the security party. There's nothing to worry about!" But she saw the way he frowned. Lord Kage wanted nothing more than to escort his own family to the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Such a notion was foolish. No matter how stubborn he could be Gaara was Kazekage and the needs of the village had to come first. It wasn't like she wanted to leave her husband for three months at a time. That was just the way it was. "If it'll make you feel better then I'll ask Toshie to come along too, alright?"
"I'd rather you took Enjin."
Sometimes negotiating with the red head reminded Yasu of her days as ambassador. She shook her head. "I want him to stay here."
"I... I have my reasons!" she said struggling to keep a straight face.
Gaara sighed. "You've got that look in your eye. The look when you're up to something."
"Don't you trust me?" Her sky blues narrowed.
Slowly he stroked her knuckles with his thumb. "Desert Flower, you are all so precious to me. I don't know what I would do if I lost you."
She never grew tired of hearing that. He had grown so much in the six years they'd been married. His hair was much shorter swept away to the right side of his face. His tattoo was prominently displayed. Yasu hadn't been a fan to begin with as she'd enjoyed pulling and tussling his more shaggy pangs. However Gaara took his role as Kage seriously and that required a more professional image. It'd been hard enough gaining respect from the older and more experienced Gokage at the best of times. He wanted to stand out and for the right reasons. There was more to him than just his age after all. But if there was one thing that hadn't changed about the man it was his heart.
"Don't go underestimating Lady Leaf," she told him playfully. "I'm pregnant, not an invalid!"
"How could I forget?" He put his arm around her drawing the blonde close. "And you wonder where our daughter gets her wilful streak from?" She laughed at this and he kissed her.
Early the next morning the battle had already started.
"I don't wanna go!"
Sabaku no Risa: a fiercely independent toddler with a great love of teddies and playing with sand. She had auburn red hair that was long overdue a trim. She also possessed the same stubborn streak as her father, as was attested to the sand wall currently blocking off entry to her bedroom.
"Risa, this is difficult enough without having to fight you as well!" Yasu sighed and leaned heavily against the door. "Don't you want to see Grandma, Uncle Naoki and Auntie Tsunade?" There was no reply. "This is the only time of the year when they get to spend quality time with you."
"Noooooo!" was the shrieked reply.
She could just send a few creepers through the window and drag her daughter out. But Lady Leaf had made a vow not to use jutsu to overpower her children. Gaara felt the same especially after his own childhood experiences and the pain that came with it. They both wanted to be parents that earned trust and respect not through fear, but consistency and love.
But even so Risa could be headstrong and there were times when Yasu felt her will being tested to the limit. But whenever temptation presented itself she recalled how her mother had made her feel all those years ago. There were lessons to be learnt there. This was usually enough to help Yasu persevere.
"Sweetheart, I'm going to miss Daddy too. But the forests of Konohagakure in autumn are very beautiful. We could take a boat ride on Lake Ashinoko and visit Kojin at the shrine. You know I bet those poor little dolls are buried under the leaves by now."
There was a wail and then sobbing beyond the door. Yasu felt her heart ache a little. She knew it was unfair to place such a burden on a three year old, but she was the daughter of the Kazekage. She had to be strong, but even Lady Leaf had to wonder, is it always going to be this hard?
"Mummy?" The small voice disturbed her thoughts.
"Won't Daddy forget me? If we're far away...will he-"
"Never," Yasu responded immediately. "Is that what you're worried about?" There was another sob and then the sand began to recede slowly. The grains fell away and Risa burst out of the room into her mother's awaiting arms. "How could he forget about you? I'll help you write to him every day and you can tell him about all the things you've seen." Her tone was low, soothing.
The little girl clung to her side awkwardly due to the bump. "Promise?"
"Have I ever lied to you?" The Kazekage's wife asked the child.
Risa rubbed her sky blue eyes roughly and then sniffed. "No..."
"Well then." Lady Leaf took a comb from her pocket. She took a deep steadying breath. "Now, shall I put your hair in pigtails today or a plait?"
Of all the hardships Gaara had faced in his life none were more painful to endure than saying goodbye to his family. He'd made Risa a wolf from his sand to take with her. Yasu gave him her desert flower necklace as was their custom. He promised to keep it safe until their return in the winter. A last kiss, brave words and then they were gone.
"Don't worry Lord Kazza, we'll take good care of them!" Toshie promised waving manically.
When the carriage rolled away Gaara insisted on watching until he couldn't see it anymore.
"Right," Kankuro clapped him on the back. "We've got a lot of work to catch up on, you're not gonna have any time to mope around!"
So that was how things went for the next three days. When Gaara could do nothing but wait his brother drowned him in paperwork. In fact Kankuro went so far as to hide documents deliberately in preparation. This continued until Tobimaru (the village's fastest messenger hawk) had returned with the news that all was well. With Yasu, Risa and Little Bump safely tucked away in Konoha it meant the Kage could function again.
It was over a week later and all the documents had been completed, stamped and signed. He'd completed his training regime for the day. Inspection of the surveillance team reports on the boarders had nothing worthy of note. There was no Akatsuki threat, the territories seemed to be behaving themselves and there was no news of Kabuto. Ninja from Suna had a steady stream of assignments but hardly anything taxing. With no wife or child to appease either Gaara suddenly found himself rather bored. He stood up and looked out the window at the villagers. Everyone seemed so happy. He should be glad that it was peacetime it was what every Kage prayed for during their time in office.
He picked up the green tea that had long since gone cold, and rested his forehead against the glass. It is selfish to wish for unrest however I need purpose too or surely I will go mad! Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
"Come in," he murmured.
"Lord Kazekage." The young man stepped forward and bowed before producing a package. "Yasu Sensei – I mean, Lady Yasu," he corrected quickly. "She asked me to give this to you."
It was strange to hear his wife being addressed like that after so many years. Despite the obvious success of his training Yasu had never taken another student in Suna. Gaara smiled at Seibi-Shi who had become a little flustered. The bond between teacher and former student was still strong it seemed. Over the years Enjin had trained hard and enjoyed tinkering with machinery. Curiously however he had turned down a position in developing weapons for the Wind Dynamo. He chose instead to stay in the Hidden Village and become a jonin.
They both looked at the gift wrapped in green shiny paper and tied with a crimson ribbon.
"Did she say what it was for?"
Enjin scratched the back of his head. "Not a clue. She just said it was real important and to give it to you the week after she left." He stood up and carefully placed the item onto the Kage's desk. "Beyond that I know as much as you do!" There was silence for a moment before Seibi- Shi saw fit to cough reminding the Wind Shadow that he was actually there. "May I go now, Sir?"
The Kage removed his hat. "Yes, of course and thank you."
How long he sat there staring was anyone's guess. It reminded him of when Yasu (as ambassador) presented him with a box containing a claret coat. It was the first time someone had given him a present for his own sake. He pulled at the ribbon which came away in twists and then discarded the other layers of paper. What was she thinking?
It was a red leather bound book about the size of a regular diary. Inside was a note in small but articulate handwriting. She'd scented the paper with lavender.
To my husband,
By now I should have arrived safely in Konoha, and I think of you hiding away in 'Kazekage Towers' going about your business. I realize that as Kage you have a lot of responsibilities. However it wouldn't hurt to spend some time with your people. So to that end I have a little task for you!
Inside this book is a list of jobs that I am quite confident will keep you occupied until we get back. You start from number one and work downwards, simple right?
Please don't take unnecessary risks.
All my love
Desert Flower x
He blinked twice and then read the note again. Gaara took the book and glanced at the first task. "Unblock the old well near the cattle farm?" he said reading the tasks aloud. "Paint the door blue for the old man near the ink shop? Play a game with the shogi club?"
There were a total of one hundred and twelve random tasks in the book. I'm already a week behind! He thought. How am I supposed to accomplish this?
As the Kazekage worked his way down the list he discovered and met people he never even knew existed in the village. His offers of help were met with bemused but nevertheless grateful smiles. When he unblocked the old well Gaara found himself fixing the pulley system too and learning some history about the waterways underground. He sanded the door easily enough and applied the blue paint, although he had to give it several coats. The elderly shogi club members had been clamoring for an opportunity to play with the young Kage. He laid a wreath and offered prayers at Rooba and Shiro's graves. The sandstone arch near to the village entrance was restored. At the peace garden he checked on the Acer Palmatum Bloodgood tree which was flourishing and tackled the weeds. He trained with some of the less able candidates at the academy to give them a boost. And so it went on for the rest of the season.
By the time autumn was coming to an end he'd managed to tick off all but one single thing. Now he understood exactly why Lady Leaf had wanted a certain blue haired jonin to stay nearby.
Task 112: Force Enjin to ask Matsuri on a date!
"Saving the best till last, eh?" he said closing the book gently. Of all the duties that the Godaime Kazekage should perform playing cupid wasn't exactly considered to be one of them. Still, he found in this case he didn't mind. If he had learnt anything from Killer Bee that morning in the archives, it was that a little push in the right direction didn't hurt anyone. In fact it could be the start of a great happiness, and wasn't that the most precious thing of all?
Author's note –
I had a 'few' messages asking me to finish this properly! Having been concentrating on Tantalus Tales for FF9 it took a little while to get my head back into Naruto Land! I hope this ending gives closure.
Thank you for the kind reviews and taking the time to follow this! At some point I might redraft Lady Leaf and bring it over, but not for a while.
All the best