"I think I've forgotten."
"The more I think, the more it becomes unclear."
"I don't remember what is right."
"And I don't remember what is wrong."
"Remind me why love is beautiful."
"Where have your whispers gone?"
Sakura was thankful that they had spent most of the night within the hot bath. Their bodies remained warm, and it helped the little boy to keep pressing forward despite the cold wind, and freezing snow, that billowed onto the two now.
"This way!" Sakura called towards Gaara, leading him deeper and deeper towards an area of the village they had yet to visit.
If she thought hard about it now, it was probably fortunate on their part that the strong, blowing storm had began, for it kept the streets clear and wandering eyes indoors. As Sakura dragged Gaara through the shadows, he eventually realized the secrecy of their destination.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
Through the winds, she heard the boy's question, and tried to smile down towards him in hopes that he could see her reassuring smile through the dark.
"You'll see once we get there," she told him.
Even if the wind howled, even if the air was freezing, even if all her logical senses were telling her it was a lost cause, she pressed on remembering the beauty she had seen before in this area. As they came to a small district, Gaara had stopped to look at Sakura when he noticed the blockade and signs that warned others not to go forward.
"Don't worry," Sakura said, passing through the tape and signs. "We'll be alright."
It wasn't that the boy was worried, instead he was curious what lingered in the houses ahead of them.
"Why isn't anyone allowed in here?" he asked, glancing all around him.
To his question, Sakura sighed. The massacre that had happened here hadn't been that long ago, and a part of her mind played at the possibilities of if she had just run from Suna and come here instead. Instead of lingering on the thoughts, she stopped short as she suddenly caught sight of the giant tree far ahead of them. She squinted her eyes hard towards it.
'Please,' she thought. 'Please, if there is some higher power controlling this world, out of everything, please just let me be able to keep my promise to Gaara.'
She had brought him to one of the biggest cherry blossom tree's that grew within the village, and it was situated proudly in the middle of the Uchiha district. She remembered when her class took a trip here, just to watch the tree bloom pink. It was her first, and last, time her eyes ever laid on the spectacle. The massacre happened not too long after their small trip, and eventually the tree would be destroyed with time.
Through the wind and snow Sakura kept on staring hard, praying still that the past warm days had somehow tricked the buds into blooming.
"Sakura, what are we doing here?" Gaara asked again, looking up towards her.
The wind suddenly cast harder in their direction, making Gaara wince and seek shelter behind the woman's frame while Sakura squinted her eyes. Yet, as something pink suddenly flew past her head, her eyes widened and she stared past the snow towards the tall, pink tree.
"Cherry blossom," she whispered, her smile growing into a grin before she laughed.
Immediately she reached down for the boy and dragged him in the direction of the tree.
"Sakura!" Gaara cried, protesting as the snow and wind hit him dead on.
She paid him no heed, but eventually stopped once she felt his feet stop as a dead weight. Without even looking at him, she knew his eyes had found the tree, and he stopped while gawking at the tall spectacle. To this, Sakura let go of his hand and instead skipped her way in front of Gaara with the tree behind her. She smiled proudly.
"I told you I'd keep my promise," she laughed.
She earned his round eyes then, the boy still in awe to say anything. He instead watched as Sakura turned to face the tree, her arms widening in the air.
"This!" she told him. "This is a cherry blossom tree."
Gaara looked up then, still in wonder, and stared at the many petals that were fluttering past him. Though the wind pressed on, and some petals were hard to distinguish with the white of snow, there were so many flowers that the branches were still far from becoming bare.
Sakura smiled as she watched the boy stare above him, and slowly he circled in his spot, round and round, under the tree.
"The flowers will probably freeze or blow away by morning," Sakura commented as she came next to Gaara.
Her eyes looked up along with him before his voice stole her attention back.
"Wow..." he whispered.
It was like he was in a trance now staring up at the many petals falling and blowing past him, and Sakura couldn't help but chuckle at the sight. It always warmed her heart to see the boy experience just a little more wonderment in his life.
'They certainly can't grow them like this in Suna,' she thought with a smile.
She could only imagine how much more magical it be for him once she brought him back in the spring when the village was covered in pink petals. Then again, she thought to herself, there was something very beautiful and magical in this moment. A lone, pink tree, who defied winter, and let its blossoms flourish for the moment. The way the petals blew with the white of the snow was also an alluring scene of its own, and something Sakura was sure only her, and Gaara, could brag to seeing for the rest of their life.
Looking back at Gaara, Sakura smiled once more at his transfixed state, and let the boy be for some time. For her, she stared up at the tree as well, but took slow steps around the thick bark.
"Maybe you'll survive in this world," Sakura whispered to it, planting her hand gently against the cold wood.
After all, if she remembered correctly, it was the attack during her first chūnin exams that had destroyed this tree. Maybe, if it left such an impact on Gaara as it seemingly looked now, the boy would do what he could to protect it. Yet, despite the warm thought, Sakura found it foolish as well.
'Ninja protect lives and goods,' she remembered. 'Not trees.'
She sighed then, taking a step back away from the tall tree and brought her eyes back up to stare at the flying petals. Her eyesight caught sight of the pink mixing in with the white easily, some distance away, she could even see Gaara's red hair swaying with the wind as he stood frozen in his spot still. Yet, Sakura did have to blink a few times to realize that her eyesight was also trying to focus on the blue tint of hair that stood a few feet away from her other side. Her eyes quickly fell to another being, and her gaze went round as she recognized this new child staring up at the tree.
"Sasuke...kun..." she whispered for her ears only.
Like Gaara to the other side of her, Sasuke stood under the tree, captivated by the pink petals above him. However, as Sakura's surprised stare lingered on him, so, too, did the boy suddenly realize he was not alone. Like her, Sasuke's eyes widened briefly catching sight of her, and his stare was long as she remained quiet and lost of words. Perhaps his surprise came with expecting that he was alone now since this area of the village was off limits. With time, though, the boy blinked away his analytical gaze, and fidgeted his jacket closer to his body before spinning on his heel and facing his back towards the young woman. His steps were set to leave, and the sight made Sakura's heart race. Despite his young appearance, her view was still that of his older self casting her and the village away with his back turned to forever leave.
"Wait!" Sakura called out to him, her arm reaching in his direction.
Sasuke stopped in his tracks then, but kept his back turn still to Sakura. Meanwhile, the young woman's mind raced as to why she called out to him. What was it she hoped to gain, her mind asked her. This was not her world, her meddling should not have gone as far as it had, and there was so little she could say to this boy that wouldn't show off the knowledge of the future Sakura had gained. Not to mention, she was nobody to him, a stranger, and as Sakura knew Sasuke, this was probably the reason he wouldn't even give her the decency of turning to look at her. Like Naruto, she acted out before she realized there was so little she could say to the boy.
Yet, her heart now was pleading with her. If possible, if this world would let her, not only did she want Gaara to have a happier childhood, but so, too, the little boy in front of her who probably was ever so lonely now like Gaara had been.
"I know it feels like you don't have many options right now," Sakura suddenly whispered.
As expected, the boy finally turned to face Sakura after her odd words. Yet, despite a curious gaze, she was met with a stone, cold look. He probably was expecting sympathy on her part. By now he was use to so many people pulling him in for an apology over what had happened to his family. His entire clan. Yet, their sympathy went on deaf ears as the boy was beginning to brew something deep inside of him that would eventually lead up to his lifelong goal of killing his brother. Sakura knew this as well, and tried hard to find what it was in her heart she wanted to convey to this little boy.
Don't seek revenge. Don't leave the village. Don't push away those that love you. Don't turn your back on your friends. The actual truth. All of these raced through her mind, yet she could only stay silent as she shook her head at the boy in silence. As strong as she was, as happy as she knew Sasuke's future was now, her tears still welled up in the corner of her eyes. This boy was the cause of so much pain in her youth, yet her love for him was also the biggest drive that made her the strong ninja she was today.
"Just remember, your friends care and love you. Friends can be family too, and they will always cherish you," Sakura murmured.
This time, she got a reaction. Sasuke's eyes widened some, and his mouth was now agape from Sakura's words. In that moment, Sakura's heart ached, for, despite the sympathy he was given, it seemed people had forgotten to remind him that he had friends to lean on. Even if he was a loner now, she hoped her words would ring in his mind once he realized how much he leaned on Naruto. She was certain his path for revenge would come into fruition no matter anyone say, but she hoped her words would help guide him back home.
"We all care about you, Sasuke-kun. Please, don't ever forget that," Sakura swallowed hard, forcing a smile despite her small tears. "Especially me. No matter what you choose, what you do, I will always love you."
Sakura could only read his reaction for a brief second. In the next, grains of sand suddenly flew past her, and they raced at Sasuke at such a speed and force that it knocked the small boy instantly down once it collided with his face. Like a punch, Sasuke skidded on the wet ground some before he scrambled to sit up and stare at the culprit.
Sakura, too, had whipped her head back to catch sight of the other little boy behind her. A small gasp left her as she recognized Gaara's menacing eyes. She had thought he to cast them long ago, but if his look now was any given, it was that Gaara wanted nothing more than at the moment than to destroy Sasuke. While she wanted to believe the culprit behind this attack was suddenly Shukaku's dark whispers breaking through to Gaara, Sakura could tell in the redhead's eyes that it wasn't a thirst for blood he sought, but instead a need to end a life purely because of the hate he held for Sasuke now.
There was hate in Gaara's eyes, and Sakura hadn't the faintest clue what had triggered it.
"Gaara!" Sakura called.
Yet, his attention did not waver. Like mechanical, Gaara took a steady step forward and raised his hand to call out his grains once more. His fingers fidgeted in Sasuke's direction, and a whisper began to escape Gaara's lips.
However, Sakura would not let him finish his attack. She raced towards Gaara in a speedy haste, and swept the boy quickly into her arms. There was no time to ask him what he was thinking, no time to check to make sure Sasuke had no injuries. The only time Sakura had was to look back at Sasuke as he watched her carry Gaara away.
"Sorry!" she called to Sasuke.
She glanced one last time at the cherry blossom tree before cursing and rushing back to their room. She was quick, trying to separate herself and get as far away from Sasuke then. She worried of the men who may, or may not, be tailing the last surviving Uchiha on behalf of their Hokage's request. She worried Gaara had jeopardized everything she promised Rasa would not happen. She worried Konoha would retaliate in some way, blaming Gaara that he was set to kill their last Uchiha survivor. Of all the people and places, Sakura thought. Why here, she wondered. Why now, she worried.
'Why Gaara?' she asked herself.
She looked back down at the boy in her arms. Instead of looking at her, he looked ahead of them. His lips were tight, and his gaze was still with ill intent as his hands grasped Sakura's arm hard.
'Please,' Sakura begged in her mind once they reached their hotel. 'Please let no one have seen. Please let Sasuke keep quiet about this.'
She didn't let go of Gaara once they entered their room. Sakura did not stop to greet those who took a moment to wave at her and Gaara. Her pace never faltered until she threw them into their room and quickly locked the door behind them. Only after then did she toss Gaara lightly out in front of her. Before the boy could even turn himself, Sakura nabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to face her. His angry gaze did not falter under her own look, and she grounded her teeth before demanding answers from him.
"What were you thinking?!" she cried, shaking him lightly. "What is the matter with you?!"
Gaara said nothing, and only kept his cold stare on Sakura. Yet, after her words, it was like an explosion of sand suddenly filled the room, and the grains quickly resided around Sakura and Gaara then, rippling around their feet like water. However, his actions did not deter the young woman, and she held her figure above him and kept her look authoritative.
As Sakura had learned, in time, Gaara's angry stare was linked to the sand around him. When angered, when emotional, it seemed his sand took the opportunity to present themselves. Maybe, Sakura thought, it was Shukaku who did this, and his sand was his silent way of telling the boy,
"Here I am. Use me."
For his sand only suddenly appeared like this when he was on the verge of rage, or frightened like a cornered animal from confusion and misunderstanding.
Sakura's hand found the collar of Gaara's shirt then, for the boy was still silent and challenged her stare. She shook him lightly again.
"Say something!" she ordered him.
Gaara sneered and took a hold of Sakura's arm.
"Let go of me!" he cried, trying to push her arm aside.
Despite her strength, she let go of the boy as soon as she noticed he was desperately trying to back away from her. When his angry eyes returned on her, he grounded his teeth before screaming at her.
"Why?!" he cried with shaking fists. "Why him, and not me?!"
Sakura blinked, baffled by Gaara's words. So, she remained quiet, even if the boy was waiting on her answer. With the idea that this whole situation was a misunderstanding, Sakura's heated anger began to cool, and as Gaara saw her angry eyes dissipate, so, too, did his narrow gaze begin to widen. Yet, as the silence lingered, and as Gaara drew up his own conclusions in his mind for Sakura's muteness, he let tears begin to trickle down his face despite himself telling his mind not to show Sakura his tears.
"Why..." Gaara whined, trying to wipe his tears away. "Why can it never be me? I just want it to be me...just this once!"
Sakura slowly dropped to her knees before reaching for the boy. Her heart ached to his tears, and she was quick trying to pull him into an embrace, but the boy quickly stepped away from her approach.
"Is it because I'm still the bad guy?"
Sakura raised her eyebrows then, and shook her head to his question.
"You're not a bad guy, Gaara. I would never call you my friend if I thought you were a bad guy."
Still, despite her reassuring words, his answer seemed to invoke only more tears as he stared at Sakura in confusion. This time, as Sakura placed her hand on top of his head, he did not pull away. Again, the pair stared at one another.
"Then why?" Gaara begged. "When will it by my turn?"
Sakura sighed to this, and shook her head when she realized bouncing around his questions was not giving her her ultimate answer. She still was clueless as to what Gaara was saying.
"What are asking me, Gaara?" Sakura said with a soft smile, ruffling the boy's hair some. "I don't even know what you're talking about."
The boy grounded his teeth some then, his angry eyes staring once more into her to her nonchalant mood. His tears seemed to explode with his next words, and his sand did the same around their feet.
"Why don't you love me?!"
Sakura was aghast to his question, and her hand had stilled within his red locks. His tears flowed silently as Gaara tried to hold back his hiccups while keeping his eyes steady on Sakura's own round ones. For her, she was quiet, trying to fall back at what moment, when it was, she had told the boy she loved him. Surely, through all this time, she had said it at least once to him.
She couldn't recall that moment.
She opened her mouth, to remind the boy that all of her actions should have clearly spoken to him about the care she had for him. Yet, her mouth shut when she realized that, for Gaara, who had a confusing sense of healthy relationships and overall no idea what love truly looked like, there was no way he could decipher that in his young mind.
In a sense, he could at least comprehend her friendship and care gave them a bond, but unless she taught him what it meant, or put a label on their connection, the boy was left on his own trying to put a word on how Sakura felt for him. He didn't want assume, but from his angry tears now, it had probably been eating him up inside trying to figure out how Sakura felt for him, and how confusing he must have felt seeing her declare love to another so easily.
In its own way, as Sakura continued to stare into the boy's wet eyes, she realized then that it was also love he felt for her. Yet, her mind still tried to contradict that, emphasizing how he was still years away from healing and coming to terms that he could love another like he had with his uncle. However, his tears, even his actions against Sasuke now, told her otherwise, and the thought warmed her heart while also reminding her how easy it was even for her to think Gaara did not love her. If she fell to that line of thought so quickly, it was no wonder the boy did the same.
She had no knowledge of it, but the boy wanted so so much from the woman who cared unconditionally for him. He wanted the most he could get from Sakura, since she already offered up so much happiness and peace within his soul.
Her mind, then, fell to the little boy in front of her. It fell to everything she had learned through him, it fell to his many smiles and laughs. It fell to his hugs, his questions, and the way he chased after her hand now. It fell to the way he called her name, and it fell to the idea of how happy she was now knowing the little boy had reconciled with a few people already, and of how he had learned of his mother's own love. It fell to how much pride she now felt while looking into Gaara's teal gaze.
Gaara's eyes did not fall from her as her hand slid from his hair to his cheek, and he studied her touch through the side of his eyes before Sakura's voice brought his gaze back to her.
"Don't move," she suddenly told him.
Gaara said nothing, but did as he was told. Sakura, meanwhile, brought her face closer to his while holding his face in her hand still. Gently, she pressed her lips against the skin of Gaara's forehead and let it linger there for a few seconds. Instantly, she felt him tense to the action and he held his breath. From her kiss, she brought her lips back down close to his ear to whisper,
"I love you, Gaara."
His eyes had gone round, tears no longer fell. He looked past her, still frozen in his spot, but shook once Sakura rested her forehead against his.
"I love you so so much, Gaara," Sakura spoke, brushing her fingers to wipe his tears.
Gaara's eyes met hers then, his breathing now heavy as he still shook.
"I'm sorry. I do love you, yet I couldn't see how much you actually wanted to hear it."
Sakura brought her head back a little when she felt his small hands rest against her cheeks like she did his. As she looked at him, Sakura could see him shaking still, with grounded teeth, as small tears broke through his eyes.
"This isn't a lie?" he whispered, his voice unable to be loud through his tears. "You're not just saying this because it's what I want to hear, right?
Sakura let out a small laugh before shaking her head.
"Nn," she murmured. "This is how I really feel."
He sniffled a little, trying to read the sincerity in her eyes.
"This is how I'll always feel," she told him then. "I know I've told you countless times how proud, and how happy I am for you. I tell you how I'll always care about you, and that I'll always feel those things for you."
She was able to get Gaara to smile for the moment before he nodded his head, acknowledging to her that he knew what she was talking about.
"When it comes to love, it won't be any different," she grinned. "I'll love you forever, Gaara."
As she spoke, Gaara's lips curled back, and he kept on nodding his head in understanding with his eyes below him. He fought to swallow his tears.
Sakura smiled seeing this, and she grinned at him while lifting his chin slowly up so that he could look at her.
"I know it's a lot to ask of you," Sakura said, her eyes even drifting away from his gaze. "But I hope, one day, you'll be able to say the same thing to me."
He surprised her by leaping to wrap his arms around her neck, and Gaara buried his face into her shoulder.
"I...I..." he cried out, but stopped once his trembling returned.
Sakura returned the hug, smiling brightly when he spoke words she never expected to hear when first arriving here.
"I love you too, Sakura!" Gaara spoke, and he was even able to laugh some through his tears, happy of this outcome. "So much!"
Sakura grinned, patting Gaara's back now. She never would have expected herself to love, and be loved, by a child until she had her own. However, time had shown her otherwise, and she couldn't stop herself from smiling as her whole body warmed to Gaara's declaration.
"I'll always love you too!" he repeated her words. "No matter what."
"You have to remember," Sakura began, "there are others out there who will love you one day. I won't be the only one. Your siblings, Tsutomu, Matsuri, Baki, and Chiyo-baasama, they are close to you already, I'm sure if you keep showing them kindness they can return this same love. You have so much support now."
Gaara nodded against her shoulder, his arms still tight around her.
"Just as long as you're here, with me, I'll be fine if it's just you forever," Gaara whispered.
And as warming as this situation was, as huge of an impact she knew their declaration to each other to always be, Sakura's heart broke then to Gaara's words. Forever would be impossible, and her time here grew shorter with each passing day. His words sparked inside her mind the reason she was really here in Konoha. There was a scroll she had to retrieve tonight before they left the next day. There was still a talk Sakura had to prepare for, but only if the scroll was a way back home. Looking out the window, she realized how late into the night it already was, and how she needed to act quickly now.
"Hey," she murmured, unwrapping Gaara's arms and pushing the boy lightly to take a step back.
She picked up his face with her hands, and smiled when her emerald met his teal gaze.
"When we go home, back to Suna, let's have a party," Sakura proposed.
Gaara's eyes lit up curiously.
"Yeah!" Sakura grinned. "I know it's late, but we could celebrate your birthday."
Gaara smiled then, grinning and showing off his missing tooth.
"Kankuro and Temari will definitely be there. We'll invite Matsuri, and we'll ask Tsutomu to come. I'll also ask Baki and Chiyo-baasama to come."
It was a rushed thought on the spot, but an idea Sakura believed would help Gaara realize, and come to terms, that he already had so many people in his life. Even if it always hurt to lose one, she wanted the young boy to see he had others to lean to without her there, and also help him understand his sense of direction that, yes, he could makes friends and have loved ones in life even without her.
He had done so anyway without her in her own world.
"I've never had a party before..." Gaara commented. "You really think they would all come?"
Sakura nodded her head quickly.
"Of course they will, Gaara" she told him. "They all care about you."
She smiled and watched as Gaara brushed his hands against her arm in thought. The idea was alluring to him, and it didn't take him long before nodding back at Sakura.
"Yea," he finally agreed. "That sounds fun. You'll be there too?"
Sakura pulled Gaara in for a quick embrace, and surprised the boy by planting a kiss against his cheek.
"Isn't that obvious?" she said with a small laugh. "I'm not going to miss a chance to eat cake."
Sakura stood then, leaving the boy to watch her dress in her ninja attire as he smiled at all she promised now. He rubbed his cheek lightly where Sakura had pressed her lips.
"There will be cake?" he asked excitedly.
"Cake, presents, music, everything you can think of for a party!"
Gaara grinned then, looking up at Sakura as she knelt down to ruffle his hair.
"Remember that important thing I need to do tonight?" Sakura asked.
Gaara nodded, and even smiled. This time not deterred that she would be leaving him on his own. He would sit and play with his own thoughts of the party that would be.
"Un," he nodded. "I'll stay in the room. I won't go out. I'll be good."
Sakura brushed his hair then and grinned.
"You're a good boy, Gaara," she told him before standing and making her way out.
Yet, the boy reached for her.
"Wait!" Gaara called for her.
Sakura turned then, and tilted her head as he reached for her. Her heart melted instantly as he embraced her leg for a hug.
"I love you, Sakura," he whispered, testing the waters still with this phrase.
Sakura lowered and returned his hug. She held him tight then knowing, in the back of her mind, she would one day have to let him go.
"I love you too."
Gaara let her leave after that, watching her jump away from roof to roof into the night. Though curious of her actions, his mind preoccupied with so many other happy thoughts that he did not question her. Sakura had promised him they could do whatever he had wanted just as long as he gave her this night to go out and do what she needed to be done. He didn't dwell on the meaning, or contemplate whether she would return or not. In his heart, now, he knew Sakura would always return to him.
Meanwhile, Sakura had cleared her mind of the boy behind her, instead she focused on the Hokage's building some distance away. She was grateful for the wind and snowfall now that helped to cover her. This would be easy for her, she knew, and she stopped momentarily just as she landed on top of the roof.
"Sorry," she whispered to the village then. "There's something I need to take."
She sneaked her way into the room, eyes roaming in the general direction she remembered Kakashi had been before he handed her the scroll. When seconds became minutes, Sakura began to wonder if the small box that held the scroll had yet to be placed in the room yet; worst, maybe the scroll hadn't found its way into this world yet.
However, it was like a calling to her once she caught glimpse of that familiar red and gold box. Under her mask, she grinned at the sight.
'Found you,' she triumphantly thought.
"Did you enjoy your stay? It's a lot different here than Suna, isn't it?"
Sakura looked down towards Gaara next to her, waiting to see if he would shy away from the gatekeeper like he had when they first arrived. The Konoha man asked these questions to the small child as another ninja went through their bags.
To his questions, Gaara looked up at Sakura, and the young woman raised an eyebrow towards Gaara.
"What? You don't have to look at me every time someone asks you something. You can answer them if you want," Sakura spoke.
Gaara blinked, staring at Sakura for some time before his eyes returned to the smiling gatekeeper.
"Aa," Gaara murmured to the man. "It is."
The man grinned, happy to see Gaara open up to him just a little more.
"What was your favorite thing here?"
Gaara blinked again, eyes drawing downwards in thought.
"The cherry blossom tree," he answered with eyes returning to the man.
The guard leaned back in his seat then, a little baffled by Gaara's answer.
"Cherry blossoms?" he questioned before turning the woman next to him. "Ain't no cherry blossoms this time of year, right?"
The woman continued searching through their bags as she answered,
"None that I can think of except that big tree in..."
The woman blinked in thought, never finishing her sentence, and she narrowed her gaze then towards Sakura.
Sakura meanwhile waved her hands, and laughed nervously before clasping her hands onto Gaara's mouth.
"He just has a wild imagination," was Sakura's excuse lest they be questioned.
The gatekeepers stole a quick glance to one another before sighing. Instead of prodding, they accepted Sakura's answer before handing off the bags back to her and Gaara, as well as the rations Sakura was originally sent to retrieve.
"Safe travels," the guards told the pair before waving Gaara goodbye.
He returned the gesture.
"We'll come back soon," Gaara told them before following Sakura. "After my party!"
Their pace was the same as when they first arrived, making camp around the general same areas. Sakura had even ushered Gaara, on their first night, to play with the snow and examine the plants and trees as much as he could before the terrain changed around them.
"Did you have fun?" Sakura asked him time to time.
Gaara nodded his head, smiling big. Like before they came, he made a proposal.
"We should live there one day, together."
Sakura just laughed to that statement, thinking in her mind how important Suna would actually be to him given his future role.
"Something tells me you'll change your mind about that when you're older," she joked to him.
She asked him what was the first thing he wanted to do once they returned home.
"Kakigori!" he exclaimed. "Then I have to give the gifts."
Sakura smiled to that, and teased him some more.
"I guess you're not as big of brat as I thought," she playfully joked.
And of course, Gaara constantly questioned Sakura about his party.
"When will we have it?"
"We'll figure it out once we get home, alright?" Sakura smiled to the boy.
It would be on their final day's travel, once they were back in Wind Country and snow had become sand once more, did Sakura stop their running once she caught sight of a small oasis.
'Perfect!' she thought while running her fingers through her black hair.
Through the sand, she led Gaara towards the small pool of water. As Sakura knelt down on the edge of the water, Gaara meanwhile sought refuge at the lone palm tree, and he swung himself around it over and over before staring at Sakura as she began vigorously washing her hair.
"What are you doing?" Gaara asked, his fingers still playing with the bark of the tree.
Sakura dipped her head into the water, rinsing out what chemicals and soaps she had just lathered into her hair. She sighed once she saw some pink breakthrough the black.
"Washing off the dye," she told Gaara.
The boy hummed for a moment.
"Good," he finally told her. "You'll look like a cherry blossom tree again."
Sakura chuckled lightly, lathering her hair once more and scrubbing a little more harder.
"I am Sakura, after all," she murmured.
The boy was quiet, but his thoughts ventured to their first meeting, and he recalled the story Sakura had told him of her name and how everyone found the tree beautiful. Now, he admitted to himself, he understood the tale, and he smiled while staring at Sakura's back. He even sat and watched her for a time once he heard her humming his mother's song.
As minutes became an hour, Gaara decided to venture deeper into the desert as Sakura continued to work hard on her hair. She could leave no evidence of black, lest Rasa question. Eventually, she stared hard at her reflection in the pool of water, using it as a mirror and making sure all the black dye was gone.
"I think I got it all," she whispered, rinsing her hands in the water.
As she leaned back, she paused for a moment as she saw a shadowy reflection through the ripples next to her own mirrored self. Her eyes even widened for a moment as she heard a man whisper her name. The ripples settled, and who she saw in the pool was Gaara, and he smiled behind her.
"Sakura!" he called.
Sakura blinked, turning her head to the call of her name. Yet, as she turned, she was met face first with the eyes of a snake. The viper had two horns, and it even bared its long fangs in Sakura's direction. Holding the snake up by the neck was none other than the little boy she had come to care for.
"Look what I found, Sakura!" he beamed brightly. "Can I keep it? I promise I'll take good care of it."
To the close range, Sakura screamed before knocking the snake out of Gaara's hand with a slap.
"Ah!" the boy cried, watching the snake soar through the air.
A distance away, the viper plopped back down onto the sand before it quickly buried itself and slithered away in a hasty escape. Gaara quickly gave chase.
"Kamitsuku, come back!" Gaara called, racing after the scurrying viper.
Sakura watched as Gaara disappeared into the distance, past a dune, and he quickly vanished from her line of sight.
"Gaara!" Sakura cried. "Get back here!"
When she got no reply, Sakura groaned in irritation before picking herself up. She stepped foot in his direction, but stopped when she heard her name called again. It wasn't the child's voice that beckoned, but instead an older man's. She glanced behind her, and spotted no one. As distant as the call had sounded, Sakura was sure someone had uttered for her.
"Hello?" Sakura called back, glancing all around her once again.
Silence followed her call, and the rosette shrugged it off as the wind before taking another step.
Sakura quickly spun on her heels, looking once again for that familiar voice that kept calling to her. She narrowed her eyes when she, again, found no one.
'Someone is out there...' she thought, sure of what she had heard.
She turned her head, about to call Gaara once more to return, but gasped when she caught sight of the looming shadow within the pool of water. Slowly, she drew closer to edge of the oasis, examining the shadow. Her eyes widened as even the black of the shadow hid her own reflection, and she studied the silhouette before coming to the conclusion that the shadow was shaped like a human. Though not her own, there was something familiar about the shadow's shape. It was still, but Sakura nonetheless began to back away.
'A jutsu,' she quickly thought, and reached for a kunai from her pocket.
Her mind fell to the possibilities of robbers, that maybe they had been stalked in their travels despite her not sensing anyone. However, before her voice uttered a name, that man's voice rang again.
"Sakura. This way."
There was no mistaking it now; the voice was as soft as the wind, but Sakura was sure it came from the shadow in the pool. Sure enough, as her eyes looked back down into the water, the shadow had now moved its arm. Its hand was gestured towards her in invitation, and its words beckoned her even more.
To the call of her own name, the familiarity of that deep whispering voice, Sakura knelt back down towards the edge of the pool, studying the shadow some more.
"What is this?" she asked herself.
She got no answer, and minutes passed in silence once more before a breeze spoke to her again.
"Sakura. This way."
Sakura swallowed hard, and trembling fingers finally reached for shadow's hand. She knew her mistake the moment her fingers brushed the water, and everything happened so suddenly. She felt a hand grip her wrist hard, and her vision was a splash of water before a bright, white light blinded her. Despite the danger she was now sure she was in, her struggle was set solely on the thought of the little boy, and how she had to break free so as to make sure he was alright. Yet, all she could feel was her body sink lower and lower as a weight pulled her more downward into the bright light. In the back of her mind, she knew this scene had happened once before.
She cried Gaara's name, which only came out as bubbles as the weight on her wrist dragged her down.
Above her, on the sandy surface, the child she screamed for had reappeared, and he laughed while watching the viper struggle against his grip. He smiled and stood himself tall on the small, sand hill that overlooked the oasis.
"Sakura!" he called for her. "Look, I got Kamitsuku back! I-!"
His eyes widened briefly at the small oasis below him. His eyes traveled from the still water of the pool, to the lone tree that their bags still rested against. He looked to the sides of him, he looked behind him, he looked as far as his eyes could travel for that familiar pink hair he had grown to love.
With time, Gaara had forgotten about the snake in his hands, and eventually the viper was able to break free from his loosening grip. As the creature fell back down it gave a small strike at Gaara's feet, slithering away after the boy's sand shield protected him from the viper's venomous bite. Yet, the child paid the snake, and its actions, no mind. Instead, Gaara just stood there, his eyes confused as he stared out towards the large, empty world of sand around him. The gusts began to pick up then, grains brushed his feet in the breeze, and his voice was lost to the loud howl of the growing wind.