Hello, salut, goddag, bonjour, hallo, and konnichiwa! :)

For the record, this is a collaboration fic written by IridescentInTheDark and FallenCrimsonStar. We've been planning for a good while but it's not 100% complete yet – more like 75%. I (as in IridescentInTheDark) was not happy about posting this while it's still incomplete, but 2015 was the year we were planning to be post, so as a compromise, it's getting started now.

This "I" and "we" is weird.

BUT DON'T FRET! This WILL be completed. We've just got to dot a few "I's" and cross a few "T's" and it's basically all but done.

Anyway. This is set in a regency kind of era, just with heavy Naruto influences – its drama and romance, with a little angst and humour thrown in. PLEASE, no complaining about the pace of this storyline. It is still just a fun side story to our respective, future plans. Translation: NOT GOING TO BE A SLOW-BURN. And if that bothers you then *waves* "buh-bye". To everyone else, welcome, and enjoy! :)

Disclaimer: No copyright laws were harmed in the creation of this fanfiction. Not making any promises about the characters, though.

Chapter 1

Sakura Haruno looked up, shielding her eyes from the glare of the setting sun as her carriage door opened. She hadn't realized how late it was getting and the ride hadn't even taken very long. She supposed it made sense however – darkness just seemed to saturate this entire region. It was everywhere, from the filth of the alleyways and street rats that inhabited them, to the expansive roads paved with asphalt (instead of the old worn out roads), that were closed to all but those who could afford the newer, larger carriages. It was a staggering discrepancy in this country's distinction between classes. Now even the sun was in a hurry to get away from it.

She sighed at her own melodrama as the coachman held his arm out to her, waiting patiently on her. She was never going to get used to the etiquette of this all. It wasn't her world. But she humoured him anyway, laying her hand on his arm and letting him take the bulk of her weight as she stepped out, and surveyed the decrepit building in front of her. Wind billowed her dress and she held tightly to it; she was almost positive there was a cliff nearby, making this place colder than it should be. This out-of-the-way, condemned structure was on the outskirts of the Land of Wind (her new country and enemy), and the perfect place for people not wishing to be seen by the 'higher ups'. Nobody came here unless they were prisoners or guards – not even the families of the aforementioned individuals.

"My Lady," the coachman said. "Do you really intend to set foot in this god forsaken place?"

She was surprised by the genuine concern for her safety in his voice; he mustn't have heard the latest rumours about her, she supposed. He was only a little more than ten years older than her, so surely he knew what his younger peers were saying? She'd recently turned eighteen and was marriage material now, but everyone knew to avoid the daughter of the pauper who wouldn't even take her new family's name. She was Sakura Haruno thank-you very much, not Sakura what-ever-his-name-was.

Nouveau riche. The words followed her as she went about her day, ignoring the snobby, wealthy socialites that called her this behind her back (but in harsh whispers that she knew they knew she could hear). She wasn't one of them because she used a single fork for her meals, didn't drop into a perfect curtsey on demand or spend her days picking flowers and envisioning what her life would be like once she finally settled down, and started popping out babies. She was newly rich, weird, and had a temper.

They whispered about her father, made assumptions about his death, and even went as far as speculating that he wasn't her real father; apparently, Sakura was actually conceived on a donkey while a crowd of fellow hippies watched on.

Sakura nodded to her coachman. "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. The warden is expecting me, and I will be fine in his care."

The man still looked hesitant to let her go. The warden was an imposing man, but the coachman wasn't fazed by his appearance. "You are sure?"

"I'll be back," she promised and he reluctantly released her.

"She'll come to no harm," the warden assured him, approaching them slowly.

If she remembered correctly, he preferred to go by the name Baki. He extended his arm out, indicating for her to follow him. Sakura took one last look at her forlorn looking coachman, and obediently hastened to catch up to Baki.

"I must admit," he said, not bothering with the pretence of 'my lady'; she liked him already. "I found your request to visit the inmates of my humble oubliette peculiar. I refer of course, to your inquiry about the condemned ones."

"Yes," she said.

She was looking for a particular kind. Sakura had contacted several prisons along the Wind and Fire borders, hoping to find the right one. Because of her social betters, her mother's insistence, and her stepfather's recent illness, she had two options before her: marry, or return to peasant life. She would be fine with the latter, given that she was used to it and the life of high society had proven more difficult for her, but she'd recently embarked on what one might call a 'higher calling' (a charity, if you will), and without the income provided by her new family, it would flicker and die. She just needed a few hundred thousand more Ryō (the official currency of Wind – in Fire, it was the modern Yen), and then her mother's in-laws could rot for all she cared. She'd go back to milking her elderly neighbour's cow for them, and cleaning out the stalls.

She just needed a little more time.

The only problem was that any intended she decided on would be entitled to half of the money her proprietary driven stepfather was offering up in return for her loss of freedom. She couldn't lose that much, it would hinder her efforts. So she came up with an alternative. It wasn't pleasant, but it was just a piece of paper anyway.

They ascended the cobble steps of the complex, Baki leading the way. She mentally noted the absence of the other guards as he'd promised in his most recent communique: no-one else was to know she was here. Sakura wondered what her father would think of this, were he alive. Her father, Kizashi Haruno, had been born poor and died poorer; using the excuse that society dictated that a woman was unable to look after herself without a man by her side, Mebuki took it upon herself to find a man to replace her late husband. And find one she had – a wretch of a man.

But she too, was not immune to gossip. However, the same people who gossiped and judged Mebuki for not coming from money were the same women Ino Yamanaka (Sakura's only upper-class friend) told her were sneaking around behind their own husbands backs because they weren't in love with them, or they were horny (or whatever). Sakura had no doubt in her mind also, that the men were sleeping around too.

It was a nice arrangement for them, she supposed. They got the money and position they wanted, but also that little nooky on the side their respective partners weren't supplying for them. But it just grossed her out. She didn't want anything to do with the so-called sanctity of marriage, but sleeping around like that was even worse than declaring to honour one person for the rest of her life. At least, she thought so.

"In here," Baki said, interrupting her thoughts.

His office was small but she didn't mind. She felt safe with him anyway, oddly enough. He sat down and she took the chair opposite him.

"Now that you are here, please tell me what this is about."

Sakura took a deep breath and let it out. She had already offered him a large sum in return for his help (nowhere near as large as the sum that was coming to her if she pulled this off, but large enough for him), so she told him everything, making sure to emphasize that this didn't leave the room. When she was finished, he eyed her curiously, thinking hard. She was a pretty little thing, and despite her lower-class upbringing, was still well-mannered enough. He had already guessed what she wanted, given that he had friends in the noble court and they were very vocal about her 'type'. He didn't agree with it, but he understood how it could happen.

And now she wanted a husband – more than that, a man who was on death row and therefore unable to claim any of the money she was soon to inherit. He stroked his chin. "I believe I have what you're looking for."

"Really?"

"Well, I can't speak for him," he backpedalled. "But…wait, I'll be back."

He stood quickly, excused himself and closed the door, leaving her alone in the room.

Sakura let out a deep breath of nervousness. What was he doing now? Now that she'd told him everything all her previous nerves – the ones she thought she'd gotten rid of on the journey here – came flooding back. She didn't want to marry some prison inmate, on death row or not. But what the hell else was she supposed to do? She'd been sending messages to penitentiaries for the last few months and this was the first promising gaoler so far. Granted, none of the others had had even an inkling as to who she was or what she wanted, but just the fact that she'd wanted to see the warden and not a specific prisoner was apparently enough to dismiss her altogether.

Sakura stood and walked over to the small window. She was right, there was a cliff nearby. It made her think of the coldness of the society she'd been thrusted into. She may have made a friend in Ino, but even that adorably quirky girl wasn't enough to make Sakura want to remain among them. Already girls her age were parting their legs and lifting their petticoats at the drop of a hat, and then the hypocrites turned around and treated her like the scarlet woman.

A few more minutes passed before Baki ducked his head back in the room. "If you are agreeable, I believe we have a winner."

Sakura smiled at him, nodded and followed him out into the corridor.

"He was in solitary confinement for kicking a guard," Baki explained, leading her down the hallway. "Don't worry," he added, when she looked stricken. "It was self-defence. Some of these newbies need to learn to take their aggression out a little more constructively. Anyway, I had him sent back to his cell; it's a little distance from the others because of his condemned status, but we have to take the direct route there, so stick close to me and away from the cells. Don't worry; none of the inmates in here ever get letters from home."

He continued on about prison etiquette and maybe having some kind of melee competition for the guards, to get them working on their stress; apparently, a lot of them had been pressure by family to work here and were 'acting out'. Sakura held a handkerchief to her mouth as they moved deeper into the complex. There was a peculiar smell burning at the back of her throat, but she was too wary to ask Baki what it was.

Baki clanged his truncheon against the bars as they passed; the prisoners jumped and scurried backwards, out of the way. Sakura gripped the front of her dress as though trying to cover herself – not that she needed to.

She thought about the man they were going to see. "What's he in for?"

Baki just shrugged. "Was caught stealing a horse."

He left out the part where the boy's father had tried to kill him, and the boy was already a fugitive when that horse wrangler had wrangled him. He also decided to leave this meeting out of the weekly reports to his superiors. This foreigner was making a sizable donation to his own personal trust fund, so he knew how to keep his mouth shut. He doubted she would know anything about the boy either, even if he told her his name. It was a strange world they lived in, where one could be the subject of much gossip but also know so little of others.

Sakura looked at him incredulously. "And for that he's due for the hangman's noose?"

"That's the law, ma'am," he said defensively. "But you said this issue was time sensitive?" She nodded. "And you're sure you want someone who's on death row?" Again, she nodded. "Then this is the prisoner for you."

"The only one?" Why was she arguing now? This one wasn't a murderer or rapist, from the sounds of things. She didn't want her name attached to someone like that. Sakura sighed deeply.

"There's also an elderly chap who's scheduled for hanging next Thursday at noon for screwing his neighbour's goats, a drunk paedophile at the end of the following week, and two barbarians from the south a week after that for, well, all kinds of barbaric things."

Sakura shivered. "I get the point."

"Here we are."

Sakura peered through the bars as Baki banged his keys against the door dramatically; the cell was dark mostly, except for the moonlight that conveniently silhouetted a motionless figure in the corner.

"Visitor for you, little sandy boy," the warden said. "Be a good boy and say hello."

She bit her lip nervously as the silhouette moved.

"What?" His voice came out hoarse, sending a shiver down her spine.

"I said, say hello," Baki repeated. "A pretty young lady has come to see you, so sit up and for god sake, fix up your pants."

Sakura looked away, blushing as she realized what he'd said. She hadn't seen anything though, luckily.

The prisoner grunted in acknowledgement and pulled himself up to his knees.

"Say hello," Baki repeated, sounding impatient.

"H-hello."

It was almost comical, in a way. But this wasn't getting her anywhere. The prisoner shuffled toward the door, stopping quickly when he noticed she was watching him closely. Sakura turned to the warden.

"Can we have some privacy?" She asked. Baki frowned at her. "Please?"

"Right, right; I'll just be down the hallway. Holler if he does something naughty. And you," he added, clanging his keys against the door again. "Answer the lady's questions and behave yourself. No monkey business."

The boy in front of her continued to stare at her as she watched the warden walk away. Sakura cleared her throat and took in his appearance. He wasn't too bad looking, she supposed, remembering he'd just been in solitary confinement. They weren't given gourmet meals here, but they hardly starved either. Her eyes trailed passed his legs and torso, onto his face; he had soft jade eyes, rusty coloured hair and a peculiar symbol on his forehead. It was a character from a language she didn't recognize; she's wasn't cultured enough to know the tongue of countries outside the lands of Wind and Fire.

"How old are you?" She asked.

"Almost nineteen."

Good. "I don't suppose the warden told you what this is about?"

He didn't answer.

Sakura sighed. "I need something, and I'm willing to pay you for it–"

"With what, prison food coupons?"

"With…" What did she have to offer him? Sakura hadn't thought that part through.

"You don't know who I am, do you?"

She frowned at him. "Who are you?"

"Gaara."

"Okay, Gaara, I'm Sakura."

No response; just that steely stare of his. It should unnerve her but she found herself moving closer to the bars, wanting to reach out and–

"I wouldn't do that. I'm dangerous," he added sarcastically.

"All you did was steal a horse."

He scoffed. "Mangy farmer."

The penalty for stealing horses in her homeland was different to what was waiting for him; she wasn't sure which was worse, though. Sakura leant forward, gripping the bars of his cell. "Do you know what they do to horse thieves where I come from?"

The redhead grunted. She wasn't sure if that meant he thought she was stupid or being sarcastic.

"The thief is lassoed," she went on. She had no idea why she was telling him this. "And dragged along the ground by the horse he tried to steal; the length is determined by the owner of the horse."

He frowned at her. "Where are you from?"

"Fire," she said.

"Hm. You should go back there, love. This country will only break such a delicate flower."

She glared at him. "You don't know me."

"And you don't know what you're talking about. Go home."

"I can't do that."

"Why?" He stood shakily, resting heavily on the bars; the light of the wall torch could now reach his face and as it lit up his features, she gasped slightly. In this light, his rusty hair looked redder and his eyes were dimmer but intelligent. And he was gorgeous. She'd noticed it before, but this close, and this clear…she understood suddenly, what those girls in her village growing up were talking about – the lure of the bad boy. He didn't have to be a killer, he was clearly trouble; she wanted to drag him into her family stables and have her wicked way with him.

Sakura took a deep breath to compose herself, ignoring the smirk working its way across his lips. "I need your help."

"Go on."

"I'm coming into a lot of money," she explained. "But first I need to marry."

Gaara reached out to touch the bars of his cage gently; the move was calculated, and so delicate. He kept his eyes trained on hers and he could tell she was entranced. He had that effect on most women, even after being in this place for a few days. He wouldn't let her get too close though, he may look pleasing enough, but the smell was another thing all together. She jumped slightly when his fingers found her bare skin; just a touch along her arm. He ran his hand along the delicate skin gently, his smirk becoming more pronounced. He felt it too, that jolt upon contact. It made him wonder how much more he could do to her.

"Uh-huh?"

"I…I have a need to keep the money for myself," she said.

"Meaning you don't want to share it with your intended."

She nodded.

"So," he prodded.

"So…" She couldn't believe she was going to put it like this but, "will you marry me?"

Gaara laughed. His deep voice echoed a little but mostly rattled the strange butterflies in her stomach. His hand left her skin and she trembled, already missing the warmth from that jolt. It was…pleasant.

"My fee still needs accommodating," he reminded her, thinking of his prison coupon joke.

"What do you want in return for helping me?"

Gaara refrained from touching her again, to rile her up; she was so easy to read. "If I sign a marriage document, I'll be wanting my wedding night."

"Huh?" She wasn't confused, but he was clearly out of his mind.

"I mean," he said; his eyes trailed over her body as he spoke. "I want to seat myself deep inside my beautiful new bride, and make love to her properly."

'No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!'

She wasn't some easy harlot trading sex for a favour – no matter how attractive she found this man. She blushed just thinking about it; how was she supposed to even agree to it? Her entire body trembled with an anticipation she couldn't describe, but she wouldn't let it control her. She wasn't going to lose her virginity like this. No way.

Gaara watched her carefully, gauging her reaction. "Call it the last request of a condemned man, if you will," he said.

He damn well needed a good fuck. He hadn't been with a girl for so long he couldn't remember the face of that putain. He had no intention of languishing in this stupid prison and wasting time getting angry over his lack of a sex life; up until now he'd just been dealing with his hardening problem himself. So why should he pass up this opportunity? Gaara gave her a once over again, mentally noting the shape of her clothes, how they clung to her body, and the curves on her otherwise petite form. Her cleavage was barely visible, and the fabric of her dress hid her well, but it still hugged her body in all the right places. There was something to be said for a woman who could still appeal to him while acting so modest. But he had every intention of wiping that naïve expression from her face; he could squeeze a scream or two out of her, that's for sure.

Sakura shook her head. He really was insane after all.

"I…can't." It wasn't worth it…right? This should disgust her– the part of her that actually agreed with proper society knew this was supposed to sicken her. But it didn't, and that scared her more than the idea that sealing this deal could leave her in worse condition than before – like being pregnant and single in a world where people already thought she was no good. No, his demands were out of the question.

He smirked at her and she turned away from him to leave. Her hand drifted to the wall for support when he spoke again and Sakura trembled, trying to fight the desire his voice evoked in her. He was dirty, beneath contempt. He didn't know her. He was just being a cocky bastard. Nonetheless, his parting words struck a chord in her. He sounded so confident…

"See you soon, mon amour."

...

So you see…not the light-hearted, fluffy smut fic we were going for – but it has room for a bit of angst and smut, nonetheless. It's not an original trope, but we love it. Sorry for the oocness. This is an AU world, after all. Tell us what you think! XD