Desert Flower

This one's been a long wait, so forgive me for the delay. And since the wait has been this long, let's just get on with the chapter. Hope y'all like it!~

A soft tune broke into the light lilting air as Temari stretched her body upwards and extended an arm to grab a pack of tea from the top shelf. The mellow beams of sunlight accentuated the glow on her cheeks as the balls of her feet danced over the wooden floor with customary elegance and felicity; the tip-taps of her toes in sync with the tune she was crooning.

The scent of tea leaves brew wafted through the air as she went towards some sugar, when, suddenly, a pair of arms grabbed hold of her and stopped her from dancing. Naruto pressed his lips to Temari's ear and kissed it tenderly, enveloping Temari in that tender hug of his from behind that always made her feel mushy, "Someone's in a good mood today." he whispered.

Temari smiled as she laid her cheek against his shoulder and started swaying in his arms, "Mm-hmm." she hummed. Both savored in the serenity of the moment when Naruto started matching her movements and swayed left and right to her hums.

"What's got you in such a good mood, hime?" Naruto asked after a few minutes of dancing.

Temari didn't answer him. Too engrossed was she in her own little world. The sunlight struck the pendant on Temari's chest and bounced off the gem in the middle. Its gleam caught Naruto's eye. He slid his finger along the black thread tied around her neck and traced its length lightly, his smile widening when Temari's breath hitched as little as he went lower and lower, until his finger reached the ruby pendant. Carved into a familiar little spiral it was. As it rested in his palm, Naruto took his time to appreciate the craftsmanship, "That's one exquisite necklace … " he murmured thoughtfully, smiling. He let go off the pendant and squeezed her waist tenderly. "… you've been busy spending my hard earned money, I see." he said, chuckling a little towards the end.

Temari said nothing, instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck and turned around in his arms. "You like it?" she asked.

"Yes, it's beautiful," Naruto whispered.

Temari opened her eyes a little to see him staring not at the necklace, but at her. She squeezed her eyes shut in embarrassment, and the tips of her ears turned hot. Naruto chuckled when she nuzzled her nose in his neck to hide her face. "Idiot," she muttered, smacking his chest lightly. "Are you free tonight?"

Her question caught Naruto by surprise. He thought about it for a second. "Hm, I suppose," he replied, rubbing her arm gently. "Did you have something in mind for tonight?" he asked.

"I do." Temari nodded.

"What is it?"

"It's a surprise that will blow your socks off, mister," Temari said, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

He playfully pinched her nose. "Keeping surprises from me, are you?" Naruto asked.

Temari drew circles on his chest with her finger and chewed on her lip, "It's important," she whispered.

Naruto raised her chin up with his thumb, with worry in his eyes, "Hey," he said in a cooing voice, "what's got you looking so worried? Tell me."

Temari shook her head. "Not now-tonight," she said resolutely.

Naruto turned off the stove and pulled her head back against his shoulder. "All right then," he said.

"Promise me that you'll be home tonight," Temari whispered.

"Won't miss it for the world," he promised.

There was a knock to the door that drew the couple's attention. "I'll go get it," Naruto said, not bothering to hide the subtle annoyance lacing his words. Opening the door, Naruto was greeted with the familiar, sparsely-painted face of his brother-in-law. "Kankuro?"

"Morning," Kankuro said. Naruto nodded and motioned for him to come inside, but Kankuro shook his head. "I'm here on official business. Can you get Temari for me?"

"What official business is that?" - 'one that I haven't sanctioned'.

Kankuro sighed. "Your protectiveness of my sister is endearing and all … … but I really need Temari's help on this one." Naruto had the decency to rub his neck in embarrassment on hearing that.

"Help?" Temari walked out the door and stood beside Naruto. "With what?" she asked.

"There's this kunoichi who's been apprehended on grounds of suspicious behavior by the ANBU. But she isn't willing to cooperate with anyone, that is, anyone besides you," Kankuro explained, not unwilling to meet Naruto's suspicious stare even for a second.

Temari's brows furrowed in slight confusion. "That's odd," she murmured.

"Who's the kunoichi?" Naruto asked.

Kankuro looked Naruto in the eyes. "I can't answer," he said after a moment's deliberation.

"Which village is she from?" he pressed on.

"I can't answer."

Temari's frown became a bit more pronounced as she silently watched the back and forth between them. "Kankuro …" she whispered worriedly when Naruto took a hold of her hand and gave it a firm squeeze to stop her from interfering.

"Why can't you answer me, Kankuro?"

"I-I can't answer."

"This is my last question, and you will answer me - did Gaara sanction this arrest?" Naruto asked firmly.

Kankuro knew from the hard tone that he wasn't getting out of this without an answer. "No," he begrudgingly admitted.

Temari took a step closer to keep her husband from blowing up at her brother. Naruto took a deep breath and pinched his nose with a sigh. "Then, on whose authority was she …"

"Mine," Kankuro answered before he could finish asking the question.

Naruto slowly unwound his arm from Temari's grip and gave her a reassuring smile. He took a couple steps closer and stood within arm's length of Kankuro. His tall form towered over the puppeteer like a mountain shadowing a plane. "You do realize that this reckless arrest can turn into an international disaster, right?" Naruto asked in a low voice. Seeing Kankuro's hesitant nod, Naruto poked his chest with his finger. "I'm giving you full authority, just this once. I won't ask you anything else, just don't make me clean up your mess afterwards."

"Thank you, Naruto," Kankuro murmured out of Temari's earshot.

Naruto walked back and circled an arm around Temari's waist. "I'll make sure she's with you in an hour. I'd prefer not to waste our tea," Naruto told him. Kankuro opened his mouth to refute but seeing Naruto's mischievous look, and Temari's fond smile, he knew he wasn't winning this argument.

"Fine. Just have her be there on time, will you?" he grunted and walked off the premises.

Naruto walked inside, and Temari closed the door behind them. Leaning her back against the door. "Why didn't you ask him more forcefully?" she asked.

"Don't you remember what he said?" he said, and seeing her adorably confused expression, he added, "he said 'I can't answer.' to all my questions. And that, even as a hint, is a dangerous thing to say. He knew I was questioning him as a superior, and yet, even though it could become dangerous for him, he continued saying so. Whatever intel he has on this, he'll only share with you. And I trust my wife enough to make the right decision with whatever it is Kankuro … " This was all Naruto could add before Temari closed the distance between them and hugged him.

"I love you," she whispered.

Naruto wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "I love you too, princess. Just remember to call me if things go down south. I'm always here for you, and even if you find yourself too deep in something unofficial, just talk to me, all right?" he said. Temari nodded and smiled against his chest. She pecked his lips lightly and broke free from the hug, leading him back to the dining room by his hand.

The tea, (un)fortunately, was never served~

The darkness in the room did nothing to alleviate the redness in Sakura's eyes. The well-kempt pink hair she frequently flaunted was ratty. And unlike the innocuous warmth and cool shade she was accustomed to, the torrid heat of the desert made her skin clammy.

Sakura was thankful for the silence in the cell. As she sat, knees to her chest and tears in her eyes, the tranquil silence allowed her to search deeper inside her soul. She had seen her love, Sasuke, cold and distant many times before, but last night his actions and his words had taken even her by surprise. She had given him everything she had to give, heeded his every beck and call like a loyal wife, but it wasn't enough; it was never enough.

Sakura knew now that, even through those countless passionate nights of love, his heart had never been hers. She had merely been a pawn, a piece whose use was now nearing an end. It was a bitter pill to swallow. The truth had been in front of her all this time, but she had always turned a blind eye to it. Sasuke's ambitions were too large for her to live up to, his thirst for revenge too much to quench with only her love.

And this time, his ambitions were going to destroy a family.

The iron gate creaked and broke the silence when the masked-guard held it open for her two visitors. The guard switched on the lights for the first time today, and Sakura had to squint her eyes and hide her face behind her hand to escape the searing light that momentarily blinded her eyes.

"Sakura?" Temari slowly came closer to the girl.

"Careful," Kankuro murmured from behind. As usual, his sister paid no heed to his words and knelt in front of the girl. Sakura brushed away some of the hairs covering her eyes and smiled toothily. Veins were prominent in the whites of her eyes. The tear marks that covered her swollen cheeks gave Temari enough reason to assume that the girl had been crying for quite a while now.

"You came to see me, Temari. I'm glad," Sakura whispered.

Temari did not know what came over her when she cupped Sakura's cheek. Maybe it was the lost look in her eyes? Or was it the swollen cheeks she wanted to caress? Perhaps, even her own primitive motherly instincts were to blame for the strange affection she showed to Sakura.

"What happened to you?" Temari rubbed her cheek with her thumb. Seeing her eyes filled with worry, Sakura circled her arms around Temari's neck and put her weight onto the blonde. Temari tumbled down on her buttocks and enveloped Sakura in a hug. Sakura's soft mumbles were almost incoherent to Temari, but Kami did she sound devastated.

"Are you all right?" were the first words Temari was able to make out from the countless others Sakura sobbed. Temari rubbed Sakura's back soothingly and lightly smoothed out her messy pink hair.

"Me?" Temari nearly giggled, "I should be asking you the same, silly."

Temari turned her head to see Kankuro eyeing her with disapproval, clearly not fond of the affection his sister was showering over his suspect. The blonde frowned at her brother and gave him a look that demanded he stay put; and stay put, he did.

"Did Sasuke meet you?" Sakura whispered between her sobs. Temari stiffened from her words before going back to brushing Sakura's hair when the girl clutched at her waist tighter, clearly afraid that the blonde would push her away without an answer.

"No, I haven't met Sasuke," Temari confessed.

"Thank Kami," Sakura murmured in her neck, her breaths evening out a little.

Kankuro was stiff as a board behind Temari's back, his nails biting painfully into his arms. "I knew it," he muttered to himself. It eased his heart a little that his suspicions hadn't been unfounded, but that same hunch worried him too. Being a regular participant in the ANBU's interrogation core gave him an insight far keener than most, and the subtle glances Sasuke kept shooting his sister with throughout his stay irked the puppeteer in all the wrong ways.

Neither were the looks leering, nor were they lustful. They were sharp - attentive, even. As if they were taking note of his sister's every move, watching her every step. The implications as to what those looks could mean in the grand scheme of things made the hairs on Kankuro's neck stand on ends.

"What happened to you, Sakura?" Kankuro paced back and forth in the cell.

Temari felt Sakura go still in her arms. She looked back to see Kankuro's eyes trained on the girl like a hawk. She wasn't nearly as oblivious as to not realize what her brother was trying to do - he was trying to wear Sakura's vulnerable mind down until the girl spilled everything he wanted to know.

Temari pushed back Sakura lightly and held her hands in her own. She looked at the girl's body from top to bottom. Temari's eyes got narrower and narrower the lower they went. Sakura squirmed a little when she realized that the dishevelled kimono was not hiding her skin that well, and that the blonde's eyes were trained intently at the scars on her thighs.

Temari lightly traced the bruised skin on Sakura's thighs and her face contorted in anguish when Sakura shamefully slapped her hand away with a soft whimper. Temari's throat became dry as the desert seeing the face of her brother when she looked behind and saw the look of utter contempt Kankuro had shot Sakura.

She looked back at Sakura and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "D-Did Sasuke do this to you?" she asked as kindly and softly as was humanly possible.

Sakura's lips parted to reply, but no words came out of 'em. The lump in her throat became even more pronounced. She covered her mouth with her hand to try and stop the sobs, but all her attempts were futile. Temari held her trembling shoulders firmly, as if the girl would shatter into a million little pieces the moment she'd let go.

"Don't listen to her, Temari. My ANBU were watching them," Kankuro's words seemed to make Sakura look even smaller and frailer, "this whore was enjoying … "

Kankuro's head jerked to the side as Temari's palm met his cheek in a tight slap. Kankuro caressed his stinging cheek and looked at his sister with wide eyes. Temari's body was trembling in rage. Kankuro closed his eyes, fully expecting another slap when Temari raised her hand once more. The blow never came, and Kankuro opened his eyes to see his elder sister holding a warning finger at his nose.

"Not another word," she warned him in a low voice.

Temari gracefully sat on her knees and looked at Sakura kindly. "Does it hurt when you sit?" she asked.

"A little." Sakura nodded timidly.

"Kankuro, get a female medic in here," Temari told the puppeteer in a stern voice.

There was no room for argument left in her tone. Kankuro clenched his knuckles till they turned white and turned to the guard outside. "Get us a medic," he begrudgingly ordered the guard outside, who looked stupefied even with his mask.

"Sir? She's a prisoner, you can't be serious … "

The utter humiliation and frustration coupled with the sting he was still feeling from the slap he'd just been struck with made Kankuro pull open the gate and smack the guard multiple times on his head with the papers in his hand as he barked, "didn't you hear what she just said? Get the girl a damn medic!" The poor guard turned tail and scurried off as if the devil himself was upon him.

"Thank you," Sakura said gratefully.

"Don't thank me," Temari said with a smile, "there are things I cannot forgive as woman."

Sakura turned her gaze down at her lap and grabbed the edge of her kimono, "You are really kind and strong, Temari. I can see why everyone regards you so highly," she admitted wistfully.

"Why did you want to see me in person, Sakura?" Temari asked.

Sakura looked up with a hint of determination in her eyes. "I have to tell you something," she said.

"What is it?"

"I-I really love, Sasuke." Sakura took a deep breath to keep her voice strong, "I really thought I could change him if I loved him with all my heart. But I've failed, Temari. Sasuke is too far gone now. I cannot drive him off the path he has chosen, but I won't stand aside and see him destroy someone's family, either."

Temari gulped thickly. The question she already knew the answer to was on her lips. "Whose family?" she asked fearfully.

Sakura didn't say anything, but her silence said everything. Temari steeled her heart and asked in a firm voice, "Tell me everything, Sakura."

A/N :- Well, can't say that this has been a quick update, lmao. Hope the old readers who've been with me since the beginning are still around. I'll be happy to tell you I've plotted out the ending to the fic, and it will be over not too long from now, maybe this arc at best.

Uhm, there's nothing more for me to say tbh (… talk about awkward). So, until next time, y'all should remember the drill of reading and reviewing stuff off of my profile (…I hope) I'll try not to take so long to update, I promise!

Ja Ne! ;-)

PS :- I've recommended this on my profile before, but no one seems to have taken note of it (…insert a screech here). Go and check out Wood, Paper, and Illusion by Glacious. Ignore the crack-ish parts on the parts with Minato and read for the rest of the cast. I swear, you won't find a cuter Konan than he has anywhere on FF (I've tried, lmao). And that, coming from me, is a big thing. So, go on, shoo, read it and review it before he loses his muse and stops writing it (I wanna read the ending so bad I'm shilling it shamelessly, damn you Glacious! T_T)