Written for the GaaSaku fanfest on tumblr in December, 2018. Enjoy. ^_^
"The Leaf envoys will arrive within the hour."
Gaara nodded to the messenger, trying to control his reaction to the news. His stomach churned, and he started absentmindedly fiddling with the sleeves on his Kazekage robes; when the puff of smoke cleared, and the redhead was left alone, he let out a long, ragged breath.
He'd been anticipating this for several weeks and now that it was happening, he didn't know how to react. Should he greet them as he always did? Or would that just insult her? Given the nature of their current mission and the last time he saw Sakura Haruno, Gaara couldn't formulate an answer to either question.
On one hand, he remembered a studious Sakura, who had taken to her missions in Suna with gusto, teaching his medics advanced techniques that his village was embarrassingly found wanting in. On the other hand, the blurred lines of their professional relationship had tipped over into territory he had been ill-equipped to handle on an emotional level, let alone understand, even though it had grown to its full fruition during the course of her stay.
He always drew the short straw when stacked up next to the prized apprentice of the Fifth Hokage.
Gaara sighed again. It was a bad habit of his; entranced as he was by the pinkette, and therefore distracted enough for her to gain the upper hand on him. Every damn time. But he couldn't muster the motivation to care about that point. He was too nervous.
Things hadn't ended the way he'd hoped last time, and he still held some resentment for that. But he didn't want to dwell. He wanted to focus on the here and now.
Speaking of which…
Gaara frowned, touching the top of his head gently. His hair was currently combed and parted to the right, despite the fact that he thought it made him look older; his sister claimed he finally looked mature this way, but it irked him. And it was also the source of many jokes from Naruto Uzumaki, which bothered him far more than the vanity of his appearance regarding the visual determination of his age.
But this style was more formal for the events that were to come. More reflective of his upcoming obligations.
He lowered his hand regretfully.
Gaara rummaged in a drawer of his desk, looking for the handheld mirror he'd been using to fix his hair; this room was his personal office away from the official work station, adjacent to his bedroom in the Kazekage mansion. His father had held a similar office during his tenure, as had (apparently) the other Kazekage before him. Even though this was his residence, he never clocked off as a Kage – it was frowned upon. He wasn't even sure if it was legal to take holidays, though Gaara doubted there was a clause in the law that strictly forbid it.
He found the mirror and held it up to his face. The sleek look really annoyed him. And… she preferred the ruffled, spiky look from before the ceremonial signing of their villages' new treaty six months ago.
It had been a poignant moment in their friendship when she saw this version for the first time; lamenting over how boring it looked, Sakura had refused to touch it.
Unlike back when it was spiky, when she loved to run her fingers through...
That settled things.
Gaara ran his fingers through his hair, trying to tousle the strands as best he could; twisting the ends, tugging and ruffling. When he was satisfied with it, he returned the mirror to the desk and took a deep breath.
He was already wearing his robes but had yet to put on his… hat.
Gaara frowned at the damn thing, annoyed that he'd forgotten. If he wore the hat it would cover his hair anyway. When he greeted the Leaf team at the gates, as was tradition for envoys as highly regarded as them, he was supposed to wear the full Kazekage official attire.
But… this was becoming a chore.
Gaara had never had this problem before. He didn't care what people thought of his appearance. He'd wear the uniform, say the expected words over the arrivals, and then retreat to his office to get some real work done. There was absolutely no reason to mingle with arrivals unless their stay in Suna directly affected him. He didn't need to get dressed up or worry over which hair style they might prefer. They weren't worth the second thought.
He groaned, holding his free hand to his eye, a head ache beginning to form. Sakura Haruno wasn't just another envoy, to him though. She was why he was currently so nervous and excited at the same time. Time and time again, he found himself stopping to contemplate the reality of his situation. To mentally pick it apart and analyse each separate section until he was satisfied that it was indeed a reality.
He wasn't dreaming. This was real. But it still felt so surreal. Like he'd plucked it from his daydreams and brought it to life through sheer force of will. Simply because he wanted it to be true. He hadn't recognised it at first, being so stunted as a child and murderous as a preteen, but she was it.
'And she's coming.'
With that thought at the forefront of his mind, Gaara summoned his sand to teleport himself out of the building, leaving the Kazekage hat behind.
"Nice hair, Gaara."
Sakura greeted him before Naruto could, before turning to his brother and sister and offering formal greetings.
He watched her carefully as she laughed at something one of his siblings had said and the light from the midday sun hit her hair just right to make it gleam; the twinkle of blue, red, and orange as the sun winked at him from behind her. Gaara was bewitched.
As Naruto's booming voice proudly declared he was hungry, Shikamaru's tired drawl complained that he was too noisy, and Kankuro rattled off his favourite ramen places (to the delight of the blond), Temari hooked her arm through Sakura's and led the way.
Gaara's breathing became rapid and shallow as his body automatically followed, his eyes transfixed on the backside of one, Sakura Haruno. His hands were suddenly clammy when she glanced back at him and offered a small smile. He snapped his eyes up to hers in an effort to hide where he'd been looking, before she turned away again, a smirk playing on her lips.
It was all too much. This was so wrong and right at the same time. How had this happened? How had he gone from aloof and uncaring to clammy and salivating at the sight of her?
It had snuck up on him during her last visit.
When he spent long hours on paperwork and forgot to eat, she would bring him meals; she even tended to his cacti if he hadn't gone home in days, and he'd felt comfortable and confident in her care for his plants. Cacti didn't require much in the way of looking after, which was why Gaara liked them so much; they weren't needy. But she'd known exactly how to handle them to pique his interest.
It was unsurprising, given her aptitude with herbal remedies and flair for antidotal medicine.
The thing that bothered him about Sakura Haruno, though, was her attitude. She never missed a chance to tease him, to apply her barbed wit to any situation, nor to not know when to be humble and respectful to him in regard to his Kage status.
Maybe that was a part of the problem… a part of how he fell in love with one Sakura Haruno in the first place.
Watching her now, deliberately sashaying her arse in front of him like she was a piece of meat, Gaara found it difficult to reconcile the young Sakura from their Chunin days, with this bold, sassy Special Jounin who was one council vote from replacing her mentor, Lady Tsunade, as prime Hokage material.
While they deliberately prolonged their decision regarding the still immature Naruto, of course.
"Gaara, you coming?"
He looked up into those bright, soulful green eyes of hers and mentally stumbled.
"Of course, he's coming!" Naruto declared, inadvertently saving Gaara from social anxiety.
Sakura continued to stare at Gaara, the look on her face revealing she knew he hadn't been listening. But she put on a cheery smile and rattled on about… whatever it was she'd just invited him to.
He really needed to pay more attention. Sakura wasn't the only one who'd noticed his wandering eyes.
Sakura chewed on the end of her pen, remembering the day before, and the awkward reunion with Gaara.
She wasn't surprised by his reaction – he never was too good with emotions – but she'd been hoping for a smile, at least. After all, being cold and standoffish to someone was counterproductive to getting back in their bed.
Yeah, she'd slept with Gaara on her last mission. At the time, she'd been a little tipsy and wanting to act on all the pheromonal signals she was receiving in her mildly intoxicated state. She wanted him. But then the morning came, and she was terrified they'd made a gigantic mistake.
Though now, it was a memory that always brought a smile to her face.
She would be lying if she claimed that the memory of the Kazekage's naked form didn't keep her awake at nights, or that she hadn't memorised the contours of his body for the sole purpose of future recollection. Sakura wasn't so dishonest with herself as to pretend none of that happened. She could still remember the sensation of his mouth on hers, his legs between hers, and his fingers dancing across her breasts. The way his body sung when she returned the favour. And how perfectly full and satisfied he made her feel the first time Gaara inched his way inside of her.
Sakura had never been with a foreign shinobi before, and nor had she thought to be; but Gaara wasn't just any old ninja. He was the Kazekage. And one of Naruto's best friends. He was improbable.
And then, of course, her momentary bliss of post coital lethargy was ruined with three simple, unconsciously muttered words. A few minutes after he'd fallen asleep, Gaara murmured her name alongside those dreaded words. He had feelings for her. Sakura did not have to strain to hear them through his low toned mumbling; his dream version of her was clearly something.
It terrified her.
She had no excuse for what she did next. Gaara's "I love you, Sakura", murmured between gasps and the soft pout of his lips as he dreamed of her, scared her. It scared her enough to leave him in the bed, alone and naked, and avoid him vigilantly for the remainder of her time in Suna.
Mission briefings that had previously consisted of Sakura shifting her leg an inch in his direction, as though stretching the muscles just enough to ease a knot of tension, and him struggling not to blush when their fingers grazed as she handed him reports devolved into her deliberately keeping someone else between them at all times.
She couldn't handle wanting to touch him again. And the strength of his reaction to her was frightening even more so when he almost destroyed a building when one of her medic trainees tried to kiss her just a day later.
It was all too much.
She'd headed home, to Konoha, to cool off and use the distance to get some perspective. But now she was back, and this time, she was on a mission.
She was going to figure this crush out.
He was sulking.
He was the Kazekage – it was undignified of him. He was better than this.
But Sakura was doing his head in.
There was to be celebration with the engagement of his sister to that lazy leaf shinobi and everyone was invited. Gaara was told to wear formal clothes that didn't look like he'd buckled himself in, or was drowning in cloth, so he decided on a maroon suit that reminded him of the outfit he'd worn during the shinobi wars.
Sakura… she'd chosen her dress to torment him. He believed it. And his brother was currently flirting with her, astride the ballroom, inside the Kazekage's mansion no less, six feet from the redhead, and as sober as can be.
'Which means he has no excuse, and I can feel free to murder him.'
He lamented on how different things might have gone, had Sakura Haruno not proven herself so irresistible to him.
Gaara had never considered himself a jealous or childish person – even during the years he spent killing anyone who looked at him wrong. People just weren't important enough to get worked up over. Emotional attachments were for lesser beings; for creatures of habit and those incapable of separating their feelings from the facts.
Not to say he didn't care about things… or some people. He cared very much about his village, his friends, and his siblings. But his emotions did not dictate him; he kept them compartmentalised in separate boxes in the corner of his mind, each labelled for the different things and people he allowed himself to give voice to. It was how he was able to maintain his composure while many others would have turned red, fumed, or hollered their disapproval.
Of so many things.
And Sakura Haruno used to be in one of those boxes. She was safely tucked away in a box labelled 'friend of a friend', due to her bonds with Naruto, and there she stayed, for years. She was a distant thought, that only crossed his mind when her name was brought up by someone else – namely Naruto. Gaara did not know Sakura very well, and that was a comfortable, secure place to be.
Until the bi-annual report on the fatality statistics in the Sunagakure Hospital came back to him and the council pressured him to fix it; their casualty rates were the highest in the five great nations, under a surgeon's knife. Their rate was three times as high as Kumogakure (they were the second worst). It was a huge ego blow, even more so when the top secret, detailed findings became public knowledge and were somehow leaked to the rest of the shinobi world.
Nobody said anything to Gaara's face. But he knew what they were thinking. So, he asked Lady Tsunade for help, in the most respectable and dignified manner possible, and she sent him her finest medic.
In all her pink haired, best friends with his best friend, glory.
He was hopeful, of course, and knew from second hand knowledge what Sakura was capable of. It was a beneficial agreement, since in return, Tsunade got her hands on some rare sake that was only sold in the land of Wind.
Gaara often wondered if Sakura knew how cheaply she'd been bartered off.
Still, it benefited him, and Gaara let his inquisitive nature take control as he attempted to follow Sakura's proposed medical overhaul every step of the way. She kept him abreast of everything.
But now Gaara realised, watching her politely fend off his brother's advances while clearly finding Kankuro's humour too infectious to pound him into gravel, the redhead realised this outcome had been inevitable from the onset of the journey. How could he not have found himself irrevocably attracted her? How could he not have distractedly but completely discovered that that warm, fuzzy feeling that accompanied his palpitating heart whenever she was around, was the beginnings of falling in love with her?
It all happened so fast, too. One moment he was smiling inwardly at some joke she'd made that involved a medic and an Akatsuki walking into a bar, and the next his eyes were narrowed as his sand shifted violently; she stopped him from picking a council member up and shaking him upside down to see if he wore breeches with his stiff, prudish attitude.
Gaara's eyes narrowed as Sakura placed a hand on Kankuro's arm when the orchestral band started to play a slower number, and the puppet master looked thrilled, clearly thinking she was going to dance with him; the look on her face said otherwise.
And he didn't like the familiar way in which Kankuro always greeted her. He didn't like the companionable way in which his brother would hold Sakura's arm; feather-like touches as though he was trying to memorise every inch of her.
It made Gaara sick contemplating what his perverted brother might be thinking about in that moment.
He especially didn't like the way Sakura blushed when Kankuro whispered in her ear and then placed her hands on his chest in order to gently, but determinedly, push him away.
He didn't like any of this one bit.
But he knew they weren't together; Temari had already told Gaara so. She said they were just good friends.
"Ever since she saved his life, Kankuro's respected her and she's been concerned about his recovery. She thought at one time, that his experience could lead to better research into poison immunity. But they're not romantically interested in each other."
So why was Kankuro hitting on her?
Gaara took a deep breath and decided enough was enough. He'd been chickening out since he arrived at this stupid engagement party of his sister's and he was tired of it. There was no way of knowing how far away the timed speech from the one-day-to-be-wedded couple was going to happen, so this was best done now.
But he froze the moment the lights dimmed, and the face of his former sensei, Baki, stood out under a spotlight in the centre of the stage.
So much for that.
He was looking to head out before anyone could stop him, feeling miserably sorry for himself for not doing what he'd planned to do. They'd flirted with each other for weeks before Gaara had gathered up the courage to kiss her; it had catapulted out of control and he'd ended up dragging back to his bed in the Kazekage mansion. Not that he would ever complain about it. The naked body of Sakura Haruno pressed against him and both ready and ripe for the taking? Even he wasn't that asexual.
Gaara turned instinctively at the sound of her voice; a soft but firm musical note in a melodious style. He wasn't knowledgeable enough in the vocal ranges to put a name to it, but it was beautiful.
"I wanted to talk to you before, but you disappeared."
Her dress was untainted from Kankuro's assault, and Gaara took a moment to admire the halter design that left her back completely bare; the deep green really brought out the colour of her eyes.
"Gaara? Say something."
He licked his lips and forced himself to look her in the eye. "Sakura."
She frowned at him. "You're still mad?"
For leaving him to wake up alone and confusedly watch her alienate herself from him for over a week before she finally returned to Konoha, without warning?
Her eyebrow quirked at the past tense.
He breathed in deep; this was becoming a habit of his. Her scent reached his nose quickly, and he distractedly remembered that humans do have their own natural scents, though most shinobi (and all civilians) didn't have the olfactory capacity to recognise them properly.
Hers was a mix of vanilla and cinnamon.
How could he forget?
She let out a deep breath at his admission. "I'd like to make it up to you, if you're up for it?"
Sakura inched closer to him; the warm night air ruffled her hair slightly, but she still looked like an unsullied, untouched queen to him. Pristine, and still in her original packaging. He wanted desperately to not only smell but taste her intimately again.
Gaara latched an arm around her waist and pulled her closer, flush against his body. "I'm up."
Sakura grinned, wriggling her hips against his groin to find the evidence of his arousal. "Yes, you are."
Sand seemed to appear out of nowhere and she closed her eyes, holding tight to her lover as he teleported them directly to his bedroom. This time, she was going to stay. For good.