Written for the GaaSaku fanfest on tumblr in December, 2018. This one's an odd one-shot, so please bear with it. Enjoy. ^_^

.:.

The road was well travelled; worn down over the years by the increase in nearby trade and industry. The Land of Wind had earned its harsh reputation in times past, but it was now fast becoming a place of both entertainment and commerce. People came from all over the great nations no matter the distance or trouble; the deserts here were notorious for unseasonal weather changes.

And such places were bound to attract a diverse assortment of visitors as well, which meant that foreign and exotic people and objects were a common sight nowadays; nobody batted an eye as the strangely dressed redhead ambled through the towering gates of the second largest city in the Land of Wind, dragging the small but heavy looking cart behind himself. It rattled as it moved but he didn't slow down. He looked like a merchant to those uncaring to look any closer than his silk clothes and slightly battered, cloth covered cart.

He stopped outside a tawdry sign he knew well – an ill-managed tavern with an ill-mannered owner. The very man who was currently charging at the red head, all smiles and waving arms.

"Gaara!"

The redhead inwardly winced at the booming tone of the elderly man but felt obligated to greet him. "Jiraiya."

"You don't visit, you don't write – you-know-who has been asking about you. I think he's finally settling down." Jiraiya chuckled. "Say, what do you have here?"

The noise of the older man's baritones had upset Gaara's … companion. The red head closed his eyes for a moment, mentally willing Jiraiya to step back. But it didn't work. He peered under the cloth that was hiding the kestrel from view, his eyes widening at the sight of the beautiful bird.

"When I said you should get out and find a fit bird, this wasn't quite what I had in mind."

The bird squawked at him, biting his finger quickly before he could retract it from her perch.

"Woah! Feisty fella, aren't you? Almost like he understood me." He rubbed his fingers gingerly.

"She." Gaara corrected him, but Jiraiya ignored him. "Yeah, your usual room's ready, but keep this one quiet, yeah? Nice to see you again, Gaara."

The redhead sighed, relieved when the older man left him alone. He reached into the opening of the covering and ran an absent finger along the kestrel in a placating manner. She cooed at him, and he shook his head, smirking.

"Stop your fussing," he said, shaking his head at her antics. "We're almost there."

She was clearly eager to get under cover and away from the crowds. She didn't do well with people, he'd noticed. But he was surprisingly unsurprised by that.

The bird chirped softly, and Gaara simply stared back at her. She was annoyed with him.

Gaara smiled. That was certainly an understatement.

'Feisty indeed.'

.:.

Four days ago.

'Only a crazy person would come out here.'

She'd stirred up a sandstorm, trying to catch her prey unawares, but he was currently nowhere to be seen. She'd watched the man for a few days, tracking his progress along the well-worn path, unable to believe her luck of stumbling upon a human of such interesting, physical attributes. Sakura had been hoping for someone like this but was realistically expecting a band of thieves or rogue assassins to be stupid enough to still be outside in this weather.

People she would have no trouble devouring to complete her mission.

Maybe the gods were on her side, after all. As a lowly acolyte, she'd been training under the bestial gods of the Wind and this was her final test, of sorts. The person she was to hunt had been chosen for her, and it was just a question now of whether to feed or mate. She had hoped for a greater challenge than the carnage wrought via her over active imagination.

"Find a man intent on obscurity and peel back the core to find the part that yearns."

This was the only hint on how to complete her mission; and once she did complete it, her future would be revealed to her. Was she to remain chaste and faithful to the temple? Or was her purpose more personal and independent of her former life? She'd wanted children since before sex had any meaning to her, but Sakura had grown to love her work so deeply that she could never choose between them.

This challenge to her psyche was welcomed.

So, she waited by the oasis, hoping he had not lost his life along with his way; meditating to not only pass the time but extend her senses and find him. As the tendrils of her chakra reached out, Sakura suddenly felt his presence. Her target was nearby. Her eyes flew open and she hurried to stand, visually searching the area her senses had detected him.

Sakura shielded her eyes from the blinding sun with one arm, and squinted at the distant figure inching towards her. She had a plan to trick him into revealing his true self; despite her desire to let the gods choose her fate, she kind of had her heart set on devouring him. He would make a cute vole.

He was attractive, that much was clear, but was he tasty? She smiled to herself. There was only one way to find out.

The red-haired man moved annoyingly slow, and she remembered why a moment later – he had a cart.

'I forgot he's pretending to be a merchant.'

His intent was to find his home; at birth, he'd been abandoned on the doorstep of a monastery. The fine clothes on his back were reminiscent of the state he'd been found in. Whomever had left him there had deep pockets, to be sure. Sakura knew all this from her time following and watching him. Among her other abilities, she had the power of insight. But his eyes were always lowered when she saw him, even when alone, so he never noticed her. Or perhaps he had but didn't care.

He looked up, eyes wide and mouth agape, as she materialised in front of him. Jade eyes moved slowly from her feet, travelling upward, taking in the outline and curves of her body, spellbound by her sudden appearance.

"Hello?"

Gaara cleared his throat. "Hello."

"Are you lost?"

He blinked heavily, nodding his head slightly, still surprised.

"So am I," she said. "Not like you are, but I've been stuck here." She indicated at the oasis behind her. "I don't have any provisions to last a trek to the nearest town."

He licked his lips. "What are you?"

Sakura smiled. "I can help you."

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "How?"

"You get me out of here," she said, "and I'll show you."

He appeared to think about that for a moment. He rubbed the stubble on his chin lightly, the pulled his finger back sharply, like he just remembered he'd forgotten to shave. And Sakura found herself fascinated by his contemplative behaviour. How was this offer of help something to be mulled over? It was easy; simple, rational, and mutually beneficial.

But he took his time answering anyway. A sandstorm was upon them and no-one was safe – human or animal. She would not last long, no matter how she travelled through here; her power could only do so much.

"Yes or no?" She asked impatiently. "The storm is coming in and I can't get through it without help."

Gaara nodded, gripping the axle on his cart. "Okay, but you're walking. My cart isn't designed for much weight."

She narrowed her eyes at his cheek. He chuckled at her.

'Someone's recovered quickly.'

He was perceptive, too; that spark of impertinence in his knowing expression bothered her. He wasn't nearly as freaked out as he should be, having witnessed a woman literally materialise out of nowhere in front of him a minute ago. It was almost like he'd seen her like before.

Sakura huffed. "I have my own means of travel."

For the second time, his jaw dropped as she changed in front of him.

.:.

Four days later.

Conversation on the road was one thing; lack thereof conversation was another.

When they'd stopped to rest, she tried to strike up a conversation with him, only to get frustrated with his irreverent personality and then revert to her original position and wonder yet again how she was going to complete her challenge.

The man was infuriating! He actually had to the gall to suggest that she now travel in his cart because quote, "at least you won't weigh it down like this". To top it off, he was a lecher! She caught him staring at her arse when she turned her back on him, tilting his head to get a better look when she leant over something, and staring at her breasts when she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest.

She couldn't do anything without him perving on her!

And somehow, she felt like he was just riling her up on purpose. For no reason!

Well okay, she might have made a passing remark about how idiotic he was to be out in the middle of a sandstorm and that he was completely stupid for not having a horse or mule or something to pull the cart for him. He'd muttered something like I'm stronger than I look before devolving the conversation with his prurient attitude.

They were standing out in the back of the tavern and Sakura was watching him as he wrung out the shirt he'd been wearing; she was kind of freaked out that he was hand washing silk, but whatever. He had a strange way of doing things. When he wasn't being lecherous or offensively sarcastic, he was fascinating to watch. Shirtless and leaning over the wash basin, his corded muscles were riveting.

She let out a soft sigh that made her sound annoyed, before she could stop herself.

Pausing, he looked over at her in time to see her blush.

"If you're that bored," he said, "go for a walk." He smirked. "Plenty of people out there to bother."

She poked her tongue at him; he knew she wasn't interested in drawing attention to herself. "Maybe I'll spread my wings. Who knows where I'll end up."

Gaara fixed her with a suspicious glare. "Are you trying to get out of our deal?"

The girl pouted, her brow wrinkling; her indignity at his statement was cute, he'd admit. As if either of them would be dishonourable as to try to weasel out of their deal. She'd finally told him how she could help him half a day away from the oasis. And if she was to be believed (among other things), this girl was packing some serious power. He'd heard of the abilities of the gods' chosen – the rumours of the "almost human" acolytes. Some stories painted them as demigods, while others simply as tricksters with no real power.

But if she could help him, why wouldn't he agree?

He had to make a wish: she'd stated it so matter-of-factly, like she was a genie and he'd been rubbing her lamp. So, he just had to make a lewd joke about it. From her spluttering, he figured she was the virginal type. You had to wonder about the types of people who spent years in temples, never mixing with the locals.

But she'd admitted to having answered wishes before.

"It's the job of my people to answer the prayers of our followers."

She'd done so in an entirely intangible state, apparently; unseen and unknown. She really wasn't a people person.

Sakura moaned. "I don't understand why you don't just wish for riches, fame, or love like everyone else. Why do you have to drag this out?"

Gaara frowned at her. "You can make someone… love?"

She huffed loudly. "Well, no, but people ask for it all the time. There's always some broken-hearted sap who thinks rubbing me just the right way will get them laid."

He smirked; her cheeks reddened, and she looked away from him, trying to calm her racing heart. Her wording implied a more genie-like wishing system, but he decided not to push her on it. Maybe she'd just made a joke. On purpose. He didn't want to ruin that for her.

Gaara sighed, realising where that line of thought was headed. It was unusual for him to spend a lot of time around someone – so few people were graced by his presence on purpose and he quickly bored of them. Sakura not only brought out the flirt in him but made him want to know more about her. She was tight lipped on the important stuff, though. She'd grown up in the temples after being orphaned, discovered her affinity with the bestial gods, and studied to join their holy ranks.

It was all just wishy-washy theological nonsense to him, but she lit up when talking about it, so he didn't mind. He was dangerously drawn to her, he knew it. But Gaara found himself caring less about his sanity as the days had gone by. Now, he just wanted to keep spending time with her, no matter how unrealistic that scenario sounded. When she granted his wish, she would be gone; he got the feeling her impatience was tied to wanting to go somewhere.

So, he was dragging it out on purpose.

Eventually, she growled audibly and stomped off impatiently. Gaara sighed and returned to wringing out his clothes.

.:.

"Find a man intent on obscurity and peel back the core to find the part that yearns."

Sakura groaned, then screamed into her pillow. They'd been staying at this pitiful excuse for a tavern for a day now, and Gaara had yet to make his wish. It was supposed to be the perfect plan: he wished, she granted, and in the throes of his yearning and bliss, she would use her power of insight to see what makes him tick.

Then devour him.

That was the plan… right?

He was her target, gods only knew why. There had be a "devour" at the end of all this.

'Then why is he deliberately dragging this out?'

The sandstorm had been a stroke of genius, but the rest of the plan was tumbling into irrevocable chaos. She had no idea what to do. But laying in her bed, with a thin bamboo wall between them, and screaming into her pillow wasn't going to help.

She was the kestrel, he was vole. It was as simple as that.

Steeling her determination, Sakura climbed out of bed and left her room; they were only divided by makeshift walls, since that Jiraiya person still had no idea it was a person and not a bird staying with Gaara. She gave herself a moment to smirk at that before sliding the door aside and tip toeing into Gaara's room.

Most beds in these kinds of establishments were on the floor, but the redhead was a valued customer, it seemed; his bed was fit for the youngest son of the Wind Kage. She climbed up on it and wiggled over to the man in question.

With the moonlight coming in through the open window and highlighting his face, Gaara looking – if at all possible – even more beautiful. She took a moment to admire his naked chest, the contours of his body, and the way the moonlight reflected off of his skin, making him look almost luminescent.

'Almost like an angel.'

She shook her head at that thought. He wasn't holy – he was her prey. Prey didn't have a sanctified destiny or a reason for being, other than to be at the mercy of a superior animal. She pulled a face as he rolled away from her; like the bastard knew what was coming. She had to look him in the face for this. It just felt weird, to do this in a cold, detached manner.

Sakura cleared her throat, tapping him lightly. "Gaara?"

"Hm."

"Your wish?"

"I'm still thinking."

She sighed. "Why?"

He rolled back over to look at her. "I don't want to waste it."

Well, that made an annoying kind of sense. Why did he have to be like this?

The gods were testing her patience in a way she'd never expected.

"Go to sleep," he said. She watched as he closed his eyes again. After a while, he drifted off. The serene, ingenuous expression on his face captivated her and Sakura smiled, despite herself.

She rested her head on his chest, laying her body horizontally across his bed. His heart was calm and steady. His breathing deep and restful. She didn't know what to do to hurry things along, but Sakura had a sudden desire; it built up from the core of her chest and expanded outward, warm and urging her forward.

It made her think of her shishou's lesson on harmonising energies.

"I want to devour you, Gaara," she whispered. "I want to turn you into a vole, transform, and devour you." She rubbed his arm as he shifted slightly, seemingly unaware that she was bearing her soul to him. "I've always wanted my final challenge to end in me devouring my subject, but never thought it through. If I kill you, I can never leave the temple; I'll have to dedicate my life to the gods and use my power as they wish. But the alternative is…"

She paused. What was the alternative? Living on Earth and choosing her own life. That scared her as much as it excited her. She wanted the gods to tell her what to do, because it was the only life she'd ever known, but she didn't want to turn Gaara into a rodent and then eat him. Her kestrel form would have no problem with it and she would let the animalistic urge to devour overwhelm her.

But the part that was still human?

She wanted to join Gaara under the blanket in his bed and be devoured.

Sakura snuggled into him further, feeling her face warm at that. She'd just met him, it was crazy.

"Find a man intent on obscurity and peel back the core to find the part that yearns."

That line… she hadn't thought to think it through. It's meaning. Gaara was cut off from the world – hence the intention of obscurity. Peeling back the core… the core of his being? His soul?

Realisation struck her like a lightning bolt, and Sakura sat up so fast, the warm body underneath her almost fell off the bed with her.

"Sakura...?"

'Damn it.'

No, it wasn't true.

She was always taught that souls only yearn for other souls… no, there was no way he was her soul mate.

'No.'

She scrambled to her feet, using the bed to pull herself up and inadvertently locked eyes with the redhead; sleepy jade eyes widened when he realised that she'd fallen off the bed.

"Are you okay?"

Why was he being so considerate?

"Y-yeah. I uh… gotta go."

But she couldn't move, still staring into those soulful eyes of his.

'Wrong word choice.'

"Uh…" She cleared her throat. "You're just dreaming."

He nodded, and she realised Gaara was still so far into his own, semi-conscious mind that he wasn't really registering the reality of the situation. She licked her lips, her heart pulling at her; she ignored it.

'This is my chance.'

She had to find out what he yearned for. What made him tick. It was perfect. He would never realise what he'd done to himself, and she could get past that rough, flirtatious exterior and finish this damn challenge!

Sakura eagerly crawled back onto the bed and looked into his eyes. "If you could have anything in the world right now, what would it be?"

'What do you wish for?'

His right arm came up to pull her down and Sakura's eyes widened as he touched his lips to hers.

He smiled sleepily up at her. "You."

'Damn it.'

.:.