The infamous side note: -maru is a masculine suffix. Yes, Yashamaru was his uncle.

The peace between them was still new, still shaky, and still not quite trusted by either.

"Don't you get tired of the trip?" she asked him once, breaking the silence of their afternoon walk through Konoha.

Evidently in an odd mood, Gaara gave her a sidelong look before turning his attention back to the ground in front of him. "Maybe."

"I'm kind of surprised you haven't tried to talk me into visiting you yet."

"That would defeat the Kazekage's purpose of sending me here. It's a convenient method of keeping me out of the way when they have no immediate use for me." There was absolutely no inflection to his words, nothing to give her the slightest indication as to what he thought of such treatment. "Besides . . ." The twist of his mouth could have been either malice or irony. "It goads him to no end that I can be kept in line this easily by another Hidden Village."

Remembering all of the times he'd frightened her nearly out of her mind, all of the times he'd pushed and harassed her, and all of the additional stress he'd piled on an already stressful life, Sakura decided that both the terms "in line" and "easily" were relative.

She walked quietly for a few minutes, scuffing her feet on the ground as she tried to figure out a way to rid herself of him before returning home.

"Tell me," he started, catching her attention. "Why do you think it's so hard for people to let go?"

The possibilities behind that question . . . He was leading her.

"Of what?" she asked.


"You said it was greed."

"I know what I said."

Which meant he wanted her opinion. And if he was aiming in the direction she thought, only incredibly careful wording would keep her from getting into a fight with him.

But damn him, she was tired of walking carefully.

Chin up, Sakura watched him as she replied. "Because people like the idea of things being stable, not changing. Stability is safety. Change brings the unknown."

"I'm talking about people that cling to the past."

He'd definitely aimed in one particular direction.

Sakura kicked a pebble along for a few steps as she considered. "I think they're clinging to memories more than the past itself. If something that happened was flawed but made them happy, they want to be selective, to remember being happy and not the problems. And . . ." She clenched her teeth to prevent herself from biting her lip. "And if things go wrong later on, the memory of happiness is a place to retreat to. So people cling to it, their memories of things being all right, their associations . . . in order to feel safe."

"Do you?"

He watched her, his expression perfectly blank and his green eyes not showing the least bit of feeling; as outwardly emotive as . . .

She wouldn't lie to him. "Yeah. Sometimes, I do."


After a few more minutes he stopped walking, then glared at her when she turned to face him. "We've passed the way back to your house three times now."

She could say something that might lessen or hide how she was still unsure of having him go home with her. She could say something cruel or rude, watch him storm off, and wonder what his mindset would be the next time she saw him. She could ignore him, keep walking, and wait for his temper to boil over or for him to get bored enough to leave on his own.

She could redirect him.

"Do you worry?"

His only response was another glare. Undaunted, Sakura reached for his hands. "Do you?"

"About what?"

The inflection there meant he knew damned well what.

"About my holding onto the past."

"It'd be stupid to," he growled, but his fingers folded with hers.

"But do you?"

Pressing him was probably comparable to playing with fire—barehanded. But what would they be if she couldn't?

She watched him glance back and forth between their hands and her face, watched him weigh his options, and realized he was as reluctant to give up what she asked of him as she was to return in kind.

Minutes passed. She brought their hands up, examining his fingertips, his calluses, the way their palms fit together. A good medic-nin doesn't give up, Tsunade had said—so Sakura pushed again. "Tell me."

With the degree to which they were under each other's skin, if things ever came down to a fight between them . . . They could simply stand and speak, and cut each other in far harsher ways than they could with weapons.

Sasuke could easily . . .


She pressed Gaara's hand to her throat, aware the gesture indicated trust, submission. Perhaps, given time—or the proper bait—he could be coaxed into responding.

"If you care for someone," he said sharply, suddenly, "then people will use it against you. Maybe it'll be someone else who does it . . ." He looked her in the eye. "Maybe it'll be that person themselves. They'll take what you care for and hold it over your head, push you with it, threaten you, and you can't do a thing to prevent it."

"Is that what you did to Naruto, before?"

His upper lip curled before he answered. "Yes. It's exactly what I did to Naruto." His thumb rubbed gently against her carotid as he continued. "But . . . It made him strong. He loved you. Both of you. And because of that, he won."

Because the push was hard enough, and the outcome otherwise was unacceptable.

"Loved, not loves?"

"How he reacts towards what may have become has yet to be determined."

She watched the ground between them, lost in thought. She hadn't considered the possibility he could try to form an association or a relationship of some type with any of them in order to gain what he saw as Naruto's edge in their fight . . . But if that'd been the case, it seemed to have backfired on him spectacularly.

"Yes," he said, voice only somewhat softer than before. The hand against her throat dropped, and his fingers linked with hers again. "Sometimes I do worry."

Sakura nodded, understanding—because if she could let herself forgive him for what he'd done, for his missteps, she could in all likelihood forgive Sasuke. She wasn't even sure she could honestly tell him to not worry. This put an entirely new edge on his push for her to . . . Her to what? Anymore, she wasn't even sure.

"What do you want from this? From me?" Looking up at him, she knew she was asking too much but still thought she was ready for any answer: her companionship, her comfort, her confirming that he was more to her than a tool, an annoyance, or a weapon . . . Even just for her to give in.

"Nothing." He pulled his hand free from hers when she blinked at him, confused. "I don't want anything from you."

When he walked away she let him go, sure she'd pushed him too hard in the same way he'd pushed her before, her assault emotional instead of a physical threat. She also knew he'd be back.

Sakura turned and headed home, lost in thought. When push came to shove, she decided, it was really . . .

He stopped her directly in front of her door, having approached so stealthily she didn't know he was there until his hand under her chin jerked her head up and his arm around her midsection pinned her back against his body. "Everything," he hissed, then pressed a single, harsh kiss against the side of her neck and was gone before she had time to do more than gasp.

Only a matter of time. What it came down to was waiting for the break.

And whenever that happened . . .

She wanted to discuss certainty with him, to find out what he thought about the possibility of some things being inevitable. His absence didn't help answer her questions but left her time to collect the ingredients she needed, to measure weights and ratios in a preparation she hadn't expected to need for herself until much later and under much different circumstances.

She may have been too young, still—they both might be—but she was definitely too young to want to worry about pregnancy.


"—she should know?"

"I'll tell her when I feel like it."

Everything seemed . . . fuzzy, surreal. The taste in her mouth told her she'd been unconscious for a few hours.

The first speaker's muted voice caught her attention, must've been what woke her. Sakura frowned slightly, trying to make sense of the words. When she shifted, the surface under her shifted in turn.

"They don't appreciate that you're here, and they don't appreciate that you've brushed them all aside."

"Why should I care?" The disinterested voice, the scent, and the hand carefully running through her hair were all familiar.

"Because the other medics said she almost burnt herself out with her last patient. She needs to rest somewhere peaceful."

Of course. A good medic-nin doesn't give up, Tsunade had said. Sakura didn't remember the Fifth ever saying anything about how, after a day of her own missions or training, she could still be called back to the hospital when the wounded started to pour in. She remembered struggling with everything she had to finish the last healing, then attempting to get up and collapsing.

"And you're here to play the concerned other as well?" Gaara snorted softly, as if to not disturb her, then continued derisively. "They refuse to leave me alone in a room with her and if I go, Copy-ninja, I'm taking her with me."

The words and acoustics meant they were in the hallway. And of course the other speaker was Kakashi, there to see her sprawled across what had to be Gaara's lap like a sacrifice to some bloodthirsty demigod. It took concentration to keep from showing she was awake, to keep her breathing slow and even and to not pull away from the sand supporting what parts of her his legs couldn't. She blamed her continued motionlessness on the fact that her sleep-fogged mind wasn't fully alert yet and not on her own curiosity.

"So you'd just carry her out? She's not yours, you know." Through all of it, her former instructor tried to maintain his air of good humor. She knew from experience that he'd picked the wrong person to hold out against.

"Yes and no." Gaara ran his fingers through her hair again; she wondered how much of a mess he'd made of it. "She's her own person. She thinks, she talks, she fights, she smiles . . ." A pause. "She thinks that what I think matters. She talks to me. She fights me when others would refuse to stand against me, and then she smiles at me. She is mine."

Kakashi's voice shifted from smooth and good-humored to aggravated. "Don't mime caring with me. I've seen how you treat her."

"And don't take the moral high horse with me. I push her. The Fifth pushes her. Now she pushes herself." Another pause, his fingertips gently brushing her face in a gesture probably meant just to disturb their observer. "It's become familiar."

Unless something had changed, she knew what familiarity meant to him.

Gaara's tone shifted as well, became cold, mocking—and somehow more spiteful than any of the ones he'd used against her. "And now you push, now you come in miming caring, concern, now you see her as something to be proud of even though it was your negligence that stunted her progress to begin with."

"Your own village is afraid to team you up with other people, and you try to tell me what I've done wrong? I told you before, stop making assumptions about—"

"You forget. I saw her fight when she couldn't do anything more specialized than a shadow clone. I also know you refused to train Uzumaki Naruto in order to train the Uchiha. I have no doubt where your focus was in that team."

"If I hadn't trained him, you would have killed him."

It seemed reasonable. No one had expected Naruto to progress past the first round of their first chuunin exam, no matter what kind of training he'd gotten. No one had any faith in him—or in her.

But Sasuke, even with training . . .

She could piece together Gaara's expression by the sound of his voice, feel the ego in it, picture the way his chin dropped and his sneer. "I almost killed him anyway. The ones you disregarded were the ones who saved him."

Concentrating on her breathing, Sakura only became aware of how her hand had started to clench when his unobtrusively covered it. Gaara knew—he knew she was awake just as well as she knew exactly where Kakashi was, how her former instructor had to be weighing his options. Fight, or flee. Stay and risk "waking" her, or let Gaara have his way.

Letting Gaara have his way was a hard thing to do.

"Tell me," came the musing continuation, "was it because you thought he reminded you of someone?" The Sand-nin's tone dropped to calculating, cutting. "Yourself? Or could it be—"

"You don't know what you're talking about," snapped Kakashi, and for the life of her she couldn't remember having heard him that angry in years.

"Don't I?" And once again the Sand-nin's voice conveyed mocking amusement, his voice having rippled through all of its variations of scorn. "She'll see the Fifth when she's ready to. Until then, follow the others' example and let us be."


Of course. He'd probably gotten into fights with everyone who'd come near them—probably verbal, hopefully not physical. Her still being there meant that Gaara's only concordance had been to stay in the open, but still in the building. She couldn't hear or sense anyone else nearby, which told her he'd been successful in chasing her fellow medics off.

Apparently the Sand ninja talking to her former instructor like that was simply—or maybe mostly—him trying to drive the other man away.

There was a stretch of silence that could only be Kakashi considering his options again, deciding whether or not a threat would be effective or if saying something else could manage to not sound petty or trite. In the end he said nothing.

After a few moments, Gaara's fingers worked their way back into her hair. "You can stop pretending now."

She shifted fully onto her back and watched him for a little while, not sure how to react to his calm demeanor in relation to his recent words. Miming caring, Kakashi had called it. But was he right? Were either of them right?

"You shouldn't have done that," she said. Because he'd once again given her far too much to think about.

"He wouldn't leave," he returned.

She scowled and struggled to sit up, sliding her weight off of his thighs and hating herself for having shown weakness in front of him. No longer needed, his sand slithered across the floor and over her shins before disappearing into the gourd beside him. She didn't doubt he made a point of touching her with it just to see how she reacted. Ignoring it meant she could focus on her more pressing reasons to be annoyed with him. "How many other people were you that pleasant towards?"

Expecting him to be contrite was futile. "Enough."

When she moved to withdraw her legs from over his, he casually draped his left arm across her knees. Continuing her motion would be pulling away from him.

He might be irascible, frustrating, unstable, manipulating, and far too moody, but she still didn't want to do that.

"But why?"

"You're . . . peaceful to watch."

And knowing him, his enjoyment of a quiet moment would be stymied with a worried, suspicious, or otherwise attentive other hovering nearby. Him wanting to feel peaceful and wanting to stop fighting for once were enough reason for her to not be as angry, to not resist when he pulled her in to lean against him.

His saying that she was an intrinsic part of his brief mental peace crippled Kakashi's theory about him miming caring.

She sighed and pressed her forehead against his throat. "How much trouble am I going to be in because of you?"

"The Fifth said I could be here."

"I doubt she meant that you could scare everyone off that tried to come near me," she grumbled.

His shoulder shifted under her cheek in what may have been a shrug. "They wouldn't leave us alone. They should have known better."

She wasn't sure what was worse—his being cruel and overbearing, or his making it sound rational. "Probably."

"You're upset by it, though." It wasn't a question.

Telling him she preferred he didn't make a habit of it was too light. Telling him she didn't want to have to worry about him alienating her from everyone she knew was too much. Midway between them would have to work.


A moment passed. Gaara's hand settled at the dip of her waist. "They were afraid of me, so they tried to chase me away. I just . . ." A pause. His brow furrowed, and Sakura realized he was hesitating. "I like this."

She nodded, believing him.

His cautious expression hadn't abated. "Would you prefer someone else was here?"

Was she afraid to be alone with him, he meant. Was she willing to ignore the way he held her, the fact that he'd come to her like a shark drawn by the smell of blood but hadn't really done more than make people uncomfortable enough to give them space? Was she willing to give up these peaceful moments for a human buffer?

She sat up, her hand gently cupping the swell of his bicep. "No." If he could give a little, so could she. "I . . . like this too." Sudden shyness made her glance away before continuing. "I guess . . . it's gotten familiar."

He didn't say anything, but the shift of his expression from caution to hunger made her stomach twist into nervous knots, made her make a sudden bid for an escape. Maybe she'd opened up too much, maybe she'd given him too much of an in. "I've got to get a drink, my mouth feels like—"


With that, he pressed his water bottle into her hands. She watched him as she tried to rinse the taste of sleep away, noting his lack of aggression towards her openness. Maybe . . .

The way he reached out to accept the bottle after she was finished.

Give and take.

They might be on to something.

Sakura reached for his chest; his fingers braceleted her wrist, holding her hand in place. On another day she would probably worry about how his heartbeat sped up and the way he watched her face—but today . . .

"At what point did it start to mean more to you than just fighting?" she asked.

A crooked smile was his first response. "I don't know." The hand against her side traced up, cupped her cheek. "Maybe . . . about here."

The knots in her stomach compounded upon themselves. She still shifted closer, and slid her arm around his shoulders.

If she did it, she'd never get rid of him.

"I can only promise you pain," he murmured, his eyes focused slightly lower than her own.

"Isn't that all anyone can?"

"Some people would promise you love, happiness . . ."

He wasn't some people.

"They could only promise to try." She swallowed hard. "There's only one thing we can be sure of."

Gaara made a small sound that may have been assent. "And that, too, the sensation—" His breath on her skin made her shiver. "We need to feel."

"Addicted, perhaps."

She'd definitely never get rid of him.

"Definitely." His other hand brushed against her hair and her throat, then finally settled just below her ear, his fingertips pressing gently against the back of her skull. When he mirrored its position with the other she knew he meant to hold her in place, and the only way to prevent this gesture's inevitable conclusion would be to shut him down or bolt immediately.

She'd never get rid of him—but if they could keep up this openness, this give and take, then she didn't want to be rid of him.

He finally met her gaze. "Are you afraid of me?"

She'd probably been stuck with him from the first time she'd reached out.

Sakura leaned in carefully, the press of her lips against his soft but definite. Eventually she pulled back with a faint smile. "Not so much."

On some level she must have known he wouldn't let her end it there. She tried to move away, unsure of what their next step would be, but only succeeded in getting her legs halfway over him before he snaked an arm around her waist and muscled her onto his lap. Sand against the backs of her knees adjusted her position, settling her on and around him as he pulled her face down to his.

It was strange, awkward at first—their mouths opening almost tentatively against each other's; tongues hesitant, unsure—but the kiss became more certain the longer it went on. And by the time she stopped worrying if she was doing everything all right, it had become—

His left hand fisted in her hair; the other ran down her spine, across her hip, and over her thigh.

Had become—

She shifted closer, because despite being wrapped around him she still wasn't close enough. Doing so brought her hips flush against his and gave her no way to ignore his arousal.

Had become—

His soft groan was muffled by her mouth, his grip tightening momentarily before his lips were against her throat, bending her backwards with the force of his kisses. He only relented when she hissed at his teeth scraping her skin, then adjusted his method to allow her to sit upright. "Like this?" he whispered.


Had become what she'd been the most afraid it would be. Amazing.

The hand on her thigh moved up her body, first cupping, then caressing. "Like this?"

"Yeah." And after a ragged breath: "This?" She tried to mirror the action on him, then untucked his shirt with a jerk and thrust her hands under it to stroke him without the impediment of fabric. Infatuated with his warmth, the texture of his skin, the suddenly discovered curve of his muscles, she hesitated only when she felt him sharply draw breath.

"Yeah," he rasped, then put an end to any further questions by covering her mouth with another, near-frantic kiss. She felt his chest shake with his snarl more than she heard it, felt the flex of his arms help her rub against him with an intensity she hadn't known she possessed, and dimly wondered if she'd also been afraid of her own need, of how vulnerable she'd be if she had done this without having him at her same emotional level.

Gaara's lips broke away from hers but he remained close, panting, his eyes wild. "Where?"

She knew what he meant.

"Not here." She probably shouldn't be even considering what she was about to propose, but couldn't think of a single reason to hold back. "My house . . . No one's there."

He didn't ask her if she was sure about any of it, didn't question things in any way. She didn't expect him to.

"I have to see the Fifth first, you said?" Before they left, before things got any more out of hand, before she decided it was entirely too tempting and kissed him again.

He glanced pointedly at the door of what must have been her room as his fingertips ghosted up the inside of her thigh. "Not necessarily," he murmured.

Not a question, but a push. She thought she knew why.

"I won't change my mind." Because he was too close, because his lips were soft and slick against hers and she wanted him, wanted that same confirmation more than she wanted to know if his mouth could be that generous and feel that utterly, completely perfect on the rest of her. "I won't run. I won't, I—"

He smothered her denials with yet another kiss.

It was strange, she decided. He didn't taste like much of anything.

"She's seeing to the new arrivals," he grated, finally.

It took entirely too much willpower to move away from him. He stood as well, and grimaced in the direction of the main building. "I'll wait outside."

The last thing she wanted was to be separated from him, but walking down a hallway that smelled like the blood of the wounded could do nothing good for his control or temperament. The handful of odd looks she got said he'd been thoroughly brutal in dealing with her fellow medics and would have posed more problems had he been with her. They had no reason to appreciate him being in the hospital at all, she realized, even without his arrogant or vitriolic tendencies. His way of life went completely against everything they worked for.

She met Tsunade between patients. True to form, the other didn't mince words. "Did he tell you anything?"

"Like what?"

She'd never known the Fifth to be anything but blunt. "Most of the wounded were on a scouting mission in Sound's territory. I've talked to a number of them. The patterns of attacks seem to indicate that we're closing in."

Closer to Orochimaru.

Closer to Sasuke.

And Gaara had known.

And try as she might, she couldn't give herself a single logical reason to be upset.

"This means you'll be working in the field soon," Tsunade continued. "And you understand if you tire yourself out this much in the field, you become a liability."

"Yes, Hokage." She couldn't resist. "I understood where I was."

Sakura probably would have been as tenacious with a wounded fighter no matter what, but left that fact untouched. She still might have imagined the other's faint smile. "You don't make me regret taking you on." With a weary, mock-abused scowl, Tsunade continued. "Your other, though . . ."

Him being referred to as her anything was strange. "How many complaints so far?"

"Too many." The Fifth sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "And I doubt I've heard the last of them. When I told him where you were, I didn't think it'd turn into a reenactment of the old monster-guarding-the-maiden story." She shook her head. "I suppose I misjudged him."

Sakura knew their having this discussion meant Gaara'd come to some form of agreement with the Fifth before he had with her. It also meant learning he'd managed to throw Leaf's Hokage off stride would probably delight him to no end.

He'd still be waiting for her.

"You said he's too hard to kill for me to have to worry about losing him." Sakura glanced away, her voice soft. "What about me, though? What if I get killed?"

She already knew. His keeping the resulting destruction focused on whoever he found primarily responsible would be amazing.

Tsunade waited until she looked up, then touched a finger to the seal on her forehead. "Remind me to teach you about this sometime soon."


He'd picked a spot to wait where he almost blended into the lengthening shadows, his arms folded and expression emotionless. The fact that he didn't step forward meant he was judging her reaction, assessing her mental state.

Sakura watched him in return. "You knew."


"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted to be sure you were doing it for me. I needed to know where we were without him."

Of course. The way he'd held onto her before, held her in place . . . One way or the other he would have kissed her, in order to find out once and for all if he meant something to her in that way.

"You still worry that I'd leave you to follow him, don't you?" She bit her lip. "Do you think I would?"

She'd flat-out told him that she clung to the past. He had every reason to think she would.

"It'd be stupid of you to."

Cold. Harsh. Completely unrepentant. It was hard to imagine him any other way.

"Do you?" she pressed.

Barely illuminated, a muscle in his cheek flexed as he clenched his jaw. "You're not supposed to be stupid."

Neither of his statements had answered her questions. She decided to take the compliment he offered as recompense. "You're impossible."

"You complain too much."

His rapid-fire return paradoxically made her smile. "Did I mention hopeless, as well?"

Through the shadows, she saw his lips curve faintly in return, barely heard his murmur. "If I were without hope, I wouldn't be here now."


Her monster.

"What am I supposed to do with you?"

The gleam of teeth in his smile said that he had at least one idea. He considered her proffered hand, her unspoken promise of confirmation for only the space of a few seconds before he stepped forward to accept.

They were silent on the way, fingers loosely linked, his thumb occasionally rubbing over hers. For the time being, there was nothing to be said. He only let go for as long as it took her to open her door and close it behind them, replacing the contact with the press of his fingertips against the small of her back as he followed her to her room. It wasn't until after she'd made sure the blinds were tightly shut that he advanced, arms engulfing her when she moved to meet him midway.

It was strange to help him with the assorted straps and buckles crisscrossing his body, stranger to watch his hands baring her skin. She stepped back into his arms once past the intricacies of each other's clothing, mouth against his, murmuring in protest as his inexperienced caresses were too harsh in some places, far too gentle in others.

"Sorry," he whispered, slick fingers sliding against her, into her, stroking carefully. "Like this?"

The way she jerked her hips forward against his hand was taken for assent even before her murmured "Yeah," before she traced down his stomach and wrapped her hands around him in return. "Like this?"

His teeth grazed against her throat, dug into her shoulder. "Harder."

What she ended up doing took all of her nerve and surely didn't count as "harder," but definitely put an end to his standing. Gaara buried both of his hands in her hair as her bed cushioned them, as she took him as far down her throat as possible, his soft moans and shivers telling her exactly how she affected him.

"Stop," he gasped. "Stop, please stop." Rising, she had a fraction of a second to wonder if she'd done something wrong before he toppled her onto her back, his mouth desperate against hers and his hands roughly parting her knees.

Damn it, she was under him after all.

"I didn't want this," she whispered.

"Means you do now," he replied hoarsely as he pressed a short kiss against her breastbone, then licked her navel before settling her thighs over his shoulders. The combined rub of his tongue and slide of his fingers made sure she had no reason to change her mind. As she moved with the rhythm he set she faintly wondered if she'd felt anything like that for him, how it'd feel if he actually—

Sakura wasn't sure exactly what she said, just that the tone was incoherently pleading. He immediately abandoned what he was doing, rose to meet her, and slid an arm under her to help roll them both to their sides. He didn't have to ask and she didn't have to elaborate, and in the end it was her hand that guided him into her. With her leg over his hip and heel dug tightly into the back of his thigh, his hand gripping her bottom to help her, they steadily rocked against each other as his bangs tickled her shoulder, his lips wet and gentle against delicate skin, his tongue coaxing.

She knew he could have been beyond her reach, beyond sanity. She knew he could have mauled her, been vicious instead of careful, could have spent less time trying to please her and gone straight for his intended goal. But he wanted her to enjoy it, he'd said. And with her breath rasping in time with his, her mouth against his temple, his ear, she did.

Eventually the nature of the act eroded his control, his acquiescence towards her unspoken request, and with a snarl he rolled her onto her back again. Sakura further muffled his muted growls against her shoulder, her knee high against his ribs and her hands frantically caressing the muscles of his back, already appreciating the angle and the way he seemed to fill her more completely. It was still uncomfortable, but she was able to ignore that fact as his thrusts became harder, finally culminating as he climaxed with a throaty moan.

He wouldn't let go when she shifted, didn't pull back, gave no impression that he had any intention of moving off of her. And wrapped around him as completely as she could be, she couldn't think of a way that she'd change any of it.

"Tell me," he murmured against her cheek, "why this will work."

She smiled and brushed her lips against his before she responded. "Irony."

The way he smiled back before leaning in to deepen the kiss said that he understood.

Spring and winter.

Healer and destroyer.

Human and monster.

The medical ninja, and the walking weapon who couldn't be hurt.

She realized when he started moving again that even though he had finished, he still wasn't done. He kissed her throughout the second time, stifling her cries with his mouth when his intensity and the drive of his body against hers pushed her to her own release.

Around the third time, she realized she probably wouldn't get much sleep that night.

Gaara nuzzled her forehead, then grimaced faintly when the drying sweat on their skin made her cheek stick to his shoulder. "What from here?"

"I don't know." But she was sure they'd figure something out.

A pause. "The Fifth thinks it's good for the alliance."

"The Fifth thinks you're a good match for me."

"And you?" He leaned to meet her, his lips brushing her cheek before settling against hers.

"I think . . ."

He'd said he wanted everything. Conversation wouldn't stop, even if the way he watched her had taken on a new degree of fascination.

Sakura propped herself up over him to look him fully in the face. "I think I have no regrets."

Give and take. They could definitely make it work.

The way his lips curved into a smirk was devastatingly perfect, perfectly familiar. "I win."

If they didn't kill each other first, that was.

"Shut up," she replied, and crushed her mouth down onto his.

. . .

AN: I'd definitely like to thank the people that helped me get through this: Ciastor and Vanya Starwind for being my patient sounding boards and betas—primarily for being patient, though; Yrbanys for helping with my assorted canon questions; Du Vendredi for random thoughts and the term "smex popsicle"; Necowaffer for helping find lost words and the NIN association; and of course, the support of the reviewers.