A/N: Written for a Fanfic no Jutsu livejournal community challenge. It's fairly short; I'm aiming for the four to six (give or take) chapter range, because I didn't want something long, but I didn't want to end up writing another one-shot, either. The criterion were extrememly lenient - Gaara/Sakura pairing, R - NC-17, and any plot. Any writer's dream challenge.

I tried putting more dialogue in this, contrasting the mostly desciptive Itachi/Sakura fic I've got going. I wanted to be able to delve into Gaara and give him some real character, instead of making him the 'silent-I-have-a-stick-up-my-ass' kind of guy I know he somewhat is.

Here we go...

Individualistic Monsters

"You need to be more careful, Kankuro-san," she chided gently, holding his left arm and inspecting the damage.

The Sand-nin grumbled and twirled the fingers of his free hand in a gesture that told her to get on with it.

She puckered her lips and twitched her nose slightly to the side, eyes running along his now malformed shoulder. It was quite obviously dislocated, and she saw no other option than popping it back into the socket. Chakra could only help repair once the bones were properly situated.

Tucking her pink hair behind her ears, Sakura rolled up the sleeves of her medic coat. "I won't count to three for you, since you're too old for that," she saw the roll of his eyes, "but in a few moments I'm going to pop the bone back into place. It's going to hurt quite a bit."

He tugged off the glove on his right hand and placed it between his teeth, taking a steadying breath. He nodded, and Sakura took up his arm once again.

Without preamble, she pulled the arm straight out, then in the direction of the shoulder joint. Kanukuro's eyes snapped shut, and she could see his jaw clench, teeth most likely making lasting marks in the leather of the glove. There! The arm popped into place, ball shape on the end fitting snugly into the socket shape of the shoulder.

Her hands released him and flared blue with chakra, flowing smoothly into his shoulder when she rested her palms on his skin. Concentrating, she drew the pain slowly from him and into herself, using the fastest method possible to make him comfortable. An unpleasant throbbing started up in her own shoulder, but she ignored it and set her mind to completing the healing.

"Done," she proclaimed happily, wiping sweat from her face with a sleeve. "How do you feel?"

Kankuro stood, rotating the shoulder experimentally. "Better than I did before I dislocated the damn thing." She supposed that was as close to a thanks or compliment that anyone could get from the puppet master.

"C'mon. I'll take you to the nurse's station on this floor. You're team's there, and I can sign you out."

Temari was draped lazily on one of the uncomfortable hospital chairs, one leg crossed over the other, foot gently jiggling to some tune in her head. Her chin was perched in the upraised palm of her hand.

"All finished," called a woman's voice to the right, where Kankuro and Sakura emerged. Kankuro drifted over to his blond teammate while the medic handed off the chart with her signature to the nurse behind the desk. She came up to the Sand shinobi and offered them a warm smile.

"Thanks," she spoke, rising and readjusting the huge fan on her back.

"No problem," replied Sakura, "Just make sure to stay away from Naruto and the training grounds in the future, ok?" Her last comment was directed at Kankuro, humor in her voice.

"Sakura-san! We need you downstairs, now!" A nurse pelted into the waiting area, bloody scrubs fluttering.

"Right." She turned to follow the nurse. "See you guys around," she tossed over her shoulder as she went.

She heard their replies as she made her way to the elevator, yet she was oblivious to the pair of vivid jade eyes that followed her.

The dusk hung on the horizon, sun's very bottom touching the mountains in the distance. Sakura, having changed her dirty hospital clothing for loose training gear, ambled her way down Konoha's still bustling streets, greeting those she knew, picking her way around food carts and passerby.

She met Neji along the way, and due to the large amounts of time they had spent on missions together, moved towards the practice fields, conversing pleasantly. He had certainly loosened up as he had grown, and Sakura found that she greatly enjoyed time spent with him. His quiet demeanor wasn't so intimidating; even when silent he radiated warmth. His dry and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor took some people a little time to get used to, but she had adapted instantly, and their banter was always in jest.

"Ok, I learned this new jutsu from Kakashi-sensei on the last mission we were on," she spoke while dropping her supplies under a tree. Neji did the same, removing the light coat he had been wearing. "I'm sure if I use it on you you'll be fine. There's no brain for me to addle up in that empty head of yours."

He took up a position some feet from her. "You can't touch me, Haruno," he smirked.

"We'll see."

Battered, the two dropped to the grass sometime later, the last rays of the sun washing across their sweaty faces. Taking a huge swig from her water bottle, she noticed her didn't have one, and offered hers. He took it with a breathy thanks.

As Sakura watched the grass blowing the light breeze, she remembered a time when she wouldn't have dared share her water bottle with anyone. It would have been an indirect kiss, after all. An amused smile graced her face. Oh, how the quirks of childhood faded in the face of maturity.

"Want to go to the Ichiraku or something? I haven't eaten since this morning."

He wiped his mouth. "Can't. Hiashi needs me at the house for something, and I've got to pack for my mission in two days." He stood, handed her the bottle. "But I'll walk you there. It's on the way, right?"

Neji had just bid her goodnight in front of the ramen shop when Naruto burst out. "Hey, Sakura-chan!" Nineteen years old and he was still as noisy as ever. "You comin' in to eat?"

"Yeah," she trotted up to him. "I know you wouldn't say no to another bowl. My treat?"

"Nah, I'll hafta take a rain check on that one. Me an' Hinata-chan are goin' on a date in a little while." He raised his arms and crossed them behind his head, smiling. Sakura couldn't help but smile with him. How like Naruto to stuff himself full of ramen, then have the capacity to go out to dinner right afterward.

She saw him off with a cheerful wave and a friendly farewell. Entering the Ichiraku alone, the owner looked up and smiled. "The usual, Sakura-san?"

"Yeah, Ossan," she replied, sidling up to the counter and sitting there, instead of at a table. She looked about. The restaurant was unusually empty for the time of day, with only a few ninja and civilians littering the interior. She glanced to the side and noticed someone sitting at the far end of the counter, against the wall.

"Evening, Gaara-san," she called over, watching as his head perked up and his light eyes fixed on her. "Mind if I come over and keep you company?" He made no protest, so she hopped off her stool and took up the empty seat next to him. She eyed his half-eaten bowl.

"Number 5 special, too, huh? My favorite," she commented absently, watching Ossan approach with her steaming dinner. She vaguely registered his responding grunt.

She chewed a mouthful of noodles thoughtfully, turning her eyes to the quiet Sand-nin at her side. He spent a great deal more time traveling between the Fire andWind countries than did his brother and sister, so it was a rare treat to see him. He had changed over the past seven years. His hair was still the same cherry wood dark red color, only a little longer; his eyes were still ringed in black, but sharper. The kanji upon his forehead was partially shrouded by his short bangs. He had sprouted like a bean, shooting up until he was almost an entire head taller than she, and his body had toned and lost all baby fat. His face wasn't rounded any longer; it was sharper, older looking.

Alterations in his physical appearance were totally overshadowed by his personality's growth. He wasn't nearly as volatile and violent as he was in their younger days. As far as she knew, he still shied away from physical contact, preferring to keep a slight distance. However, he could be somewhat pleasant when he wanted to be, according to Naruto, who had accompanied him to the Sand village once for a mission.

Truth be told, Sakura quite enjoyed his quiet andreserved, if not cold,nature. Whenever she had occasion to speak with him, he was always polite,abit more than a little aloof, but she didn't mind. She knew he had a quite a nasty temper, and had been on the recieving end of his angry attentions once before. She tread carefully about him, finding it not too difficult to know what would set him off.

"How long are you going to be in the village, Gaara-san?" She prodded at a floating shrimp in her bowl.

He swallowed what he had been chewing, and, eyes fixed on some point behind the counter, replied, "A while, I should think."

Sakura grinned slightly. He never really spoke more than a handful of words at a time, unless he was giving a report. She polished off her ramen and stood, dropping a crumpled bill onto the countertop. Gathering up her bag of training items, she turned back to her quiet dinner partner.

"I've got late-night shifts at the hospital for the next week, so Naruto and I are going to be training during the day. If you're not too busy, you should come and join us." She flashed a friendly smile, bid him goodnight, then made her way home.

Sakura woke to the sounds of someone banging on her apartment door. Sleepily she rolled over, attempting to ignore it, relieved when it stopped. She began to doze lightly.

Which was why she was totally unprepared for Naruto's rude entrance. He came crashing through her bedroom door, knocking it open so violently that it rebounded against the wall behind it with a loud bang.

Sakura shot out of bed, tumbled to the floor, wrapped up in the bed linens, letting out a stream of highly unladylike words. Naruto laughed madly as she fought her way from the cotton trap, pink head popping from the white material. A well-aimed pillow to the face merely served as a momentary halt to his chuckles.

"Jeez, Naruto! There are better ways of waking people, you know," she grumbled, standing up and tossing the sheets back onto the bed. Scratching at her messy hair, she yawned and surveyed her blond companion. He was tossing pillows back onto her bed. "And what if I slept naked? That would teach you not to barge into other people's homes uninvited."

He gave her a cheeky grin. "Not at all. It would only encourage the habit."

She glared. "I don't think Hinata would appreciate that."

He sobered immediately. "You win, for now. Go shower, I'll make ya some coffee. You're a complete grouch in the mornings, you know that?"

She waved him good morning with one finger in particular as he retreated from the room.

Two mugs of coffee later saw her in much better spirits. As Naruto stretched out a little ways from her, she brushed her hair behind her ears, only regretting slightly that it was too short to be put into a ponytail. She'd kept it pretty much the same length since the chuunin exams, finding short hair easier to maintain than long.

Tugging out wrist and ankle weights from her bag, she strapped them on. Lee had suggested she start using them; she'd grown a little out of shape in recent months because all the time she spent in the hospital kept her away from missions and a decent enough amount of training time.

"Ready to go?"

"Yeah," she responded, something tugging at the back of her mind. "Oh, I just remembered," she spoke again as she came at Naruto, dodging his punch and trying to get one of her own in.

"What?" He ducked her blow and swept her feet out from under her.

Springing to her feet before he could pin her down, she darted behind him, changing directions as one of his shadow clones suddenly appeared. "I invited Gaara to train with us, if he isn't too busy while he's here."

"You think he'll show?"

"Dunno." She completed a tricky taijutsu maneuver Lee had showed her the week before, effortlessly knocking Naruto to the ground.

She was a little disappointed when it was nightfall and the redheaded Sand-nin hadn't joined them.

EDIT: I went back and made some corrections to mistakes that were pointed out. If you noticed them, I'm sorry. Been a while since I read the manga, and small details always escape me.

I know that things may seem odd to strictly canon people. Remember that this is only an experiment - I've never written Gaara before. I'm hoping to improve though this. Be gentle, eh?

Constructive criticism is never hated. Drop me a line if you find something particularily icky.