Gaara watched as the carriage stopped to dump a bundle out into the sand and sped away. He waited until that bundle stopped rolling down the side of the dune before walking toward it.
He realized before he reached it that it was a body, but he didn't quicken his pace. He walked calmly up to the unconscious human, casting his shadow over her face. The girl stirred and opened one eye a crack. Judging by how swollen the other eye was, she probably couldn't even open it if she wanted. Her whole body took the example of her eye it seemed. She must have done something to make someone very angry.
The girl opened her mouth a little and Gaara could smell fresh blood as her lips cracked open. She spoke with a gurgling noise, as though there was liquid in her throat. 'Blood no doubt.' "Gaara."
She knew his name. Gaara examined her more closely than before, wondering if he should recognize her. Pink hair, a large forehead… ah yes, the girl who was always with that Sasuke brat. He couldn't remember her name anyway. "You must be a weaker ninja than I thought, letting yourself get beaten like this."
Sakura shriveled up inside at the truth in his words, if it was even possible for her to feel worse than she had already. She said nothing and closed her eyes against the sun and the view of his cold jade expression. She rolled onto his feet, curling her body around his legs in an attempt to get his help.
Please, she willed him mentally. Please just untie me.
When he stepped away she curled up even tighter around the space where he had been, willing it to be untrue. Wishing the rope tied around her wasn't there. Wishing she was still home in Konoha village.
She felt the ropes cut behind her and opened her eye to look at Gaara. He was standing a foot away, watching her. He had actually helped her?
When she got to her feet unsteadily he didn't move. They stood and stared at each other for a long while, until silently Gaara turned and walked away. It took Sakura a moment of indecision to react, but she trailed after him, deciding it was better to be stuck with Gaara than alone in the desert. Death was a little less certain.
Gaara sat a few feet away from the sleeping girl and cursed her. Stupid girl, needing to sleep. Being able to sleep.
He stood and looked over at her, contemplating waking her up and moving on, but she was already so slow. Looking out across the desert he entertained thoughts of just leaving her. But if he was going to kill her, he felt he should do it himself, not leave it to nature. Maybe he would strangle her in her sleep and bury her out here…
He looked at her over his shoulder, then without making a sound moved so he stood over her, inspecting her. She looked so pathetic with her scrapes and bruises. How could a ninja let themselves get so beaten without dying first?
Of course, things could have changed. It had been a few years since Gaara had been a ninja, almost a year now since he had even seen another human being.
The girl screamed in her sleep and pushed away some invisible attacker. Her scream seemed to wake her and she sat bolt upright, her hands reaching for kunai knives that weren't there. Gaara stared at the wild fear in her eyes, wondering why he hadn't made her feel such fear. Everyone else did.
When she had calmed down a little and noticed him standing there, she crawled back in the sand and curled up on herself, staring at him silently with wide eyes. He saw fear there, but not like she had shown in her sleep.
Sakura's foot was getting itchy, but she didn't want to move. Gaara had been standing there staring at her for so long she wondered if he even realized what he was doing. 'Not that he cares if he's making me uncomfortable. I'm sure he's enjoying it.' Finally she felt so agitated she just had to fidget, so she scratched her foot. It seemed to break the spell of the moment, as Gaara turned away.
"What's your name?" he asked suddenly.
'Of course he wouldn't remember your name,' Sakura told herself, 'You were never anything more than a fly to him. You shouldn't have expected him to know your name.' But she couldn't help feeling hurt, and worse; useless. None of this was apparent to Gaara when she told him her name though.
And then he walked away. Sakura glanced around quickly before following.
For a while she was content to follow behind him silently, watching the way his gourd swayed slightly as he walked. They walked this way for what must have been hours before Sakura got sick of all the silence. She trotted up beside him to watch his face as she talked.
"Where are we? How far is it to the nearest village?" she asked, "Or could we maybe find a well or something. I think I've got sand in my eye."
Gaara didn't look at her or respond.
"Gaara? Are you listening?"
He stopped and pointed. Sakura followed his finger to a distant dark spot on the horizon. After squinting at it for a while she realized it was a group of people.
"The desert men," Gaara explained, "They can help you now."
Gaara watched fear creep back into the girl's face as she watched the group of men. He noted everything about her stance indicating her unwillingness to go after the men. Her hands clenched in her skirt, her shoulders hunching over defensively, her feet shifting in the sand. She started making a sort of moaning noise without seeming to notice.
As she shuffled nervously from foot to foot the men drew nearer. They were still but a dot on the horizon, but they were definitely getting closer.
She noticed as well and turned her back to them to scan the desert behind them, biting her lip. Gaara didn't bother to look. He knew what was out there: nothing. He didn't know what her problem was, but her shuffling was getting on his nerves.
"Stop that." He snapped at her.
She dropped her skirt and straightened her shoulders all at once. "Will you please just take me to the nearest village?" she asked quietly.
Gaara glanced sidelong at her. It wasn't these desert men who had beaten her and dumped her in the desert, so why was she so mush more afraid of them than of him? Her seeming 'trust' in him galled him.
Again Gaara was just staring at her. Sakura wished she knew what he was thinking; maybe she could get some hint as to what to say to get a decision from him.
"Please." She repeated instead.
Gaara shrugged slightly and turned to leave. Sakura guessed that meant yes and found herself once again following him. They fell into silence again, Sakura watching the motion of his gourd.
She let her mind be free of any thoughts for once, smiled a little at Gaara's back. She should not think a lot more often. Just let her mind go blank, watch the gourd swaying back and forth, back and forth.
Gaara turned when he heard the girl collapse. He had expected her to have decided she had gone far enough and sat down to complain. He was going to get rid of her then, say she was too weak and leave.
But when he looked back at her he found she had passed out in the sand. He crouched beside her to listen to her breathing and wondered how any ninja could be so weak. Upon closer inspection he saw that her cuts were deeper than he had thought. He remembered then that she would probably need water more often than he. She must have pushed herself to her limit.
'How pathetic, if that's her limit.'
Gaara shrugged and settled nearby to meditate until she woke up. Then they would go to the nearest oasis and if she once complained he would leave her to fend for herself.
When she woke up her tongue felt like sand in the worst way. Full of dust, and it probably was. Blindly, she reached for a canteen, but there was nothing at her hip. As she sat up she winced at the pain that shot through her entire body. Trying her best to ignore it she stood and tried a few stretches.
When she finished her pathetic little attempt Gaara nodded to her and walked away. 'Well, at least he's consistent,' she thought and grinned despite herself. Her bottom lip cracked open and started to bleed. She thought she saw Gaara twitch for a moment, but soon told herself she had imagined it as he continued to walk. 'That would just be too creepy.'
She must have been crazy for lack of water because she tried to start another conversation with Gaara. "Do you need water too?" she asked, trying to get herself to stop, but it was like she was possessed. "You seem so…sandy. Does water affect your sand?" No response. "I don't believe I've ever been to this part of the desert before… Do you live here?" No response. "Of course, you couldn't live here all the time because you still have your duties as Kazekage. But you don't…"
Gaara turned and stood inches from her before Sakura could blink. "You shut up."
But Sakura wasn't thinking straight and she continued, "You… But you could have been great."
"Could have been great? I am great." Gaara spat. His green eyes glinted dangerously, "And look at what's become of the Leaf ninjas! Are they all as pathetic as you, or are you still the weakest?"
Sakura said nothing, but now Gaara was ready to talk, "I hear you have a good brain, as if that could make up for your weakness. But how smart can you be really if you never gave up on your hopeless 'love'?" He pointed to her bruises, "Why didn't you think yourself out of that?"
Sakura said nothing and Gaara walked away. "You disgust me."
Gaara stopped for a moment, and then changed his course so they wouldn't miss the oasis. They would sometimes be well hidden by dunes on all sides and so they were easy to miss.
He couldn't believe the girl was still following him. 'She must enjoy pain.' He thought angrily. She hadn't said anymore at least, yet Gaara found himself listening every once in a while to make sure she was still breathing. A living thing, not some lifeless doll.
They reached the oasis as the sun was setting. Gaara hung back as the girl stumbled forward to drink the water greedily.
After slurping up enough water to content her the girl lay back on the sand. She would not look at him. Fine.
Gaara walked to the water and refilled his canteen and then drank some himself. When he looked back she girl was rubbing her at her cuts with water. He stood and watched her for while, noting the water droplets on her cheeks and in her long pink hair. She had cut it once, if he remembered properly.
She growled and the smell of blood reached his nostrils. He was reminded of how long it had been since he had killed anything…
Unconsciously he had moved closer to the girl and now he looked down at her. Still she refused to look at him, even with his shadow over her. Did she think this would make him angry? Was she trying to get back at him for his words earlier? Gaara snorted at her foolishness.
"I could take the sand out, if you want." He offered, unsure of himself for some reason.
She looked up at him then, her green eyes strangely expressive. "And have my blood in your gourd?" She looked disgusted and Gaara hated it.
Still he did not strangle her. Somehow he continued to remain calm and reasonable, "You'll never get it all that way."
She twisted her shirt nervously. Gaara hated that too, but she agreed to let him clean her cuts.
Sakura tried to let her mind go blank as she had before, but as Gaara crouched beside her she found she could not. She was afraid suddenly as memories surfaced that she only wanted to forget. What if he…?
She relaxed a little when he closed his eyes and put two fingers to his forehead. So he wouldn't even touch her, and he wouldn't see. He held out his other hand palm up.
She had to bite her lip to keep from crying out when the sand came out of her eye. Of course she hadn't expected it to be painless, but the burning sensation was much worse than she had expected. She had to let go of her lip for a moment when sand started coming out of her mouth too.
The rest wasn't any worse, but it didn't feel any better. Gaara never moved as sand drifted out of her arms and legs, from under her clothes to settle in a bloody heap on his palm.
Lastly he took the sand out of her feet. Sakura breathed deeply as the procedure was finished. She looked at herself, "Wow, clean." She smiled weakly.
Gaara stood and walked a few feet away then very slowly and deliberately poured the sand he had taken from her onto the ground.
'Your blood isn't even good enough for him, that's how much you disgust him.' she thought bitterly, believing that over the thought that he was just reassuring her for what she had said before.
He sat down and started to meditate. As he did, a miniature sandstorm wrapped itself around him protectively. Sakura watched the phenomenon for a while then turned and took another drink. The water was surprisingly cool, and so clear she could see individual grains of sand at the bottom. She was suddenly very aware of the sore burn in her whole body and she waded in. The water in the center was deep enough to reach over her head. Contented with the cooling sensation on her burning muscles she floated on the surface, thinking of how nice it would be to nap right there. She saw Gaara's gourd in her mind's eye, swaying back and forth.
She realized she was falling asleep and waded back to the shore where she laid with her feet in the water and let herself sleep.