Author's note: This is my first fan fiction. So if I've done bad, please bear with me. I would appreciate if you tell me what you honestly think of my story - constructive criticism is also welcomed. I hope you'll enjoy this! Please R&R! WARNING: Contains spoilers up to Chap 278.
Disclaimer: I wish and I wish and I wish… But I don't own Naruto, though I much rather own just Gaara. (Kishimoto sensei just wouldn't give him to me…)
Gaara sighed heavily and set his elbows on the large wooden table in front of him. He buried his face in his hands wearily and sighed some more. 'I'm never going to get these done.' He thought to himself. Ever since the attack on Sunagakure by the Akatsuki, there seemed to be more and more work that needed to be done. Normally, Gaara would have sufficient time to deal with the many problems that is within the Kazekage's jurisdiction since he didn't sleep. But after the demon within him had been forcefully extracted, he had less energy and stamina than he did before. Now, when the world began to turn dark and the moon was high in the night sky, Gaara's eyelids would begin to feel heavy and he would start yawning – something he had never done before. He would feel a strong urge to drop everything he was doing, close his eyes and just drift into the sweet nothingness of sleep.
This feeling was strange and new to him, he had never needed to sleep before and now, he just had to. He just wanted to just let go of all consciousness, to let go of all that held him to the world and to bask in the pure bliss of utter darkness in his mind. When the demon was within him, Gaara never had a moment to himself. Even though he might be all alone, with not another soul around, that menacing voice always remained in his head. He never had solitude. It accompanied him everywhere he went, every moment of the day. And it was always snarling and demanding for blood - fresh blood. So much so that it become tedious and exhausting to maintain that urge to kill. Back then there was no chance of sleep to relieve him from the monster in his mind, for if he did, his soul would have been consumed. After the demon had been taken from him, Gaara thought that maybe just maybe, life might be a little different now. He had thought that he could finally be at peace, to have nothing weigh his mind down, to let his thoughts flow freely as the birds in the sky. But it didn't seem that things were that different.
The attack on the village brought more problems than he thought possible. An entire squadron of his men had been slaughtered and the military might of Suna had been greatly affected by this loss. Neighboring countries were emboldened by this sudden shift in power and had taken to crossing Suna's borders without permission- moving within his territory as if it were their own. The people were alarmed, more so the daimyo who decided to cut back even more on their funding and came to depend more on other ninja villages because he doubted his own shinobis. This in turn made the elder council more fidgety than they usually were, and they constantly demanded that Gaara improve the conditions of their ninjas. Furthermore, they had come to trust his capabilities less and less after Shukaku had been extracted. He understood their fear, for the demon provided him with great power and ability and had been pivotal in their decision to elect him as Kazekage. Now that the demon was gone, they doubted if he could still protect the village from another large-scale attack such as the one launched by the Akatsuki. They also feared him less since his murderous tendencies and dangerous mood swings had altogether disappeared. He found that his threats were not as effective as before and it irked him a little, he liked keeping those stupid old bastards in line with fear. These problems weighed heavily on Gaara's young shoulders. Sometimes he wondered if he could take this burden any longer.
He rubbed his eyes vigorously in an effort to stay awake. It was already 2 in the morning. Even though he slept every night, as opposed to a few months before when he didn't sleep at all, he still had those trademark dark rings around his eyes. Temari attributed it to the fact that he only slept five hours a night, which was way below the daily average that an ordinary human being needed. She would always argue that he needed to sleep more now since he had a lot of catching up to do, and he would always agree but could never follow through with it. She once quipped that one day he would collapse and die of exhaustion and though he would laugh, he was almost certain that his second death would be as such. He never told her.
"I'm so tired…" Gaara said to no one in particular.
He ran his long, slender fingers in his rusty red hair and rested his head on the edge of his table. Closing his eyes for just a short moment of rest.
"Then you should get some sleep." A feminine voice replied.
Gaara shot up and saw a young pink-haired kunoichi standing in the doorway to his office. She had her arms crossed in front of her chest and she bore a concerned look on her beautiful face.
Gaara leaned back into his chair and scratched the tattoo on his forehead absent-mindedly. It was a nervous habit he developed soon after she arrived in Sunagakure. After the Akatsuki member Sasori had poisoned Kankurou, the village realized that they were greatly lacking in capable medical ninjas. He had almost died and was narrowly saved only because Sakura arrived. She had managed to draw out the poison from his body with her superb chakra control and even developed an antidote to the extremely complex poison that Sasori had created. In one simple instance, she had put to shame the entire medical squad of Suna and she wasn't even 16 yet. Thus, Gaara made a request to their allies Konoha for a highly skilled medic to help improve the quality of Suna's medics. The godaime hokage felt that the best candidate for this job would be none other than her own apprentice and promptly sent her over the moment she received the request. It had been eight months since she got here, and things have never been the same.
The pink-haired girl had an immediate impact on everyone she had met in Suna. Everyone fell in love with the kind-hearted medic who did her best to help all those in need – from the ninjas to the ordinary folk who lived in the village. Paper cuts and skinned knees to broken limbs and ruptured organs- she healed them all and still managed a sweet smile each time she did. Her gentle yet knowing fingers could cure any wound and soothe any pain. Soon, her expertise spread far and wide and everyone dubbed her "The Miracle Angel". Yet, behind that soft and kind exterior, she held a strong will and an even stronger determination in which she dedicated her work to. Even the stoic elders on the council had become enamored with her; though they would much rather die than admit it. It seemed that no one could resist her spell and those captivating emerald eyes. Especially Gaara.
"Why aren't you asleep? It's late and you need your rest." She said politely.
"I still have some things that I need to take care of." He replied just as politely.
"It can wait till tomorrow. You need to take a break or you'll collapse."
"I won't collapse." He replied rather annoyed. He didn't like people thinking he was weak or that he needed a time out, like a little child who needs a nap in the middle of the day.
"You might if you continue doing this." She said, not caring at the change of tone in his voice. She was always like that. Sometimes, the medic in her made him annoyed, as she would keep nagging him to practice a healthier lifestyle. When she got started, she wouldn't stop unless he buried her in a pile of sand or smothered her with the cushion on his chair. 'Sleep more! Eat your vegetables! Don't eat that! Its bad for you!' Blah blah blah. She just wouldn't stop. But sometimes it felt good to have her pestering him like that, maybe it was a sign she cared for him. 'Yeah right. She would do the same for anybody.' Gaara snorted resentfully. He decided to change the subject and hoped she would get off his back.
"What about you? Why are you still awake?"
Sakura looked at him intensely, her piercing eyes seemingly boring into his very soul. Gaara thought she might have realized his attempt at trying to divert her attention away from the fact that he wasn't sleeping.
"I couldn't sleep. Its much too hot." Gaara sighed in relief at her answer. She hadn't caught on.
Even though it had been half a year, she still found it difficult to adjust to the blistering heat of the desert. Temari had given her some tips on how to stay cool but sometimes it was just too overwhelming and she often felt suffocated by the temperature. Deserts were usually awfully cold in the night but Suna was a strange place for it was hot all day long, and Sakura couldn't adapt to it yet.
"Aa." He said simply.
He didn't know how to continue the conversation. But he did continue staring at her as she walked towards him and casually sat down in the chair opposite him as though she was in her own home and not in the office of the Kazekage. Sakura had always been comfortable in his presence unlike many, and he often marveled at her courage. Even though it has been many years since he last killed someone on a mere whim and that the demon was gone, the majority of the village still viewed him with fear. There were some of the younger shinobi who came to revere him as a great and powerful leader but still kept their distance whenever possible. The only ones who felt they could be themselves in his presence were Temari, Kankurou and now her. Somehow, he didn't feel as tired when she was around as her presence was comforting, soothing. He felt that he could take on the whole Akatsuki after one look into those wonderful, mesmerizing green orbs of hers. Gaara didn't even mind when she made physical contact with him, again something that he shared only with his siblings. In fact, he secretly enjoyed it when she tapped his shoulder to get his attention, or when she placed her hand on his to make a point, or even when she once poked him in the side to see if he was ticklish (He wasn't, to her disappointment). He didn't enjoy the close proximity at first, but an incident changed all that.
Gaara had once been injured in a skirmish with some renegade ninja from another village who crossed their borders. It wasn't a difficult fight and he defeated them rather quickly. But one of the shinobi had caught him off guard and launched several kunais in his direction. With his automatic sand guard no longer existent, the kunais hit Gaara in the chest and shoulder. The wounds weren't serious but he had bled a lot, and when he returned to the village, Sakura was almost out of her mind with worry.
'You have to let me treat that.' She had shrieked, her face pale with worry. 'You're losing a lot of blood.'
'I'll be fine.' Gaara had insisted though in reality, he didn't feel fine. The kunais didn't hit any of his vital spots, but the pain was dizzying and the loss of blood made his vision blurry. Even so, he didn't want her to touch him. Physical contact made him uneasy for he had never been held or hugged before, even as a child.
'No you won't!' Her voice had risen another octave or two, then it softened. 'Don't be stubborn. Let me take a look.'
And she approached him, reaching her hands out to him. Gaara instinctively backed away, creating as much distance between their bodies as he could. Sakura persisted and inched even closer, her hands still outspread towards him. He wanted to swat her hands away, and had to resist the urge to bolt from his office. But somehow, the expression in her face seemed to warm his heart. It was full of genuine kindness and compassion, devoid of malice intent and he felt so strange. No one had ever reached out to touch him willingly before, and those who did had tried to take his life. And now, this young woman before him was offering to touch him and to heal him. He stopped moving away and she slowly reached out to lift his bloodied shirt over his head. Sakura bit down on her lip when she saw the profusely bleeding wounds on his lean torso and placed her gentle hands over the more serious ones first. Gaara felt a bolt of electricity course through his spine as her soft fingers made contact with his bare skin, and the smell of flowers flooded his nostrils. Flowers were rare in the desert, and the people in the village cherished the few that could grow in their barren land. Even Gaara. He sat there unmoving for an hour, enjoying this new sensation in his body and her lovely scent as her chakra flowed into him, healing him bit by bit.
After this, he had come to enjoy her company more and more. And he felt no fear in her when they were together, which was rare since everywhere he went, he tasted a lingering fear in air. Fear that was directed towards him. Sakura treated him like she would any other person and that was most important to him for he had been treated differently all his life. For once, he felt like any other ordinary person and it made him feel good. He hadn't liked it when she had called Kankurou and Temari by their names at her arrival, but turned to address him as Kazekage-sama. It made him feel left out, though he didn't know it then. Later, he had insisted that she called him by his name and not by his title for he hated being addressed so formally. She laughed and teased him for being fussy and he felt more and more attracted to her boldness. Now, Gaara found himself unwillingly drinking in her beauty and slowly becoming drunk in her aura. He had to shake his head hard to snap out of his reverie.
"Its so hot. I honestly don't know how you put up with it." She said while fanning herself with a piece of paper she picked off his table.
"Well, sometimes I really wish I could change the weather, but blocking the sun out with my sand will ruin the crops." He didn't know why he had said that, but the words just escaped his lips.
Sakura blinked. Did Gaara just make a joke? For a moment she was silent but then she threw back her head in laughter, pink locks flying with the sudden movement. Her voice sounded like sweet music to him and he wanted so much to tell her that. He couldn't stop looking at her angelic face. 'This is definitely a side to Gaara I've never seen.' Sakura thought. 'He surprises me sometimes. He's really something.'
Suddenly, she stopped laughing and looked at him apprehensively. Gaara was puzzled by her abrupt change of expression and a feeling of dread began forming in the pit of his stomach. He could feel negative energies from a mile away and now Sakura was emanating them. He braced himself, not knowing what to expect but he was definitely expecting the worse. Gaara kept his eyes on her and expected her to turn away from him like all the others did when he felt a negative aura such as this. Even so, she didn't waver in her gaze and cleared her throat.
"Can I ask you something, Gaara?" She asked uncertainly.
"Sure." Gaara replied just as uncertainly though he had hid the nervousness in his voice better than she had.
For a moment, Sakura was silent. Quietly pondering if it was wise to ask him the question that has been playing at the back of her mind for ages. Gaara might think she was stupid or insane for asking him such a nonsensical question, but she wanted to know the answer. She didn't know why, but she just wanted to know what his answer would be. She needed to what he thought. Finally, she decided to just ask him anyways.
"What do you think love means?"
Gaara was thunderstruck. He was expecting something really awkward or difficult, but instead she asked if he knew what love meant. Gaara heaved a sigh of relief. He thought she was going to ask for a favor (not that he minded but he was afraid of disappointing her if he couldn't come through with it), or that she was asking to go home (she had been here far longer than was needed and he didn't want her to leave), or that she was going to ask about his past. (he didn't want to talk about it and have it scare her away).
But then he realized that this question was just as awkward and difficult as the ones he thought of, as he really didn't know what it meant. Sure, he had the word carved on his forehead, but what did it really mean? He racked his mind for an intelligent answer, one that wouldn't make it seem that he didn't know anything, but not one that would make him seem as though he knew too much either. But try as he might, Gaara just couldn't find one that he felt was satisfactory. 'What is love? How would I know? I'm a cold-blooded killer who carries the life force of my victims with me everywhere I go. How do I explain such a thing as love? I cant even fake knowing what it means.'
Tried as he might, Gaara couldn't find the meaning of the word within himself and in the end, he gave up.
"I don't know." He said dejectedly, his voice tinged with a deep sadness.
His past never allowed him an opportunity to know love, and he didn't think that he would ever know what it meant. Gaara hoped that Sakura didn't think he was weird, not knowing what love is since even little children knew what it meant. He always heard them saying to their parents "I love you, mother! I love you, father!" but its true meaning escaped him and if it frustrated him before, it frustrated him even more now for he couldn't answer her.
"Well, I don't really know either." Sakura replied nonchalantly.
Gaara was taken aback. 'She didn't either?'
"Love is such a difficult thing to express in words. Don't you think?" She turned to Gaara and he nodded slowly in agreement, unsure of where this conversation was going.
"I used to think that I loved Sasuke, that what I felt for him was love. Even after he left, I was sure I still loved him. I told myself that I would wait for him to come back, that one day we would be together and we would be happy. I was certain that this was love. And now, I've grown and I'm not so sure anymore." She paused, her head drooping sadly. Gaara's heart almost broke. He didn't like seeing her this way. He wanted her to smile again. Wanting to break this spell of sadness that had fallen over her, he blurted out the first words that came to his mind.
"What do you think love is?"
"Hm?" Sakura looked at him oddly, mildly surprised that he had spoken up and asked her such a question. "I don't know. I guess love has many meanings."
"What is your meaning of love then?" He continued.
"Hmm…" Sakura scratched her chin thoughtfully. "Well, I think there are many kinds of love."
"Many kinds?" Gaara queried.
He didn't know there was more than one kind of love. The intricacies and meaning of this short, unassuming yet seemingly infinite word still eluded him. Though his encounter with Naruto had left him far less murderous and more in touch with his human emotions, Gaara still struggled to comprehend the complexities of being human. Things such as jealousy, envy and guilt made him confused. Even more so love.
Sakura could only laugh politely at Gaara's innocent question. Over the past half year, she had come to find this child-like naïveté of his, charming and a refreshing change from the often cruel shinobi world they both live in. The memory of his contorted, demon-possessed face and unrelenting thirst for Sasuke's blood was nothing more than a distant memory to her. Now, Gaara seemed like an awkward young man trying to find his place in this big world, not knowing what may come next. Gaara was afraid of the future and woke up each morning with a silent fear that today might be too different from yesterday. He wanted change, but was unsure of what sort of changes he wanted, and he feared that if something did change, he might not be able to adjust. And change was inevitable, more so in his life as Kazekage. This vulnerability that he tried so desperately to hide did not escape her attention and she came to like him for it. He wasn't the cruel and cold-blooded boy who killed wantonly anymore. Gaara had shown kindness to others and she had the privilege of witnessing several occasions. Sakura had to smile at the memory of him buying a candy to appease a crying young child who had fallen and skinned his knee. She wanted so much to make him feel safe, to protect him. It may seem odd that a Kazekage would need protection, much more so from a young woman who seemed like she was the one needing protection. Yet, she wanted more than to just protect his body from harm. She wanted to protect his heart.
"Yes, Gaara-Sama." She smirkingly teased. Knowing how much he disliked the suffix. "Many kinds of love."
She looked into his sea green eyes and saw confusion as well as an emotion she couldn't put a name to. An emotion that seemed to touch the very core of her being, an emotion she felt was mirrored in her own eyes. She reluctantly tore her gaze away from his and quickly continued.
"There are many kinds of love. Such as the love between parent and child…"
Gaara nodded thoughtfully. He knew that parents loved their children but he hadn't really experienced love with his parents. His mother had died at his birth and didn't have a chance to show him love while his father had tried numerous times to have him assassinated. Not hardly what you could call love, Gaara reflected bitterly.
"Love between sensei and student…"
Neither did he love his sensei Baki. The jounin had watched out for him during missions and trained him in the various ninja techniques of the village. Though he respected Baki, Gaara wasn't certain if what he felt towards his former teacher could be constituted as love. Especially since the older man still quivered with fear whenever Gaara gave him a cold stare.
"Love between friends…"
Gaara didn't have many friends except for Naruto and Lee, but to say that he loved them sounded strange in his opinion. If anything, he felt respect and admiration towards the both of them. One taught him to make his own path in life and that true strength came from protecting those you care for, while the other taught him hard work and that luck is also part of one's strength. Gaara decided to leave it at that.
"Love between siblings…"
Temari and Kankurou, on the other hand, had treated him more warmly than others had. Over the years, the relationship between the three siblings improved and they came not to fear their younger brother anymore. Kankurou became Gaara's confidante – sharing in his dreams and desires, while Temari was the protective mother hen who more than once beaten down the elder council when she felt that they were bullying him. I could love them, Gaara thought.
Deep in his thoughts, Gaara didn't notice that Sakura had paused in her words for a long time now and that she was carefully observing his handsome face. The way he raised one eyebrow as he pondered something, the way his red hair fell into his eyes and the way he flicked them out of his eyes with his hand, even the kanji tattoo looked appealing to her. She couldn't understand how people could find it so scary when it allured her so much. She wanted to touch it, to feel the marked skin with her own fingers. And his lips. Oh, how she wanted to touch those lips. Sakura blushed despite herself and moved closer to him.
"And… This kind of love."
Gaara looked up at Sakura quizzically and saw that her face was much closer to his now than just a few moments ago. She again held his gaze and he found her piercing green eyes hypnotizing, keeping him in a trance. Sakura moved closer and Gaara felt his heart starting to pound madly and he had to resist the urge to press his hand to his chest. She moved even closer and tiptoed to put her soft, pink lips onto his thin, dry ones, her hands coming to rest on his chest. Gaara's eyes widened at the sudden contact and his mind screamed with confusion. His thoughts circled like birds and he fought in vain to find rationale behind her irrational behavior. He wanted to push her away, not because he didn't want her kiss but because he wanted to push the maddening confusion away. He didn't understand this and it tormented him. But his body refused to comply, refused to budge, refused to obey him.
Then as quickly as she had kissed him, she just as quickly released her lips from his. Sakura took a few steps back. Gaara felt a pang of disappointment rising in his chest and the confusion within him reached another level of intensity. Sakura felt embarrassed but was more disappointed as well. She had thought, had assumed that he would have wanted her to do it, that he would share her own heating desire. But he had stood there stiffly while she kissed him. Unmoving. Unresponsive. She had expected him to return the kiss, to crush her passionately to his chest and to blow warm breaths in her ear as he whispered "I love you, Sakura." But he didn't. He just stood there! She felt a whole wave of different emotions crash repeatedly into her body. Awkwardness. Pain. Bewilderment. Sadness. Rejection. Hurt.
"I'm sorry." She whispered inaudibly. "I… I don't know what came over me."
She took more wavering steps back, away from him. Tears started forming in her emerald green eyes, threatening to spill out onto her smooth cheeks.
"I'm so sorry…" Her voice had begun to break with anguish.
A surge of pain shot through Gaara's heart. She turned to leave. She wanted to run. To run away from this place, to run away from Gaara, to run away from this madness that seemed to radiate from him. She just wanted to run far, far away. But could she bear to run away from the man she had come to love? Let's find out, she thought to herself. And she ran.
Sakura had just reached the door to his office, when he appeared in a cloud of sand in front of her, blocking her escape. She came face-to-face with his chest, not knowing what to do, she gulped and slowly lifted her head to look into his eyes. And she saw that his black-rimmed eyes had glistened with tears too.
"Don't be sorry." He said with such tenderness that the moisture in her eyes began to well again instantaneously. Gaara reached out to stroke a stray strand of hair away from her face. Then he hesitantly bent to place his lips over hers, his hands circling her waist, bringing her small frame against his warm body tighter.
Sakura returned the kiss and wound her arms around his neck, running her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. He shuddered at the contact and shivers were coursing uncontrollably down his spine. But Gaara decided that he liked the feeling and deepened his kiss, while Sakura continued to twine her fingers in his hair.
Breaking their passionate kiss for air, Sakura laid her head on Gaara's chest while he buried his face in her rosette hair, breathing in her sweet scent. Both of them were just enjoying the feel of each other's body when he spoke up.
"You know, I still don't really understand all those kinds of love you mentioned." He said softly. He sounded almost child-like. But a small smile spread across his lips as he murmured into her hair.
"But at least… at least I understand this kind of love."
And Sakura smiled back as they tightened their hold on each other.