Author's Note: So, I was looking through old notebooks of mine, and found the outline for this story. And, omfg, I am a terrible person. I got so swept away by college and work and such that I totally forgot about this. BUT! I have returned! MUHAHAHAHAHA! Just don't hate me. (puppydogeyes)
I'm experimenting with a new style, so I'm really looking for some feed back. If you prefer it the other way, say so, and tell me why. Or, if you like it this way, tell me that as well!
Haruno Sakura really out did herself this time; she knew. Either she was really brave or really stupid. Funny, she thought, how everything I do is always one of those two.
The two men escorting her were talking between each other. Sakura couldn't hear what they were saying, but maybe that's what they wanted. She glowered at their backs as she trailed behind. They weren't even noticing her struggle. She was too hot and too exhausted from traveling all the way to their village and they didn't even have the decency to wait for her. They could have at least offered some water.
She blew her bangs out of her eyes and sped up her pace, stomping her feet. Sakura caught a movement to her left and paused to see her former sensei slowing down until he was shoulder to shoulder with her. She wasn't sure if he just winked at her or not—what with his other eye covered and such—but she smiled in response nonetheless.
At least she wasn't alone.
They entered the building and Sakura sighed in relief. Air conditioning would never be taken for grated again, she decided. Kakashi smiled at her, the fabric of his mask stretching, and held out his arm. Sakura gladly accepted and looped her arm through his.
She walked down the hall in silence, watching her feet. She was thinking of the last time she was here and how the floors were still the same color of rust red. She couldn't evade the feeling Kakashi was marching her to her fate and she was feeling a little queasy. But this isn't the time for doubts, she scolded herself.
Kakashi began humming the wedding march. Sakura blanched and hugged him closer. He must not have noticed. He kept on humming and Sakura kept on feeling nauseous.
"Miss Haruno." Sakura jumped, lost in images of bolting for the door, startled to hear her name. One of the men was staring at her, eyebrows raised. "Excuse us, but you should wait here."
The second didn't wait for her to respond, but turned and went inside a pair of doors to her right. The loud click of them shutting sounded ominous. She turned to look at the other Jounin still waiting.
"It'll only be a moment."
"That's fine. I have lots of time." She smiled sweetly, but he just left without a word.
Kakashi led her to a bench on the opposite wall. Sakura sagged her shoulders. She didn't know which emotion from the other anymore. They were all stirring inside of her like a thick soup and she felt so heavy carrying them all.
Kakashi lowered her mouth to her ear and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Are you sure about this, Sakura?"
She didn't say anything. She didn't want Kakashi to know the truth. So silence was the only thing she had left to say.
He sighed and leaned back, his head resting on the wall. She panicked. She didn't want him to be worrying she made a wrong decision.
"Yes, I'm sure." He opened his eye to look at her. She met his stare. "How bad can it be, anyways?" She gave him her brightest smile. He accepted it and gave her shoulder a squeeze before turning his attention to the ceiling.
As long as he believed she was sure of her choice, he wouldn't worry about her, and that was what she wanted. Kakashi was one of the few people who had faith in her, and if she started telling him she was scared, he'd think her weak.
Sakura decided a long time ago she'd never be seen weak again, and she wasn't going to start now.
Regardless of the indoor cooling, her skin still felt hot. Her face to be exact. She pressed her palms to her cheeks. Her stomach twisted violently and her temples were throbbing, like tiny fists punching, trying to get out of her head. Her medical background told her she wasn't sick. Her body was in perfect health. Sweaty, dirty…but healthy.
It was nerves, she told herself. And she had a right to be nervous. Sakura was about to literally walk into darkness. The kind of darkness that engulfs a person, blinding and terrifying. It was the darkness of uncertainty.
I really shouldn't complain, she chided herself. She was the one who agreed to this. It wasn't like she didn't have a choice. No one was holding a kunai to her throat. There was no pressure, no expectations; it was just an offer. Nothing more. She could have said no.
The Jounin from before peeked his head out from behind the doors. He cleared his throat to get their attention. Sakura and Kakashi stood at once. She felt her former sensei step closer to her. For once, she didn't mind the protectiveness.
"The Kazekage will see you now."
Sakura smiled, but not to seem pleasant. She smiled because that was the exact same thing she told her patients in the hospital.
"The doctor will see you now."
She nodded and hurried forward. Kakashi strode to stay by her side. She had no idea why she was rushing. In truth, she felt almost dragged. Not by anyone else, but by herself. She felt her stubbornness and her refusal to admit fear had grabbed her wrists and were pulling her inside the doors. And of course she was completely helpless.
The minute she passed through the doorway, she felt their eyes on her.
The Suna elders didn't even blink as she entered the office and made her way towards the center of the room. Her heart was pounding. Her hands were clammy. She had never felt so foolish, but she kept her chin up. She watched as they measured her, judged her, and she flushed.
She turned her eyes to the desk in front of her, and to the man sitting behind it; the Kazekage, her future husband.
Sakura fidgeted as he looked her over. She must look silly, she thought, with her wind blown hair, sweaty skin, and slightly disheveled clothes. He, on the other, looked very professional. His robes were neat and not a wrinkle to be seen. Without his hat, she could see his red hair was still as she remembered—slightly unruly and shaggy.
"Haruno Sakura, welcome."
Sakura smiled. She locked her knees. She would be damned if he saw her legs shaking.
"Kazekage," she greeted, bowing her head slightly.
"You accepted my proposal." It wasn't a question, and frankly, Sakura thought it was odd he said it. Of course she accepted. She was standing in his office, smiling like and idiot, after all.
But for his benefit, she played along. "Yes, I have." Sakura glanced at Kakashi. He was staring at Gaara leisurely. At least someone in this room is relaxed, she thought.
"Hatake Kakashi, the witness, I presume?" A young man asked, writing down on something—what, Sakura couldn't guess. He was positioned literally at Gaara's right hand, and seemed rather proud of that fact. He wore a haughty expression that Sakura didn't like too much.
"I am," Kakashi replied, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Gaara stood. From this distance, she could tell he was taller than her, but not by a great margin. As petty as it was, she was actually happy over it. At least she had that much going for her marriage.
"This must not have been an easy decision," he said, "but I, and Suna, greatly appreciate your answer."
Sakura twitched. It had been easy. Maybe a little too easy.
"No, no. Not at all."
He kept staring. The only movement being the slight tilt of his head as he examined her. His face, however, remained unchanged.
"Ah. That's good, then."
Even in his voice, Sakura couldn't get a hint of what he could be feeling. It wasn't something to new to her. She had her fair share of dealing with stoic boys—well, men—in her day. She just wished she had something to go off of. Something to tell her she wasn't so alone in this.
"Kazekage." The young man who had been seated next to Gaara placed a neat stack of papers on the edge of his desk. Gaara grabbed them by the corners and slid them in front of him. An elder on his other side extended his wrinkled hand, a pen between his fingers.
Gaara took the pen, and without a single look at Sakura, bent over and scribbled his signature.
Sakura felt a weight drop from her throat to her stomach.
She finally understood just what those papers were.
Her marriage certificate.
This wasn't exactly how she had imagined her wedding. There were no bells and doves flying in the air and friends smiling and a father to lead her down a silk carpet to her one true love. No white dress, no soft music, no reception. Not even a single flower or balloon to be seen.
She was getting married right now. Sweaty, filthy, and at a complete loss for words.
Gaara straightened and offered her the pen. She went forward. The desk hadn't seemed that far away a moment ago.
She reached out to took the pen—with a shaky hand, she realized—and gently touched Gaara's fingers. It was just a simple brush of skin, but Sakura couldn't stop herself from blushing. She quickly snatched the pen and turned the papers to face her. Sakura hunched over and briefly skimmed through the document. She heard someone sigh from behind her. She narrowed her eyes and continued to read it over. They were just going to have to deal with it. She wasn't about to sign away her freedom without reading the details first.
"My lawyer has written it for both of our interests," Gaara stated. Sakura glanced up at him. The lawyer, she figured out, was that pompous man sitting at the Kazekage's side. He perched himself closer, trying to see what she was doing, but she inched the papers away from him.
After her own inspection, she closed her eyes and lowered the tip of the pen to the paper.
She froze and looked up. Gaara was staring at her, his eyebrows raised. Could he sense her hesitation? Was he going to refuse the marriage now and send her home? Was she really that lucky?
"You're signing in the wrong spot."
Sakura gasped and looked and sure enough, she was just about to write over Gaara's name. She laughed breathlessly.
"Oops." She slid her hand over to the line meant for her and quickly scribbled her signature. She realized her handwriting was a disaster compared to Gaara's, but she figured he had more practice signing his name than she did.
She rose and pushed her shoulders back. Her eyes met Gaara's—and everything paused. They stood staring at the other, parallel, married, and complete strangers.
After Kakashi signed as Konoha's witness—stating that the marriage did, in fact, happen—the elder who stood off to the side approached Gaara and Sakura.
"Congratulations." Sakura watched as he collected the documents and tapped them on the edge of the desk, straightening them out.
He didn't have to sound so bored, she thought curtly.
And then they clapped. The several people who were sitting so quietly that Sakura had completely forgotten about them actually clapped. Sakura gaped at Kakashi, hoping he could make sense of it. What was there to clap for? All they did was sign a piece of paper. Kakashi, however, seemed amused and even joined in. Sakura scowled at him.
When the clapping stopped, Sakura didn't know what to do. She turned to Gaara, who had seated himself back behind his desk. He placed his palms flat on the surface and faced her—like a boss looks at his employee. She decided to ignore that image.
"Are you staying in Suna, Hatake?" He turned to look at Kakashi.
"No. I'm afraid I can't stay." Kakashi, on the other hand, was looking at Sakura, who refused to acknowledge this. She had to force herself to unclench her jaw.
"I see. Then you can say your goodbyes." Sakura blinked. She was being dismissed, she realized. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, gave Kakashi a sour expression, and turned on her heel towards the doors. The two Jounins who had escorted her when she arrived appeared seemingly out of thin air beside her. She walked faster, but no matter how hard she tried, she felt she couldn't truly escape.
Escape what—she didn't know.
"I told you I couldn't stay before we even left, Sakura." Kakashi was keeping up with her—to her great dismay—as she stormed down the hall towards the lobby. Her escorts were the ones trailing behind this time. They seemed wary of her by the way they kept their distance but Sakura didn't care anymore.
They passed a group of kunoichi. She saw them staring. They watched her walk past without saying a word. All of them still and frozen. Sakura could have sworn she heard them whispering like mad scientists as soon as she was far enough away.
Kakashi grabbed her arm, stopping her. She didn't pull away, but let him lead her off to the side.
"Sakura," he said, foreboding.
"I understand," she finally admitted. She sighed and put some space between them. "I just thought—I don't know what I thought." She put her forehead in her hand.
"Naruto needs you, I know." She dropped her hand back to her side and smiled. I need you, too. "He must be overwhelmed with all his new responsibilities." She laughed to herself, hoping to lighten the mood. I'm overwhelmed, too! Stay with me! Please! "Tell him I said not to burn the whole village down."
It worked. Kakashi relaxed and ushered her towards the front doors. They laughed and exchanged a few quips at Naruto's expense. Sakura wondered if her words sounded as empty as she felt.
Outside, her lungs were crushed. Summers in Suna were brutal. Sakura looked out at the horizon. The setting sun was dipping low behind the city. The colors reflected off the sand as the wind picked up and brushed her hair off her sweaty neck. It felt good. Maybe she could get used to this place. She was going to be here for a very long time, she realized.
Kakashi was admiring the view as well. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned his weight on his right foot and crossed his left over at the ankle. "So, how dose it feel?" Sakura looked at him curiously. "To be a married woman, I mean."
She smiled softly and turned to gaze at the city before them again. "Not much different," she whispered, like it was secret between the two of them. He chuckled.
"It'll take some time, but it will." Sakura nodded, not really sure if she believed him.
She sighed and glanced around. "I guess our body guards left."
Kakashi shrugged. "Perhaps we were bad company."
Sakura snorted. She raised her arms above her head and stretched, feeling the muscle in her back tighten then loosen.
Kakashi didn't laugh this time. The air around the pair stilled. Sakura pulled at her clothes and glanced at her former sensei in anticipation.
"If this wasn't what you wanted, why did you marry him?"
So, he knew. All her careful disguises and hidden truths weren't as concealed as she had thought. This was a problem.
"I'm not your sensei anymore, Sakura. You're as bad as Naruto."
They shared a smile and Sakura found a loop hole. A beautiful detour to a conversation she wasn't ready to have.
"You'll always feel like my sensei," she said, turning her attention back to the scenery. "I can be an old woman and I'll still think you're my sensei. You've taught me everything I know."
"Mm. That's not true. Tsunade taught you more." His face became strained. "I would have held you back, but with her, you moved forward."
Sakura clasped her hands behind her back and raised her eyebrows. "How so?"
"I knew your potential, Sakura, I just didn't know how to bring it out of you. Tsunade did. She was more of a teacher to you. She gave you more than I ever did."
She had no idea how to respond to that, so she settled for just staring at him like a wide-eyed twelve year old. He smiled and scratched the back of his head.
"Did I make you uncomfortable?"
She blinked out of her daze and grinned. "No, I'm just surprised you think that." When he didn't say anything, she continued. "It's not true. You taught me something I cherish and will never forget…love."
It was his turn to gaze at her in stunned silence.
She smiled wistfully as memories replayed themselves. So many lessons (and that's what her memories were—lessons) but all of them, if broken down to their bare bones, were of love.
"Thank you," she said quietly. Neither said anything further. They didn't have to.
Kakashi was the one to break the silence. He sighed and reached for Sakura, grabbing her shoulder, and pulling her into a hug. Sakura was shocked. Kakashi wasn't big on physical affection, but she wasn't about to complain. She buried her face in his vest and clutched onto him.
"I'll visit. So will everyone else." He ran a hand over her hair, smoothing down the frizz. All this touching was making Sakura lonelier. It was only going to make unwrapping her arms and letting him go that much harder. "You could visit, too, you know."
She smiled and unlatched herself from him. He smiled and patted her head. Sakura scowled and swatted his hand away. A few strands of her hair caught in his glove, tugging on her scalp. She yelped.
Sakura rubbed her head as he stared at her.
"I'll miss you," she said.
Kakashi's face suddenly brightened. "Wait! I haven't gotten you a wedding present."
Sakura laughed. She smiled coyly and leaned in towards him. He eyed her warily. "How about you let me see your face?"
"No jewelry? No pots and pans? Is that really what you want?"
Her grin widened and she nodded vigorously.
"What about a paid vacation for your honeymoon?"
Sakura's smile dropped a little before she composed herself. Honeymoon. That word hit her like a brick in the chest. Kakashi noticed the shift in her mood and cleared his throat.
"Ah, Sakura…if that's not the kind of relationship—"
Sakura blushed brightly and swatted at him. "Stop that. I'm not a kid, Sensei," she said pointedly. She poked him on the chest. "If Gaara wants it, he's going to have to earn it." With a mischievous smile, she watched him blanche. "I'm not an easy girl. I expect at least one date before—"
Kakashi nervously chuckled, rubbing the spot her finger assaulted him. "Alright, I get your point." She crossed her arms over her chest while he fumbled with what to say. "Well, just make sure he knows that."
She grinned happily before hugging him tightly. He patted her back awkwardly. What happened to the snuggly Kakashi, she thought, smiling.
"Wear sun block," he said, jokingly. Sakura grunted.
"I'm going to need more than just sun block." A gust of hot wind swept past them. Sakura hugged herself. Kakashi began to descend down the stairs. She almost had to look away. She wasn't sure if she could watch him go without the desire to chase after him.
"This isn't goodbye," he said, pausing. He didn't even look at her. "It's a see you later."
Sakura stared at the back of his head. She tried her hardest to memorize every detail.
"See you later, Kakashi."
"See you later, Sakura."
This time, she really did look away. She turned around and walked back inside. Her eyes were watering, but she sucked in air and held her breath to stop them from sliding down her cheeks. If she let herself cry, tears wouldn't be the only thing falling. She feared the rest of her would, too.
The realization didn't hit her until she was through the doors.
That sneaky bastard got away without showing his face.
"Sensei!" Sakura bolted outside and stopped at the top of the stairs to see he was already gone.
With no one around, she let herself laugh out loud. She wasn't sure if she was laughing because of his trick, or because she just wanted something to do besides break down and cry, but it felt good nonetheless. She was out of breath and grinning madly.
"I'll get you next time, bastard!" she yelled, her hands cupping her mouth. He probably couldn't hear her, but it felt right to declare it anyways.
She froze. She turned slowly to see Gaara standing behind her. Her face burned. He was looking at her skeptically. He must think I'm crazy, she thought. She swallowed and straightened her shirt.
"Hatake is gone?"
"Yes. He just left." She spoke quietly and avoided looking at him.
She finally lifted her eyes to see him gazing out past her, at the sunset and the city. The wind picked up and blew his bangs across his face. The blood red tattoo underneath was exposed. Love, it read, but it made her shiver.
He really was a stranger, she realized.
Gaara didn't seem to notice her openly gawking at him. "Do you want to go home?" he asked, casually.
Sakura's heat skipped a beat.
He stepped aside and motioned for her to follow him. "It's this way."
Oh. He meant her new home. Sakura smiled vacantly and followed him. She felt her limbs reacting mechanically, taking step after step as he led her towards the city, but her mind was elsewhere.
The wind had died, but with each step she took, Sakura felt the sand licking at her ankles. She tried her hardest to ignore the itching sensation, but every once in awhile, she paused to scratch. Gaara didn't seem to mind. In fact, he didn't seem to even notice.
They passed a few shops. Sakura peered inside the windows curiously at the colorful clothing and pottery. A food stand teased Sakura's stomach as they passed it. She hadn't eaten in a couple hours and her stomach was starting to protest. People would turn and watch as herself and Gaara walked. She felt as if she were on parade.
She doubted the citizens knew she was his wife yet, but it wouldn't take long for word to get out. They knew he had proposed to a young girl in Konoha; they just had no clue who she was. A few would whisper and point, making assumptions about her. She decided to keep her eyes on Gaara's back.
They didn't say anything to each other, but it wasn't awkward. Sakura kept her head up, regardless of wanting to hide behind her hair and be as invisible as possible—though that was hard to do, what with pink hair and all. She ignored the staring as best she could. As long as she didn't look in their faces, she could pretend they weren't there.
Gaara glanced back at her and paused. Sakura froze in place. He held out his hand, but Sakura wasn't sure what to do. When he saw she wasn't going to move on her own, he reached and grabbed her hand. He didn't say anything—just slowed his pace to walk beside her and firmly intertwined his fingers between hers. Sakura turned her face away from him and smiled warmly.
The house was completely different from her home in Konoha. It was partly underground, for one. Little round windows with no curtains, a single door with no welcome sign, and a lawn with no garden—actually, Sakura didn't know if she could call it a lawn. She followed him inside.
There were two staircases; one going up, one going down. Gaara slid off his shoes and Sakura did the same. He looked at her earnestly.
"Do you want to see your room?"
Sakura was stretching her neck to see upstairs but quickly pulled back and smiled at Gaara. "Yes, please."
Gaara nodded and headed down the stairs. Sakura wasn't sure if she was meant to follow. He stopped at the bottom, turned, and looked up at her. Sakura got the hint.
There was a hallway at the bottom of the stairs; wide and bare. It was cooler down here and Sakura breathed in with relief. Gaara kept walking. Sakura hurried to follow.
"The first room is the bathroom. The other two are spare rooms." Sakura nodded, though Gaara's back was facing her. The hall turned right and at the end were two doors. Gaara pushed them open and Sakura entered after him.
It was cool and spacious. It was plain, to say the least. Sakura gazed around. There was a plant she couldn't recognize in the corner. The scattered furniture was mostly just a low table, chairs, and a couch. Not a bed to be seen, she noticed.
"The bedroom is through there," he said, picking up on her confusion, and pointed towards a door on the far side of the room. "And the bathroom over there." Sakura nodded.
All this for a bedroom?
Sakura felt him staring so she met his eyes and smiled. He looked away. She didn't know what to do, or say for that matter, so she continued to stand still and do (and say) nothing.
"Perhaps you'd like to sleep somewhere else…"
Sakura panicked. "Oh, no. It's lovely. Really. I love it. The plant is nice." She pointed at it dumbly and Gaara followed her hand with his eyes. They both stared at the plant.
And then the silence began.
Idiot. Moron. Stupid! Inner Sakura was furious with her. Say something!
"Can I see the bedroom?"
Gaara hesitated, but only briefly. Her question, she thought, must have startled him. Not that he would show it.
He opened the door and held it for her. Sakura walked inside and…wasn't surprised at all. Like most of the house, it was modest. It seemed Gaara didn't have a taste for unnecessary things. The bed was big at least, and centered under a canopy. She ran a hand down the soft comforter and examined the rest of the decor. There were a few desert plants and several windows. An armoire was shoved against the nearest wall. What she guessed as closet doors were shut tightly opposite the bed. She didn't mind all the open space. It made her feel free to move.
"I hope you don't mind sharing closet space," Gaara said from behind her. Sakura wasn't listening completely, but nodded. "You're things will be moved in, of course. Do you like it?"
She almost didn't catch the last part. She turned over her shoulder to smile at him. "Very much," she said.
He seemed pleased with her answer, and rubbed his chin. After clearing his throat, he said, "I know we don't know each other very well, but I hope you give me—ah, this arrangement—a chance."
Sakura kept her smile firmly in place. "I'm here, aren't I?" She watched his face, but he displayed nothing of what was going through his mind. Sakura felt her grip on her pleasant smile loosen. "I didn't mean—of course—" She stopped to collect her thoughts. Gaara watching her closely the entire time. She sighed. "I'm giving everything I've got," she said, just above a whisper.
When he didn't say anything, she looked up to see him looking at her with indifference. Sakura immediately averted her eyes to the window.
"As am I."
Her shock must have been apparent, because he suddenly seemed uncomfortable. Gaara cleared his throat, his fist pressed to his lips.
"If there should be any second thoughts—"
Sakura jumped to cut him off. "No! I don't regret this. I'm honored to be here. I respect you and what you've done for your people. I wouldn't do this if I wasn't sure you were a good man."
He blinked several times. Gaara opened his mouth to speak but then quickly shut it. He fussed over the sleeve of his robe before clearing his throat.
"Ah, well, that's wonderful, but I was referring to where you would like to sleep…"
She could have fallen over.
Sakura cringed over the idea of what Gaara must think of her. A blabbering idiot most likely. That's what she thought, at least. With a quick glance at him, she began to wonder if maybe he was regretting this. She wouldn't blame him if he did.
"I can't stay. I only came to show you home."
"I'll be late. You don't have to wait for me," he said so matter-of-fact—like it was something he said to her on a regular basis. "Goodbye."
As she watched his back, Kakashi's face appeared before her eyes. "No. Not goodbye." He stopped his in tracks and turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. She smiled at him—genuinely smiled—and said, "See you later."
Gaara's face softened, just an inch, and just for a second. "See you later." And then he was gone.
More to come!