Mud and Hostages
Holiday Challenge
About 1,200 words
T/PG for situations
Theme/Key phrase: "You put the bell where?"


As with any number of things, she was able to blame Naruto completely. After all, it'd been his plan to show Gaara how they'd trained as genin—and it'd been his plan to break out the bell he'd nabbed from Kakashi.

Being guilty by association—or at least claimed as a playmate by association—Sakura ended up out on the training field, in the rain, trying to avoid both hypothermia and getting in the guys' way. Quite simply, she didn't care about their training. One would eventually clobber the other—and Gaara was sneaky, so she had her money on him—and as long as she didn't end up clobbered by proxy, she needn't get involved at all. But her attempt failed miserably: Gaara'd made a pit trap, covered it with a mix of sand and illusion, and caught her as she went straight through it.

Capture she could deal with; being out of the game meant she could find a dry—well, dry-er, or dry-ish—place to sit down and watch the two try to kill each other. But Gaara didn't feel like letting things go so easily: one of them had the damned bell, and he wanted it.

"I don't have it," she told him again, grasping at his wrists as his hands patted against her sides in an increasingly personal manner.

"First rule of interrogation," he said, "is to never believe the first confession you're told." He nabbed her hip pouch and, before she could get in a word of protest, dumped it onto the pit's sand-covered floor.

"I told you—" Sakura said—and then dove for his hands, trying to snatch a little notebook away before he could open it. This was a bad move on her part; the notebook's contents suddenly became worth defending from her, and Gaara'd always excelled at defense. She snarled and raised a fist, intending to pulverize both his shields and him . . . when slowly, cautiously, the sand in front of her dropped. Gaara held up the notebook curiously—and of course, it was flipped open to the rough sketch of him with little triangular ears and the caption "I am a Very Pretty Kitty."

Despite the rain and chill, Sakura felt her cheeks heating. "I can explain," she muttered.

"No need," he said, and tucked the notebook into a pocket. "It's not there."

She blinked with confusion. Then it registered: "Oh, the bell."

"Yeah." He folded his arms across his chest and regarded her as mildly as possible. "It could still be on you, though."

"It's not." Climbing out of this mud hole would be a task even without the Sand-nin dragging her back down like some berserk, touchy-feely ant lion.

"But you'd say that even if you had it," he returned. "And it'd make sense to hide it in your clothes, then hope I'd be polite enough to not go in after it." An arm snaked around her, and she found that their damp clothing transmitted his body heat very well.

"But . . . but you don't like—" Her palms fitted to his shoulders, possibly to launch him and possibly to return his hug. Unfortunately—as always, unfortunately—she didn't know which impulse to go with.

"It's not that I don't like girls," he said. "I just like to be the hunter more than the hunted." And his hand started working its way along her rib cage, searching for the seam of her bra.

Oh great. Gaara was talking about relationships and trying to steal her clothing. She'd have witnessed the end of the world from the cold bottom of a cold and muddy pit trap as Gaara tried to get his cold, cold hands on her—

This was so not her idea of a good morning!

Impulse number one worked—she shoved him. "Damn it, Gaara! Don't you think you'd be able to tell if I have anything in my bra—without this?"

"Maybe." He considered momentarily, then wrapped his other arm around her and squeezed tightly, his cheek almost against hers, seeming to concentrate on how nothing jangled or pinched between them. Gaara finally glanced up, then back down the gap at the top of her shirt. "But I'm not done looking yet."

Her voice could've frosted the ground under their feet. "There's nothing to look for."

Gaara hooked a finger in the waistband of her shorts and smirked. "Then you won't object if I check?"

"But she really doesn't have it." Naruto peered down into their hole. "Or—Hey! Are you just tryin' to get her clothes off?"

Gaara looked up but didn't loosen his grip on her. "Do you have it?"

Naruto's eyes widened. "Does the clothes thing really work that way?"

Sakura thought of any number of things involving her teammate's sunny disposition juxtaposed with the gray rainy miserable day, and instead settled on thoughts of murder.

Gaara scowled and ignored the question. "Then you have it."

"It's not on me."

"You said one of you would have it." It looked like Gaara was trying to raise an eyebrow—if he'd had them. Instead one eye just got larger, making him look that much more unbalanced. Sakura knew he was thinking of the cold and the rain and the mud and how all of them could've slept in that morning. Well, maybe not all of them; but the other points were still valid.

"And we do." Naruto grinned far too toothily. "You won't find it on her—or on me either! You won't get a chance to see it at all!"

Oh no, she thought. Oh no, oh no, oh . . . Don't let him have . . . he put it where?

Naruto paused, eyes narrowing. "Though maybe in a few days . . ."

Yep—he'd eaten it.

Sakura half-collapsed where she stood, her forehead to Gaara's damp shoulder and a hand over her eyes. Gaara patted her back affably, and she choked down a hysterical giggle. Though in a way, she recognized her teammate's logic: It wasn't like Naruto's friend would cut him open over something as silly as a training exercise.

But when she looked up, Gaara was watching her. "So, medic," he said casually. "Just how good are you?"

Naruto bolted before she could even finish processing the statement, leaving her alone with a dampened, bloodthirsty, strangely amorous madman.

"I hope you don't really want that bell," she said.

"No. Not really." He glanced up at the sky, then reached over and wiped some mud off her face with a gesture so tender she forgot why she ever questioned what his fangirls saw in him. "I say we're done here."

"My notebook?"

He released her and patted his pocket. "Next exercise: hostage negotiation."

Sakura bit the inside of her lip, knowing that she was aiming straight for ultimate-Gaara-turnoff fangirl territory . . . and tried anyway. "I'll buy you lunch for it."

He mustn't have seen anything worrisome in her expression, because his lips quirked into a tiny smile. "That's a start."

"My place has a dryer."

"Better," he said, and gave her an actual grin. The ground under her feet lurched upward. She grabbed Gaara's arms for stability as his sand lifted them, mud-free, from the pit. "First we dry off, then maybe food. Then . . . We'll see from there."