Joining the Circus
Done for a theme challenge at l_e again. AU, 500 words, and a hiccup of 'shippiness.
The biggest challenge was making this one stay short. It's hard to flesh out turn-of-the-century scenery and whatnot in such a short space!

ooo

"Lift it and you're in," said the blond, Naruto—and dropped an oversized barbell in front of her.

Sakura stared in disbelief, and he sighed dramatically. "Don't tell me. You came in talking big, saying you could be the strongwoman for our show, and I spent all that time talking up my partner, and now—"

"It's not that I can't," she interrupted, and pointed at the weight. "I just wondered if that was it."

One of the two nearly identical "blind" fortune teller observers raised an eyebrow, and the guy napping in the pile of cloth that'd become their tent peered out from under his top hat.

Naruto seemed startled for only a second; then grinned almost from ear to ear. "Well, you know how it is. Someone comes in claiming to juggle knives, then gets all scared when we hand 'em knives and ask to see it."

Sakura put her foot against the weight's bar and pushed, trying to casually gauge its weight. "Then you throw them out on their ear?"

"Then we teach them about knife throwing," said the not-napping guy, and lifted his hat enough that she could see his eyes. Personally, she thought his nap needed to continue for another week or so.

"Lucky them," she said.

"They're lucky if I miss."

Maybe he was the infamous cold-hearted, temperamental partner—because if the looks of his hair meant he was a clown, he was already the most unsettling clown ever.

She reached down, grabbed the bar with one hand, and lifted, controlling her breathing to hide the strain and wholeheartedly praying that her face wouldn't turn beet red. "You'd think they'd know to not make claims they couldn't back up."

The guy smiled a little, rose with uncanny grace, and shook the ball of fabric that'd been his pillow until it became an extremely wrinkled burgundy tailcoat. "You were right," he told Naruto. "I like her."

"That's great," Naruto said, and slapped her on the back so hard she almost dropped the barbell. "Gaara doesn't like anyone. Besides us, of course."

Gaara rolled his eyes and inclined his head in a mockingly gracious little bow, and the small crowd of performers that'd gathered started to dissipate. "Don't let Lee pick her costume," said one of the fortune tellers as they walked away, and—Oh God, she hadn't known he was a guy.

And wait—was she in?

"Was that it?" she asked, dropping the weight and trying to keep the note of disbelief from her voice.

"Yes." Gaara approached her, lips set at something close to a smile. He rolled his top hat up his arm, popping it off his shoulder and catching it with a flourish that turned into a bow. Despite everything she'd told herself before, she wrung her hands and giggled like a smitten schoolgirl, and his smile became less mockery and more interest. "As the final say in your staying, I'll be the first to welcome you to our little circus."