Merry Christmas!! This is my present to all my readers…if there are any…

Urrghh, this chapter killed me…I have to warn that Gaara is OOC, because anything that involves loooooooove means he's OOC. I tried to tone it down, though…and BTW, this whole chapter is screwed up cause they're soooo clueless. Haha, poor Gaara.

Disclaimer: What does it say on Wikipedia? (The all-knowing…I bow to thee.) Not mine!!

Gaara leaned back in his chair, feeing suddenly old. Akatsuki was still lurking nearby, and now he had a tiny little problem in the form of a brunette kunoichi who happened to be possibly the most alluring person he'd ever met.

What was this? This wasn't him; he never had these kinds of thoughts. He had accepted love as a form of gaining strength, love for friends and family, but the thought of a relationship had never crossed his mind. It was a distraction, an awkward connection that made him uncomfortable.

And she…there was no way he could hope for the return of feelings. Especially from her, as scarred as she was, as tortured by her past as she was. Like him. But that was what made her so…… She understood. Him. She understood him.

This was so frustrating! The agony of lying in question was unbearable. And there was no way he could tell her…or anyone else. No wonder Kankurou was always complaining about dating…this was so damn confusing.

But that could wait until the Akatsuki was gone. Right now, he had to assess the situation and figure out a strategy. Sending some of the best jounin had resulted in almost losing all of them. So what other solution did he have?

"No," Temari stated flatly. "No way. You've almost died twice now, and who knows what kind of miracle brought you back safe both times." Kimiko, now a respected jounin who was apparently privy to such conversations, stood amongst the throng gathered in the Kazekage office.

"And third times' the charm," Gaara said calmly. "I have a responsibility to Suna - the people of Suna." Kankurou was already losing his cool, his face furrowed in frustration and fury.

"Your responsibility is to protect your village to your death, not to die for no reason! Your responsibility is to stay with your village!"

"I will leave in two hours, after I've rested," Gaara continued, as though no one had spoken. "No one may follow me. And if or when I die, I have left instructions to the elders." He glared at the assembled jounin, daring them to object, which many did…loudly. "I've made my choice."

It was so hard to see his face as they all left his room, except his older siblings, who stayed behind to be difficult.

Dusk faded to a twilight that was even colder than usual, but she didn't shiver. It was a cold from within. She knew what he was doing, and why. He'd told her everything she needed to know, that one night that seemed so far away, so long ago.

He wanted to be seen as a saviour, not a monster. He wanted to atone for his past mistakes - to be a sacrifice for the safety of his people. Why couldn't he see that his sacrifice wouldn't stop Akatsuki?

Or did he actually believe he could stop four of them? Kimiko was so worried her heart felt as though it would break. It was worse pain than she had ever experienced, even in her days as the Raikage's slave. She cried without making a sound.

Well then, what the hell was she doing sitting around crying about it?

Wiping away tears impatiently, she stood and leapt from her windowsill, her trademark speed taking her to the Kazekage mansion in less than a minute. She rubbed her eyes until it hurt. He wouldn't see her cry again.

As she scanned the windows for a shadow of movement that would betray Gaara's position, she saw a shifting form in the night. Following the distant form from a distance, she saw a familiar giant gourd. (A/N: ahahaha…there's only one, right?)

"Gaara!" she said loudly. Then she quickly added, "-sama!" She knew her place. He turned, saw her face in the moonlight, and looked away.

"Why are you doing this?" she whispered, so quietly that she thought he hadn't heard, for he continued walking. But the sadness in her voice carried a certain weight. He answered.

"You know why." It was the truth, but it was no answer. She ran closer to him and stopped. He did not.

"You don't have to go alone," she said at his retreating back. "You don't have to do this. You don't have to prove yourself this way. Going alone is dangerous and foolhardy, not heroic."

"This is my responsibility as the Kazekage." No emotion coloured his tone, no fear or regret or even a hidden desire to tell her…damn. Her mind was running away with her. And she used to be the emotionless one!

"It is not, and you know it!" Why was she getting so worked up over this? "I could come and help you; you know I'm strong enough!" Who was this stranger, pleading and desperate, talking through her lips? "You're insane to go alone, just one nearly killed you!" What she said made sense, but how she felt made no sense. "Please, let me come!"

"I can't endanger you. I couldn't save you last time." Was that regret? Amazing…She softened her voice, the truth spilling out.

"You have saved me, more than you know. You saved me from being a puppet, then you saved me from being an outcast…again…forever. You saved me from being nothing, feeling nothing…Please, let me save you!" And now tears? What was wrong with her?

(A/N: if you know the song "don't wanna lose you now" by the backstreet boys…ya, I just thought of that…you know you're cool when you can remember exactly how a song by the backstreet boys goes…:P)

"I won't let you." And suddenly she was really, really angry and the words freed themselves.

"You baka!" she screamed at his ever-distant back. "You idiot! You're going to die and you don't even care how anyone else feels about it…how I feel about it!" She barely heard his answer.

"Why should you care?" Wistful and low, his voice cut to the heart of her.

"I…Because. Because I love you." Damnit, she was losing her mind. These words were wrong and they didn't fit, but God, why did it feel so right? Gaara said nothing, still walking; then his voice took on an edge.

"You don't know what love is." He was so cold. She knew he'd react like this, thinking she was another head-in-the-clouds, obsessed fangirl. How could he? He knew her better than anyone, though she was afraid to admit it.

"Neither do you!" Kimiko yelled at him, and he stopped.

He was in front of her, close. His eyes were dark, and she feared for a moment he was mad at her. She opened her mouth and raised her hands - why? To hug him? To grab him and make sure he stayed here with her? It didn't matter, because for once Gaara was moving faster than Kimiko. Her gripped her wrists firmly, still staring into her eyes. She never knew his eyes to be so clear. Later, both people present wondered what had driven them to act so aberrantly intense.

Gaara didn't lean down to her - he'd never be that person. Instead he pulled her wrists sharply and she fell forward to meet his lips.

It wasn't timid or awkward or dead, as she'd expected. It was passionate and strong and filled with the fire he'd held back for so long. It was questioning, and she answered him gently. It was new for both of them, and Kimiko relished that they shared this first step together.

When they stopped, Gaara leaned his forehead on hers, and they just rested for a minute. It was too much for now, and maybe forever. With all they'd been through, such a display of physical affection was too unfamiliar. But it felt nice to have him hold her hand.

"You can't expect me to let you tag along now," Gaara finally broke the silence. Kimiko glared at him.

"Well, don't think I'll let you go alone now," she countered. "Let's just go, scope out the situation, and if one thing leads to another and we have to fight, at least we'll be together. Until the end." It was terrifying to say something like that, especially now that she'd tasted freedom on his lips.

Gaara knew her well enough to know that she was coming with him, so he relented to have her tag along. They faced the darkening horizon together, two broken hearts finding that perhaps the other half of themselves was never what they were looking for. Maybe someone else could fill the emptiness better.

As sand falls through the hourglass, time passing, precious moments that will never be brought back, it really is about making every grain of sand count. Every second that is lost has to be lived to the fullest extent. We humans just want to know that we did something worthwhile on our short time on Earth.

The End

O.o

What were you expecting, a fight scene? I'm a writer, not a warrior. Anyway, thanks to all my reviewers and those who have supported me throughout this story. I couldn't have done it without you!...Well, I probably could have…:P