I think I'm going to leave this as the last chapter. I really don't want to go any further than this and it's going to have a lot of the lose ends tied up, or at least the important ones.
Reiko was passed out on Riku's back as they walked through the gates of Suna. Gaara kept giving her lingering glances as they walked. He had managed to convince her to let him carry her sword for her. He had wanted to carry her into the village but she had refused before passing out. So he respected her wishes, despite the fact that everything inside him screamed to do otherwise and hold her close to him as he took her straight home to have one of his personal medics look at her. It was obvious that he was worried about her. People that were in the streets were staring once more. Gaara noted that they looked better before they left. Reiko wasn't out cold with multiple bandages, Riku wasn't walking with a slight gimp but their wounds could have been severely worse. They were in better condition than some occasions in which they had come out as bloody wrecks.
"Kazekage-sama, you're back!" a council member shouted.
Gaara just nodded. His thoughts were on the man's words but his heart was with Reiko. He wanted to get her taken care of as soon as possible. He eyed the man, recognizing him but not even registering his name. He wondered if it would be rude to disappear in a pile of sand, taking Reiko with him but then decided that it would be rude. He couldn't leave the council. The village had to come first though he wanted to say screw it to his priorities and get his friends taken care of. Reiko would have been angry if she found out that he neglected his duties as Kazekage to take care of her. She would have insisted that she wasn't as important as an entire village and he had to reorganize his priorities. But leaving her would make him anxious, just case there were poisons on the weapons that Leika used.
"Did you get Tobimaru's letter?" Temari asked.
"What's the news from the Daimyos?" Kankuro questioned.
Gaara held his breath. This decided a lot. If the Daimyos said no then they would have to fight the Akatsuki alone but if they said yes, they could unify. Not so many shinobi would die if more were sent to battle to fight together. He wouldn't have to go door-to-door saying the same line over and over again, 'Your child/spouse/parent died for the betterment of our nation. Please understand.' It made Gaara sick to say something like that. People died. He hated the part of his job where he had to go and tell the families that they would have to start mourning because they lost someone in their life. But you couldn't save them all. You couldn't protect everyone. And sometimes those people die so that others may live, not their dreams. It was just what Reiko would have done had not the medics gotten to her in time.
"The Daimyos decided quickly when the learned of the Bijous and Madara," The man explained, "We are to have the alliance."
Gaara breathed out a sigh of relief though it was too soft for anyone save his siblings and Riku to hear. He was afraid that the Daimyos would refuse but this was glorious news for him and his people but it would also mean the stress of trying to work together under one name against the Akatsuki because people always tended to disagree and bickering would break out amongst the people on just how things should be done. That's why they had ambassadors like Reiko but this meant they were going to be pulled away from one another because of the war. He would have to enjoy the time he had with her. Gaara, personally, just didn't feel like celebrating yet. Reiko wasn't there, consciously, to celebrate with everyone. He was going to wait until she was awake so that he had someone at his side to enjoy the good news with him.
"I have to go to a meeting with the council," Gaara told his siblings and Riku.
"We'll take Reiko home," Temari said, "And get her taken care of."
Gaara nodded his thanks to Temari for her offer. His sister took Reiko's new blade from him. She and Kankuro walked through the crowd. Riku followed behind them. The crowd watched as Reiko was carried away. Some of the villagers touched her as she passed. Others looked fearful to see her so injured. This meant a lot of battles for everyone in the near future. They had to be prepared for tough enemies that would refuse to go down without a fight. Reiko was just an example and Gaara wished she hadn't gotten hurt. Just seeing her hurt was causing people to fear that they were going to return home like that from battle or not return at all. Reiko was just a tough shinobi. Weaker shinobi would fear going to battle or going on a mission period.
Reiko felt her eyes slowly flutter open. There was an annoying beeping sound that kept bothering her. Her head felt fuzzy, as if someone has stuffed it full of cotton and bits of fluff. She tilted her head to the side, trying to figure out what was going on, why she heard a beeping noise and why she felt so tired. She didn't even know why her eyes were closed or where she was. Suddenly, events caught up to her. She stiffened. The beeping noise dramatically increased to the point where it was starting to hurt her head because of the noise. She reached up, feeling a suction cup on the temple of her forehead. 'A suction cup?' she thought completely confused. She hadn't even known when she had got one on her head in the first place.
Reiko slowly opened her eyes. She had to shield them because of the bright light that assaulted her line of vision the moment her eyes opened. She shook her head, trying to clear it from just how fuzzy her mind felt. She saw red and wondered if she was somewhere covered in blood but then her eyes focused. Gaara was standing over her. He was holding her hand tightly but it hadn't moved from her side. She could feel an IV in her arm and resisted a groan. She wanted it out of her. She hated needles, regardless of being a medic herself. Needles were just uncomfortable. He was smiling, but it wasn't just any smile. This was a full blown smile, something that was truly monumental because for the first time Reiko had ever seen him he really looked happy, positively radiant.
"Gaara, you're smiling," Reiko said softly.
"I am?" Gaara asked.
She couldn't help but smile as he did because seeing his real smile was contagious. It made her want to smile with him, just so he would keep smiling at her the way he was. She was glad to see him smiling. They had fought hard for everything they had. The two of them deserved to smile after they worked so hard and fought so hard. She felt so tired it wasn't even funny. She just wanted to go back to sleep and not wake up for a week. She was dead tired after her fight with Leika but she struggled to sit up. She had no idea where she was but she knew that Sasuke still had to be taken out, despite her feelings on the matter. But when she tried to sit Gaara pushed down on her shoulder, holding her down. She didn't fight back. She had no strength to do so and he would have found a way to keep her down.
"Yeah," Reiko murmured.
"It all starts now. A new…" Gaara paused, looking for the right words, "A new life. I'm going to live. I think that's the only way I can be forgiven. All sorts of things… happened."
Reiko smiled weakly at Gaara. Unfortunately, she didn't have the energy to do much else. She did rub her thumb across the back of his hand because she had enough energy to do that. She was not surprised when he sat down next to her on the bed with her. He didn't even react when she put her head on his shoulder. He actually leaned a little closer to her, hugging her very close to him. He had worried about her when he saw her fall to the ground. Everyone knew it and now he had something to say to Reiko before he lost her, before it was too late. Plus, she needed to know since it involved her too. It was her life that was also a part of his realization. He just held her for a moment, relishing just being together.
"That's right," Reiko said weakly.
"But when I think about how many times I've thought about how I was going to start a new life, it's funny."
Reiko tried to look up at him but Gaara held her close to him so that she didn't have the maneuverability that she would have liked to have had. But she didn't mind when it really came down to it. She felt safe in his arms. She felt very comfortable. She was freezing cold and Gaara was warm. She glanced around. They were in a hospital but where the hospital was she didn't quite know. Then she recognized the warm walls of sand around them and she smiled weakly. 'Suna…' she realized, 'Wait, Gaara didn't leave the meeting just to make sure I got help did he?' She prayed that wasn't the case. The other Kages already thought lowly of him because he was as young as he was, aside from the Mizukage. She liked him or so it seemed. They had a war to take care of. Reiko could have waited a little longer.
Reiko didn't want to give the Kages' more reasons to hate him. He already had enough stacked against him and to have the Kages there amongst the list of challenges to overcome it would just be even harder for him to be accepted for him instead of being an ex-jinchuriki and a former weapon of Suna. She wanted him to see the person she saw when she looked at him, the brave man who had taken her heart in an instant. He was the brave Kazekage who nearly died for his people but had a hard time telling everyone how he felt. He was strong yet awkward but still endearing at the same time. It was all together what made Gaara, Gaara but she liked that about him. He was who he was and he didn't care what anyone thought about him. He wouldn't change just because someone wanted him to.
"Because I've always failed everything," Gaara replied.
Reiko scowled. She hit his shoulder but playfully because she couldn't muster the strength required to really hit him as hard as she wanted to. She didn't like how he had worded that. He had never failed at anything in her eyes. He may have made mistakes in the past but he learned from them. He encouraged others to do the same. He had changed throughout her entire life of knowing him. He used to be a heartless killing machine and now he was the beloved Kazekage of Suna and her boyfriend, though the last part had made her blush darkly at the thought because she was sill unused to the idea. His life had turned around in a one hundred and eighty degree flip. She was proud of him to say the least and to hear him say that he failed at everything was like a slap to the face because he hadn't failed at all.
"That's not funny."
Gaara shook his head. He leaned close and pressed a kiss to the side of her head, right beside her temple and one of the suction cups that had yet to be removed from her skin. She blushed darkly. The heart rate monitor started bouncing a little quicker. She was just glad that no one was in there or else she would die of embarrassment. Riku would tease her for months if he found out that she let Gaara be lovey-dovey with her. But he never was in public because both of them were more reclusive in their relationship. They didn't want the world to know they were together and besides, neither of them were all that publicly affectionate, Reiko was a tad more affectionate than Gaara but she didn't go and hug someone even if they had only been separated for a few hours. She may have done it if it had been a few months but all in all she kept touchy feelings to herself.
"After this… I think I'll be okay."
Gaara was silent for a long time before he spoke again but it was a sort of comfortable silence that Reiko had no problem with because they often had good moments of silence just between the two of them that weren't uncomfortable. Reiko paused and wondered what he meant. He held her tighter, silently telling the world she was his and his alone and that he wasn't going to be letting go any time soon. Reiko didn't want the moment to end. A wavering hand rose up to fix a piece of her hair that was out of place, and tucking it behind her ear. A miniscule smile curving her lips slightly. She didn't know what brought this on for Gaara. The change was really big for him. He was being very affectionate, much more than he usually was. But honestly, she didn't mind all that much because she liked the attention.
"Because I have you this time, Reiko."
Reiko laughed at the notion, shaking her head. She was blushing darkly and the heart rate monitor was telling everyone just how embarrassed she was about it. The first thing Gaara's eyes met were pink, chapped lips. A tongue flicked out to wet them before sliding back in behind white teeth and a sweet smile. He continued up, taking in the strong, defined nose that dominated the rather rounded face. But he was fixated on the eyes. They were a very particular shade of green and surprisingly open. He could read the innocent surprise and delight in them. He could read other things too, things that were not so nice and innocent, but those two emotions stuck out the most. . It was a body that would not be ideal in a brawl, eyes that did not hold harsh reality, hands that showed no hard labor. And yet she would go to battle regardless.
"You've always had me."
Finally, Gaara's mouth quirked up into a small smile that grew in intensity until he was beaming so much that he looked almost manic. But Reiko knows that she wasn't much better. Her own smile was much smaller, but it was there just the same. Her chest felt tight, but not in a painful way. Her cheeks were warm and she could feel her heart pounding behind her ribcage. To sum up in mere words how she felt was an impossible feat, even for her in that one simply blissful moment. Nothing could possibly go wrong for the two of them in that short period of time and it was a glorious feeling that she was just basking in, for as long as she could manage it, because honestly, she was selfish, but if she were to even attempt to explain her feelings, she could only put it simply.
She was happy.
She was still afraid that she would wake up from this dream, and she won't be in Gaara's house or even around him at all because they had their ups and downs in their relationship, to the point where she actually believed she would never see him ever again. Jail cells, dungeons, Iwa, Kiri, Ame, Oto, they were all places she had been before but she had never felt safer than she had been in Suna. She was content right now because most of the threats in her life were gone. Leika was gone. And while she regretted killing Haiku, he was gone as well. Itachi was now out of her life, but she regretted that as well. Deidara was gone. Sasori was gone. Hell, half the Akatsuki was gone. The Konoha shinobi made sure of that.
"What I mean is kind of different," Gaara answered with another smile.
"Different?" Reiko asked, "Different how?"
Now Reiko was confused. She honestly didn't know what he meant by different. Everything felt normal to her. Nothing was out of place. They weren't acting any different than they usually did. She would still have to go out into the field and fight for him like she had been trained to do. She would still obey his orders and listen to his every word. Gaara just looked confident, like he'd just proved to everyone that some great theory of his was true and nobody should say anything different. But he knew it was different as he looked at Reiko. He felt something stirring inside his chest every time he watched her. His heart picked up beats and pounded like a drum. He felt warm as he listened to her laugh. He enjoyed spending time with her more than anything in the world. His palms got sweaty whenever she got too close. Yeah, things were good.
"You're my girlfriend this time," Gaara responded.
Reiko shook her head with an amused smile on her face. Gaara was just so sincere with his words that he had embarrassed her. Whatever Reiko did and failed, she bit back with a vengeance and had the scar under her collar to prove it. She was finally getting something right though and he couldn't have been any prouder of her than in that one moment as he watched her but this time they were going to go through life together. They were together now. The very thought made him grin like a fool. He gripped her hand even tighter. He dismissed his council for the night. He was going to spend the rest of his evening with Reiko and nothing was going to stop him. Should there be an attack that person would regret the Kazekage joining the fray.
"And they say you can't flatter someone…" she muttered.
Gaara flashed a small, very rare smile, but there was something about this smile that was off. He just shook his head and then looked up at her. He looked almost regretful about something and it didn't sit well with Reiko. Gaara tightened his hold on her hand. Reiko was just the kind of woman who made you wonder why she even bothered to look at you, let alone smile at you. Then when she actually did say hello to you just felt more than just a little bit confused and overwhelmed. He just hoped that she wouldn't get too mad at him. Temari told him he made the right call. He did what he had to do. If Reiko was fatally injured Hiroshi had the right to know because that meant that custody of Reina's children went to either him or Naomi.
"I sent a letter to Hiroshi."
Reiko paled. Gaara looked at the young woman, sitting in her bed, in front of him closely. There was something off about the way she spoke. Gaara wanted to say it was like a protective older sister, but he would be lying. She seemed to truly care for everyone around her. She would rather not bother them with small minor details, like her near death. He also knew something that Reiko did not, something that made him doubt his fears when it came to the kunoichi's safety. Reiko was good at taking care of herself but she tended to push herself too far for those she cared about. If they were in danger she would go above and beyond the call of duty for them in order to make sure they came out safely in the end. He made the right decision in making her a teacher but he feared that she would get herself killed protecting her students.
"And…?" she prompted.
"He's coming with the twins," Gaara explained, "I can think of nowhere safer for them to be but with family."
Reiko blinked. She quirked an eyebrow and looked at the red head in front of her. She thought he would have had a larger reaction than this. But it also surprised her that he was welcoming Reina's children into the village at all. Plus, with the way he sounded, the children would be staying with them in his home. He was offering them protection from whatever may lay in the outside world. She wondered if he was only putting up with the kids because of his obligation to be a good boyfriend for her. She hoped that was not the case. She didn't want him doing things for her because he felt that he had to in order to make her happy.
"And you don't mind this?" she asked, "Technically, they are my children because Reina granted custody to me…"
"I don't mind…"
Reiko looked out the window. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to picture the awaiting horrors outside the walls that Suna provided. She felt safe within those walls. Leaving meant tossing aside that extra security but Konoha had walls too. However, she had seen those walls crumble because of an attack. She hadn't even been there since Pein attacked. She wondered if people would blame her for not wanting to go back. She hadn't felt better anywhere other than close to Suna, close to the walls, close to the sand, close to Gaara. It was strange how dependent she had become in finding her independence from herself and her long forgotten past. In fact, it hardly troubled her anymore that she couldn't remember her childhood. Life went on. So did she.
"A war is coming, isn't it?" she asked softly.
Gaara frowned. She was very perceptive. She always had been and it was a good trait to have but he hated it when her suspicions were correct, especially about dark things that were better left alone. She really should have just enjoyed life. However, he knew they never would have met had she not chosen the harder path before her. Had she been a civilian, she would not have ever have crossed paths with him. It was a thought that scared him. She was precious. The thought alone of never seeing her nearly killed him. The thought of never meeting him alone was enough to make his heart freeze inside his chest, as if it were made of ice. It chilled him to the bone to even let his thoughts wander down that path.
"You have a meeting with the council, right?" she guessed, "Don't let me keep you."
Gaara could see the anguish on her face as she thought about the upcoming war. He wanted to gather her in his arms and tell her it was all going to be okay but he knew she hated empty promises. He wasn't going to assure her that everything was fine or that it was going to be. There would be casualties on both sides. And no one liked to think about who those casualties were going to be so they would rather not think about the battle at all in the long run. Reiko hated fighting. He could tell she was becoming as war-weary as the veterans and honestly she had the same excuses they did. Battles wore the soul thin. She might not have thought that anyone noticed but he did. He knew that Reiko was hurting with each passing battle. She was becoming so tired, so worn that she could hardly find joy in everyday life.
"Maybe I can take you somewhere tonight," he said.
There was a hopeful look on his face. Light played off his robes, and there was amusement in his eyes. He very much doubted that anything could stand between Reiko and something she wanted. She was a force to be reckoned with. Despite the fact she was a fragile human, she was strong, determined, and unafraid no matter how strange she might have found him. She was the woman able to teach him the value of kindness and compassion, when he once believed it to be the sign of weakness. She was enduring in the face of uncertainty and bold in the face of danger. Reiko had the spirit of a warrior. Persisting through the difficulty of her life, the hurt that she was left to deal with as her friends drifted further and further away, the burden of the deaths around her, the pain of the Akatsuki's interference in her life and all the questions he had left behind. She was indomitable, even when she doubted his sincerity.
"We can sneak away in the dark for our second date," he said nonchalantly.
Reiko felt her face get hot and she quickly turned away from him, deeply embarrassed but she also enjoyed the attention he was giving her. She only wished she didn't need to nearly die in order to have such attentions from those that she cared about. Time was precious. One day, she knew she would run out and never have anymore ever again. There would be no stopping it, no alteration but she was still alive now. Currently, that was all that really mattered to her right then and there. Things could be worse off for her that was for sure. And she was uncertain of what was going on at the moment. There was a reason behind everything Gaara did, and nearly everything he said. She just had to figure out what it was. After a moment, she finally found her voice again.
"Who said you get another date?" she said.
She was trying to sound just as teasing as he was, though she was still embarrassed enough so that she felt her face glowing from the sheer embarrassment. Gaara wasn't normally that forward with her so she wasn't sure what to make of the sudden change. It was a sort of mind reeling turn of events but she wasn't exactly complaining. She pinched herself just to make sure things were as she thought they were. She felt pain rippling through her arm. She felt the pain so she realized that she was awake, not asleep and not dead. She had even the daring to look back at him, to silently challenge him with her eyes. There was a spark in Gaara's eyes that she hadn't seen in anyone in a very, very long time. She shook her head. Her head was starting to hurt again. She wanted to take some medicine and go to a world of endless bliss for just a few more hours. Sleep sounded absolutely heavenly.
Speaking of heaven, the stupid cupid was a real mean guy, that she wanted to destroy the way she destroyed Leika. She wanted to clip his wings so that he couldn't fly. She was in love and it was a shame. But she knew he was the one to blame. She wished the stupid love god would let her go. She couldn't think straight. She was acting like some love sick fool. Cupid mixed her up right from the start. She only wished he played Robin Hood with someone else's heart. She was practically jumping like a crazy clown. She didn't know what was going on in her head but she felt as if she were on cloud nine, despite how she throbbed because of her aching body and lack of medicine to numb her mind, her heart and her body
"I danced with you," he said, "Doesn't that merit a date?"
She pretended to think, twiddling her thumbs. She had to stave off a smile. She was just so tempted because she hadn't been this free spirited but she thought it might have been the drugs that were still in her system that were speaking. She blinked, trying to clear her head. Gaara's sand went out the door, probably off to search for the medic that was supposed to be tending to her. He always was a mother hen when she got hurt. He clucked over her to make sure she was protected and safe no matter what she did. Sometimes he was suffocating, but other times he actually was endearing. She appreciated his efforts on her behalf nevertheless. No one took care of her since she was a child. Though, she wasn't very old but she had fended for herself since the Tsuyoi family died. She bowed her head.
"Don't deny it," he said, "You want to go on another date with me."
"You wish, Gaara."
His voice had possessed all sorts of charming. If she weren't already laying down, she knew that she would have been weak at the knees. A lesser woman might have swooned because of him. Her heart fluttered lightly in her chest. 'I do, I do, of course I do!' Reiko thought fervently but managed to look nonchalant. Without warning, Gaara grew very serious and leaned his face closer to hers. A couple of inches more, and their lips would have touched. Once again, Reiko found it uncomfortably hot in the room. Her face was probably as bright as a red light. The thought of letting something terrible happen to the other was painful but, Gaara already knew that he would never allow something to come between himself and Reiko. Not ever again.
"I do wish." he replied.
He said this without the usual smirk or small smile to follow. He was dead serious. Reiko blushed and looked out the window, to avoid Gaara's too close face. The sun was setting. The sun left dull gold and vermilions to the west, but the east was completely black except for speckles of white lighting up one by one. It was a breathtaking sight, as if the nighttime sky was an unraveling scroll. With the receding twilight, more and more stars sparkled to life. The sky was a twinkling majesty against a black backdrop. She looked back at Gaara, feeling something inside of her chest twitch. She could not help but smile. Tears welled as she let go of the pillow with one arm and clung to his neck. She buried her face in his shoulder as he started to draw circles between her shoulder blades with his palm. He would forever be someone of great importance to her. He was compassionate and supportive with the perfect advise as well as encouraging with the occasional disagreement, of course.
"W-We could arrange something."
And that's that. It's an open ending. You decide where what goes from here but Reiko's story ends here.
So long! Farewell! I'll be the same! Thank you all for staying with me for so long!