Chapter One – Too Many Rings

Warnings for language and mature situations in further chapters.

This had to be some kind of joke. That was the only logical conclusion. But as he looked around at the table of gathered Elders, Sabaku no Gaara realized the dreadful truth.

They were all perfectly serious.

His eyes scanned the paper again, absorbing the details quickly. Alliance in danger, balance of power, show of trust, arranged… everything was in order. Or, as in order as such an insane proposition could be.

"I hate to disappoint you." Gaara finally said, his voice soft, betraying no emotion. He handed the letter back to the man standing in front of him. "But this would never work."

"Lord Kazekage!" Himura Akio, the head Elder, looked completely dismayed. Gaara couldn't blame him. But really, what had the man been thinking? "Do you not think that, perhaps, you should take a night to think about it?" the Elder asked tentatively. Gaara squashed down the urge to throw a glare in his direction.

He sat straighter in his chair, rubbing a hand over his temple. "This is a plausible idea." he conceded. The men sitting at the large table sighed in relief. "Just not for me." They became tense again. Gaara again suppressed an urge to show his irritation. They were like twelve year old girls. "I suggest that you try to convince Kankuro." The room was silent, obviously thinking out the suggestion.

"Lord Kazekage," Akio said again, "With all due respect, Lady Tsunade says specifically in the letter that if our proposition is to work, only the best of the two villages would be partnered. I hardly think, for all Kankuro's prowess on the battlefield, that he fills that rank." Akio paused, looking reluctant to speak. Gaara urged him on with a flick of his hand. "The woman that the esteemed Lady Hokage had recommended for the agreement is her own protégé, a medic, if I remember correctly."

Gaara raised his thin eyebrows slightly as he searched the scroll for that piece of information. "Yes," he mused. "Says here that the esteemed Lady Hokage trained her herself. How interesting." The sarcasm was subtle, but all who knew his recognized it instantly.

Aiko nearly sighed with impatience. Gaara was not usually so stubborn. Most days, he would do what was best for the village. Why was it, today of all days, that he decided to dig his heels in? "Lord Kazekage," Aiko said, in his calmest, most respectful tone (Gaara recognized this as the tone he used right before going to the training grounds and blowing a few things up. The little man was highly entertaining). "The Lady Hokage has intended to send her most trusted medic for this arrangement, so you see, if the Kazekage himself does not honour this agreement, how insulting that will be? Kankuro is a worthy fighter, of course, but he is not the esteemed Lord Kazekage."

Gaara sighed. "I hardly think this is appropriate." he said, his voice bored. "The alliance between Konoha and Suna is quite delicate; I would hate to place it in the trust of a woman with such a hair trigger temper." Aiko frowned, along with the other Elders. "I know this woman that Lady Tsunade alludes to. She is a kunoichi, of moderate strength. She is a medic now, as I read here, but that does not change the fact that last time we met, she seemed highly unstable." Gaara watched as Aiko's eyebrows rose. Hopefully the man would be tactful enough not to mention how deeply unstable Gaara had been at the time as well.

Aiko's lips pursed thoughtfully. "Lord Kazekage, I can see you are quite reluctant, which is understandable, this is quite a lot of pressure to put on a man of your age. Of course, in perfect circumstances, marriage would be to loved one, a person whom you had chosen. But, as I regret to remind you Lord Kazekage, the world is not perfect, so you must base your decision on that knowledge. Your agreement to this proposition will do many good things for Suna."

Gaara sighed. He truly hated when his advisors were so completely right. He also did not like how Aiko's tone was verging on sympathetic. It would not do to have those beneath him feeling sorry for him. With a sharp exhalation of breath, Gaara nodded. "Very well. See to the details. Have our answer to Lady Tsunade as soon as possible." He rose stiffly. He had no intention of staying in the meeting room while his fate was decided around him. He needed to get out of the confining walls of the city. He needed peace, quiet. He needed the desert.

He managed to not slam the doors on his way out of the conference room, which he felt was quite a feat. He walked imperiously through the wide halls of the headquarters. His home was above the meeting rooms; a three story mansion built atop the tower that Gaara was sure was built only to impress outsiders. Finally, he pushed through the front doors, relieved that he was outside, the hot air of the evening pulsing around him. He could feel the sand, feel it stir for him. He knew he was being followed by his bodyguards, but they were smart enough to stay hidden and not try to stop him when he went through the village gates.

It was like coming to the edge of a forest. Suddenly, the village was gone and Gaara was alone with the desert. He knew he didn't have much time before it became deadly cold out and his bodyguards hauled him back. He sat cross-legged on the ground, feeling the warm sand on his legs. A touch of chakra and it wove around him. He concentrated and saw the sand form pictures. It was his attempt at mediation, and so far, it had worked. But tonight, no amount of sand castles could pull the anxious thoughts from Gaara's head.

He had just agreed to let his advisors marry him off to whoever Konoha's Hokage deemed fit. From her letter, Gaara was quite sure she had picked a hot tempered emotional train wreck for the job. How had the Hokage even gotten the girl to agree? No doubt, the medic was saving herself for that infamous Uchiha. What was her name again? Sa…something…Saku…Sanyou…no matter. Gaara was quite positive that he would learn the girl's name in the near future. But, Kami, was he not looking forward to this. Marriage, to an unwillingly, undoubtedly angry woman was not high on his to-do list. It made his head hurt to even think about. He knew that she would do nothing to put the alliance in jeopardy, but what was she capable of? She had trained under one of the legendary Sannin after all. Maybe she would just mess with his mind? Well, he could handle that, Gaara reasoned. Better than most, probably. Maybe it would be best if he stayed out of her way.

"Lord Kazekage. We must ask that you return to the village at this time."

Gaara sighed, and stood easily, dusting off his loose pants. He nearly scowled at his bodyguards. He was their Kazekage; they should know that he was perfectly able to defend himself in the desert. If he had known the amount of babysitting he would receive as Kazekage, he might have never agreed to it.

Wait. Babysitting. Children

Were they expecting children?

Gaara felt his face pale considerably. The sand around him stopped its dancing immediately, as his chakra control had just been shot to pieces. The two men at walking in front of him turned, puzzled expressions on their faces. "Lord Kazekage? Are you alright? Do you need anything?" the concern in the ninja's voice was evident, but Gaara shook his head slightly.

"No, thank you. I'm fine. Just…an unpleasant thought."

"You've got to be shitting me."

"Sakura, there's no need to be so blunt." Tsunade took a healthy swig of her sake, noting how it was hardly helping her patience, which, in her opinion, was never ending tonight.

"Fuck that." Sakura spat. She was pacing the office angrily "Why didn't you at least ask me? Give me time to warm up to the idea?"

"I knew you'd flip out, obviously." Tsunade said, as if speaking to a child.

"Tsunade, don't treat me like I've done something wrong! I swear, if you weren't Hokage, I'd wring your fucking neck." Sakura tightened her fists and slammed her hand into the nearest object. The table did not fare well. Tsunade rolled her eyes.

"Tantrum all you like, Sakura. What's done is done, and Konoha owes you greatly. I know you're upset, just try to look at things objectively."

"Objectively? Are you serious? We're talking about you marrying me off to Suna's most emotionally stunted bachelor! There is no objective here!"

"I thought you were into emotionally stunted men." Tsunade said, wincing as her student destroyed yet another piece of priceless furniture. Tsunade took another swallow of her sake. Honestly, how everyone got on without the drink, she would never know.

"Tsunade…" Sakura finally sighed, defeated. She threw herself onto a piece of the couch. The other piece lay across the room. "I just wish you had asked me." her voice was small, and Tsunade felt immensely guilty. She would be damned if she let Sakura know that, however.

"You'll do it though?" asked the Hokage, her voice slightly hopeful. She had little doubt of Sakura's loyalty, but knew that her apprentice had a fiery temper to match. "Sakura, this could make or break our alliance with Suna. I know you feel like I've given you the short end of the stick, but you truly are the best person for the mission. Think of the good you could do for the people of Suna? Their medical field is nearly stone age."

Sakura pouted. "I know that Suna needs our help, shishou. But I've been helping here in the hospital. And I thought I was doing a good job…"

"Sakura, shut up." Tsunade ordered. "This is not a punishment. This is a mission, just like any other. I am your Hokage, and I expect to you to complete this mission to the best of your abilities. Just imagine what would happen if I sent another kunoichi? Think of how Ino would fare."

Sakura let out a short laugh. "She'd kill the Kazekage by only being herself. Drive him completely crazy."

"Exactly. You know this is something only you can do."

Sakura nodded glumly. "I'm sorry for breaking your things, shishou."

"It's alright. The decorating in here is pitiful anyway."

Sakura turned to leave, throwing her bag of scrolls and books over her shoulder. "Wait!" Tsunade said suddenly. Sakura turned, and saw a small item being offered to her. She took it, and raised her eyebrows as she inspected it.

"It's beautiful." she said finally, slipping it into her finger. The jewel sparkled in the light.

"I have another," Tsunade said quietly. She was looking uncharacteristically emotional. She leaned back against the front of her desk, putting distance between her and Sakura. She seemed uncomfortable. "They were meant for my wedding, but seeing how that's never going to happen, I want you to use them. Happy birthday." She tossed the second gold band though the air and Sakura deftly caught it. "Now get out of here," Tsunade ordered. "Go tell your boys. I expect all three of them will find me to yell within the hour, after that, I'm going home and they'll have to wait until tomorrow."

Sakura smiled weakly. "Thank you," she said, admiring the rings one last time. She pocketed the pair and left the Hokage tower quickly. She needed a hot shower, or a long bath, and a nice warm bed to sleep in. It had been a long mission.

She wearily trudged up the stairs to her apartment, the elevator was broken again. She pulled her key from her pocket, pushing it into the lock easily. She swung the door open, and in that instant, knew something was wrong. She had a kunai in her hand in a second; it was across the room in the next.

"Surprise!" The lights flicked on, and Sakura blinked at the burst of light and the amount of people in her living room. Sasuke was eyeing the kunai in his hand with a sardonic smile. She gave a sheepish grin as he tossed it back to her.

"Forehead! Welcome back! Happy birthday! I can't believe how old you are now!" Ino pounced on her friend, enveloping her in an oxygen-lacking bear hug.

"Speak for yourself, I'm in my prime." Sakura wheezed, once she had been released.

"Sakura!" she drew a large gulp of air as Naruto grabbed her, for he was notorious for his lengthy hugs. "I missed you. Your mission was long. Good pay, though, I'll bet." Sakura grinned back at her friend. She noticed the large cake and the pile of presents on her kitchen table. She also noticed the half empty sake bottles littering her kitchen.

"You guys started the party without me, I see." she said dryly.

Naruto waved his hand impatiently. "You were taking too long with Granny Tsunade. What were you even talking about? Sasuke says you broke a bunch of stuff. He was the one doing recon on when you'd be back."

Sakura smiled, still feeling a little guilty about Tsunade's demolished office. "She was just giving me my next mission, that's all. Hey, somebody pour me a drink, and I might tell you about it." A glass was handed to her and Sakura sat on her couch, next to her disinterested sensei. "Gee Kakashi, don't wish me happy birthday."

"Congratulations Sakura, you are one year closer to your death." he responded, turning a page in his orange book. Sakura punched his shoulder in response. She surveyed her large living room. There were more people in her house than she would normally be comfortable with, but the sake in her glass was warming her empty belly and making her a bit more accepting of the people milling around. Lee and Tenten were doing some interesting things with their tongues, Sakura noted. She hoped neither of them contracted any diseases. She'd hate to be the medic who healed that. Hinata was blushing vividly as a tipsy Naruto slipped his arm around her waist and rested his head in her shoulder. Sasuke was leaning against the wall, listening to Ino chatter. Or, pretending to listen. Sakura was sure he was paying only the barest attention necessary. Kakashi sat next to her, his nose buried in his book.

Finally, after nearly half an hour, Ino declared "Presents!" loudly. Everyone in the room dove for the kitchen table and tried to foist their package off to Sakura. She took Kakashi's, which he had pulled from behind him while her other friends were wrestling to be first.

She pulled the hastily taped paper off the box and opened it slowly. She turned white in surprise. "Kakashi," she breathed, turning to look at her sombre looking teacher. "How did you know?"

She pulled the robes from the box. They were the formal wear for the spouse of the Kazekage. Each village had a set of robes for their Kage and their Kage's spouse. These robes were white, with blue accents. They were cut to accentuate a woman's figure, and Sakura's eyes welled up with tears as she folded them back into the box.

Naruto was the first to speak once they were away. "What the fuck you got those robes for her, idiot?" he asked Kakashi angrily. Sakura grimaced at his bad grammar, before turning her shining eyes to her friends.

"Kakashi somehow knows of my next mission. I just found out tonight. I'm to marry the Kazekage. Thank you, Kakashi, these are beautiful. I never thought I'd be wearing robes like these…"

"Marry the Kazekage?"

"What the fuck?"

"A wedding?"


"My blossom!"

"Your blossom? The fuck is that about?"

Chatter filled the room as Lee burst into tears and Tenten looked on angrily. Naruto was swearing loudly and Sasuke looked livid. Ino's eyes were shining at the thought of being a bridesmaid at a Kage's wedding. Hinata was silent; she just looked at Sakura sympathetically. Sakura smiled at her.

"Look guys, I know it sucks, but I don't leave for a few weeks, so let's just make the best of it. Can I have my presents now?" she smiled, and Naruto swore under his breath again, offering his gift. Not surprisingly, it was a gift card for a free meal to her favourite restaurant. She thanked him heartily. Ino handed her package over leaning down to whisper in her friend's ear.

"I'll get you something more suitable for a married woman soon. We'll go shopping soon. Oh, and don't open this in front of everybody, not unless you're into humiliation." her friend grinned and Sakura wondered idly at what kinky present Ino had chosen this year.

Unwrapping Hinata's gift, she was pleased to find a gift card to a very high class lingerie store. She was grinning from ear to ear when she thanked her friend. "I only ever shop here once in a while, thanks so much!" Sakura got some lotions and bath things from Tenten, as well as a female sized spandex suit from Lee.

"Uh…thanks Lee. I guess I could give this a try sometime…" she said awkwardly. She looked up at Sasuke, who held the last gift in his hands. He shook his head slightly when she looked at him expectantly. 'Later' he mouthed. Sakura nodded, a bit puzzled, before accepting the plate of cake from Kakashi. She laughed at the large piece he had gotten for himself.

"What? It's good cake." he protested, when she teased him.

Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of partying in her honour, her friend filed out of her apartment, most drunk off their asses. Kakashi was reluctantly supporting a very smashed Ino, and as he walked passed Sakura at the door, he said, "I'm here, if you need me." Sakura smiled, and nodded. Finally, she shut the door, and it was only her, Sasuke, and his mysterious present left.

"Can I open it now?" Sakura asked, leaning against her kitchen counter. She held her hand out for the gift.

"Sakura, I'm sorry. If I had known, I would have never let her make you do this." Sasuke's voice was deep and serious. Sakura could feel his eyes on her as she looked away.

"It's no matter," she lied lightly. "It'll be fine. I'm sure Gaara will treat me well."

Sasuke sighed, moving to stand in front of her. He opened the unwrapped cardboard box. "I would've treated you much better." he said sadly, revealing the plain gold wedding band. Sakura felt her heart stop.

"Sasuke…" she said breathily. Her hand reached out without her permission, touching the ring gently. She was sure her vital signs were all over the place, and the medic in her urged her to remove herself from the dangerous position immediately. The lonely woman in her was stronger, and it pushed her closer to Sasuke's heat.

"I've wanted, ever since my return, to restore my clan." Sasuke said quietly. "You have long been worthy enough for me to want you as my partner. That was before I found that my feelings for you were more…romantic than strategic. I can see that Sabaku no Gaara realized your worth as I did."

He closed his hand around Sakura's and pressed it to his chest. She could feel his pulse beat rapidly. "Do you see what you do to me?" he whispered. "I hate not having control of myself, but I hate not having you around even more."

"Sasuke," Sakura finally found her voice. How was it that her heart could break so completely in only a few short moments? "I've already agreed to the terms…"

"I know." Sasuke interrupted softly. His face hovered over hers, his masculine smell filling Sakura with nothing but Sasuke. "I'm going to miss you." he said, before crushing his lips to hers.

It lit a fire within her, that kiss. She pushed against his body, her mouth searching for release in his. He was startled at her reaction, but only for a moment, when he responded with equal fervour. His tongue sought entrance and she obliged, battling him for dominance. She groaned into him, driving him nearly insane as he pushed her against the granite counter. His hands pulled her legs around him and Sakura tightened around his waist.

Sasuke broke off from her lips, trailing down her neck with hot, wet kisses. Sakura gasped for air, her hands exploring the expanse of Sasuke's chest. She had ripped the top buttons off his plain white dress shirt and now the ivory skin was available to her hungry mouth. She fisted his dark hair in her hand and yanked his head back roughly, exposing his neck. She bit down on the flesh, causing Sasuke to groan with approval. He sought her mouth again.

"Hey, Sakura, Hinata forgot her…holy fuck."

Naruto stopped dead in the doorway and Sakura was close to ripping his face off. Did he not see that she was experiencing the best kiss of her life? Did he not care? Why hadn't he left yet? Why was he still standing there?

"What are you looking for?" Sasuke growled, looking over his shoulder, reluctant to let Sakura down.




Naruto left more quietly that Sakura had expected, and Sasuke's lust filled eyes turned back to her. Sakura felt herself blush. She had never been looked at with such uncensored need. "Sakura," he growled. "I know you're going away to marry some other man, but for tonight, let me pretend you are mine."

Sakura's pulse quickened at his words. What she wouldn't give to throw her agreement with Suna to the wind and marry Sasuke, and spend the rest of her life devoted to him. But she couldn't. She could pretend, however, for one night, that things were different.

"I am." she gasped out, as his hands explored her body. "I am yours."