Field Research
About 1400 words, spawned by a challenge from forever ago.
T for discussions.
Naruto and associated characters belong to Kishimoto, not me, and I make no money off of this.


"I need to ask you a question."

"Okay," Sakura said, curious about the uneasy set of Gaara's shoulders.

"It's personal."

Intrigued, she stepped back from her apartment's open doorway and gestured for Gaara to come in. But instead of anything pleasantly uncomfortable, like asking her to go out for dinner or a movie or even just a nice quiet walk, Gaara reached into a pocket and pulled out . . . a very, terribly familiar book. And then he held it out to her. "Does it work like this?"

Her hands raised and she took a step back like he'd pulled out a gigantic slavering reptile. "What?"

"This," he repeated patiently. "Does it—"

Sakura backed further away. "No. I don't know. And I don't want to know."

But then again, she should've known this was coming from the second she found all three of them reading the thing a few hours before. It wasn't that Sakura expected any of the guys to be, well, pure in that respect—okay, so maybe she'd expected it of Lee—but finding Naruto, Gaara, and Lee, flipping through a smutty novel in public and in broad daylight? She almost hadn't believed her eyes. Naruto'd grinned almost from ear to ear as he held the book out for all to see. To his left, Lee'd appeared suitably shocked, his eyes huge and mouth open even as he leaned in for a closer look. And to Naruto's right, Gaara'd made a show of leaning back against their bench and facing another direction—but even from her distance she'd seen how he watched the text out of the corner of his eye.

And . . . yeah, Naruto'd been reading it out loud.

This was so Naruto's fault.

Gaara waited, unfazed, as she seethed. "You said I could ask you."

"Yeah, but I . . ." Her brain hurt. Already. "Why me?"

"What other girl could I ask?"

She mentally flipped through the options, sighed, and shook her head. Asking Temari'd be terribly awkward, asking someone he didn't know well would be worse, and asking any of the younger kunoichi at Sand . . . No, that wouldn't work out in the least bit. Put in that light, she could understand a little better. But she still didn't have to like it. "But . . . Does it have to be me?"

"Yeah."

It didn't look like he'd leave without an answer. And when she didn't budge, he played his trump card. His shoulders slumped a little, the corners of his mouth turning down in a dejected frown and his expression eloquently telling her that she'd just trampled his last hope. Sakura sighed, her own shoulders slumping with defeat. She definitely wanted to know when he'd realized the vulnerable act made her melt.

"Okay," she said, and took the book from his hands. "What part?"

"Any part."

Frowning, she opened the book to a random page. Her nose wrinkled in distaste; then, as she paid a little more attention, her mouth twisted with disbelief. She flipped a few more pages, her brow knitting with a mix of horror and confusion. "This is supposed to be sexy?"

He frowned. "That's what we were afraid of." At her questioning look, he elaborated: "Naruto said it'd be like getting the wrong manual for a power plant mainframe if it wasn't right."

Oh no. So he wanted a how-to manual.

And . . . Oh no. He'd come to her.

"I don't know, I'm not . . . like, an authority on this or anything. But . . ."

"But you'd know how your own body works better than any of us would."

She forced herself to not think about that statement by opening the book to another random page. What she found this time . . . "This . . . This is ludicrous. If you . . . Well, if you—no, not you, but—"

"Why not me?"

Damn it, she wasn't going to fall for that face again. "Not. You." To distract him, she turned their topic back to the open book in her hand. "But things don't work that way. It . . . looks like the basic mechanics are right, but otherwise?" Sakura shook her head. "They're boobs." She poked one of her own for emphasis. "I can manage to do that and not fall on the floor screaming like I'm being tortured—how's it gonna be different if anyone else does it?"

Gaara's gaze stayed on her chest. "Hmf."

It might be time to head him back out the door. "That answers your question, then?"

"I need more . . . field research." He scowled, and his fingers twitched.

It was definitely time to head him back out the door. "The field's that way," she said, and pointed. "Take your dirty book and go."

"But—"

Sakura huffed, having no idea what she'd done to deserve such a large—if attractively wrapped—bundle of trouble. Now as long as he didn't decide that she was the only option for "field research" as well . . . Well, she might not mind too terribly much. "Go. Now."

One more considering, plotting look; then he turned around—and called to the listeners outside. "You heard her."

"This doesn't mean she likes you best," Naruto said sulkily as he trudged in, Lee close at his heels.

"I think it does," Gaara replied.

"The hell it does! She wouldn't even let you—"

Naruto had a mute button, she'd discovered. It just took her entire hand and a whole lot of force to activate. As the blond bounced off the nearest wall, she turned to Lee, who at least had the decency to look appropriately terrified. That left one other target for her rage.

Gaara, of course, looked completely unperturbed.

"This does not mean I like you."

"I don't remember asking you to like me."

She sputtered, her fists clenching. "Yeah, you practically asked me to let you cop a feel. Like that'd just happen! You'd have to do a hell of a lot of convincing—"

By the time she realized what she'd said, both conscious guys were staring at her and it was far too late to take the words back.

Gaara finally broke the silence. "I can be convincing."

"But . . . I . . ." She stuttered to a halt.

In the meantime, Gaara scooped Naruto up, checked his breathing, and handed him off to Lee. "I need some more time," he said. "For field research."

"Good luck!" Lee cheered, and gave the redhead a thumbs-up. "Convince her in the name of science, and in the spirit of youth, and with the vitality of your—"

When it didn't look like he'd stop anytime soon, Gaara closed the door on him.

The apartment suddenly seemed far too small. Sakura shifted a few steps to the right. He followed. But maybe, if she faked in one direction and bolted for the window—

No. She wouldn't let him chase her out of her own home. So instead she pointed, gave him her most ferocious glare, and snarled, "Don't. Even. Think about it."

"Okay," he said, and sat down in the closest chair, folding his hands in his lap and watching her with such calm, open interest that her mind went into overdrive. He had to be planning something—or doing something. Would he lunge? Was there sand down her shirt already? Was that a clone in front of her, while the real Gaara snuck up from another direction?

She put her back to the wall and tried to up her glare a notch. "I don't trust you."

"You people always tell me that when I'm trying to be polite."

"You can be as damned polite as you want; it still doesn't mean I'm gonna trust you."

The attentiveness leached away, leaving something colder, silkier. "I don't have to be polite."

"I don't have to put you through the wall," she returned. "But I might."

He smirked.

Well, here went her security deposit.

ooo

Lee jerked to attention at the first crash, then darted forward to try to catch the Fifth Kazekage when he came sailing out of Sakura's second-story window. His best efforts met Gaara's sand, and all of the boys ended up half-buried.

"And stay out!" Sakura shouted.

"Make me!" Gaara roared back, and gleefully—sandily—launched himself back into the fray.

Something large and expensive-sounding shattered, and Naruto looked up groggily from Lee's arm. "Who's winning?"

"I don't know." Lee frowned. "Do you think we should help?"

"Which one would we help?"

"I don't know."

From the open window came a high-pitched shriek. Lee chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. "Think we should watch?"

Naruto brightened. "Definitely. Maybe we'll learn something."