Part Four: Scarlet Love


His process impeded, the young man could only blink and silently stare down at his significant other as a smile slowly spread over her lips; by her action, he could tell that she did not want him to leave, but then… did she mean for them to spend the night in her room? Inwardly, Gaara admitted to feeling a bit bewildered by her refusal to let him go, and he dimly wondered if it was appropriate for them to be in the same bed together, but at the same time, he acknowledged several strong urges that insisted he stay and further their embrace. Mild surprise flickered over his calm expression when Matsuri pulled him back toward her for another soft, sweet kiss, her lips tentatively playing over his, and it was not long before his knees were pressing into the mattress as he drew closer. Losing himself to the temptation of lying down with her, he barely had the presence of mind to unload the large gourd from his back and then wordlessly commanded it to descend and silently land amongst the soft bristles of the carpet floor.

To avoid applying the pressure of his weight upon her, the sand wielder briefly broke their kiss to rest next to Matsuri on his side, and his pale turquoise eyes gazed directly at her face as he waited for her encouragement to continue. When a dreamy smile formed over the smooth curve of her mouth, he extended an arm out to ensnare her waist and leaned forward to bring their lips together once more, as he steadily became aware of the amorous inner heat that rose higher to entice his senses. His mind attempted to figure out why his body was reacting this way, stirring with sudden powerful urges and compelling desires to swiftly shed the confining restraints of all his clothing, and then promptly stripping Matsuri of her attire as well. Struggling to resist the foreign prompts, Gaara drew in one shaky breath and refused to push her any further, although if they kept kissing and huddling closely together in such a manner, he was not sure how long he could maintain control of his noble mindset.

Not only did the conflicted redhead have physical yearnings to fight against, but emotionally as well; his heart had been aching with painful loneliness for many years, secretly craving to attain and feel the soothing, healing love of another. He knew that Matsuri cared for him and held a certain amount of fondness due to their close bond, but it was probably nowhere near the intensity of the way he felt toward her… despite his inexperience, there was no mistaking the meaning of this one. The mere thought of uttering the admission aloud brought Gaara a fair amount of tense apprehension, due to the devastating possibility of rejection, but deep inside his heart, with no one around to witness or hear his confession, he was willing to admit the truth: he loved Matsuri. It was the very same entity of love that drove him to finally succumb to his desire of testing the boundaries of their friendship so many months ago, when he kissed her for the first time, and then attempted to pursue the girl in a vague, uncertain manner, as he expected her rightful refusal any day.

The stoic sand wielder was pleased that she seemed to tolerate, or perhaps even enjoyed his company, which he truly did not expect to happen, and the more time they spent together, the higher his own anxiety and insecurities rose. Maybe Matsuri could stand him for a short period, but he, on the other hand, had felt his resolve steadily slipping away as his desire to be with her continuously increased, until he could no longer bear to treat her in a mere platonic manner. For most of his life, Gaara had been able to keep a tight and rigid reign on his emotions – albeit occasionally, anger turned him irrationally bloodthirsty back when Shukaku rendered his mental state thoroughly exhausted and unstable. But earlier in the afternoon on that day, being in constant close proximity with Matsuri and watching her flushed face glowing as effort and determination shone within her dark eyes, he weakened and kissed his student, surprising them both by throwing out his usual inhibitions.

Nevertheless, she had responded then, and here they were now, together in her bed, kissing and clutching each other as if the slightest inkling of sleep would be rejected right away, and the former insomniac certainly was not tired in the least bit… In fact, the longer he held Matsuri in his arms, the more his body became acutely aware of how snugly she was pressed against him, acknowledging the exotic softness of her petite form, and just then, he discreetly noticed the very few buttons on her nightshirt. The thin white material hardly served as a barrier, severely lacking in its purpose of concealment, and out of the corner of his eye, Gaara could catch a faint glimpse of the tank top strap that was vaguely outlined under the frail, flimsy garment. Heat gradually rose to burn him up from deep within, and before long, he felt as though he was struggling against an uphill battle, and when the brunette innocently cuddled closer to him, her delicate scent fully infiltrated his senses, effectively killing his feeble resistance.

With a low growl rumbling in his throat, the impassioned redhead submitted to his strongest inner desire and pushed Matsuri firmly into the mattress before he swiftly propped himself on top of her, although he did keep a keen ear open to hear her reaction. A soft gasp drifted into his mouth, mingling with his hot breath, but she offered no resistance to any of his actions, and when he dared to bring her hands over to the front of her shirt, her only response was a mild noise that sounded like contentment. As his fingers began to unfasten the small round circles lined together, Gaara mentally hardened his resolve, fully intending to stop the instant his partner showed a single sign of unease or discomfort; he would never dishonor her, no matter how powerful his yearnings were. Matsuri emitted a wistful little moan just then that absolutely enthralled him, and when all the buttons were separated from their secure holes, she idly shrugged her shoulders and the nightshirt drifted down to the mattress, exposing some of her bare skin.

The second he placed his hands upon her again, Gaara discovered how warm she felt, almost feverish, and when she squirmed slightly in that moment, he silently considered getting rid of her tank top to help soothe the brunette by divesting her of some heat. Blood pounded in his ears when the sand wielder boldly gripped a hold of her flimsy attire and pulled it up over her head, carelessly dropping the article to the side as his attention was immediately snared by another area of much greater interest. Having never seen a woman's naked chest before, he stared at her for several full minutes, oblivious to the bashful blush that was enflaming Matsuri's pale cheeks, and when he finally moved, his hand slowly reached toward one of the pert mounds. His long fingers kneaded the soft skin with underlying uncertainty, but he was encouraged by the sweet, breathy sigh that his partner uttered just then, and so his grasp firmed a bit as the pad of his thumb tentatively drew circles around her hardening nipple.

Matsuri shivered and closed her eyes to feel the acute sensation of his hands cupping both of her breasts, his light, albeit warm touch sending sharp tingles down her spine, and tenderness flooded her heart from their intimate embrace. Her twin lids immediately shot up in surprise upon her sudden awareness of his head nuzzling her chest, the dark crimson strands of his hair unintentionally tickling her skin and causing the girl to elicit a light giggle even as her stomach fluttered nervously. Seeming to have missed the noise, Gaara turned so that his cheek was pressing into the shallow dip of the valley between her mounds, his ear resting over her heart as the pace steadily increased in excitement… was he listening to the beating rhythm? That short-lived train of thought was swiftly derailed when he shifted over to one side and lifted his head just a bit to cover her breast with his mouth, sucking gently while his warm and wet tongue rolled around the small nub of her sensitive nipple.

The pleasurable sensation was heightened by his hand caressing her other breast, drawing a moan from the brunette, and then she lolled her head back along the smooth pillow, agitatedly writhing underneath the lean body insistently covering over her. An unexpected thrust of his hips sent Matsuri blindly reaching out for her significant other, seeking his assurance, and she absentmindedly entangled her slim fingers into his hair, her grip tightening when the light pressure of his teeth surrounded her nipple. Her legs gingerly parted at his wordless insistence, and Matsuri felt her heart skip a beat as the redhead settled comfortably in-between them, their intimate position made obvious by the hardness nestled directly against her soft lower region. Though innocent due to her lack of experience, the passive brunette was not completely ignorant of the act, and her blush deepened considerably when Gaara periodically rocked forward, rubbing into her private feminine area, a clear indication of his desire.

"Matsuri…" her name suddenly escaped his lips, hotly fanning her bare flesh in a harsh, hoarse tone that revealed the intensity of his growing need as the sand wielder avidly switched his attention over to her other breast, drawing it into his mouth.

Passion engulfed her senses and rendered her vulnerable, causing Matsuri to cry out in a trembling voice, as the hand he had clutching at her waist swiftly slid around to her back, firmly pressing her even tighter against his lean form. His tongue thrashed wildly within the confines of his mouth, the slick, wet muscle intently teasing her nipple to no end, sending jolts of pleasure to wrack her sensitive nerves, and Matsuri dazedly wondered about the strange, sudden increasing tension that had awakened in her… She squirmed restlessly at feeling the heat that was trapped between her legs, accompanied by an exotic presence of… wetness that also lingered around the lower area, which baffled her quite a bit, but her head was too dizzy to concentrate on it for long. Her periodic noises seemed to please Gaara, for with each little sound she made, his caresses grew bolder and more aggressive, eventually leading to the girl delicately lifting her hips, and allowing him to simultaneously tug off her pants and undergarments.

Now, she was fully nude and completely bared before his eyes, and the lean redhead retracted from his partner to shed his own clothing, maintaining a cool and calm expression even as he hastily pulled the confining black shirt up and over his head. He noticed that her gaze immediately fell upon his exposed chest, and he hid a smile of slight amusement at the way she reacted by inhaling sharply, while he found the gesture rather endearing when Matsuri turned her face away with burning cheeks of bashfulness. She certainly felt acute sensations that were likely similar to his own, and Gaara secretly reveled in the sound of her little gasps and soft moans that indicated her pleasure, giving him more confidence in an area where he severely lacked experience. With his minimal knowledge of biological functions and anatomy, the sand wielder at least understood the response of arousal that was infiltrating his entire body, and he logically deduced that the wound-up tension needed some way to escape.

His long fingers steadily unbuckled the belt holding his pants closed together, and he gradually lowered the article of clothing while watching his partner to gauge her reaction – he would stop if she showed the slightest hint of wanting to refuse him. Her face appeared flushed, and there was noticeable timidity in her dark ebony eyes, but Matsuri uttered naught a word of resistance, even after the redhead had briefly slid to the edge of the bed and completely removed all of his lower attire, idly letting them fall to the floor. Feeling heat creep up over the back of his neck, Gaara took a long moment to compose himself and cool his eager libido a bit before he slowly turned around to face the bole-haired girl, his expression revealing a sliver of his concealed uncertainty. Now that they were both naked and willingly ready to continue, mild trepidation seeped into his nerves; he wanted to be with Matsuri, no doubt about that, but did she feel the same way about him? Would she truly allow him to breach the most intimate and private part of herself?

It was not his physical desires that ached to be with her the most; his heart craved her acceptance, her affections, and even her love, but at this point, they had already gotten this far, and so he knew that she placed a great deal of trust in him. He certainly did not want to do anything that would violate her generous faith, albeit the young man worried about how easily he could make a mistake with her, since he was so inexperienced and practically clueless in the current situation. Throughout the entire encounter, Gaara had relied on his bodily instincts and impulsive urges to guide him in caressing his partner, and it seemed as though he was doing all right up to this moment, but with just one more step to reach completion, he suddenly felt anxious. His pale turquoise eyes pierced through the darkness and focused intently upon Matsuri, meticulously scrutinizing her facial features for a glimpse of her current mood as he silently wished he could figure out her mindset based on sight alone.

Shattering the stillness thickening the air between them, the sand wielder gradually edged forward until his knee faintly grazed hers, and then he stretched his hand out to gently grasp a hold of her wrist as he pulled the girl into his arms. Tell me what to do, Matsuri.

"Do you want me to stop?" He asked her in a low, controlled tone, inwardly trying to eliminate all traces of nervousness that stubbornly lingered within him as he patiently awaited her answer, preemptively steeling himself for a softly-uttered refusal.

Locked in his strong embrace, Matsuri rested her cheek against the side of his neck and mentally considered their situation, even as a nagging voice in the back of her mind was urging the girl to slow down before they crossed the point of no return. Prior to this, the two had only exchanged a number of kisses and innocent embraces, but now, it was apparent that Gaara was willing to bring their intimacy to full circle, although not without getting her consent first, letting her have the choice once again. While the redhead almost always kept a calm and confident exterior, she had detected a very faint hint of pain in his voice, and she knew right then that he wanted to be with her because he direly needed it, this close connection that would solidly bind them together. Outside on the roof of her house, she had finally learned what Gaara truly thought about love, the reason why he was so hesitant to openly pursue a relationship, and his earnest admission made the brunette more determined to prove her affections for him.

She shook her head in response to his question, and then gently broke free from his embrace to gracefully fall back upon the bed, tugging the lean young man along with her so that they descended together in one smooth, fluid motion. His hands instantly went to her sides, holding on for balance while he carefully steadied himself, and after sending her another intense look, his long fingers grasped her slender thighs with firm intention as he slowly pushed her legs apart. When he positioned his body at her entrance, Matsuri released a tentative sigh of trepidation and closed her eyes upon feeling him there, prodding her private region with his hard male part, knowing he was about to claim her untouched virtue as he gradually filled her. The innocent girl admittedly had a fair amount of nervousness dwelling within her mind, but she truly felt no fear about joining with him; even if she did not presently have the courage to say it out loud, she cared very deeply and intensely for Gaara.

A low hiss of contentment slipped out from his lips as the ardent redhead slowly sank into her, feeling the inner muscles of her feminine area immediately surrounding his length with a tight and thoroughly erotic sensation of containment. He pushed past the mild resistance that briefly stood in his way, the action causing his partner to elicit a soft gasp, and he quickly lifted his gaze to peer closely at her face, wondering if he had already done something wrong, made a mistake somehow. There was visible tension on her passive expression, and with a slight frown of alarm, Gaara decided to retreat and ensure she was all right, but when he began to pull out, she shook her head in refusal and boldly locked her legs around his waist. Confusion and concern made the young man pause for a short period as he wondered what to do, but then at her firm insistence, he nodded and gave the girl a warm smile before proceeding further until he fully entered her body, bringing them together intimately.

In that moment, his world consisted solely of his union with Matsuri, and the powerful waves of emotions that nearly overwhelmed his heart, stealing his ability for thought and reason as the logical part of his mind effectively shut down. There were only a few inhibitions regarding how genuinely vulnerable he felt at present, completely allowing himself to let go in her presence and essentially baring his most private and personal attributes to the precious person that he loved, even albeit secretly. Lost in a sea of foreign sensations, Gaara channeled all of his concentration and efforts into establishing a rhythm of passionate motion with his partner, their bodies awkwardly moving together in tentative uncertainty as they learned the intimate dance together. Each thrust sent a sharp jolt of erotic electricity shocking his nerves, and the enthralled redhead shuddered with pleasure as he subconsciously tightened his grip around her waist, apparently unwilling to release the girl from his hold for even a second.

Matsuri…! His mind called out in silent need, and he felt as though the hot fire arising from within was threatening to consume him entirely, and the tight wetness surrounding his throbbing erection had a profound effect on his rapidly-slipping control. The captivated young man shut his eyes while his muscles ached with increasing tension, and instinctively his arms moved to swiftly encircle his partner's small frame, pressing her closely to him as his breaths quickened from the effort of their motion. His ears picked up the soft gasps that Matsuri meekly emitted with each powerful thrust he sank into her, and he felt her petite body trembling in the wake of their intimate passion, pushing him toward the edge of an unfamiliar inner explosion. Pure physical desire to such an extent… it was something that Gaara had never felt before, but he sensed completion and fulfillment approaching him in a rapid manner, dangling a promise of elation that he could only attain together with his most precious person.

He groaned out loud and stiffened reflexively as a powerful burst of brilliant white light overcame the darkness behind his closed eyelids, acutely intensifying the sensation of his length erupting inside of her, releasing his essence in a flow of wet heat. The redhead ground out her name in a low growl of ragged effort as he rode along the series of erotic waves to the very end, and when the sensitive tingling was over, he felt as though his strength depleted almost entirely, and he had to make the conscious effort not to fall forward onto Matsuri. Adamantly maintaining the pressure of his weight upon his own arms, Gaara carefully slipped out of the delicious warmth of her body and shifted back onto his rear end, easing down into a sitting position while a breathy sigh drifted freely from his lips. Slowly, he lifted his head and opened his eyes to reveal twin pools of hazy light turquoise with faint inclinations of emotion lingering in them as he stared at the brunette lying before him, curiously observing her state while he inwardly wondered how she was feeling…

After taking a few minutes to regain his senses, the lean redhead gradually edged toward her position, and avidly watched her serene expression as Matsuri leisurely raised her head to gaze back at him with a sweet smile gracing her lips.

"Matsuri, are you…" he began hesitantly, feeling strangely tongue-tied at the moment, which was a state that he had rarely been in before, but his own apprehension unnerved him quite a bit, to the point where he was affected by the uncertainty. "…Was everything all right for you?"

Though she vividly remembered the searing sting of pain that initially came with their intimate union, the compassionate brunette knew that telling Gaara would only bring him guilt and possibly regret, so she decided to keep quiet about it. "Oh, yes… I'm fine, really. Please, don't worry. I just, um, need to go to the bathroom for something."

He seemed surprised by her statement, but made no inclinations to halt her process as the girl intended to head into the bathroom and clean herself up, though she did hesitate at the realization of how tense and sore her leg muscles felt, almost implying she would be unable to walk. Still, there was no doubt that due to their being together this night, she would have to change the bed sheet in the morning and wash it, so for now, she wanted to try and prevent her blood from delving into and staining the white material. In spite of her presently tender muscles, Matsuri flashed her significant other a small smile of assurance, before stubbornly beginning to ascend from the bed, while quietly informing him that she would return soon after finishing her matters. She could fully stand up without any trouble, and feeling his attentive gaze on her back, it made her feel all the more determined to show Gaara that she was perfectly fine, but when she attempted to move forward, she faltered on her initial step alone.

Eliciting a low moan of mild frustration at the unwanted adverse effect, Matsuri mentally linked it to the necessity of enduring that trait for the first time of intimacy, although she was certainly grateful that all her prior training had somewhat loosened her muscles a bit. It could've hurt a lot more, from what I heard…

Although the brunette tensely managed to remain upright, the momentary pause was enough for Gaara to inquire after her, and even when she had started to lift one foot and resume the process, he nevertheless voiced aloud in concern, "Are you sure you're all right, Matsuri?"

She nodded instead of replying verbally, silently hoping that he would see the gesture despite the darkness, and then she continued on her way, briefly considering the notion of sending chakra down to the soles of her feet for secure adhesion. The soreness clinging to her inner thighs made it difficult for Matsuri to walk without exerting a little extra effort to give off the impression that everything was perfectly normal, but knowing his watchful eyes, she had to be more vigilant to persevere. It was highly unlikely that Gaara would be familiar enough with the female anatomy to understand why she had bled from their tenderly cherished union, and the girl certainly did not want him to feel remorseful for bringing her pain beyond his control. Even in the past, when he had harmed her unintentionally on occasion, such as during a few intense training sessions, he was immediately apologetic afterward, making Matsuri quickly realize his adamant stance against hurting her under any circumstance.

Once she was out in the hallway, the taut brunette released a small sigh of relief and dropped the brave act, wincing slightly as she slowly strolled toward the bathroom at the other end, feeling chilled from the cool air surrounding her naked form. Fortunately, the distance was fairly short, and just a little while after leaving her room, Matsuri started running the water as she knelt beside the tub and watched the warm liquid come pouring out in a rushed torrent of blessed, therapeutic heat. When the water reached a high enough level, she turned the twin knobs to halt the current and gingerly submerged herself in the liquid warmth, a breathy sigh of blissful relaxation escaping her lips as the hot temperature soothed her tender muscles. Feeling very comfortable, Matsuri sat idle for a bit before she gradually began to drag the soft washcloth along various parts of her body, cleansing while keeping a mental note not to take too long to avoid raising her waiting beau's keen suspicions.

The area between her legs got less sore after a period of time, presumably absorbing the strength and effects of the warm and comforting water all around, and at this knowledge, a smile of genuine joy spread over the girl's face, mingling with her relief. She did not feel a single ounce of regret for giving herself to Gaara, even though they had just officially started their romantic relationship; intimacy was a powerful way of expressing emotional ties, after all, and it had allowed the two to share a very private bond with each other. Since she only possessed the basic information on the subject, Matsuri was curious to find out exactly how he felt about the way they had been together, although she sensed that his finishing act and quiet groans were derived from pleasure. During their embrace prior to that, the girl distinctly recalled the acute sensations of desire and yearning that had clung to her sensitive nerves when Gaara touched her, his gentle stroking and sucking that caused her body to shiver and tremble with erotic awakening.

It made Matsuri blush deeply to wonder how she would feel if he caressed her in a certain way that unraveled the tight knots tensing up her nerves… maybe the next time they were together once again, they could explore and get more familiar with each other. But would he, um… want to be… together like that, again…?

As the water gradually grew colder, the relaxed brunette decided to get out of the tub, and she wrapped a large, soft towel around her damp form while the liquid drained into nil, and she found that it definitely much easier to stand now than before. The girl confidently strode back to her bedroom with a smile of sincere happiness, wanting to greet Gaara in a most pleasant manner, and she returned to find him positioned next to her window, silently peering outside at the night sky instead of resting in bed. Despite the fact that a full year had passed since Shukaku was removed from the redhead, she remembered him mentioning once or twice in passing that he was still adjusting to a normal sleeping pattern, understandable given his circumstances. After quietly shutting the door behind her, Matsuri stepped forward until she was beside the young man, and she turned her head to glance toward his passive face, wondering if perhaps he did not feel tired enough to sleep at the present time.

Once her attention was on him, Gaara exhaled evenly and kept a firm control of his tone, purposely leaving out the edge of mild irritation that nevertheless tainted his words when he spoke, "Matsuri. I know what you were hiding from me."

Wh-what…? Alarmed by his unexpected proclamation, her dark ebony eyes widened as the girl wondered how he had managed to find out – surely he did not use his unique ability of the Third Eye to follow her into the restroom and spy on her during the bath…?

"Your… blood is on the bed sheet." He informed her lowly just then, as if he had somehow detected the question silently lingering in her mind.

Hearing that, her gaze immediately skipped over to the aforementioned area, and right there on the clean white surface, was a small spot of red… apparently, even with her efforts, she had not acted quickly enough to keep that little tidbit of information to herself. "Um… I…"

While she was sputtering up some kind of explanation to undoubtedly excuse his behavior, bless her generous heart, the sand wielder wracked his brain in trying to figure out how he had harmed Matsuri, and to such a brash point of causing an open wound. His behavior throughout the encounter had not been overly aggressive, he thought, as the way he touched her was fairly gentle, until toward the end, when he entered her body, he had felt something resembling a sort of mild barrier, and then… It suddenly clicked into place, and his pale turquoise eyes darkened with the shocking realization that the sensation of tightness he had experienced while he was deep inside of his partner… that could have been the cause of her pain, and the reason why she bled. If so, then it was completely his fault; he had hurt his own sweet and selfless precious person… Matsuri, who trusted him with her feelings, her loyalty, and her generous faith… but now, because of his desire, he had harmed her… he could never touch her again.

The tall redhead stood motionless, his profile rigid with tension, and the only movement he made was to tightly clench his fists at his sides, the knuckles turning white from the force as he muttered regretfully, "I'm sorry, Matsuri. I shouldn't have…"

Confusion briefly flickered over her face when he trailed off without finishing his sentence, but the reason behind his guilt suddenly dawned on the girl, and then she hastily grabbed his elbow while passionately insisting, "No, you didn't do anything wrong, Gaara. Really…!"

He flinched at her touch, and after a silent moment, turned to stare directly into her eyes with a grave expression as he raised his free hand to run his fingers along her cheek, stroking her smooth skin for a few seconds before dropping his arm back down. "You don't need to lie. I will bear responsibility for my actions."

Matsuri shook her head in firm refusal of his misguided belief, and gulped nervously as she worked up the courage to inform him in a coherent manner, "I'm not lying. Please, believe me. The, um, blood… it's supposed to happen."

How is that possible? Skepticism was plastered all over his face at hearing her claim; Gaara might have been ignorant of some things, especially concerning this particular subject, but he knew full well that blood and pain went hand-in-hand, and were most certainly associated with one another.

"It's natural for girls," she continued softly, unable to hide the blush that was rapidly turning her cheeks bright pink, "I… I only bled because it was the first time… I mean, I've never been with anyone like that before you, Gaara, and that's why… there was some pain… but only a little."

His light turquoise eyes softened ever-so-slightly at her words, and though he still felt somewhat doubtful, he wanted her to know that he had complete faith in her, and so the young man took a hold of her hand, squeezing it as a gesture of mild comfort while he confirmed, "Are you sure about this? Only the first time?"

"Yes," the girl answered with a slow, solemn nod for emphasis, hoping he would be convinced by the seriousness on her face.

"…All right. I believe you." Gaara finally relented after a short period of mentally contemplating the information she had just presented with him – he had no reason not to trust Matsuri, after all – but he was certainly determined to bring her the same ecstasy that he had felt during their intimate act… someday soon. "But you won't feel pain next time, Matsuri. I will not let you bleed again."

N-next time…? Her blush deepened at his promise, and she ducked her head to hide the obvious display of her bashfulness, able to offer only silence in response because she could not bring herself to encourage him… that would surely be too forward and improper…

Her reaction bewildered him a bit, concern flickering over his expression as he wondered what was ailing her now; after thinking about the possibilities, he came to the most logical conclusion and inquired with a hint of anxiety, "Are you still in pain?"

"Oh, no… don't worry, it doesn't hurt anymore," she answered, offering him a small smile of assurance as she sought to sound convincing enough to be believed – there was still a slight twinge of pain lingering, but she could handle it. "Um, I just feel a little tired, that's all…"

The sand wielder nodded with understanding at her response, since fatigue suddenly settled over his body as well, putting him in a similar situation as though he was running low on chakra, albeit lacking physical strength this time instead of the spiritual energy. "We should get to sleep, then. Matsuri, would you… prefer to rest alone?"

Seeing the mild worry on his face in expectation of her answer, Matsuri giggled lightly, knowing he was trying not to look overeager or seem pushy, but he definitely wanted to stay the whole night together with her, a rather endearing thought. "No… I'd like you to be here. Can you stay with me, Gaara? Please? I promise I won't hog the blanket."

The corner of his mouth quirked up in a partial smile at hearing her sweet plea, and he wondered how she could be so kind and selfless with him, and a strange fluttering sensation flared up inside as he answered mildly, "Hm, even if you did, I wouldn't be concerned about that. And yes, I will stay with you."

Her expression brightened with elation and the girl beamed a wide grin at her beau, suddenly deciding to walk forward and embrace him on a whim, and despite his initial startled reaction, he soon slipped his arms around her small frame as well. Feeling happy to be close together, and also relieved that he was not too upset with himself to force distance between them, she sighed happily and rested her cheek against his bare chest, absorbing the warmth and comfort of his secure hold. A few minutes passed before the redhead gently reminded her that she needed to rest, and so with a nod of compliance, Matsuri allowed him to retract, and then he took a hold of her hand to guide her over to the bed they would be cozily sharing that night. Once they reached the side, she climbed in and daintily lowered herself upon the mattress until her head made a shallow indentation in the pillow, and then Gaara swiftly mirrored her action, lying down next to her, his head turned so that they were facing each other.

The young man silently gazed her way while she yawned and murmured a drowsy goodnight to him before she slowly closed her eyes, and after a short while, the rhythm of her breathing soon became a steady and serene pattern to his ears. Good night, Matsuri.

Gaara stayed awake a bit longer even after the girl had fallen asleep, his mind bustling and occupied with many thoughts; needless to say, he was still a bit shocked that she allowed him to be so close to her, their bodies actually joining together. Despite his ignorance and self-induced uncertainty, he understood the significance of what they did, and he felt rather awestruck that Matsuri returned his feelings strongly enough to give herself to him in such a personal and intimate manner. Could it be possible that she loved him? To the present moment, the incident with his maternal uncle had left Gaara with the lasting impact of expecting rejection from others, anticipating resentment and preemptive prejudiced judgment before he even initiated any verbal or physical interaction. Still, in spite of that fear, there was no question that he held Matsuri as a dear and precious person within his own heart, although he admittedly wondered just how much he meant to her, the importance of his existence in her life.

One bitter and lonely night long ago, young Gaara had commanded his sand to viciously carve a blood-red tattoo on his forehead as a painful and permanent reminder to never allow anyone to get close to him, or to even care for another person, ever again. Six years later, his perspective on life was drastically altered after he fought Naruto Uzumaki in the Leaf Village, a boy who truly understood the agony of forced isolation and resentment from strangers, because he also had a terrifying demon in him. With the solid support of his siblings behind him, Gaara slowly began to change, and soon, he realized that he could not fully redeem himself unless he made retributions for all the chaos and senseless slaughters he had committed in the past. He tried to help his village get stronger and improve the quality of their shinobi, as he became one of the three instructors in Suna's new ninja academy, and there, he met Matsuri for the first time, a timid, polite, and soft-spoken girl that gradually opened his heart to love.

Matsuri… thank you. Tonight, you made me feel… so alive. You have given my life more meaning and value. I finally understand what Yashamaru meant when he said that only love could heal the deepest wounds of the heart. He was… actually telling the truth in that instance. Because of you, Matsuri, I'm no longer in pain. My heart doesn't hurt anymore, and I am not afraid to open myself to you. From now on, my heart will serve you. I will do everything in my power to bring you the same happiness you have given me. The contemplative redhead silently sent his message to her as a small smile of genuine affection creased his lips, and warmth inhabited his heart at the mere sight of her peaceful face, remaining tentative and somewhat guarded, but no longer unwilling to trust. There were still many things left unsaid between the two, and Gaara was determined to tell her, one day, exactly how he felt about her, all she wanted to know and even more, but for now, he had a few of his own inhibitions to work on debilitating. For her sake, he would try…

He had trained her thoroughly for the last several years, schooled the girl on all the aspects of battling that he felt she would need to survive, and yet, it was truly ironic that she, the student, had ended up teaching her own sensei to trust in one of the most important emotions of life. Loneliness… such a sickening and pain-inducing disease that infected all the vulnerable parts of a person's mental state and rendered one unable to remain stable; it was certainly a force to be reckoned with, especially when the cure was difficult to obtain. Because of Yashamaru's betrayal, the former demon vessel had believed he was too much of a freak and a destructive monster to ever receive earnest affections from anyone, and with the other villagers shunning him, it became apparent that they felt the same way as well. But they were wrong, all of them… for Gaara and his siblings shared a close bond of kinship, he had two very good friends in Konoha, and now, he and Matsuri were together… she was proof that someone deemed him worthy enough to be loved.

With that pleasant thought lingering in his mind, Gaara moved toward the slumbering brunette and leaned his forehead forward until it gently touched hers, inwardly feeling comforted by the soothing warmth of her presence pressed against his tattoo of the "love" character.

His eyes slowly drifted to a close as peace settled over his resting form, and even knowing that she would not hear him say this, he still wanted to express the words aloud, and he felt just confident enough to tell Matsuri in a low, husky voice, "I love you."

He fell asleep easily that night, admittedly looking forward to the next bright morning, and all of the other tomorrows that the two would share with each other, enjoying the company of one another, and discovering the blissful elation of being in love.

Together, they had found the end of solitude.

The End

Author's Note: Wow, this is it… I'm actually kind of sad to see this story end, but I certainly can't drag things along forever, or else things would surely get stale, heh. Oh, I had originally planned for this story to have only three parts, but uh, I guess it grew beyond my control, eh? Teehee… Err, apologies for the corniness toward the end there… albeit I fully believe that Gaara deserves to love and be loved in return, and I really hope that some of you readers feel the same way. As I am very nervous about how the mature scene turned out, I'd like to ask you all to please let me know if I did all right… Don't be afraid to tell me that I wrote something OOC for one of them – I am especially afraid of screwing up Gaara's character, and I need to know of any areas I should improve upon. I look forward to hearing comments from you, so please leave a review and let me know your thoughts on this segment!

By the way, this will most certainly not be my last GaaMatsu fic. I had way too much fun writing this story, and I fully intend on writing more, so if you readers like this couple as much as I do, be sure to keep your eye out for future GaaMatsu pieces from me…

With love for my fans,