A/N: Yes well, this was looooong overdue. Sorry about that. This chapter had been sitting in my files, more than half finished for a few months. :'D But finally, it's here.
I'm glad to hear you guys have been enjoying the twins and Gaara's interaction with them. When I initially decided to bring them into the game, I wasn't sure of how it would work out. It makes me happy to see I haven't been doing such a bad job.
Thanks for your support guys and hope you enjoy this!
Chapter VI – The Coffee Table
Gaara wasn't what one could call a feeble man. On the contrary, he had always been known for his wilfulness and strength of character. Many would, in fact, describe his personality as downright impossible. He faced life with a powerful forward momentum backed up by his fiery personality and temper. There were very few things in life that would make him back down.
Sadly, to his great mortification, facing two conniving and lofty females at the same time was one of these things; especially when they were greatly fond of each other and presented a tendency of forming solid alliances against his person. Age differences didn't matter in this kind of arena. Both of them being female the determining factor in this circumstance.
The first, with her steel personality and waspish tongue, wasn't afraid of standing up to him. She'd evidenced enough backbone in his past encounters with her to let him clearly know she would never be the wilting sort of female. It was the main reason why he was attracted to her so much. The second, with her candid violet eyes and soft baby cheeks, wasn't your average little girl. She was too smart for her years and stubborn like her mother to boot. The day's events had made this last amazingly clear. The injury of her hand would now give her great leverage in her favour with which to deal with him. In other words, she had her uncle in her pocket and the little she-devil knew it.
There was only one way out: he would have to separate them. Preferably, he'd be able to do this by keeping the first and getting rid of the second. He had pending business with the first. It involved certain pleasurable physical interactions that, unfortunately, couldn't be performed in front of the second. But to be able to engage in such enjoyable activities he would have to act smartly and not arouse any kind of suspicion.
In an attempt to appease both female dispositions, ice cream had been in order. There was an ice cream shop about two blocks away from Sakura's clinic and Gaara wasted no time in steering both of them in its direction. Predictably, neither of them presented much resistance to the idea. After a strawberry parfait and a chocolate sundae had been dispersed, the mood had become much more amiable and manageable.
"I really should be getting her back," the redhead commented, eyeing his niece as she finished eating the last of her strawberries. By some stroke of luck, the cutter had injured her left hand instead of her right; Gaara had thanked whatever Gods had been watching for that small mercy. Having Nyoko completely impaired during meals would've been close to a nightmare. Her manipulative skills would've gone through the roof if that had been the case. Never one to deny any pampering aimed her way, Nyoko would've made sure both her uncles grovelled at her feet while using her injured hand as blackmail. Not that this wasn't going to be the case anyway... still, her being able to feed herself was something positive.
"The excitement of the day will most likely hit her sooner than later," Sakura replied with a nod. "I wouldn't be surprised if she nods off on you in the car."
"She just ate an entire sundae," Gaara pointed out with a dry tone.
The doctor smiled at his mortified expression. "True but then her sugar crash will be all the worse."
"Otooji," Nyoko interrupted, "I need to use the bathroom."
The redhead sighed, giving Sakura a pleading look. To his satisfaction, it appeared his ice cream pacifier had worked its magic because she laughed out loudly.
"I'll take her," Sakura offered with a condescending nod. "Come on Nyoko, it seems your uncle believes there's a higher risk of cootie infection if he helps you pee."
Then again, maybe it hadn't.
Gaara ground his teeth and glared as the two females stood up from the table and made their way towards the toilets at the back of the shop. He heard Nyoko's giggles at Sakura's comment until the door shut firmly behind them.
It seemed there were hideous crimes he'd committed in a past life he was paying for in full in this life.
By the time they were done, he was standing outside waiting for them, impatient to get moving.
"I'll get her back to The Puppeteer," he told Sakura, leaning down to pick up Nyoko before crossing the street. "Kankurou said he'd wait for us there since I need to leave the truck anyway."
Momentarily distracted with watching the traffic, he didn't catch the amused look in the doctor's eyes at his unconsciously protective gesture. Much to Sakura's surprised enjoyment she didn't fail to notice how he didn't put the little girl down once they reached the sidewalk on the other side. Nyoko, it seemed, was aware of this as well but seemed rather content to be travelling in her uncle's arms. Clutching her stuffed kangaroo and resting her injured hand on his shoulder, her violet eyes sparkled as she aimed a large grin Sakura's way.
The doctor found herself returning it.
"Are you going to be home later tonight?" Gaara asked.
Blinking rapidly to regain her focus on the conversation, Sakura nodded her head. "Yeah, I'll be in. Why?"
"I'll pick up your coffee table at the shop and go back to your house. I'm aware I've had that delivery pending for days," he replied.
"Indeed, I was contemplating about making an official complaint with your brother" she remarked with narrowed eyes. "But how are you going to deliver the table if you have to leave the truck at the store?" she inquired.
"If I put the backseat down, it should fit in my Jeep without any problem."
"Oh, alright then," she replied before the look in her face turned wily. "So, you're going to be working after hours for me?" she finished in a deviously sweet tone.
He aimed a haughty look her way. "It's the least I can do for you after patching the she-devil up."
"Don't call her that!" Sakura exclaimed.
"She knows very well what she is," he countered, turning a wry look at his niece. She returned his glance with a beaming smile, as if confirming his statement.
The doctor only shook her head at their exchange.
By the time she was waving goodbye at the entrance of the clinic, and after setting an hour for Gaara to come over, a myriad of thoughts were crowding inside her head and threatening to make it burst.
It seemed no matter what he did, the redhead had an endless supply of surprises. But unlike all their past encounters, this last had definitely not been planned on his part. She remembered thinking not long ago of how wretched the twins surely were at having the temperamental Gaara as their uncle; but now, after everything she'd witnessed, she had to admit she had to take her words back.
It was against his nature to be openly affectionate and he certainly didn't have much patience. Nonetheless, the fondness he felt towards his niece (and most likely her brother as well) was certain. He might express it through curses, glares and gruff treatment but the sentiments were there all the same. The interaction between him and Nyoko had shed a revealing light in regards to Gaara's personality: the more he liked the person, the brusquer he behaved towards them. This forced Sakura to look at her growing relationship with the redhead from a completely different perspective.
She'd certainly had nothing but bad-tempered treatment from him from the very beginning!
Wondering at this sudden revelation and not sure of how exactly it affected their connection, she turned around and walked into the clinic.
As luck would have it, Hinata was waiting in ambush for her. Or well, as much as the quiet woman could waylay anyone.
"That was Temari-san's daughter, wasn't it?" she asked from behind her desk, her silver eyes gracing Sakura with an inquiring look.
"Yes, it was," Sakura replied, knowing her intention very well but not minding in the least. As a matter of fact, she suddenly thought that talking about her current situation with someone might do her some good. It'd help to get her thoughts in order at least.
"And who's the redhead?" Hinata asked, smiling as she watched Sakura walk up to her desk and pull up an adjacent chair.
"Her cursedly handsome uncle," was her resigned reply.
"Want me to get some coffee?" the silver eyed woman perceptibly asked.
"Yes, please," Sakura admonished. For this conversation, she was definitely going to need it.
- XXXXXXXX –
"You planned this from the beginning, didn't you?" she asked in what she hoped sounded like irritation.
The devilish redhead only chuckled, lifting up the beer he had in his hand up to his lips.
They were sitting in her living room, her recently delivered coffee table before them, eating barbecue wings out of a large bucket. The food had been accompanied by a six-pack of beers that, according to Gaara, was the only appropriate drink that could accompany chicken wings of any kind. Sakura had to admit he was right; the whole barbecue sauce and beer combination was rather tasty.
He'd shown up at her door an hour before, freshly showered and dressed, with the food in his hands. There was this sports bar that made the best wings in the city in his opinion and he'd wanted to eat some for a while but hadn't been able to because of work. Thus, he'd wasted no time in making a pit stop on the way to Sakura's.
As she held the bags in her arms while he retrieved her coffee table from his car, Sakura had wondered if he was always going to show up with food whenever he knocked on her door. Not that she minded but still, she'd have to pump up her exercise routine if he was going to keep this up.
Gaara brought the coffee table inside and placed it on the living room carpet, arranging it as Sakura instructed. After he was done, he took the food and beer from her hands and placed them on the table. As he straightened up, the doctor was going to suggest they get some napkins but was cut rather short. Gaara pulled her towards him and pressed his lips to hers in a fiery kiss, making her mind reel with its unexpectedness. The sudden contact made her realize how much she'd craved to kiss him again and she found herself returning his ministrations with delight.
They pulled apart after what seemed a long time, both breathing rapidly. But then Gaara grinned at her in that arrogant manner of his, as if bragging about the effect he'd had on her. She was obliged to swat him on the arm and to stomp into the kitchen for the napkins. Once there, she thought twice about it and decided on the paper towels instead. Eating chicken wings dipped in sauce was always a messy deal and she wasn't about to let her coffee table get dirty when it had just arrived. So she returned with the paper towels and plates.
He was already sitting on the floor, his back against the couch and an opened beer in his hands. For a moment, Sakura had to force herself to stop and deal with the effect such a sight had on her. He looked every bit like he belonged there and her treacherous heart had leapt at the possibility of his presence being a constant in her house.
A few wings and a beer later, she realized him being beside her like this was something she really could get used to.
"How's Nyoko doing?" she asked, fishing inside the bucket for another chicken wing.
"She was perfectly fine when I left her. Of course, Kankurou will now proceed to spoil her silly. She'll be insufferable for the next few days," he said with a tinge of disgust.
"Well, she deserves it for being so brave," Sakura replied.
"For being so stubborn, you mean," he countered. "She gets if from her pig-headed mother, I'm afraid."
Gaara proceeded to give her a rundown of the traits of the members of his family, going a bit into their history and how along with Kankurou and Temari, he had more or less been forced to make his way in life without any parental guidance. Sakura had known some of the details about their past, courtesy of Temari having so much trust in her as a paediatrician, but hearing it from Gaara's lips was altogether different. She found herself empathizing with him and sharing some of her experiences with him as well.
Like last time, the hours passed without them really noticing until the redhead finally caught Sakura trying to stifle a yawn.
Draining what was left of his beer, he stood up. "You should've told me you were tired."
Her sleepy smile belied her words. "Nah, I'm not that drained. I usually go to bed much later than this."
His jade eyes surveyed her critically, making it clear he wasn't exactly convinced. Without a word, he swooped down and picked her up, garnering a surprised squeak from her.
"Gaara, what the hell are you doing?" she exclaimed.
"Making sure you go to bed."
"I can go to bed all by myself, thank you very much!" she countered hotly.
His noncommittal grunt was as infuriating as any words he might've thrown her way. But he had already traversed through her house, passing the TV room and making it to her bedroom.
"I'd forgotten you didn't have a bed yet," he commented after he switched on the lights, cocking his head at the queen sized mattress lying on the floor.
"How could you have forgotten that? You're the one who's supposed to be delivering it!" she retorted vehemently.
In response, he bent over the mattress and threw her on top of it. She landed with a squeal and a bounce, emerald eyes looking mutinous.
He grinned at her before crawling on knees and hands on the mattress next to her. "It's later than you think," he told her, "It's already past midnight."
Her surprised expression confirmed his suspicions of her having no idea it was really so late. Coming up next to her, he brought down his face close to hers, their noses almost touching. "You should go to sleep."
Sakura glared at him. 'As if I'd be able to sleep with you here!' she thought furiously. His overbearing manner was almost too much for her to bear. "I'm not sleepy," she answered out loud.
"Liar," he replied with an amused tone. He bent his head down, capturing her lips in what once again proved to be a scorching kiss. Sakura vaguely wondered just where the hell he'd learned to kiss like that but decided she honestly did not want to hear the answer.
She was happily immersed in a hazy cloud of delicious heat when he pulled back. Jade eyes looked down at her face intently, as if assessing his next move. The desire in their depths was unmistakable and it made Sakura's eager heart increase its already frantic pace. She was expecting him to capture her lips once again and for him to lower his body unto hers, trapping her under his muscular weight. Something inside her was begging him to do so and she knew very well that if he decided to steer them both in that direction, she would be unable to deny him anything. Her skin was tingling with anticipation already and the heat was starting to swirl in her veins.
But his objective, like he'd told her from the very beginning, was to prove her wrong. The surprise in her eyes was genuine when he grinned, dipped his head for one last kiss and then suddenly stood up from the mattress.
"I meant it when I said you should get some sleep", he said, looking down at her arrogantly.
She blinked at him, unsure of what was happening. Gaara, noticing her confusion and knowing very well what it was that she'd expected from him, chuckled lightly before turning around and heading towards the door.
"I'll deliver that bed of yours as soon as I can," he said over his shoulder, "I have a feeling we'll be needing it soon."
With a final salute, the redhead made his way towards the front door.
Sakura gaped after him, not being able to believe what her eyes were telling her. Like the domineering despot that he was, he had carried her to bed and not only ordered her to sleep, but he'd high-handedly denied her the physical release he'd been happily igniting in her body moments before. Not only had he shrugged off the increasing tension between then, he'd had the audacity to actually walk out on her.
It was unheard of.
At sound of his Jeep pulling out of her driveway, Inner Sakura decided it was time for her to butt in.
Well, if you think about it, he did play his cards right.
'I beg your pardon?' Sakura asked indignantly.
Her inner voice chuckled, a blatant imitation of the redhead's previous dark amusement. He's got you where he wants you. It's blatantly obvious that you'll have nothing else on your mind for the rest of the night. Your thoughts and dreams can only have one possible direction now.
Sakura gritted her teeth. 'And am I to understand that you have no objection with that whatsoever?'
Of course not.
As if to prove her point, Inner Sakura proceeded to fill her mind with numerous images of Gaara in various states of undress and in all types of locations in her house. One particular vision of him wearing nothing but boxers while he rummaged through the cupboards of her kitchen looking for breakfast had a rather peculiarly intense effect on her. Especially when she imagined all those lovely back muscles stretched out as he reached up for a cereal box on one of the top shelves.
Inner Sakura cackled.
Grabbing a pillow and throwing it over her face, Sakura realized she was in for a very long night.
- XXXXXXXX –
"I have to say," Kankurou admitted reluctantly, "you handled that pretty well."
Gaara turned to look at him with a suspicious glance but didn't manage to detect any sort of sarcastic undertone in his brother's words.
They were both standing in the doorway to the twins' present bedroom. The guestroom of Kankurou's house had been turned into a sort of nursery ever since the kids were big enough for sleepovers at their uncle's home. Of course, being who he was, the tattooed-faced man had wasted no time in furnishing the room for the twins. He'd expertly crafted a bunk-bed, decorated with carvings of all sorts of animals, just for his niece and nephew. Not only that but the closet's doors also sported similar decorations, as did the shelves where their toys were stored.
Temari said her brother spoiled her children silly but there had been a teary look in her eyes when she'd seen the room he'd come up with. Gaara just thought Kankurou was exteriorising his up-to-the -moment frustrated urges of being a father and that, in a nutshell, he had lost his mind. Nonetheless, in front of his enthusiastic brother and sister, he'd wisely kept his opinion to himself.
"Well, I didn't have much of a choice did I?" the redhead finally answered gruffly, "I couldn't just leave her there, bleeding and crying." As he spoke, he gestured with his head towards the sleeping girl in the top bunk-bed. Nyoko was sleeping soundly, clutching her stuffed kangaroo in one arm while her bandaged hand lay on her pillow next to her head.
"No, but you could have very well... you know... panicked", Kankurou remarked, eyeing his brother out of the corner of his eye. He knew it was dangerous to tease the redhead but given the circumstances, it was impossible to resist.
"I never panic," Gaara answered vehemently.
"Of course not, that's exactly what I'm saying," his brother replied with a grin.
The redhead decided he didn't like the smile on Kankurou's face and was sorely tempted to wipe it off with some sort of violent gesture.
But just as the thought emerged, Gaara realized his prickly demeanour was not entirely due to his brother's banter but to the intensely tiring day he'd had. He let out a deep breath as he felt the exhaustion fall on his shoulders like a lead weight.
Kankurou seemed to sense his mood and shook his head at his stubborn baby brother. He'd called and insisted on coming over to see Nyoko; but no matter how much the tattooed man tried to tell him she was already asleep, the redhead simply wouldn't listen. So here he was, tired and in a bristly mood but feeling responsible for the girl all the same.
"You should get some rest," he told him for the fifth time since he'd arrived, "she'll be perfectly fine. I already told you I'll be the one to tell Temari all about it tomorrow when she calls."
Gaara at least had the decency to look grateful. After the day's events he was definitely not looking forward to informing his sister of the accident. He couldn't have prevented Naoko from getting hurt but at least he had reacted appropriately; he could always be counted on in an emergency. Of course, having Sakura on his side had been a godsend. Temari would have nothing to complain about and Gaara was sure the doctor would vouch for him in his exemplary role as an uncle.
That was what the ice cream had been partly about. He had to have his back covered in every possible way. There was no way he would risk getting on Temari's bad side... or well, more than he already was. At least she wouldn't be able to say that his budding relationship with Sakura wasn't convenient. He'd been able to call her directly when he'd needed her assistance thanks to their growing bond. Somehow, in a weird kind of way, Nyoko's little accident had helped him somewhat in his pursuit of proving his sister wrong.
Moreover, he had to concede, things with Sakura had been progressing nicely. They were already at a point where they functioned naturally around each other without any of that initial awkwardness that tended to happen with recent acquaintances. As a matter of fact, after the day's events, he could safely say they functioned quite efficiently as team. Even if she had behaved a tad more domineering than he liked and had clearly showed her superiority when it came to dealing with kids; but since treating children was her specialized field, Gaara knew there had been no room to complain... at least overmuch. So he'd let her remarks slide and decided to make her pay for them later. Something he was sure was happening at the moment.
Just remembering the way he'd left her in her bed and the look in her eyes when he'd gotten up andwalked away brought a sly grin to his lips. He was certain there would be some sort of retaliation from her part the next time they saw each other.
"Do you want something to drink or eat?" Kankurou offered, bringing Gaara's attention back to the present.
"No, I already had something," he replied as he turned to follow his brother away from the twins' bedroom and towards the kitchen.
"By the way, I'd been meaning to ask," the tattooed man remarked as he looked through his fridge, "how's the job hunting going?"
Sitting down heavily on one of the kitchen stools, Gaara let out a derisive noise. Trust his brother to want to talk about the one part of his life that was doing horribly. He'd managed to avoid thinking about it for a few days and with Sakura providing a distraction, it hadn't been all that difficult.
"Nothing," he replied, his voice devoid of emotion. "I haven't gotten a single email back."
The orange juice carton in his hand, Kankurou blinked back at him. "What do you mean?" he asked, perplexed. "Not even a single reply?"
There was a long moment of charged silence between the two of them.
"But that's impossible," the tattooed man finally said. "Someone's bound to want to hire you. You've got a really good CV and there's bound to be at least an assistant's job somewhere."
Gaara snorted. "I'd rather die than be someone's assistant but I do agree with you in that there are a number of jobs for me out there. I've sent out at least ten applications, some of them in answer to ads I've seen."
"And no one replied?" Kankurou asked once more, not liking what his brother was telling him.
Gaara shook his head in answer.
"But that means-"
"Yes, it means someone's boycotting my attempts to get a decent job in this city," the redhead interrupted, his voice laced with venom. "And it's quite easy to guess who that person is."
Kankurou's shoulders slumped. He reached up towards a nearby shelf for an empty glass and started pouring some orange juice for himself. "You really did make Tohru hate you, didn't you?"
"Well, since I did call him an incompetent idiot to his face and exposed some of the crooked deals he was making, I can't say I blame him. I'm afraid I made him lose a lot of money and that can never lead to anything positive."
"So now he wants your head in a platter," Kankurou concluded.
"I'm afraid so. But in all honesty, even though he has loads of strings he can pull, I can't say I'm scared of him," Gaara replied nonchalantly. "I'm certain he intimidated a number of firms to keep them from hiring me, threatening to cut ties with them if they dared so much as to grant me an interview. But there are some companies out there who won't bow their head to his bullying."
"And you're counting on them to step up to the plate?"
"Indeed," the redhead said. "I already sent some of them a few applications."
Kankurou groaned. "But they didn't answer."
Gaara shrugged his shoulders. "It's too soon to tell. Those were the last applications I sent and I only did so a couple of days ago. I'm still waiting to see if they've got the balls to beat Tohru at his own game."
"You really don't know how to leave well off alone, do you?"
"The asshole's trying to bring me down," the redhead replied, his jade eyes hard. "It's not something I'm likely to forget anytime soon."
Kankurou sighed. "Well, I certainly wish you luck with that. It's not that I don't like you working at The Puppeteer, I just know you'd be happier doing your own thing."
"Like bringing down corrupt corporations and crushing them with my fist?" Gaara asked with a malicious glint in his eyes.
"Yes," his brother assented with a defeated look. He wasn't sure if sending his brother out into the finance world again boded well for his fellow businessmen but at least it meant the redhead would be back where he belonged.
"But in the meantime, you'll just have to put up with me," Gaara replied as he got up from the stool and stretched. "Which reminds me, Sakura's bed is due one of these days, isn't it?"
Kankurou narrowed his eyes at him. "Yes, it's supposed to be done by the beginning of next week. We ran out of the special varnish I use so we had to wait for new supplies to arrive."
"Good," Gaara replied, "just make sure you let me know when it's done."
"I have a mind to forget you asked that and have someone else deliver it," Kankurou remarked snidely. "Besides, it's not like it'll be in one piece. You'll have to put it together once you're at her house."
"After all this time you doubt my skills as a handyman?" Gaara asked smugly.
His brother snorted in reply.
But the redhead just grinned all the wider. "What's more, you can't rob me of the chance of testing your craftsmanship."
"Testing?" Kankurou asked.
"Well yes, as soon as I've got it assembled, the doctor and I can see if the bed you've made can withstand a rough tumble between the shee-"
I do not want to know!" Kankurou exclaimed, bring his hands up to cover his ears. "There are children within earshot!"
Gaara sniggered. "They're fast asleep. Besides, the sooner they know of these things, the bigger advantage they'll have in life."
"Try telling that to their mother! You truly are incorrigible," his brother replied, pinching the bridge of his nose.
The redhead looked even more amused. It was so easy to ruffle Kankurou's feathers.
His eyes suddenly fell on the microwave clock and he felt the exhaustion pull down on his shoulders once more. "I'd better get going," he replied after a moment, "I'm afraid dealing with bleeding children and bossy doctors has taken its toll on me."
"Yes, I told you to go get some rest ages ago," Kankurou shot back. "I dread to imagine at what time you're going to come into the shop tomorrow if you don't go to sleep now. You always use any kind of excuse to be late!"
Gaara shrugged off his complaint and started walking out. "You have to admit that if I'm late tomorrow, I'll have the best kind of excuse."
"And what's that?"
"I expended all my energies in playing hero for your niece," he countered. With that, the redhead waved casually over his shoulder and headed towards the front door.
Kankurou snorted at this reply but as he heard the car door open and close, he knew the redhead was right. If Nyoko and Kamlyn usually worshipped their younger uncle, after this little fiasco their esteem of Gaara would most likely fly through the roof; especially where Nyoko was concerned.
He chuckled softly, knowing very well Gaara was unaware of his actions having an unintended side effect. If he kept playing the part of hero, no matter how gruff he was, Nyoko's hero worship would be guaranteed for life. And wouldn't Kankurou have the time of his life when she hit puberty and turned to her cool and awesome uncle when she wanted something... especially when it came to boys. Gaara had said that the sooner they knew about sex, the better. Kankurou was certain those words would come back and bite him in the rear in a few years.
Throwing his head back and laughing loudly, the tattooed man had never looked forward to the future so much. He was bound to be highly entertained by his brother's antics when it came to their niece in times to come.
Reviews, like always, are more than welcome. :3