Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.
Title: Sakuwa Hawuno
Summary: Sakura gets hurt during a mission to retrieve Sasuke, and she turns chibi! With the girls gone, it's up to the Konoha men to babysit her. What happens when she gets 'kidnapped' by Akatsuki, and that only Orochimaru knows the cure to save her? SakuraxMulti
I'm sorry for updating so late! I've just been growing out of fanfiction lately, with everything that's been happening. I'm still continuing, though, just so you all know.
Also, thanks so much for the reviews! I absolutely loved them. I apologize for not updating sooner. I was being lazy, and whenever I wrote, it was always those short, easy oneshots. Well, I hope you like the chapter!
"Fuzzy brows!" Pebble after pebble came up and lightly tapped Lee's bedroom window. "Wake up! You never used to sleep this late! It's past noon!"
Lee groaned, rubbing his eyes. He looked down to find the child version of his Sakura-chan lying beside him, still asleep. He rubbed his head- why was she back to her child-like state? She had been normal just before, he was absolutely sure of it. Was it a side-effect? It was possible she could have simply switched between both child and adult bodies.
"Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!" Naruto called out, impatiently. "Come on, already! I need to see Sakura as soon as possible, so bring her out right now!"
Sakura made a soft noise of disapproval as the loud voice outside the window continued to shout.
"I want to sweep, Lee-niichan." She murmured, shuffling even closer to him. Lee smiled and ran his fingers through her pink hair affectionately.
"Sorry, Sakura-chan, but your Naruto-niichan really wants to see you."
"Awh, okay." Sakura resigned, yawning loudly. As she stretched, Lee opened the window and peered outside.
To his surprise, it wasn't just Naruto standing outside, but a former opponent during the Chuunin exams.
Sabaku no Gaara.
"Look who decided to visit?" Naruto exclaimed, grinning wildly. "Bring out Sakura-chan! I told Gaara about it and he wants to see her!"
Lee glanced over at Gaara who merely rolled his eyes.
"Nawuto-niichan?" Sakura asked from her spot on her bed.
"I can hear her! I can hear my lovely Sakura-chan! Lee, throw her down to me! I'll catch her, I swear! Hurry, I'm on a tight schedule, here!"
Sakura stood up and and stretched her arms towards Lee, expecting him to do as was told and throw her down to Naruto. Lee was surprised to see such trust shining in her eyes. It was as if she was absolutely sure Naruto would catch her.
Lee, on the other hand, was quite against the idea.
"Of course not! Just wait a moment while I-"
"That's okay, fuzzy brows! I'll come up and get her myself!" Naruto called back, impatient as ever. In less than a second, he was standing on the window sill. "Sakura-chan!"
"Good mowning, Nawuto-niichan!" Sakura chirped, smiling up at him. Naruto grinned and lifted her up. He quickly slung the bag that held what little possessions Sakura owned over his shoulder before turning around. Lee stood there, speechless. "I'm going with Nawuto-niichan, now. I hope to see you soon!"
And with that, Naruto jumped back down towards the ground. The thud was barely audible, and Sakura was giggling excitedly all the while.
Lee stood there for a moment, quite shocked at how quickly his Sakura-chan was swept away from him. When he finally composed himself, he called after her. "Bye, my blossom! Until we meet again!"
"She's so small!" Temari cooed, grinning like an idiot.
"She... She never acts like this." Kankurou stated, taking a step back from Temari.
Kankurou proceeded to gape at his now uncharacteristically sweet sister. What had happened to his harsh, tomboy sister? She was acting so girly! It was very unlike her, and in all honesty, Kankurou was more than slightly creeped out- but it was a perfect opportunity to tease her.
"Gaara," He started, slowly and dramatically. "what happened?"
"You think she's cute, too, Kankurou. Don't deny it." Naruto teased, patting Sakura's head affectionately. Sakura tried swatting his hand away, but was unsuccessful. She was just trying to eat her ramen! She couldn't continue when Naruto-niichan kept touching her head. If he continued, then she might accidentally spill the hot soup on her clothes!
Kankurou felt an urge to shake his head to rile the boy up, but when Temari turned to glare at him, he decided it probably wasn't the smartest idea.
"O-of course! What an adorable thing you are, Sakura-chan!" He exclaimed, giving her a nervous-looking smile. Sakura looked up at him with a confused expression, and even Kankurou had to admit that at that moment, she really was too adorable. Naruto patted her head, once again.
"I want to eat, Nawuto-niichan!" Sakura exclaimed, pouting angrily. "Stop patting my haiw."
Naruto only grinned back at her.
"Okay Sakura-chan, whatever you say."
Sakura finished her noodles and wiped her mouth with a napkin, unaware of the three pairs of eyes watching her every move as they chatted amongst themselves. "All done, Nawuto-niichan! What awe we going to do today? Twaining?"
"Of course! We're going to show Temari, Kankurou, and Gaara your awesome moves! And then, we'll go visit Sasuke and Kakashi, okay?" Naruto stated, grinning when Sakura gave an excited shout. He took her hand, and the four started walking towards the training grounds again.
Sakura, having always been observant, studied Naruto's friends that had tagged along with them. The pretty blond woman, whose hair was tied into four parts, acted affectionately with Sakura, who had decided that the lady would be one of her nee-chan. She didn't have too many of those. Unfortunately, Naruto had told her that the other nee-chan weren't going to be back for a long time.
Beside Temari was Kankurou. Sakura decided that he would be another one of her nii-chan, even though she had plenty. She was fascinated with the purple paint stuff on his face, which was kind of weird considering she had never seen anybody wearing paint on their faces...
Realization dawned upon Sakura. She had seen Ino-neechan wearing some on her eyelids!
"What is it, squirt?" Kankurou asked, looking down upon the candy-haired toddler.
"Why you have make-up? Nawuto-niichan say make-up awe fow giwls only!"
Kankurou openly gaped down at the child, who stood, looking nothing but innocent. Naruto was too busy trying to stifle his laughter, and Temari was simply smirking.
"It's not make-up, it's war paint." Kankurou growled.
"Weally? Ino-neechan has the same." She responded, tilting her head sideways in a thoughtful gesture.
"Really, Sakura-chan. When boys wear this," He pointed to his face, "it's definitely war paint."
Sakura nodded in understanding, satisfied with the answer. For girls, it's called make-up, for boys, it's called war-paint. Easy and simple!
With a smile on her face, Sakura turned to the Kazekage, whose gourd instantly caught her eye. Noticing her sudden attentiveness, Gaara narrowed his eyes at Sakura, oblivious to his suspicious glare.
"Gaawa-niichan, why awe you cawwying a bottle?" Sakura suddenly asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. It was a big bottle- brown with pretty black markings. Maybe he had lots of milk in there for when he got thirsty? Sakura furrowed her brows when Inner uproariously laughed at the thought.
Temari choked at hearing her brother's new nickname.
"'Gaawa-niichan?' Ah, Sakura-chan, you're so cute!" Temari cooed, while Naruto and Kankurou tried hard not to burst into laughter.
"Awen't you too old to dwink out of bottles, Gaawa-niichan?" Sakura asked, putting a finger up to her lips in thought. Naruto and Kankurou couldn't take anymore of it and started snickering. Sakura, completely unaware of Naruto and Kankurou's growing laughter, spoke up once again.
"But it's a big bottle so I guess it's okay."
"It's not a bottle. It's a gourd." Gaara replied, glaring at the two laughing men. "It's for my sand."
"Sand?" Sakura asked, coming to a halt. "Can I see? Pwease?"
Gaara smirked slightly, and nodded. Suddenly a trickle of sand started seeping out of his gourd and started to surround Sakura, who was laughing excitedly. "Ooh, that's so cool, Gaawa-niichan!"
She suddenly ran up to him with her arms outstretched. Gaara simply stared at her curiously, wondering what she was trying to do. She merely continued to stand there, waiting. After a moment, Sakura spoke up again. "Up, up!"
Gaara glanced questioningly at Naruto, who shrugged. "She wants you to carry her."
"I will do no such thing." Gaara stated, turning away. At his harsh rejection, Sakura lowered her arms, a frown on her face.
"Do you not like me, Gaawa-niichan?" Sakura whimpered. Before she could start crying, Temari picked the little girl up and patted her head gently.
"Gaara! What do you think you're doing?" Temari hissed, exasperatedly. "She's just a child! There's no need to act so mean to her."
"You hurt her feelings!" Turning back to Sakura, Temari added, "Isn't that right, Sakura-chan?"
Sakura nodded and swiveled her head to look at Gaara with tear-filled eyes. Gaara's jaw clenched. As much as he didn't want to admit it, he really didn't like seeing her so upset, and the fact that she was a mere toddler only worsened the guilty feelings. Sakura Haruno had, after all, been part of the team that had helped saved him when he was kidnapped by the Akatsuki. She had saved Kankuruou's life as well, and with the help of the elder, Chiyo, defeated Sasori of the Red Sand.
She was smart, hard-working, and powerful- a respectable kunoichi, if he ever knew one. She wasn't bad to look at, either. She wasn't beautiful in the conventional way, but her own. Her eyes, flickering with countless emotions whenever he saw her, were very alluring. He even found her exotic hair color to be quite appealing. The kunoichi's temperamental nature was entertaining as well, as he had found himself watching her and Naruto interact on several occasions. Hell, even he did not want to be the brunt of the woman's anger, not that he couldn't take her on, of course.
He was Kazekage, after all.
The small girl in front of him started reaching out to him again, hope gleaming in her always-expressive eyes. He suppressed a sigh as he felt a twinge in his gut. Some things would probably never change.
"Okay, fine. Just once." He muttered, before lifting the child into his arms. She squealed and gave him a big bear hug around his neck.
"Yay! Gaawa-niichan likes me!" Sakura exclaimed, patting Gaara on the head. He blushed, unused to the physical contact. Naruto wasn't lying when he said that toddler Sakura was so very, very adorable. He awkwardly held her, having no experience at holding children.
Suddenly Sakura started tapping Gaara's sand gourd. "Come out, sand-chan! Come out and play with Sakuwa-chan!" Sakura exclaimed, grinning wildly when Gaara summoned his sand to dance around the small girl.
Temari nudged Kankurou.
"Aren't they so cute?" She gushed. Kankurou's eye twitched at his sister's sweet tone, but he had to agree.
"We should visit more often." Temari whispered, under her breath. Kankurou looked at her strangely, silently asking why she had even suggested such a thought. "To hook up Gaara and Sakura, of course!"
Kankurou visibly paled at the words, and Temari rolled her eyes. "Obviously not while she's a kid, dumbass. When she's back to normal."
They glanced back at Naruto and Gaara, making sure they couldn't listen to their conversation. As they had expected, the two men were too engrossed in watching Sakura play gleefully in the chakra-infused sand.
"How do you know she'll ever be back to nor-"
"She will get back to normal." Temari interrupted him. "It's Sakura, Kankurou. She'll make it through this. So, are you with me or not?"
"I guess I'm in. Gaara seriously needs to get lai- He needs some love in his life." He quickly corrected himself. If he hadn't, who knew what Temari would do to him. "Even though he's Kazekage, he's still too antisocial."
With a quieter voice, he muttered to himself, "And it's not like I have much of a choice."
"What was that last part, brother?" Temari inquired, reaching behind for the giant fan strapped on her back.
"Nothing, nothing!" Kankurou cringed, raising his hands in defense. He could already imagine the steam coming from Temari's ears.
"Good." Temari replied, letting her hand fall beside her. Kankurou sighed in relief. Her temper was always so short-fused whenever he was around, and this time he had narrowly escaped a good ten minute whacking.
"Gaara!" Naruto suddenly whined. "Stop doing that, she's going to start liking you way better than me!"
Gaara smirked. "That doesn't sound too bad."
"B-but I- You- No fair!" Naruto exclaimed, stomping his feet childishly. Sakura, however, was too caught up in her current source of entertainment to even bother paying attention to the boys' conversation. When they neared the training ground, the sand slowly returned to the interior of the gourd.
"Whewe sand-chan go?" Sakura asked, surprised. "Gaawa-niichan?"
"We have reached the training grounds." Gaara replied, setting her down on the ground gently. Almost immediately did Sakura forget about the sand. She started jumping, impatient and badly wanting to show off her new moves. If there was anything kids loved, it was definitely attention and praise.
"Watch, watch!" Sakura exclaimed, as she first demonstrated the taijutsu combination taught by Lee. When mistakes were made, she'd redo them until she had executed the moves acceptably. Naruto would murmur small pointers whenever she forgot something, but overall, she had done everything quite smoothly. When Kankurou and Temari clapped, she beamed up at them.
"You're just so amazing, Sakura-chan!" Naruto piped up, picking her up in a giant bear hug. Sakura squirmed, unable to breathe, until Gaara came and tapped Naruto on the shoulder. Naruto laughed sheepishly, and immediately apologized to the child.
"Nawuto-niichan! Don't hug Sakuwa so hawd!" Sakura pouted, crossing her arms angrily. "I could haf been killed!"
"No, no, no, I would never hurt you, Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed in an almost solemn manner. Sakura didn't seem to have heard as she turned towards Gaara with a hopeful expression.
"Gaawa-niichan, what do you think of Sakuwa's attacks?" She asked. He looked away from her almost shyly, but nodded in approval. Sakura's grin widened and she reached out towards him. "Up, up!"
"But, but, Sakura-chan!" Naruto whined, as he hesitantly allowed Gaara to take Sakura out of his arms.
"... Sowwy, Nawuto-niichan." Sakura replied, looking guiltily at Naruto, who suddenly felt bad for making Sakura feel the tiniest bit bad. "I just want to play with Sand-chan."
"... It's okay. It's not your fault." Naruto replied, shooting Gaara a glare when Sakura turned away. The red-haired man could only smirk his way as he allowed the toddler in his arms to mold the sand into shapes of her liking.
"Well, as much as I'd like to stay, I have to meet up with Sasuke and Kakashi. They were probably looking forward to seeing her, today." Naruto grumbled. "You better take care of her while I'm off. It's Neji's turn to watch up today, but I told him I'd look after her instead, so I'll pick her up later."
"Nah, you don't need to do that." Kankurou exclaimed, patting Naruto on the back. "She can spend the night with us."
"Eheh... I don't think that would be such a goo-"
"Like a sweepover?" Sakura inquired with much enthusiasm. Naruto sputtered, but Sakura's eyes widened in excitement.
"Nawuto-niichan! Can I? Pwease?" Sakura begged, clasping her hands together for a larger effect. Naruto started sweating- he really wanted to say no, but when she was looking at him with such a hopeful expression, it was as if the word, 'no', had never existed in his vocabulary.
"Are you sure, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked, desperately trying to think up an excuse. When Sakura nodded furiously in reply, Naruto grudgingly resigned.
"Alright, fine..." He agreed. With a sigh, he muttered, "You can sleepover at Gaara's place."
"Yay! Thank you Nawuto-niichan! You'we the bestest!"
At this, Naruto's chest swelled up with pride. "I know I am. Well, I've really got to go. At this rate, I'll be even later than Kakashi-sensei. I'll see you tomorrow, Sakura-chan!"
Naruto handed Sakura's bag over to Temari and gave little Sakura-chan an affectionate kiss on her forehead before jogging away. Sakura giggled and continued to wave at him until he was out of sight, grateful he had given her permission to sleepover at Gaara's.
"So, cutie, what do you feel like doing?" Temari cooed, grinning as Sakura smiled widely up at her.
"I want to go... Swimming!"
Temari and Kankurou glanced at each other, and then up at Gaara, whose expression stayed completely blank.
"Well, I'm up for it..." Kankurou agreed, and Temari nodded as well.
Sakura looked up at him questioningly, a hint of disappointment gracing her face.
"But why, Gaawa-niichan? Do you not like swimming? Swimming is vewy fun! Pwease?"
"No." Gaara declined, once again.
"I said no." Gaara growled, towering over the toddler in an intimidating manner. Scared, Sakura took a step back, but suddenly paused. Gathering her courage, she stomped up to Gaara and placed her hands on her hips.
"I said yes! Swimming now." Sakura demanded, as she did the unthinkable and glared right back at him.
"No, I am not." Gaara countered, folding his arms in front of his chest. He fought to keep his lips from tilting up in amusement. Her antics were very, very amusing. Nobody dared speak to him this way. Strong shinobi shook at the thought of angering him, and yet here this mere child was, demanding such a simple thing like swimming.
"Yes, you awe." Sakura declared, poking his knee with every word uttered from her tiny mouth.
When Gaara didn't reply, she raised her arms up, fully expecting Gaara to take her into his arms. When he obliged with this silent demand, Sakura saw her chance and crawled her way onto his shoulders, wrapping her arms around his head.
Annoyed, Gaara grunted, reaching behind to pluck her from his shoulders. Unfortunately for him, however, Sakura had already been able to gain an extremely strong grip on a tuft of red hair. Growling in disdain, Gaara reluctantly let go of the child and crossed his arms.
"Come on, Gaara." Temari encouraged. Gaara tried glancing at her from the corner of his eye, and although he couldn't see her, he felt Sakura messing up his hair. He could only imagine what his hair looked like, now- not that it really would have changed much. It was wild and unruly, and he never cared for keeping up any sort of appearance. Exasperated, but refusing to show any signs of it, he finally agreed.
"Yes!" Sakura cheered, wrapping her arms around Gaara's head, and consequently, over his eyes. Gaara cleared his throat, but Sakura did not seem to understand the hint. With a barely audible sigh, Gaara turned around to what he believed was where Temari stood.
"Sakura-chan, Gaara can't see with your arms over his eyes." Temari said, smiling in amusement when Sakura gasped dramatically and flung out her arms. Unfortunately, the movement disrupted her balance and she started falling backwards. Sand spilled out of the gourd immediately, catching the child in a careful, gentle hold.
"Be more careful." Gaara ordered, watching as Sakura giggled and played around in the sand.
"Okey dokey!" Sakura declared, as soon as she was standing on the ground. Excitedly, she started running towards the edge of the training ground and into the forest. The three sand siblings kept up with her easily and allowed her to lead the way to whatever river she wanted to go swimming in.
"You don't need to rush, Sakura-chan." Kankurou said, wincing when Sakura nearly tripped over a tree root. It was funny, watching her try to run through and around the many obstacles the small child had to face. She was too short to step over certain bushes, and there were tree roots sticking up nearly a foot above the ground, forcing her to hop over them. Kankurou sighed when Sakura let out a surprised yelp when she came across a squirrel that quickly bolted away.
Fifteen minutes later, Gaara became impatient and simply swept the young child up and ordered her to point the way. Sakura gladly did so, and laughed merrily as they sped through the forest. Everything was a blur to her, and she grinned to herself as Inner Sakura explained how she had been able to run as fast as this, before. In a matter of minutes, they reached the river she had been leading them to.
The river's current was slow-paced and calm, and Sakura clapped her hands excitedly. Its depth, however, looked quite deep. The rocks below were hidden in a deep blue, and the shore opposite to where they were standing was a good seven meters away. Kankurou's eyes widened- he'd lived all his life in the desert, and although he'd seen many rivers before as he traveled and completed missions, he'd never seen one as calm and peaceful looking as this one.
Trees surrounded the area, its leaves filtering the sunlight as thin beams of light came shining down upon the water, making it glisten. An assortment of animals could be heard, from the chirping of crickets and birds, to the scurrying of squirrels and other mammals. It was a gratifying sight to behold, and both Temari and Kankurou wondered how they could have missed such breathtaking scenes like this as they traveled around from country to country.
Gaara, who was unaffected by the display of nature, gently placed Sakura down and sat underneath the nearest tree. He couldn't understand why his siblings were gaping at everything- it's not like there was anything new. Trees, water, animals- who cared? They had all been on missions before, and came across rivers nearly identical to this, yet they never took the time to appreciate them as they were at the moment. What was so different about this one?
"Temawi-nee," Sakura suddenly called out, tugging on Temari's sleeve. "I need my bag. It has my bathing suit!"
"Here, I'll help you." Temari offered, ushering Sakura behind the tree to give her some privacy. Shortly after, Sakura came bounding out, dressed in a pink, one-piece swimsuit.
"Awen't you going swimming wif me?" Sakura asked, staring up at Temari, who was still fully clothed in her normal attire.
"I can't, Sakura-chan, I didn't bring a swim suit."
"But I can!" Kankurou exclaimed as he stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the water. Sakura laughed and ran to join Kankurou in the river. Treading water, Kankurou urged Sakura to jump in, "I'll catch you, Sakura-chan!"
Determinedly, Sakura leaped, right into Kankurou's waiting arms. She laughed as Kankurou spat out the water from the large splash she created. Kankurou allowed her to swim away and around him- well, doggy paddle was more like it. As long as she was able to stay afloat, he didn't have any problem with it.
Enjoying the cool water, he dunked his head in for a few seconds before resurfacing for a breath of air. It was fortunate that he had taken the time to learn how to swim, despite the lack of swimming locations in Suna. Even so, he had taken the task upon himself, knowing that the skill would probably be needed while traveling to certain places during missions. Kankurou knew he was a decent swimmer, and if Sakura were to need his aid, he would be able to help her.
"Temawi-nee! Pwease, pwease come in!" Sakura pleaded, and Temari sighed. She wanted to join them, but she didn't want to have to strip down to her underwear. Unlike Kankurou, she actually had some dignity.
"Okay, I'll head to the marketplace to buy a swimsuit. I'll be back in a few." Temari declared, before walking off.
"Man, I can't remember the last time I've been on a vacation!" Kankurou laughed, sounding very relaxed. He was floating in the water with his arms and legs extended to form a star-like shape with his body. Sakura doggy paddled around him, giggling when she'd 'accidentally' splashed some water on his face.
"We're not on vacation, Kankurou. We're here for political matters." Gaara remarked, unamused with his brother. They were sent to Konoha for a mission yet there was Kankurou, frolicking in the river without a care in the world, and soon Temari would be as well. Was he the only one with a functioning brain around here?
"Gaawa-niichan! You said you would swim!" Sakura declared as she started to swim towards him.
"I only agreed to take you here." Gaara replied, closing his eyes.
"Hey, that's not faiw, Gaawa-nii! That's called twicking." Sakura whined as she approached the Kazekage, dripping wet. Her expression suddenly turned thoughtful, "Maybe Sand-chan wants to swim?"
"No." Gaara replied, waiting patiently for Sakura to cease attempting to persuade him. Kankurou suddenly approached them, shaking his head to get rid of as much water as he could. Gaara glared as a few droplets hit his face, but Sakura merely laughed as she copied his actions. Wet strands of pink hair stuck to the front of her face, and she laughed in her excited, cheerful voice as she brushed them aside.
"Oops, sorry Gaara. Anyways, I'm going to see if I can catch up to Temari and get her to bring some snacks over. It'll be like a picnic. How would you like that, Sakura-chan?" Kankurou asked, patting the girl on the head. Sakura nodded her head enthusiastically- she loved picnics! With a loud cheer, Sakura ran back and jumped into the water. Kankurou chuckled at her childishness.
"Watch her while I'm gone. I'll back in a bit." Kankurou declared before picking up his clothes and running in the direction Temari left. Gaara rolled his eyes. Of course he would have to watch Sakura- it's not like he could just let her drown.
Without Kankurou around to splash at, Sakura looked around to find another source of amusement. She wandered around the river bank, poking at bugs and plants when she came across a tree with a branch that hung over the water. Grinning with excitement, Sakura summoned chakra to her feet and walked up the tree. Gaara merely watched in boredom as she did so, not realizing exactly what she was planning to do.
She allowed the chakra to dissipate, leaving only her sense of balance to keep her from falling off the branch, which was about three meters off the ground. Not enough to seriously harm her, but she could sprain or break a bone if she fell and landed at an awkward angle. She extended her arms at either side as she slowly walked across the thick branch until it was over a more deeper section of the river. Inhaling deeply, Sakura jumped off the branch and plunged into the water with a plop.
Underneath the water, Sakura allowed herself to sink to the bottom. Surprisingly, the water wasn't as murky as it seemed, and she could see a short distance around her. The fish that occupied the space before, swam off in a hurry, and Sakura inwardly smiled. Inner suddenly piped up, and told her to send some chakra down towards her lungs and heart and slow them down so she could stay underneath the water for a few minutes instead of having to resurface immediately.
Sakura did as was told, and consequently, felt more sluggish. The lack of oxygen to her brain made her feel sleepy, but she was able to function for the most part. She looked up towards the surface of the water, watching in fascination as leaves and twigs that had fallen into the river flowed with the current.
Above the water, however, was Gaara. An entire minute passed by, but Sakura had yet to resurface. He stood up from his spot underneath the shade of the tree, and approached the edge of the water. He looked below, but could not see Sakura through the deep blue. A twinge of worry caused Gaara to narrow his eyes. It was possible that this little stunt was another ploy in trying to get him in the water.
Minutes passed, and his muscles tensed. Where in the world was the child? There was almost no sign of the toddler, except for a faint flickering of chakra in the depths of the river. Kankurou and Temari probably wouldn't be back for at least another ten minutes, considering Kankurou and his love for food. Gaara decided to give it another minute before he would fetch her himself.
Ten seconds passed, and Gaara started pacing around the riverbank, stepping on the bugs and plant life Sakura had been examining only minutes before.
Twenty seconds passed, and Gaara was glaring at the tree with the overhanging branch. If the damn tree hadn't been there, he wouldn't be in this situation!
Thirty seconds passed, and Gaara was standing on the offending tree branch, trying to spot Sakura underneath the water.
Forty seconds passed, and Gaara was already starting to strip down. His heavy clothes would only hinder him.
Fifty seconds passed, and Gaara dove into the water, unable to wait any longer.
When he reached the bottom of the river, he was surprised to see Sakura sitting contentedly at the bottom of the river. Rocks and various fishes surrounded her small form, and her mouth was tilted in a smile. She wasn't in any danger, he realized, but he refused to wait any longer for her to resurface. As he continued swimming closer to her, she was finally able to sense his presence.
She allowed him to wrap his arm around her midsection and drag her towards the surface. Once her head was above the water, she inhaled deeply, giggling as she became slightly dizzy at first. When she was able to regulate her breathing once again, Sakura directed a happy grin towards Gaara, whose expression remained impassive.
"Gaawa-niichan! You awe swimming!" Sakura exclaimed, clapping her hands. Gaara merely glared at the toddler, who was oblivious to the amount of concern she caused him. "Let's play Mawco Polo!"
Gaara was about to refuse, but the small girl had that ever hopeful expression- and he just really couldn't say no. Every time he refused, she would always manage to do something that would either force him to oblige, or even reconsider.
Deciding to save him the time and trouble, he nodded his head. "Alright."
"Okay, you'we it, Gaawa-nii!" Sakura exclaimed. Gaara allowed her to escape his hold and watched as she turned around to swim away. Gaara sighed and closed his eyes, knowing it really wouldn't make a difference. He could still hear her breathing and splashing about in the water a mere two feet away. A smirk formed on his lips as he decided he would humor the child.
"Polo!" Sakura yelled, and Gaara feigned confusion as he swam the other way. He could hear Sakura giggle uncontrollably, and Gaara couldn't help but smile a little at how hilarious she found him. "Na na na na na na! You can't catch me, Gaawa-nii!"
"We'll see." Gaara replied, as he slowly headed towards her direction. It wasn't difficult to tread around in the water. It was convenient that he had taken up learning how to swim on his own, like his brother. Despite what many thought, he had not constantly killed out of boredom during those nights spent alone. He had to fight off sleep, and what better way than the chill of water in the cold desert night? Despite popular belief, it did rain heavily in the desert, though not often.
"Oh no!" Sakura yelped, swimming away. Gaara could hear her kicking away, and if he was correct, she swam around him in a wide arc.
"Marco." He stated, and waited for her to reply. When he received none, a nonexistent brow rose in suspicion. She wasn't responding, but he could feel her chakra signature coming closer and closer and closer and-
"Polo!" Sakura exclaimed, before furiously doggy paddling away. Gaara couldn't help but let out a chuckle at her antics. He couldn't remember the last time he had ever been so amused. He had watched other children play the game before, in the sandbox and on the playground, but he never understood why it was so entertaining. Of course, he was never able to join in the game in the first place.
"I know where you are." Gaara declared, as he slowly tread his way towards her. Sakura screamed playfully as Gaara pulled her to him, signifying the end of his turn.
"I'm it, now, Gaawa-nii! You bettew wun!" Gaara opened his eyes and watched as the young girl closed her eyes while doggy paddling. With big breath, Sakura eagerly yelled, "Mawco!"
"Polo." Gaara replied, treading in the same spot. As she neared, he would slowly tread away, making sure to stay merely a foot away from her. He lightly blew air on her forehead, causing the child to scrunch her face up in displeasure. A small smile found its way on Gaara's lips as he watched her paddle faster. Her small legs would kick furiously, yet she seemed to steadily move at a slow pace.
"Mawco!" Sakura called out again, as if trying to confirm that he was, indeed, swimming right in front of her.
"Polo." Gaara responded, watching in amusement as Sakura's brows scrunched together in determination as she sped towards him. He continued to evade the girl's attempts at tagging him, dodging each swipe targeted towards him.
"Mawco!" She exclaimed, when she heard a splash behind her. It had been Gaara, who had ducked underneath the water and swam around her. As soon as he resurfaced, Gaara opened his mouth to answer the appropriate reply-
-but somebody beat him to it. Both Sakura and Gaara stopped the game to see who the intruder was. A grin blossomed on Sakura's face as Temari, dressed in her swimsuit, approached them.
"I see you have decided to swim, little brother." Temari laughed, winking. Gaara crossed his arms over his chest and turned away with a light blush on his cheeks. He must have looked humiliatingly stupid frolicking in the river like his idiot brother. With a smile directed at Sakura, Temari inquired, "So are you having fun with your Gaara-niichan?"
"Yup! Lots and lots of fun! Wight, Gaawa-nii?" Sakura asked, staring up at him with a toothy grin. Gaara examined her face for any traces of dishonesty, and finding none, felt both relieved and genuinely happy. She really did enjoy her time spent with him.
"Hn." Gaara affirmed, nodding his head ever so slightly. Temari's eyes seemed to light up at hearing this, and smiled widely as she waded into the water. Kankurou came walking into sight, his arms full of food from the marketplace.
"Time to eat!" Kankurou announced, finding a clean area to place the food. There was an assortment of fruits, as well as junk food like chips and soda.
"But I want to play with Gaawa-nii! I'm not hungwy." Sakura pouted.
"But your Gaara-niichan is hungry. Right?" Temari inclined her head towards Gaara, who shook his head. Sakura beamed up at him and he felt the corners of his mouth twitch upwards. Temari gave him an exasperated look.
"Yay!" Sakura cheered, before paddling herself towards Gaara.
"How long do you think it will take for her to get better?" Kankurou inquired, turning his head to peer at Sakura's sleeping face. Her arms were loosely clutching his neck, while Kankurou's were underneath her legs to balance the child on his back. She had tired herself out, and quite soon after eating, had fallen asleep. Gaara turned his head and glared bitterly at his gourd. If the damn thing hadn't taken up so much room on his back, he would be able to carry her.
Not that it really mattered, of course. He sniffed indignantly at the thought.
"Soon." Temari replied, while Gaara merely shrugged. The three continued to walk towards the hotel. Today had been interesting, to say the least. Temari smiled to herself, knowing fully well how much Sakura's acceptance really meant to Gaara. His childhood had been awful, and although she could never come close to understanding his hardships, she believed she understood that Sakura had allowed him to experience at least a tidbit of a proper childhood.
Unknown to Temari, Kankurou's thoughts were similar to hers. Outwardly, he may seem overconfident in his abilities, and maybe a little stupid, but he wasn't clueless. Gaara had withdrawn into himself less and had become more extroverted, bit by bit. Sakura was speeding up the process- her acceptance of Gaara was already affecting said Kazekage, whether he would ever admit it or not.
He inwardly sighed to himself as he slowed his steps for the sleeping toddler on his back. Sure, he's had a little crush on the pink-haired medic since she saved his life that fateful day- but he knew his brother deserved the happiness Sakura brought around with her. Besides, despite how convinced Temari was, he really wasn't sure about whether little Sakura will ever return to normal ever again.
As they headed into their hotel room, Kankurou felt the small girl shift around in her sleep. Worried he had woken Sakura up, he set her down on one of the queen-sized beds. Being the Kazekage's siblings was quite convenient, sometimes. There were a lot of perks, and every village you went to, you were treated similar to royalty.
When she stopped moving around restlessly, Kankurou let out a sigh of relief. He didn't know how to deal with cranky children, and although he doubted Sakura would throw a fit at him for accidentally waking her up, he definitely did not want to take any risks.
"Hey, it's only eight." Temari said, peeking over at Sakura. "How long do kids sleep again?"
"I'm pretty sure eight is a good bed time." Kankurou shrugged, allowing Temari to gently lift up the sleeping toddler. She took a look into Sakura's bag and pulled out what she believed were over-sized pajamas, and dressed the small girl. Once the task was finished, she made her way over to her own bed and laid Sakura back down. Kankurou, opening his mouth to protest, was shot down by a vicious glare sent his way by Temari.
"Okay, okay." Kankurou grudgingly agreed. Said with a low mutter, not meant for anybody's ears but his own, "Hmph. I wanted to tuck her in."
"What was that, brother?"
"Be quiet, you two. You might wake her up." Gaara suddenly declared. Kankurou rolled his eyes- of course he knew that! It was all Temari's fault- the woman just had to have everything her way. Temari, however, ignored both brothers and proceeded tucking in the girl before she walked into the bathroom.
Kankurou was about to protest once again, but refrained from doing so as Sakura scrunched her brow. He sighed, defeated. He should be used to this by now. He watched, tiredly, as Gaara opened the window and stepped out, most likely to sit on the roof for a while.
With a small smirk on his face, Kankurou watched as Sakura's hair tickled her nose as she slept. Her nose and brow would scrunch up and she looked so displeased as the soft pink strands would merely continue to brush against her nose and cheeks. Gently, as to not disturb her, he brushed her hair back with the tips of his fingers. Almost immediately did Sakura stop scrunching her face.
Kankurou frowned to himself- he truly wanted to believe that Sakura would get better. He honestly did, but after Naruto had explained to him what had occurred during their mission to retrieve Sasuke, he wasn't too keen on getting his hopes up only to have them crushed as he was faced with reality. They weren't dealing with just any normal ninja here- whatever happened obviously had something to do with Orochimaru, and that man was one of the sannin. He was not to be underestimated.
As a friend, he probably should have believed in her more, and he was trying as hard as he could. He knew how determined Sakura could be. When she put her mind on something, she could accomplish basically anything. If anybody were to persevere through something as strange as this, it would definitely be her.
Minutes passed, and Kankurou did nothing but watch the young girl as she slept peacefully. He wondered about how exactly this could have happened to such a sweet girl. There was so many possibilities, many jutsu that were forbidden and unknown to the majority of ninjas. He wondered about how she had defeated Sasori with the help of such a frail-looking old lady. He wondered about how she had been able to find the antidote for the poison than ran through his veins at the time.
The bathroom door opened, and Temari stepped out, dressed in her pajamas. Yawning, she made her way to the bed and slipped into the covers beside Sakura. With one last glance at the toddler, Kankurou headed into the washroom to get ready for bed. As soon as he had finished, he crawled into his bed. He was exhausted- swimming had really taken a lot of energy, considering Sakura would make them play her silly water games. It had been fun, he had to admit. Her laughter was contagious, and he had even caught Gaara smiling more than once.
Hours passed, and soon both Kankurou and Temari were asleep. Gaara crept back into the room silently, and glanced at the clock. It was about a quarter to midnight.
Gaara peered at the toddler, who was now rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. She crawled out of the covers and tumbled out of bed. She sat there, dazed, until Gaara approached her. With a sleepy smile, she raised her arms, a silent request to which Gaara complied to. Once in his arms, he noticed then that her green eyes were watery with tears- from sleep, or from something else, he did not know. When she sniffled lightly, it confirmed the latter.
"What's wrong?" He asked, heading back to the window. He didn't want to disturb his siblings' sleep. He may have been able to sleep now, but because of the years of insomnia, he was still able to function without a full night's rest. He walked up the side of the wall and sat down on the roof. The building was quite high, and from the top, one was able to see across most of Konoha.
"I had a nightmawe." She sniffled, wrapping her small arms around Gaara's neck. She sniffled, trying to keep the tears at bay. Although Gaara did not reply, Sakura knew he was listening and proceeded to explain what had happened. "Thewe was a- a snake. It was so, so big. Biggah than Sakuwa-chan, even biggah then Gaawa-niichan!"
She suddenly tensed, and Gaara tightened his hold around her subconsciously.
"It came to me and I could see its teeth. Th-they were so pointy. I twied to wun, but I kept twipping and falling. And then- and then it bit me. It huwt so much and it was so scawy!"
Gaara stayed silent, not knowing how to comfort the kid. It was just a nightmare- nothing actually happened. By now, however, the girl in his arms was hiccuping. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand, and glanced up at Gaara.
"Gaawa-niichan, if a snake bit me fow weal, would I die?"
She was scared, that much was obvious, and as much as he'd like to say no, he knew he could not lie to her. Because of Konoha's temperate location, many of the snakes living within its forests would be venomous, and even the smallest bites would be lethal to a child as small as Sakura.
Sakura's eyes widened in panic, but before she could burst out crying once again, Gaara quickly added, "You don't have anything to worry about. No one would let you get bitten."
With these words, Sakura seemed to relax once again. Looking down, she murmured, "But in my dweam nobody could weach me, Gaawa-niichan. Evewybody twied, but the snake was too fast."
"It was just a dream. Such things will not happen to you." Gaara stated, patting her back. He had seen the gesture by many while comforting another, and it seemed like the appropriate thing to do at the moment.
"If you say so, Gaawa-niichan." Sakura replied, with one last sniffle. Gaara continued to hold her, allowing her to calm down.
As if finally realizing where she was, Sakura turned around to view the village. Thoughts of her nightmare dissipated instantly as she recognized many locations. "Gaawa-niichan! Look! Thewe is Ichiwaku's. Nawuto-niichan loves Ichiwaku's!"
Gaara nodded, and turned her around so that they were both facing the same direction. This way, she wouldn't have to crane her neck or accidentally hurt herself. She stood up on his lap and pointed excitedly towards the training grounds. "I twained thewe! With Lee-niichan!"
Sakura squealed, happily. "Ooh, this is so cool! I can see evewything! I can even see the wiver Akamawu jumped into!"
One of Gaara's nonexistent eyebrows rose.
"Who is this Akamaru?" Gaara inquired, curiosly. He'd never met anybody with such a peculiar name. Before she started to explain, she plopped down on his lap with a loud 'oof!'
"Akamawu is Kiba-niichan's puppy! Akamawu gave me a wide on his back. It was so much fun!"
Sakura proceeded to give a detailed account of her misadventure with Akamaru. Just as she was describing how angry Kiba looked, something strange began to happen. Sakura began to transform, however instead of an instant poof like a henge, or a mere bunshin, the transformation was slower. Her limbs elongated, and her body filled in more. Her face lost the child-like roundness, and her eyes became sharper.
Gaara tensed, unsure of what he was supposed to expect. Would her proper mental state return? He had heard of her temper, and from what Naruto told him, she would not be happy with their position at the moment. He did not wish to be on the kunoichi's bad side.
"And then I found a weally big stick. I had to wash the diwt and the bugs and the leaves- Gaawa-niichan? What's wong?"
His first prediction had been incorrect, after all.
Was this transformation permanent? She was obviously not completely back to normal considering she had yet to realize that she had transformed. Has this happened before? If so, why didn't Naruto warn him about it? Many questions ran through his mind, all of them needing answers. When he finally got over the initial shock, he noticed that a now very adult-like Sakura was still sitting on his lap. He was thankful for her over sized clothes- which, conveniently, were not too over sized any longer.
"I'm fine." Gaara grunted, and Sakura happily continued on with her story, seemingly unaware of her body's adult-like state.
"We should go visit the Hokage." Gaara muttered, whether it was directed to himself or Sakura, he wasn't too sure. The responsible course of action was obviously to report this to the Hokage.
"Visit Nade-sama? No, Gaawa-niichan! Nade-sama is sweeping wight now. You can't, Gaawa-nii!" Sakura sounded somewhat desperate as her eyes became wide in what appeared to be concern.
"Nothing!" Sakura immediately replied, looking down at her fingers, which she fiddled nervously.
Sakura winced, recognizing Gaara's warning tone as he said her name.
"Okay, Gaawa-nii, I'll tell you," She glanced around her to determine that nobody else was awake and listening. When she found no one, she leaned towards the redhead with the most serious expression on her face. "but you can't tell anybody."
Gaara nodded his head, but Sakura wasn't fully satisfied with this gesture. Sticking her hand out, she whispered, "Pinky pwomise?"
Gaara stared at the woman in his lap with a strange expression. What was she trying to do? If she was trying to make a hand seal, she was doing it all wrong. A few seconds passed with nobody making any movement. Sakura, noticing Gaara's confusion, sighed in an over dramatic fashion.
"Like this, Gaawa-nii!" She declared, reaching out to grab his hand. She moved his fingers so that only his pinky finger was the only one sticking out. She then took her own pinky and hooked it with his. "Now say aftah me, Gaawa-nii. Pinky pwomise!"
"No." Gaara refused. Pinky promise? How ridiculous.
"Then I won't tell you." Sakura replied, unhooking their pinkies folding her arms across her chest. Gaara considered threatening her but quickly dismissed the idea. He rather liked having Sakura talking to him willingly, even if she was still technically a child.
Reluctantly, the Kazekage relented. Sakura hooked their fingers once again and both said their respective, "Pinky promise."
Sakura beamed up at him before she turned back around to face the village with her toothy smile plastered on her face.
"Well, when I stayed with Nade-sama, I woke up fwom my nightmawe and I was thiwsty so I went to Nade-sama to ask for a dwink, but she was asleep in the office. She had a cup beside hew and I was thiwsty so I reached-"
Sakura cut off, suddenly, due to an unexpected shiver. "
Gaawa-nii, I'm cold. Hug me, please."
Gaara hesitated, but complied with her demand. It wasn't as if he had much of a choice in the matter, for Sakura had grabbed both his arms and tugged them forward. She leaned back as he wrapped his arms around her waist and adjusted the cloak so that it was over both of them.
"But then Nade-sama woke up weally weally fast and gwabbed the cup fwom me and said that I was too young to be dwinking what she was dwinking. I was suwpwised because she moved so fast. She must be a vewy good ninja, ne, Gaawa-nii?"
She craned her neck to look up at him, and he merely nodded in response. Subconsciously, he held her a little tighter. She yawned, tiredly, and continued to drawl on with her story.
"I don't want to wake hew up again, Gaawa-nii. She must be so tiwed all the time. I stayed with hew in the office and she's always busy. Too busy to play with me. So she lets me dwaw. But she must be sleeping wight now."
"We'll visit her tomorrow."
"Yes please." Sakura murmured, her head drooping forward before she forced herself back up. Gaara watched in amusement, until she finally allowed her head to rest against his chest. A few minutes passed, and Gaara noticed that she was struggling to keep her eyes open.
Ten seconds passed, and Gaara watched in silence as the woman finally resigned to closing her tired eyes.
Twenty seconds passed, and Gaara carefully, as to not wake her up, brushed away the strands of pale pink hair that were making her nose twitch.
Thirty seconds passed, and Gaara could hear her breaths even out to a slow and steady rhythm.
Fourty seconds passed, and Gaara realized he didn't want to move. Didn't want to stop listening to her peaceful breathing. Didn't want to stop holding her.
Fifty seconds passed, and Gaara inwardly berated himself for even thinking such thoughts.
Steeling himself, he gently carried the girl into the room and tucked her back into Temari's bed before slipping into his own.
End of chapter! TBC.
I've got a lot in store for the later chapters, hehe.
Thanks for the reviews, by the way! I really appreciated them.
I've decided that instead of doing two people a chapter, I'll do one person, considering it takes really long to write out a chapter when there's two. I hope this one is long enough to make up for the wait.
Please review! (: