The Life and Times of the Kazekage's Assistant
Disclaimer:I don't own Naruto. This story is inspired by a novel by Lauren Weisberger. I do own Tsubasa Imamura, any other OCs in the story, the designer labels and names of the magazines/newspapers, and the plot.
Author's Note: The last chapter was a toughie. Let's see how things play out now ;)
Chapter Twenty-Five: Don't Speak
A copy of the Suna Times slammed down upon my desk. The wind it whipped up pushed against me from the impact and made me wince a little. The front page's main article was about mine and Gaara's break-up, as expected. The title read, "Girlfriend leaves Kazekage heartbroken, pressure of council to blame." I could just picture how many sellers were in the streets of Suna, begging every passerby to read all about it.
Extra, extra! Read all about this!
I could just hear them now, calling out to the more than inquisitive village people. Each one of them was rapaciously eager to get the full story on the scandal and bring it up every opportunity they had because I was the gossip of Suna.
The first thing to catch my eye was the obnoxiously oversized picture which covered most the page. It was Gaara and I sitting at the park bench. He was reaching out to hold my hand as I withdrew. Of course, they'd select the most dramatic looking picture to display—anything to portray the situation as an even greater tragedy and scandal.
I scanned the article quickly to see if they were able to obtain quotes from any credible sources and was relieved when there weren't any other than some of the conversation that took place between Gaara and I. The only other sources had been spectators of the break-up who could only relate minor details.
At last, I moved my gaze upward to confirm who I had suspected of invading my personal space with her uncouth manners.
"Can I do something for you, Matsuri?" I asked, arching a freshly tweezed eyebrow as I gazed unperturbed.
"I'm sure you've done enough," she chirped smugly. She left the newspaper at my desk and returned to hers. She folded her hands neatly upon the surface and grinned until her mouth formed a wicked curve.
I rolled my eyes and continued on with the paperwork I had been filling out. I couldn't help but punch a stamp aggressively onto the next few papers to relieve some frustration. I expected this kind of backlash from Matsuri. I had just foolishly hoped that I wouldn't have to hear anything about it. I should have known better.
Things happened very quickly after that.
Temari rushed into the office in a huff of livid fury. In her hand, she clutched what looked like some reports as well as her own copy of the newspaper. Matsuri tried to be pleasant and say hello, but Temari gave her a devastating glare that boasted sweltering heat vision. The blonde threw open the French doors without bothering to knock and then smashed them closed.
Frowning, I knew this wasn't good. I didn't move to respond though. If my presence was needed, Temari would call me into the office.
Kankuro came in next. He didn't look nearly as pissed off as Temari, but it was evident that he wasn't very cheerful. Kanoka made an attempt at eye undressing him coupled with a flirtatious smile, but he ignored her entirely. She snorted at the slight and whispered something to Matsuri. I wasn't sure what she said, but I felt like she blamed me in some way. It could have been my guilt-impregnated conscious that was making me so paranoid though.
As if she were psychic, Temari threw open the doors, let Kankuro in, and then slammed them closed again. All three of us in the office leapt, startled by the impressive force she had used.
Nervously, I glanced over at Matsuri and Kanoka. They were rattled by what had occurred but remained silent, too intimidated to even speak and gossip about it. After several moments passed, Kanoka excused herself to use the restroom. The anxiety had become too much for her and that tiny bladder to handle.
This made me realize that something extremely serious was brewing behind those French doors. I assumed it had to do with the newspaper, but wasn't certain. Everything had gone accordingly to plan. At least, I thought it had.
Temari's head poked out from the office suddenly, almost giving me a heart attack. "Get in here," she hissed, putting me in a state of panic as I nodded my head and did as she ordered.
Two ANBU members were present in the office amongst the Sand Siblings. One was checking to make sure the room wasn't bugged, and the other eyed me—I assumed from behind the mask—suspiciously.
"What's going on?" I asked, looking from face to face. I was eager to find which one would give me the information I requested.
Gaara stepped forward and held out a small envelope to me. I received it and removed the note from within. I read very carefully.
Make the break-up a public announcement or I will release the photos.
That was quite a threat to make to the Kazekage. Grimacing, I returned the note to Gaara. I finally understood what the chaos was that had been brewing back here now.
"Did you smack your silly little head on the pavement when you decided to cause this irreparable damage?" Temari demanded. She crashed the palms of her hands down hard on the desk and then gripped its ledge with angrily curled fingers.
"Temari, enough," warned Gaara. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His fingers trailed to his temples and massaged the tension there.
Kankuro took over and quickly explained, "ANBU has analyzed the handwriting of the messages. Inuzuka's handwriting and the blackmailer's is not a match, which rules him out as a suspect. The prick is a lefty, which still doesn't help us narrow down the list of suspects by much. At this point, it could be anyone in the village doing this. We have no leads."
"Imamura-san, schedule me a press conference with all the reporters in Suna. I'm going to have to make a public announcement firstly. I will try to downplay the break-up as much as possible for the time being," said Gaara suddenly. He must have re-worked some fresh circulation by massaging his temples.
"Yes, Kazekage-sama," I replied quietly and gave a small bow.
Without looking into my eyes, he said, "You can have the rest of the day off after doing so."
I didn't argue.
"So things are really over between you two?" asked Sorachi with sympathetic eyes. "I know it wasn't real, but it all seems so sudden and harsh."
Hoshiro was silent, lips puckered slightly as his eyes wandered to the distance. It was evident that he was contemplating several factors and mulling over the appropriate words to speak. "Give it time and everything will work itself out."
"Do you really believe that?" I asked doubtfully. He nodded.
"Are you going to tell Sanosuke-Sensei?" Sorachi squinted at her own question.
I shook my head.
"Tell me what?" asked my broad-shouldered team leader as he sidled alongside Hoshiro. He bore a wide smile on his face that reached his eyes. I assumed that my lovely friend Tazuna had been the one responsible for my teacher's brightened days.
"Kazekage-sama and I have broken up," I replied quickly. I couldn't keep leaking out that the relationship between Gaara and I was a fake one. It was already a secret being threatened to be released into the public. I couldn't help the blackmailer fulfill his or her deed through any kind of assistance even though my Sensei wouldn't repeat the information because he knew the importance of secrecy. I felt ashamed for not being able to tell my sensei the truth, but I had to stay in character as much as possible.
"I see." He grew solemn, and I felt more ashamed for removing the joy he once held when he'd first approached us. I didn't want him burdened with my real or not real problems. "How have you been taking it?"
"I've been alright," I lied.
My Sensei frowned at this. I could see he didn't believe me. I didn't even believe me. Every part of mine and Gaara's relationship was a farce and all for show, but it still was exactly like any kind of break-up. There were the awkward moments, the tension, the distance, the coldness and the pain. Mostly the coldness.
"Nope, I don't believe that for a moment," said my Sensei. "I've been absent for too long and owe you guys some quality training time. What do you say we relive your team's first training experience with me?"
Sorachi visibly shuddered and Hoshiro stiffened as a look of anxiety crossed both their features. My own body became rigid and tensed. We had all tried so hard to forget that first training experience. It hadn't been pleasant.
It had been a nightmare to undergo Sanosuke-Sensei's tests and exercises that first brutal, numbing day. We'd been beaten down in every possible manner; physically, mentally and emotionally broken.
I hadn't been able to move my body at all the next day. Wasn't even able to make myself anything to eat or make it to a restroom without crawling on my belly like a pitifully limbless snake. It had even hurt to breathe. Muscles I never knew I had ached and refused to be anything but sore. They felt annihilated.
The next few days after the training weren't much better. He'd given us two days to recuperate, not that we could be revitalized or muster any type of livelihood by the end of those couple days. We'd dragged our feet back to the training field and barely made it through the next session.
He had admitted to perhaps overworking us and had laughed about it. We weren't laughing.
Our muscles and broken spirits had screamed in unison with one retiring bleat before we all passed out side by side.
"I'm expected to go to work tomorrow," I said in an effort to convince him that his idea was not a very good one. "They'll worry if I don't show up. They'll think I'm dead or something. Temari would probably prefer me dead, but work won't get done without me."
Sanosuke-Sensei's grin returned and he chuckled. "Come on now! You three aren't afraid of a little survival test, are you?"
This time Sorachi made an attempt. "Sensei, I just remembered that there's an event I need to attend, and that if I leave now I'll only be five minutes late. See you!" She began to make quick steps toward an escape route, only to find herself going nowhere. She groaned when she realized that the scruff of her neck was in the strong hand of our Sensei.
"There's no use escaping," Hoshiro conceded, "resistance is futile at this point."
"That's the spirit!" Sanosuke roared.
We, a three-man squad of reluctance and dragging feet, assembled before our Sensei. I offered my teammates a smile that fell a few angled degrees short of a sincere one. Hoshiro looked the most determined of us. Sorachi and I were tied for most fearful. My knees buckled and her eyes fluttered meekly.
I wasn't sure how I was going to survive this, but the way I saw it was that I'd certainly survived too much already. There was no way I was about to let Sanosuke-Sensei's training kill me. I was pretty sure Temari had made the claim on my life a long time ago anyway.
The next morning I slithered from my bed, using my own dead weight as an anchor. Gravity did its job and yanked me into a kissing position with the floor. My cheek pressed hard onto the cool surface as I tried to notify my body that it was time to move and get up.
Somehow, through sheer willpower, I made it into the shower and ran hot water over my aching limbs. This seemed to help somewhat, like I was oiling the hinges of my bones and nursing my muscles. I was slightly more limber and able to command my arms and legs into working again even if it was all half-assed movements.
I finished readying myself for work and staggered my way through the long corridors until I reached the assistant's office suite. My head lolled downward, but I forced it up to find that Matsuri and Kanoka were absent.
Temari beckoned to me from the threshold of Gaara's office. I obliged by forcibly pushing myself into a slow walk in her direction. The door quietly shut behind me and I was greeted by the two ANBU from the day before. Kankuro casually sat at the corner of Gaara's desk. Gaara himself had his back turned. I was disheartened by the fact that he had chosen not to greet me.
That's when I realized that he was to give his public announcement on our breakup within the hour in front of Sand Castle at the main courtyard. I couldn't believe I had let it slipped my mind.
"We finally have a lead," Kankuro offered, at last breaking a very awkward silence.
"That's great," I replied, genuinely excited that we had something to go off of.
"It isn't much," he said, "but Intel has gathered that the blackmailer is a puppeteer. He or she has been using puppets to do the dirty work in delivering the notes without getting caught."
Gaara spoke suddenly. "The issue is that every time ANBU has attempted to trace the chakra strings back to the user, they're cut off and the blackmailer remains untraceable. We are hoping to coax the puppeteer from hiding during the conference."
I tried to follow the conversation as best as I could. The blackmailer was a puppeteer and had no qualms about continuing the threats. Whoever it was also couldn't be traced as of now, which was a considerable problem. The lack of chakra traces worried me profusely, but I had to maintain hope that the puppeteer would be apprehended eventually. There was no way this person could elude Suna's finest for this long a time.
I rubbed a finger nervously at my lips and nibbled on the nail. At least the Sand Siblings seemed to have a plan. I needed to be patient and hopeful.
"I will use a transformation jutsu to appear as you at the conference," said Temari, "as much as it pains me to look so plain and ordinary, sacrifices must be made to protect my brother."
Ouch. I should have seen the insult coming.
"You will transform into someone else and blend with the crowd. Keep a sharp eye out," she advised and without further notice she formed the necessary hand seals to become a mirror image of myself.
I took that as my cue to do the same. I transformed myself into someone very much average looking that could blend easily within a crowd. I didn't bother admiring my handiwork in a mirror, trusting my transformation jutsu abilities blindly.
"It's show time," Temari grumbled moodily in her Tsubasa-transformation and led the way.
Gaara stood before the podium. His hand hovered above the microphone, tapping it slightly to ensure that it was working properly. After clearing his throat he greeted the press with a quick good morning before going into his speech (the one I'd written for him).
"As Kazekage, I have expected that my private life would no longer be so private and that I'm an open book to the people of Suna. This, I have accepted and understand, which is why I've come to discuss the ambiguities that have surrounded me recently. I wanted to clarify that, Imamura Tsubasa, my employee and I had a short but official relationship which has recently ended due to the pressures and stresses any relationship may suffer. Neither of us is to blame for the dissolve of our bond. She and I have ended on good terms. She will continue to work as my assistant. I'd just like to shed some light on the situation since there is much speculation going around that Imamura-san and I had a terrible falling out. We did not and remain friends. I am unsure of what may lie before me on my path or on hers, but I do know that we will not be getting back together. Thank you."
He gave a short bow of the head which didn't deter reporters by any means. They continued to take their pictures and ask questions which they felt were relevant to the situation. Some asked if I had been a bad girlfriend, if I cheated, if he still loved me and many other things. He never responded, only moved from the stage to a mass of bodyguards. The guards closed in around him, shielding him from everyone and everything outside their circle.
There wasn't a trace of his flaming red hair once he disappeared behind the bulky black suits and glistening sunglasses.
The flashes of countless cameras nearly blinded me as I hung my head low. My lifted eyes watched as Temari, still in a transformation jutsu and disguised to look like me, approached the podium next.
She appeared nervous and shy as if the microphone may take a bite of her if she became too close with it as she spoke. She didn't try very hard to portray my usual public speaking mannerisms. She made me appear demure and timid. I suppose she was trying to do me a favor by depicting me with a sweet image so that the people of Suna could empathize with my situation.
I only hoped she succeeded.
"I appear before you all today to confirm that the breakup between Kazekage-sama is as he says. We won't be getting back together."
A single tear rolled down Temari's cheek. Who knew she was such an actress?
I couldn't help but feel slightly irritated at the thought of her amusement. She was probably enjoying, relishing really, that she portrayed me some weak individual.
Kankuro then took over the podium to announce that there would be no more questions or discussion on the matter. He bid the reporters and villagers farewell. Council members, shocked, twisted their features into looks of puzzlement as they shifted uncomfortably within the throng of bodies.
I found myself sighing as I pulled the hood of my jacket tightly over my head. I clutched it at the collar and pushed my way through the crowd. It felt so claustrophobic, squeezing past hot bodies of endless questions and comments. I could hear snippets of conversations as I weaved through them. None were very positive.
"Kazekage-sama," I called out in a quiet voice as I neared the bodyguards.
He gave a nod for them to let me through. Nervously, my eyes flickered back toward the crowd. They weren't unruly and hadn't turned into a mob of any sorts, but their facial expressions are what disheartened me the most. They looked as upset as I was.
"It's time to leave," Gaara told the leader of his guards.
With a quick bow, the bulky shinobi began to lead the way home. The crowd hadn't even bothered to follow us. Perhaps they were in shock over the news, not knowing how they should receive the message. This was the first of its kind.
Suna's people had never been so involved with the personal affairs of the Kazekage. Things up until now had been private, but I wasn't the root of the cause.
The moment Gaara had entered office the tabloids had taken extra interest in him because of his shady past. It had taken Gaara a very long time to earn the trust of the village, and even then he still had radicals against him. They still sent assassins and other obstacles, anything, to remove Gaara permanently from office.
It wasn't until the Akatsuki had come for Gaara and he selflessly defended the village, sacrificing even himself to protect us all, that the radicals had a change of heart. When our beloved Kazekage returned to Suna after being saved by that crazy Uzumaki Naruto, he was something of a celebrity.
His actions were jotted down and publicly displayed, his outings were famous, his casual attire was documented as fashionable, and his entire life was broadcasted and in print in dozens of newspapers and magazines. That's when Temari took advantage and saw the perfect opportunity to launch her way into the fashion industry. Kankuro went GQ status through some modeling as well as taking his puppet industry into the next level. There were currently many more puppet users in Suna (including my harasser).
Kankuro and Temari joined our party when we reached the gates of Suna's finest manor. Only when we were in the safety of Sand Castle did we release our transformation jutsus. Temari couldn't help herself by cringing, acting like she shed off some unholy skin. I suppose there was no other way to expect her to behave though.
I gave a pathetic-looking half smile and made my way to my room in an effort to shed off my own unholy skin. It wasn't as if I was very fond of myself either.
It was somewhat relieving to be back in my room, but I knew nothing but a shower could coax me into a better mood. The hot water raining down on me promised to wash away my troubles, but failed to deliver in the long run. I scrubbed at my skin with my adorably pink scrubby until my skin turned red.
Sighing, I gave up and rinsed the remains of conditioner from my tresses. I stepped out from the shower and slipped into some sweats and a tank top with Suna's symbol crested upon it.
I couldn't help but grimace to myself. Did I even deserve to wear Suna's crest right now?
I answered myself by shrugging it off and replacing the tank top with a plain black camisole instead.
I didn't even want to look in the mirror, not even when I was brushing my hair out. Instead, I did so quietly at the bench at the foot of my bed. There was just no way I could look at myself at the moment.
Gazing up to the ceiling and allowing my eyes to trail all over my room, I suddenly felt sickeningly claustrophobic. When I glanced at the time to realize I'd spent several unrealized hours in my room just lost in my thoughts, my mouth dropped slightly in shock. Time had escaped me completely, and I had let it do so unnoticed.
Fresh air could do me some good, I decided, and went out to the courtyard for a walk.
"Good evening," a voice drew my attention to the row of roses next to mine. Gaara stood stiffly, eyes directed skyward. I couldn't help but note the look of anxiety on his face. Though, he did hide it very well. I just knew better.
It felt like forever since we'd run into one another outside of the workplace. At work, we both maintained our professional relationships expertly and never brought up personal life. When we'd see each other outside of my time in the office, he'd done his best to avoid me. He'd often disappear without a trace, pretending that he had some urgent business to attend to or that he realized he'd forgotten something.
"Hi," I replied awkwardly.
Utter silence ensued, and I'd never heard silence quite that loud. Neither of us spoke again, just stood in our places, staring off into the distance. I attempted to look busy by fixing my clothes and running my fingers nervously through my hair.
There were so many things I wished he knew, but his guard was up with no way to break through the walls.
I had no idea what to say or how to continue. I really just wanted to die there, to close my eyes and never open them again. It felt like a contest between us of who could act like whom cared less. There was no winner or loser though.
Worriedly, I glanced in his direction. He was still stoic on the outside, but what was going on inside could be another matter entirely.
Was it killing him like it was killing me?
"You should pursue Inuzuka," he said suddenly.
I had no way of responding to that. None.
Gaara, at last, turned to face me as he continued his speech. "Three years is a long period to attempt to erase from your memories, and it's clear they've resurfaced."
"It isn't like that," I tried to protest, but he shook his head and that silenced me again.
"Imamura," he said, "please do as you wish from now on. I do not want to be a hindrance to you or your personal life. I'm only your boss, after all."
Don't speak, I warned him in my mind. I knew what he was saying, and he didn't need to explain it to me further. I didn't want to hear his reasons. He was letting go. Whether it was real or not, I really didn't want to know anymore.
"And I'm only your assistant," I followed.
"Yes," he replied, "you're only my assistant, and that's all you will ever be to me." His eyes flared in the most frightening way I'd ever seen, blazing sea foam. Like the ocean had turned into a violent swell. It was a tsunami in those eyes, swallowing me mercilessly.
My lips trembled slightly at his sudden severity. I could feel moisture gathering at my eyes, but fought hard to maintain my composure. Why did this feel like we were breaking up all over again?
The line between real and not were blurring. There was no line anymore, just a haze of mixing and boiling emotions.
It was like I was losing my best friend right in front of me. I could see us both dying, both lost and caught up in the tsunami.
"I'll leave first," he told me as a swirl of sand shrouded him. The grains enveloped his entire being and then dispersed.
I felt myself gasp slightly, inhale desperately for oxygen long after he was gone. I tried to recuperate and pull through the situation, but there would be no recovery.
There would be nothing to salvage within the wreckage.
I was devastated.
A/N: I apologize for the delay. I've been a very busy bee lately, but I'm grateful that I could make some time to get this out to you.
Whoa, another tough chapter that Tsubasa had to pull through. She mentioned that the line between real and not-real were blurred. What do you think? Was it real to Gaara? Was it real to Tsubasa, to everyone?
Let me know in a review!