Hey, vampgirl8 here! It's bee a while, but I hope you like this new Gaaraxoc one-shot (very long for a one-shot). Dedicated AnnaKathryn to for sticking with me through the whole thing!
A Naruto Fanfic By vampgirl8
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love
I and my Annabel Lee.-
Edgar Allen Poe, Annabel Lee, 1849
I remember the first time I saw him. His cyan eyes, outlined in a dark ring of black, lowered to stare at the earth beneath his feet, as though he were too afraid too look up at those around him; a small teddy bear was clutched to his chest. I'd never seen him smile. He just sat there, slowly swinging back and forth, back and forth-a never ending cycle that went on like that for hours until he finally decided to leave.
I knew the rumors about the boy, Sabaku no Gaara. I knew he had a demon sealed within him, and was told numerous times that he was a cold blooded killer. I never believed it. I may have only been six, but I wasn't as naïve as others would like to think. I lived in a house where the father was never home, but when he was he was drunk, and a mother that constantly lied to hide her true intentions.
No, this was just a lost little boy. A little boy who needed something, someone, to look at him. At least once.
I knew the feeling.
That night, I went to my house, finding it empty as usual--that's all it ever really was anymore. I ran to the kitchen, searching through the fridge to see what we had. A gallon of milk, butter, some eggs. Taking an inventory in the cabinets, I found sugar, flour, a bag of milk chocolate chips, some vanilla extract…
I smiled, knowing exactly what I could do.
It took about fifteen minutes to make the treat, a special recipe that only I knew--since I had invented it. I called them Choconilla Flowers, after the shape I cut the cookie in. The special thing about these were that when you ate them, it tasted melty and gooey like all good chocolate chip cookies, but as you chewed and swallowed, you noticed the slightest hint of vanilla complimenting the sweet chocolate. I didn't use semi-sweet chips either, but milk ones instead.
All in all, this is the first recipe I'd ever invented. And I wanted Gaara to be the first person other than myself to taste it.
When the cookies were a nice golden brown, I took them out and sat them on a plate, wrapping them in plastic wrap. Nodding to myself, I quickly found a water bottle and filled it with milk, tossing both into a black satchel to carry them in.
I walked swiftly down the road, slowing my pace when I reached the park. It was late, but I found that he wasn't there. No matter. I knew he'd be there soon. I also tended to stay up late, walking the streets of Suna, and in time had found that he went home when the children left the park; returning late at night. When his 'family' was asleep, I supposed.
Stepping forward to his swing, I placed my package on the seat. I stepped back to admire my placing, when I noticed something…missing.
It doesn't have his name on it! I figured, and deftly bent over to write a message in the sand underfoot. 'To: Gaara. From: A Friend.'
Smiling softly, I turned away, running to hide behind the nearby tree. I wanted to see his face when he found the cookies, to see if he would care or not.
I was in luck, as I didn't have to wait five minutes before the boy walked into the park, eyes downcast and expression somber as usual. He clutched his bear against him, tighter than he'd been earlier. When he was a few feet away from the swings, his eyes caught my message on the ground. I watched them widen in shock, then slowly slide up to the plate resting on the small seat.
Ever so slowly, he stepped forward, visibly shaking in the pale light of the moon. I saw his tongue flick out briefly run across his lips nervously, before one small, trembling hand reached out to gently pick up the simple plate. Filling in the vacated seat, Gaara perched himself on the swing as he opened the plastic in his lap.
He formed a few hand signs, which I recognized as some sort of jutsu, over the cookies, leaving me confused for a moment before I realized what he was doing.
He was checking for poison.
I felt a stab at my small heart, and my hand unconsciously traveled to my chest to clutch at the fabric over the constricting area. I felt pain for him, wondering that if he had to check everything he ate for possible poisoning, then when was it that he ever actually felt safe?
Gaara picked up one of the cookies, taking a tentative bite. He froze, still holding the cookie to his lips. I watched as his eyes filled with soft moisture, glimmering against the cyan color. Simultaneously, his lips twitched upward to a small degree.
That was the first time I saw Gaara cry.
But, it was also the first time I saw him smile.
There's something strange about attachment.
I mean, there are many different forms. There's attachment to possessions; attachment to substances; attachment to people…
I have found that Gaara is the only person who could make me feel all three. I was attached to him as a person. I became attached to the cookies I made that he ate as a substance. And then, he made me attached to a possession--though the circumstances by which this came about are highly unfavorable to me.
I can still remember that night. I was hidden, as usual, behind the same tree as last time. The message, To: Gaara; From: Your Friend, was scratched into the sand as usual. I watched, excited, wanting desperately to see the expression on his face that only seemed to appear when he ate one of my cookies. But, after looking for just a few seconds, I knew instantly that something was wrong.
The teddy bear, the one he cherished so dearly, was being dragged in the sand behind him. His eyes were pained, expression marred with a deep hurt. On the top, left hand side of his forehead, the kanji 'ai' had been carved neatly into the skin.
I saw when he paused at my message.
I saw when his expression hardened.
I saw when he reached one hand out.
I saw when he destroyed each and every cookie.
And, finally, I saw when he walked out of that park--leaving the bear behind.
Slowly, chest heaving, I came out from my hiding place. I walked up to the fallen teddy, and carefully stroked the soft, artificial fur. A small, circular darkening suddenly appearing in the fabric had me reaching up one hand.
And it was only then that I'd realized I'd been crying.
With a shaky breath, I clutched the bear as close to my person as I could.
And thusly, my attachment for a possession had been born.
I went back.
It was impossible for me not to, really, even after that time. As I said before--attachment is a strange thing. Even if he didn't like, hated, or resented it, I couldn't stop coming. He'd grown on me too much. It would be impossible to give him up now.
It seemed, however, that he felt no similar attachments.
From the time Gaara'd left the bear, he hadn't come again. But the hope, that maybe, maybe he would, spurred me on.
When he left for the Chuunin Exams, I worried for him. I felt it, in my heart and soul, that something would happen there. And I wanted so badly to be with him.
But, of course, I knew I couldn't. I would stay in Suna, and he would go to Konoha as planned. And while he was gone, I would work harder at my goal.
You see, it's not surprising that my goal was to own my own bakery. But in order to do so, I had to save up. The money left by my parents wouldn't be enough to help me with this all on its own, after all.
That's another thing. My parents had finally decided to abandon me. I can't say I'm all that surprised. In fact, a part of me had always expected it, I suppose. Yet, that didn't stop it from hurting as much as it did. I think some part of me had always hoped that I'd find a way to make them want to stay. In the end, I guess my efforts just weren't enough--I guess I just wasn't enough.
After all, they left when they believed I'd reached sufficient maturity to care for myself.
Which is, apparently, seven and a half.
I'll never forget what it was like coming home, unsuspecting that anything was amiss just because the house was quiet. It was always like that. But, when my tiny, normal brown eyes alighted on an envelope resting on the kitchen table…
Inside, had been a stack of money saved from over the years, and a short, uncaring note.
No. They weren't.
And apart of me knew, they never would be.
It was when Gaara left for the Chuunin Exams that I found him.
I can honestly say that I'd never expected to find anything of the sort that day, when I'd decided to go for an impromptu walk to clear my head. I'd just opened up my new bakery--one that I'd been working years to save up enough for. It had been difficult, to say the least.
It was as I passed a dry bush in the barren park I left the cookies for Gaara at that I heard the crying. It was soft, almost nonexistent, and so heart wrenchingly pathetic it gave me pause.
Carefully pushing the branches to the side of the bush to get a clear look, my breath froze in my chest at the sight presented.
A child. An infant, actually. Not five months old.
The child was barely clothed, and what little it wore was dirty, torn and ragged. Bruises blotched pale skin marred with cuts, patches of sunburn and dirt. Ribs visible through the stomach showed malnourishment, and tendrils of sweaty, sandy hair hung limp in the child's face, hiding its color. Blood-shot brown eyes looked ahead, unable to cry anymore tears as cracked lips gave soft, hoarse cries.
I stared at the child, unable not to. The infant stopped its cries, seeming to have sensed my presence. Its eyes moved to meet mine, asking a silent question.
Will you help me?
The next thing I knew, I had the child in my arms-
And I was running.
The bakery I owned wasn't in the heart of the city, or near the markets or anything. No, my bakery was smack-dab in the middle of the residential area. My own home, in fact.
Living alone, I had no need for the space a two-story house gave me. Nor did I especially want it. So when the idea struck me to renovate it into the bakery I so longed for, I took the idea and immediately ran with it. Now, I had three workers under me, and an increasingly successful bakery that had yet to receive a name.
It was here that I found myself after discovering the infant.
"Rei!" I called, throwing the door open and rushing in. "Rei!"
I turned, panting, to Rei, a chuunin four years my senior, who had taken up the odd job of working for me whenever missions were slow. "Rei, I need you to run a bath. Get some medical supplies for me too, okay?"
"What's the rush?" His brows furrowed as he walked over, then stopped suddenly when he spotted the bundle in my arms dark brown eyes widening. "Is that-?"
"Yes," I sighed, exasperated. "Now, please, do as I asked."
He gulped. "Yeah, okay." Rei spun on his heel, running a hand through messy blonde locks, hurrying away as he called for Nami and Taro, my two other chuunin workers.
I turned to the staircase and went to my room, setting the child on the bed gently. It made no sound as I searched through the closet, finding the box that had my baby clothes in it. Grabbing a sand colored once piece, I brought it over to the child just in time for Rei to knock on the door.
"The bath is ready," he called through the wood, "and there's a medical kit on the counter. Nami, Taro, and I will be waiting for you in the kitchen if you need help."
"Alright," I called back. "…thanks."
I could hear the smile in his voice as he answered. "You're welcome."
The bathroom consisted of crème colored tiles on the walls and floor, and a towel rack hung on the right-hand wall. To the left, the toilet and sink took up a small portion of the wall, next to a cabinet with any necessary toiletries.
Setting the one piece on the back of the toilet, I took the child over to the tub, perching myself on the side. I carefully removed its tattered clothing, revealing the baby's gender as male.
After testing the water's temperature with a finger, I placed him in the water, supporting his small body with a hand on his back. I washed away the dirt and grime with a washcloth, showing smooth, pale skin underneath. I was careful on the sunburn patches and cuts, carefully cleaning the wounds from the infant. Washing his hair proved the color to be blood red, the same shade as Gaara's.
The boy looked up at me as I scrubbed his little arms, and I got a good look at his eye color for the first time. They were a beautiful shade of brown, like finely ground cinnamon.
The child met my eyes, then smiled, and laughed. His laughter made a small blush flood his cheeks, and showed an otherwise invisible sprinkling of freckles.
Unconsciously, my expression softened at the sight, and I smiled back.
When I got him out of the tub, bandaged, and dressed, I took him downstairs to the kitchen, where the treats are made before being taken out to be displayed. Other than the kitchen, the rest of the bottom floor's walls had been knocked out to make one big room, where a glass counter could display goods along with several glass cases.
Nami, Taro, and Rei stood the moment I entered, the former of the three handing me a plastic bottle of baby formula wordlessly. I nodded thanks before sitting, motioning for them to do the same.
Taro stared at the baby for a moment. "It's a boy, right?" I nodded. "What are you going to do with him?"
I didn't reply at first, carefully fitting the bottle into the baby's mouth. "I don't know."
"You could take him to the orphanage," Nami suggested. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind taking him-"
Nami blinked green eyes, turning to me. "No?"
I didn't look up from the baby's face, his cinnamon eyes clear and shining with happiness. "I'm not putting him in an orphanage."
"Why not?" Rei asked indignantly, leaning forward on the table. "It's not like any of us can care for a kid, let alone an infant. What's the harm in letting the orphanage take him?"
I raised my head slightly, enough so that I could flicker my eyes to meet his across the wooden surface. "You don't know what you're talking about do you?" My voice was quiet, and he sputtered for a second. "Have you ever seen one of Suna's orphanages?"
"They're quite nice," Taro commented. "I've walked by one of them before. Not bad looking at all."
I turned to him now, mouth set in a grim line. "Exactly. They aren't bad looking. But have you ever been inside?" The three at the table shook their heads, admitting that no, they hadn't. "It's the equivalent of Hell on Earth. You forget, I'm only twelve. I'm supposed to be inside one of those places right now. When I was eight, they tried to force me into one for a while before finally giving up. I was there for a few days."
"Gave up?" Nami scrunched her eyebrows. "How do you fail at making an eight year old stay in an orphanage?"
"They don't have shinobi working for the orphanages. It's fairly easy to sneak out and run away every time they bring you back. But anyway, the point is that I'm not sending him there. Their food is unhealthy, you get perhaps one meal a day. The children there are all terribly skinny; a fact which is hidden by the standard issue baggy clothing the administrators make them wear under the claim that it keeps them warmer at night. The place is cramped with too many people a room, and at least one child is always sick. They hardly bathe, and never brush their teeth…it's disgusting." I shifted the babe in my arms a bit, to keep my arm from falling asleep. "He'd die faster there, than he would if I dumped him in the middle of the desert with the scorpions."
"Is the Kazekage aware of this?" Rei asked, wide eyed. "If what you say is true, he must be informed immediately."
"Oh, I'm sure he knows already." I smirked bitterly. "But go ahead, tell him if you wish. It won't change anything. After all, how can you expect a man who doesn't give a damn about his own kids to care about ones he's never met?"
"Masago! Don't speak like that about Kazekage-sama!" Nami lectured, oaken hair swinging about her shoulders as she swiveled her head my way. "I'm sure he cares very much for Temari and Kankuro-sama."
My gaze was lazy, but glinting with hidden malice. "I notice you skipped Gaara's name."
Those at the table noticeably flinched at the name. "I-I'm sure that Gaara-sama…holds a very special place in Kazekage-sama's heart."
I laughed through my nose. "If by 'special' you mean homicidal. The bastard would kill his own son for no good reason."
"He would not!" Rei cried angrily. "He has every reason for wanting to kill that…that…thing."
Instantaneously, my eyes hardened. "'Thing'?" I quoted. "Gaara is not a thing, Rei. He's only a boy, just a little older than me."
"He's a demon holder!"
"By whose orders?!" I slammed the empty bottle on the table, the infant watching with eyes too intelligent for one so young as I glared at the chuunin. "Do you think he carries it by choice? By God, he wasn't even born yet when Kazekage decided to place a fucking demon in his own child. He tried to use his own son as a weapon, Rei. He's only a boy," I repeated.
"A boy," Rei grimaced, "that kills innocent people for just coming near him."
"And whose fault do you think that is, Rei?" I said tiredly, sighing. "Do you not remember him walking down the streets, hoping to interact, to get close to people, just to have them turn their backs? He tried to make friends. But everyone pushed him away. The reason he is the way he is now, is because no one ever gave him a chance to be anything else."
For a few seconds, we all stared at each other, air thick with tension. At that moment, the baby let out a half-hearted gurgle, and the pressure lifted. I pulled the infant upright against my shoulder, burping him absent mindedly. I met the eyes of my three companions.
"Nobody chooses to be so alone," I whispered, "unless it's the only option keeping them from going mad."
Taro sighed through his nose. "You're never going to respect Kazekage-sama, are you?"
I took in Taro's dark, braided hair and grey eyes, and felt my lips twitch.
"Until the day he admits to all of Suna that he was wrong, and asks Gaara for forgiveness, and means it," I smirked, "never."
There was another period of silence, until Nami slapped her hands to the table. "Okay. Enough angst, what are we doing with this kid?"
The babe seemed to perk up at his mentioning, and smiled happily with a giggle. Nami seemed to resist the urge to glomp the poor child.
I looked down at the little one, stroking a thumb gently over his cheek.
"I'll keep him," I found myself saying.
"What?!" Rei raised his eyebrows incredulously. "You can't be serious. You're twelve, Masago!"
I blinked slowly, chuckling quietly. "So? Age didn't stop me from opening this bakery, now did it? And you three can't very well take him in. It's been established that an orphanage is out of the question, too."
"Still," Nami hesitated, nibbling her lower lip, "don't you think that it's a bit…too early, for you to be taking on the responsibility of a child?"
I shrugged. "I don't think so. Besides," I smiled down at the little one in my arms, "I kind of like it. The idea of being a mother, I mean. I could give him what mine never gave me."
Taro leaned his head back. "If you insist, Masago, keep the child. I just hope you know what you're in for." I smiled warmly at him. "Just one thing…" He lifted his head, a humorous expression on his face. "What is his name? We can't just keep calling him 'baby.'"
"Oh!" Nami bounced in her seat. "How about Hoshi?"
"Star?" Rei translated blandly. "Too feminine."
"Ryou?" Taro suggested. "Dragon?"
Rei shook his head. "Over used."
"Aiko," I smiled, kissing the child's forehead softly. "What about that?"
Rei scrunched his nose. "Little loved one? It's still a girly, but," he sighed reluctantly, "it's not so bad. He certainly looks like an Aiko."
I rocked the newly named Aiko in my arms, as he yawned cutely, eyes closing in sleep.
"That is just too adorable," Nami squealed, eyes lighting up with pleasure.
I chuckled, standing from my seat. "I'm going to head to bed with this one. Would you all mind picking me up some supplies for him? I'll pay you back."
"Will do." Taro stood, walking over to pat my hair. "See you tomorrow, Masago."
"Bye Masago!" Nami waved, following Taro from the room.
"See you," I called back.
Rei left his seat then, making for the doorway. He paused before leaving. "Masago?"
I cocked my head. "Yes, Rei?"
"Why do you defend him so much?"
I stared at him, and had the feeling he wasn't talking about Aiko anymore. I frowned softly, eyes forlorn, and answered.
"Because it's sad, Rei, when a six year old has to check cookies for poison."
It wasn't long after that that Gaara returned from the Chuunin Exams. That Tuesday afternoon, I didn't think anything of taking the cookies to the park as always. He hadn't shown up for the past few years, but even so, I couldn't stop myself.
I approached hastily, not bothering to move quietly and carefully as I had long before. I did not believe there was risk for detection. After placing the cookies, leaving the same note as I had been for many years, I hid behind the tree as casual as ever. Calmly, I began the usual five minute wait I forced upon myself before departure.
Sighing, I began to rub Aiko's back comfortingly, and he snuggled his face deeper into my chest as he slept. Just as the five minutes were almost up, and I prepared to leave, the light rustling of sand was heard behind me.
Not that that was unusual, really. Sand was always shifting in Suna. But something told me that this was different, the sound seemed…off. Unnatural.
Cautiously, I peeked around the tree, and almost gasped.
Gaara was there.
I watched, breathless, as he stood in front of the cookies, face impassive and eyes unreadable. He crouched to brush his hand over the note in the sand, fingertips barely grazing the words. His gaze moved up to the plate, and slowly, he reached out to take one. My heart clenched when he performed a poison detecting jutsu--the same one from all those years ago--before deeming it safe and holding it at eye level.
For the longest time he sat there, not doing anything, before finally bending forward and taking the smallest of bites. He chewed slowly, with the barest movement of teeth, before swallowing quickly. His expression never changed, eyes as passive as ever, but I knew, I knew it had had an effect on him. It was in the way his jaw relaxed ever so slightly, his shoulders slumping forward unconsciously as though a weight had been lifted.
My eyes welled, a shaky, tender smile turning my lips. Finally. Finally.
I don't know what happened while he was in Konoha. I don't know what had made him break the shell he had created so meticulously about his heart. But whatever it was, whoever it was, I am eternally grateful. Because it had opened him up, just enough…
…for him to begin healing again.
"Don't say it."
I blinked innocently up at Rei, head cocked to the side. "Who, me?"
"Yes, you." He shifted restlessly in the sand, glancing up now and again at the ceremony taking place outside the Kazekage's Tower. "I just know that somewhere in that far-too-intelligent-for-a-thirteen-year-old head of yours that you are dying to rub this in my face."
"Hm?" I hummed. "Rub what in your face? The fact that Gaara has changed, as I had said? That I was right when I told you he was going to be the next Kazekage when the Council announced they were searching out a replacement? Or maybe--"
"Didn't I just say not to rub it in?" he grumbled.
I chuckled softly, shifting Aiko to my other arm while balancing a whicker basket on my elbow. "Ah, but you see--I never agreed."
"Tch." Rei mumbled obscenities under his breath as I continued watching the events unfold before us. I was so deliriously happy right then that he could have been cursing my soul to Hades and I wouldn't have cared. Because at this time, right in front of me, was the result of waiting three months--and only a week after Gaara had started eating the cookies again--for the Council to make up their old minds. And now, it was happening.
Gaara was being initiated as the Kazekage of Sunagakure.
My lips twitched into a small, contented smile, and I let out a small exhale of bliss. I was so happy it was frightening.
The crowd stood quiet after the official initiation, as Gaara, pledging his loyalty to Suna, promised to take care of his home with all his power. The formal robes should have dwarfed his small frame, but instead they made him seem taller, stronger. They gave a small glimpse into the man he would become compared to the boy he was now.
When the ceremony had officially ended, I asked Rei to go on ahead without me, and that I would catch up. He gave me a skeptical, almost searching look before nodding and going ahead.
Cautiously, I kept my head down to hide my face as I approached Baki--someone I knew was close to Gaara. Placing the basket at his side I coughed to get his attention.
"Is there something you need?" he asked gruffly, sparing me a quick, shrewd glance before scoffing and turning his eyes away.
"Yes," I answered softly. "I need you to give these to Ga-…Kazekage-sama, please."
He gave me a quick once over, before picking up the basket and doing those familiar hand signs I always seemed to find Gaara using. Baki began lifting his head. "Well, they aren't poisoned--"
He paused, as by now I had already turned my back and was walking away.
Baki grimaced, confused, before shrugging absently.
"Yo, Baki-sensei!" Kankuro raced up to the Jounin, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "What's with the basket?"
"A civilian asked that I give this to Kazekage-sama."
"Really?" Kankuro peaked under the lid. "Cookies? Seriously?"
Baki nodded. "They check out clean."
"What's going on over here?" Temari and Gaara approached the two, Gaara's arms crossed leisurely over his chest.
"Apparently Gaara's already getting fan mail," Kankuro snickered. "Some civilian asked Baki to give him a basket of cookies."
"Cookies?" Temari repeated dryly. "Why in the hell would Gaara want something like--"
She stopped abruptly when a thick tendril of sand reached up to steal the basket from Baki, bringing it back to its owner. Gaara opened the basket, seeing for himself the familiar flower shape from his childhood.
A folded piece of paper hidden halfway beneath a cookie caught his attention, and he plucked it out swiftly. As he read it to himself, Kankuro and Temari read over his shoulder.
"'I'm proud of you?'" Kankuro grimaced. "What kind of fangirl confession is that?"
"No idea," Temari huffed. "Hey Gaara, what do you think?"
It seemed that neither of the two siblings had noticed the sudden stiffening of their little brother's frame after reading the note. And rather than answer them, he focused his attention solely on Baki. "What did they look like?"
Baki blinked. "The civilian? Not sure, wasn't paying much attention. She kept her head down too. But," he conceded, noticing how Gaara was now fixing him with a cold glare, "she looked to be around your age. Maybe a little younger. And it looked like she was carrying a baby, too…"
"You know this chick, Gaara?" Kankuro asked disbelievingly.
Gaara didn't answer, but took the note and basket with him back inside the tower.
The next day the note would be found in a black frame on Gaara's desk, right next to the one he had just recently taken of himself and his family getting along for the first time in years. And although some wanted desperately to ask who had written it, they never quite managed, until they gave up and forgot about it. Kankuro and Temari hadn't, however, and demanded to know what the connection between him and this civilian was. It was oddly satisfying watching his siblings sputter like fish once he'd explained.
"So-so…Gaara's got a, what, a chef friend?" Temari blinked slowly.
"No, he's got a girlfriend," Kankuro said amazedly. "Wow, and just in time for puberty!"
It took about three seconds for Gaara to shove him out the window.
After that, Temari stopped asking.
The years passed.
My bakery, which I'd never been able to name, received one from the patrons of Suna. To them, to everyone, it became known as 'The Bakery.' Simple.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the adopted name.
It had been six years since Gaara's initiation as Kazekage. I was almost eighteen now, and Aiko nearing six. In that time I'd put on a little more than a hundred pounds, but I'd grown to be five feet ten and a half inches. This made my frame tall, and spread the extra weight I'd gained from eating a few too many of my own creations around nicely. Sure, I was left with a larger than I'd like belly, my arms and legs weren't the fittest, and my face had the slightest distinct softness about the edges, but I didn't truly mind. I'd never been beauty conscious in the first place.
Who cared if none of the men I'd met took an interest in me as more than a friend? I consider friendship enough. I have Aiko, and I have my secret with Gaara. They, along with the added friends, are all I need. Why should I get my hopes up about romance, when I know that it will just lead to disappointment in the end?
Little Aiko had grown to stand about a foot above my waistline. His red hair was a shade darker than Gaara's, like fresh apples instead of the Kazekage's bloody color. His eyes retained their ground cinnamon quality, and his eyes could gleam so bright you'd go blind. He was my Aiko. My little loved one.
And today he was going to start attending the Academy.
"Aiko! Hurry up or you'll be late!"
The scampering of feet was heard racing down the stairs as the young boy heeded my call. A small, amused smile turned my lips up at the corners, and I gave a small chuckle when he entered the kitchen. His black muscle shirt was in disarray, one of the underlying mesh sleeves scrunched to his mid upper arm. Black and red camouflage capris were tight on the waist to hold them up, before falling loose down his legs. Only one sandal was done up, the other hanging in his grip. His tiny face was twisted with child-like anxiety, nerves making his lower lip tremble.
"Oh, Aiko," I chastised gently, wiping my hands on my apron to get rid of clinging flour. I was making cinnamon bread for Aiko to have as a snack when he got home. I quickly straightened his shirt and sleeve, taking the shoe from his fingers and lacing it on his foot.
When I got him to sit at the table and eat, he wolfed down the sausage patties and pancakes like he'd been starving for weeks. I rolled my eyes exasperatedly, placing my hands on his shoulders and resting my chin on top of his head. "Calm down, little loved one."
His hands stopped shoveling, and he gently placed down the knife he'd been using to butter his toast. He looked up at me, cinnamon eyes wide with worry, and when he spoke there was a tremble in his voice. "What-what if they d-don't like me Momma?" He spoke in whisper, as though embarrassed to be admitting such thoughts. "I-I've never played with oth-ther children before. I don't kn-now if they'll…"
"Oh, Aiko," I repeated, pulling him back into me fully, snuggling his hair and kissing his cheek. "There is no reason to be afraid. Remember, this is their first day as well. I'm sure they're just as nervous as you are." I brushed his unruly hair with my fingers, bringing it to some kind of order. "And when you meet those friends, you can bring them here to play all you want. I'll make cookies and pies and cakes, and you can have as much fun as you want."
He nibbled his lip, wary hope in his face. "You…you promise, Momma?"
I nodded, a gentle hum in my throat. "I promise."
He smiled, "okay."
I ruffled his hair, messing up the work I'd done to it just moments before. "Good. Now, eat your breakfast. You've got a long day ahead of you, and I have to come meet your teacher after school, remember? So I'll pick you up in the classroom."
"But don't you have to put out those cookies for Kazekage-sama today Momma?" "Yes." I gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. "But I can do that afterwards. I don't think Gaara will show up early--he never has before."
As I went back to the cinnamon bread mix, Aiko stared after me with a contemplative look in his inquiring eyes. After a minute or so--during which he was once again eating whole heartedly--he opened his mouth and asked what had seemed to be plaguing his thoughts. "Momma, do you love Kazekage-sama?" I stumbled, nearly dropping the bowl and bread mix. Catching myself just in time, I quickly placed the bowl on the counter top before turning to my son. "Eh?" His lips were pursed, and for all the world he looked like he was pouting. "You always make him cookies."
I blinked a little dazedly. "That doesn't mean I'm in love with him, Aiko."
"But," he protested, "you always look at him like that."
I raised a brow. "Like what?"
"Like-like…," he seemed to search for the right example, "like Temari-sama looks at Shikamaru-sama from Konoha!"
I winced inwardly. It was completely obvious to all of Suna's citizens that the Kazekage's sister and the Konoha Ambassador were head over heels for each other, but were too proud to admit it. There was actually a betting pool going around to see who would give in first.
But that wasn't the point. "I do not!"
Aiko seemed to pout even more. "Yes you do! I've seen you!"
"I-I do not…!" I protested weakly. I bit my lip to keep myself from continuing my rebuttal, and changed the subject. "Are you done eating? You need to get going soon."
Aiko clucked his tongue. "Fine. I'll see you later Momma." He stood up and began to leave, but shot a glance at me over his shoulder first. Those bright eyes of his narrowed minutely, signaling that he knew what I was doing and the conversation was definitely not over yet. He'd probably bring it back up later, in fact.
Once he was gone, I sighed, shaking my head the slightest bit. What a strange, sharp little boy.
Aiko grumbled, staring at his feet as he entered his classroom at the Academy. He immediately sat in the far corner, brooding in silence.
The teacher for this class was a familiar face. Nami, still a chuunin, waved at her class. "Hello students! I'm Nami-sensei, and I'll be your instructor!" She planted her hands on her hips, looking over the class that watched her avidly. "I know a few of you, and-oh! Aiko!" She lit up as she spotted the young red head. "Watcha doin' being all emo in the corner? Ah! Masago did tell you to stay after today didn't she?"
Aiko blushed scarlet as the other students turned their attention to him. "Yes, Momma told me."
"Good." Nami giggled serenely. "I hope she brings some of those cookies of hers!"
He grumbled unintelligibly and sank down into his seat.
The teacher clapped her hands. "Alright then! Let's get started!"
From within his office, Gaara gave his siblings the blandest look he could possibly manage. "What?"
Temari sighed as Kankuro slapped his palm to his forehead, replying, "I said, you need to get out and visit with the people."
The young Kazekage blinked. "…why?"
This time Kankuro bashed his head against the wall while she answered. "The people will not trust a leader they never see, Gaara."
"They trust God."
"That's completely different!" She planted her hands on his desk, and leaned forward to meet his eyes. "Besides, you need a social life. Naruto doesn't count."
Gaara blinked slowly, not answering for all of three minutes. "What do you suggest?"
Temari smiled, relieved. "Well, there's a new teacher down at the Academy. You could go say hi."
"Her name's Nami," Kankuro added. "I hear she's quite attractive."
"And out of your league," Temari mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Nothing, little brother!"
"Yeah…," Kankuro gave her a suspicious look. "So, what do you say baby brother?"
The red head was silent for a moment. "As long as I'm not late."
"Late for what?" Temari perched herself on his desk, raising a brow to her brother.
"Ain't it obvious Tem?" Kankuro leered. "Gaara's got a date with Cookie Girl tonight."
"Oh yeah," she mused, hand rising to her chin thoughtfully. "It is Tuesday, isn't it?"
"Don't call her that." Gaara's voice was a threatening whisper.
The puppet user shrugged. "Whatever, her name doesn't matter anyway. She could be named Dirt and look like Naruto and he wouldn't care. He's too in love with her for it to matter."
"I still don't understand that," Temari said, throwing her head back to look at the ceiling. "How can you be in love with a girl you've never met face to face?"
"I don't need to see her," Gaara breathed, "to know that she's breathtaking."
And with a flash of sand, he disappeared from the office.
Aiko waited, as he'd been told, in the classroom with Nami for his mother to come and get him. He perched on the teacher's desk, kicking his legs in a bored manner.
"Why'd you ask her to come today, anyway?" Aiko asked, stealing a glance at the hyperactive sensei.
"Because," she answered, "how long has Masago had The Bakery now?"
Aiko raised his brow. "The Bakery? About six-…years." He paused, comprehension dawning on his face. "Six years today."
"Exactly," Nami smiled. "Which is why-"
"Which is why we've decided to surprise her," Rei replied, entering the room with Taro on his heels, each baring a wrapped gift, "to congratulate her success."
"Uncle Rei!" Aiko hopped off the desk and ran to embrace the other man around the waist tightly.
Rei chuckled. "Hello, Aiko."
The child pulled back to look up at the other visitor to the room. "Hello, Uncle Taro."
The man nodded, a small smile tilting his lips. "Aiko."
"About time you got here," Nami complained, walking over to give Taro a peck on the cheek. "Masago'll be here any minute."
The four settled into seats, awaiting the girl's arrival, when a knock at the door made them look up. Before Nami could answer, it was already being opened and the newcomers entered.
"Why hello there," Temari greeted the room at large. "The Kazekage and I just wished to visit our newest sensei and welcome her into the Academy."
"Ahem," Kankuro coughed, "aren't you forgetting someone?"
Temari rolled her eyes. "…and Kankuro."
"Much better." The puppet user took in the room's occupants, eyes settling on Nami. "Well, hello there beautiful."
Nami blinked, glancing to her left at Taro curiously. "…well, Taro is pretty effeminate, what with his long hair and all, but I wouldn't go so far as to call him beautiful."
Kankuro sputtered in the background as Taro gave her a bland look. "You are joking right?"
She smiled innocently. "Of course I am, love!" The sly look she gave Aiko undermined her statement.
Temari motioned her stoic little brother forward with a slight push, but he relented with only a small glare in her direction. With brisk steps, he approached the still grinning Nami and nodded slightly. "I appreciate your willingness to teach at the Academy."
Temari's eye twitched. He was hopeless, wasn't he?
Nami blinked up at the redhead, before standing and bowing accordingly. "It is my pleasure Kazekage-sama."
"Hn." He glanced around at Aiko and the gifts, raising one hairless brow. "Why is it that you are still here, though class hours have ended? And I assume this is a student?"
"Oh!" Nami rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. "Yes, Aiko is one of my students, and I realize that classes are over…but we were kind of, uh-"
"We were planning a surprise for a friend, Kazekage-sama," Rei interrupted, swiftly turning the attention away from the flustered woman.
"Rei," Gaara acknowledged.
"Wait, Rei?" Kankuro blinked rapidly. "As in, the jounin Rei? The one that's known by all other Suna nin to be a hard-ass and gets along with Baki--that Rei?"
You could barely see Rei's eye twitch, but it did. "Yes."
"What kind of person must this friend of yours be that even you'd want to hold a little surprise party for them?" Kankuro mused.
"I'm afraid that'd be me."
I fidgeted slightly, shifting the basket containing Gaara's cookies that I'd planned on setting out as usual once this was over on my arm. It was slightly disorienting to have all the attention in the room suddenly diverted to myself. I mean, it was enough of a shock to see that Gaara and his siblings were all in Aiko's classroom with her friends, but to have those sharp eyes of his on her directly for the first time…
My breath was caught in my throat for a moment before I immediately plastered on a polite smile and bowed. "Good afternoon, Kazekage-sama."
I could feel his stare, and a small heat brushed the top of my cheeks. I straightened, just in time for a bundle of red hair to crash into me.
"Momma!" Aiko cried, clinging to my stomach and rubbing his face into my squishy belly.
Temari's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. "You're his mother?" I looked up from patting my son's hair, a genuine grin stretching my lips, and met her gaze. "Yes, I am Aiko's mother."
She blinked, nibbling her lip. "Not to be rude," her tone implied that in truth she didn't give a damn if she was being rude, "but aren't you a bit…young, to be a mother? Especially for a six year old?"
I nodded. "True. But, I wasn't the one to give birth to Aiko."
"Oh, so he isn't really your son," Kankuro reasoned.
My gaze snapped to him with a muted glare, expression stony. "I'm afraid you're somewhat incorrect, Kankuro-sama," I corrected, voice dripping frost. "While I did not bear Aiko in my womb, he is my son. I will let none state otherwise."
The puppet user gulped, backing away with his hands in the air. "Okay, okay. Sheesh, it's no wonder you're one of Rei-san's friends."
I smiled wryly. "Indeed. He is a bit hard to handle."
"Funny, Masago," Rei stated blandly. "Real funny."
I chuckled, and moved closer to the group, setting my basket on the desk. "So, what's all this about, Nami? What did you call me here for?"
She jumped to me, ecstatic joy written in her movements. "Happy anniversary Masago!" she squealed, wrapping me in a tight hug.
Taro, ever quiet, silently joined the embrace as well. "Congratulations on six years of hard work."
I smiled at them, touched. "Thank you. I wouldn't have done nearly so well with The Bakery without you."
"Wait!" Kankuro bounced over, awe shining on his face. "You own The Bakery? I love your dango!" He turned his excited gaze to the basket I'd abandoned on the desk. "Do you have sweets in here? Is that what this is?" His hand lifted the lid and he peeked inside.
I shot my arm out and grabbed the basket away, snapping the lid shut. "Please refrain from looking into my personal affects in the future."
Kankuro didn't answer, his eyes locked on the basket I held, muted shock flitting across his face. Slowly, he trailed his gaze to meet mine, glimmering with recognition. He opened his mouth to speak, but a siren calling throughout Suna silenced him.
"The siren?" Temari gave a confused look out the window. "Damn, a sandstorm's coming. Looks like we're all stuck here until it passes."
Nami sighed. "Dang it. Come on Taro, let's go make sure all the windows and doors are locked up--"
"No, wait!" Kankuro interrupted. "We'll take care of it. Come on Temari, Gaara."
"Wha?" Temari gasped as Kankuro tugged her from the room. Gaara shrugged, following slowly behind.
I stared after them as the door closed, a strange sense of anticipation building in my stomach.
"Kankuro, what is this all about?" Temari hissed as they closed any open windows and doors they came across in the Academy. "And if you ever tug me from a room like that again, I will cut your arm off at the socket."
"Be quiet, Tem." His tone bubbled happily, and he might as well have been bouncing off the walls. "I found her!"
Temari rolled her eyes, falling into step beside Gaara. "Who her?"
Gaara swiveled his head to his brother, suddenly highly interested in the conversation as Temari choked on air. "No way."
"That Masago chick we just met."
"How do you know?"
He clucked his tongue impatiently. "The basket! You know, the one she got really defensive over?" Temari nodded. "Well, you'll never guess what I saw inside!"
"A dead body?"
He glared half heartedly at her. "No. I saw cookies. Gaara's cookies."
She huffed irately. "Now wait just a second, how do you know they're the same cookies?"
"We have checked everywhere in Suna for a place that sells those cookies, and haven't found them. So we know that they're home made. This thought in mind, how many people do you think can be found walking around with distinctly flower shaped cookies that appear exactly the same as the ones Gaara gets, on a Tuesday--the same day that Gaara meets up with Cookie Girl?"
By this point the trio had stopped walking, and were merely conversing in the hall. Temari looked thoughtful. "You have a point." She glanced at her baby brother, who for all the world appeared stoic, but a predatory light gleamed in his eyes. "Now Gaara, don't scare her off. If she really is Cookie Girl you'll want to get to know her a bit before making any confrontations. Make sure she really is the breathtaking person you seem to believe she is before staking some kind of claim on her, alright?"
An impatient scowl marred his features, but he reluctantly nodded. "Fine."
Temari grinned. "Great! Now," she turned, ready to head back to the classroom where al the others waited, "let's go snag me a sister in law."
By the time Gaara and his siblings had returned, the sandstorm could be heard whistling beyond the windows, the grains marring the view of the outside world. I'd opened the presents from Taro, Nami, and Rei while they were gone, pleased with the apron, cookbook, and imported spices I'd received. Aiko sat comfortably on my lap, content to snuggle up to my chest.
"Everything's clear," Temari said, joining us where we'd taken seats on the top two levels of desks. She and Kankuro joined Rei on the bench above me, while Gaara took a place to my right, closer than I'd expected, with Nami, Taro and I.
"Well that's good." Nami lay her head on Taro's shoulder.
The next few hours were filled with idle chatter, during which I was surprised to find Gaara striking conversation with me. He was alert and attentive to everything I said, almost seeming as though he was analyzing my words for something. And as our talk carried on, and our chat turned into a quiet but intense debate over views and personal opinions, he seemed to find whatever it was he'd been looking for--if the unholy smirk that graced his overly handsome features was anything to go by, that is.
As it grew late and the storm had yet to let up, it was universally agreed that we should get comfortable and settle in for the night. Aiko and I made a spot for ourselves on the bottom platform nearest the door, Gaara taking a place ten feet or so down the row.
He settled into a deep meditation, and after bidding goodnights, everyone went to sleep.
I awoke to a small hand shaking my shoulder intently, and I cracked my eyes open with a soft moan.
Cinnamon brown eyes stared worriedly back as Aiko nibbled his lip. "Momma?"
I sat up. "Aiko?"
"I," he blushed, seeming embarrassed, "I had a bad dream."
I smiled reassuringly at the boy. "Oh, baby. Come here."
He crawled into my arms, snuggling into his favorite position against my chest. We were quiet for a little while as I rubbed comforting circles in his back. "Momma? Will you tell me a story?"
I chuckled softly. "Sure. Which one?"
"The one about the adventurers."
I sighed, my breath rustling his hair. "Alright. Once upon a time, there was a man who traveled the Great Shinobi Nations. His name was Washi, and he was said by all in the villages he visited to be the most handsome man ever seen. With deep brown locks, tanned skin, a mischievous smile, and eyes of gold like the eagles, he could spot danger miles off with his sharp sight. So it was ironic, really, when Washi was snuck up on by a mountain lion in Iwa. The only thing that saved his life was the appearance of a beautiful woman.
"The woman, who later revealed herself as Kimi, fought the lion back and healed the wounds Washi had sustained in the fight. During his recuperation, Washi fell in love with Kimi, who shared his thirst for adventure--who had the same fire burning in her veins as he did. It is only right to mention that Kimi was also possibly the most beautiful woman any land had ever seen. With long hair pale as moonbeams, a willowy but curved frame, soft milky skin, a will stronger than steel, and sharp elfin features that matched perfectly with her almond shaped azure eyes, she was the pride of her homeland--the Land of Snow.
"The two traveled the world, battling snakes in rainforests, strange creatures of the deep in oceans, coyotes in the plains. Their home was beneath the stars, in the wild with their hearts.
"But all was not meant to stay the same. Kimi discovered she was pregnant…"
I trailed off, black thoughts bringing to surface memories that were best left forgotten. Aiko tugged at my collar, bringing my attention back to the present. "And then?"
I smiled tightly, guilt hardening in my chest as I lied straight through my teeth. "Kimi and Washi were so happy, they decided to move into a desert village where they could raise the child before taking it with them on their adventures. So after nine months, Kimi gave birth to a baby girl that had her mother's beauty and her father's eyes. They were so proud of their little girl, who shared their love for the world and couldn't wait to leave with them. When she reached the age of seven and a half, they set out once more on their adventures, and to this day they travel, never knowing what great adventure they may stumble upon next. The end." Aiko had drifted to sleep, and I carefully placed him down into his previous spot. I sighed, and made to do the same.
"How does the story really end?"
I jumped, spinning to face Gaara. Shinging cyan looked back calmly, no expression on his face.
"I thought you were meditating," I gasped.
He blinked leisurely. "I wasn't so engrossed as to not hear your story. Now, how does it really end?"
"How do you know that isn't the real ending?"
His gaze sharpened. "I'm very good at detecting lies, Masago-san."
I bit my lips, wondering if I should give in to his request. He seemed to know what I was thinking, as he whispered, "tell me, Masago."
It was the first time he'd used my name without an honorific, and I blushed lightly. Turning away from his penetrating stare, I hesitantly began to recount the real end to the tale. "When Kimi found out she was pregnant…she and Washi were heartbroken. Neither of them had wanted a child, knowing it would be nothing but a hindrance for their travels. They were forced to settle in Suna, where Kimi gave birth to an average looking baby girl that lacked every ounce of her parents' beauty. They raised the girl, praying that she would at least have the fire in her blood that they did. But as the years went by, it became obvious that she was everything they weren't. She didn't have the passion they did for adventure.
"Naturally she became the bane of their existence. She was the one thing that held them back, kept them from achieving their dreams. There were days when the little girl heard them discussing why they didn't just leave and go back to how they'd been before, and forget the girl even existed. But Kimi, who, remember, had a will as strong as steel and a pride that was stronger, refused to give up on the girl, believing that with time perhaps the child would come around. This pride held out until their daughter was seven and a half years old. It was then that she came home to find nothing but an envelope of money, an empty home, and a note. Kimi and Washi had gone back to their adventures all right…and they had left their child behind."
As I finished the story, there was silence as we both thought over the story. Pain ripped at my chest, disappointment ripe in my heart. When Gaara spoke I was grateful for the reprieve from my thoughts. "What was the girl's name?"
I smiled bitterly. "They had never wanted a child, and so had no clue as to what name they should give her. As a result, Washi and Kimi never gave the girl a name until she spoke her first word, 'sand', and decided to name her for it. Thus, she was then called, Masago."
Gaara stared at her intensely for a few moments. "I'm sorry."
I grimaced. "Don't be. It isn't you that should be saying those words." I stroked Aiko's hair gently, sighing through my nose. "They're part of the reason I took Aiko in, you know. When I found him, I had just opened The Bakery. He was just an infant then, a newborn. And I knew that he was like me. He, too, had been abandoned."
I shook my head, a dry chuckle escaping my lips. "Well, goodnight Kazekage-sama."
As I lay down and drifted back into sleep, I could have sworn I heard him whisper, "my name is Gaara."
The next day we all said our goodbyes, the Sabaku siblings heading back to the Kazekage Tower to get started on the day's work as Aiko and I went home. He prepared for school and I made breakfast, wishing him well as he left.
After a quick nap, I decided that it would be best if I took the cookies to the park now, as I hadn't been able to do so yesterday. I showered and dressed, picking up the basket and making good time to the park.
Not bothering to check my surroundings, I approached the swing, taking out the plate of cookies and setting them carefully on the seat. Picking up a nearby fallen stick, I wrote the same message as always in the sand, smiling at my handiwork. Picking up the basket, I turned to leave…
And stopped in my tracks. "K-Kazekage-sama?"
He stared, unwaveringly, the smallest of smirks turning his lips up at the corners. "I've been waiting for you."
"You have?" I breathed. "Kazekage-sama--"
"Stop." He took a step forward. "My name is Gaara."
I licked dry lips, willing myself into my usual calm. "Why were you waiting for me?"
He cocked an eye ridge sarcastically. "Why wouldn't I be? I've been looking for you for years, after all. It's only natural that I come to you when I finally find you." He took another step. "And now that I have, I must ask you." Another step. "Do you have feelings for me, Masago?"
My eyes widened, lungs inhaling sharply. "I…I…yes," I ended lamely, voice a whisper. Pink dusted my cheeks, and I looked anywhere but his face.
An approving purr seemed to rumble from his chest as he was suddenly just inches away. Lifting my chin with one finger, his eyes shone with a predatory light and that unholy smirk had made a comeback. "Good."
And the next thing I knew, I was wrapped in his arms, his lips pressing urgently to mine. My breathing hitched. Never had I dreamed, never had I hoped…
His lips weren't smooth or soft like I'd heard most girls sighing over. Instead they were slightly chapped, creating an odd friction that shot heat to my stomach and curled my toes, exciting my flip flopping stomach into a heightened frenzy.
When he pulled back, we stared at each other for an immeasurable length of time before I gathered enough sense to whisper, "…why? You don't even know me…"
His expression was soft as he puushed back some of my hair from my face. "I've wondered, daydreamed, about what you were like for years, and when Kankuro figured out who you were yesterday…I found that the expectations I'd had so much time to set blown completely out of the water." He pressed his forehead to mine, his voice taking on a possessive growl. "And you are mine."
I bit my lip, excitement coursing through my belly. "What about Aiko? He is my son. Are you willing to accept someone with that kind of attachment?"
Gaara's hands tightened around my waist. "More than willing, he shall be considered mine as well with time."
I let out a shaky breath, and found that for the first time in a very long time, I wanted to cry. Because finally, finally, the thing I'd been praying for for so long, even longer than I'd been praying for my own bakery, and that I'd given up hope of ever happening, was right in front of me. Mine to touch. Mine to kiss. Mine to hold.
Mine to love.
When Aiko returned home that day, he found me in the kitchen, baking up the happiest storm in all my life. Cakes littered the counter tops, cookie piled on trays on the table, breads and rolls of all sorts were scattered about on random surfaces.
Aiko shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Momma?"
I gave him the biggest smile ever to grace my lips. "Yes?"
"Kazekage-sama…he's not so bad."
I paused, noting the pout that had possessed Aiko's plump childish lips. "Is that some form of approval?"
He glanced at me swiftly, before looking away and nodding. "Yeah."
I chuckled, turning back to the stove and the dough I had working there.
"You look at Kazekage-sama the way you do because you love him, right?"
I'd been wondering when he was going to ask me that again. Only now, I could really answer. "Yes, I do."
I waited, knowing it was going to come again sooner or later.
"…Momma?" Bingo. I gave an amused sigh. "Yes, Aiko?"
"He looks at you the same way, you know?"
My hands stopped kneading, and I looked back to my child with soft eyes.
"Yeah, I know."
But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love for ever.-
Robert Burns, Ae Fond Kiss in Johnson's Musical Museum, 1787-96
Author's Notes: Name Meanings In Order Of Appearance
Aiko--Little Loved One
Taro--First Born Male
Kimi--She Who Is Without Equal
Hey guys! It's been so long since I entered something to the site...but last night I typed up a storm and got this! No, actually, the first half of this was already done, but I finished it last night. My hands HURT! Thanks for reading guys, please review!