He hadn't been sleeping very well lately. Sure, the bear that Sakura had given him was helping, but it wasn't working as effectively as it used to. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something different about the bear lately. It was still lumpy, still old, but something was off.
This plagued his mind throughout the whole day. He didn't really get any work done either, because the matter about the bear was more important than some genin squad that couldn't learn to work as a team. At least to him it was.
Now that he had experienced sleep, he realized that he liked it. A lot. And when he found something that he liked, he was loath to give it up. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of running footsteps coming down the hall and towards his office.
"Hey Gaara! I have a message for you!" His older sister, Temari, burst through the door. She held up a scroll. "It's from Konoha." Then she put it on his desk and waited for him to give her orders.
He picked up the scroll, opened it, and began scanning its contents quickly. Well this was interesting. Apparently it was decided that Konoha was going to be hosting the Chuunin exams again, and they wanted Suna to help with one of the tests. This would not only strengthen the alliance between the two villages, but it would also show the rest of the ninja world that Suna had Konoha's support, and vice versa.
"Get a small team together. Konoha has invited us to help design one of the tests for the Chuunin exams this year, and we will need to discuss our plans with the Hokage." He said, placing the scroll on his desk.
Temari smiled. "Can I go with the team? I haven't seen Sakura in forever."
"You just saw her two weeks ago." He deadpanned.
"Yeah, but the mango body mist that she gave me is almost out, and you can only get it in Konoha." The blonde woman whined.
The answer to his teddy bear dilemma suddenly clicked. The reason he couldn't sleep at night was because the bear didn't smell like Sakura anymore. The longer he slept with it, the more it smelled like him and less like her. So the only way to fix this would be to take the bear to Konoha, and have Sakura sleep with it while it was there. But he couldn't entrust anyone to do this for him, because then his secret would be out, and his image of the ever tough and unapproachable Kazekage of Suna would be forever tarnished. The only option left would be to go in person to deliver the bear.
"Nevermind then. You and I will travel to Konoha tomorrow morning. Kankuro and Ibiki can watch things while we are gone." He said, pulling out a sheet of paper to send a reponse to the Hokage.
Temari jumped in excitement. "Yay! I can spend quality time with my baby brother!"
"Call me that again and I will kill you." He threatened, writing his response.
She waved her hand in dismissal. "Fine fine you big baby. I'll go inform everyone about our plans." And with that she left.
He couldn't wait until they reached Konoha. Sakura would take possession of the bear during the day, and then at night it would smell like her and he would be able to sleep once again. He smirked. The plan was perfect. He left his office in a whirl of sand, off to his house to prepare for the journey.
The entire building of Hokage Tower was in an uproar. Apparently Gaara was arriving today to go over some plans for the upcoming Chuunin Exams. Sakura didn't understand what all the fuss was about. They were the ones that invited him in the first place, they should have had everything ready by now. Oh well. Her shishou was probably drunk when she got the idea and didn't remember it the next day. She smiled at that thought. No matter what her faults were, she loved her teacher dearly.
At least she wouldn't have to see Gaara while he was here. She still felt embarrassed about what happened the last time she saw him. Naruto never said anything about it, but he still gave her weird looks every once in a while.
She spent her day at the hospital. There wasn't anything major to deal with, just a few Academy students who hadn't learned how to properly aim and throw their kunai yet. She took a shower when she got home, and then set out to make dinner. Sesame chicken and fried rice sounded good right now. As she was setting out the ingredients, she heard a knock at her door. She thought it strange, since she wasn't expecting anyone to come by, especially so late in the evening. When she opened the door she came face to face with the last person she expected to see. Gaara. She gave him a confused look. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I need to sleep with you again." He said, his face blank.
She wasn't as shocked this time as she was before, but it was still embarrassing to hear. Before he could say anything else that her neighbors might overhear, she yanked him into her apartment and closed the door. Once that was taken care of she turned to him and crossed her arms. "Why? Did you lose the bear or something?" she raised a delicate brow. She would not give in so easily this time.
"Then why do you 'need to sleep with me again', as you so delicately put it?" her foot began to tap in impatience.
"It doesn't smell like you anymore. I was going to give it to you to hold onto today, but I was forced into a meeting with your Elders, so there was no time. So, in order for the bear to regain its scent, I decided that the next best thing would be to sleep with you again, while the bear sits in your room."
She looked at him in offense. "The next best thing? That's it, I want you to leave."
He looked confused. "You won't help me?"
"Oh I'll help you all right. To the door." She said, moving to open it. He gave her one of the most pitiful looks she had ever seen. Well, pitiful for Gaara anyways. She bent down and picked up a gift basket of assorted mango bath items that was sitting next to her door. "And give this to Temari. I had a feeling she would run out soon, so I bought her all the things she would need." With that she shoved the basket into his arms, and ushered him out into the hall of her apartment complex. "Bye Gaara! Thanks for stopping by!" She said cheerily, shutting the door in his face before he could say anything else. Then she leaned against the door and let out a sigh of relief. It was hard to just kick him out like that, but she wasn't just a matter of convenience for him, and he needed to learn that.
He was stunned speechless. Never in his years of knowing her had Sakura been that rude to him. Did he say something wrong? For some reason he had a sense of déjà vu. Maybe comparing her to the teddy bear wasn't a good idea. He left her doorstep in a whirl of sand and appeared in front of Temari's hotel room.
She opened the door just as he was about to knock.
"Oh Gaara I didn't see you there. What are you holding?" his siter asked, looking at the basket in curiosity.
He held out the basket. "This is a gift from Sakura. She told me to give it to you."
She snatched the basket out of his hand. "Yay! The whole Mango Collection! Now I can smell really good!"
He would never understand girls. "But I didn't solve my sleeping problem." He complained.
"Oh just try this!" She grabbed the mango perfume and threw it in his direction. He caught it with ease, and looked at it with confusion.
"Sakura uses that spray too. Just spray it on the bear. Problem solved." She closed the door and began to walk down the hallway. He went into his room and sprayed the bear all over its body. Then he went to sleep, or tried to anyways.
He was cranky the next day. Yes, the bear did smell more like it used to, but for some reason it just wasn't the same. Instead of going to the Hokage Tower like he should have, he went to the hospital. He knew Sakura would be there, and he needed to talk to her. He entered the hospital and walked straight to the front desk. The receptionist looked surprised to see him there.
"I need to see Haruno Sakura." He said simply.
"Y-yes. I will send a nurse to go get her." The woman stuttered, moving to get up from her chair in order to find one of the nurses.
The redhead made a face of annoyance. It would take too long if he had to wait for some mediocre chakra user to find Sakura. "Nevermind, I will go find her myself." He turned and walked swiftly down the first hallway he saw. Not wanting to waste any more time than was necessary, he stretched out his chakra senses to locate her. It didn't take long. She was upstairs, in her office most likely.
He teleported right into the room, and saw her sitting at her desk. She didn't notice him come in, and appeared to be busy reading some medical book. Her brow was scrunched in a very attractive manner, and she looked like she was deep in thought.
"Sakura." He said, causing her to let out a startled scream and throw whatever book she was reading at him. He caught it with ease.
"Oh God! Gaara you scared the hell out of me. What are you doing here?" she asked, placing a hand over her racing heart.
"It is not my fault that you did not sense me come in. I thought you were better trained than that." He said, smirking.
She crossed her arms defensively. "I am trained to sense threats. I guess I just don't see you as one." She said with a shrug. This bothered him slightly, for reasons he didn't feel like exploring.
"I require your assistance." He told her, getting straight to the point of his presence in her office.
She raised a questioning brow. "With what?"
She began to shake her head. "Ohoho no. I already told you yesterday to find something else."
"I tried. But when I sprayed the bear with that mango stuff you wear it didn't work very well." He explained. It looked like she was trying not to laugh at his solution.
"Well I'm not gonna walk around the hospital with a ratty old bear. I guess you'll just have to find another way."
Since he couldn't take advantage of her sympathy, he would try her sense of duty. "If I can't sleep at night I will not be able to perform my duties as the Kazekage properly."
"That's your village's problem, not mine." She said, opening one of her desk drawers and scribbling something on a chart.
"But I am here to help plan something that your village is hosting. You don't want that to end up badly do you?" he asked, raising what could be a brow.
She paused in her task, and hesitated in answering. "Well…no."
"Then let me sleep with you. I only have to stay in the village for a few more days, and you will only see me then." He said, feeling victory within his grasp.
"Fine. But the same rules apply. Nothing inappropriate." She said, glaring at him slightly.
Not that he would do anything wrong in the first place, but after what she did to him last night it was only fair that he mess with her. He leaned across her desk until he was just inches from her face. He heard her breath hitch, and smirked as he looked into her beautiful emeralds. "Spoilsport." And with that, he vanished in a cloud of sand.
Now it was her turn to be stunned speechless. Did Gaara just make a joke? She shook her head. No, it's impossible. Gaara never made jokes, least of all with her. She couldn't believe she had fallen for his trickery again. She knew he was manipulating her, but something in her saw no reason to stop it. Maybe it was because ever since she had come back from Suna all those weeks ago she was always cold at night. The number of blankets she used didn't affect it in the least. Truth be told, she had actually missed sleeping with Gaara, strange as that sounded.
Not wanting him to catch her off guard again, she left work on time, instead of staying late like she always did. When she got home she immediately took a shower. Even though she had just showered the night before, she didn't want Gaara to think she smelled bad. When she got out, she went into the kitchen and began heating up her leftovers from the night before.
Right as the chicken was finished, she felt the presence of someone in her living room. Knowing that only one person would be rude enough to just appear in her home she said, "I hope you're hungry. I have tons of leftover chicken from last night."
"I don't usually eat, but thank you." Gaara's voice said as he entered the kitchen and looked at what she had cooked. They sat down at her small table and ate in a companionable silence. Wanting something to be said, Sakura randomly picked a topic she knew was safe. "How is the planning for the Chuunin exams coming?"
"Pretty good so far. We are building a miniature desert in the Forest of Death around the tower. Then we're adding a strong genjutsu to it, in order to increase the desert-like conditions. That way they can all experience what it is like to travel in different conditions." The redhead across from her said, taking a bite of his chicken.
"Wow, that's really cool. I know it's going to be really helpful to them, but I'm glad we didn't have to do it. I might have died." She said with a smile.
Gaara chuckled slightly. "Probably. Most ninja aren't used to the heat of the desert, or how to handle the sand."
They continued talking like this until dinner was over. Before she could react, Gaara had already collected the dishes, and was on his way into the kitchen. "I can wash them Gaara. It's no problem." Sakura said, rising from her seat.
"No. You cooked for me, so it is only fair that I wash afterwards." He said, walking into the kitchen.
"If you insist." She had never really enjoyed washing the dishes anyway. The only reason she did them was because if she didn't, they would pile up in her sink, and it would just be more work for her when she got around to doing them.
When he finished he stood in the entrance to the kitchen, looking at her expectantly. Figuring that he was ready to go to sleep, she stood from her seat at the table and stretched. She could use some sleep too, for that matter. Without saying a word, she went into her room and got underneath the covers. Then she scooted over towards the wall in order to make room for him. He got in shortly after, and like last time, pulled her to his chest. Her entire body froze as she realized that he wasn't wearing a shirt. How was he able to take his shirt off without her knowing it?
Gaara held in an annoyed grunt. He can't sleep with a stiff person in his arms. That's not how it works. "Sakura would you please relax? It's just like last time." He said, closing his eyes.
"I know, but do you have to sleep without a shirt on?" she asked timidly.
She could feel him smirk against the back of her head. "Why? Does it bother you?"
"Well…kind of." She admitted.
"Good. Now go to sleep." She let out a huff, wriggled a bit, and then slowly began to relax. Gaara continued to smirk to himself. He didn't know why, but the fact that his bare chest could affect her in such a way pleased him. Maybe it was some animalistic thing that was left over from Shukaku. He would be sure to take advantage of this new knowledge in the future. Shortly after this exchange, he fell asleep.
The next morning he woke up before Sakura did. He had slept better last night than he had in ages. Her back was to him, and her hair was fanned out across the pillow behind her. He scooted a bit closer and nuzzled her neck. Then he took a deep breath, and inhaled the scent that was purely Sakura.
"Gaara? What are you doing?" she asked.
He froze. He had thought that she was asleep, but he guessed that she had just been laying there. Damn. There really wasn't anything to say to explain his actions. He had done it simply because something had urged him to. So he decided to ignore her question.
She didn't know why he had done it, but for reasons unknown to her, she had liked it. When he had nuzzled her she felt cherished. Figuring she wouldn't get an answer out of him, she turned to face him and decided to ask a different question. "Do you want anything for breakfast?"
It took him a while to answer, but eventually he replied with a, "Sure."
She sat up and looked down at his face. "Are pancakes ok with you?"
"Yes." He said.
"Alright." She crawled over him and went into the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, there was a huge stack of pancakes, some eggs, and bacon sitting on the kitchen counter. Gaara walked in, freshly showered, and still shirtless. She felt the heat rising to her cheeks and groaned inwardly. Why? Why did he have to be shirtless and wet? Trying to ignore him, she put together two plates and set one down on his end of the table.
" Sakura, this is enough to feed a small army." He said, somewhat in awe.
"Well breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I didn't know how much you usually eat." She said, sitting down.
"I don't usually eat. I told you so last night." He repeated.
"Well when you're with me you do." She told him, pouring syrup over her pancakes. They ate in silence. When they were done she noticed that Gaara had eaten everything on his plate, but chose not to say anything about it. He did the dishes again, just as he had the night before.
She went into her room and got ready for her shift at the hospital. When she came out Gaara was already dressed in his red battle outfit.
"Why don't you ever wear your robes when you're here?" she asked curiously.
"Why doesn't your Hokage ever wear her robes when she visits?" he responded, raising what could be called a brow at her. "They are extremely stifling and uncomfortable. If an attack occurs, it can be difficult to fight in them." He explained.
"Oh." She felt kind of stupid for asking now, but since Gaara didn't say anything about it, she figured he thought nothing of it, and so decided not to either.
They left her apartment then and walked down the street in silence. He had decided to walk her to the hospital, since it was on his way to Hokage Tower. She had protested of course, but he was nothing if not a gentleman. He wanted everyone to see him with Sakura, and know that they were friends. That way she would have another layer of protection when he wasn't around. Not that she needed it, but he liked to be sure.
They had a routine going by the next two days. He would arrive at her apartment after work, where she would already have dinner ready. When it was over he would do the dishes and then they would go to sleep. He didn't nuzzle her again, much to both their dislike, after getting caught the first time. Then in the morning she would make breakfast while he showered. They would eat, after which he would do the dishes, and then he would walk her to work. It was very comfortable for him. But Temari pointed out something very important on their last day in Konoha. "What are you going to do when we are back in Suna?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, slightly confused. What could she be talking about?
"I mean, how are you going to sleep without Sakura?" his sister asked.
"I will have the teddy bear. It has been staying in her room the whole time we've been here, so everything should be fine for another few weeks or so. By then it will be time for the Chuunin Exams, and I can stay with her when that is happening." He explained.
"Only you could come up with something so ridiculously stupid Gaara." The blonde said with a roll of her eyes before walking away.
He became even more confused. What did she mean by that? It was a full proof plan, one he had thought long and hard about the night before. He got back to Sakura's apartment just as she was leaving.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I was going to say goodbye to you and your sister before you left." She answered, looking up at him.
"Oh. There is no need. I was looking for you anyways." He said, becoming slightly nervous.
"What for?" she asked, looking at him curiously.
He held out his hand, which contained a small, wrapped bundle. "I saw this the other day and thought you might like it. Think of it as a thank you present." She cautiously reached out and took it from him. Then, piece by piece, she slowly unwrapped his gift. Inside was a small hourglass, filled with white sand. "It's a special form of sand that can only be made in the hottest parts of the earth. It is so white in color that in fact, if you hold it up to the light, small rainbows will fly off the sand and onto the walls." The redhead explained as she looked at it in wonder.
"Thank you." She said, wrapping her arms around his waist in an embrace. Surprisingly enough, he didn't mind as much this time as he normally would have. He even went as far as to gently wrap his arms around her shoulders, attempting to return her hug. Growing slightly embarrassed with the contact, he said, "I must leave now."
"Oh. Right." She said, letting go of him and blushing slightly. She couldn't believe he had hugged her back, and when he had, she'd felt so content that she wanted to stay there forever. "I'll come with you so that I can say goodbye to Temari."
They walked in silence, as they usually did, and when they arrived everyone else in the village was there to see them off. The sand siblings left quickly, because Gaara hated having all that attention on himself, and arrived in Suna two and a half days later.
That night, when it was time for him to go to sleep, he pulled out the newly Sakura-smelling teddy bear and got in bed. But for some reason he just couldn't fall asleep. The bear smelled exactly like Sakura, so what was the problem? He yanked it closer and buried his face in the bear's fur. Suddenly, he pulled away from the bear as if he had been struck by lightning. That was the problem. The bear didn't feel the same way in his arms that Sakura did. It wasn't the bear that helped him sleep, it was Sakura. Her feel, her smell, even her presence. That's what made him feel peaceful enough to sleep. He got out of bed and left a note on his dresser, informing Temari and Kankuro where he was going. This epiphany was so great, that he had to share it with the pink haired medic as soon as possible. He left his room in a whirl of sand, hoping that he could teleport as far as Konoha in one go.
Her entire day was horrible after Gaara and Temari left. She'd gone home to make herself dinner, and around the time that Gaara usually showed up, she had turned towards her living room expectantly, only to realize that he wouldn't be back for another few weeks. Then she realized that for the first time in three days, she would have to do the dishes, and cursed inwardly. After she finished that, she showered and got ready for bed. But when it was time for her to sleep, she couldn't. She was freezing cold, and her bed felt entirely too big. There wasn't a solid, warm surface for her to lie against.
Hitting a stroke of genius, she went into the living room and lay down on the couch. It wasn't the same, but it was close enough. A few minutes later, she fell off, having moved just a bit too far. So, in a huff, she snatched her blankets off the couch and went back into her room. She sat on the edge of her bed, and stared at the hourglass Gaara had given her.
Truly, she had never received a more beautiful or thoughtful gift from anyone, not even her parents. It even reminded her of him, in every aspect. But thinking of him made her sad, because, truth be told, she missed him. She missed his warmth, his solidity, and his shirtlessness. Somehow, she had confused helping out a friend for something more. The fact that he wouldn't be there in the morning only made her sadder, so she gave up on thinking and once again, tried to go to sleep.
It had been two days since Gaara had left and already she looked like a zombie. She couldn't sleep at all. People at work were even starting to notice her haggard appearance. Going home that night, she decided to try the one thing that could work now. A sleeping pill. She'd never used one before, but heard that they worked really well. She could not allow her sleepless nights to affect her work at the hospital. It was too important.
When she got home she did the usual. Showered, made dinner, ate it, and did the dishes. As she made her way towards her room she felt a familiar presence. She ran into her bedroom and turned on the lights, freezing in shock at what she saw. Standing next to her window was none other than Gaara.
"Gaara? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you have just now been arriving in Suna?" she asked, confused and yet happy at the same time.
"Everyone is in Suna. I arrived with them but came back when I realized something." He said, turning towards her.
She gave him a puzzled look. "What did you realize?" she asked.
He walked forward until he was in front of her, staring at her intensely the whole time. "I need you."
Now she was not only confused, but surprised. "What?"
"When I got back to Suna, I realized that it wasn't the bear that helped me sleep, or your scent. It was you. For some reason you bring me peace. And then I realized that I missed you. I missed holding you at night, waking up to you every morning, watching you blush every time I entered the room, your cooking, the way you think and act, everything."
Her mouth quirked up at the edges when she heard that. "So what do you plan on doing about it?"
"I have it all figured out. Tomorrow we can go to the Hokage and ask her to transfer you to Suna to work on our medical program when the Chuunin Exams are done. We can ask her as a favor to Suna. While you are there you will stay with me, and we can see how things go from there." He explained.
"Why?" she asked, raising a brow. She would not uproot herself for just no reason, despite the fact that the thought of staying with him excited her.
"Because I want all of you, not just what I've seen late at night or in the mornings. I want to see you whenever I feel like it, and not have to travel such a great distance to do so. And in return you can have all of me, though you may not like some of it." He said, beginning to grow unsure of himself at her lack of a real answer. Perhaps he had been too forward, and was instead scaring her away.
Sakura just couldn't believe her ears. Gaara was asking her to be his girlfriend. Well, sort of anyways. He must be dead serious, because this was the most she had ever heard him speak, and that knowledge made her smile. She looked up into his anxious gaze and said, "I missed you too." He looked startled by her admission. "I missed your warmth, your solidity, your dishwashing, the strange way you think, and your companionship. I missed you walking me to work every morning and eating dinner with me every night. It wasn't until you left that I realized I was lonely. And I will take all of you. Because when you care that much about a person, you have to take everything, even if you don't like some of it. And the same goes for you. I can be quite stubborn sometimes, and can be very difficult to handle." She said, smiling up at him.
He smirked and leaned down to her face. "Then I will just have to learn to handle you the right way." Then he pulled her to him, their lips meeting in a kiss. She would have melted right then and there if it weren't for his arms holding her. Gaara's lips were the softest things she had ever felt before. And he wasn't trying to dominate the kiss. It was almost a light peck, as if he was afraid she didn't mean what she had said. How wrong he was. Before he could pull away, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and responded to his kiss with enthusiasm. Eventually she pulled away, breathless, and said, "Can we go to bed now? I haven't gotten a wink of sleep since you left."
He smiled then. A genuine, heart-stopping smile. "That's my line." And with that they went into her room and got more sleep than either had had in what felt like years.
Tsunade leaned back in her chair and smiled smugly to herself. She knew what had been going on between her student and the Fifth Kazekage for a while now. When they had entered her office that morning, she knew she was doomed. Refusing their request not only meant a possible war with Suna, but insubordination from Sakura. Both could be very stubborn and pigheaded, and she wouldn't stand a chance going head-to-head with the both of them. And anyways, it was a good idea to have Sakura go help the medical program in Suna. Should her relationship with Gaara blossom into anything serious, she could always become the hospital's head. And if it ended in tragedy, at least she would always know where the man she needed to kill was. Either way Tsunade looked at it, it was a win-win situation.