A/N: The story takes place after they retrieve Gaara and Chiyo Obaasama gives up her life to bring the Kazekage back. I've always thought that Chiyo Obaasama's final speech on the Kazekage arc was one of the most emotional things the series had ever offered.
Minato's "You made me the fourth hokage… you made me a man…" speech comes a close second. XD
When Spring Came to the Desert
This life of ours would not cause you sorrow
if you thought of it as like
the mountain cherry blossoms
which bloom and fade in a day.
He had seen her visit Chiyo Obaasama's grave for a total of eighty six times in the past seven years and two months. It was like her biological clock was programmed that she'd come to Suna once every month, bringing candles and sweets and flowers that he knew did not bloom in the desert, and she would lay them on the very lonely tombstone at the outskirts of the village. He then started to wonder why a Konoha shinobi would travel two and a half days to Suna just to clean a grave.
He did not know what made him watch her each and every time she visited, but the moment she entered the village's sand barrier, he would know, and even from the top of his tower, even when he was piled with paperwork, even when he was in the middle of a very important meeting, he would excuse himself and make his way down the very spot where she would be, and watch her from afar.
On her first visit, she had paid her respects to him for the first and last time in the span of seven years and two months. That was the first time they ever got to talk.
"Greetings from Konoha, Kazekage-sama," she said formally.
Gaara had never really been good at preambles, and he had just nodded at her every word – some things she was asked by the Lady Hokage to relate to him, most probably. He had seen in those emerald-green eyes the uncertainty that he brought her, what with his scarce words, minute responses, and that stoic expression that came naturally with his face. He took in her body language; the self-conscious way she wrung her fingers, those fingers sometimes brushing at her face, as if she knew her cheeks were stained with sand, as were her clothes, and pretty much everything else from her light-pink hair to her tiny exposed toes.
He was not skilled enough to put her at ease with words and small talk, so he decided to ask her something about a common denominator between them.
"How is Uzumaki Naruto?"
At the mention of the name, her face lit up like a bulb, and she started to chatter away about the blonde jinjuuriki, how he was training really hard, the he was healthy and that he would want more than anything to visit sometime.
Gaara nodded at her words again, sometimes saying a formal "I see," or "that's interesting," to show her he was listening. He had actually thought he was doing a good job, until she started to ask him questions.
"How about you? Kazekage-sama? How have you been? It's been a while…"
This was a very inappropriate statement, Gaara thought, for he did not know her well, and she did not know him well. How could it have been "a while" for perfect strangers who were merely connected by a blonde boy that came by the name of Uzumaki Naruto?
"Yes… It's been… a while," he said anyway. And that was the end of their small talk. He had asked what she needed. She told him she just wanted to visit Chiyo Obaasama's grave. He granted her full access to the village. She was grateful.
And that was that.
On her sixth visit, Gaara noticed her pattern. She would come to Suna on the second Sunday of the month. Unconsciously, perhaps out of curiosity, he had scheduled and rescheduled important meetings and treaties around that certain day, and leisurely watched her clean Chiyo Obaasama's tomb, lighting candles for her, sweeping off sand from the engraved name, pouring sake over it, then praying.
The ritual took more or less an hour to complete, and she did this every single time she came.
After this, she would visit the greenhouse to check on the medical herbs she had donated when she first visited. These were, as she had termed it, "a sign of friendship". She would tend to the plants and talk to the medic present, sharing a joke or two, make small talk for about an hour or three depending on the medic. And then she would look for Temari if she was around and not in Konoha. If she was away, she would look for Kankurou, if he had the decency to stop and talk to her. His brother seemed to have developed a… fear?… of Sakura since she had saved his life from a poison not even Chiyo Obaasama was able to flush out. Every time the Konoha kunoichi tried to talk to him, he would blush and run away after making some excuse that he needed to oil his puppets.
This had Gaara amused for a few days, but he never asked Kakurou about it. He tried to convince himself that he did not care, but he did catch himself one time smiling when the thought passed his mind's eye.
After this, she would rest, most of the time sitting on the balcony of one of the guest rooms in his tower, sipping cold tea. And he would watch from above, riding his sand, hoping she would not notice.
All of these repeated every month, on the second Sunday, with him lurking unnoticed as he watched the kunoichi do the same things over and over again when she visited.
By her fourteenth visit, Gaara made his way to the grave to watch her like a lowlife, and discovered she was not alone. Naruto was with her. This frightened him, and elated him at the same time. Though he was happy to see his friend, the fact that now he did not have an excuse not to approach her scared him.
Naruto had noticed him, as always. It seemed that the boy was gifted with noticing things not worth noticing at all. He waved at him and called him over. He silently complied.
They did with Sakura's routine while Naruto talked to him about nonsensical things; like the weather, and Akatsuki, and ramen. The two men had trailed Sakura around like puppies as she went on with treating the plants in the greenhouse, talking to the medic, looking for Temari and then for Kankurou. Both his siblings could not be found and she ended up retiring early with the two of them drinking cold tea on her guest room balcony.
It was the longest tea time Gaara ever had.
There were times within the year that Gaara was not able to spy on Sakura's monthly habit of paying her respects to Chiyo Obaasama, but when he had the time, he would go to the grave himself and touch the flowers that Sakura left for their elder, wondering sometimes what the plant's name was. She always brought something different each time, and he, although he did not appreciate natural beauty (as there was nothing to appreciate in nature in a desert) he had always thought she chose the prettiest flowers.
The third year she had started to visit marked a wonderful breakthrough between Konoha and Suna when Shikamaru Nara came with Sakura on her thirty-second visit, asking him for the hand of his older sister, Temari. The man, who was two years his sister's junior, did not look like he could handle responsibility, but Temari was smitten, and the Lady Hokage was more than persistent that Shikamaru was one of her best shinobi. Gaara doubted it, but if it made his sister happy, there were no reasons for him to hold out his blessings.
They were married on Sakura's thirty-sixth visit.
The wedding was held in Suna, and it was the first time he had seen Sakura out of her usual shinobi attire.
It was the first time he had seen her ankles.
And her cleavage..
Her hair, her peculiarly colored hair that she seemed to have decided to grow long past her shoulders, was tied in an elaborate bun at the back of her head. She had a flower tucked behind her ear. Gaara thought that she was probably the most beautiful girl in Suna at the moment, but he decided to keep that to himself else he faced the wrath of the bride.
The only thing that ruined her appearance was the color of her dress.
It was purple.
He did not know why it bothered him too much, but he decided to ask her about it when they bumped against each other that night on the drink bar when he went to get a refill of his cider.
"Why purple, you ask?" she slurred over the music. It was obvious she's had a drink or two too many, and Gaara watched her patiently as she giggled and tried to balance herself on the table. "I'll tell you why, Kazekage-sama." She tried to lean over him, as if to whisper something in his ear. She tripped, arms flailing to her side. Gaara, a bit surprised, tried to rescue her, but was beaten to it with his sand.
The sand formed an elegant pillar right in front of Sakura, where her palms landed safely, and she giggled again when it dissolved into nothing when she was back on her own feet. She stepped forward, as if nothing happened, and brought her face near his cheek, then whispered, "Bridesmaids who wear ugly dresses do it on purpose, so they don't outshine the bride." With that, she pushed away from him and started dancing alone in the sea of couples on the dance floor, where an embarrassed Naruto quickly took her in his arms and led her to a chair, where she doubled over and vomited on her shoes. Everyone around them let out an insufferable "Ooooooohhhhh," as they crowded around to help her.
He listened to the commotion, not really seeing clearly. He was in shock. Not because Sakura had instantaneously killed the mood of the party in one disgusting scene, but because it was the first time his sand had tried to protect someone other than himself without him commanding it to do so.
On Sakura's forty-third visit, Gaara had made his way to the grave only to see Kankurou there. They were talking in hushed whispers, though loud enough for him to hear.
"I've always thought about you saving my life back then, and your people saving our Kazekage," Kankurou was saying, a sober look on his almost always serious face. "And it's not like we're strangers. Suna has gotten to love you, as if you're already one of us… so I was hoping, if maybe… just maybe, you can stay here. For good. With me."
Gaara was not stupid. His brother had proposed to her. All he could do was blink, and he did not even realize that he was holding his breath, waiting for Sakura's reply.
She had lowered her eyes then, a small pained smile on her little mouth. "I'm very, very flattered. I'm glad that the Sand people think of me as such… but I can't stay."
And that was what started the world moving again for Gaara. He released his breath, watched as Sakura gave Kankurou an apologetic hug, and Kankurou told her that the offer will always stand. She had blushed at the last statement, but did not say anything as she resumed cleaning the grave, and Kankurou left, shoulders sagging, defeated.
On the fifth year, supposedly her fifty-ninth day of visit, Sakura did not come on the second Sunday of the month. This had worried Gaara to no end. Had she been ambushed along the way? He was not informed of any sandstorms for the past three days. Yet she did not come on time. A messenger pigeon came in her place with news from Konoha.
The slug princess, Tsunade, had decided to give up her title of Hokage to Uzumaki Naruto.
The news made Gaara's eyes widen in happiness.
Until two days later another messenger pigeon came with the message saying that Tsunade, the Fifth Hokage has passed away, choosing to stop using her youth jutsu and rest, knowing Konoha was in good hands.
And that was when Sakura came in the dead of night, three days after Gaara had heard of Tsunade's death. He felt her coming through the sand barrier in a hurry. He was in the middle of a meeting with the elders, and he simply up and left without saying anything.
He found her in front of Chiyo Obaasama's grave, staring at the darkness. She did not bring candles or sweets, but there was a flower in her hand, a single red desert rose, clutched between her fingers. The thorns were invisible as they pricked her skin, now a bit bloodied. Her small shoulders were still, as if frozen.
And that was the first time Gaara had felt useless. He just stood there dumbly, watching her do nothing but blankly look down at Chiyo Obaasama's grave, as if asking the elder why people had to die. She then started pounding on the ground with her bloodied fist, and latched on one word, "Why?" saying it over and over again silently.
Gaara felt his face go grim, and watched as his sand gathered hazily around the girl, making her look up. The light of the moon made the grains sparkle like fireflies as the sand made Sakura stand.
Slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Gaara looked at her and held out his hand to her. She turned to look at him, and she hesitated but a minute before she flew into his arms. And that was when she broke down crying, all her strong masks had shattered at human contact, and Gaara did not say anything, because he did not know what people were supposed to say to make things better when they really can't get any better. He settled with stroking her long hair, and was not surprised at the texture of it. It was smooth in his hands, as the weather in Konoha was not as harsh as the desert.
"Grieve. It's the only thing you can do," was what he said, and she cried harder, beating at his chest angrily. It confused Gaara, who was not used to feeling pain, because her punches hurt on his skin, because his sand was not shielding him from her beatings.
He wondered why, but decided it did not matter. In the midst of her tears, he grabbed her wrist gently and kissed her.
He had never kissed a woman in his life, but he supposed this was how you did it, because Sakura did not complain, and she dug her fingers into his scalp, pulling at his red locks until it hurt. Dragging her nails down his neck until it hurt. Biting down on his lower lip until it hurt.
He did not know pain could be this sweet.
Sakura, realizing what she just did, dashed at her eyes with the back of her hand, muttered an apology, and ran away from him. She left him feeling empty and confused, but at the same time greatly enlightened that he had fallen in love with a girl by just watching her cleaning graves and bringing candles and sweets and flowers for five years.
He picked up the desert rose she had dropped from her flight, and he placed it on the grave, and offered a prayer.
The next month after, on her sixtieth visit, Gaara met her again by Chiyo Obaasama's grave. He watched her finish with her monthly routine, and approached her when she finished her prayers.
"You… respect her very much," he said to her silently, as he stood by her a few feet away, afraid that if he came too close, she would bolt away from him again like last month.
"She died an honorable death, giving her life, so that you could live. It's the greatest act of love one can do for another." She wrapped her arms around herself.
Gaara could see she still had that faraway look in her eyes, as if she hadn't been sleeping well. "She will never be forgotten. As Tsunade will never be forgotten."
And that was when Gaara once again took the liberty in taking her into his arms, wrapping her in a tight embrace. It was the weirdest experience he's ever had, since this was probably the only human connection he has ever established in his life, without his sand – which thought that any contact was a threat to his wellbeing – getting in the way.
"You ran away from me last time you were here."
"What were you expecting anyone to do when the Kazekage suddenly kisses them?"
"I'm… sorry…" He apologized.
And that was when she looked at him straight in the eye, making him insecure.
And then she kissed him.
While she did the same thing over and over when she visited; cleaning the grave, visiting the greenhouse, tending to the plants, making small talk, then resting in her room, her sixtieth visit deviated from habit, meaning she skipped all the things from between cleaning the grave and resting in her room.
With the small detail of having the Kazekage in the room with her.
The experience, Gaara thought to be a mix of excitement, confusion, pain, pleasure. Everything was very new to him, as he found out she too was no expert.
Gaara classified women's clothing to be the most complicated things ever created on earth. Taking them off needed skill no normal shinobi man could possess in this lifetime. Thinking this, though, he wondered how she had successfully stripped him of his clothing in a blink of an eye, whereas he clumsily took his time in peeling her of hers, afraid that he might hurt her; he had no idea she would be this soft.
But he supposed love-making came naturally with human beings. It all happened in a blur of sizzling hands on sizzling skin, lips and teeth, legs and hips moving together and the most amazing feeling there could ever be in the world that Gaara did not know existed until now.
A few eternities later, he lay in bed with her looking into his face, once again making him feel insecure. She reached up with warm fingers, tracing the red mark on the left side of his forehead. "Love, eh?"
"Love…" Gaara repeated, kissing her wrist and closing his eyes. "Love myself. Only myself. Or so that was what it used to mean… I… forget…" He closed his eyes and groaned as he felt her mouth leaving tiny butterfly kisses on his chest and neck.
From her sixty-first to her seventy-first visit, she would come bringing more flowers she had wanted to show him. He had shown genuine interest when she brought with her a flower-peppered branch of a cherry blossom, which her name was derived from, on her seventy-second arrival.
He asked if he could have it, and she said yes. He placed it in a glass jar filled with sand to preserve it. He placed said flower in his office, which he would look at longingly every time he missed her.
On Sakura's seventy-fifth visit, Kankurou found out about them. He did not get mad, but treated Sakura like she were invisible. When Gaara had proposed to have a talk with him, Sakura merely shook her head. When Gaara insisted, she threw him across the bed, cracking his head on the wall in the process, making him wonder if his sand had forsaken him and refused to protect him anymore when they were about to make love.
Feeling quite revengeful, he called upon his sand jutsu and ripped every single piece of clothing she had on, down to her underwear. She had giggled like a schoolgirl, dangerously arousing him.
On her seventy-ninth visit, Kankurou confronted her, apologized for being childish, and they went out for some tea. She learned that Temari was with child then, and she couldn't wait to tell Gaara of the good news that he was going to be an uncle.
He did not know how to react to the news. When he just grunted, Sakura attacked her with jabs with her fingers on his side. It was a weakness she had discovered over the months they were dating, and Gaara could not comprehend why his sand did not protect him from her tickles. When she went overboard, he would pin her down with his sand on a chair or a wall, and she would laugh at him while accusing him of foul play. Then she would give him "the look", where she would jut her lower lip seductively and bat her lashes at him while undressing him with her eyes. He would be forced to release her then, and she would use that opportunity to tickle him some more.
"I'm pleased that Temari and Shikamaru Nara are having a child," he confessed to her as she snuggled against him in under the covers on the night before she went back to Konoha.
And that was the closest thing to honesty that he had ever confessed to her.
The record was broken on her eighty-second visit. She was cleaning the grave when he appeared out of nowhere, grabbed her shoulders roughly and rammed her against the rock wall behind Chiyo Obaasama's grave. He forced his lips against hers, pulled back wildly and said; "I love you. Marry me."
She stared at him with wide eyes, then she began to cry. She left without finishing her ritual, and left Suna in a heartbeat, leaving Gaara in anagrams, wondering what he did wrong.
On her eighty-third visit, she said yes, making Gaara the happiest man in the Wind country. He asked why she ran away from him when he asked her. She said it was to create dramatic tension. He had no idea what she was talking about.
He accompanied her back to Konoha with an escort, where he asked for her hand in marriage from the Sixth Hokage, Naruto, who was bored out of his wits from the ton of paperwork piling on his desk.
The blonde had stared him up and down suspiciously before his face broke into a wide smile, and Naruto almost hugged Gaara, had the Kazekage not threatened on killing him if he dared try to do so.
On the seventh year and two months, on Sakura's eighty-sixth visit, they were married.
And spring came to the desert, and the wedding was wonderful, where it was a girl named Hyuuga Hinata who drank too much and threw all over the place, and it was the Sixth Hokage who personally escorted her to a room in the Kazekage tower where they didn't come out until morning.