Chapter 1

She was beautiful. He knew it every time he looked at her. Every time she filled his senses and his mind with her bright colour. Every time his trembling fingertips brushed her soft, soft skin. Every time she laughed or called to talk to him. She was bright, beautiful, burning like the sunlight… and she would never love him back.

It was half past four in the very early morning. The Kazekage was still awake and sorting through the paperwork in his office. He shuffled and reshuffled the papers, reading paragraph after mindless paragraph. It didn't seem to make any sense. Pinching his nose against his permanently tired eyes, he bent lower over the desk and tried again. Something about…. What was that?

He sighed, snapping back upright and slamming his hand against the desk in frustration. He was just too tired for this. Why couldn't he sleep? He tried. He really tried. He would lie down on the couch in his office or in his bed, close his eyes and everything. He drank milk. He ate chicken. He read boring books. He had run half a marathon. He had even taken a bath... with bubbles. Nothing worked.

It wasn't that he didn't feel tired either. He was exhausted, constantly and permanently exhausted, and could find no release from it. Eventually his body would give out on him and he would collapse into a kind of fitful slumber, only to wake up a few hours later, stiff and sore and almost as tired as he had fallen asleep. He had tried the forced sleep jutsu and it was hardly any better. His medic ninja told him that it was because his body wasn't used to sleep. He had no established sleeping pattern. It would take time to adjust. They gave him medication. It was worse than the insomnia.

He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, sighing again. This was hell. For sixteen years he had housed the Shukaku, the fearsome one-tailed beast of evil chakra, in his own body. It had tortured him, tormented him, kept him awake in a kind of living nightmare, not daring to sleep because if he did – if he let go for an instant – then Shukaku would rise up inside him and he would be stuck in a true hell, far worse than he could imagine.

Now that monster was gone, stolen by the bastards from Akatsuki, and for the first time he realized that the very thing that tortured him had also protected him; saved him from himself. It had healed the damage to his body, restored his cells and refreshed his energy, undoing the harm it caused by keeping him awake. All he had needed was to sit quietly and rest for a little bit from time to time and he had been fine. It had been bearable, existable. Now Shukaku was gone. The damage went unchecked.

He had never known sleep and suddenly his body was crying out for it, demanding it in a command he did not know how to obey. Tiredness bit into his body like a rabid dog and he could not break free of it. It was hell, torture far beyond what Shukaku had put him through, and there was no possible way of escaping this time.

Gaara stood, adjusting his robes, and walked the few paces across the room to the windows. Dawn in the desert was a majestic sight. A plethora of pinks and reds and oranges spilled into the untouched sky, staining its twinkling starlight. The new day kissed the sandstone walls and houses of Suna village, turning the dull yellow orbs into shining beacons in the desert. The wind stirred lose sand in the empty streets and Suna's collection of desert birds and other wildlife stirred and set about finding breakfast before the humans grew too noisy and disturbed them.

He placed a hand against the window frame, feeling the cool condensation seeping down through his protective sand coating to his aching skin. Suna village was beautiful. He knew it. The desert was beautiful. It was the first true beauty he had ever known in his lonely existence and, like a little boy with his first true love, he kept running back to it, struggling to let go. Its people had feared him as a child, but now they respected him. Dare he say it, they even loved him. He had become Kazekage, Suna's leader, caring for it and nurturing it, watching over it and guiding it. However often he might or might not leave, Suna was always foremost in his heart.

A rattling sound from the far depths of his office disturbed him from his thoughts. It was a cavernous place, made more so by the bare stone walls traditional in Suna, and filled with little more than the most essential office furniture; a desk, chairs, pot plants… Still the one thing that was probably uniquely his was the large hamster cage in the far corner in the shade of a large pot plant. (1) It had been a present from his two siblings for his last birthday and currently said present was suspended upside down, halfway up the corner of its cage, gnawing at the bars to make it clear that now was a time when it wanted attention.

Gaara sighed and made his way across the room to answer the call. The hamster hurrying to climb on his hand the moment he undid its door, evidently keen to remind him that he had more responsibilities than a mere member of the five most powerful ninja villages. It sat there, perched on his wrist close to his body, and groomed its whiskers. The faintest of smiles crossed Gaara's face and he ran a solitary finger over the little creature's back. It paused in its activity, staring up at its human caregiver with a puzzled expression. Turning its little head, it investigated the finger. The tiny pink nose continually twitched in excitement as it followed the digit over Gaara's arm and then, apparently satisfied, it dove up Gaara's sleeve, happily burrowing its way up to his shoulder.

For a moment Gaara stood still watching the vigorous little bump crawling up his arm, but then he returned to the other side of the room and the windows from which he could see Suna. Like virtually all the windows in the village they were small, round and portal shaped, designed to let in light but not start working like a miniature greenhouse under the furious desert sun. Whoever had designed the Kazekage's office though had seriously undermined this effect by inserting an entire row of them... and they were about twice the normal size too. Apparently being a Kazekage meant being able to endure your own personal sauna between the hours of nine and four each day.

On the upside though it did provide a fabulous view of Suna village. Gaara spun his desk chair around and settled himself in it, watching as the sun established itself in the sky. The hamster clambered out of the neck of his robes, and hesitantly perched over his collarbones pawing the fabric with his tiny pink paws. It took one step forward then another, bracing its weight with its front legs, and not so much climbed as tumbled down the Kazekage's front landing in a curled-up ball on his lap. Almost immediately it got up, and scurried off determinedly towards a knee for further climbing practice.

Gaaza scooped him up gently before he got there. Carefully he fed the hamster from one hand to the next, letting it run on a never-ending walkway instead. It bounded along happily; seemingly confident that if it just kept going eventually it would get somewhere interesting.

The early sunlight was almost fully established now and it fell on the Kazekage's pale milky face in a rich shimmering gold. His crimson hair became slightly orange in the glow. As he turned his head in the sunlight, his fringe shifted a little revealing the blood-red scar on his forehead. The kanji character for love shone vividly in the morning light. His hidden ninja village started to stir below him and the Kazekage knew that soon he would need to officially start his day, whether he had rested or not.

(1) A reference to my other Gaara story, 'Gaara's Little Friend'. Couldn't resist. ;0$