This is a one-shot dedicated to EmprssOfEvilBunnies! She wrote a message to that flamer from my Letters to Sasuke story, so it was the least I could do to write this for her. She requested GaaSaku, so here it is!
This is for you, EmpressOfEvilBunnies, my twin-without-the-whole-blood-relative-thing!
Well, I hope you all like it! :)
Please read and review!
When you fall for someone, it happens in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes you run smack into the person you come to love; sometimes you call them a rude name because they tripped you — accidentally or otherwise; sometimes you're introduced by a friend.
And sometimes, if your name is Sabaku no Gaara, you fall for a girl by attempting to crush the life from her body.
He met her for the first time when he was twelve.
At the time, he thought nothing of her besides that she was a weird girl with weird hair and weird mood-wings.
Oh, yeah — and she had a thing for some brooding guy (Sooski? Saike?) that liked to throw dirt clods at people.
So, after death-threatening his older brother for disgracing his village with his idiotic actions (seriously — revealing his jutsu just to kill some loud-mouthed brat with an even bigger loud-mouthed brat? Pathetic), he delivered a formal — completely un-heart-felt — apology. He demanded Mr. Cool's name (damn it, what was his name?) and disappeared with his siblings.
He didn't see her again until the first stage of the Chunin Exams.
By Kami, she was smart. As in, genius smart.
She'd been able to answer every single question on the test, while he had been forced to use his Daisan no Me — his Third Eye Jutsu. (He knew because he used his third eye to copy down all of her answers.) The Uchiha (seriously, what the hell was his name?) and Hyuga prodigies had utilized their Kekkei Genkai to cheat; they hadn't been able to answer the questions.
He'd also seen the way she'd begun to raise her hand for the last question.
Because her teammate, the Kyubi Kitsune Jinchuriki, had been trembling.
He didn't see her at all during the second stage in the Forest Of Death. In the third stage preliminaries, however, he spotted her standing with her teammates.
She had been talking to Whatever-The-Fuck-His-First-Name-Was, clearly worried. He saw as the boy shook her off and snapped harsh words at her. She seemed hurt by whatever he'd said, but she never stopped trying to help him.
He'd watched her and that blond-haired thing battle it out and come to a tie. While she definitely needed work and more training, he was somewhat impressed when she quite literally shoved the other girl out of her mind.
And intrigued at the mention of a second soul within her body.
She was obviously no jinchuriki, so where had that other soul come from?
He saw her for the fourth time at the real third stage of the exam.
As he walked into the arena, he immediately identified her in the stands by her exotically-colored hair. She didn't seem to notice him.
He saw how she perked up and cheered loudly when the Kyubi kicked the Hyuga's ass. He also saw how she lit up like the sun when the Uchiha (it began with an 'S'; he knew it…) finally appeared. He took it upon himself in that moment to pound What's-His-Face into the ground.
She was clearly devoted to him, and he was clearly disgusted with her.
It was like a repeat of his childhood as the Ichibi Tanuki Jinchuriki.
So he made it his duty to kill the stupid boy.
That was how he had managed to survive, after all; he just killed those who were a hindrance. So why not do the same for her?
As far as he could see, his logic had no flaws.
Until he lost all control, that is.
He'd overestimated his limit; he'd snapped and called upon the Ichibi before he even realized what he was doing.
But he couldn't stop now.
Not when he was so close to killing the bastard and setting the girl free.
Yeah, maybe he'd screwed up the plan to take over Konoha — and, yeah, maybe he hadn't exactly picked the best place to kill Sauski or whatever.
But, fuck it; he was gonna kill him, and he was gonna kill him now.
Of course, as soon as he formed the thought, their fight was interrupted by Baki and Gemmi (or whatever his name was; Gaara wasn't good with names). To his immense irritation, Baki ordered Kankuro and Temari to take him away.
It wasn't until they practically carried him from the village that he realized exactly how tired he was.
They'd ran for a while — and damn it, the Uchiha kept catching up. That bug guy (he didn't know his name, either) showed up and battled with Kankuro, while Temari and Gaara kept going. Sazuki — screw it; he was now dubbed 'Uchiha' — eventually caught up again and took down his sister. Then he and Gaara had exchanged blows, and he'd even beaten the Uchiha down before the Kyubi Kitsune Jinchuriki burst in and kicked him in the face.
That had hurt, damn it.
Then, Gaara had seen his chance.
The Uchiha was lying face-down on a thick branch — one of many among their tree-filled battlefield. He was obviously unable to move.
Vulnerable. Unable to defend himself.
That was it. Gaara was going to finally kill him.
Then, of all people, she had appeared.
Right in front of the Uchiha, holding a kunai.
Gaara couldn't help it; he struck out in fury and swatted her away, knocking her unconscious. She was stuck to a tree, encased in a large hand of sand. The unconscious tears in her eyes only served to fuel his anger.
Why would she do that?
Didn't she understand?
He was doing it for her! He was helping her!
He felt raw, as if he didn't have any skin.
He'd only seen her five times in his entire life, but he'd come to trust her. She was naïve and kind and innocent. She was the only person he could depend on to remain that way.
But now — now, she had betrayed him.
She had defended that bastard — against him!
And then, as he slowly crushed the life from her with his sand throughout the fight, he fell for her.
And damn, did he fall hard.
Three years later, he had yet to pick himself up from the fall. He was still lying on the ground, struggling to climb to his feet.
He made progress — a lot of progress.
Going three years without seeing her face had done wonders for him.
But it all came crashing back down as soon as he opened his eyes.
Took in the scene before him.
Realized what had happened.
He had been rescued from the clutches of the Akatsuki by none-other-than her — and the Kyubi Jinchuriki and some other Konoha shinobi, but they weren't important. He saw her, and she was just as breath-taking as he remembered; even more so, he realized, now that he was no longer influenced by Ichibi-induced hatred. Now that he saw the world through different, kinder, Naruto-like eyes.
And she was crying.
Why was she crying?
He opened his mouth to demand the head of the one that had made her cry on a silver platter.
But then he realized.
He was the one that had made her cry.
Because Chiyo-baa-sama had given her life to bring him back.
In that moment, he went numb.
He'd made her cry.
Gaara swore to himself, right then and there, that he would never make her shed another tear, or he would end his own life.
Naruto helped the Kazekage to his feet, and after barely escaping his siblings and a coupe raging (creepy) fangirls, he walked up to her. She lifted her head in surprise, really looking at him for the first time.
He saw no bitterness in those clear green eyes that were so much like his own. He saw no anger, no hate; only sorrow. He gazed at her for a long moment, thoughts warring. Then, he spoke.
"Everyone," he murmured quietly, eyes sliding down to the fallen elder, "say a prayer for Chiyo."
He saw gratitude in her face as she bowed her head, remaining silent. Quiet settled over them all as they did what he'd ordered.
He thanked Chiyo silently for the life she'd given him. For the chance she'd provided him with. Then, he opened his eyes and met her gaze evenly.
They exchanged no words, but the message was clear.
When they returned to the village, he found out about how she had saved his brother.
He turned to her with slightly wider than usual jade-green eyes, speechless. She smiled sadly at him, an action that made his breath hitch.
Then, she spoke to him for the first time.
Her voice was even more beautiful than he remembered.
"It was the least I could do."
Soft. Quiet. Subdued.
Slowly, he inclined his head to her — much lower than a Kage should to anyone not possessing the Shadow name. When he looked back up at her, she seemed pleasantly surprised.
Raised eyebrows. Slightly parted lips. The faintest dusting of red on her cheeks.
"Thank you," he said.
A true smile.
It was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen.
The Konoha shinobi stayed in Sunagakure over night to rest up; they left in the morning.
Gaara had to see her one last time before she disappeared. He didn't know when he would get the chance to meet her again, so he couldn't let the opportunity slip away. He knew exactly where to find her.
He walked down the hallway at a ground-eating pace, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. Sure, it was a bit low of him to visit his brother just to see her, but he was sure Kankuro would understand.
Not that he would ever tell him.
When they'd returned the afternoon before, she had forced Kankuro into the Sunagakure hospital so that she could check in on him that morning. He had been poisoned; and although he appeared fine, she just wanted to be sure.
As Gaara turned the corner to start down Kankuro's hallway, he froze.
She was there.
Walking toward the room.
Reaching out her hand to grab the doorknob.
He darted forward with speed only an elite shinobi could attain and grabbed her wrist. She nearly jumped out of her skin, and her wide bright green eyes flew up to meet his. He gazed at her for a moment, admiring the similarities between them.
Red hair. Pink hair. Pale green eyes. Vibrant green eyes. Short. Short. Pale. Pale. Soft-spoken (except when angry). Somewhat quiet (when not on a warpath).
They could have been twins in another life.
"G-gaara," she stammered out in surprise. "Um, good morning." She smiled up at him. "Was there something you needed?"
She didn't attempt to correct herself and call him "Kazekage-sama". He liked that.
He looked at her for a long minute before finally speaking.
"Thank you," he murmured.
She appeared even more surprised.
"You don't have to thank me again," she said, smiling brightly. "It was nothing. Kankuro's going to be just fine."
She didn't understand.
It hurt a little, but he let it go.
He hadn't been thanking her again for saving his brother's life.
He'd been thanking her for saying his name.
For smiling at him.
For being kind.
For not hating him.
For giving him that beautiful look he'd never seen before.
"You are welcome here," he said quietly, almost warmly, "whenever you wish — for as long as you wish." She blinked in astonishment. "On that day, come straight to me, no matter if I am working in my office or in a conference or sleeping at home. I will make sure you have everything you need."
She stared up at him with an expression on her face that he couldn't read. He wondered, not for the first time, what she was thinking. He wished he could read her mind.
Then, slowly, she leaned up on her toes and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek.
He went still, eyes wide. She smiled softly at him, squeezing the hand on her wrist.
"Thank you," she whispered, then disappeared into Kankuro's hospital room.
He glanced at her only briefly as the Konoha shinobi said their goodbyes at the front gates — if they could even be called gates. He shook Naruto's hand.
It was a wonderful moment for him, being able to call the blond his friend. His first friend.
But it was bittersweet.
He knew the other jinchuriki was infatuated with her.
Despite this knowledge, he still shook Naruto's hand.
Because Naruto was unaware of his own thoughts about her.
And he would not lose to him.
Or that damn Uchiha whose name he still could not recall.
It was over a year before she returned to take him up on his offer.
Gaara was in the middle of a very important conference with the Council when a knock came at the door and a messenger walked in. The Council was understandably pissed at being interrupted. Gaara, however, was on-edge.
He had instructed each of his messengers to report directly to him no matter what if she showed up. There could be no other explanation as to why a conference was being interrupted. He stood, hands braced on the table, eyes ever-so-slightly widened.
The messenger bowed. "There is someone here to see you, Kazekage-sama."
He immediately made for the door. Many of the Council members objected loudly.
"What is the meaning of this?" Baki demanded.
Gaara glanced back at him briefly, voice flat.
"I have a more important matter to attend to at the moment. Continue on without me; I trust Kankuro to make the right decisions in my place."
So, while dumbstruck, the Council was forced to call in Kankuro.
Gaara followed the messenger like a hawk, making the poor man nervous. Neither of them said a word. The Chunin — Haru — led him to his official Kage office, then disappeared. He paused before opening the doors.
She was there — hands behind her back, facing away from the door. Bent over. Looking at something.
She raised up when he entered, glancing over her shoulder with a smile, then turned to greet him. She surprised him with a hug.
"Hey, Gaara," she said, embracing him as if she'd known him since birth. After a second, she pulled back, her hands resting on his shoulders. "How have you been?" A grin twisted on her lips. "I hope I didn't interrupt anything."
"Not at all," his disagreed instantly, an obviously clue that he was glad to get away from whatever he'd been doing.
Her smile widened. She stepped back and sat on his desk. He was bewildered at her comfortable actions in his office — a room she'd never been in before — but he was grateful for it. All formalities were lost between them.
"Not gonna ask why I'm here?" she teased in a very Naruto-like fashion.
She'd clearly been spending way too much time around the blond.
He looked at her blankly, as if to say, "Why the hell does it matter?"
She laughed and shook her head incredulously. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you don't care that I came here," she remarked in amusement. He made an immediate attempt to deny that statement, only making her laugh again. "I know," she said, grin in place. "I'm only joking, you dummy."
He gazed at her in surprise for a moment, taken aback. Then, he allowed that tiny smile he always gave Naruto to show on his face.
"You should smile more often," she commented, swinging her legs like a child over the edge of his desk. "It really suits you. Oh, and Naruto says 'Hi,' by the way."
He gave a short nod, expression back to normal. "Why are you here?"
That grin of hers widened yet again.
"I thought you'd never ask," she remarked. "Surely, you haven't forgotten about the Chunin Exams? They're being held here this year."
He was surprised. "They are two weeks off," he murmured.
"I know," she agreed. "I volunteered to be the acting medic from Konoha. Because of my job, I'm required to be here at least a week-and-a-half in advance in order to provide routine check-ups for the Genin participating from my village."
Which meant that she would be staying in Sunagakure for well over a month.
Then, something in her words struck him.
Her smile was soft. "Yeah. It's been far too long since I was last here; I missed it."
He had no objections.
"Have you already arranged to stay somewhere?"
She shook her head.
"You told me to come straight to you, so I did; all I have with me is the clothes on my back — and in sealing scrolls, the supplies in my pouches, and the money in my pocket."
Gaara gave a short nod.
"Kankuro, Temari, and I have many guest rooms in our home," he offered evenly. "Staying at an inn for so long would not be wise — or cheap."
Her smile was bright and warm. Kind. Gracious.
A knock came at the door.
"Return later," Gaara growled out. "I am busy at the moment."
She snorted in amusement.
The door opened anyway.
In stamped his sister. Of course.
He should've known.
"What could be so important—"
Temari stopped her angry ranting as soon as she saw the Konoha medic. She called out her name joyfully and practically tackled the poor girl in a hug.
"Temari, you're squashing me," she choked out, gasping for breath.
"Sorry," the blond teased as she let go of her, ruffling her hair. "I'll get my fat off you so you don't suffocate."
They both laughed.
Gaara felt like a third wheel as he watched them joke and chortle like the best of friends.
Temari, as it turned out, was ready to drag the girl back to their house, only to be brought up short when she was informed that it wasn't necessary. She stared at the pair in shock for a moment before delivering a sly grin.
"Oh," she jibed wickedly. "I get it."
Gaara glared at her, while his companion turned bright red, putting both her hair and his to shame. When Kankuro found out, his reaction was much the same. Only, his taunts earned a deadly glower from both of them. Which frightened him a bit.
Temari's cooking was atrocious.
When she asked if they all liked it, Kankuro shot the Konoha med-nin a "Don't-tell-her-how-shitty-it-is-or-she'll-kill-us-all" look. So, she took it upon herself to answer Temari's question.
She smiled. "It's wonderful."
Temari beamed. "Why, thank you!" she gushed, shooting her two brothers death-glares. "At least someone enjoys my hard work!"
When she turned to leave, Kankuro scowled at the pink-haired girl.
"You suck-up," he accused. "Thanks a lot for getting me and Gaara in trouble. She'll be carrying on all night about this!"
She smirked back. "That, foolish Kankuro, is not being a suck-up; that's saving my ass. You should try it sometime. Maybe she'd stop hitting you with that wooden spoon."
He grimaced as he rubbed the back of his head unconsciously. He'd been whacked at least four times that night. (At least, he'd lost count somewhere around four; it was close enough, as far as he cared.)
"Shut up," he mumbled.
Gaara didn't say a word through the entire event.
And somehow managed to keep from grimacing at the taste of his sister's cooking.
"This will be your room," Gaara supplied, opening a door.
She glanced around with an awed smile.
It was huge. Seriously, the room was probably the size of her entire apartment.
The walls were made of some kind of stone and had been painted a warm earthy tone. The furniture was all dark wood, and the fabrics (sheets, curtains, chair upholstery) were rich dark reds and browns.
Definitely the all-star suite.
"This is a guest room?" she asked in shock.
He grunted, shifting his weight uncomfortably. She whirled around to face him, eyes lit up like an overjoyed child.
He was surprised with yet another hug. He frowned slightly, awkwardly, not knowing what to do with his hands. So he just left them hanging there and relished in the moment.
Every day was the same.
He woke up. Ate breakfast with her. Made polite conversation. Wished her farewell (or, more often than not, brought her with him) and set off for work in his office.
He realized something very important the first day she accompanied him to his office:
She was damn good at paperwork.
And fast, too.
When he stared at her after she completed an entire stack in just under two minutes, she laughed.
"Shishou always makes me do her paperwork; I've gotten used to it."
Immediately, he apologized and attempted to take the paperwork away from her. She wasn't having it. She swatted his hand away gently and smiled.
"You've got a shit load more over there to do. At least let me help lighten it."
After a bit arguing, he finally agreed.
At least it got her to stay there with him until well into the night.
Every day was not the same.
Today, a small Genin had fallen off a sandy cliff.
He'd been playing near the rocks with his teammates, screwing around like immature kids, when he fell. He was a Kumo-nin, but she still demanded to treat him. She was the most experienced, after all.
And she had sworn to herself that she would never let anyone die under her watch.
The boy's back was broken. Many of his organs had been ruptured. She spent seven hours working on him.
Before he died.
When his heartbeat flat-lined, she refused to accept it. She leapt into action and forced pulses of chakra into his body, trying to shock the boy back to life. Trying to jumpstart his heart.
It didn't work.
He remained dead.
She had failed.
He had been so young — only twelve years old. He had his whole life ahead of him. He had just passed the first and second stages of the Chunin Exam.
He'd had his whole life as a successful shinobi ahead of him, damn it! Children weren't supposed to die like that!
But he had.
And it was all gone now.
When the other medics finally forced her out of the hospital and sent her back to her temporary home, she said nothing. She did nothing.
She was just…
Blank. Cold. Unfeeling.
She sat silently on her bed, staring down at her hands in her lap. She could still see that little boy's blood all over her even though Temari had given her a shower and washed it all off. She could still feel it sticking to her skin. She could still see the light leaving his eyes.
Gaara sat beside her, hands at his sides, bracing himself. He looked at her evenly, head turned half-way in her direction.
"It wasn't your fault," he murmured. "Do not blame yourself."
She said nothing. She didn't even blink.
He laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Nothing you could have done would have saved him."
Her lips trembled slightly.
"Because I'm not good enough," she whispered, head dropping. Pale pink hair obscured her face. "I'm just too weak. I can't do anything." He heard a bitter laugh come from her. "I've never been able to do anything. I'm always the one dragging everyone down — the weakest link." Her shoulders shook. "Sasuke was right… I'll never amount to anything…"
That was the Uchiha's name.
His grip tightened on her shoulder.
"Do not ever," he ground out, eyes flashing, "talk like that — especially not in front of me."
She looked up at him in shock. Tears gathered in her eyes.
He went absolutely cold inside, tensing up.
What the hell was the matter with him? He had sworn he would never cause her to cry again, and there he went and did it.
Maybe it would be better if he really did end his own life.
Kankuro or Temari would take over as Kazekage, peace would remain with Konoha, and he wouldn't make her cry anymore.
The world, he realized, was much better off without him.
Her question was so quiet that he almost didn't hear it. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears, full of questions.
"Why are you always so kind to me?" she asked, voice trembling. "I've been nothing but a burden to you ever since we met." Her eyes flickered, and she almost seemed hurt by what she was about to ask. "Why do you never say my name?"
He gazed at her for a long moment, expression clouded, conflicting. Finally, he spoke.
"Why is it," he murmured, smoothing a few strands of pale pink hair behind her ear, "that I always make you cry?"
She stared up at him with wide eyes, shocked speechless. After a minute, her eyes squeezed closed, and her shoulders shook. A tear fell.
"There," he said quietly, wiping it away with the pad of his thumb. "Just like that."
She leaned her head against his shoulder, silently crying. He placed one arm around her lower back to steady her and rested his cheek against the top of her head.
Neither of them spoke another word.
A message had to be sent via hawk to the boy's parents the next morning.
A letter arrived a day later from them. They demanded to come to Suna and see their son's body. Their request was accepted.
Five days after the accident, they arrived.
They shoved past everyone that attempted to console them and went straight for the morgue. The mother's agonizing wails were heard all over the village.
They were civilians.
The Konoha medic sat a room away in the morgue, hunched over in a chair, her face in her hands. She had asked to be there — to punish herself for letting the boy die. Gaara stood behind her with an unreadable look on his face, one hand on the back of her chair. She forced herself to listen to every cry and tortured scream — forced herself to sit through it all, because it was her fault. If she had let the Kumo med-nin work on him, the boy would still be alive.
The noises eventually quieted down in the other room. She heard the father demand the whereabouts of the medic that had done this to their son. Gaara tensed as the door opened, jaw clenched. Slowly, the girl raised her head.
Before she had a chance to even look at the faces in front of her, a sharp slap tore across her cheek. Her head was thrown to the side. A drop of blood trickled from her mouth where'd she accidentally bitten down on the inside of her cheek. Her skin tingled where she'd been slapped.
Gaara made a move to flash forward — perhaps to punch the person that had slapped her — but she laid a hand on his forearm. His steely eyes shot down to her, and he barely contained himself. At the pace of a slug, she raised her head to gaze at the boy's parents.
His mother had been the one to hit her. Tears spilled down her cheeks, and her teeth were clenched in unfathomable hate. The medic just looked at her evenly, dark shadows marring her face below dead eyes. Her knuckles were torn; the skin had been ripped from her hands when she'd taken out her pain upon the stone walls of an abandoned building.
The father saw this, but the mother didn't. She was blind with fury.
"You did this!" she screamed at the girl. "You killed my son!"
"I know," she whispered, forcing herself not to avert her eyes. This was her penance for stealing the life of an innocent boy.
"You monster!" she shrieked at her, lashing out with another stinging slap. "You killed him! You killed my boy!"
As she tried to hit her again, Gaara suddenly snatched her wrist. The Kazekage glared dangerously at her, looking more than ready to break that wrist.
"Get. Out," he hissed.
The mother glowered at him for a moment before her husband pulled her out. All the way, she screamed, "Murderer!" back at the girl.
Gaara's fingers dug into the chair with such force, it was a wonder it didn't break — or rip off his fingernails. He crouched down beside the medic and captured her chin tightly in one hand.
"Do not," he growled, eyes furious, "listen to that stupid woman. You are not a monster, and you did not kill that boy."
She gazed at him, expression contorted with the tell-tale signs of severe emotional pain. "Yes, I did," she whispered, lips cracking. "It's all my fault." Her teeth gritted. "I don't know who I am anymore." She looked up at him anxiously, seemingly begging him for an answer. "Gaara…please…who am I? What have I become?"
He stared right back at her, unable to answer. Her eyes fell, resigned, as if she'd already known he couldn't help her. She gripped the edges of her seat, lips trembling, hair forming a curtain around her face. The tears fell.
That was four times now. Four times he had reduced her to tears.
"How many times," he asked quietly, sounding as if it pained him, "am I going to make you cry?"
Her shoulders and back shuddered, and a choked sob escaped her. Slowly, she dropped to the floor and let him draw her to him.
Later, she would be mortified for ruining the Kazekage's shirt.
But not now.
His arms encircled her tightly, supporting her entire weight. She fell against him, hands twisting into his shirt, face pressed against his throat. He rested one hand on top of her head comfortingly.
They remained there for a long time.
When Gaara found her the next morning, she was in her room.
Throwing her things into a bag on her bed.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, standing frozen in doorway.
She looked up at him with eyes he knew — eyes he had worn as a child.
Pained. Torn apart. Haunted. Completely and utterly alone.
"I'm going home," she said, continuing her packing.
He was shocked silent for a moment.
"Why?" he challenged.
She said nothing. She only kept throwing things into her pack.
"You can't just leave because of that woman," he insisted forcefully, stalking over to her. "It was not your fault!"
"Yes it was!" she cried out at him, taking him aback. "If I hadn't forced my way in, he'd still be alive!"
"There was nothing you could do!"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you! I couldn't save him because I'm not good enough! I'm a failure as a medic!"
"You are the most competent medic here!" he snapped. "You had the best chance of any of them, and you couldn't save him! What the hell does that tell you about them? !"
She tried to ignore him as she leapt up from the bed, grabbing her pack. He caught her arm to stop her.
"It's not your fault!"
"Yes it is!" she yelled.
"No it's not!" He was glaring at her. "Damn it, would you listen to me? !"
She jerked out of his grip and stalked toward the door.
"I can't do this, Gaara," she said, pulling the door open. "I just can't do this."
"Don't," he murmured, feeling his stomach sink. "Don't. Sakura."
She halted in the doorway.
That was the first time he'd ever said her name — ever even thought her name.
Her lips trembled, hand clenching the door.
"I can't," she whispered.
And she walked out the door.
He paused, glancing back over his shoulder sharply at his sister. She and Kankuro stood in the kitchen with cups of tea.
"I haven't seen Sakura all day," she said. "Have you seen her?"
He turned abruptly and walked past the kitchen, leaving without a word to go to the Kazekage Tower. The front door slammed behind him.
Temari and Kankuro exchanged bewildered looks.
By the following morning, the two oldest siblings had found out what happened.
News of Sakura being slapped had spread all throughout the village, and a young couple had spotted her leaving the previous day. Gaara blatantly refused to speak a word about it.
Temari and Kankuro didn't know what to do; they didn't know what they could do.
It was all falling apart.
"Gaara," Temari spoke up, seeming somewhat worried. The red-haired man stopped and glanced at her uncaringly. "You need to talk to her; this isn't healthy—" He had already started to walk away. "Damn it, Gaara, you haven't even eaten in a week!"
The door shut loudly.
She sighed and leaned back against the counter, massaging her forehead with one hand. This was starting to turn ugly, and it was only going to get worse if she didn't do anything about it.
Temari read over her letter once last time as she stood in front of the messenger hawks' cages.
We have a problem over here. A big problem.
Gaara and Sakura got into some kind of fight while she was over here as the Konoha medic for the Chunin Exams, and now Gaara's depressed — I mean, really depressed. He isn't eating or sleeping or anything. Shika, I have a really bad feeling about this. I think he's going to do something stupid like hurt himself.
He and Sakura need to talk now. He refuses to go see her for himself or write a letter, so I'm doing it for him. I worried about him. So, please, find some way to convince Sakura to come to Suna for a couple days. Have Tsunade-sama order her — anything.
Just — just make her come talk to him before something really bad happens.
I'm counting on you.
Sabaku no Temari
Temari sighed and opened Taki's cage door. She used a simple jutsu to make her message scroll shrink in size, strapped it to Taki's foot, and sent him off.
She could only wait and hope that Shikamaru replied quickly.
That night, she managed to shove a wooden spoonful of the unnaturally-colored soup she'd made down Gaara's throat while Kankuro held him down.
And even though he'd nearly strangled both of them afterwards, it was progress.
Not much, but still a little.
It was only two day later that Temari received the reply she'd been hoping for.
It didn't, however, relay the info she'd been expecting.
I guess you haven't heard.
Sakura can't come. She's in the hospital.
Eight days ago, she set off for Sunagakure. On the way, she encountered Deidara of the Akatsuki; he was heading to Suna to fight Gaara, Sakura said. She fought him, but he managed knock her out and take her back to a base to use as a bargaining chip for Naruto. She escaped after a few days, and we found her wandering around the Konoha forests last night.
She's most likely healed by now, but Tsunade-sama isn't letting her out of the village for a while.
You'd be better off making him come here.
Temari stared at the letter for a long time, eyes wide, mouth open slightly.
"No…no, I think it's five," Kankuro disagreed.
"Three," Gaara said flatly.
"I'm telling you, Gaara, I think it's five," he argued. He tilted his head back to yell at Temari over his shoulder. She stood in the kitchen, while he and Gaara were in the living room. "Temari! Doesn't Hikari have five kids?"
When he received no answer, he frowned.
Still nothing. He glanced back at her, raising an eyebrow, then shrugged at Gaara.
"Gaara," Temari finally spoke up, stepping into the room as if she was just learning how to walk. Her two brother looked at her curiously. She stared down at the message in her hands for a few more seconds to make sure he was reading it right.
"Well, c'mon," Kankuro urged. "Spit it out."
She looked up at Gaara, eyes wide.
"Sakura…," she murmured in disbelief. "She was coming here." Gaara froze. "But she — that Akatsuki, Deidara, attacked her. She's in the hospital."
It isn't every day that the Kazekage storms into Konoha like a raging tornado, growling at every person within hearing distance to show him where the hospital is before he crushes them into nothingness via his sand jutsu.
Then again, today wasn't every day.
"What the hell is going on? !" Tsunade yelled as she appeared in the middle of the street, having been warned by her ANBU.
Gaara gave his best DIEDIEFLAMESGRR glare. Tsunade wasn't fazed.
"Speak, brat, so I can get back to my nap," she snapped.
Being Tsunade, she (and probably Naruto, too) was the only one that could get away with being rude to a Kage.
He seemed to hiss as he spoke. "Where. Is. The. Hospital?"
"Here we are," the nurse guiding him said nervously, pausing in front of Sakura's door. She swallowed, eyes flickering to him, away, and back again.
Gaara glared at her.
She 'eep'ed and disappeared.
He frowned, then looked at the door. His gaze slid down to the doorknob. It took a moment for him to reach out and grab it. It took another moment for him to actually open the door.
She was lying on her side in the bed, facing the window. He was almost certain she was asleep — until she spoke.
"I told you, Naiyou, I'm fine," she said, sounding irritated. She started to sit up and roll over but had to do so slowly due to her still-healing scars. "I do not need morphine; I am a kunoichi, damn it, so stop—" She froze, seeing Gaara. "…asking…"
He stood there for a minute, not speaking. She swallowed, glancing away.
"I—" She paused, unsure what to say. "I'm…I'm sorry." She cleared her throat, and the words came tumbling out like a leaky faucet. "I was — I don't know; I just lost it, and I couldn't stay— Kami, I'm such an idiot—"
If Gaara was anyone else, he would've groaned —
Because Kami behold, she was crying.
Because of him.
Son of a bitch.
He sat on the side of her hospital bed and placed a (somewhat awkward) hand on her head. Her eyes shot open, and she looked up at him in astonishment. He was watching her from the corner of his eye, lips pressed in a hard line.
"I am experiencing serious doubts about interacting with you," he remarked dryly — though sarcastically. Sakura was impressed; she didn't know he even understood the concept of sarcasm. "If I continue to speak with you, your eyes will eventually fall out with as many times as I've made you cry."
Sakura stared at him in shock. Then —
Her stomach hurt as she laughed, forcing her to wrap an arm around her middle an hunch over. She rested her forehead against his upper arm, still shaking with chortles. Lips twitching with the beginnings of his Naruto-reserved smile, he threaded his fingers into her hair and pressed his lips to the top of her head.
"Holy — SAKURA, GET DOWN HERE! I NEED HELP! LIKE, NOW! !"
"Damn it, Kankuro, I'm coming! Son of a — GREAT KAMI, AKARI! GET DOWN FROM THERE! YOU DO NOT CLIMB ON THE REFRIGERATOR!"
"Aw, but, Okaa-san…"
"I SAID DOWN."
The little six-year-old huffed as she climbed off, puffing out her cheeks in annoyance. Her pale pink bangs — which framed her face just like her mother's — were a mess, and the rest of her dark magenta-colored hair stuck up in all directions; she'd obviously been into something again. Kankuro sagged onto the couch with relief, throwing an arm over his eyes. Sakura fell upon the opposite end, her feet splayed across his knees.
"I knew it," she groaned, taking a pillow and bashing it against her forehead over and over. "I knew I shouldn't have let Naruto throw her a sixth birthday party. That idiot introduced her to paper bombs, and know she can't enough of them. He's rubbing off on her."
"That's not good," Kankuro warned. "You do not want to be raising a mini-girl-Naruto."
"I know," she agreed dryly with a tired sigh. "At least he didn't get his hooks in Haruko-kun."
Kankuro shuddered, a horrified expression on his face. "A clone of Gaara that acts like Naruto? Hell-fucking-no! The world would, like, implode, or something!"
Suddenly, the front door flew open. They both jumped up to see Akari standing there, seconds from darting out.
"Okaa-san, Imma go see Otou-san at his tower!"
Before Sakura could tell her that she was not going to run around the streets alone, the little girl was gone. She swore under her breath and flew out the door after her, shouting threats of time-out and 'no-more-seeing-Naruto-oji-san,' but her tiny clone wasn't fazed. To Sakura's immense mortification, Akari kicked the Kazekage Tower doors open and charged in as if she owned the place.
She was going to kill that little brat.
She called apologies left and right to citizens that were frowning after her daughter as she followed her inside. When she finally caught up, Akari was already in the Kazekage's office, seated like an angel (bullshit) on her father's lap. Sakura slumped in the doorway, hands clenching on the doorframe, sending the girl a 'don't-let-me-catch-you' look.
Gaara was quite obviously amused.
"Do not disrespect your mother, Akari," he chastised lightly.
The child pouted. "Okaa-san wouldn't let me climb on the fridge."
"Are you supposed to climb on the refrigerator?"
"Well, no, but—"
"Then, do as she says; do not climb on the refrigerator."
She crossed her arms over her chest, clearly unhappy. Haruko leaned against the far wall, expression identical to his father's. Gaara's frown deepened suddenly.
"What happened to your hair?" he asked, attempting to smooth down the mess on Akari's head.
Sakura shot daggers at her daughter with her eyes.
"Naruto introduced her to paper bombs," she growled. "She took one of mine."
The look Gaara gave Akari said that he did not approve in the slightest.
"Remind me to kill Naruto the next time he visits," he said flatly.
Sakura grunted. "Will do."