Title: For better or worse
Fandom: Naruto
Prompt: #27 – Free, 100_prompts
Character/Pairing: Sabaku no Gaara/Haruno Sakura
Word Count: 3030
Summary: "You can fight me all you want," Gaara told her, "I'm looking forward to it."
Authors Notes: I couldn't resist having Gaara use his Ryuusa bakuryuu (desert avalanche) jutsu. It's always been one of my favourites.


27 - Free

It wasn't in his nature to make her or himself wait. But given the circumstances, he didn't have much of an option. The bastards were throwing everything they had at him, using their most powerful ammunition to try and bring him down. A part of him saw it as a compliment: they were very much aware of the devastating threat he was. Nonetheless, the part of him that saw the whole thing as a nuisance won out. So he had no choice but to make them scream and make their blood flow with his passing.

Of course, if it had been up to his demonic desires, he would've dedicated more time to killing as many of Iwakagure's soldiers as possible. But Gaara knew even his chakra reserves wouldn't last long against the heavy artillery they were aiming at him. He had an objective this night and he'd be damned if he didn't achieve it sooner rather than later.

A chorus of painful wails rose as he ran across the battlements, using his chakra to climb walls and make his way speedily across the roofs of the fortress. His aim was the main structure at the very centre, the building were his pink haired spitfire was waiting for him. Using his sand to get there had been out of the question, knowing very well that, in the middle of the air, he would just be a sitting target for Iwagakure's infamous bomb throwers. He would save his sand cloud for when he had Sakura in his grasp. Then his entertainment would really begin.

Whipping his sand all about him, he smashed bone, throats and skulls as he progressed towards his goal. The redhead was aware the alarm had sounded and the army that manned the fortress would soon be at his heels. This didn't deter him in the least, however. He was very much aware of his capabilities. It was the reason why he'd been chosen to be Sakura's partner in the first place. He was the only nin who could pull this insane stunt successfully.

Finally reaching the wall of the main building, he summoned his sand around him as a bomb fell from the battlements above his head. The explosion shook the foundations of the fortress as sparks and flame flew all around him. But Gaara was already moving. He climbed the vertical wall at a sprint and focused his chakra. He pinpointed Sakura's exact location within the structure and pushed his sand into the cracks between the stones of the building.

In the next instant, the redhead pulled out a huge chunk of the wall clean off and let it fall unto his trailing enemies down below.
Sitting up on the floor and holding her abdomen with her left arm, Sakura's wide eyes would have made him chuckle in any other situation. But, as was usually the case with her, she was always ready to counter.

"I thought you would be coming in through the roof," she said by way of greeting.

"And I thought you knew I was unpredictable," he retorted with a grin, coming to kneel beside her. But the instant his jade eyes surveyed her tattered form, they turned cold and deadly.

"It's nothing we didn't expect," she told him severely. They couldn't afford to waste time by catering to his anger. "We need to leave now."

Calls and shouts were followed by approaching footsteps as the Shogun's guards filed into the corridor just outside the cell.

"We will," he told her, "but there's some thrash I need to dispose of first."

Sakura heard the excruciating sounds of bone being crushed and of gurgling blood in dying throats. She let him have his vengeful minute before coming to her feet. Out of the corner of his eye, Gaara saw her stumble against the wall. With an exasperate curse, he pulled his sand in around her.

"You're going to get what's coming to you for putting yourself through this," he snarled at her.

"Ah yes, I knew it was too much to ask for you to play nice and help nurse me back to health," she countered.

Jade eyes glared at her but at the sound of more soldiers approaching, he pulled her towards him roughly and jumped out of the hole in the wall.

His sand swirled all around them, solidifying at their feet so they could stand. Within its protective cocoon, they gained altitude but were in no way going forward.

"Gaara, what are you doing?" Sakura asked in reprimand. "We're supposed to be getting out of here."

"You think I would spend three days sitting on my ass, thinking about you getting beat up, without making preparations to annihilate the bastards keeping you prisoner?" he countered, his voice deadly. "It just goes to show you how much you've still got to learn about me."

He stopped his sand in midair abruptly and brought down the swirling mass all around them. Sakura could see they were pretty high and she looked down only to realize the fortress' solders were using chakra to augment the range of their weapons to try bring them down. A couple of volleys came pretty close to succeeding.

"Gaara," she said in a low tone, the threat in her voice evident.

He ignored her. "Hold on to me," he ordered as he lifted his arms and concentrated his chakra.

Sakura felt the hairs on the base of her nape stand on end. The air all but crackled with the raw power building up within and all around him. Helpless to do anything except watch, Sakura witnessed the real reason behind his infamous reputation of being one of the most powerful shinobi alive.

His chakra seemed to explode from one second to the next and when it did, a wall of sand started rising from the north end of Kurogane Fortress. Mouth agape, the roseate haired kunoichi watched as it rose and rose, coming level with the floating sand cloud they were standing on. There was no way to gauge the amount of sand he was commanding; Sakura simply couldn't even guess how many tonnes of it were rising out from the ground.

The sand wall reached its peak and for an instant, its rustle was all that could be heard.

"Ryuusa bakuryuu!" Gaara exclaimed and the sand went cascading down upon the world below.

The gargantuan wave crashed down, swallowing the entire fortress. The roar of the sand was so great Sakura couldn't even hear the screams of the soldiers below. It crumbled roofs and overturned stone, swaying like an ocean to and fro, drowning its terrified victims as it went. The onslaught of its destruction was merciless.

When the sand finally came to a stop, only the tallest buildings could be seen among the rubble. The rest of the fortress lay covered in grains that trickled out slowly out of the orifices along its out walls. The stronghold looked like the remains of an ancient ruin, swallowed by the relentless sand of a desert.

"That ought to deter any pursuit," Gaara commented nonchalantly. "Now we can leave."

As he spoke, he moved his sand forward and lowered his arms to accommodate Sakura more comfortably along his right side.
The kunoichi was, in a word, awestruck.

It would be naive to think he had killed the Shogun and his elite group of guards. They were a whole lot more skilled than to allow themselves to die due to a sand tsunami. Nonetheless, this unpredictable turn of events would be more than a thorn in their side. Gaara's little stunt would certainly have negative effects on their war campaign and would slow down their plans.

What rattled Sakura's peace of mind was the fact that he hadn't offered to do such a thing in the first place. It could've saved all of them a whole lot of time and effort!

Grinding her teeth and preparing to give him a shout down to that effect, she checked herself when a realization came over her. It was true that he could've drowned the entire fortress in sand from the very beginning and it was true he could've saved them all the trouble. But then again, he simply hadn't had the motivation or the drive to do it.

Being the whimsical demon that he was, Gaara would never go to such lengths of exertion unless there was something in it for him. Even though he had dedication to his country and to his sister, it would've never crossed his mind to wield his power to such an extent if he wasn't affected on a personal note. That was the whole point of this mission.

It had been personal for him this time around and he hadn't shown any kind of hesitation when it came to expending his chakra resources.

And he had done it all for her.

Sakura was filled with equal parts elation and trepidation.

Just what the hell had she gotten herself into?

There was no answer to that question yet. Nonetheless, she was sure she would find out at some point. The night's events had her discovering a new kind of admiration for Temari-san, though. How she had managed to keep the ultimate-weapon-of-mass-destruction she had as a brother on a leash for such a long time was something that deserved a standing ovation. The woman must be made of some really strong stuff.

Simultaneously, once the aforementioned Shogun and her own shishio found out the precise effect Sakura had over Suna no Akaoni, she was sure they would go to any means to exploit the connection for their purpose. The kunoichi felt true apprehension fill her from the inside and experienced a genuine desire to cry out in frustration.

There would be no end to her role as bait to prod the demon into action.

Her exhaled breath caught Gaara's attention. Jade eyes turned to face her but instead of saying anything, he lowered his mouth to hers for a leisurely kiss.

"You should be healing yourself," he told her sternly when he'd finished with his ministrations.

"I would be if you weren't groping me," she countered acidly.

"I believe we've already had this discussion about me needing to keep you anchored while we're riding my sand," the redhead replied with a sly grin.

"And I believe I've already told you I don't need your support to stand on your sand."

He simply shook his head in mock frustration but he shifted to lower his arm, loosening his hold on her.

Nonetheless, after the adrenaline had finally dissipated, Sakura was feeling the pain of her broken rib more prominently. So she had to get him to move away. Of course, getting him to do that was to admit she was in worse shape than she'd initially made him believe.
But her need finally won over her pride.

"Gaara, I think I should sit down."

The look in his jade eyes would've been comical in any other circumstance.

"Why the hell didn't you say so in the first place?" he snapped. His violent words contrasted with his actions however as he immediately lowered her down gently unto the sand.

"Because you were too busy with your sand tsunami," Sakura countered sweetly.

He growled at her. "Where are you hurt?"

"I've got bruises all over my body but a broken rib is my main concern. I can take care of it but I need to be lying down to do so."
Cold jade eyes told her he would've liked to say something about the origin of her pains but he kept silent and helped her lie down. He created a small sandy pillow under her head and left her to her healing jutsus when she was finally settled.

As they travelled, Sakura was able to make good progress with her injury. She healed the fracture and managed to patch most of the tissue around it. Eventually, she was able to sit up without any problems and started concentrating on her other ailments.

Nonetheless, she noticed they were losing altitude and that the chakra embedded in the sand was becoming erratic.

Looking up, she surveyed Gaara with a critical glance. Even though he was still standing and gave no outer signs of fatigue, Sakura's expert medic eyes knew the stunt he'd pulled had to have taken its toll. No shinobi could enact a jutsu of such magnitude and not feel its effects on his body. Besides, they'd been travelling on his sand for quite some distance. As a matter of fact, she was almost certain they were already close to the rendezvous point.

Before she could speak up and voice her concern about him, the redhead lowered his sand to ground level. "We're here," he informed her as he steered the sand towards the edge of a forest clearing.

Without giving her a chance to protest, he picked her up in his arms before his sand dissipated completely. Sakura spluttered but kept quiet when he levelled a glare at her. He carried her behind a tree and whistled the signal. Almost instantly, a reply came from somewhere to their left and Gaara stepped out, his arms filled with roseate haired kunoichi.

"Well, well, don't you two look a pretty sight," said a female voice Sakura knew very well.

She groaned inwardly. It was just like her shishio to come out to meet her favourite pupil when she came back from a trying mission.
"Did you obtain the information we needed?" Tsunade asked, lifting the lamp she was holding.

"Naturally," Sakura replied with an arrogant smirk. "And it's pretty useful so we'd better get a move on."

"She was beaten up pretty badly even if she doesn't care to admit it," Gaara cut in abruptly. "From the looks of it wasn't once but twice."
It was Sakura's turn to glare at him.

The look in the eyes of Konoha's Shogun changed immediately. "Bring her over here; we've got a tent prepared. I'll take care of her myself."
Without a sound, the redhead fell into step behind her as she led the way. As they advanced, other shinobi materialized from between the trees, coming to walk in formation all around them and lighting the way with their lamps.

"Gaara's chakra supplies have been worn out," Sakura remarked in her best diagnosis voice, aiming her comment at the back of her shishio. "He needs nourishment and rest immediately."

Jade eyes looked down to glower at her wrathfully but the kunoichi met his death glare head on.

"Is that so?" Tsunade asked, turning around slightly. "Shizune, go on ahead and make preparations." Once her assistant had speedily left, she turned back towards Sakura. "What did he do to overexert himself?"

"He brought a gigantic wave of sand crashing down and destroyed Kurogane Fortress," she stated in what she hoped was a steady voice.
Tsunade stopped dead in her tracks, forcing Gaara to come to an abrupt halt to avoid colliding with her. She turned round to look at the redhead with an incredulous look in her eyes.

"Well, it does sound like something he would do," came a male voice from within the adjacent shadows. From under a tree, a shape walked out, revealing a flustered Kankurou. "I'm afraid he really doesn't know the meaning of the word restraint."

"I agree with you there," Sakura replied before Gaara could answer.

Tsunade opened her mouth as if to say something but seemed to think better about it in the last instant. Shaking her head, she turned back towards the path and kept walking.

"You've done it again, little brother," Kankurou said as he fell into step next to them.

"Have I?" Gaara asked in a menacing tone.

His brother chuckled darkly in response but ignored his question. "I'll go on ahead and help with the preparations. Our sister will be expecting a full report soon."

The redhead aimed a resigned nod his way before Kankurou quickened his step to catch up with Shizune.

Sakura let out a deep breath and felt some of the tension she'd been experiencing for the past few days dissipate. Nonetheless, her mind couldn't help but contemplate the consequences her mission had brought along with it.

"You do realize," she said in a low voice so only Gaara could hear, "that this is just the beginning."

He directed a puzzled look her way.

"We'll be stuck with each other from now on, like it or not," as she spoke, she gestured towards Konoha's Shogun walking a few paces ahead.

Gaara finally understood what she was saying. A devious grin formed on his lips. "Does this mean I officially get to share a tent with you from now on?"

Sakura lifted her hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. "No, it means you're going to be saddled with me for all your missions and vice versa."

He cocked his head to the side. "And why is that?"

"Because I'm the only one who can make you behave!" she countered in frustration.

Noticing the tone of her voice, the redhead looked at her intently for a moment. Taking in her flustered expression among the shadows of the moving lamps, he grinned even wider before lowering his face down to hers.

"Behave?" he asked, murmuring the word against her lips. "We'll see about that. For now, you really should stop with the act. Both of us know very well you're going to enjoy working with me."

Sakura arched a pink eyebrow at him in challenge but a thrill making its way up her spine at the tone of his voice prevented her from opposing his statement out loud.

"You can fight me all you want," he told her, "I'm looking forward to it."

The kunoichi narrowed her eyes at him but wasn't allowed to answer back. His lips were claiming hers and his tongue darting into her mouth was making her forget everything except the feel of his strong arms cradling her against his hard chest.

For better or worse, she had to accept it: from now on, they truly were partners in shadow.