Why yes, my very first foray into this friggen huge- I mean, much esteemed fandom has a lemon. Now excuse me while I try to recover after flubbing my landing. I just cleared Jaws, for goodness sakes...

Ten points if you actually got that.

Hope this goes over well with everyone. I hope you all like it~

...o...

The Best Intentions

...o...

Sakura missed home.

Truthfully, she hated the desert. It was dry and dead to her green eyes, eyes so used to the vibrancy of her village in Konoha. But she hated the smell of the hospital after a long day more.

Today had been one of such days, and the bright half moon gave the still-hot sand under her feet a silver cast. Pretty, yes, but her definition of 'pretty' was more along the lines of 'happy bubbling streams with sunlight skittering across the surface,' or 'cosmos flowers blooming in a field, nodding slowly in the wind,' or 'the sigh of the tree leaves and the smell and sparkle of a forest after a rain.' (In previous times, the definition also extended to 'Sasuke's big, black doe eyes,' but it had been several years since she could have lost herself in those inky pools.) 'Waves of heat radiating from the sand, turning the starry sky into a wavering indigo ocean' was okay but not quite to her taste; it didn't warm the heart or lift the soul, both of which she could have used at the moment.

Inhaling deeply, she let the plain, dry air of the desert sweep through her senses, washing away the smell of blood and sweat and antiseptic. She was back in her more typical shirt, skirt and shorts after dumping the tainted scrubs; her coral-colored hair was a mess barely restrained by her headband, as she'd been toying with it distractedly in between surgeries. Normally Sakura Haruno was not one to fidget, but right now her condition could barely be described as normal – her forehead was creased in a frown, the eyes beneath staring at things beyond the stars, and her nerves were rubbed bare.

Sakura had lost a patient that day.

"Damn," she swore quietly, a sound quickly whisked away by the low wind. True, it hadn't been entirely her fault, but she'd been almost up to her elbows in blood from a surgery gone wrong; she'd watched his closed eyes flicker, then freeze into a mask of death. So much for the lauded medic from Konoha, sent to foster good will between the villages and to train the staff. So much for the 'blossoming' of Sakura. So much for everything.

She'd felt him die, and it made her sick.

The pull of his soul as it clung to her hands and chakra, begging for life, weighed her down in ways that no amount of soap or gloves could keep from her skin. Tsunade had warned her, "Never promise a patient anything when anything could happen." But she'd been stupid - maybe she'd seen a bit of Naruto in those glassy, pleading eyes - and had promised him that, after this little procedure, he would be able to play with his children again.

Now, he never would. And although every medic on staff and the voice of her mentor in her head assured her, she did nothing wrong and it could have happened to anybody... it still felt like her fault.

Tossing a glance behind her, she noticed the lights of Suna dimming for the evening and a few more stars glimmering into view, then folded herself into a seated position on the sand. The heat radiated by the finely textured yet slightly itchy surface was soothing, and she let herself relax.

A few moments later she had wrapped her arms around her knees and was resting her wide forehead against them, a few hot tears sliding down her face. Exhaustion was intensifying the emotional strain of the evening, and while she felt singularly foolish she couldn't seem to stop crying.

Mr. Takami, she addressed the deceased in her thoughts, I'm so... sorry.

But sorry still didn't seem like enough.

A blurry eternity passed in her mind before she sensed someone and tensed inwardly. Her eyes slid open - not that she could see much, vision still blurred with a few unshed tears - but she awkwardly jammed down her sorrow to the pit of her stomach. She was a kunoichi, she reminded herself, and she had better pay attention to whatever was stalking her.

Or more accurately, whoever. It was Gaara.

The subtle confidence, the potential for power and violence she could sense - however faintly - and the way the sand seemed to whisper a greeting under his feet couldn't belong to anyone else. At the identification, she almost relaxed again. But quickly, she remembered that the desert was his playground and home, and he could very well consider her to be intruding on some kind of Kazekage sanctuary.

Plus, he'd never taken kindly to weakness, and she seemed to have reverted to her wilting flower-esque self from seven or so years ago. Best suck it up for a moment.

"Hello, Gaara," she greeted him, hiding a pathetic sniff as she wiped her eyes. Despite her low self opinion at the moment, she refused to gawk at the scenery and try and spot the icy redhead. A soft grunt was the only response; a sound so low and brief it was impossible to triangulate.

"Hello, Master Kazekage," she amended, feeling a little irked at his silence. Her Inner Self was starting to rise again, and she tried to block it. Picking fights with one of the most powerful nin in the world was a few steps above 'death wish', after all.

"Gaara is fine," he murmured with a puff of hot breath on the back of her neck. She jumped, repressing a squeal of fear.

He'd snuck up on her; not entirely surprising, considering his affinity with the desert and her emotional state, but the thought that he'd gotten so close was enough to make her miffed and uneasy.

"Ayah? What do you think you're doing here, you stupid creep!" Her Inner Self was champing at the bit, but Sakura ignored her. She was not going to ruin the last bit of his respect for her as a foreign medic by being petty.

"Can I h-help you?"

Ok, so hiccupping questions like a three year old who skinned her knee wasn't much of a step above insulting him, but what could she do? Sakura blinked, taking in a few more slow breaths of the arid climate. The faint mist of dust and sand stirred up by his movements made the first inhale gritty, and she sneezed into the shoulder of her shirt.

"No," he replied, unfazed. The 'come on, you're not in any kind of state to do much outside of weep into someone's open wounds' was implied, but like most of her interactions with Gaara, left unsaid.

What was very unlike most of her interactions with Gaara was the fact that he'd settled himself onto the ground a few feet away from her, his chakra - and general aura of potential murder - subdued. And it was kind of... nice. She sniffed again, relaxing and letting her ire die back down to embers.

"Can I help you?" he prompted.

The fact that he'd actually started a conversation left her still-recovering mind in shock enough that she forgot to answer. This new Gaara seemed to have a greater patience for well founded dumfounded silences, and only rolled jade eyes as the figurative gears in her mind started turning again.

"Oh, um... n-not really. I just... lost a patient today. That's all. Not a big deal," she finished, with a deep sigh.

"You're acting like it is, though."

"Cha, that's obvious!" The voice in her head flared up again, and it managed to squeeze to the surface in the form of a brief glare. Gaara didn't so much as blink.

"That's... because... it really is a big deal, you know?" Sakura frowned, looking away and trying to explain the secret language of the wounded female to her stoic companion. "I said it wasn't because I want to believe it wasn't. I want... I want to believe that it wasn't my fault."

Gaara grunted. "It probably was."

"Hey!" Balling her hands up into fists, she shot him another fierce look, not quite out of her senses enough to try to attack the Kazekage.

"Weren't you thinking that?"

"Yeah, but... nobody says that when somebody's upset! It's...kinda..." Sakura made a face and waved her hand. There were some things about basic conversation that she assumed were instinctive and could remain unsaid. Is this what having a demon inside does to you - stunt your emotional growth?

Then it was his turn to sigh softly and try again.

"But just because it was your fault doesn't mean it's something you have to hold on to forever. Learn from it, and move on."

Sakura let her fingers relax again, and a silence grew between them. Partly because it was one of the longest sentences she'd ever heard come out of his mouth, and partly because it was rather... profound. More than she would have thought could come from the aloof, murderous and confident redhead she'd met back in Konoha before her first chunin exam.

"You would know, wouldn't you?"

A little too eager to continue any sort of conversation, she said the first thing to cross her mind; too late realizing the accusatory words said with a quiet and gentle tone. Gaara seemed to stiffen, and Sakura resisted the urge to slap her face with an open palm.

"I mean-"

"It's fine." He shrugged. "After the things I did, Suna wouldn't have been in the wrong to tie me upside down from a tree and let the whole village use me as a target for throwing knifes."

His claim of 'fine' did little to soothe her, and Sakura proceeded to have a minor freak out. "But, I mean, it's not really your fault you had a demon inside you. I guess you could have done better about controlling it, but..."

Had Gaara actually had eyebrows, she didn't doubt he would have raised one at her awkward observations. The medic took in a short breath, rearranged her words a few times in her head, and then abandoned the train of thought totally.

Guess I killed the conversation, too.

Standing, Sakura brushed off sand from her legs - sand that seemed suspiciously stubborn until she gave a curious stare to Gaara - and ruffled her hair.

"I'm going back now," she informed him, her mind cleared from the haze of trauma and tears. "Thanks for the, um... pep talk."

He dipped his head slightly, and stayed still as she started to walk back. His eyes, however, she could feel following her long after she'd entered the city.

...o...

It seemed to have become their new routine. She'd wander the desert, with moods ranging from cheerful to caustic, and he'd hover around the edges of her awareness with just enough proximity to keep her on edge.

Initially, when she'd been in a foul mood and he'd been hovering out of reach like a gadfly, she'd tried the silent treatment. Then she'd tried to talk him with about pointless things with the hopes they'd lead up to more relevant things - what kinds of revelant things though, she had no idea - and he'd ignore her. Both botched tactics had served to painfully remind her that this was Gaara, and making any sort of impact on him with conversation or a lack thereof was hopeless.

In all honestly, she'd have more luck in a staring contest with the sun.

Most of the hard and fast rules she'd learned about socializing had already been ground to dust under his taciturnity, and all she had left was an iron resolve.

Tonight had gone smoothly patient wise; a few broken bones needed setting, some deep wounds from mis-thrown weaponry in the name of showing off (boys would be boys, in Suna or Konoha), all of which were repaired smoothly and painlessly by her chakra. Which normally would have left her weak but satisfied, but... it had been rather screwed over by smart mouthed genin resenting being taught by a 'pink haired foreigner with a forehead the size of a continent.' And since killing the children from another nation was less than diplomatic, she'd retreated to the desert to beat her anger out on the pliant sand.

Limbs flying as she formed enemies from sand with some unrefined genjutsu, Sakura unleashed a small storm of knives into their loose chests, hearing the satisfying sounds of impact and letting the images melt away to nothing as she gathered up her weapons and prepared another round. They'd need sharpening after this was over, but if she ran into trouble, she had her throwing stars.

"Long day?"

A kunai flew through the air on battle impulse, thudding again into helpless sand as Gaara sidestepped it smoothly.

Slow to cool from her frustrated faux combat, Sakura glared at him. His gourd was missing, and his plain brown garb melted into the scenery; the Kazekage's neutral tones in perfect contrast to the medic with rose-colored clothes that were the definition of obvious in the moonlit desert.

"Go watch someone else, you moron!" Her Inner snarled, but Sakura herself wiped her hair from her forehead, the dry climate already having sponged the sweat away.

"Good evening," she greeted him, still strained.

"Is it?" His head tilted ever so slightly to the side, his face oh-so-calm even though she could sense more than see amusement hovering behind his eyes. "You seem... tense."

"I'm fine." She gritted the word from behind a saccharine smile. "Now, would you leave?"

"No."

Her fingers twitched on their own accord, itching to strangle something; but once again, she reminded herself that she was a guest in this country and she should not give this man any more of a reason to crush her in a brutal Sand Burial. A part of her wanted to just give in now, go back to the hospital and sleep until her next shift.

A larger part of her was too stubborn to concede yet, and it was this part that won as kunoichi and shinobi stared at each other.

Sakura let out a frustrated breath. "Why won't you leave?"

"I'm curious."

"About?"

"Your jutsu." He blinked, calm as ever. "I had heard it improved since our last meeting."

"Well, you're out of luck," she muttered. "It's been a long day. I don't feel like... performing."

Smoldering green eyes studied hazy jade ones for another long minute as she scrunched up her face in an asymmetrical scowl.

"So... can you go now?"

"Icould,"he admitted, shifting into a kneeling position; his gaze never left hers. She was starting to anticipate his frustrating answers, and let out her anger in an almost soul-surrendering sigh.

"...And you won't because... why?"

"I wanted to keep watching you practice," he replied simply, as though that was the end of the matter and she was being ridiculous for assuming he needed any other reason. Sakura was not satisfied and had to resist stamping her foot down on the sand, instead turning her back on him to think.

Gaara bothered her, as ever present and impossible to ignore as sand down her bra. After all, there were few things more annoying than sensible people saying sensible things that just happened, entirely by coincidence, to be downright nerve grating.

The chants of 'billboard brow' from her memories, while not as bad as before, had been dug up and while she would admit that it wasn't really Gaara she was mad at, he was not helping the situation at all and things would be better if he could just-

"What? Have you been neglecting your training and are ashamed to show me?"

Once again, he spoke inches from her ear and she whirled to glare at him, startled and replacing her guard.

"Of course not," she replied, miffed and crossing her arms across her moderate chest.

"I'd like to see your skills," he insisted - or at least, he came as close to insisting as one could in a monotone.

Sakura let out a short breath. "Some other time, ok? I had an irritating day, and I just want to be left alone. Can you do that?"

"No."

Her shoulders slumped and she covered her face with one hand, a sudden feeling of defeat washing over her and draining away most of her furious energy. This guy... This is just unreal.

"Why... not?" she pressed him verbally, with the air of a teacher at their wit's end with an angry young student. "And don't say it's because of my jutsu. Please."

Gaara's eyes flickered away from her suddenly as he sat and wrapped his arms around his knees then returned to studying her. Copying his position in silence, Sakura found herself watching him just as closely. This sudden uncertainty was rather unlike him; it reminded her, somehow, of Naruto when he became serious or Kakashi when he made jokes they could actually understand. Well, she concluded with a somewhat bitter and still annoyed half smile, at least I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching him.

Gaara shifted position, and Sakura's eyes refocused on his face as she returned from her musings. When he finally spoke, his voice was low but steady. "I promised I'd watch out for you while you were here."

Just like that, her slowly building affection for Gaara shattered like glass hit with a rock.

"What?"

Sakura jumped to her feet, eyes blazing like the green sky of a tornado's storm, all the fury from before back and mingling with disbelief. "Wha- that's your reasoning?"

She was irritated, hurt; having worked too hard and too long to be treated like some kind of delicate blossom. Like she was still the weak little romantic. No, she didn't always feel as cut out for combat as her friends, but this was another one of those things no one wanted to hear out loud and salt rubbed into a reopened wound.

In her daze, her Inner got the best of her. "What the hell? I don't need anyone to look out for me like I'm a little girl, least of all some anti social insomniac with a... a... a sand fetish!"

Gaara rose too, unmovable as always. "You don't need me, then?"

"Of course not," she replied, trying to force herself to cool. It's probably Ino or Naruto, worrying about me again. It's not a big deal, just breathe, Sakura...

His next prompt was softer, deeper in pitch. "Do you want me?"

"No," came her too-quick reply, and she practically stormed back across the sand to the city.

...o...

Sakura hadn't seen Gaara for two weeks.

And it bugged her. The fact that he'd left, probably angry and very probably (she'd like to believe it was because he'd simply found better things to do than stalk random medics, but she had trouble believing in the things she liked these days) because of her, had crawled up under her skin and was now nestled securely in the back of her mind. Times they'd spent together swirled through her thoughts - when he'd point out constellations she couldn't see at home through the trees,she'd tell him stories of swimming in the lake at Konoha with Ino or occasionally with Team 7, or she would rant about her job and he would simply listen. Those memories were bittersweet, all because she'd lost her temper.

Worse, however, was the remembrance that she was representing Konoha and had chewed out the Kazekage over a kind (if unsolicited by the recipient) act. Inner Sakura seldom ceased reminding her what a stupid, stupid, stupid temperamental idiot she was. Arguing with her was tempting - after all, it was Inner Sakura who had gotten so pissed in the first place - but fighting mental battles with the voices in her head was not a path she wanted to tread down.

But, today had finally been one that had shown her mercy. She'd healed a few more minor injuries and one serious with confidence and ease, her genin were starting to soften up to her and one of the girls had made her a headband of bright green silk. Her hopes in the humanity of the Suna nin had been restored with enthusiasm, and it was this same sentiment that had driven her out into the desert again with the hopes of making amends.

"Gaara?" she called, cautious, her voice sounding far too loud in the still, open air. "Are you out there?"

Minutes ticked by, slow as water from a leaking faucet, and she sunk down in the sand - but not in defeat. In waiting.

Her mind wandered slightly, as her body was bound to one spot and her attention tended to lapse when it had little to focus on. She dreamed of being back in Konoha; of the moist, cool air and the smell of wet trees after a rain, of fields of wildflowers that danced in sunlight and whispered secrets in moonlight. She dreamed of all the places she loved most, comparing them to her present circumstances and finding the contrast between them not as stark as before.

Though her general opinion of Suna was sweetening, her opinion of it's leader was souring by the minute like raw milk on a hot day. At last, when her patience had been stretched near its limits - considering she had Kakashi for a teacher, the man who could get lost on the road of life and be late, this was a feat - she sensed him somewhere out of sight.

"Gaara?" Again she spoke his name, carefully; trying to find a balance between apology and forgiveness.

"Yes?"

His voice was low, but she'd turned around before he could finish sneaking up on her again. Blue-green eyes bored into her, intense but expressionless.

"I wanted to... apologize for what I said before. You were just doing what you'd been asked, and I shouldn't have gotten mad at you." Suddenly feeling shy and sheepish, she kicked the sand. To her surprise, it was unnaturally solid beneath her feet and she stubbed a toe.

Gaara gave a deep, one note chuckle; she glared at him for taunting her mid apology, but her expression faded into one of blank curiosity as he took a step forward.

"Not forgiven," he informed her, holding out one hand in a taijustu pose.

"What?"

Caught slightly off guard, Sakura managed to jerk awkwardly out of the way as he lazily slapped at her with his sand. She'd seen what that sand could do to bodies and limbs, and the reminder of his strength silenced her stray thoughts. With a roll of her shoulders, she matched his battle pose.

"If I can beat you-"

"You can't. If you can hit me-" he amended. Sakura glared at him, but let the correction stand.

"Cocksure bastard. If I can land a blow on you, you'll forgive me."

"I will?" He tilted his head to the side, almost coy. "Cocksure bitch."

The insult didn't sting much, to her surprise. It lacked real bite, real venom. Or perhaps those inscrutable eyes were distracting her from the menace and-

Oops, there was another sandy palm, reaching for her. Avoiding the gritty grip, Sakura glared at the shinobi.

"Hand to hand combat only, please. I'd rather not die trying to win back your favor."

"Win back my favor?" Gaara blinked as though taken aback, and this time his words cut deeper.

Sakura almost stumbled. So then, we... Her attention flashed back to the previous conversations, with his sort of awkward kindness alternating between dismissive distance. So he was just... fulfilling his promise. Nothing more.

Her heart sank, for reasons she couldn't name at present, and in her distraction Gaara darted forward again. She was quicker on her feet this time, dodging his hand, kicking out at his knees. He jumped, or perhaps bounced; his movements were so fluid and deliberate, as though everything was choreographed.

The fact that she missed him by centimeters didn't help her disappointment, but she followed his movements and lashed out again, this time at his chin.

"Stop distracting me," she spat as they danced in and out of each other's reach. His only reply – surprise, surprise – were a fresh flurry of blows.

Dodge, bounce, kick went the Kazekage, and the force of the blocked blow sent tremors up her forearm. Her hand tightened around his ankle like a vice - she was aiming a blow at his side when he slithered out of her grip.

Frustrated, she swiped at his arm, only to hiss as a hand clamped roughly around her wrist. His grip was far stronger than hers, and Sakura was caught.

Or, at least one of her hands was caught. He was down a limb and just as trapped as the medic - Sakura aimed a flurry of kicks along his side.

… All of which hit thin air as he pivoted his torso away. With the momentum, Gaara tossed her roughly on her back; there was a sudden click as her shoulder joint jolted, nearly coming disconnected, but she would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her wince. Air was driven out of her body in a puff, and she took a moment to gasp for it back.

"You're weak," he labeled her as he towered over her, and Sakura saw her split second chance. Arching her back, she leapt up and aimed for his throat with her hand.

He managed to avoid it, somehow, but when Sakura spun in midair to counter, she head-butted him roughly in the nose. Gaara cursed and clutched his face, turning away as the kunoichi landed, flushed with exertion.

She approached him, concerned. "Are you all ri-"

Then she was skidding across the sand, forearms burned slightly by the speed, and could only gape as Gaara turned back to face her. The wind had been knocked out of her entirely, but she was quick to recover.

"I guess you haven't been practicing." He flexed the leg he'd thrust into her stomach, the faintest smile of satisfaction softening his normally serious features. She glared up at him, expecting more of a taunt, and was at first confused by the thin trail of red that dripped down to stain his upper lip.

"I broke your nose," she commented, as he knelt beside her. She reached up, hand glowing with healing jutsu, but he pushed it down to soothe her ribs bruised (and possibly broken) by the force of his kick.

"Ladies first."

Sakura healed the minor wound then caught the Kazekage's face, wiping away the blood delicately. "If you say so."

He closed black-edged eyes as she danced fingertips across his face, admiring the feel of his skin without the faint sand armor more than she should have. Too quickly she finished, and her hands retreated back to her sides.

Gaara stared at her, inscrutable for several long moments. He seemed to have reverted back to his taciturn state, and she fought the urge to fidget. I should be used to the brooding anti-hero vibe by now, shouldn't I? she reminded herself. Even so, it still made her feel somewhat jittery.

After a time, she spoke up, sounding too chipper for even her own ears. "I hit you, Gaara," she reminded him of their deal, tapping him boldly on the nose. "You have to forgive me now."

"Mm. That wasn't exactly jutsu." The Kazekage looked less than impressed by her accidental success.

"We didn't say it had to be?" She offered hopefully, feeling the need to forge the bonds of friendship again with this emotionally distant man.

He shifted one shoulder in a lazy conceding shrug, but stayed silent. Sakura stared back, tapping her fingers on the sand.

"You know," Gaara stated, as if struck by divine inspiration hard enough to break his typical vow of taciturn-ity, "I don't see you as a girl."

"No?" Her face blanked again, and her head titled slightly to the side almost automatically.

Reaching out, he slid the palm of his hand across her cheek, lacing his fingers in her hair.

"I see you as a woman."

Then he kissed her.

... Or at least, he tried. In actuality, all he did was press stiff, awkward lips against her mouth, held them there, then retreated.

There was an odd moment of stillness, of action without reaction. She couldn't move and it seemed he couldn't stand to look at her, and when her senses finally returned Sakura lost it.

"Ha ha ha! What was- ah ha ha ha! Geez, have you never read any of Jiraiya's books? Ha ha!"

She held her sides, dizzy from amusement and warmth that still lingered on her skin even after his inept advance. Gaara growled softly, a note of quiet irritation that seemed focused internally, and she glanced up to see him on his feet and retreating.

"Wait!"

Instantly sober, she leapt up and snatched at his shoulder, digging her fingers into the rough fabric that sheathed hard muscle.

"I'm sorry for laughing. Please don't go."

He was dead silent, and Sakura lamented again. It probably took him a lot of courage to actually touch someone; and I laughed at him.

She tried pulling him closer to her; he stood solid as a rock. The medic let out a shallow breath, thinking. She was a sudden bundle of jumpy nerves and romantic mushy happiness, pleased by the fact that it was Gaara who had actually initiated physical contact; and though she wasn't exactly seduced, she was nothing short of smitten.

"Gaara," she purred, lacing her tone with notes of soft but sultry promises.

He relaxed fractionally.

"I bet I can kiss better than you," the kunoichi finished. Swiveling his head around just enough to regard her from the corner of one black-rimmed eye, the Kagekage blinked.

"... if I win?"

Pleased, she beamed. "I'll practice my ninjutsu in front of you. If I win..."

"You get the day off at the hospital tomorrow."

Sakura released his shoulder, sliding her hands down his back to nestle her palms against the corners of his hips.

"Sounds good."

He grunted again, this time the sound breaking in the middle with a small hiss as she pressed a kiss at his shoulder, sliding the fabric out of the way and nuzzling on the skin she revealed. Grains of sand were starting to hover reflexively around his body, and she scowled lightly.

"Hey, what did I say before? No sand."

He growled, a sound filled with menace and yet... need. "I'm curious, Sakura," he ground out as she pressed her chest against his back, stepping carefully around to face him and loop her arms around his neck.

"If it's about the jutsu, by the ways things are going, you're out... of... luck." Teasing, she tapped her finger on his lips for the last three words.

"Not that. I'll win."

The faintest hint of a smirk was starting to hover around his eyes, and she could feel his pulse quickening, stirring up from the same core of his chakra that housed his battle lust; that housed his anger and his need.

"How many of Jiraiya's books have you read?"

She flushed, thrown off rhythm. "Um, I got a few pages into one-"

"So you don't know what happens after..." He tilted his head to the side, smirk widening.

"...After what?"

"Nothing."

Sakura started to scowl. "Hey, wai-"

But he'd pressed his lips against hers, this time with a little more movement, a little more pressure, and a little more desire. Fighting the urge to simply melt and let him do whatever with her, she pressed closer to him, little stars of tingling pleasure erupting all along her spine as he kissed her. He was still sort of shy, but it made things so much more relaxing and accessible.

Because every movement, every shallow, warm breath and every beat of her heart only devastated her willpower more. Gaara's hands had settled, initially, on the side of her neck and the cage of her ribs; they were moving now, sliding carefully across her dark rose shirt to roam her body and heat the skin even through the fabric.

The small, distant part of her mind still functioning surrendered the bet entirely to the Kazekage.

Gaara had tilted his head, shifting the angle of his mouth and was now cupping her face in his hands. There was a definite pulse to his movements now, a push and a pull away, and she felt confidence and instinct in his kiss now. Following his example, and with a little shyness, she reached up and buried her hands in his hair. The deep red strands were thick and coarser than hers, but she liked the contrast, and frisked her fingers though them.

A shiver ran down his spine, echoing through her own body and sparking a sudden orb of heat that dropped into the pit of her stomach. Against her own will she surrendered, parting her lips and inviting him to...

To do what exactly, she wasn't entirely sure. She'd been obsessed with and consequentially betrayed by Sasuke, and the pain was enough to convince her to shy away from male relationships. Apart from the few pages of smut she'd read in a moment of boredom, she was still quite chaste, and wasn't entirely sure what Gaara meant by 'what came next'. She'd never paid much attention when Ino went off on a lewd tanget and neither the docile Tenten or the shy Hinata were ones to talk in too much detail about their loves lives, anyway.

Then his tongue slid into her mouth, and all thoughts outside of hazy, needy ones tripped over each other, grinding to a halt and vanishing into oblivion. There was no hesitation on his part anymore, as he slid his tongue across the roof of her mouth, then swirled it across her own tongue, dominating her entirely.

If this was how Gaara was without prior study, she knew he'd be welcome to practice on her the rest of his life. The stars were more like bursts now, shocking and heightening sensation even as her mind lost focus on everything other than the delight and anticipation washing over her body like a sudden summer deluge.

Suddenly, he pulled away, eyes dark and breathing uneven. "Better?"

"J-Just a little," she stammered, comfortably warm and tingling all over with cheeks she was sure matched her hair. And she would have been fine turning around and going home then, perhaps a little disappointed, but fine.

He didn't give her the chance.

There was a whirl of sand, then a whirl of scenery, and she found herself in a bedroom that looked, frankly, huge and seldom used. The walls were freckled with what must have been a rough, stone texture, though it was hard to tell in the faint moonlight. Sparse furniture speckled the room like driftwood washed onto a beach, and the bed lurked in the center like a sleeping, jet black beast. The sign of Suna was carved into the headboard.

They were in Gaara's bedroom. His bedroom.

She fixed her eyes back on him, and found his expression somewhat guarded. Indeed, the sand was still swirling around him protectively as he led her towards the black sheets. Her calves bumped the edge of the bed.

Oooh, silk, the medic noted irrelevantly as the Kazekage reached out and touched her shoulder. Simply touched.

She collapsed onto his bed with a sigh, crumpling like wet paper.

Gaara slid off her boots with care, shedding his own footgear moments later. He then followed her onto the bed, resting a knee on each side of her hips. Pressing a kiss on her forehead, he let his mouth linger there with a brief, contented sigh. Then he added another kiss, then another, trailing down along the side of her face to her neck and stopping when the collar of her shirt obstructed his progress.

This time, his sigh was more of a groan, and she shared in his disappointment at the barrier. For some reason, Sakura couldn't grasp why anyone would bother wearing clothes at all. At the moment, they seemed to be nothing but a hindrance; nothing but a barrier between her skin and his.

"Gaara," she breathed, as she fumbled with the buckles of his shirt, working them loose and pushing the garment towards his shoulders. Once more he broke away, this time with an impatient hiss, and started tearing off the clothes himself.

She wanted to help him, her hands were desperate, but she could only sit up and back more towards the headboard as he peeled off the vest, the coat, and that arresting netting that criss-crossed his pale skin under it all. Once finished he paused, seeming put out by the distance she'd put between them. With a stroke of sudden courage, she sat up and pulled up her own shirt to make up for it. Halfway out, she faltered, the pink fabric bunched around her neck and obscuring her vision.

Warm hands slid up her sides, and her eyes widened at the contact as he helped her out of the constricting garment, along with the gloves and the bracers on her elbows. No sooner were her arms free of it had he captured her lips in a kiss again.

Sakura gasped, melting back down onto the sheets and lacing her fingers once more in his hair as he crawled on top of her. She basked in the heat he radiated as he relaxed above her just enough so that their navels grazed, then arched his back away from her again.

When he repeated the movement with a roll of his hips that charged the air with seductive promises, the kunoichi moaned, digging her nails into his hair. In response, he growled and it made her tremble, the heat from their earlier kisses intensifying until it was a fire that was licking at her insides, making her melt between her thighs.

Slipping her hands down, she caressed his smooth chest, brushing away the faint sand she felt crusting there in his cautious armor. He seemed to get the hint, for the fine grains trailed down her arms like dry rain then seemed to evaporate, likely banished to the furthest corners of the room. The medic reached her hands lower, pulling at the waist of his pants.

She wanted something, something she was too hot and uncertain to name but not so uncertain as to doubt her desire. She wanted contact, or friction, or perhaps just more of him.

He pushed her hands away, denying her the contact, and she made a noise of disapproval into his mouth. Pulling away again, he shook his head, a faint smile twisting his deliciously parted lips.

"Wait," the shinobi told her, softly, dipping his head back down to nibble along her collarbone and nudge the straps of her navy lace bra out of the way. He rose, cradling the back of her head so that she sat up again, then resumed his ministrations.

Rocking back against the palms of her hands and slightly miffed at his intolerance for her roaming touch, Sakura slid her green eyes up to the ceiling. His teeth and tongue were devastating her willpower, and her fingers clenched the sheets as he hit a particularly sensitive spot. Then her bra fell away.

"Gaara-"

"Not yet," he halted her, pressing her back onto the mattress and leaving the garment unsnapped and lying loosely on her chest. Unzipping her shorts, he slid her clothing down her long legs with teasing slowness.

Sakura tried to lock her legs shut, suddenly feeling bare and vulnerable, but Gaara wrapped his hands around her knees, pulling them up to rest against his chest and smothered her in a fresh wave of kisses. It was starting to feel unfair, just how much he was playing with her.

She froze, eyes widening and pupils dilating as his thigh brushed the junction of her legs. The Kazekage paused, sliding his mouth along to her neck again, and she felt him smirk.

Oh shit.

Trailing down her body again, alternating between featherlight kisses and aggressive love bites, Gaara chuckled into her skin as she struggled to push him away, her knees sliding helplessly along his sides and shoulders. He seemed to know that she wasn't entirely serious, and resisted her with a faint echo of sadistic glee.

"Ga-aara, you shouldn't be..."

He hummed this time, the vibrations tickling something delicious as he moved down lower and-

A gasp tore from Sakura's lips, then a helpless moan as she sank further into the bed, trying not to writhe against the man at her hips. Thumbs were massaging maddening circles on top of her hipbones as his tongue grazed, teased, then slid in and out, seeming to lack rhyme or reason in the teasing of her slit. It was almost torture.

She never thought she'd live to see the day that she wanted Gaara, of all the savage and dangerous men in the world, to be rougher on her. It was the ghost of what could be, the faintest ash of a raging fire; she wanted to burn.

"Gaara," she snarled, tangling her fingers in his hair and pulling him up so she could look at him, and stilled.

The intensity of his eyes almost frightened her; his breath was so carefully controlled, however, she had to marvel at his training. She hadn't noticed before how much effort he was taking to take things slowly, and the fierce grip she had in his now quite messy locks loosened.

At this realization, she felt oddly submissive, yet at the same time very valuable. Reaching up, she kissed him with all the tenderness she'd ever offered to a man and more. He returned the favor carefully, tossing aside the bra she'd practically forgotten.

This time, when she slid her hands across his stomach, he shuddered but didn't stop her. As she slid the garment off, Sakura pressed her lips against his shoulder, eying the smooth expanse of ivory skin on his back. So much of him seemed untouched, like the windswept dunes in the gentle morning sun.

Struck by a new idea, she left his clothes clinging desperately to his hips, and bit very lightly into his skin. Gaara took in a sharp breath and she paused, waiting until he gave a shaky sigh and nuzzled her to continue. Alternating between teeth and tongue, she worried the skin until a faint red mark appeared. The medic smiled, pleased with herself and feeling strongly possessive, then resumed undressing the shinobi.

Now there was nothing between them but the air.

In the last couple minutes of contemplation, Sakura had cooled from her irrational fever, and hesitated.

"Gaara?"

"Mh?" He raised his head from the crook of her neck, studying her with careful eyes that were still darkened by desire.

"I, um..." How could she put into words the million concerns and desires that were running through her head, even as she condemned thoughts good and bad alike. Where would this leave them, leave their villages? Would she be forced to return home, awkward and branded as some sort of harlot for sharing the bed of a-

"Hey." Gaara pressed his lips against hers, pulling her from her reverie. "You're somewhere else. Where?"

"Just... thinking." She studied him with bright green eyes, feeling somewhat dazed and detached from reality.

The shinobi gave her a faintly annoyed look. "Don't think."

As he captured her once more in a fevered, desperate kiss, she did just that.

Ripples of heat ran up and down her body, loosening her muscles and electrifying her nerves to the point that even the slightest contact made her quiver. Gaara's mouth and tongue worked her over thoroughly, breaking away every once in a while to gasp for breath.

His hands were bolder now, sliding over every inch of her he could reach; from the delicate skin of her ankles that were brushing the sides of his legs, tracing the gentle curve of her calves, sliding his palms along the tops of her thighs as his thumbs grazed the insides, over the bones of her hips and the flat expanse of her stomach, along her ribcage, kneading her breasts and wringing a soft cry from her lips before sliding along her arms to gently pin her wrists beside her head.

Under different circumstances, Sakura would have fought the sudden restraints - her training taught her to - and even as distracted as she was, she shifted under his grip.

He grunted slightly, as though miffed by her lack of faith in him, then relaxed against her. When she moved again, her nipples brushed his chest and he took in a sharp breath, breaking their kiss.

"Don't," he murmured, his breath hitching in his throat. Sakura almost sulked, letting her lustful green gaze lock onto his.

"Why not? I let you."

Gaara blinked, scowling slightly. "That's different."

"Oh, so I'm not allowed to touch you? To tease you?"

He growled and pressed her deeper into the mattress. "That's different," he insisted, rolling his hips forward so his arousal was just brushing her entrance. "You're already more than I can take."

She responded with a similar movement, arching her spine and pressing herself more snugly against his body, reveling in the groan that escaped through his gritted teeth.

"Then take me," she whispered, half dazed with heat and need and affection. "Take me, Gaara. I'm yours."

When his mouth dipped down to meet hers again, the movement was tender and gentle, sending a sweep of romantic bliss up her spine and she smiled against his lips. His grip on her loosened, fingers sliding to brush the palms of her hand, and as he rocked forward and entered her, laced them seamlessly together.

Sakura gasped slightly, a sound muffled by Gaara's mouth, and she dug her fingers into the backs of his hands involuntarily at the pain. He held still, a faint tremble in his forearms the only evidence of the willpower it took to do so as she tried to relax around him again.

She hadn't been expecting this, how he filled her up almost more than she could stand, and felt somewhat like a failure. A hot tear of frustration and vulnerable pain ran down her cheek.

He couldn't have known she was crying, surely, but somehow he seemed to and tightened his own grip around her hand reassuringly. She let out a shuddering sigh into his mouth, then discovered it didn't hurt as bad now.

Hesitantly, almost, she relaxed her grip on his hands, a silent signal to continue. When he pulled partially out of her only to slide back inside, deeper than before, silent was no longer a priority.

A tremulous sound of pleasure escaped her throat, only to be held captive by Gaara as he moved again. The sensations, the friction; everything was overwhelming. Sakura's body seemed to be humming with energy, and she met his next thrust with a tilt and a jerk of her hips. Wrapping her legs as best as she could around his back, the medic broke off the kiss to gasp for breath, only to have it driven from her again as she moaned.

Is this what he meant, 'what comes after?' No words could have prepared her for this, anyway. There was no way to describe the bolts of lust that chased across her body like chain lightning, no way to describe the way she could feel every single inch of him inside her.

They were settling into a rhythm now, a sort of primal soundless melody of body against body, lips brushing against skin, gasps and groans and trembles as she molded to his shape and he to hers. A fine sheen of sweat covered her body, even in the dry air, and Sakura trembled though far from cold.

"Please," she gasped, begging for release from this unbearable pleasure as all the sparkling sensations of lust began coiling tightly deep inside. Desperate, she pushed against Gaara harder, trying to pull him closer, deeper, until she couldn't tell where she ended and he began.

There was a brief moment, where he hit something inside that made her almost die with pleasure; she gritted her teeth and groaned. Getting the hint, Gaara repeated the action again and again until she was shaking like a flower in a windstorm and then-

"Gaara!" A sensation like falling, almost, and a tidal wave of bliss swept her away. She kissed him in a frenzy, pulling out of his grip to wrap her arms around his shoulders. He followed her a moment later, her name sounding almost torn out of his lungs as his heat spilled inside her and he collapsed, shaking, onto his elbows.

Sakura lay still for a while, feeling his breathing slow before he pulled out of her, falling beside her and burying his head in the crook of her neck. As the heat from their passion was sapped from her limbs, she found herself shaking slightly against him.

Silently, the Kazekage sat up slightly, and she watched as he reached across her and jerked the sheets untucked from the edges of the bed. Wrapping the dark silk loosely around them, Gaara settled her under his chin.

"Did I win?"

She nodded, nestling against him and feeling his steady heartbeat against her skin. "Sure, why not."

Silence wreathed them for a long while, and Sakura felt her eyelids fluttering shut. The still responsible part of her was considering debating with the Kazekage who won their bet just so she could sleep in, but the rest of her was still too happy to give a damn.

"Sakura?"

"Mm?"

Gaara paused, letting a few seconds slide by as though taking his time constructing his sentences.

"You miss home, don't you?"

She frowned slightly, confused. "A... little, yeah. Why?"

"You should go back and visit," he offered. "I'll go with you."

Her heartbeat quickened suddenly, but she squashed the notion. Don't be silly. No one thinks of asking permission to date someone.

Especially not now.

"Anyone in particular?" She had to ask.

"The Hokage," he answered, impossibly calm. "I think I'm in love with you."

Sakura bit her lip, trying not to grin foolishly or, worse, break down in happy tears. "That makes two of us." A satisfied chuckle deep in Gaara's chest sent warm tingles down her spine as she let her eyes slide closed.

In his bedroom, far from the forest of Konoha, she felt perfectly at home.

...o...

I would like to be recognized, if for nothing else, as one of the only smut writers who remembered to take off her character's shoes. And super special thanks goes out to Kip, the boy-man-fish who beta'd this thrice. C: