The first time she met him she had only been 5 years old. Just a little girl who had run from her father's funeral and ended up at an empty playground. The same playground her father would take her to when he wasn't busy with work.
Kiku sat on the swing, twirling a small red flower between her fingers. It was her father's favorite, taken right off one of the pots of flowers he'd helped her grow in her bedroom. She was supposed to lay one on his grave site but she had refused to do so. She knew that if she did she'd be admitting that he really was gone forever, and she couldn't accept that. That was why she had run away from the ceremony. Nobody had followed after her.
Tears welled up in her pale blue eyes and fell slowly down pudgy red cheeks.
"Are you alright?"
She turned her head toward the voice and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. There was a boy standing a few feet away and for a moment she stared at him. He looked familiar, but she couldn't place why. He slowly stepped closer and when she didn't respond he pointed to the swing beside her.
"Can I sit next to you?"
She nodded and he sat down, swinging his legs gently. He stared at the ground and she stared at him. She thought he was pretty. His hair was red, and red was her favorite color. It had been her dad's favorite too.
"I…I like your hair…it's very pretty," she said quietly. His head snapped up to look at her and she saw his aqua colored eyes open wide in surprise. When he didn't say anything she looked away.
"Yours is pretty too."
She turned back to look at him and forced a tiny smile. She hated her hair. It was just a mass of dark purple curls that made her think of her mother. She wished she'd had brown hair like her dad instead. Her smile faded quickly and they both returned to the silence. The boy shifted in his swing.
"Why were you crying before?" He asked.
She bit her lip and stared at the flower in her hand.
"My daddy…he…he died…" she whispered, voice cracking slightly as tears filled her eyes once again. "Now I just have my mom and sister...and they never liked me much. I always mess things up and daddy was the only one to never get mad."
She thought back to her 5th birthday party a few months ago. Since her father was a member of the Kazekage's council her mother had invited many of the other elite families from the land of wind with the intention to parade Kiku and her older sister, Kimi, around like objects. She had high hopes that one day the two of them would marry high class men of her choosing so they could all continue leading the lavish lifestyle that she treasured so much.
To accomplish that, she'd decided it was necessary to introduce both her daughters into her social circle as soon as possible. It should have been a simple task for Kiku. She just had to stay quiet, look nice, and thank everyone for her presents. Of course she couldn't manage that.
Kiku never handled pressure very well. She'd been so jittery the whole day that she'd spilled punch all over her white birthday dress within the first hour of the party and every time she saw her mother's angry stare she couldn't help but burst into tears sporadically throughout the night.
Her mother ended up telling the guests that Kiku was tired and sent her up to bed before dinner. Kimi was left to play the part of 'Birthday Girl', opening her presents and eating cake, while Kiku sat in her room, covered in punch and starving.
Her father had snuck her a piece of cake into her room after the guests had left. He told her that she'd done just fine and that everything would work out fine. She knew that he was lying, but it made her feel a little better just to hear him say that.
Her mother had screamed at her the following day for embarrassing her, and Kimi made fun of Kiku for weeks afterwards. Kiku's father was the only one who didn't mind, but he was rarely around due to work. Now he was gone forever and she knew he'd never bring her another piece of cake or be there to tell her everything was going to be fine. She were stuck…alone with the people who only saw her as a disappointment.
"My family doesn't like me either," the boy said to her. "nobody does really. My uncle is the only one who takes care of me."
He'd caught her off guard with his comment and she could see he was sad. She reached out to take his hand in hers.
"I didn't mean to make you sad too," she said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
He looked at her curiously. He didn't understand why she was still here talking to him…and now she'd touched him. Nobody ever got that close.
"Ummm…what's your name?" She asked. She'd been sitting with him for a while and had just noticed she still didn't know who he was.
"I'm Gaara," he said quietly.
Kiku remembered that name. Her eyes opened wide in recognition and she pulled her hand away. Now she knew why he looked familiar. He was the boy her sister had pointed out to her once. She had said he was a monster and that he'd kill her if she ever talked to him.
When Kiku pulled her hand back he saw the fear in her eyes and he looked down, his eyes tearing up. She really was just like everyone else.
She bit her lip and jumped off the swing to stand in front of him.
"I'm Kiku!" she said, trying to catch his attention again. Her sister had to be wrong. He didn't seem like a monster. He'd been nice to her the whole time. If he'd wanted to hurt her it would have happened already, right?
Despite her sudden outburst he refused to look at her. She could see the sand around her beginning to sift.
"You know, I was named after this flower!" She held out her chrysanthemum. She wasn't sure what to say but she wanted him to talk to her again. When he still didn't look up she frowned.
"I'm sorry Gaara-kun. Please don't be sad." She reached for his hand again but her wrist was suddenly caught by sand. It was tight and a little uncomfortable. It caught her off guard and she spent a few moments poking at it. She didn't know sand could do that. She thought it was kind of cool.
Gaara finally looked back up at her and he let the sand drop. She didn't look scared or sad anymore. Instead she smiled a small, innocent smile.
"Did you do that with the sand?" she asked.
He nodded and she smiled.
"Can you make it do anything else?"
"Could you show me?"
She decided to let the topic drop since she didn't want to upset him again. She handed him her chrysanthemum. He took the flower and stared at her.
"It matches your hair," she said, smiling. "I have lots that I grow in my room…so I want you to have this one to say sorry I made you sad."
He thought she was a little odd but he smiled at the present.
She suddenly realized how dark it was and looked up at the starry sky. She wondered if she should go home and how much trouble she'd be in when she got there. Then she wondered if anyone had bothered to look for her. She doubted it.
"Hey, if I go home now can I see you again tomorrow?" she asked.
He nodded slowly.
"Meet me by the swings tomorrow afternoon then," she said, turning on her heels and running off in the direction of her home. She looked back once to wave goodbye before taking off full speed towards her home.
He watched her go and decided to head home as well. He looked at the flower in his hand and wondered if she really would come back tomorrow.