This is Love

Chapter 1

Drip…drip…drip; metallic tasting water dripped into her water bucket, from the leaky pipe above in the corner. Just close enough for her to reach without pulling the chains taught. It was however her only source of water, so she didn't care. Chains rattled and scraped on the stone floor as she curled tighter on a dirty mattress. It could get quite cold in the dank, dark cellar and her thin rags didn't help any. Four years she'd been chained here, with no one to talk to besides the rats and stone silent walls. It was only on the weeks "master" didn't bring food that the walls talked back. Usually her master, Sasori of the Red Sand brought food at the most once a week, no more. Nor did he provide any comfort or relief from the chains or cold always with her. She was little more than a prisoner. She'd only been let out of the chains four times, only when Sasori wanted to use her. To him, she was no more than a tool, a living puppet, just another weapon, though one that needed fed and watered, even if as little as possible.

Though now it had been a long time since Sasori had brought food, two weeks at least. She curled into a tight ball and closed her eyes, closing her eyes and losing herself to distant dreams of freedom, not she would ever be so lucky. Sasori kept her as a living puppet, though not likely living for much longer.

Gaara

Nothing looked out of order about the outside of the old house, apart from the obvious fact that it was crumbling. The sandstone walls had started to crumble against the harsh elements of the desert. The wood of the old door, dried and withered by wind, hung crookedly on its worn hinges. The knob had already rotted away. Gaara found it hard to believe someone would dare hide drugs or weapons here, even people like the Akatsuki. Still something gnawed at his instincts, so he pushed the crumbling door open, to a filthy wood floored room. In a corner, the floor had caved into what he supposed was the cellar. The jagged edges of broken wood threatened to skewer anyone dumb enough to test its pest eaten wood. This was one of those earlier houses built, when wood was still imported to the desert for construction. It had likely been abandoned for thirty years, hence its condition.

"It doesn't look like anyone's been here in years, Kazekage-sama. Let's go before the house falls on us!" one of his companions warned.

"It's stood this long, it can stand a few more minutes. We must search thoroughly. Come on, come in," Gaara told them.

"Coward, the house can't eat us, come on," the other remarked.

They looked at the stuff piled on tables first, but everything had at least twenty years of dust layers.

"Someone's been here all right. Look, no dust on the floor, it's been swept."

"I'd bet to hide footprints!" the other finished.

That's what comes of working with twins, I guess, Gaara thought.

"Let's split up," the Kazekage decided. "You two take the upper house, I'll go for the cellar."

"Don't worry, Kazekage-sama, we'll get him."

Uh-huh…sure you will…

The cellar door too, was well rotted and worn, though this time from moisture. He guessed there must be a leak somewhere down there. Gaara yanked on the wood door but it didn't budge. After a few more tries, he finally used sand to push from the other side while he pulled. It came right off the rusted hinges! The heavy door fell to wood with a crash, spewing dust everywhere. Coughing and spluttering, Gaara descended to the cellar. As he did he couldn't help but think earlier just before the door crashed, he'd heard the unmistakable drag of chains across stone. So he went cautiously keeping all senses alert.

Thinking he heard small wheezing sounds, he slowed.

"Hello? Is anyone here? Show yourself."

When no answer came, he went forward. Rounding a corner, impossibly green, big eyes as brilliant as peridot gem stared at him from an ashen, gaunt and hollowed face. Black/dark brown hair hung in tangled knots well past her waist.

He heard the breath leave her body when she suddenly scrambled back, fear screaming in her eyes. She wore no more than dirty rags, other than the two shackles on her wrists attached to eight foot chains. The chains hung three feet up the back stone wall. She looked about fifteen, maybe fourteen. She didn't seem to have anything else but a bucket of water under a dripping pipe and a dirty mattress.

"Shh, it's okay. I'm not gonna hurt you. You're okay. My name is Gaara."

Curiousity replaced fear in her eyes, as she cocked her head to one side, like a cat does when they're trying to figure out what someone's saying.

Gaara dug in his pocket for the sandwich that was supposed to be his lunch. Oh well, she needed it a lot more than he did. She wasn't much more than skin and bone. Even through the rags, he could count every rib.

"Here, do you want something to eat?" He passed the sandwich through the metal bars as far as he could.

Very hesitantly she crawled forward and took the sandwich, but scooted back again with it.

"I'm sorry, that's all I have. But I can get you out of here. I will."

She was totally concentrated on the food.

"Hey, you two, get down here. I need some help," Gaara called up the stairs.

He started to work on the rusted latch of the iron barred gate while she finished the sandwich. She watched half curiously as his muscles strained against the badly rusted iron. He would use sand, but it would probably scare the girl, the last thing he wanted to do. Finally he looked for something to knock it with, and seeing a wrench among the scattered rubble, he reached for it. With one hard knock to the bottom of the latch, the jerked free. Now came the tricky part, opening the gate without breaking it. Luckily, iron hinges seemed to hold better, but before he could get it open, two voices crashed through the stairwell. They really didn't get the idea of stealth apparently.

"Kazekage-sama! What'd ya find? Drugs? Weapons? Cool stuff? A – girl?"

"A half dead girl." the other echoed.

Gaara ignored them and shoved the old gate open.

She backed up against the mattress as he approached slowly. He crouched down, so he looked less threatening.

"It's alright, No one's going to hurt you. I'm going to help you out of this place. Please don't be afraid," he nearly pleaded. He analyzed the chains binding her, figuring the fastest way to free her would be to cut the chains. The faster they got this done, the less stress she'd be under.

"Could one of you two find a bolt cutter? I know I saw one upstairs," Gaara asked.

He turned his attention back to the girl, trying a different tactic, he held out a hand and averted his eyes. She'd been treated no better than an animal for who knows how long so maybe she would act like one. His improve theory proved correct. With his eyes averted, he felt the lightest of touches on his hand, then heavier as she chose to trust him. Only then did he dare turn to see her.

"What is your name?" he asked her gently.

She looked as if she didn't understand, then turned her eyes down. Suddenly she began shaking her head and her breathing sped.

"Okay, easy, easy. Just relax. Don't worry about it." He felt helpless. Instinct told him touch would calm her, but it would likely scare her.

"I got the cutter!" one of the twins called down,

The second Ai saw the sharp tool panic flew into her eyes, but instead of going back, this time she ducked into Gaara's shoulder with a kind of whimper. She started shaking.

"It's okay, it's okay, Ai. It can't hurt you. We're only gonna cut the chains with it so you're free."

This seemed to calm her. She raised and arm and rattled the chains. "F-ree?"

He nodded. "Can you hold out your arm for me? I promise this won't hurt at all."

She did, if only hesitant and Gaara held it steady while the shorter twin cut the chain.

Chink! One down, one to go.

"Now the other. "

This time she didn't hesitate and watched with curious eyes as the bolt cutter squeezed down on the iron until it too snapped.

After that she only blinked, looking from one free arm to the other, hardly believing she was really free. The realization of it all became too much and her eyes rolled back into her head; she'd passed out.

Gaara caught her small frail body before it hit the cold stone and lifted her in his arms. She weighed maybe seventy pounds and for a teenage girl; not good.

"Let's get her out of here," Gaara said, going up the stairs.

"Kazekage-sama, what about the house?"

"Burn it."