An unusually strong sandstorm was plaguing Suna that night, windows were boarded up, the villagers were hiding in their houses, grimly listening to the eerie howling of the wind. The Kazekage Compound stood solitary in the middle of Suna, withstanding the pounding wind and sand.
Haruno Sakura hurried down the corridor of the compound. Sand struck the window as she passed. She stopped to stare out at the storm. It was brutal, sheer power raging outside the protective walls of the compound. Her arm prickled from the memory of Gaara's own sand attacks she had endured in her life.
The nursery was the temporary home of Shikamaru and Temari's second child, Shika, a little six month old girl. Sakura, as an honorary aunt, had discovered she had a fierce protective side when it came to her friend's babies. On occasion, like tonight, she would creep down to the nursery to reassure herself that the baby was fine. The storm had set her nerves on edge, the wind howling like a lost child just outside her window, the walls trembling under the storm's weight.
She opened the door and turned on the light.
There was a woman bent over Shika's crib. Sakura's hand was on her kunai before she could even register the stranger's presence.
She had dark hair cut very short and looked to be a few years older than Sakura. Her brown eyes widened in alarm. "I'm Kanae! Shikamaru-san hired me to look after his children whilst he and his wife are on missions."
"Don't kill the nanny just yet, Sakura." Kankuro drawled, "It's OK, I met her yesterday, she's genuine." He strolled into the room, squinting in the bright light.
Sakura breathed a sigh of relief. Little Shika was too adorable for words, and if anything had happened to her...
"Kankuro-san." Kanae gave a little bow at the sight of the Kazekage's brother.
Sakura noted Kankuro's unease at such formal treatment, "You aren't from Suna, are you?" She inquired. Figures of respect like Gaara were treated reverently, but normally the people of Suna were not as formal as those from Sakura's own village, disliking suffixes and bowing.
Kanae flushed, "No, Haruno-sama. I'm from a small village of little consequence. Shikamaru-san hired me when he saw how I cared for a few of his friends' children, the Inuzukas. I was just trying to settle Shika down for the night, the storm had made her restless."
Hmm. Shika looked happy enough, gurgling and laughing as she tried to grab Kanae's hair. And what was that about her village? Sakura felt oddly paranoid for a moment. It was probably just the protective aunt side of her panicking over nothing.
"Did you come to check on her too? When I have kids I swear I'll sit by their cribs day and night, clutching a kunai and glaring at anyone who comes near them." Kankuro laughed.
"It was nice meeting you both," Kanae said, with an awkward smile, "But the baby is settled, and I would like to rest." She indicated a mess of blankets and pillows on the window seat.
"You sleep in the nursery?" Kankuro said incredulously, "Didn't you get your own room?"
Kanae looked embarrassed, "Yes, but I like to be close to my charges at all times. If she wakes up, I'll be here for her straightaway."
Kankuro muttered something that might have been, "Fucking crazy nanny."
Sakura tried not to laugh, "Well, I should get back to bed." She peered at the baby again.
Shika had her father's dark hair and her mother's dark green eyes. She laughed in delight at the sight of Sakura, who tickled her and cooed over her for a moment or two.
She regretfully left, Kankuro at her heels. As she closed the door, she glimpsed a tired-looking Kanae crawling into her nest of blankets, and felt a stab of sympathy for her.
She knew what it was like to be so dedicated to your job it became unhealthy.
The shinobi squad leader dropped down silently on to the roof, making a series of hand gestures to indicate the rest of the squad should follow. His belt was heavier than usual, poisons and weapons weighing it down. A few of the squad members, unused to the harsh sandstorms of Suna, tried to protect their eyes from the sharp-edged wind.
The window was loose. The squad leader gave it a gentle push. It had previously been tested to ensure it wouldn't squeak and give them away. He slid into the room noiselessly.
A woman lay in her bed, alone, hair splayed across the pillow. The squad were careful in their movements. This woman was a professional. But so were they.
The leader waited for the signal, a cawing crow.
The squad sprang into action at the sound of the bird call. Poisons were removed from belts, kunai in hand as they approached the bed cautiously.
Their orders were clear. Take care of the targets. Make it quick and clean. Take out the main players, let the village panic, then let the chaos reign.
The leader's kunai had especially picked out for this job, coated with a special poison with no known antidote. A mere scratch would kill.
He bent down over the sleeping woman, eyes on the jugular.
He was surprised when the woman's eyes flew open, narrowed and green, and his windpipe was crushed by her fist. He fell to the ground, dead.
Haruno Sakura attacked.
These men were trained especially to fight her, she noted. But they had been expecting a sleeping woman, an easy kill. She was angry and very much awake.
The assassins wore nondescript dark blue uniforms, masks concealing their faces. They had come prepared; they each unsheathed large swords and pointed them at her.
"Ooh," She said cheerfully, "My speciality."
She held her own sword aloft. She had trained extensively with Kaede's blade, to the point where she felt incomplete in a fight without its comforting weight in her hand.
The sword's point swished in a complicated pattern, Sakura traced the air with the blade, showing off her talent. A few of the assassins backed off slightly.
Sakura was pushed back as three of them rushed at her, sword clashing against the enemy blade. She ducked a blow and sliced through one of the men's stomach, throwing him against another. The dying man dragged a few others down with him, and Sakura began to circle, herding the last few stragglers into a corner.
When one attacked, she kicked her wardrobe at him, partly to distract him and partly to make some noise. It connected with a bang, knocking him backwards.
She was very much aware that she was fighting for her life in a nightgown.
As she fought, she tried hard not to worry about the others.
The would-be assassins were cautious now, hanging back.
She grinned and flew at them.
Gaara had been attacked in his own bed, during some precious rare hours of sleep. He was not happy.
They'd had a water specialist ninja soak his sand, not realising they had made a rather deadly, thicker version of muddy sand. He had buried them within seconds. Despite the ease in which he fought them, he still recognised that they were all highly trained, ruthless killers.
Gaara rubbed at a red stain on his shirt absently and left the room, leaving the fallen assassins stuck in his sand-mud.
What if they had gone to her room first? Gaara felt a surge of fear for her. If they had touched her... If she was hurt in any way...
Kankuro stumbled out of his bedroom, a cut on his cheek. His collar was soaked in blood, "Gaara, you too?" He gasped for breath. His clothes were ripped and Karasu loomed behind him, stumbling drunkenly from frayed chakra strings, "They had chakra-coated kunai, tried to cut through the chakra strings... Gaara, they got away from me, they flew out of the window..."
"To escape?" Gaara wondered aloud, "Or to regroup?"
"If they attacked us, then -"
"-Sakura could be in danger too."
They took off at a run, heading towards the Kazekage's bodyguard's private rooms. Kankuro got there first and yanked open the door.
It was a massacre. Men wearing the same dark blue uniform as the others lay dead in piles on Sakura's carpet, ruining the good rug. Sakura was nowhere to be seen.
Gaara's brow tightened in worry as his pale eyes swept over the room, "Not here." He said shortly.
"Well then -" Kankuro was cut off by a feminine shriek further down the hall.
Gaara was faster than his older brother for once, panic fuelling his speed.
The nursery door was slightly ajar, the sounds of a panicked woman could be heard from inside.
A dark haired woman cowered inside the room, arms placed protectively over Shika's cot. A man loomed over them.
Sakura punched the assassin in the face, sending him flying into the wall with a sickening thud.
She checked the man's pulse and shook her head, cleaning her blade as she bent down next to the dark haired woman.
"Sakura?" Gaara said, feeling relief swell inside him, "We thought..."
"I didn't capture any alive," Sakura said regretfully, "Didn't get the chance."
There was a moment of silence whilst the Kazekage stared, face drained of colour, blood still staining his shirt. Then Gaara exhaled sharply, "Neither did I. They were trained. They came after me, my bodyguard and my brother..." He broke off, staring at Shika through the wooden slats of the cot.
"She's fine," Sakura said hastily as he lurched forwards in alarm, "Kanae protected her."
Kanae was wild-eyed, she had a gash on her forearm where she had blocked a blow intended for the baby, "I couldn't let them..." She said, struggling for breath, "Kill her. I just couldn't." She was trembling all over.
Sakura patted her on the shoulder, "She's safe. You did a good job."
"I'll say," Kankuro agreed, propping Karasu up with his shoulder.
"Even my sister's child," Gaara frowned deeply, "Temari and Shikamaru might be targets. They intended to be thorough, killing not just the Kazekage but his staff and family too."
"Like a purge." Sakura met Gaara's gaze, looking solemn.
"And some of the bastards escaped." Kankuro cursed.
Shika began to wail, her little red face screwed up, her cries competing with the howling wind outside.
"Akira!" Sakura suddenly gasped.
They all stared at each other.
"He was supposed to be in my room tonight." Gaara said slowly.
Kanae coughed and pulled back one of her blankets, revealing a sleeping boy of around three years old, blonde hair sweetly tousled from sleep.
"He came to visit his sister," Kanae said apologetically, "I tried to send him back to his room, but he refused."
"Thank God," Sakura said, pale, "What if they'd gotten to him first?"
Akira was the eldest child of Shikamaru and Temari. He, like his sister, looked exactly like Temari. Shikamaru tried to hide it, but it was obvious that he was proud of the boy's intelligence. Even at three years old, he was capable of holding lengthy discussions with adults, and enjoyed playing with Shikamaru's puzzles for fun. He was at a stage where he refused to sleep alone. Gaara often allowed the boy to share his room.
Kanae gently tucked the blankets around Akira.
"And, I'm sorry Gaara..." Sakura said, eyes on the floor, "I'm your bodyguard, I should have been defending you tonight."
"You are my bodyguard, true," Gaara nodded, "But I want you to keep yourself and the others alive too, not just me."
Gaara bent down and scooped up Akira, wrapped in the blankets like a cocoon. Seeing the Kazekage, previous host of a powerful, bloodthirsty demon, gaze at a sleeping infant tenderly was still a new experience for Sakura.
"I'll take him back to my room for tonight. I'll get the hunter-nin to track down the escaped assassins," Gaara hefted the three year old's weight with a grimace and turned to leave, "And Sakura? I want to talk to you in ten minutes."
"OK, I admit that sounded ominous." Kankuro gave her a look of abject sympathy, "Good luck with that."
He bent down and helped Kanae out of her nest of blankets, "And you are going to sleep in a bed tonight, whether you like it or not. Shika will be fine with Anbu guarding her door."
Kanae looked oddly flustered, cheeks red as Kankuro released her hand, "I - I suppose so." She complied.
Sakura gently shut the nursery door behind her, the sound of Kankuro's laughter and Kanae's mumbles audible even through the thick wood.
The sun had begun to rise, and from where Gaara was standing on his balcony, a halo of sunlight surrounded him.
Sakura paused to smile at the image.
"Sakura." Gaara said without turning, "We need to talk."
"OK," She smiled, "So talk."
"You leave Suna in a year." Gaara said directly.
Sakura's skin had finally given in and had become tanned from constant exposure to the harsh sun. Her hair was the same length it had been since she was twelve. At twenty years old, she had found that she had grown into her body, her new elegant limbs contrasting with her clumsy teenage coordination. She was muscled, her taijutsu had finally caught up with the rest of her skills. Kaede's sword was now her own, she no longer waved it about uselessly, she knew exactly how to use it as an extension of herself. Hiroshi's mask still rested at her hip, the paint cracked and yellowed from age.
Her job as Senior Nurse was perfect. Sakura no Chiyu was legendary. In short, Haruno Sakura was no longer the only useless member of Team 7.
Sasuke had not only not been executed, he had been allowed to return to being a shinobi, for Konoha. There had been massive disapproval from the public at first, but Tsunade had relentlessly campaigned for his case, pointing out that he and Kakashi together had only two Sharingan left and killing Sasuke would make it one. The village had proven its need for strong shinobi over the years, with other Hidden Villages growing stronger steadily.
Naruto was still technically in hiding, though he could walk freely in Konoha, he always travelled elsewhere under heavy genjutsu. He was acting as a sort of Shadow Hokage, not giving any orders but offering his opinion on very important matters. His letters to Sakura had become increasingly focused on Hinata, in Sakura's absense the girl had become his second best friend.
His first, of course, was Sasuke. Team 7's relationship was still rocky. Naruto told Sakura that Sasuke had said Naruto had gotten more childish and annoying over time, Kakashi hadn't changed at all and Sakura was transformed beyond recognition, in his opinion. Sasuke wrote the odd letter to Sakura, the tone always civil and they were always as short as necessary.
Sakura had received a fair amount of male attention over the years, various chuunin and jounin had asked her out. It soon became clear to the village that the Kazekage's bodyguard shunned romantic entanglements religiously, though the real reason was never guessed at.
Sakura and Gaara never told anyone what had happened between them, that Gaara had confessed to her and had been rejected, or that Sakura had asked him to wait and see if she could ever return his feelings. Temari had asked, of course, but Sakura only ever shook her head in reply and refused to answer. Over the years, Sakura felt her feelings of friendship for Gaara intensify, he was her very best friend, beating out both Naruto and Ino for the position.
Tsunade frequently sent many of the Rookie Nine over to Suna on missions, not a month went by when Sakura did not see a familiar face. Suna and Konoha's alliance had strengthened beyond all hope, Suna's association with the more affluent village had improved its economy and Konoha had gained a fierce ally.
Sakura had been made a medical specialist jounin, her position as Senior Nurse had greatly increased her reputation in her field, as had her now famous Nerve Surgery Technique.
"I have a proposition for you," Gaara said, eyes gazing at her steadily, "I would like to assign you as a jounin sensei for three genin. No other jounin will work with them. I would like them to be given a second chance. I know you could help them."
Sakura's mouth dropped open, "But I'm only here for another year!" She cried, not noticing Gaara's flinch at the mention of how little time she had left in Suna, "You can't have a someone teach a genin team for a year and then leave them!"
"No other jounin will work with them," Gaara repeated, "I only want you to increase their chances of being accepted by another sensei in a year. They have been reported to be untrustworthy, difficult and unskilled for the most part. If you do not help them, they will stay untrained genin for the rest of their lives."
Sakura grimaced. Being forced to be so low-ranked... How difficult could a genin team be? She understood why Gaara hadn't simply forced them onto another jounin - how could they work together if they were forced together?
"They must be something special if you've taken an interest in them, Gaara." Sakura said shrewdly.
"I put them together for a reason. They all reminded me of someone. I wanted to give them a chance."
The sun climbed steadily in the sky, spreading golden light over the desert. Sakura gazed out at the village, doors were being opened, sleepy-eyed villagers peering out. The storm had died out by then. She could see people sweeping sand out of their houses, shutters being eased open, children cheerfully playing in the streets.
She rested an elbow on the sun-warmed stone balcony, moving closer to Gaara.
"OK," She said, "I'll do my best."
"Thank you, Sakura." Gaara said sincerely. The space between them was minimal, Sakura could feel his body emanating heat, feel his breath on her face. His eyes were stubbornly fixed on her eyes, though they had dropped to her mouth once and he had wavered.
"You have a year left in Suna," Gaara said again, "I want you to be able to go back and feel as though the last five years weren't a waste."
"I already know that!" Sakura grinned. The scars on her arm had faded slightly but their lessons had remained. She was not the same timid, nightmare-stricken sixteen year old that had crept into the Kazekage's office, she was no longer haunted by her past.
"Temari and Shikamaru are due back from their mission today," Gaara said quietly, "If they do not return by then, we will have to search for them," He met her eyes, "I'm afraid of what we might find."
Sakura thought of the little blonde boy being told his parents were never returning, of Kanae sitting quietly in the nursery with Shika in her arms, the baby never knowing her parents.
"If that ever happened," Sakura replied, "They would be heroes, and their children would be raised by two very loving uncles." Her words were matter of fact, but her eyes showed her hidden fear, revealing how worried she was about Shikamaru and Temari.
The heavy bags under Gaara's eyes and his tightened mouth showed her, in turn, how worried he was too.
"Now then," Sakura changed the subject, "About this new babysitter, Kanae..."
"She is very dedicated," Gaara nodded, turning to look out at Suna, "I didn't think about making her the children's official bodyguard, but after seeing her defend Shika, I was wondering..."
"No!" Sakura protested, "She's a civilian with no combat training, she never expected to have to save the baby's life on her first day! If we keep the Anbu guarding the nursery, that should be enough for now."
"Fine," Gaara grumbled. Then he frowned and turned back to face Sakura, "Kankuro acts oddly around her."
"Does he? I hadn't noticed." Sakura lied, holding back a grin.
"Yes he does. He acts like a fool."
"Probably just admiring her dedication." Sakura said solemnly.
Gaara appeared to muse on it for a moment or two, "Possibly." He concluded.
Sakura bit back a laugh. It was entirely possible Kankuro was just suspicious of Kanae, as Sakura was, or that his motivations were truly a little too complex and emotional for Gaara to comprehend. Even after his proclamation of love to Sakura, he acted no differently then before. Sakura expected that if he ever married, the most affection he would show his wife would be a very formal handshake.
"Are you sure we can trust Kanae? She was very vague about where she comes from."
"She's from a village near the border of Konoha, her records are clean, we have absolutely no reason to believe she anything but a highly recommended baby-sitter." Gaara said patiently.
"I just have a bad feeling." Sakura said, still worried about Shikamaru and Temari. Kanae had arrived just before the assassins had. Could that be a coincidence?
Gaara put a clumsy hand on her shoulder, squeezing it gently, a parody of comfort. It was more than anyone could have imagined him doing just a few years ago. His hand brushed against her cheek accidently, and suddenly, inexplicably, Sakura's face burned red.
It was going to be a very long and confusing year.
Hello again, dear readers! I'm back! Have you missed me? XD
Four years on and everything is different. Babies have been born, assassins have done a very poor job and suspicious babysitters have appeared!
In case anyone is confused:
Temari is twenty-three.
Kankuro is twenty-two. As is Kanae.
Shikamaru is twenty.
So is Sakura. And Gaara!
Shikamaru and Temari had two kids, Shika and Akira :)
Desert Scar was basically action, recovery, action, recovery... Desert Blossom is going to be more emotional, I think. I don't know how it will end yet, but I do know a few things :)
The Sakura of Desert Scar had only been in Suna for six months... leaving then would be much easier than now, after she's lived there for four years... The countdown of her time left begins.
I have to thank SakugirlSasuboy for the title suggestion :D Thank you so much!
Sakura is going to be a jounin sensei! And for three, mysterious genin! I just thought it would be interesting, having Sakura try to teach three kids no one else will bother with.
Kanae was certainly not created to give Kankuro a girlfriend but as I wrote her scenes I noticed that there appeared to be something between her and Kankuro, to my surprise. I'm probably wrong :D I despise main characters getting in relationships with OCs, usually, apart from a few notable exceptions - Sadako and Kisame from Butchery & Happiness by JACinthebox, for example.
Quick poll take: Should Kankuro become interested in Kanae?
A) Yes, give them a try.
B) God no, gross!
C) No idea XD