A/N: As promised, here's the epilogue! I was supposed to upload this on valentines day, but I had finished surprisingly fast, and thought it unfair to just keep it in my hard drive when some of you are probably waiting for it. Soooo, here it is!

But before that! Dun-dun-dun! Warnings and Disclaimers:

One, the epilogue revolves around the seven days Gaara had to deal with in preparations for the wedding. It's long. It's very long… and it's Gaara-centric. Parts of the chapter have a bit of fluff in them, but mostly they deal with what's going on in Gaara's head as he prepares for his marriage and as he interacts with the people important in Ino's life. Some parts will be a bit messed up, especially when Gaara starts feeling his… desires get the best of him. Slightly hot scenes somewhere in the end. No graphic lemon, but there is a suggestion of one. It is their wedding night, after all. XD

Two, as I am a fan of crack pairings, there are characters coupled up in this chapter that some people may not really think look good together, but all of the pairings in this chapter are the pairings I support and will be used for the sake of the story. If you are not a shipper, please no hating? XD

Three, for the sake of avoiding any more inconsistencies, I did not mention Ino's mother much in the chapter. I could have just made an OC out of her, but I wanted to emphasize Ino's relationship with her father and developing a relationship between Inoichi and an OC is just too hard to write about.

And, four, The Arrangement's first ten chapters were all from Ino's POV, and so some of you might ask: "What happened to Masami and Iwate?" Note that this chapter is through Gaara's eyes, and some people that matter to Ino may not matter to Gaara as much, and are left out of the detail of the story, though mentioned in passing.

If we are all clear with that, then please read on. XD

The Arrangement



He could hear it ticking, like a bomb. He opened his eyes in the darkness, softened only by the light streaming through the window from the lamp posts outside the Yamanaka residence. That ticking… he could tell it was coming from somewhere to his left. He turned to look for it. There it was. He could see the green, luminous hands as they moved around and around.

Gaara couldn't take it any more. Ino's lavender bunny rabbit alarm clock had to go. He reached his hand out to grab it around the neck when the woman who had her head resting on his shoulders jerked awake.

Ino peered up at him groggily through the haze of sleep and saw his hand was outstretched towards her alarm clock. "Wha… what are you doing?" she asked.

Gaara hastily lowered his hand back on Ino's shoulder. "Stretching," he lied darkly. The bunny rabbit kept on ticking.

"What time is it?"

He shot the rabbit a strangled look. "Four forty-three."

"That early? We should go back to sleep." Ino snuggled closer against him, resting one of her hands on his chest.

Gaara stiffened like a rock. Going back to sleep was going to be a hard task, because he hadn't been asleep to begin with.

It was a week before their wedding. Gaara and his party had come to Konoha to help with whatever last minute preparations they could do. Gaara had come with a number of people: Temari, Kankurou, Iwate and Matsuri. And of course, as a special guest from Pippu, Masami had joined them. All of them were staying at the special quarters Naruto had prepared in the administrations building. Naruto had prepared the best room for Gaara himself, but this led to that and he ended up staying in the Yamanaka compound for that night.

And he felt like Yamanaka Inoichi had planted eyes all over his only daughter's bedroom walls.

Gaara let out a breath, trying to assess the situation. Maybe he really shouldn't have let Ino convince him to stay for the night.

"But I've missed you! We've been apart for three months! Stay? Please?" she had begged. He couldn't say no, because a part of him had missed her probably more so than she did him. So much that embracing her after three months of being apart had been physically painful. He didn't even know he was capable of being this dependent on another human being. He was beginning to think that he needed her just to keep on living.

But he was finally getting married to this woman in a week. The last thing he wanted to do was mess up with her family at the last minute. Yamanaka Inoichi had been nice enough, but he knew he still needed to find out when his jokes were just jokes.

"Do I need to remind you about the 'no-hanky-panky' rule?" Inoichi had said over his shoulder after Gaara had showered and Ino was leading him up the stairs to her room.

"Oh, shut up," Ino had answered back off-handedly, but Gaara couldn't help but swallow hard and say, "Yes, sir," like a good boy.

Kankurou had said something like this happened in some cases of courtship, but his brother had admitted that he hadn't heard about a father lecturing his twenty-nine year old daughter who was getting married in seven days. This was the only ground Gaara had to say that Inoichi might have been kidding. Ino didn't look too bothered by it and he had tried to relax, but to no avail. He had lain awake all night, listening to Ino's silent breathing.

He blinked when Ino shifted next to him, the hand that was on his chest inched a bit lower to his stomach and he swallowed hard. He took her hand into his, twining her fingers uneasily with his long ones.



"Ino, are you awake?"

Ino moaned, wriggled then Gaara could feel her breath against his ear. "You can't sleep? Is anything wrong?"

Gaara fumbled for the words. Her lips pressed to his ear were making him nervous, and he rolled to his side to face her in the darkness. He could make out the outline of her cheek and the mound of her shoulders from the streaming light from her curtained windows. "Nothing really."

Ino's nose poked his before he felt something moist and warm against his chin. "Well, something's bothering you."

Gaara closed his eyes and fought back a moan as Ino's lips traveled from his chin, to his mouth, then finally resting on top of his left eye. His arms were automatically around her, pulling her close. Was this what happened to people when they finally admit dependence upon someone? As if proximity had lost meaning, and that being together, even with the knowledge that you were going to be together for the rest of your lives in a matter of days was just not good enough anymore.

He had noticed it the moment he went back to Suna after running after Ino all the way to Konoha last May just to ask her hand in marriage. He had felt completely hollow inside, and a part of him had wished he had just bundled Ino up and taken her back to Suna with him, even when he knew that she was needed in Konoha for the preparations for the wedding he could not help with because of his own duties.

And when August finally came, he had started feeling giddy. Packing his bags for the week to spend in Konoha had taken forever, because he did not know what to pack along with him for a wedding. For his wedding. Did he need kunai with him? Did he need his gourd? The first thing he ever did pack from his small selection of wardrobe was the shirt and trousers he had worn the first night Ino had come over for her mission, when she had complimented him about 'cleaning up good'. But aside from those, he had no idea what else to bring. He would have brought some souvenirs for Ino and her family, but there wasn't anything aesthetically acceptable in the Sand that could possibly compare to the lush greens and pretty flowers of Konoha. Temari had suggested he bring Ino some jewelry.

"Girls love jewelry," Temari had commented.

Gaara had frowned at the thought of that, because although Ino was undeniably a woman who loved beautiful things, the only accessories she had on her were her earrings which he had realized matched with her teammates', and the engagement ring he had given her. So if ever he were to give her jewelry, he wouldn't have known what he would get for her.

Surprisingly, Matsuri was the one who had helped him. In reality, before Ino had come to Suna for her mission and after Matsuri had told him she loved him, Gaara hadn't known what to do when he was around the brown-haired girl. He had declined, said sorry, and at that time lied that he was in love with someone else. How it ended that the lie turned out to be the way to true love was beyond him, but Matsuri had been supportive, if not back to her old self. She had suggested on ordering those special blue star sapphires from the desert colony Kita Nikoro. Gaara thought that those were a good idea, blue star sapphires that came close to Ino's blue eyes. That thought had been one of the most romantic thoughts he'd even had in his life, comparing Ino's eyes to beautiful gems. He had wondered if that was what happened to people when they were in love. Ino had loved his present, and he earned a sloppy kiss in return.

Kankurou said that it would get worse from here.

He was not lying. After three months of being away and finally meeting with Ino, he had wanted to take her away to a place where they would be alone forever and kiss her senseless. Formalities with Naruto, the village and Ino's family had been the only things that had kept him from kidnapping his wife-to-be.

Ino's hands swept across his back, up and down. "You're thinking too much again. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No." He was too fast to respond. How was he supposed to explain to Ino that he was starting to want her so much that it was making even him uncomfortable? Was this even normal?

"Oh. Well, all right. If you say so. Do you want to get up, then? Maybe have some hot chocolate? Or coffee downstairs?" Ino offered.

Gaara was once again quick to nod. Maybe being alone with Ino in a dark room in a small bed was a bad idea. "Coffee sounds great. And maybe you can show me the guest list?"

Ino pushed herself up and blindly reached out right next to the bunny rabbit alarm clock, to the bedside lamp. In another second, the room was bathed in a soft light.

Gaara propped himself up on his elbow and watched as Ino pushed her long hair, now free from her usual pony tail, over one shoulder. One bare shoulder. Her night gown's neck was loose, evidence that she's had it for years now. The amount of skin showing on her neck, chest and shoulders was a first for Gaara, and that was the first time, too, did he want to look away but couldn't.

He reached out, his fingers touching the curve of her shoulder. Her skin was softer here than it had been in the Sand. He had noticed it the moment they hugged earlier in the day when he first got there. And she had smelled of strawberries. She smelled like strawberries now, too.

Ino looked up at him innocently. "Yeah?"

Gaara let his thumb rub that dip between her shoulder and neck before letting his hand travel down to the base of her throat, then up to her chin. "I like this," he said under his breath.

Ino blushed instantly, but she did not brush his hand away, as he thought she would. Instead, she leaned to the side, pulling her hair neater over one shoulder, exposing her neck for him to see.

Now how was a man supposed to react to that? Kankurou never taught him this. Actually, Kankurou had stopped teaching him anything ever since Ino had left the Sand for thinking Gaara did not feel the same for her. It was as if his older brother had just stopped being… informative. Damn him.

He was all alone here. But as Ino peered up at him through the fringe of her long lashes, it was as if he already knew what to do. He leaned down, gently, tentatively pressing his lips to her shoulder. Her skin was soft, and being this close, her scent was near intoxicating. He kissed his way up her slender neck, and she shivered when he made it to her ear.

Did these urges come natural to a human male, he wondered? Because for some unexplainable reason, he opened his mouth and took her earlobe in between his teeth. And then he sucked.

"Ga… ahh… ra… " she moaned as her hands were suddenly on his chest.

And that was when he felt it.

That feeling.

It was like a tight knot forming at his lower abdomen, like an itch he couldn't scratch by himself. He'd had this feeling many times before, when he was younger. It was the feeling Shikaku left in him when it needed to feed. When it needed blood. And it would only be satisfied – and Gaara relieved – when it had killed enough.

And then he had felt this feeling several nights after he had been brought back to life, fourteen years ago. That feeling when his body responded so… strangely in the morning. Or waking up in the middle of the night feeling hard. And it had frightened him. At first, he had thought that to relieve himself of the feeling, he needed blood. It was the first time in his life did he have that sensation without the monster in him, and had been lost and scared and crying. It had been Kankurou who had helped him, patiently, as he would teach a child how to tie his shoes. His big brother had taught him the release he needed, and that in itself had frightened him senseless.

All this time, the feeling had brought him discomfort.

But as he sat there in rumpled sheets, in a darkly lit room, his mouth hot against Ino's skin, his tongue running down her throat to that hollow at the base of her neck, he still felt afraid. He still felt uncomfortable. But there was another thing there.

He felt… lonely.

Was that the right word for it?

It was as if there was something missing and it took him all this time to find it, and now it was in front him, in his arms, moaning his name softly, and he did not know how to get rid of the loneliness.

He instantly pulled away, gasping for breath as he looked down at Ino's neck in disbelief. He had marked her. On her pale skin, right under her throat, was a nasty red bruise from suckling too hard. He started to panic. "I'm sorry…! I didn't mean to. Does it hurt? I lost myself – " The redness reminded him of the blood. Was he trying to draw blood from her? Had he hurt her without knowing it?

Ino's finger was on his lips in a second, and she was looking up into his eyes earnestly, almost worriedly. "It doesn't hurt. And I don't mind," she crooned, and she had her arms around his shoulders, pulling him to her. "This. This is natural. Don't apologize for this. We can take it slow. Step by step, In your own time."

Gaara didn't even know when he had wrapped his own arms tightly around her lithe body, burying his face into her long, strawberry-scented hair. She was not angry. She said it was natural. Was this strong feeling bubbling in him not a bad feeling after all? He had feared it all his life, and it reminded him of that monster. And it reminded him of blood and death.

If this feeling, if this yearning, if this desire for her was not really about the thirst for blood, and did not represent death, then what was it?

Ino pulled away from him, holding him at arms' length. "Are you all right?"

Gaara's eyes were trained on the angry red spot on her neck. He touched it gently with the tip of his fingers. "It looks like it should hurt…"

Ino grinned ruefully. "Oh, it would, if my dad saw it. I'll just wear a shirt with a high collar tomorrow. Or maybe a scarf? No harm done."

Gaara lowered his gaze down on the bed. He could see a lot of Ino's legs peeking from under her night gown. He hurriedly raised his eyes back again. "How can I make it up to you?"

Ino was taken aback at the question, then after a moments thought, she pounced on him giggling, bringing him down onto the bed with a strangled yell. And much to his surprise, her lips were on his throat, sucking so hard it should hurt, but instead it felt so very good.

She was right. It did not hurt at all.


His morning was spent having a quick chat with Naruto about unimportant matters which led straight to lunch at a restaurant – what was the place called again? Ichiraku? – where Naruto had ordered for him a tonkotsu ramen that gave him indigestion. As much as he loved and respected the man like a brother, he had declined his offer for seconds while Naruto ate his third. Just watching the Hokage stuff his face with noodles was enough to make him sick. He was never eating ramen again.

Now with the promise of heartburn later, he said goodbye to Naruto and went back to the administrations building to look for Kankurou and Temari. Temari had started helping out Shikamaru on the task of assigning the rooms for guests visiting from far away. The office they were using was the one down the rooms Temari, Matsuri and Masami were occupying. Gaara, wanting to make sure that Ebizo-ojii had been reserved a room, went straight to that office. He was about to knock on the door when he heard voices coming from the inside.

It was unmistakably Temari and Shikamaru.

"That's such a bother," said the Nara.

"Is it? Everything's a bother to you," Temari pointed out.

"Women in majority are bothersome. You are, too."

"I've heard thatbefore. I hope you're not forgetting that it was a woman who brought you into the world."

"Ah, I've heard that before. My mom says the same thing. Come to think of it, you're starting to sound like my mother. You always tell me what to do. We rarely see each other, but when we do, you push me around."

Silence, then, "Is that how you really think of me? Oh, don't light up! You know how I hate it when you smoke."

"See? You're doing it again." There was shuffling in the room. Shikamaru must have started pacing. "That's the main reason why you're still not married. How old are you? Thirty-one?"

"Thirty-two, you ass."

"I rest my case. You're going to die an old maid. Because you're so bossy and you always want it your way. Men hate bossy women."

Temari was silent.

Gaara blinked at the door. Were they fighting? And was Temari losing? That can't be possible. Temari never lost a verbal battle.

She started talking again. Gaara could imagine her angry face without having to see her. "You know what? You're right. I'm a thirty-two year old bossy woman who can't get a guy to love her for whom she is. I'm gonna die an old maid, never have children, and maybe have a few dozen cats. I don't care. I still don't like you smoking because you smell like shit, and kissing you is like kissing an ashtray!"

Kissing? Gaara thought, blinking in amazement.

"So don't kiss me!" Shikamaru said loudly.

"Oh, I see. Is that how you're going to be? Fine. You're getting no kisses from this bossy old woman. Ever!"

Silence followed. Then there was a loud sound of something big hitting the wall. Temari screamed. Shikamaru snarled. Gaara wondered if he should get in there and stop them before they killed each other.

"I… said… don't… kiss… me!" Temari screamed in between interruptions by something that sounded suspiciously like Shikamaru's ashtray mouth.

More scrambling, and Gaara jumped away from the door when something rammed against it from the other side.

"Get… away… from me!" Temari ordered. The door rattled like crazy. Gaara was thinking of walking away before they realize he was there.

"Not until you say yes," Shikamaru hissed. The weight on the door left, and it sounded like they were battling it out on the floor.

"Yes to what, you butt head!"

"Say yes, you'll marry me so that you don't grow old and alone, and we'll have two children – a girl, then a boy – and I'll quit, cold turkey. I swear. If you say yes, I'll quit these damn cigarettes you hate so much right now!"

Gaara knew where this was going.

That was why he completely fell off the loop when Temari said, "All right! Yes! Yes! Now let me go, dammit!"

Gaara stared at the door in disbelief. The two had fallen silent again, and Gaara had a very vivid image of what they were doing in there. He turned on his heel and walked down the hall, away from the office. He ran into Kankurou along the way, carrying a box of lavender objects.

"Where are you going?" Gaara asked him.

"I'm off to see Temari about these ribbons. Ino said I – what the f – !"

Gaara grabbed his older brother's shoulder meanly and whirled him towards the opposite direction. "Walk with me."

"What? Where?"

"Just… walk with me."

Timing had been perfect for them because they ran into Hyuuga Hinata who was in charge with the decorations for the wedding. He left Kankurou in the Hyuuga's hands and went off to search for Ino.

He found her in her flower shop, surrounded by dozens and dozens of yellow tulips. She was cutting off the ends of the stems with skilled hands, comparing each and every one of their lengths.

Seeing her cheerful, smiling and happy in Suna was different from seeing her in her own habitat. It was as if being surrounded with flowers made her glow. At that moment, he started to wonder if he would be able to make her happy in a barren desert for the rest of her life. The thought instantly made him insecure. He stood there by the door, watching her flutter from one corner of the flower shop to another, like a very excited butterfly. What made his heart leap were the times when she would pause in mid-stride and look down at the ring on her finger and smile like she was really happy.

Was he really capable of making her happy like that? Did the thought of them getting married really make her happy?

"Hey there," Ino suddenly greeted and Gaara looked up to see her approaching him, a long-stemmed yellow tulip in her hand.

Gaara's eyes instantly fell on her neck. She was wearing a high-collared shirt, as she said she would wear earlier in the day. The mark he had left was not visible, but he still could not take his eyes off that spot as if it were. His hand felt at his own closed collar where Ino had left her mark on him, and he felt instantly giddy.

"Eyes. Here." Ino used the tulip head to raise his chin up and make him look at her. She was smiling at him. "How was your day?"

Gaara thought about the ramen, and how it still made him a bit queasy. Then he thought about Temari and Shikamaru inside that office, grappling on the floor. He shuddered. "It was fine," he lied.

Ino shook her head, looking down at the tulip in her hand and cutting the stem off by half. "You don't look fine, though." She stood on tiptoe and stuck the tulip behind Gaara's ear. "But you look fine in yellow."

Gaara stared down at her, then plucked the flower from his head. "I like yellow."

"I know you do." She poked his cheek playfully with a finger. She must be in a really good mood. "The flower arrangements are going great. Sakura, Tenten and Hinata are coming over later to help me put them in water."

Gaara looked over to the flowers. There were so many of them that he was a bit glad to know that her friends were coming over to help her. He had met those friends of hers yesterday, and they had seemed nice. He could remember Sakura and Tenten from the time when Konoha had sent help to Suna fourteen years ago. They had been to and from Suna on special gatherings and sometimes showed up for Chiyo-obaa's death anniversary along with Tenten's husband, Hyuuga Neji. And then there was Hyuuga Hinata, who he knew personally through Naruto.

"Hey," Ino said suddenly, tugging gently at his earlobe. "The girls and I are planning to have a night out tomorrow. Would you like to come?"

Gaara paused for a moment before saying, "Should I? I'm not good at those kinds of gatherings… "

Ino smiled toothily. "If you come, I'll ask Hinata and Tenten to bring Naruto and Neji. And while we're at it, why don't we just make it a full-blown party and invite Kiba and the rest?"

Gaara suddenly felt grim. The more, the merrier, or so Kankurou had taught him. But he did not think he would be comfortable with that many people, even if he had worked with them many times in the past. He would not know what to talk about, and aside from Naruto and his girlfriend, he would not know anyone on a personal basis. But as he looked down at Ino's expectant face, he could not help but nod. "All right," he said, tucking the tulip he had in his hand behind Ino's ear, as she did earlier with him. "If you want me to go, I'll go."

"Yay!" Ino cheered childishly as she did a little jig.

Gaara couldn't help but give her a small smile of his own. "Come over here." He tried to pull her to him. He had missed her. She had been busy all morning while he was stuck with Naruto and his ramen.

Ino giggled and danced away from his grasp. "I'm working right now. The shop doesn't close until five."

Gaara frowned. Letting his arms fall to his sides, he nodded. "I'm sorry."

Ino stared at him in disbelief from across the shop. "Wow… you give up fast."

Gaara felt his frown deepen. What was she trying to say? She ran away from him, saying that she was working. And when he let her go, she'd say he gave up fast. Was this some sort of mind game that women liked to play? He remembered Temari and Shikamaru earlier. Their conversation had started with smoking, and then growing old alone, then no kissing. And then they ended up kissing. "What was I supposed to do just now?" he asked, genuinely curious.

Ino shrugged, and she took another long-stemmed tulip and twirled it around her fingers. "I dunno… Maybe chase me around the shop. Steal a few kisses."

Gaara's eyes widened. He looked around the shop, from the open glass windows where he could see the people walking outside, to the door that led into Ino's house where anyone could just walk in. "I don't think we can steal kisses here. Anyone can see us do it."

Ino grinned coyly. Gaara felt his insides swirl. While he had fallen in love with Ino while she had been reserved and professional because of her mission, he was beginning to see the playful, almost naughty side of her that he didn't know if he should be happy or worried about.

"That's the fun part about it, like some game. The rules are: Steal as many kisses as you can without getting caught." Ino beckoned at him with a curled finger. "Get over here…"

Gaara felt something stir in the pit of his stomach. Something not so different from that time when they were still in bed. He stalked towards her slowly, grabbed her waist roughly and pulled her flush against him. She giggled as she dropped the tulip she had in her hand, and the one tucked behind her ear.

Gaara watched as her eyelids drooped lazily, and she was giving him that look again she gave him in her bedroom. He was starting to get used to that look. He was starting to like it. He nuzzled the side of her face.

"Oh, god. Do we have to see this?" a voice suddenly said from behind him.

Gaara looked up frantically, a bit irked to have someone sneak up on him from behind.

Tenten and Sakura were standing by the door of the flower shop, a very, very red Hyuuga Hinata was looking down at the floor uncomfortably behind them.

"You're early." Ino narrowed her eyes at her friends as she draped her arms around Gaara's neck. Gaara didn't know what to do. The Kazekage didn't usually hang around in flower shops and made out with his fiancée.

"Greetings," Sakura said, giving them both a wave. "I asked Shizune to let me off early so we can start with the flowers. But I see you're a bit preoccupied. Shall we come back later?"

Gaara looked down at Ino who was still dangling from his shoulders. "Your friends have opened their schedule for you. Maybe you should get back to work." The stirring in his insides died down, along with the excited look on Ino's face. She disentangled her arms from around his neck and she straightened her skirt demurely.

Tenten smiled at Gaara. The weapons mistress had changed a lot over the years. And while Neji had stayed as stoic as he was back when they were young, Tenten had become even more talkative and chipper than ever. "She's so in love. I haven't seen her like that in a while now."

"Shut up," Ino said, face suddenly coloring, and as if embarrassed, she backed away a step from Gaara.

"Look, she's blushing," Sakura pointed out, and Gaara couldn't tell if she was doing it to annoy Ino more.

Kankurou had warned him once about girls and their ritualistic bonding moments.

"You stay out of it. Period."

Gaara nodded to himself. He decided that his older brother was right. He leaned down and gave Ino a kiss on the cheek. "I'll leave you to your work. I'll see you tonight." And he left swiftly after tilting his head towards Ino's friends in acknowledgment.

Kankurou would have been proud of him.


"Maybe you should let Temari hang on to those," Gaara said uncertainly as he watched Kankurou throw the velvet box in the air and caught it carelessly with a steady hand.

"No way, little bro. I'm holding your rings for you until the wedding. Coz I'm, like, your best man," Kankurou said, as if Gaara needed any reminding.

"Then stop throwing it around in the air," Gaara ordered, involuntarily standing up from his chair and trying to snatch the box away from the man.

Kankurou was quick, and the box was instantly in his pocket. "Okay, okay. Fine, I won't play with it."

"If you lose those rings, I swear I will kill you," Gaara threatened, sitting back down. And Kankurou laughed. Back when they were young, Kankurou wouldn't even look his way. And now the man just laughed at his death threats.

"Yeah, sure. Okay. And why are you dressed?"

Gaara looked down at his dark trousers and maroon coat. "It looks weird, doesn't it?"

"You always wear maroon. What's so weird about it?"

Gaara frowned. He was acting like an idiot. "Nothing."

"Are you going somewhere?"

"I'm meeting with Ino's friends," he said grudgingly.

Kankurou raised his eyebrows as he sat on the bed adjacent to Gaara's chair. "Tonight?" He leaned back on the bed, looking up into the ceiling, hoping to look nonchalant. "So… is Sakura gonna be there?"

Gaara narrowed his eyes at his brother. It was not new for Kankurou to ask about Haruno Sakura for the past fourteen years. He had assumed it was because of that time when Sakura had saved his life from a poison not even Elder Chiyo could cure. Gaara hadn't really paid much attention to his brother's obvious interest in the Medic nin, but now that he had a bit more experience on the feeling, he suspected Kankurou… liked her.

It was strange, though. While Gaara knew that because he liked – loved – Ino, he had this constant desire to be with her almost every minute of every day possible. Kankurou, on the other hand, had been avoiding Sakura like she had leprosy. Come to think of it, ever since they came to Konoha, the only thing Kankurou had said to Sakura was, "Hi."

In the past fourteen years, there had been times when Kankurou had asked about the pink-haired kunoichi when Shikamaru came over for political visits. Shikamaru had answered him truthfully, that he didn't know, and that he and Sakura were busy with their own affairs in different divisions. Temari, having realized Kankurou's feelings, had been kind enough to fill him in on the details every time it was her turn to visit Konoha. And all those times, Kankurou had pretended like he didn't care. But Gaara and Temari knew differently.

"She's coming," Gaara said, then, out of politeness, asked, "Do you want to come along?"

Kankurou catapulted forward. "Me? come? To a chick's little get-together? No way!"

Gaara stared at him dryly. "Don't call them chicks. These are Ino's friends. And Naruto and Neji are coming. And I think Shikamaru and Temari are, too." Ino had mentioned something about inviting Temari and Shikamaru over. It seemed like they had something to announce that night.

"I wonder what it could be," Ino had mused. Gaara didn't ruin the surprise for her. He was sure it was about the result of their very unorthodox mating ritual in the office yesterday.

"I'll pass, Gaara," Kankurou said quietly, casting him one of those rare smiles that did not look like smirks. "You go and have fun, though."

"Are you sure? Everyone will be there. Not just Sakura."

"Exactly. I don't think I would enjoy it, anyway."

Gaara paused, then asked, "Have I been wrong all this time? I was convinced that you fancied her."

Kankurou blinked at Gaara, as if in surprise. "You were convinced? Since when?"

Gaara shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure. It wasn't until lately that I've realized you keep on… asking… about her."

Kankurou, who was probably not used to being on the hot seat, brushed off his comment with a snort. "Psh! No I do not! I don't ask about her all the time! I mean, I ask about Tenten sometimes, right? And Kiba? We're all good."

"That's true. But I've never seen you blush when you ask about Tenten. Or Kiba. Well, it would be weird if you blushed for Kiba… "

"I don't blush for Sakura!" he said, right now obviously blushing.

Gaara sighed. He didn't even know why he was having this conversation with him. "All right. So you're not coming along?"

Kankurou shut up, then he looked down at himself. "I'm not dressed. What do I wear?"

Gaara backtracked on the conversation, surprised. "What? So you're coming?"

"I don't have anything to wear."

Not that that was the crisis of the year, but… "Uh… well, why don't you try that… uh… that… black tunic you have?" The one that you always wear.

Kankurou brightened evidently. "Hey! Good idea! Lemme just put that on and then we can go." He stood up and started rummaging through rucksack he had brought with him.

"So you're joining us?" Gaara asked blandly.

"Well, yeah. I mean, everyone's gonna be there, right? Kiba would be there, right? And whatisname?"


Kankurou pretended he did not hear him. "And Shino. Yeah, I keep on forgetting his name."

"The rings are in your pocket. Don't forget to put them in a safe place."

"Oh, right." Kankurou dug into his pocket for the velvet box, and tossed it carelessly on the bed.

Gaara started seeing red. He fought down the urge to strangle his brother and decided to just forgive him for being an idiot. Somehow it was easier to forgive people who were in love but kept on denying it. He knew how that felt, after all.

Well, he had other things to worry about tonight. Kankurou had once said that nights spent with friends of the girl you fancied was one of the hardest things yet in a relationship, because for some reason, you always have to get the approval of the girlfriends.

He knew that pleasing the girlfriends was easy enough since he was already fairly acquainted with them, but pleasing the drunken girlfriends was a different story.

Sakura and Tenten were noisy drunks. Gaara did not understand how Kankurou could still sigh and look at Sakura admiringly from across the table of that izakaya when she was on her fifth bottle of sake and laughing loudly with Kiba, Naruto and Tenten on a joke she was telling.

"And then he said… and then he said: 'Does that mean I should try harder? And then I said, 'No, it means I don't like you.' And that was when he finally got it!" Sakura said in between uncontrollable laughter. Those who were drunk enough to understand the punch line burst out laughing loudly

Gaara leaned down on Ino who was laughing politely as she sipped her Oolong tea. "I don't get the joke," he confessed in a whisper.

Ino pressed her lips against his ear. "Don't worry. Neither do I but everyone's having a good time so that's a good thing."

Gaara nodded and straightened up again. Ino was not kidding when she said it would turn out to be a full-blown party. Everyone was there.


Akimichi Chouji, who Ino had said had married at the age of twenty-three, was in a polite conversation with Aburame Shino. It turns out the Aburame had also married within their clan almost the same year as Chouji did, and both were staying away from getting intoxicated in fear of getting scolded by the wife waiting at home. Both of them had changed a lot over the years. Not that Gaara had been that close to the two of them, but any friend of Naruto's had somehow automatically become Gaara's friend. Both the Aburame and the Akimichi had sincerely congratulated him on his wedding.

"Welcome to the group, Gaara-san," Chouji had said to him earlier in the night when they had first sat down around the table. "The party's just beginning. Wait till you have kids. The young 'uns will drive you mad." And he had laughed as if being driven mad was a good thing.

Shino had agreed with the Akimichi. "My second son had turned two this year."

"Congratulations," Gaara had said to him.

Shino had nodded, then said gravely, "He nearly set our house on fire for the third time this month. My wife was so proud of him."

Gaara did not get the logic behind that, so had said, "Good for him," with the hopes of not offending anyone. He was glad the conversation ended there.

"I'm really sorry about this. They get a bit out of control under the influence of alcohol," Hinata, who was sitting to Ino's left, said sheepishly. The Hyuuga had left Naruto's side to make room for the heavy drinkers of the group and joined the other group which was staying away from getting wasted on their side of the table.

Gaara shook his head. "I don't mind."

Ino laughed loudly, then turned to Hinata. "He minds it, believe me. But he's just too polite to say so."

Hinata smiled. "They're harmless, really. This happens to Sakura when she's stressing about work in the hospital. Since Tsunade-sama retired, she's been pushed, shoved and kicked hard to get better in her studies."

Kankurou, who was seated right next to Gaara, bent over and asked, "What's Sakura drinking?"

Hinata blinked in surprise. "Ah, the usual rice wine. When she's really stressed, she gets a few shots of the local brandy."

Kankurou nodded vaguely, then fell silent. After a while, he waved a waitress over and ordered – discreetly – more of what Sakura was drinking. Gaara noticed. Right next to Kankurou, Temari and Shikamaru exchanged glances and gave Gaara a knowing look. Gaara pretended not to see.

"Where's my husband?" Tenten suddenly asked, looking around the table, already getting a bit tipsy. "He's late! I can't believe this. Lee's away on a mission, and Neji's MIA. Why am I the only one here from Team Gai?"

Kiba, tonight strangely missing a nin dog and looking as scruffy as ever, looked over to Sakura and said, "And where the heck is Sai? You invited him over, right?"

Naruto looked over to his teammate, too. "You did pass the message to him, right?" he asked.

Tenten raised her eyebrows at Sakura as she downed her drink. Hinata shook her head ruefully.

Sakura nodded. "Of course I did. What do you take me for?"

Kiba rolled his eyes.

Chouji leaned over to pluck a French fry from one of the plates of finger foods in front of them. "Well, since you intentionally forgot to tell Sai that we were celebrating Tenten's birthday last year – "

"And my birthday," Naruto added.

"And not to mention the Christmas party last year," Ino added, eyes twinkling.

Sakura's already flushed face turned into an ever more violent shade of magenta. "I didn't do any of those. Not intentionally!"

Gaara leaned back down on Ino, honestly lost. "What's going on?"

Ino grinned knowingly and whispered in Gaara's ear, "It's Sai. He likes Sakura. And we all think Sakura likes him, too."

Gaara blinked and, wordlessly straightening in his seat, did not know if Kankurou had heard what Ino had just said.

"The~he~here you are!" Tenten suddenly wailed loudly when the waitresses around them said, "Welcome!" the moment the door of the izakaya slid open and admitted Hyuuga Neji who was practically still the same serious man back in their genin days, together with the man who still strangely made Gaara think of Uchiha Sasuke.

Sai. He had met the man many times in the past as well. He had become somewhat Naruto's right-hand man, being the leader of this independent branch Naruto had referred to as Root. As blank as ever, the man looked over to everyone at the table and waved, and everyone called an enthusiastic, "Yo!" or "Hey, Neji, Sai! You're late!" to the two.

"Neji! Dah-ling!" Tenten cried when Neji and Sai approached their table, and she jumped on her chair, draping her arms around the Hyuuga.

"You're making a scene," Neji said quietly, but he kissed the energetic weapon's mistress on her cheek anyway as she made room for him to sit beside her.

Sakura looked up when Sai came up from behind her, bent down and whispered something in the pink-haired kunoichi's ear. She smirked in return, moved a bit to her left to make room, and the Root agent sat beside her. They ignored each other all night, having their own conversations with different people around the table, but Gaara could see how their shoulders brushed, and sometimes one would look at the other when they thought they weren't looking.

Sai had congratulated Gaara for the wedding, and Gaara had accepted politely, but he was confused about what to feel about the man, knowing that Kankurou had taken a sudden interest on the finger foods in front of him.

Temari must have sensed the bad vibes emitting from their brother that she cleared her throat and said, "Everybody, listen up. We have something to tell you."

Gaara looked down at the drink in his hand and swirled the ice with a finger. Ino leaned forward when everyone fell silent and looked over to Temari. He did not know what he was feeling right now. He did not know what had just happened with Kankurou, but Gaara felt like he had witnessed some sort of premature defeat. He didn't even know why Temari would choose a time to tell the group that she was getting married to Shikamaru. Gaara had never really empathized much with another human being when it came to affairs of the heart… but he felt for Kankurou.

Temari jerked her thumb towards Shikamaru. "He quit smoking yesterday," she said flatly.

Gaara looked up at his sister, and Temari caught his eye. There was a pained look on her face, and Gaara leaned back on his seat, feeling a bit relieved.

Everyone started bombarding Shikamaru with questions, Kiba even dishing out a few ryo to bet on how long the Nara was going to be able to stay clean. Everyone started taking bets.

Kankurou threw a few bills on the pile of money forming in the middle of their table, and laughed as if Sakura had not touched Sai's arm as she leaned forward to throw in a few coins in the pile happily. And Kankurou laughed more as if that hand didn't stayed there for the rest of the night.

Gaara closed his eyes. Love gained. Love lost. He squeezed Ino's hand softly.

Love earned.

Ino squeezed back.

Thank god.


Among the busy schedule of preparations, one of the best moments of that day was when Rock Lee came back to the Leaf after leading a mission outside the country. After having done so much to the man years ago during their first chuunin exams and was still forgiven for it had been one of the many firsts for Gaara. He had found a friend in the taijutsu master over the years, once in a while having him visit for friendly spars and sometimes a few non-alcoholic beverages in the village izakaya.

The man was as eccentric as ever, and for some unexplainable reason he was still stuck in that same green body suit as if it were his second skin. That, and his smile. Gaara had always thought the man smiled too much.

"Congratulations, Gaara-san! This summer is indeed marked with a wonderful milestone between the Leaf and the Sand. Summer has always been a poetic season of youthful love to blossom into something much more. Marriage!"

Gaara did not even have to correct him that they were no longer 'young'. To Lee, everyone was young at heart. "Thank you. I was a bit worried you wouldn't make it to the wedding."

"Nonsense! I wouldn't miss it for the world," Lee said sincerely.

The two of them were walking towards the venue of the wedding, which was located opposite the Hokage Mountain at the other side of the village, right across the river. Ino had been going on and on about how pretty the fields of Konoha were during summer, and that a man named Yamato who belonged in the ANBU division of Konoha had been more than happy to lend his skills for erecting a spacious and equally lovely wooden gazebo for the ceremony. Gaara had yet to see the place. Ino had gone ahead of him with Hinata earlier that morning along with a few chuunin to decorate the place with a few potted plants.

"So, how have things been with you?" Lee asked as they slowly walked down the dirt path that lined the river.

Gaara looked out into the river, rolling Lee's question in his head. How did one explain in a few sentences that his life had never been this great before without sounding… strange? Ever since Yamanaka Ino had waltzed into his life to fill in the role of his fiancée, things have changed so much so fast that he hadn't really given himself the chance to sum everything into words.

"Things have been… very well, Lee. Thank you." Gaara turned to face the man. "And you?"

Lee grinned, stopped and bent down to pick up a pebble and threw it into the river. It skipped a few times before disappearing into the water. "Ah, everything is the usual. The students have all grown up. A new batch is coming next year by April. I requested Naruto for a position in the Academy. As a teacher."

Gaara's eyes stayed on the place where Lee's pebble disappeared. "What did he say?"

Lee let out a small laugh. "He said, 'All right. Just don't make your students wear that body suit.' So I promised him I would not."

Gaara nodded, thinking it wise of Naruto to have said that before everything got out of control. Of course, while Gaara agreed with Naruto about his body suit, he did not doubt Lee was going to be a great teacher. "You're perfect for the job."

"Do you think so? I was the one who requested for the job, and so I do not want to disappoint anyone. Especially the children."

Gaara started walking towards the narrow bridge to the other side of the river, Lee following behind him while bouncing a flat rock on his knee like a toy. The man was such a busybody. He always liked to move. Gaara usually hated people who couldn't sit still, but look at him now, a boisterous Hokage for a best friend, many countless others who were like Lee who loved to talk and move and play nonsensical games.

And the naughtiest woman in Konoha for a fiancée.

"The children will love you," Gaara said to him, and meaning it. "Your sensei taught you well, after all."

That seemed to have cheered the taijutsu master a lot, and he abandoned the stone he was playing with and launched into a very descriptive narrative about his Gai sensei and what he was doing lately in the academy. Gaara listened patiently, nodding once in a while, and sometimes asking a question or two as they made their way through the path leading down the fields south of the Leaf. From a distance they could already make out the sounds of people talking as they worked, and after a few more strides, the trees opened up into a broad expanse of grass dotted with little flowers in every shade of pink that Gaara knew to be cosmos.

Gaara was left breathless at the sight. Ino had said it was beautiful, but maybe he really did not think much about how beautiful she meant it was. There was a soft breeze blowing through the field, making the flowers look like they were dancing on the grass. A few stray trees were found here and there, but aside from those, it was just one big sea of green.

"Incredible, is it not?" Lee asked as he propped his fists on his waist and puffed up his chest proudly. "Konoha is at its prettiest in the Summer!"

"Wonderful," Gaara said softly. It was so wonderful, in fact, that he suddenly felt so very insecure.

Ino has this here. She can have all the beautiful flowers her heart desires. Is she really willing to trade all of this for a sand lot?

"Are you all right?" Lee asked.

Gaara lowered his eyes to a stray flower by his feet. "I can't offer her anything that would be more beautiful than this. I hope… I hope she doesn't regret this in the future."

Lee slapped his back with so much force that Gaara nearly fell over. So this was the disadvantage of not bringing ready-to-use sand wherever he went. "What are you talking about? Of course she would not regret this!"

Gaara regained his footing and looked over at Lee, wondering where his confidence was coming from. "How can you tell?"

Lee smiled at him, gave him his trademark thumbs up sign then said, "She has you."

And Gaara felt his heart do a little flip-flop.


When the Kage of Suna got married, he was required to wear the usual Kazekage robes and his Kage hat and that would be it. Gaara actually liked the thought of wearing that attire, because they were comfortable and easy to move in.

Unfortunately, he was getting married in Konoha, where the groom was required to wear the formal montsuki, haori and hakama. Now he did not really have anything against the attire. But there were two problems he was facing, and with the wedding three days away, he knew he was in trouble.

One, he did not know how to wear a montsuki. And two, he did not know anyone who knew how to wear a montsuki.

Gaara was in his room in the administrations building, wearing nothing but the white undergarments for the kimono. He stared down at the articles of clothing lain down neatly on his bed in the administrations building, and he felt his cheek twitch involuntarily. Tenten, who was in charge of today's dress rehearsals, said someone was coming over to help him get dressed. He was not very keen on the idea of some random person stuffing him in unfamiliar clothing.

"Knock, knock. Here to groom the groom," came a voice behind him, and the door opened to admit none other than Yamanaka Inoichi. He had the usual smile on his face, those blue eyes, so much like Ino's, roaming the room, looking very impressed. "Nice room. I didn't know they had these kinds of arrangements in this building. The kicks of being so important, huh?"

"Good afternoon, sir," Gaara greeted once the man finished admiring his quarters.

"Oh, come on. We're practically family. Call me dad."

There was no way in this world would he call him that. "I couldn't possibly impose," Gaara said calmly, though he could feel the hairs at the back of his neck stand on end.

Inoichi stared at him for approximately three seconds before he shrugged and said, "Yeah, you're right. The Kazekage calling me 'dad' is kind of creepy. Call me Inoichi. Yeah, that sounds about right."

Gaara bristled, but had to agree. "Very well, Inoichi-san."

Inoichi sighed as he crossed the room and stared down at the montsuki. "Well, we might as well get started. Ino says you've never worn any of these before?"

"That's correct, sir. I mean… "

Inoichi stared at him in frustration, and for a moment, Gaara saw the way he scratched the back of his neck, just like how Ino would when she was a little frustrated. "You're as stiff as a board. Whatever did my daughter see in you?"

Gaara was taken aback by the question. He did not know how one question could send his confidence shrinking as small as a grain of rice, but it did.

What did Ino see in him?

There was nothing to see to begin with. Gaara looked away.

Inoichi laughed out loud, as if suddenly sensing his discomfort. "Ah, well love is blind, or so they say."

Gaara went grim. That felt like an insult. Was it? "Love is blind?"

Inoichi shrugged before picking up the montsuki with both hands. "Something the young ones say these days." He looked over at Gaara and added, "You know, seeing with the heart, not with the eyes. Not that I'm saying you're bad-looking or anything. Coz I'd heard one of them young ladies crowding around our house when you came to ask my Ino's hand in marriage, that she didn't know the Kazekage was this hot… Or something like that. And then she started shrieking with her little girlfriends about it. Ah-ha-ha! Well, I can see what they mean. You're pretty tall. Nice shoulders and all that." Inoichi turned to him and raised the montsuki flush against the front of Gaara's body from his shoulders. "I guess that's why Ino asked to borrow this from me."

Gaara's eyes widened in surprise. "You mean… ?"

"That's right. I wore these on my wedding day. I wasn't so bad-looking myself when I was young. 'Course I married in my early twenties. Had Ino when I was twenty-three. Her ma was so beautiful I had to keep myself from staring at her just to get on with the wedding. The honeymoon wasn't any better. I couldn't look at her without blushing."

Gaara looked down at the garment as Inoichi started to pick up the obi from the bed. "I didn't know these were yours. Thank you for letting me borrow them."

Inoichi brushed him away. "No need to thank me. Talked to your siblings and learned that you don't use the formal wedding kimonos in the Sand. I can understand, with the weather and all. The montsuki is the same as wearing a normal kimono, but you have to put the haori and hakama over it. It's pretty simple, really. I'll help you on the wedding day, so you don't have to worry." The man busied himself with the meticulous dressing of the kimono while he talked.

"You know, if someone told me my little girl was getting married to the Kazekage, I'd have told him he was crazy. I had imagined her getting married to a local ninja. Maybe someone from my Intelligence division. Or maybe someone from the clan." Inoichi laughed as he firmly secured the obi around Gaara's hips. "Turn around a bit, my boy."

Gaara swallowed hard at the 'my boy' reference, but did as he was told.

"Ino, she's always been a firecracker. She loved studying. Got the best grades in her female batch back in the academy. She's a girl and so I wasn't really that good at understanding her feelings when she was growing up. Her mother's a civilian, you see, and advice about growing up as a kunoichi which you'd usually be able to ask from your ma was one of the benefits she's never had. Grew up surrounded by boys all her life, and at one point in time, I would guess the only thing that had stopped her from turning into a complete tomboy was her rivalry with Haruno Sakura. God bless that girl." Inoichi laughed as he adjusted the kimono a bit here, pulled at the sleeves there. "Turn back around."

Gaara turned slowly to face the man. Now that he thought of it, the man was almost as tall as he was. He could literally see eye-to-eye with him. Inoichi was looking at him. It was as if he was reading him. Gaara had always been uncomfortable with eye contact, but he could not look away from this man as he talked so lovingly of his daughter.

"She's spoiled majority of the time, and she can be stubborn when it comes to admitting her faults. She has a weird maternal instinct, so there are times when you'd feel like she's over-protecting you. Don't hold it against her. She's just used to taking care of the men around her, not because she doesn't trust you, but because she cares about you a lot. So if she's trying to strong-arm you into eating something you don't like, or trying to force you into something you don't want to do, consider yourself loved."

Gaara silently nodded, remembering the time during Ino's mission. She had forced him to do things that were definitely not within his comfort zone. Tomatoes. Shopping. Sleeping. He was loved. She had loved him then.

She loved him now.

And he loved her.

He smiled.

Inoichi frowned. "You're creeping me out, son. Are you thinking lewd thoughts about my daughter right now?"

The smile vanished from Gaara's face. "No, sir," he said quickly.

"Good. You may be the strongest man in Suna, but three days from now, you'll also be my son-in-law, so I won't think twice in kicking your ass here and now for thinking dirty thoughts about my little girl. Save that after the wedding, coz that's when I'll demand from you at least four grandchildren. At least four, you hear?" Inoichi smiled as he crouched down with the haori. "Step into this."

Gaara did as he was told, trying to fight the dizziness that had suddenly overcome him. Grandchildren. Four of them. At least four… Four… He had always loved children, and after finding out he loved Ino, he had played with the thought of having a few of his own. But to have his betrothed's father actually put pressure on him was a different matter altogether.

Inoichi straightened up and fixed the waistband of the haori neatly around Gaara's obi. "And I'll demand you bring them to visit their grandparents at least once a month. Suna's a long ways away, but I'd love to see my grandchildren once in a while. For Christmas, and New Year's, too. If that's not asking too much."

Gaara felt something in his chest, like a sharp stabbing pain in his heart. He did not understand this feeling. Was this how a father really cared for his child? He was required to father children… four of them…

He nodded. "We wouldn't have it any other way… Father."

Inoichi draped the Hakama over Gaara's shoulders, and he paused, surprised. He smiled that kind smile of his, and Gaara realized that not only did Ino get her eyes from her father, but she had inherited his smile as well.

"It looks good on you, son. Make my little tulip happy." He gripped Gaara's shoulder meanly, smiling a grotesque smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Or else."

Gaara stiffened in his place. "Yes, sir."


The wedding was tomorrow. Today had been rehearsals day (it had been simple enough for Gaara. He hoped that tomorrow's ceremony would be as uneventful as today), everything was prepared for tomorrow's celebration, and Ino was spending her last day of being single out with the girls. So that night, while the girls had gone to some place secret that they would not let the guys know, Naruto and the other guys also threw him something they called a 'bachelor's party' in one of the Wa cloisters of the Hokage Tower. Of course, when Kiba had suggested they bring in dancing women in attires that left little to the imagination, Gaara had threatened to leave, and so the party remained as wholesome as it could go.

Aside from Lee, everyone had decided to have a few rounds of sake, and after the formalities, the group had split up into their own tiny groups depending on how their conversations went. Chouji, Shino and Kiba had huddled around the remaining finger foods and munched away while they talked about their children (Kiba talking about the new litter that his sister's nin dog gave birth to) while Neji, Shikamaru and Lee were in another group, discussing the new recruits for the academy next year. Much to Gaara's surprise, Kankurou had approached Sai with a bottle of sake and the two of them started talking animatedly about something that he could not hear.

Gaara had been more content on sitting back and watching everyone interact with each other when Naruto dropped down beside him, a glass of whiskey in his hand.

"Tomorrow's the big day. You nervous?" Naruto asked. The man had been one of the many who had changed dramatically over the years. Like Gaara, he too had grown incredibly, a bit sturdily built than Gaara himself. His unmanageable hair had grown, the fringe framing his face long enough to flirt with his chin. The blue of his eyes were as bright as ever, always full of mischief, as if he was always up to no good.

Gaara shook his head. "No," he said honestly. "Kankurou had warned me about cold feet and giddiness. But I don't feel any of those. I can't wait for tomorrow."

Naruto grinned boyishly, as he always did when Gaara told him something. "I can tell. You seem happy. Relaxed. You've come a long way, Gaara."

Gaara nodded softly. "We've come a long way. I can never thank you enough, Naruto."

Naruto laughed, and then took a swig of his drink. "What? I didn't do anything," he said modestly. He was always pretty modest. It was as if the man was embarrassed when Gaara started talking like this.

"If hadn't met you when I did, I wonder what I would be now? Dead, maybe. Killed. Murdered. But definitely not what I am now. I owe you more than you let me admit," Gaara said, lazily bringing his glass to his own mouth. He watched the people talking obliviously in front of them. All these people came along with the friendship he'd developed with Naruto. He had asked help from Naruto to run away from the marriage the council of Suna had been forcing him into, and fate brought him Yamanaka Ino. It was like Naruto was always a catalyst in great changes in his life.

"You did everything by yourself. I just gave you a good, hard shove. And maybe a head-butt. But everything after that was all you. Be proud." Naruto looked over to him. "Ino's been a friend for as long as I could remember. Everyone we had at the party two days ago in the izakaya were people Ino and I had grown up with. I'm glad you're opening yourself up more to the world she's used to."

Gaara leaned forward and rested his elbows to his knees, looking down at the tatami floor. "When we marry, she will leave all this behind. Her friends, her family. Her flowers. Sometimes I doubt myself if I would be able to give her enough to keep her happy in Suna. There's nothing there."

"There's you," Naruto pointed out. "And that should be more than enough."

"Lee had said the same thing. It makes me feel even more pressured."

Naruto had to laugh at that. "Gaara, listen to me. I don't mean to make it sound like any of that political crap, but try to look at it this way: Your union with one of the daughters of our most treasured clans will serve as another bridge between our villages. We may be separated by a border, but Ino isn't losing her home here. Her family, her friends. She's not leaving them. She's just making new ones in a place that is no different from Konoha. Only with tons and tons of sand." Naruto nudged him with an elbow. "She believes in you so much, I don't even know why you're doubting yourself."

Gaara looked over at him. "Do you really think so?"

Naruto wrinkled his nose. "Are you really asking me that? Seriously? Because I don't think I can put into words how I wanna puke from the way she looks at you and the way she talks about you."

"Hmm." Gaara lowered his glass on the tatami floor.

"Anyway, I can tell you're putting too much thought into this. Don't worry. Everything will change after the wedding day."

Gaara stared at Naruto curiously. "Why? What happens after the wedding day?"

Naruto grinned at him, patted his shoulder roughly, then said, "The wedding night. What else?"

Gaara groaned inwardly. Another thing he didn't want to think about.

"Oh-ho-ho… I see. I see what you're worried about," Naruto suddenly said. "It's not the wedding day. It's the wedding night you're worried about, huh?"

The conversation just turned very uncomfortable for Gaara. He shifted in his place. Actually, it was taking everything he had just to get by through the week for the wedding that he hadn't really thought about what was going to happen after it. Except maybe children…

Of course, you have to have sex to have children.

He grabbed his glass, downed his drink in one gulp and fumbled for the bottle of whiskey sitting to his left.

He was going to have sex with her.

He had felt it many times, the desire to have her in his arms, kissing her, feeling her soft skin against his. And he had heard her moan his name, and it came with flashes of blood, and malicious wanting, and a strange ringing in his ears.

"Gaara, you all right?" Naruto asked.

Gaara nodded, pouring himself some more alcohol with a shaky hand. "Yes."

Naruto smiled at him in understanding, and Gaara wondered if Naruto's tailed beast did not make him suffer as much as Shukaku had. "The Leaf is looking forward to your children. I don't care if it'd be a boy or a girl. So long as it would symbolize your love for each other, this Hokage will spoil that kid rotten that you'll hate me for it. That means I get first dibs as godfather. Don't forget, all right?"

At the back of Gaara's mind, through the ringing in his ears, and the red film that came along with the sensation of desire, an image of Ino brushing her hair over one shoulder to offer her neck to him flashed so vividly Gaara lurched forward in panic. He covered it up by reaching for a random food on one of the plates in front of him, hoping Naruto did not notice.

He looked down at his hand and found out it was a cherry tomato that he had plucked between his fingers.

"I like cherry tomatoes, just so you know."

"We can always compromise."

"I don't care if it'd be a boy or a girl. So long as it would symbolize your love for each other…"

A symbol of love…

Earn love.

Make love.

Gaara popped the tomato in his mouth and drowned out the taste with whiskey.

And that was when the 'cold feet' Kankurou had been talking about came kicking in.


Konoha woke early that August morning. The gates were busy with the inflow of people, most of them wearing the Suna hitai-ate on their foreheads or arms. The town proper was bustling with activity, hauling tons and tons of food for the banquet and last minute flowers from the Yamanaka Flower Shop. The whole morning was spent with many, many formalities between the council of both villages, where Ebizo-sama and Tsunade, the retired Fifth Hokage, were seen talking about even better relations between the Sand and the Leaf in the years to come.

The morning progressed well with the preparations, and while Gaara had seen all of his friends running around the village like busy ants, Ino was nowhere to be found. Hinata had explained to him that it was a tradition in the Leaf that the bride and the groom weren't supposed to see each other before the ceremony, and so Gaara had been prodded and poked by all council members of Suna who had brought their personal photographers when they saw him in his wedding kimono, and Ino was not there to save him.

Kankurou had laughed all throughout the picture-taking, all the while making remarks that sounded like compliments but really weren't. Because Gaara was just too tired from getting everything done before the wedding, he had decided to postpone his plans of killing his brother for later.

The ceremony was at three in the afternoon, and it seemed that everything was going according to plan, thanks to Sakura, Tenten and Hinata, who had been self-proclaimed wedding planners, making sure everything went smoothly until everyone was seated in their respective tables in and the around the gazebo, now decorated by thousands of Ino's favorite flowers.

Inoichi had been good at choosing the season for the wedding. The fields were as beautiful as that day Gaara had first seen it, a soft, gentle breeze making the tulips sway and dance as if they, too, were happy that someone was getting married that day.

Gaara stood at the wooden altar Yamato had provided earlier, and standing in front of it was none other than Naruto, the one who would be presiding their wedding. Since the only one who was powerful enough to join them in holy matrimony was the Hokage, his best friend stood there in his Kage robes and hat, strangely looking serious and projecting an aura of power Gaara was not used to seeing around him. Kankurou was at Gaara's left, also in a formal kimono. He was tossing the velvet box from one hand to another.

Gaara turned to him hastily. "Why do you still have that? Don't tell me the rings are still in that box," he hissed.

Kankurou grinned, flipped the box open, revealing it empty. "Relax. The ring bearer has it already." He pointed over to the small entourage waiting at the path leading to the field. Among other children holding flowers and baskets was a pudgy little boy with pink cheeks and tilted eyes. Obviously an Akimichi.

"That's one of Chouji's little rascals. Cute little guy, eh? He's carrying the rings over here, so you have nothing to fear."

Gaara sighed in relief, not knowing why he actually trusted the child more than he did his brother. According to the program Sakura had handed him, the small entourage of flower girls, ring bearers and a few bridesmaids would parade towards the altar followed, lastly, by the bride. Gaara unconsciously tugged at the collar of his kimono. He was getting anxious. He had not seen Ino all day. He wondered how she would look like in a wedding kimono.

Gaara looked around him nervously. He was not used to these kinds of celebrations. Weddings in Suna were usually solemn, with only the family members and a few relatives present in the joining and exchanging of vows. It seemed like Konoha celebrated differently, because the edge of the fields were lined with people Gaara didn't even know, civilian and shinobi alike, holding baskets full of something he couldn't see from where he was. The people from Suna were all seated around the left side of the gazebo. He could make out Masami and Iwate sitting side by side on one of the tables, looking over their shoulders, as if hoping to get even just a glance of the bride.

Gaara shifted in his place.

"Gaara," Naruto hissed from his place on the altar.

Gaara turned around to face him. "What?"

"Do you wanna pee?"

"What? No."

"Coz you look like you wanna pee. Stop fidgeting."

Kankurou smothered a laugh.

Gaara sighed and was about to apologize to Naruto when the band located at the back end of the gazebo suddenly started playing an unfamiliar song with their flutes and lyres.

"Ooh! It's starting!" Kankurou said, suddenly standing up straighter towards the entourage that had started walking grandly down the path that was lined with people who enthusiastically threw handful of flower petals at the group.

Gaara craned his neck anxiously.

And that was when he saw her.

She was clad in a kimono so white Gaara had to squint to see her in that sunlight. Her long hair was concealed under a wedding headpiece sitting elegantly on her bowed head. It was strange. He was so used to having Ino in halter tops and short skirts and he had always thought her body very beautiful. But he could not understand how wearing a bulky kimono composed of so many layers make her look so… sexy.

Gaara swallowed.

"You might want to wipe that drool off your chin," Kankurou whispered.

Gaara's hand was instantly on his face. There was no drool on his chin at all.

"Just kidding," Kankurou said.

Gaara ignored him and his eyes went back to Ino who was now being showered with flower petals as her little flower girls, the ring bearer, Tenten, Hinata and Sakura led her towards the gazebo. She was walking beside Inoichi, and the man was looking down at his daughter proudly, looking almost close to tears. Ino broke off from their little parade to bend down and hug someone from the crowd. Gaara saw it was her mother. He had talked to the woman a few times in the past week, but she had been busy with the preparations of the food and flowers that he had barely spent time with the woman.

There would be more time to get to know her. In the future. During Christmas and New Year.

Inoichi kissed his wife's cheek twice before pulling Ino back into their procession towards the altar.

"Is that Sakura in that dress?" Kankurou suddenly commented.

Gaara allowed himself to glance at what Kankurou had pointed out, although he didn't linger long. Sakura was in a lavender dress and holding a bouquet. "Yes." His eyes were back on Ino.

"She has neat ankles," Kankurou murmured.

"Stop acting like a pervert. She belongs to someone else. Don't ruin my day," Gaara muttered back.

Kankurou wisely did not respond.

Ino had finally made it to the gazebo where she slowly glided down the wooden aisle, her head still bowed demurely, her eyes hidden under her headpiece. From this angle, the only thing Gaara could make out of her face were her red-painted lips. She was smiling.

Gaara did not know how long he stared at her, but one second she was on the far side of the gazebo, next Inoichi was shaking his hand and Ino was in front of him shyly looking up at him.

Gaara opened his mouth only to close it with a snap.

"You're beautiful," Kankurou said sincerely. "I'm just saying it, coz Gaara's stunned speechless."

Ino bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. "Thanks, Kankurou."

"You're beautiful," Gaara finally managed to blurt out.

"You don't look so bad yourself," Ino said, giving Gaara's hand a light squeeze. They turned to Naruto, who was now all business.

"You guys look great. Are you ready for this?" Naruto asked quietly, beaming down at both of them as if his own daughter were getting married.

"Yes," Gaara said, feeling light-headed.

Ino giggled at him. "This will go by fast you won't even remember half of it."

Gaara thought Ino was just speaking figuratively, that's why he was surprised when it did actually go by fast, and aside from the part where Naruto was saying, "Citizens of Konoha, and our brothers and sisters from Suna, we are gathered here today to bear witness to the union of … … ", it seemed like he had zoned out on everything around him, and they were slipping their rings on each other's fingers, and there was just him in his montsuki saying, "I do," then there was Ino in her beautiful kimono, saying "I do," and they were sharing a tight-lipped kiss in front of everyone and then the crowd was clapping and there was music and Ino dragging him down the aisle by the hand.

And everything in the wedding was a blur and everything opened up to the reception where they were finally able to shed their kimonos and change, Gaara in a white dress shirt and plain black pants and Ino in a simple white dress and they were sitting on a round table eating too sweet cake, and drinking red wine.

In the hodge-podge of everything happening before him, Ino had held his hand gently, and perhaps that was the only anchor he had in the reality that was happening before him. Gaara couldn't really remember it, but Tenten and Sakura had shoved him and Ino in the middle of the dance floor where he had murdered Ino's feet by stepping on her too many times, where she whined about her pedicure but laughed as she tried and failed to teach him how to dance.

As the evening wore off, so did Gaara's stamina with nodding at the people politely (and attempting to smile at them), and watching dozens and dozens of women come approach Ino, kiss her on the cheek and say something like, "May you have many healthy children!", or "May your marriage be filled with love, trust and never-ending happiness!" and so on.

And it wasn't until the reception party started to die down, and everyone was drunk enough to finally pick themselves up and wish Gaara and Ino their final congratulations, did Gaara notice that Ino's megaton smile was down a notch, and although she responded to all their well-wishers with as much sincerity as she had shown earlier in the day, he could still tell she was exhausted as she tried to cover a yawn with her wine glass as she waved to the continuous flow of guests who were leaving the field for home.

"Are you all right?" Gaara asked as Ino leaned against him. His arm was instantly around her waist.

"Fine, fine," Ino assured him, still waving at the people who were bowing at them. "Just a bit tired. Well, maybe not a bit. Maybe a lot."

Gaara nodded in understanding as he took the wine glass from her hand and leaned down to peer at her face. She did look tired, and he understood why. Gaara had been up and about with whatever they had to finish for the last week since he came here, but Ino had been working on the wedding preparations from the food to the flowers for the past three months.

Ino giggled and she pushed his face away gently. "Stop looking at me like that. You're making me insecure."

Gaara straightened up immediately when he realized that Ino was, indeed, blushing. It may have something to do with the wine she had been drinking all night. But she looked good when she was blushing. All the blood on her cheeks.

All the blood.

He wanted her.

Gaara sucked in a sharp breath and forced himself to look straight ahead where the final few guests dallied out of the gazebo and out of the clearing.

Ino maintained her smile and her waving hand a few more minutes after all the people had left before finally throwing up her hands in the air and screaming at the top of her lungs, "Booooh-yaaaaahhhh!"

Gaara watched her do a little victory dance with whatever remaining energy she had before flinging herself to Gaara and saying, "Carry me ho~ome!"

She was not drunk. A bit tipsy, maybe, but she was definitely not drunk. Gaara looked over his shoulder to see a few of the hired help starting the clean up. Sakura had been hauled away by none other than Sai in his ink falcon sometime during the middle of the party for throwing up in the bushes for drinking too much. Unsurprisingly, Kankurou had disappeared from the scene a few minutes later probably to sulk in his room.

The others who were still there were Hinata and Tenten, obviously there to say their goodnights and congratulations to their friend before leaving the place.

"You guys must be exhausted," Tenten commented when she and Hinata finally came over. She had a few crepe paper in her hands and for some weird reason, a bottle of wine in another.

"You should take Ino home and rest. You're leaving for Suna first thing tomorrow morning, right?" Hinata asked as she kicked away a few balloons scattered by her feet.

Ino disengaged herself from Gaara and tackled Tenten and Hinata around the necks. "I love you guys!" she said cheerfully.

"She's had a bit to drink," Gaara explained. "I'm surprised you're not, Tenten."

The weapons mistress patted Ino's back fondly. "I have a mission in three hours. It was supposed to be yesterday, but I was dragging it off for Ino's wedding. Naruto was kind enough to hold the client off until tonight."

Gaara was surprised. "You must be tired. Why not hold it off until tomorrow?"

Tenten shook her head. "It was a surprise they let me off until tonight, actually. If it weren't for Naruto I wouldn't have made it to help Ino with the wedding. I can't make them wait any longer. It sucks I won't be able to see you off tomorrow, though."

Hinata smiled down at Ino's head, stroking her hair gently. "Why don't you guys stay a bit longer? Rest up before going back to Suna?"

Ino pulled back, shaking her head. "Gaara has a lot of things to do. He's already been away from his village for a week just for this."

"We're really grateful, though," Tenten said as she looked over to Gaara. "For letting us throw the wedding here instead of in Suna."

Gaara blinked. "It was the better option. She has a big family and more friends than I have in Suna. If we had held it there, the guest list and rooming list would have been a disaster."

Tenten and Hinata laughed at what he said.

"Today wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for you guys," Ino said, leaning back on her heels. She wobbled and Gaara caught her from behind, leaning her on his chest for balance.

Tenten raised her eyebrows. "I think you should go home. You can barely stand." She leaned over and gave Ino a quick kiss on the cheek. "Love you, Ino. Be happy." She touched Gaara's shoulder lightly. "Take care of her from now on. You'd better be nice to her."

Gaara looked down at the place on his shoulder that Tenten had touched. He nodded. "I will." He wondered how many more threats he was going to get from Ino's friends before they left for Suna.

Hinata reached out and took Ino's hands in hers. "We're just a letter away. Write to us when you finally get settled in, all right?"

Ino laughed, playfully swinging their hands between them. "You sound as if I'm already leaving. We're still meeting tomorrow, remember?"

Hinata's eyes started to water. "I know. Just in case I get over-emotional and not say what I have to say tomorrow, I thought it would be safer to tell you now."

Ino touched Hinata's cheek. "Are you going to cry on me? Don't cry! Let's all cry together tomorrow! If we cry tonight, then we'd wake up with puffy and swollen eyes in the morning!"

Hinata had to laugh at that and she dashed her eyes with the back of her hand. "You're right. I'm sorry."

Ino stifled a yawn that Gaara couldn't miss. He placed both hands on her upper arms and rubbed them up and down. "We should go. You're tired."

Tenten started shooing them away, too. "Go, go. Don't mind us."

Ino giggled again. "You be careful on your mission tonight, Ten. Write me a letter when you get back."

"I will."

"And Hinata? When you guys finally decide to tie the knot, you'd better invite me," Ino said.

Hinata blushed furiously. "O-oh! O-o-of course we will! We wouldn't have it any other way!"

Kankurou had warned him that girls' goodbyes were always the longest of all, and so he waited patiently for the three to finish up before he led Ino back to his quarters in the administrations building. Somewhere between the field and his quarters, Ino had started asking for a piggy back. Somehow a bit embarrassed and afraid that people might stare, he complied. He crossed the village with Ino's arms draped loosely around his neck, her face pressed closely to his cheek.

"Gaara," she whispered. "It just dawned on me right now."

Gaara kept his pace even. "What is it?"

"We're married."

Gaara stopped in his tracks, his heart suddenly jumping against his ribcage. She was right. They were married now. After all the hassles of tonight, of the last week, he wasn't even able to bask in the fact that they were now husband and wife… "Yes, we are." He continued walking.

"What do you think of wooden furniture?" Ino suddenly asked. She nuzzled her nose against his ear.

Gaara felt his skin tingle where her nose was touching him. "Wood? I've never really considered it. Why?"

"I'd like to buy some stuff for our living room in Suna…"

Gaara's heart took another unexpected leap. She was talking about his house. And she had said, 'our'. It was strange how that one word could make him so excited. They were married now. He was hers. She was his. It was overwhelming in a way. He never thought anyone was capable of being this happy and nervous and giddy all at the same time and still live. Damn it. He should have asked Neji, or Chouji or Shino about the 'dreaded' wedding night. Kankurou had been unhelpful, and if anything looked uncomfortable talking about it with him.

He knew of the traditions of Suna that the newlyweds were to… consummate their marriage on the night after the ceremony. And he had heard that the council even went as far as check if the requirement was met the next morning. Was Konoha any different?

"Gaara? Don't you like wood?" Ino asked, and Gaara realized he had not answered her question about the furniture.

Gaara turned his head to the side, and her lips ended up pressing against his cheek. He felt his face redden. "Wood is fine. But I want a softer couch."

"Hmm… That's true. We wouldn't want an uncomfortable couch and chairs." Ino murmured absently, pecking his cheek several times before pressing her mouth to his neck.

Gaara pulled his head away. "Ino, wait until we're in the room," he said.

Ino giggled. "Sorry. I was getting carried away." And she buried her face on his shoulder.

They were silent when Gaara finally managed to kick the door of his room open with Ino still giggling on his back.

"Ah, so this is where you've been staying all week? No wonder you didn't want to stay in my house. Naruto must have dished out his best room for you," Ino said as Gaara set her down on her feet. As soon as she was on the floor, she kicked off her shoes and started to attack her dress.

"Finally! I get to take this corset off! Do you know how hard it was to put this on? I bet it's as hard as taking if off." She reached behind her for her zipper, twirling around in a small circle as she did.

Gaara tentatively stepped towards her and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Let me help you out of that."

Ino jumped slightly when Gaara brushed back her long hair over one shoulder to pick at the zipper. He could not help notice how his breath hitched in his throat at the sight of the nape of her neck peeking from under her hair. He tried to ignore it, and worked the zipper down, freeing Ino from the dress. She shrugged it off and let it drop around her feet. She was now standing in her long white camisole and the corset she so detested. Gaara thought it gentlemanly to get her out of her predicament, although his fingers felt too thick to do the job of picking at the thin lace she was wearing. Unlike the wedding, undressing Ino felt like it took a decade to do. And he did it using all his ninja skills not to look at her unless necessary.

He did not know how it happened, but after forever of extracting her from the rest of her outfit, she was in her old night gown, and was dancing around the room happily.

"I'm free!" she said.

Gaara looked down at his hands. He had undressed her. And she didn't mind at all that he had touched her in so many places that he was sure would have made her uncomfortable. But here she was, dancing like she didn't have a care in the world. After a few more turns, she flopped down on the bed, folding her legs under her.

"Gaara, why are you still in your dress shirt? Change into something comfortable," she coaxed, grinning at him from over the bed. Her face was still flushed, but she was glowing. She looked happy. She was happy. She leaned forward on the bed, causing her night gown to slip over one shoulder. "Come here! Let me help you get out of that shirt."

That was when Gaara started to panic. The telltale presence of what used to be living inside him stirred again at the sight of Ino calling him over, dressed in nothing more than a flimsy night gown. He walked towards her stiffly, stopping in front of her on the bed.

Ino looked up at him as she pushed herself up on her knees. She gently laid her palms flat on his chest, dragging them down to his waist. She started unbuttoning his shirt from the bottom.

Gaara clenched and unclenched his hands as he held her eyes with his. She still had her make up on, and he could make out a bit of her smudged eyeliner, making her eyes bigger in the light of his room. And when his hands seemed to move on their own and reached for Ino's slender neck, that was when it scared him. He did not understand what was making his fingers move, but they ghosted over her bare shoulder.

Ino's own hands worked up the buttons of his shirt all the way and pushing it open to plant her palms on his bare chest. "You're tense. Are you all right?"

Gaara felt a shiver run through his spine at the feel of Ino's fingers trailing from his chest to his shoulders. "I'm just a bit tired," he said, feeling anything but. If anything, he hadn't been this awake all day. He hated this feeling. He hated the memory that the feeling brought with it.

"It's been a long day," Ino agreed. "I don't even think we were able to talk about anything throughout the ceremony."

Gaara nodded, and he felt his body once again move on its own and he hitched his knees up on the bed on either side of Ino's. She smiled at him coyly, and all of a sudden grabbed his collar and pulled him down onto the bed. Reflexes kicking in, he planted his hands on either side of her head to keep his body from crashing on top of her. The monster that wasn't there roared violently at the sight of Ino under him, mouth half-open with a bit of teeth and tongue peeking from those lips painted with fading lipstick. He leaned down and kissed her, and the feeling in his lower abdomen tried to take over again. Her hands had pushed his shirt off his shoulders, then her arms were around his neck, pulling him close.

He wanted her, in every sense of the word. That was why it frightened him to death. It was strange; it seemed like she knew what he was feeling. It seemed like she was waiting for him to make his move.

Gaara pulled away from her. "I'm sorry. I can't do this." He rolled off her and fell flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.

Ino sat up on the bed slowly. She did not look down at him, but from that angle, Gaara could see she was smiling. "We don't have to, you know. I mean, you're tired. I'm tired." That was when she turned to face him, and that understanding look on her face nearly made Gaara want to ram her against the bed and just ravish her to death.

To death.


Memories of the monster kept on coming back, but he knew this was not a good enough excuse to keep things from her. "Ino, I have something to tell you."

Ino nodded at him encouragingly, not the least bit surprised that he had asked for them to talk. "I'm listening."

"I don't even know where to start."

Ino shrugged lightly, and she reached out and tentatively took his hand into hers. "Whenever you're ready."

And he did not know how long he made her wait until he finally found the courage and the right words to put how the bijuu he'd had in him fourteen years ago had influenced his childhood in a way that was just too twisted even for him to put into words. And how it had still continued to affect him long after the monster was removed from him, and how these natural human bodily reactions still reminded him of that time when Gaara's satisfaction was achieved only through the beast's satisfaction.

"Arousal came before or after killing people and feeding my sand their blood," Gaara said shakily. "Ever since Shukaku left me, I had to learn how to… satisfy myself without the beast. Kankurou must have been the one who suffered the most embarrassment from having to teach me everything. Sexual arousal, sexual desire had come together with the thirst for blood. They were never good memories for me."

Ino listened silently to what he had to say. Nodding at times, and sometimes touching his shoulder or rubbing his back when he stopped to think for better words to say. It was only when Gaara finally lower his head did she scoot closer to him and hugged him, pressing his head closer to her chest and resting her chin on his hair.

"I love you, Gaara. You know that. You don't have to force yourself to do something you're not comfortable with yet. Making love or not doesn't define what we feel for each other."

"Suna traditions demand us to consummate this marriage tonight," Gaara said against her chest, and his own arms snaked around her waist, clinging onto her more than what was necessary.

"Shh!" Ino cooed, then she pulled back and leaned down to stare at him in the eye with a determined look on her face. "It doesn't have to be tonight. We have our whole lives ahead of us. There's no need to rush." She wriggled her eyebrows naughtily. "Tell me when you're ready. I'll make sure to leave an impression so good not even a tailed-beast can win over."

And he did not know what it was in how she said it, but he felt something move in him again, something not different from the desire he'd always felt for her when they were lying in the dark, under the covers and kissing. It was a… safe feeling. And he felt that same feeling he felt seven days ago when they were in Ino's room. The loneliness. The feeling of being… incomplete. And the desire to be anything but.

Ino cupped a hand on his cheek lovingly. "Let's go to sleep. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow." She turned around to crawl up the bed.

Gaara seized her around the waist, pulling her against him so suddenly that Ino gasped out loud as her back hit Gaara's chest. Gaara's mouth was instantly on that patch of exposed flesh on her shoulders, kissing up her neck and to her ear. "I'd… I'd like to try. I… uh… " He pulled the neck of her night gown down further, exposing her upper arm and a lot of her back. He trailed open-mouthed kisses down her back, then up again. "I… might not be good at it… and there would be times I might change my mind… stop me, all right?"

Ino shuddered against him. And she turned around to face him, and much to his horror, her bare legs were straddling his hips in a way so… stimulating that he felt like pushing her back and running away. He stilled himself as the sensation kept creeping back into his body. And it showed, because Ino started to squirm on his lap, as if to give him a bit of room enough to make him comfortable.

She kissed his forehead, right on the mark on top of his left eye. "Are you sure? We can do this when you're more ready."

Gaara shook his head, fighting down the feelings of fear by concentrating on Ino's mouth on his forehead that trailed down his closed eyes, on his cheeks, on his lips. "It's all right. I'm all right. Are you?"

Ino pulled back slowly, gazed at him with slightly closed eyes. She smiled, "Making love, Gaara…" she started. "Is when you want to."

Gaara swallowed hard, and in her smeared eyeliner and clumps of mascara sticking to her eyelashes, and the messy hair, she looked absolutely beautiful and understanding and everything he's ever wanted in a woman, that he owed her this much at least. He nodded, shifted and gently laid her on her back on the bed. "I want to," he said, and taking her lips in his, he knew that he did want her.

How could he refuse, when she had offered him that proclaimed promise that she was going to make a good impression? That would be nice, he thought. He found himself hoping against hope for it.

And although he wasn't really feeling confident right now, he knew one thing: he was getting really, really excited.

"You asked for it," Ino said gravely, suddenly pushing him onto his back and running a hand through his hair gently. She lowered her mouth to his ear and whispered, "But don't say I didn't warn you."

Gaara closed his eyes. Now he was getting really, really scared.

Of course, after that night, everything changed.

And everything was good.


I kind of liked writing this little universe they have here. And at the back of my mind, a tiny little idea started brewing in my head about the Gaara concept I've made for this story. Watch out for it. It might probably be my very first Lemon fic. But I'm not keeping any promises. Of course it will be GaaIno, though. XD

Well, thank you for reading and reviewing! Writing about this couple was truly very enjoyable for me! I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Till the next inspiration hits me!