Summary: Gaara knows only of duty to his village. Shizuka knows only of duty to her people. When she is sent to Suna, both of them are forced to see that there is more to life than they had imagined. They must learn to live.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of the recognizable characters or places or things that you see in this story. I do, however, own Shizuka, her kingdom, and this particular plot-line.


Chapter Five

In the two weeks since Shizuka had arrived, she and Temari had grown closer. There was little choice, really. They spent more time with each other than with anyone else. Not that that was all there was to their relationship. Slowly but surely, the princess was beginning to open up to the shinobi, and she was beginning to grow on Temari. Regardless, the fact remained. Out of all of the sand siblings, Temari was the only one Shizuka saw on a regular basis.

Certainly the Kazekage had not managed to spare much time from his busy schedule to visit with her. Though in all fairness, she had not gone out of her way to see him, either. In fact, the only time they saw each other was at the dinner table, which he had decided to show up at after that first night. Not that they actually spoke to each other at dinner. Gaara was near-silent, and Shizuka was little better. Whatever words were exchanged, they were with Temari or Kankuro. Needless to say, dinner was often a rather awkward event.

On the bright side, at least Shizuka was getting to know Kankuro better. He was not always the rude brute that he had been that first night. In fact, he could be rather amusing at times. For instance, their reconciliation had been a highly entertaining event, at least for Shizuka. His girlfriend had been the instigator. The woman seemed to know just how to handle him, and had made him apologize properly. Seeing the large, imposing man bow down to the demands of a relatively average-sized woman had been a sight to behold, and it had gone a long way toward helping Shizuka view him as a more approachable figure.

Watching them interact, seeing just how very in love they were was lovely, but it also drove home her own situation, which was less than ideal. How could she ever be happy in her marriage if she could not even manage to converse with the man she was marrying?

A bitter smile crossed her lips and she shook her head. If she was too cowardly to tackle the matter, then she had no right to complain. Besides, everything was not so bad. After that first time that Temari had taken her around the village, it had become something of a routine. Nearly every day, they went out and saw more people and places. It was so large! Of course, there were a few places they frequented, but they never seemed to run out of new things to see and do. Shizuka was beginning to genuinely enjoy herself.

In some ways, Suna was very different from her homeland; but in others, it was very much the same. Despite a large portion of the populace being shinobi, there were still many civilians residing within the protective walls of the village. Those civilians were not so different from her own people. They had hopes and dreams and ambitions. They had their own lives and pride in their village and in their kage. In short, they were people; regular people who just happened to live in a village that was ruled by shinobi.

As a matter of fact, it was a little surprising just how much pride they took in their leader. It was not simply respect, though that was there. It was something more. Something much more difficult to obtain, but infinitely more valuable. Gaara had managed to win their hearts. It was in their eyes every time they spoke of him. It was something that she had not thought to find. She would have expected the shinobi to follow their leader as the strongest of them, but the civilians? It was baffling. Luckily, it took little prodding to get the villagers to explain how the young kazekage had won their hearts.

He fought for them. He had been a general in a war for them. He had guided them through the chaos of war and delivered them safely to peace. He had defended them time and again, and he had been successful. Essentially, he made them feel safe.

Yet it was more than that. All she had to do was look around to see that Suna was thriving, shinobi and civilian sectors alike. No longer did they have to worry about going to war with the other great shinobi nations, or being attacked by some rogue force. Suna was strong and stable and in a time of peace and plenty. Its people thanked their kazekage for that.

Out of all of this, Shizuka had learned one thing for certain: it would take more than a little smiling and well-wishing to earn their approval. Maybe it was for the best that there had been no official announcement about who she was or why she was there. Except for a select few, all that the villagers had was speculation. Most believed she was little more than a visiting dignitary, an assumption that Temari was encouraging. Shizuka was not sure if that was good or bad, but even if it made her a coward, she could not bring herself to be displeased that these people were getting to know her for who she was, and not what she was supposed to be.

But that was neither here nor there.

By now, Shizuka had seen much of the civilian portion of the village. Temari had decided that today, they were to start looking at the shinobi aspects, and Shizuka was inclined to agree. The more she learned, the more she wanted to know about the lifeblood of Suna: the shinobi. At this point, she was more than willing to learn about the majority of her new people, even if that included familiarizing herself with the dangerous arts necessary to their lifestyle.

"There's the academy," Temari said, interrupting her train of thought. "It's where the children who hope to become shinobi go to learn the basic skills they'll need to survive. They have no rank right now, but if they stick around long enough to graduate, they'll have a chance of becoming genin."

The building that the blond had indicated looked like any other school, if one were to substitute a playground for training grounds and gym class for target practice.

"Only a chance?"

"Just because they might have the theoretical knowledge, or even the skills, doesn't mean they have what it takes. We leave it to jounin instructors to weed out those who would not make good shinobi. Sometimes the failed ones go back to the academy, most of the time, they don't."

Shizuka nodded. That made sense. Whatever the lifestyle of a shinobi was like, she was certain that it was a difficult one. Just because a child held a romanticized dream of it, did not mean that the child would do well with the reality.

As they approached the academy, Shizuka could see a class of students outside, flinging kunai at targets. Upon closer inspection, she realized that they were meeting with…mixed results, to put it kindly. At least as many weapons missed the mark as hit it, and precious few reached the center. Even to her inexperienced eye, it seemed that those in the center of the target had gotten there by luck rather than skill. A teacher was working with them, though, correcting things here and there.

"A first year class," Temari observed. "A royal mess now, but by the time they graduate, they'll have shaped up." She slid a sidelong glance at the princess. "Wanna check out a classroom?"

"Wouldn't we be interrupting?" Predictably, this question only drew a mischievous smirk out of her companion.

"We would be a huge distraction," the blond affirmed. "Of course, they'd wait until we were gone to really make the teacher miserable."

"You are an evil woman, Temari," Shizuka reprimanded, but even she could not quite manage to keep the smile off of her face.

"I'm so glad you agree. Come on, then."

I~I~I

In the end, they toured not one, but three classrooms of different age groups. While Shizuka felt a little guilty about disturbing the studies of so many students, she did have to admit that it was very instructive. They lurked in the back of the classrooms, listening to the teachers lecture about various subjects anywhere from ninjutsu to sabotage. One teacher was even talking about the history of Suna. That was one subject that Shizuka found herself quite fascinated by. When Temari dragged her out of that classroom far too soon for the princess's taste, Shizuka made herself a promise to delve into the library and read whatever she could find about it. It seemed like it could be useful to know.

Regardless of the manifold distractions they inflicted upon the students and headaches they had doubtless given the teachers, their little visit did have one positive impact. Poor Temari had been bullied into helping out with a lecture about strategy. She made a good teacher, though. Even Shizuka, who knew little of the subject, could easily follow the logic behind her explanations.

Outside once more and on their way to the next destination, Temari made a sound of disgust. "That's what I get for picking his class to crash. Trying to turn me into a teacher."

Shizuka hid her smile. "But Temari, you looked like you were enjoying yourself."

"In what alternate world are you living that it looked like I was having fun teaching a bunch of brats?" she demanded with a scowl.

"Don't let her fool you," said another voice, startling Shizuka. She had not noticed anyone else approaching. Shinobi: far too quiet. Either she would have to start getting better at detecting them or she would have to get steadier nerves. Otherwise, they were bound to give her a heart attack one of these days. "She gives guest-lectures there all the time. She just doesn't want to admit she likes it."

"Kankuro," Temari growled at the grinning man. "What brings you here?"

"Me? Just passing through."

Temari remained unconvinced. However, whatever retort was on her lips was left unsaid. The agonized scream was a little too distracting to ignore.

To be continued…


Author's Note: I apologize for the slightly later than usual posting, FF would not let me sign in. I also beg you not to shoot the author for the cliffhanger. Just remember, if I die, the story will never continue. It seemed like the appropriate place to stop. Not much else to add this time. It kinda speaks for itself.

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