A/N: Due to a busy schedule, I'm going to be updating once a week on Fridays. I hope it doesn't disappoint my faithful reviewers too much, but I'd like to update every week on a consistent schedule. Arigatou!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto
The morning light twinkled against Sasuke's closed eyelids and he winced. The Uchiha shifted against the warmth of Sakura's body as she slept cozily beside him. His eyes shot open, double checking it was her, refusing to have another Sai/Naruto incident happen ever again. Seeing the pink hair nuzzled against his nose, he sighed in relief. Good. It was her.
He had drifted off to sleep beside her, allowing the snakes Gō and Chō to guard the door...not that they were needed. Being a ninja meant being able to wake up to the smallest sounds. So when the breathing of a third party came just outside their door, Sasuke was ready. He carefully snuck out of Sakura's arms and leapt from the bed silently, the sheet staying over his lover's body as he did so.
He didn't make a sound as he landed on the hard wood floor, a feat for any ninja to truly master, but for an Uchiha, this was nothing. He walked casually toward the door, swung it open, and eyed Kakashi with a lazy look. His old sensei peered over his shoulder at the sleeping kunoichi, to which Sasuke immediately stepped in his line of vision, giving the white haired ninja a glare.
Kakashi motioned for Sasuke to come out, which he willingly obliged. He closed the door behind him, making sure not a peep was heard. They immediately walked down the hall, where their own shared room was, and a sleeping Sai was awoken. He tiredly rubbed his eyes and watched as Kakashi and Sasuke entered the bedroom.
The door closed with a 'click.' Immediately, Kakashi rounded on his student.
"While I'm all for deepening your relationship, you could try not to 'do it' on your guard duty," he mused.
Sasuke's eyes narrowed slightly at his off base innuendo. "She asked me to stay."
Sai raised his eyebrows. "You slept with her on duty?"
Sasuke bit the inside of his cheek in irritation. Were they really going to make a bigger deal out of this than necessary?
"Something is wrong with Sakura," he said, ignoring Sai's question, "She hasn't been sleeping well the past few days."
Kakashi sized up his former pupil. He felt a grin coming from behind his mask and tried to suppress it. While Sasuke clearly had feelings for the medical ninja, he really did have difficulty showing his feelings. Now though...now he was opening up a little, and actually expressing his concern. This was the second time in two days that he had brought up his concern for Sakura. How interesting...
"Well, it is normal to be sore after coitus," Sai insisted, "Sometimes Ino can't sleep for days when we go at it."
Sasuke's eye twitched. "We didn't have sex."
The artist blinked. "...So you are gay..."
Sasuke rolled his eyes. He wasn't going to take her while they were on a mission. While yes, they had managed to escape here and there for a few dates, and he was perfectly aware of their growing attraction for one another, it wasn't something he planned on doing in the Kazekage's home...Something about taking Sakura in Gaara's sheets didn't sound too pleasing to him.
He shook away the thought. He needed to return to Sakura. He glanced at his sensei.
"If there isn't anything else you have to say other than reprimanding me for my way of guarding her, then I'll be going," Sasuke said dryly.
"Oh," Kakashi said, his tone teasing, "I wasn't reprimanding you." All traces of humor left his voice. "The fact that Sakura hasn't been sleeping well is what's concerning me. We're leaving tomorrow in the morning for Konoha, and if she hasn't gotten much sleep over the past few days, then traveling might be a bit hard on her."
Sasuke frowned. Was the white haired ninja suggesting they lengthen their stay? Ridiculous. Sasuke wasn't about to let the tension between himself and the Kazekage last longer than it already had. After all, Sakura wasn't a prize to be won. If she was, Sasuke would already have her on his mantel, safely inside of his home by now. No, she was a woman capable of making her own choices.
If there was anything he had learned throughout the years of being by her side, it was that she was a fiery woman with a temper to match. He smirked. As if the Kazekage could handle her heat. Ch. Yes, that independent woman of his was fantastically fearsome.
"Should we stay an extra day?" Sai asked, his brow furrowing.
"No," Kakashi said truthfully, "Sakura's needed back at Konoha. She's the head medical ninja and she's already been gone long enough." He frowned behind his mask. "Besides, if she knew we were discussing the possibility of her inability to travel well, she'd probably kill us."
Sasuke and Sai sweat dropped. She had insisted on being treated equally throughout the years, being one of the legendary Sannin and on equal ground with both Naruto and Sasuke. Therefore, if any one of the men from her team treated her as 'weak,' she'd take a soldier pill, snap it in her teeth and push on harder. Whatever the decision, they needed to handle the situation delicately.
"Ah," Sasuke agreed, folding his arms. "We just need to keep an eye on her today to see if she's fit for tomorrow."
"And if she isn't?" Sai asked.
Sasuke shot him a glare. "She will be."
Angered by the lack of faith in his lover, Sasuke stalked off toward the door. How dare he insinuate that she couldn't do something as simple as travel properly? While yes, her sleep dilemma was bothersome, it didn't mean she would be dragging them behind schedule. She worked hard every day to be able to stand side by side with him and Naruto. Something like sleep deprivation was nothing for a kunoichi like her.
"But if she isn't?" Kakashi asked Sasuke curiously.
Sasuke paused, stopping as he placed his hand on the doorknob. He clenched his jaw tightly.
"If she isn't," Sasuke muttered, his voice echoing through the silent room, "I will take care of her."
Sakura took a deep breath as she sipped on her green tea. She could do this. She eyed the Kazekage who absentmindedly chewed on his omelet, occasionally looking up at her with a soft look in his eyes. Kakashi and Sai sat at the table alongside the silent pair while Kankurō and Sasuke stood behind their designated charges. Silence had never been loud to Sakura until that morning.
She stared down at her uneaten food, shifting uncomfortably in her chair every few moments. The wood beneath her creaked as she did, catching the attention of everyone in the room. She stopped when she felt everyone's eyes on her. Face hot and heart pounding, Sakura bit her lower lip. This wasn't the time Lee confessed to her in the Daiyonjūyon Enshūjō during the Chūnin exams. This was the Kazekage's serious love confession that she had been avoiding dealing with since the previous day.
She nervously looked up at the redhead who was now sipping at his hot tea. She swallowed, the gulping noise causing his eyes to look into hers.
"Sakura," Gaara said, the first word he had spoken to her since he confessed, "What is it?"
"I want to thank you for letting us stay in your home during our visit to Suna," Sakura answered, surprised her voice wasn't shaking, but strong and pushing forward.
"Ah," Gaara said, his eyes unwavering as he set his cup down on the table beside his empty plate.
He watched her bite her lower lip thoughtfully. She still had more to say to him. When her gaze shifted, looking at Kakashi and then tilting her head a little back to catch a snippet of the man behind her, Gaara knew what she wanted to say to him was something she didn't want others to hear.
"Sakura," he said, drawing her attention away from Sasuke's presence and back to him. He wasn't a jealous man, but he had to admit the sensation was something that pleased him. "For your last night in Suna...I would like you to join me." He tilted his head, the corners of his eyes softening. "There is something I would like to show you."
Sakura's eyebrows rose. So he had sensed her hesitancy to say more in front of her friends. She smiled, her bangs shifting forward as she tilted her head down to her lap. She still hadn't talked to Sasuke about Gaara's confession, and truthfully, she didn't want to. Not until she had dealt with it her own way. While she felt confident enough to talk with him about it, she wanted to make a decision for herself. A decision that wouldn't have the pressure of the Uchiha behind her...
Sakura sweat dropped as she felt his eyes bore on the back of her neck.
"Hai, Gaara," she replied.
Gaara turned his gaze from Sakura to Sasuke. Leaning against the wall, with one knee bent, the cool and collected heir stared at him. Eyes dark and challenging, Gaara knew that he wasn't going to give Sakura to him without a fight. He felt the corner of his lip twitch upward. Well, he only had one day left to spend with her until she returned to Konoha...he might as well make the most of it.
"Kankurō," Gaara said, his gaze shifting back to Sakura. "Consider yourself free for the evening."
His brother's eyes widened. He was rarely ever dismissed from Gaara's side. It normally only ever occurred when he was mad at him or he wanted to be alone with Naruto. Kankurō stared down at the blushing pink haired kunoichi. Was she the cause for his sudden dismissal? True, he knew Gaara had confessed to the medical ninja and while he disapproved, he was secretly rooting for his younger brother to win her heart.
He failed to hide a smug grin as he hummed his approval. "Ah. Arigatou."
Sakura frowned. Was tonight's discussion meant to be in private? If that was the case...she glanced over at Kakashi. Noticing her stare, he looked up from his erotic novel and caught her eye. He noticed her jade orbs silently pleading with him. If she had to be guarded, she'd prefer he be on duty. Kakashi sighed.
"Sakura," the white haired ninja said slowly, "Would you like to be alone with Gaara-sama tonight?"
She nervously swallowed. She should have known better than to try and get Kakashi to help her out of a sticky situation. Now she was in a more awkward position than before. Sakura bit her lower lip, and fidgeted with the napkin in her lap. How would she answer such a question? If she said, 'yes,' then suspicions would be aroused...if she said, 'no,' then she and Gaara wouldn't be able to speak freely...
She tilted her head back in contemplation. Then again, if Gaara wanted to truly speak freely, he would have just asked her to come to his room instead of calling her out directly. She pursed her lips.
"Mou," Sakura finally said, "Why don't you all take the night off? I'm sure you want to have a guys' night after guarding me for so long." She grinned cheekily at Sai who had halted eating his breakfast. "You can always keep one of your clones nearby...or watch from a close distance." She shrugged casually. "It doesn't really matter."
Kakashi closed his eye. In order to avoid an uncomfortable situation with Sasuke, she made it seem like she didn't care whether or not her comrades were there. However, he saw the look in her eyes. Something was up between Gaara and Sakura...this conversation was confirmation of that. Well, whatever it was, Kakashi wasn't going to stop it.
His one good eye shot open as Sasuke walked out of the room.
But maybe the Uchiha would...
"Oi, ugly," Sai said cheerfully as Sakura shoved her head further against the mahogany wood desk and ground her wide forehead against the smooth surface. "Is this part of your job description?"
Sakura raised her chin so she could meet his gaze. Sai smiled. Maybe she shouldn't have looked up...The medical ninja had managed to hide her exhaustion early that morning, but with the sun high in the sky and her tired eyes drooping, there was no amount of make up she could apply to conceal the dark circles. Sai stared at her and backed away from her into the cream wall behind him.
"Urusai," she ground out.
His smile twitched. "What are you and Gaara-sama going to be doing tonight?"
Sakura sighed, and shuffled the paperwork in front of her. It was basic client information that she had to submit to the Sunagakure hospital, but it was taking her forever. She sank her cheek into her palm and her fingers wrapped around her pink locks.
"I don't know," she said, a tinge of worry in her voice.
Maybe he was angry with her for avoiding him the previous day. Or perhaps he was going to demand for her answer.
Sakura shook the thought away immediately. No, Gaara had said he would wait for her answer. He wasn't going to ask her anything she didn't want to do. He had already confessed. Her brow furrowed. But what could he want?
A knock at the door drew the attention of Sakura and pulled her out of her thoughts. A small smile spread across her face and she stood to greet her guest.
"Matsuri," Sakura said, her fingers pressing against her desk. "I'm glad you came."
Sai's eyebrows rose in surprise at the sight of her. After the way Sakura had been acting the previous day, what with attempting to rid him of his clothes in the greenhouse, he was shocked to see her acting so calm in the same room together.
The brunette smiled shyly at the Sannin and then eyed Sai. "You called, so..."
Sakura laughed and nodded, motioning for her friend to come inside. Matsuri took a step in the room and bit her lower lip. She had been dismissed by Sakura the previous day, and she had thought she had done something wrong. Was Sakura calling her to explain her incompetency? In that case, did she need to apologize?
Immediately, Matsuri bowed her head low in front of the pink haired kunoichi. "Gomenasai!" She shut her eyes tightly, hoping the reprimanding wouldn't be too harsh. "Honto gomenasai!"
Sakura blinked. "A-Ano, M-Matsuri..."
"Sakura-sama, gomenasai!" she pushed onward, "I-I don't know what I did, but I didn't mean to be worthless during your stay!"
Sakura sweat dropped. "M-Matsuri."
"If I offended you in any way, please punish me immediately!"
"Matsuri!" Sakura yelled, blushing madly. "Sit down, relax." She scratched her neck anxiously. "I just wanted to apologize."
Sai and Matsuri stared at her. Both tilted their heads simultaneously.
"Sai, could you give a few minutes?" Sakura asked politely.
"Ah," Sai said, uncomfortably, exiting the room and closing the door behind him.
Women. He would never understand.
With the click of the door, and the slide of Matsuri's seat, the two women looked at one another in brief silence. Sakura eyed the girl who was now wringing her outfit nervously. Sakura felt uncomfortable. If anyone should apologize, it would have to be her.
"Gomenasai," Sakura said, bending forward as Matsuri had done just a few moments before. "I dismissed you the other day because I couldn't face you." She straightened her back and smiled down at the confused girl. "But now I'm ready."
Matsuri, befuddled, stared at the Sannin. What did Sakura have to apologize for?
Sakura took a deep breath nervously. She had already lost a good friend once before due to petty pride and a meaningless rivalry. Ino and Sakura had long since put it behind them, but the anxiety Sakura felt from it still remained in her heart. She was going to have to deal with her fear.
"You're a friend, Matsuri," Sakura pushed forward, "And I know you have feelings for Gaara."
Matsuri's ears tinted red. "S-Sakura-sama..."
"So you'll be the first to know about it," Sakura said truthfully. She shut her eyes tightly, bracing herself for a cat fight. "Gaara confessed to me."
Silence. The hum of the wind outside was deafening and Sakura couldn't bring herself to peek open even one of her eyes. Still though, she had to face her friend with an honest gaze, so she pried open her tired eyes to look at the shocked girl. But instead of tears and a temper, a smile pulled at the corner of her lips. Sakura covered her mouth in horror. It was worse than she had imagined.
"Gomen," Sakura said quickly, leaping over her desk and taking Matsuri's hands in her own, "I-I just thought you needed to know and—"
The sound of a slap echoed in her ears before she could process what was happening. Had she been slapped? There wasn't a stinging in her cheek. She felt the pain in her fingers though. Matsuri had taken her palms and forcefully slammed them against her own cheeks. Sakura let out an exhale of shock.
"Arigatou, Sakura-sama," Matsuri said, the painful smile still on her face. "I needed that." She looked guiltily at the pink haired kunoichi. "I was feeling jealous, so I just..."
Sakura enveloped the girl in a tight hug. She knew all too well the pains of an unrequited love. Although Matsuri's was not as deep as hers, the two would bond over those bittersweet feelings. The feeling of loving someone who might never return what you give. The feeling of wanting to cheer them on even as they break your heart. The feeling of watching their back as they turn on you. All of those bittersweet feelings...Sakura's heart hurt for her friend.
"I know we're not close," Sakura said, hot tears dripping on her shoulder, "But you're my friend." She swallowed, the saliva trailing down her throat like burning acid. "And I'll be here for you through this pain."
Matsuri sniffled. "I'm not crying because I'm sad, Sakura-sama."
The pink haired kunoichi froze.
Sakura pulled away slowly, letting a thumb wipe away the tears from Matsuri's eyes. She took in the smile once more, and her brow furrowed. Matsuri wasn't sad? She just found out that the person she loved had affections for another woman. If Sasuke had asked any other woman to rebuild his clan, she would be on the floor for weeks. Sakura's hand dropped to her side.
"I'm crying because I'm happy," Matsuri choked out.
She was happy?
"Gaara-sama has experienced so much pain throughout the years," Matsuri said, the smile unwavering on her face, "I was scared he wasn't able to love again after everything...but—" She broke off, letting out the most delightful laugh Sakura had ever heard in her life. "The fact that he asked you..." She shook her head in disbelief. "I can't describe how happy I am."
And then it hit Sakura. Like a wave of sand in a desert storm, Sakura was drowning in gold light. She let out a chuckle herself. She had worried for nothing. Matsuri's love was as deep as her own. Sakura tilted her head to the side, trying to keep the peals of laughter from coming out, but they wouldn't stop. Matsuri knew the pain of one sided love, just as well as she did.
The two did not speak for a while after that, curled up in balls on the medical office's floor from their laughter. But when they finally were able to speak, they chose not to. Like Sakura, Matsuri was overwhelmed with joy to find a kindred spirit.
And it was a feeling neither of them was ever going to let go of.
"I'm assuming you're angry," Kakashi said, dodging Sasuke's blow as he leapt back against the cooling sand. "You haven't said a word to Sakura all day and the only thing you've demanded from me is to spar with you."
Kakashi blocked his kick before jumping a few feet back. He stared at his silent former student, his eyes cold and calculating. After Sasuke had left the Kazekage's dining room, he hadn't bothered to stop by and see Sakura unless it was for his shift as her guard. They hadn't spoken, mainly because Sakura was in an operating room when he had been on duty, but Kakashi was positive the Uchiha was livid.
Drenched in sweat, and nearly exhausted, the pair had been going at it for the past two hours. Training in the desert had its advantages, but damn, was that sand hard to move in. No wonder Suna's ninja were so strong in their legs. Bruises their flawless, shirtless bodies and both were out of breath, but they were still going hard.
"Sasuke," Kakashi said, dodging another punch and throwing kunai his way. "It's not good to keep quiet." He frowned behind his mask. "Are you even concerned about Sakura?"
Sasuke disappeared before his former sensei's eyes, and knocked the air out of him while he jabbed his elbow into the white haired ninja's back. Kakashi coughed and winced. Right. Maybe poking the bear wasn't the wisest decision at this point.
Sasuke dodged Kakashi's swipe and flipped him on his back. The clone disappeared. Sasuke grimaced as the real Kakashi shoved his fist into his stomach through the puff of smoke. Kakashi wasn't as tough as Naruto, so he couldn't fully get his frustration out. He found it interesting that fighting things out with his sensei couldn't beat the irritation out of him.
It was funny how with any other issue, he could get all of his anger out. But for some reason, when it came to Sakura, there was no amount of sheer exhaustion that would do. No. He needed to solve his anger with her by 'talking things out.' He let out a sneer scoff at the mere thought. Talking things out...How could he talk things out with her? What was he going to say? 'I don't want you to go with the Kazekage?'
He shook his head and leapt off of the ground to go kunai to kunai with Kakashi. As metal clashed against metal, the pair disappeared into the pink sky. Invisible to the naked eye, but fighting nonstop, the duo halted when their weapons pressed hard against one another.
Sasuke let his guard down, just briefly to look at the first star of the evening. Kakashi took his chance and stabbed his pupil in the chest. The illusion vanished and he glanced over his shoulder at Sasuke who was walking away.
"Arigatou," he said cockily, raising one hand in the air for acknowledgement. He tilted his head back over his shoulder and gave Kakashi a snide smirk. "Sensei."
Kakashi felt chills run down his spine. He didn't have to ask where he was headed. They'd be lucky if they left Suna without a war starting. Something told him Sunagakure wouldn't be too happy with the Uchiha once he killed their Kazekage.
"Gaara," Sakura said, feeling her cheeks turn pink as she walked side by side with the Kazekage in his garden.
Sakura was slightly surprised to see so many beautiful flowers in the desert, but Gaara had assured her they were all different forms of cacti. It seemed to be a private garden at the back of the village where no one was permitted to enter without his approval. Sakura felt a little embarrassed to be able to walk through it with him.
"Gaara," she repeated shakily, her fingers trembling, "We're leaving tomorrow."
"Ah," Gaara said, amused at her stating the obvious due to nerves.
Sakura swallowed, her feet sinking in the sand as she walked. The stars were out and the moon was a beautiful sliver of silver.
"Sakura," he said, slicing through her thoughts, "Your mind is far away." He brushed the back of his hand against hers. "I would like you to be here, in this moment." He let his fingers slide in between hers. "...With me."
Sakura's pounding heart was thumping in her ears now, and she could barely breathe. "G-Gaara—"
He let go of her hand immediately and stared at her. "Gomen."
Gaara immediately began to walk away from her, toward the bench in the midst of his spiky garden. He motioned for her to sit by him. She did as he silently asked, carefully sitting on the edge of the seat, turned toward her superior. Her brow furrowed.
"Something is troubling you," Gaara said coolly, "And you have been avoiding me."
Sakura didn't deny it. "I needed to clear my head."
Gaara eyed the pink haired kunoichi, her green eyes filled with confusion and mixed emotions. "Tell me."
Sakura smiled gently at him, the shimmering sky reflected in her beautiful jade orbs. He felt his heart clench. She was gorgeous. Even as she bore the Uchiha emblem on her back, even as she turned to love another man...Gaara couldn't help but find her breathtaking.
"I've been thinking about your feelings for me," she said slowly.
Gaara closed his eyes. If this was a rejection, he did not want to hear it. Not out of stubbornness, but out of annoyance. Hadn't he told her he would wait for her? Just as the moon waits for the sun to rise, so would he wait for her.
He flinched when she touched his hand, still not used to such affectionate
"You already know my answer," Sakura said once he reopened his eyes, "So I don't have to say it."
Gaara's gaze was unwavering. "You have been losing sleep over this."
Sakura chuckled and shook her head. "Sleep deprivation...is something I'm used to."
Gaara's eyes narrowed slightly in curiosity. "...When I was younger, I was so terrified of allowing the Shukaku to take over my body, I rarely slept."
Sakura bit her lower lip. He was so open and honest about it. She averted her gaze to the beautiful pink bud at her feet. Could she be as open and honest with him?
She smiled sadly. "...I have nightmares."
Gaara looked at her in concern, waiting for her to continue.
"The night that Sasuke left the village," she said softly, tucking a pink tuft behind her ear, "It...replays in my mind...quite a bit." She felt her cheeks cool and watched as her tears fell on the palms of her hands. "So...I'm used to it."
Gaara placed a hand over hers, reassuringly. She felt the warmth spread through her knuckles and she shut her eyes tightly. Why was she crying? It wasn't like Sasuke was gone. He was there. He had come back to the village...back to her. The tears though...they kept falling. Building up and spilling over like the love in her heart for the man who had betrayed her.
And that fear of him leaving her again...
Gaara immediately threw his cloak over her, mistaking her shudder of fear for a shudder of cold. The sentiment was appreciated. Tear stained, and shivering, she looked up at him weakly, only to feel his lips on hers. Too surprised to do anything, his warm lips lingered on hers for a moment longer before he pulled away slowly. His fingers in her hair, and cupping her cheeks, Gaara looked at her with such passionate emotion.
"I would never leave you," he murmured softly.
"G-Gaara," she gasped, unable to move from shock.
Sakura's eyes widened as she watched a shadow shift in the moonlight behind Gaara.
Suddenly, she saw two red eyes staring at her and the blood drained from her face.