Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Reunion ( Chapter 13 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
TYK:  #13 Heats up the ranks with some interaction between the lovers… all of them.

Sound Sleep Ch13:

Having left Konoha in the early evening, Naruto and Shino arrived at the borders of Suna as the night was well under way. They’d made great time—probably both their personal bests—as there had been absolutely no stops on the way. Both men were on the edge of exhausted, but they remained cool and collected as they approached the guard.

“State your names and land of origin.”

Naruto could trace the power signals of the two men before they even jumped out in front of them. He spoke as professionally as he could, not trusting Shino to be too cordial rather than demand to see Sakura and get them both kicked out. They were going to have to play it a little safe if they hoped to remain there long enough to see Sakura. He was glad the other nin remained stoic behind him.

“We’re here to see the Kazekage about matters with Konoha,” Naruto continued. He was about to say more before he felt a strong force approaching him. He worried for a second that it might be the man he was seeking, but when another blonde appeared in front of him, he raised an eyebrow.

“Uzumaki,” Temari said. Sure, they knew the other vessel pretty well. Her brother had a relationship with Naruto that could almost be considered friendship. But that didn’t explain why he’d shown up without notice after nightfall. “Who’s this?”

“Shino,” said the bug man. He didn’t say anything further, and by the deepening look on Temari’s face, it was obvious that he didn’t need to.

Luckily she’d been outside and had come to greet the two first instead of Gaara. This wasn’t good.

“You’ve come to spy on Gaara?”

“We’re here as agents of Konoha who simply want to make sure our ambassador is doing her job. She must be making a good name for Leaf while she’s here. Our treaty depends on it.”
“This political tongue suits you, Naruto. But I fail to understand why, if your intentions were purely based on business, you would be arriving at this time of night.”

“We made better time than we thought we would.” Shino spoke again. He wasn’t in any mood to deal with this bullshit. He wanted to get in and talk to Sakura as soon as he could whether he had to wake her up or not.

“You wouldn’t turn away messengers of Konoha, would you, Temari? Certainly the Hokage wouldn’t appreciate your hostility when we’re simply trying to check up on our nin. Or should we take your unwillingness to cooperate as an act of aggression and breech of contract?”

Temari would have rubbed her temples if it wouldn’t be a sign of weakness to the two men. They were obviously waiting on an answer, but she was weighing which one was really worse: upsetting the Hokage and potentially pitting the two countries against each other or being the one to have to tell Gaara that Sakura’s would-be lover from Konoha had shown up to try and wedge between them. In the end, she picked the latter, She was sure Gaara would have his own words to say to the duo despite his friendly terms with one of them.

“Fine. But you won’t have an opportunity to speak to the Kazekage until morning, so you’ll just have to wait.” She led them to one of the hotels on the edge of the city and dropped them there with assurance that their rooms were on the house. She didn’t want them staying with them on the off chance they might start to snoop around, and having them on the other side of the city was just another time deterrent until she could notify Gaara and get things sorted out.

When she returned home, she realized just how bad the situation was. For the past month, Gaara had been avoiding Sakura for some reason or another. For all the work Kankuro and she had done to get them to make up, it had been useless. Sakura wouldn’t come clean with what actually happened, but the good news was that the pinkette was obviously worried about Gaara and wanted them to work things out. So, Sakura had started to come over to their side after all.

The problem with this was the fact that Gaara finally given in. Temari stood outside his suite, feeling both of their presences inside, most likely sleeping. Gaara would have been quite on edge if the two Leaf nins had shown up a couple days ago, but it was worse now that their arrival threatened to take Sakura away—emotionally at least—just when they’d finally given in to each other.

The blonde realized that she must look quite stupid just standing in the hallway shifting her eyes back and forth, knowing that she had to knock and notify the Kazekage of their arrival, but something was holding her back. She hated being the bearer of bad news. Finally, as she’d gotten the courage to knock, the door opened and her knuckles rapt through thin air.
“You’d better have a good reason for coming here, » Gaara growled. Knowing how he acted the last time he’d been asleep in the bed with Sakura, the kage was surprised that he even sensed Temari outside the door, but he supposed Shukaku kept an ear out, so to speak, for intruders when he was sleeping.
« I know that you’re finally getting sleep tonight, but there’s something urgent you must know about. » Temari looked inside the room where she could see Sakura’s form still asleep in the bed. « But we shouldn’t talk here. This is better kept in the walls of your office for now. »
Gaara wasn’t sure what all the secrecy was about. Sakura wasn’t really a threat to national security, and the entire floor as well as those above and below were used only by him and his ‘family.’ But nevertheless he followed her down to his office, and once inside the room she turned to him.
« Asking you not to be angry is probably a little too much in this situation, but no more than an hour ago Naruto Uzumaki breeched the territory and has announced he is on official business from the Hokage to check up on their ambassador. »
« Seems like the Hokage is starting to get antsy that she hasn’t heard back from the woman. Easy enough to deal with. I don’t see the need to get worked up about anything. »
« His companion is a man named Shino. I’m sure you know exactly who I’m talking about. »
Gaara said nothing, but by the grim set of his jaw line and the sudden tensing of his shoulders, it was obvious that he wasn’t pleased that his rival had arrived.
‘So close,’ he thought. The woman was so close to falling for him as depicted by her tactics to get him to return to sleeping in his room. But this man had been nothing but trouble, a blockade to keep Sakura from him. And Gaara knew it was going to set him back.
That thought made him even angrier. He’d gone a month without sleeping even though she was obviously worried about him. And that had been difficult. Sure, he was thrown off by his little revelation when he had been on top of her, but truth be told, he’d avoided her mostly because he needed to know how she felt about missing him. And he’d gotten his answer tonight.
Only to have the rug pulled out from under him.
« I know that they are here to check on her and possibly find some way for her to return with them— »
Gaara interrupted her. « I’m not going to let that happen… They won’t be allowed to see her. »
« That’s not really a choice. She’s a Konoha nin, first and foremost. And it’s our duty to the treaty you went so far I out of your way to obtain to let them see her. If not, Naruto claimed it would be a violation of the agreement, and you know they’d jump at any opportunity to get her to return to Konoha. »
What was he to do? As a statesman, he knew the job. He knew the repercussions of disobeying the order of things. But damn it all, for the first time in his life, this was personal. He had so much invested in their time together that it was not an option to loose now.
« So what are you going to do? »
Gaara never responded. He just stood in front of his desk and ran through different situations like battle plans in his head, waiting for one to hold the answer.

Sakura waited until both of then had left the floor before taking in a deep breath and rising from the bed. Feigning sleep had been difficult to do when she was so curious. They’d never been interrupted like this before, so something had to be going on. And whatever it was, it was important enough to risk Gaara’s wrath by waking him. But what could it be? Obviously the place wasn’t under attack or everyone would be on guard. No, Temari had something she needed to share without Sakura hearing.
The pinkette wasn’t sure how to go about finding out what it was though. She was sure they would sense her approach well before she got to the office door to listen in, so eavesdropping was out. But she wasn’t going to be able to go to sleep if she knew they were hiding something.
And here she’d been beginning to trust them.
But something seemed out of place. And she was going to find out sooner rather than later. At least she was still in her clothes, since Gaara hadn’t given her any time to change into anything else, but it saved her the time of getting dressed when she could be out already. She turned toward the door but paused. Walking down the halls and throughout the building was risky. Anyone was likely to see her and mention it to Gaara later. Sakura bit her lip.
Without even looking out the window, she already knew there was nothing to land on should she decide to jump. But she felt the risk was one she’d be forced to take eventually. As she perched a knee on the on the stone sill, she might have hissed at the sensation of the sandpaper-like facade digging into her bare knee, but Sakura’s mind was miles away and wondering what was going on with the Kazekage. The last time he was so secretive about things, she was carted off to Suna against her will. Now wasn’t the time for more surprises. The situation between the two of them was confusing enough with all the touching, the kissing, and the sleeping in the same bed…
Way to complicate things, girl, she thought to herself. Here you thought you were going to ignore him for the entire six months only to start actually enjoying the things he’s been doing. The situation seemed optimal when Gaara started to develop feelings for her. Sakura figured that she was going to make him fall for her—make him feel for her and allow her to go home when her time was up. If you love her, let her go, she quoted in her head, hand hovering over her cheeks aflame.
Sakura shook her head. This wasn’t the time to be romantic. Whether or not Gaara was falling for her was a moot point. There were suspicious happenings afoot.
She finally leapt from the window and aimed for the soft spot she imagined was on the ground beneath her. She scanned the surrounding areas for stray auras around just in case others were patrolling the area. It wouldn’t look good for a lone figure to be jumping from one of the upper floors of the administrative building, guest or no. Especially since she was practically a stranger from a foreign land.
But there was something about the auras that she picked up that were vaguely familiar. Something about them irked her senses, sending up red flags in her mind.
‘Who are these coming from?’ she asked herself. ‘I know… I know those signatures.’ Sakura turned her head. They were somewhere across the base. But to be even registering on her senses they would have to be relatively strong individuals being as far from her as they were.  She wasn’t great at picking out the chakras of others, not compared to some of her teammates. She immediately set out in the direction of the two signals unbeknownst to her captor.

« You have no choice, » Temari said. « You have to let them see each other. »
« She’ll know I’ve cut off her communication. »
« Whose fault is that? »
Gaara wasn’t about to answer.
« She’s going to find out that no one has gotten her letters. She’s going to be angry at you. And she’s going to close herself off from you. And you have no one to blame but yourself! You’ve gone about this the wrong way the entire time she’s been here, and because of your stupidity, you’re going to lose the best thing that’s ever happened to you! » Temari was fuming at the idea. Sure, he had good intentions, for himself at least, when he made the decision to intercept all her messages. But all the good it had done was about to be reversed when Sakura saw the man she left behind in Konoha.
The blonde hadn’t intended to make Gaara angry, only to make him realize that he’d ruined his chance with the pinkette and would now have to start over. But her brother was less than amused, and she found herself against the wall with an arm of sand wrapping around her neck and clenching hard. More firm than she’d ever felt it grasp her before.
« You forget your place. I am well aware of the repercussions, but regardless of her feelings, she’s still mine for the next three months. Plenty of time to change her back. »
Temari landed on her rear end, gasping for air and clenching her windpipe as if it would pop out at any moment. She stood to leave, but her last words—as raspy as they might have been—weren’t lost on the lord.
« Just goes to show how little you understand about human behavior. »
Meanwhile, Sakura hadn’t yet reached the boys, but Shino was already hoping for better company. His foot tapped in obvious anxiety over finally seeing Sakura again, but their reunion couldn’t come soon enough as far as he was concerned. It was annoying just sharing a room with Naruto without her to calm him down.
The blond just sat on the other cot, complaining about their arrangements. « Really? They couldn’t even let us stay in the administrative building? I’ve heard the beds are sooooo nice. » He leaned back in his little bed, the squeak sounding through the room. They both pretended not to cringe at the grating sound. « Though I admit, it would be so much better if I had more attractive company here with me. You aren’t exactly a sight for sore eyes. »
Shino raised an eyebrow.
« I mean if I’d known I’d be shacking up with my partner, I might have picked someone a little better to look at. »
The bug nin knew the blond didn’t have the kind of courage he spouted. Put him in the same room with the quiet kunoichi Naruto was probably referring to and they’d probably never get any thing done.
After a moment of silence, he finally stood up and walked toward the door. “I’m going to find her.”
“Not a good idea, my man. You know the Kazekage is probably on the prowl.”
“Oh, I guarantee he’s not.”
Naruto paused with confusion on his face, but quickly followed as the dark-haired man flew down the stairs and exited the building. “C’mon, Shino, I’m all for bursting in on the Sands, but this might not help our case!”
“Since when did you become so level-headed?” He yelled as he was walking out the front door.
There was no response. Their heads shot toward the distance, inquiring about an oncoming figure. Fast. Shino would have taken the offensive position had he not recognized her. He’d know her anywhere.
« Sakura, » Shino said.
Naruto nodded.
Outside, Sakura reached the inn only to find the door open and two of her friends standing in the front courtyard. A gasp of desperation left her lips as she took in the two standing before her.
They obviously weren’t as surprised to see her as she was them.
« You guys! » She couldn’t believe they were there. In Suna. « Please tell me you’re here to take me home. »
Sakura frowned for a moment. Where had that come from? Hadn’t she gotten used to her little routine? Hadn’t she been the ready and willing laying beneath Gaara not a month ago? Hadn’t she been the one pinning for his presence again ever since?
Holy hell. What’s happened to me? She blushed slightly, ashamed that Shino looked so relieved to see her. How could she face him when she could still feel the lips of the Kazekage against hers?
Oblivious to her inner turmoil, Shino walked over to her and embraced her as tight as he was able to. Had it only been three months since he felt her pressed against him? His touch was as desperate as it had been when she was leaving Konoha, but Sakura was completely unaware.
« Sakura, » Naruto began. « You don’t know how much of a relief it is to know that you’re alright. » He thought about going in for a three-way hug, but he didn’t figure Shino would appreciate his affection. « We’ve missed you. »
« I’ve missed you, too. »
The silent man took no time in seeking the truth. « So why didn’t you write back? »
Shino pulled away to look her deep in the eyes as he asked her a question that held a lot deeper meaning.
« What do you mean? »
« I was hoping you would respond to my last message. I’ve been waiting, but you never wrote me back. » If only she was aware of how much heartache she’d caused him. If only she was aware of how much he was in love with her.
« I did, Shino. » She watched him frown. « I do. »
He seemed to understand her meaning. She felt something for him as well. But was it love? Because she was starting to mix her emotions these days, and the idea of love had changed ever since she’d come to this foreign land with a man she barely knew.
Naruto raised his eyebrows. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were talking about, but for now he figured he’d pretend their cryptic conversation was over his head. « So why haven’t we heard from you? »
“Are you even listening to me?” Sakura asked. “I’ve written back to every letter I’ve received from you guys.”

Shino shook his head. He’d known this was going to happen. That damn Kazekage was trying to keep her all for himself, but in the end, Shino couldn’t deny that the leader had done a favor for him. “So that damn bastard thought he could get away with cutting of all our communication?”

Sakura paled. Somehow she knew he wasn’t referring to Konoha and her when he said our. She hadn’t even thought that Gaara would have done such a thing. And it made perfect sense. After seeing Shino’s letter—she gulped—that one about his feelings for her, Gaara hadn’t been happy. And the message had even disappeared from the desk in his room never to be seen again. “Why would he do that? I trusted—I trusted him…” Foolishness set in on her face, obviously realizing that she’d placed faith where faith didn’t belong. Her eyes shifted to Shino’s and she could immediately tell her was on edge. He’d physically stepped back from her side, and his stare, even masked behind glasses, was cold.

“Really? You began to trust him of all people? You trust the man who took you from your home for his own selfish desires?” Shino looked around for something to hit, something he might take his sudden ire out on, but the surroundings were sparce. Another thing he hated about Suna. He felt rage pooling in his fingers that dug holes in his palms, and he was twitching with readiness to punch away his anger. But he wasn’t able to—with one swift movement, Sakura was hugging him, running her hands thought his hair in a soothing motion.

“Don’t be angry, Shino. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to sort things out with you before I left Konoha. But I can tell you now that I missed you most of all, and I really just need you to stop talking and tell me that things are going to go back to normal.” She felt slightly foolish for being so clingy to him, but everyone needed reassurance through physical contact sometimes. Even the stoic, unsociable Gaara. And this was a time. Such emotional confusion had wrecked her brain for the next month o two at least, and a big part of her was ready for her old life to return.

Shino was well aware of the desperation in her voice, not to mention the fact that while it wasn’t the ‘I love you
He was hoping for, it was good enough for him. He wrapped his arms around her figure once more, feeling the calming effect that she had on him soak though every bone in his body. He reveled in the warmth of her cradled form against his. And he wondered why he was brought together with this woman in the first place when everyone was doing everything to keep them apart. But she felt like home to him. The smell of her crept up to his nose, and he dug deeper into her hair and inhaled her scent as if he might never experience it again.

The scent of a woman is a very prominent, sweet smell: gentle and delicate when she’s happy, sharp and tangy when she’s angry, salty when she’s sad. Gaara had never seen the appeal until he routinely fell asleep to the aroma of Sakura in the air. So he had been looking forward to returning to his bedroom and burying his nose in her warm neck, all the while unaware that Shino was going that exact thing that moment.

All he wanted was to go back to sleep. The “Konoha visitors” could wait until the morning when he had a clear head, but until then he intended to seek the kunoichi’s warmth. The Kazekage chuckled to himself. More than once in their arguments, Sakura had accused him of using her as a living teddy bear, and it wasn’t until that moment that he actually agreed with her. The jovial mood didn’t really last though. Before the knob even turned in his hand, he could tell Sakura was no longer in the room. His blood slowed, and his eyes closed to try to fight the scenario in his head that she might have found out that two nins had arrived. He began to trace what little ki was left from her departure to find her trail.

Gaara stalked slowly to the bed, running his fingertips over the cover, still slightly warm from her body. He drew in a slow, heavy breath as he walked over toward the window. He was a well-trained nin with the power of a demon within, and she couldn’t possibly be so naïve to think jumping out of a window would be impressive or evading. His mind followed her trail out the window, calculating where she went, where he would go next on his hunt.

And that’s what it was. This entire situation with the woman wasn’t anything but a long, drawn-out chase. Sometimes she would pause to give him hope of permanently catching her only to turn and run the moment he became comfortable with his pace. Gaara climbed upon the window sill, becoming the fearful ninja he was known as. His legs became like his hands, gripping on the rock edge of the building. With eyes closed and sniffing the air, he immediately jumped from the side of the administration building and flew to the next roof over. And he knew exactly where she’d gone.

How she found out that the two had arrived was beyond him. As he sped down the path she had taken less than a half-hour before, he mused that perhaps he had left her to her own devices for too long. Perhaps she found a way to contact Konoha without his knowing and set this entire meeting up.

And if that were the case, Gaara knew that his little kunoichi had been playing him for a fool. Obviously she has the same idea he had: make them fall in love with you, and they’ll be putty in your hands. But she wasn’t about to convince him to let her go. He approached the inn, quicker than he’d ever traveled, but something made him pause for a moment. If she had known they were coming to Konoha, why of all nights would she go out of her way to corner him and welcome him back into their bed?

It made no sense. Gaara had to admit that she had the power to confuse him like no one else, whether he was ready to admit it or not.

He jumped to the roof of the last building before the inn’s entrance, but he stopped shot at the edge to gaze over the scene before him. Sakura was engulfed in a very intimate hug with the man that had been a thorn in his side even since the night they’d almost slept together. And just like that night—and it made his blood boil to think of it—she didn’t seem to mind the physical attention. Where before she’d welcomed Gaara into the warmth of her embrace, the curve of her neck, and the soft cushion of her lips, Shino now roamed over her body like he belonged there.

Gaara felt something in his chest tighten, and he cursed Sakura for bringing out these feelings of lust and jealously where he’d once been stone-cold. He may never have the courage to tell her that her devious plan may have worked all too well, but was it such a bad thing that it did?

However, he wouldn’t take pity on her and grant her wish by sending her home. No matter how much she begged. If she’d taken so much action to make him fall in love with her, then she was just going to have to remain in Suna to reap the benefits.

Sakura pulled away from Shino and immediately felt his presence. At first, she wasn’t going to turn to face him and have to deal with the oncoming emotional battering. But she figured that she better confront him about her letters lest she loose her nerve. It wasn’t like he was going to kill her or anything. She was obviously way too important to him.

The pinkette found herself locking eyes with Gaara momentarily before he shifted them toward the man behind her. And for a long while, the two of them stood placid without so much as a flinch or the pulse of a beating heart below skin.

Sakura thought the whole situation was just a bit cliché, but then again this wasn’t her ideal position in the whole universe. Having two men fight over you was such a romantic notion to some women, but when it actually happened, it was frustrating. For one, you were never in a good position to make decisions for yourself. That was easily done for you and without your permission. And two, whether or not you picked one of the men, they were still going to fight as if the winner had “first dibbs.”

“As leader of this country, I do not appreciate the intrusion onto my lands without notification,” Gaara said as he made the final leap to the trio below. He found it odd that they’d congregated outside of the inn, though it made finding them a little easier.

“We set out intending to arrive by morning,” Naruto stepped up. “But we were a little anxious about the trip and getting to see Sakura that we made better time than we thought.”

Gaara didn’t give him any indication that he was paying attention. Why bother to listen when all of them were quite aware they were unwelcomed no matter the time of day.

“Were you even going to tell me they were here?” Sakura demanded as she approached him. She stood a few inches from his body, staring at his face and willing him to look her in the eye without guilt of all the things he’d done to her life in such a short time.

But the Kazekage refused, unblinking and facing forward. His willpower alone was enough to keep him from the face of the young girl in front of him.

What does she know about life? She doesn’t have that killing instinct—that force that drives someone to do everything in their power for all that they want. For the moment, he was comforted by his thoughts, but the urge to look her in the eye and ask about her own deceit was quite appealing.

“I wouldn’t have,” Gaara said, but he was looking at Shino as he said it. It was only when he took a long breath for his next statement that he turned to her. “Had they not demanded to see you as part of the agreement we had, I wouldn’t have let them see you.

Sakura was speechless. She didn’t expect such a blatant answer from him because a small part of her was hoping he wouldn’t be the man she’d always assumed he was. But beyond her rage, she could see something change for a moment in the kage’s eyes, even though she decided to ignore it for the moment. In this instant, the man in front of her was once again her captor, the one who’d drug her away from her Konoha family, from the life she had, and from the life she could have had, to this desolate land that was so different from her own.

“I’m going to ask you this once and only once. Did my messages home ever make it to Konoha?” She would have elaborated, but Sakura had a feeling that he knew all too well what she was referring to.

“No.”

Sakura blanched, but Gaara failed to see why. He’d always been an upfront man when it came to questions, and there wasn’t much of a reason to change that now.

Her heart fell. Hearing him affirm her suspicions made it all too real. What she thought had been developing between them had obviously been nothing but a lie. She turned delicately to Shino with a clenching in her chest that was painful and inexplicable.

“Take me home now, please.” It wasn’t much more than a whisper, but it was just loud enough that the keen ears of the nins around her were very aware of what she was asking.

“You can’t leave.”

And there it was again: that something in Gaara’s tone that she chose to ignore. Only with a difference emotion plainly painted over his usual stoic face, this time it was a lot harder to disregard.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Lord Kazekage,” she said coolly. “I can and most definitely will be leaving. Now.”

“The agreement.” His hard tone was back. That stone-faced outer shell of his fell too easily in place.

“An agreement that you violated by cutting off communication with our ambassador. So per the severance of the truce between our people, we are taking our ninja back with us as she is now trespassing on your lands.”

“I’d like to see you try to take her back,” Gaara growled as he jumped toward Shino with chakra focused in his fist.

Sakura, being the only barrier between the two, was easily pushed to the side and landed on her knee. Shino barely spared her a look as he jumped to dodge Gaara’s attack.

“Like I would have hit her, bastard,” Gaara snarled. He managed to land a punch on the bug man and dodge a return blow easily with the help of his sand.

Sakura stared at the two men, especially Gaara. His voice had been positively gruff and very unlike the smooth, political tone of the man who’d kidnapped her. “Stop, you two. This is ridiculous!” She yelled, but they either didn’t hear her or decided to ignore her command. Either way, the two were starting to unleash their powers in a way that had no business outside in a public place. “You don’t need to fight like this. It’s ridiculous!”

“I believe she told you to stop!” Another voice sounded, and it echoed within the valley the buildings around them created. A tunnel of wind barreled between the two opponents. It was weak, and Gaara and Shino easily jumped out of its path. When the dust settled and things quested down, Temari looked at her brother and Shino with intense eyes. While it was a small victory to stop the fight before it actually got going, the fact that she had to split them up was enough to prove that the two were acting immature.

“You represent two countries that are at peace, and this type of behavior shouldn’t be so openly displayed for out citizens to witness.”

“Doesn’t matter now. Your precious leader has voided our contract. So that means I can do whatever I want now,” Shino said. He’d begun to retract his bugs, but the tense set of his posture made it obvious that he was still on guard.

“Yes, it does. Remember, you are a Konoha nin on Suna soil, and you must refrain from hostility—especially now that you claim the truce has been broken.”

“It is broken.” Shino glared.

“It doesn’t have to be.” Naruto, who until this moment had been watching the whole fight with a thinly-veiled interest, finally piped up. “I don’t know the whole story, but I realize that your intention with this pact had something to do with Sakura coming here. But even though you’ve made an error in judgment, it doesn’t mean that the entire alliance must suffer.”

Gaara raised a non-existent eyebrow. “I’m listening.”

“We make a deal. We act as if you never violated the agreement and say that Sakura’s messages weren’t sent correctly or that she was just too busy—” A glare from the kunoichi shut him up. “And everything still stands as it has for the past three months. But we take Sakura home now.”

Gaara didn’t even pause. “Unacceptable.”

Behind his glasses, Shino’s eyes closed to slits, and he knew that kage was aware of his glare. “You don’t get to make that call. Either way, she’s coming home with us. The only difference is whether you look like an ass to both your people and ours.”

Within seconds, Gaara crossed the distance between them again and would have continued their row from earlier had Temari not stepped in.

“Please, we can’t be causing too much trouble in view of the public. Look, I know you’re not happy about losing the ambassador, but we can’t deny that this is the best out where both sides still win. If not, then we return to the way things were before, only this time you’re going to be even more frustrated with Konoha.”

He knew that she was right. But inside, Gaara couldn’t accept that he’d lost, that he’d made a stupid, immature mistake that was costing him someone he… Well, he couldn’t quite put a label on the way he felt for his prisoner. But she was certainly important, nonetheless.

“Fine,” he said, just loud enough for Temari to hear.

She turned to the leaf trio and sighed. “We agree with your terms. But we request that you wait until morning to leave.”

Naruto began to nod in acceptance, but she continued.

“And Sakura has to spend this last night in the administration building as she has the past three months.” Everyone, Gaara especially, was surprised at her added stipulation.

Spend this last night with Gaara, Sakura finished for her.

“You’re out of line even suggesting that we’d let—”

“Fine.” Sakura was slightly annoyed at the fact that no one had even asked her opinion this whole conversation, so she’d decided to speed things up a bit. It’d be nice to be back in Konoha, but she figured she would give Gaara one last sleep—especially considering he’d been deprived for the past month.

“What?”

“Shino, it’s alright. I’m ready to go back home. I’m ready for this night to be over with. And if conceding this one last request will get us out of the out of the street and into bed, then I’m going for it.

“Yeah, it’ll get you into bed alright—into his. Why are you doing this?”

“You’re just going to have to trust me, Shino. I’ll meet you both at the gates at sunrise.”

And with that she turned so she’d miss the betrayed look on his face. She knew Shino wouldn’t understand her decision. Actually she wasn’t really sure why she’d jumped at the chance. Really, she didn’t owe Gaara anything. He was the one who avoided her for a month when he could have been next to her in bed and sharing his warmth while they had time left.

And where did that come from? She wasn’t going to deny that she missed his body next to hers in the night. She probably felt that, generally, another person sleeping next to you was better than none at all… She’d probably feel the same way with Shino.

But as she walked back with the silent Kazekage and his tired sister, she felt ashamed at her last thought.

Fortunately for Gaara, the night was still young once they reached the admin building. The night sky was deep and dark—similar to his mood—which made him all the more ready to go back to his bed with the woman and hope that the night of sweet sleep would last forever.

When the two reached his door, with Temari having left them alone two floors ago, the silence was more than Sakura could take, but she wasn’t about to be the first one to say something. She felt shy, almost like a school-girl on her first date again, because this wasn’t exactly a comfortable situation. There had been nights when they’d walked together back to the room (one or two maybe) but in this case, she’d had a pretty enlightening night. And she couldn’t decide if she was absolutely furious at the kage or sad to be leaving.

He opened the door ahead of her; eager to get to bed, she assumed. But once she’d stepped quietly over the threshold, he turned and pushed her up against the door.

“Why?” he asked quickly.

Confused, she just stared in silence. Did he mean, why are you leaving? Why have you ruined my life? It could be a number of things. But she wasn’t about to start answering the wrong questions. That might open a can of worms that she wasn’t at all ready to investigate.

“Why did you make me start to feel things for you if you were just going to leave?”

Sheesh, that was worse. But Sakura was surprised by the vulnerable question. The Kazekage of Suna was practically admitting that he felt something for her. And she found a little bit of comfort in that.

“I was always going to leave, Gaara.”

He sighed and looked at her feet in exasperation. Was she going to make him spell this out for her? “You know what I’m asking. Don’t make me repeat it. You purposefully made advances to what? Make me feel sorry for you? As in “if you love her let her go”?”

She wasn’t really sure how to respond to his question except with the same frustrated blush as earlier. He’d certainly called her out. “I guess at first that was sort of the plan.”

“I knew it.” Gaara released her shoulders and turned away from her, unshouldering the gourd by the desk and taking his place on top.

“Well, yeah. I wanted to leave, but you have to believe me when I say that things here became bearable after a while.”

“Thanks,” he said without looking at her. His eyes were glued to the still-open window by the bed—the bed that he’d probably never sleep in again. “Because bearable was what I was going for.”

“You didn’t let me finish.” She walked over to the desk and lightly touched his cheek to make him face her, no longer afraid that his sand might defend him from the human touch that he so desperately craved. “After a little while, I guess I stopped acting.”

Their eyes met finally, and for the first time Gaara became familiar with the human emotion tattooed on his forehead. Her gentle touch on his skin ignited some kind of rage at the thought of losing access to her when she was like this. Her sweet side especially came out in the most intimate of moments, and he’d had the pleasure of being on the receiving end multiple times as of late. It would be weird doing without that again.

Sakura didn’t say anything more. She was fairly sure that she’d revealed a little too much. So her hand slid gently into his and tugged. The message was obvious. Come with me, she was telling him.

It was with reluctance, but he followed.

At the edge of the bed, she turned to him. “Is it possible that you might have done the same thing I did to try to get me to stay?”

Gaara looked down at her from the corner of his eye. He never realized until then how much he towered over her. He practically had to leer down at her small form to meet her gaze, but she moved her head easily in front of him so he couldn’t easily dodge her.

“I don’t appreciate the way you brought me here, but I know there was no way I was going with you willingly. So, I want you to understand that I don’t really feel like I belong here. I don’t feel at home… but,” and she reached up to turn his head toward her for the second time that night, “I want you to know that it had more to do with me than you.”

She lifted her head, cupping his jaw line with her palm and bringing him toward her in the process and gently touched her lips to his. He responded quickly but just as timid as she was. Sakura wanted this last kiss—she needed one more chance to remind herself what she was leaving behind now that she had an out to return to Konoha. He’d tricked her. She’d tricked him. But there was a sort of truth to each of their lies just as there was a distinct honestly in the way he kissed her back.

It was the night they’d kissed one month ago all over again. He pinned her in place with his arms, tightening them around her in case she decided to pull away. She ran her arms up his chest, folding them into his shagged hair. The feeling of her fingers digging into his scalp as she tried to press herself into him further tingled to the touch, and he leaned in at first.

But the image of her hanging into Shino in the same way she now held onto him passed through his mind, and he pulled away. “I’m not going to play games with you any more. You’re leaving in the morning, so I’m going to enjoy my last night’s rest.”

Sakura watched him slide into bed, disappointed. After a moment of pause, what the heck just happened?, she moved into the bed with his as if it was the most casual thing in the world. But there was a certain tense feeling within him, and she knew that it was her leaving that stimulated these mixed feelings in both of them. She sighed and turned, for the moment, away from him to stare at the window. The way he broke their kiss—she just knew that it was about Shino. Gaara had shown up when she was hugging the bug nin, and the idea of what he must have thought at the moment plagued and unsettled her stomach. Perhaps that was why he asked her that question so directly.

Why did you make me start to feel things for you if you were just going to leave?

On one hand, it was accusatory. As if she didn’t have the right to leave now that he had feelings for her. On the other hand it made her sound cruel, and Sakura wasn’t a fan of that implication either. She hadn’t done anything she did with the intent to make him suffer. She’s done it all to help herself, and those were two very different things.

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” she said softly. “In fact, I had sort of gotten used to the idea of another three months with you. But I have to go back sometime, you know.” She sighed when he remained silent behind her. “You can’t expect me to just leave my life in Konoha to come here. It’s not that simple. I have missions to do. I’m a medic nin, out to help people. I have to be able to get out there and work. What, would I have to become a Suna nin? Because that would just be weird. Then I’d no longer be a Leaf. I’d feel like I was betraying my identity, and I refuse to ever do that. And if we ever got the chance to be together, I’d be the one to have to change because I’m a simple underling while you’re the kage of an entire country.” Still no response. “Gaara?”

She quickly turned to see if he was even listening but was met with the gentle face of a sleeping man. The hard edges in his brow had softened, making him a lot less menacing than before. Her eyebrow twitched. All that said and he hadn’t even heard a peep. Maybe that’s a good thing. He might have taken it a bit too seriously.

She scooted inward and laid her head to his chest before allowing herself to forget about the coming day and drift to the sleep Gaara had obviously already succumbed to. She was happy to be done with Sun and to be escaping a Kazekage that kidnapped her and cut off her only communication with her old life and the people she loved. But there was something in her chest that tightened at the thought of leaving behind this man who trusted her more than anyone else. Even though he had an odd way of showing it.

Gaara felt her snuggle unto his chest and the sensation of her steady breath on his neck before he broke his steady breathing rhythm and allowed himself a deep sigh. It hadn’t been physically difficult to pretend he was sleeping, but emotionally… Well, suffice to say that he was satisfied she’d given so much thought to the idea of staying in Suna permanently. Of course, there would be changes that he’d have to make, but the very words spoken from her mouth implied that even she’d considered the notion of her becoming one of his ninjas. Becoming his.

End Chapter 13

TYK: Long overdue, but what can I say? I’m not too happy how this chapter turned out. I feel like I didn’t put enough time into it. But it’s difficult to get time to write having a little one to take care of… a little one who’s mobile now… So forgive any minor errors, please! But thought I’d give Shino some screen time, so to speak, with the leading lady. There will be a little more of their emotional dealings, but would this really be a Gaa/Saku fic if our stoic prince didn’t capture her heart? Yep, didn’t think so. I have about five more pages written, but I thought this was a good place to end the chapter. R&R!

Absence Makes the Heart
Departure