Gaara was watching her. She could feel his eyes on her and it made the hair on the back of her neck rise. She did not break out in a sweat this time at least.
She wasn’t quite sure it was Gaara of course, but she had the feeling it was. She carefully did not look in the corners she heard the slight rustling of sand to confirm this.
Sakura tried to ignore the gaze as she went through files upon files of paperwork. The hospital in Suna was an absolute disaster. While they had a focus on chakra control in the academy it was on chakra strings, with all good students getting pulled into the puppet corps. The rest went to poisons, Suna’s other specialty. They had the best toxicologists in the world, but their hospital was shit.
While Suna had gained some medical teachings from Konoha when they had first become allies, it was obviously not flourishing. Konoha had done well due to the Shodaime and Nidaime’s own medical jutsus creations, but also from Tsunade herself who had revolutionized the medical field. Konoha had also been stable for long enough to have solid funding poured into the hospital. Their numbers helped as well, affording more ninja to the medical program. Suna had had none of those things and it showed in how their hospital barely looked modern. It was more reminiscent of a civilian hospital at least forty years behind Fire Country.
To be honest bureaucracy was killing just as many as actual physical ailments as well. Suna was unabashedly hierarchal. Shinobi came first, with civilians only getting treated if there was any extra time to see them. It was a harsh world in the desert and the people reflected that. The weak were left to die.
Sakura wandered the halls as she perused the files. She had no authority here yet and was simply pushed towards the paperwork. She could understand their hesitancy in letting a foreigner around their ninja at their weakest, but the whole point of Sakura being here was to help in the hospital. While she could help with the bureaucracy angle, she was much better at hands on healing at this point. She still hadn’t worked out all the fine points of running a hospital.
So while she wasn’t supposed to be doing any healing yet, Sakura wandered to take in the conditions. She was at least slightly relieved to see sterilization was taken decently serious here, but the actual cleanliness could use some work. She knew some of it had to do with water restrictions. No point in wasting water to mop a hall floor for only a few blood stains in the corner where someone had bled out.
“Please!” a woman screamed in the hall, “He’s just a boy! He needs help!”
Sakura rounded the corner to take in the scene. A woman was kneeling on the ground, sobbing, a boy in her arms looking to be unconscious.
“A doctor will be with you when it is your turn miss, please line up,” the receptionist said with little sympathy, “We will get to you as soon as possible.”
Sakura stared at her, looked at the child, looked at the people in the waiting room. There was a man with a bleeding gash trying to put pressure on it, a man looking to have the flu, another two who must have had a cold, one woman who was holding her wrist as if it pained her. All simple ails at first sight. The unconscious boy should have been jumped in the cue judging by the sheen of fever on him as well.
Sakura looked about the waiting room, looked at the disinterested receptionist and nurse interviewing a patient. She wasn’t supposed to be helping yet.
“Fuck it,” Sakura sighed behind her veil.
She strode over and dropped into a crouch beside the sobbing woman.
“Let me see him,” she commanded, “My name is Doctor Haruno.”
“Please!” the woman sobbed, “He fell unconscious an hour ago and now he’s got a fever!”
“Excuse me, Miss Haruno,” the receptionist tried saying, “I don’t think you’re allowed-”
“He might have an infection,” Sakura said ignoring the other woman, “Does he have any old injuries.”
He did. A deep cut on his arm from dropping a clay pot and having it shatter. It had been sloppily stitched shut and he must not have gotten any antibiotics. While Tsunade would tell her to save her chakra and simply get him on antibiotics Sakura knew with the state of this place, he wouldn’t get them till too late. Sakura let her hands flare green as she ran them up his arm. Infection; bordering on blood poisoning.
Sakura sighed and burned it out of him with a simple wave of her hand. Another few hours and she would not have had the option. She made a chakra scalpel and cut through the stitches before healing that wound up as well.
“Take him home, keep him cool for a bit but the fever should let up within the hour. He will be hungry. Make sure he drinks enough as well,” Sakura said.
“Oh thank you,” the woman blubbered gathering the small boy into her arms, “Thank you!”
“Well, who’s next,” Sakura said standing and cracking her knuckles as she looked at the waiting room.
They didn’t want her around their shinobi until she had proved trustworthy or some nonsense, but they really hadn’t said anything specific about the civilians. She ignored the eyes watching her the entire time.
Sakura flinched away from the mirror before remembering the red-haired man she was looking at was a reflection and the real one was behind her, the direction of her flinch.
Sakura resisted the urge to spin around and raise a blade. He had already seen her bared back and not struck, she would not spin and act like a coward. Not like facing him head on would be any real help anyways.
“Why what?” Sakura tried for a calm tone as she splashed a handful of water on her face.
The small basin of water ran red but that was from the dried blood on her lip. It was so dry her lips had started to crack and bleed. She would have to use more lip chap.
“Why did you heal those people? You owe them nothing.”
“I am a medic,” Sakura said scrubbing at her nail beds, “It’s what I do. It’s what I was sent to do.”
“No one asked it of you. You were supposed to do paperwork.”
Sakura snorted, unable to help herself.
“And if you think I was going to stand back and watch those people suffer for boring paperwork you must be…”
She cut herself off before she said crazy. He didn’t seem to notice, brow furrowed.
“Did you take an oath?” he asked her, “I have heard Doctors must. It makes them heal.”
“No,” Sakura said, “That’s a civilian thing. Could you imagine a ninja having to take an oath to heal anyone who asked or who needed it? No. I did it because I could, nothing more, nothing less.”
Sakura had been told long ago that a medic-nin was not some righteous doctor out to save everyone who fell before her with ills and ails. No, a medic-nin was a ninja who happened to heal. She still knew how to kill just as easily, perhaps easier with new knowledge. When you knew how to remake something, you learned how to rebreak it just as easily. Tsunade had told Sakura there would be days were her hands rendered things instead of putting them back together but that was the ninja life.
Sakura had learned to heal to help her team, to help herself, not to save the world. She did it to feel the thrill of usefulness, to feel the thrill of a life under her hands. She had the power to give and take life now and it made something ugly like pride flair in her.
So no, Sakura was not a kind soul out to save anyone who needed helping. She used her power at her own will, sometimes for her duty to Konoha.
“Do not mistake my healing for kindness,” Sakura said softly, “I do it because I want to, not because I feel I need to.”
Gaara was silent and when she finally dried her hand and face she turned to face him. He was watching her, so still she felt a shudder run down her spine.
“Naruto spoke of you like you were untouched by hatred,” Gaara finally said, “Like you were one of the best things in the world, so kind and pretty.”
“Naruto looks at the world through his own lens,” Sakura said, “He sees the best in everything. But we are ninja. You know just as well as I do what that means.”
Sakura wondered if his sand would creep up her legs, encase her and rip her apart for breaking this pretty image he had in his mind from Naruto’s letters. Sakura wondered why Gaara had requested her. Was it because he had wanted to see this angel Naruto had seen? Was Naruto and his delusions of how soft and sweet Sakura was going to get her killed? She had always said Naruto was a dreamer and now he had layered her in his dreams, made her out to be something she wasn’t.
Gaara stared at her for a long moment, as if trying to divine her thoughts. And then in a swirl of sand he was gone and Sakura let herself tremble with adrenaline.
“You’re free to swim if you want,” Temari told her one day.
“Really?” Sakura asked.
“Sure, I do it often,” Temari shrugged, “It’s our oasis after all and not really used for drinking water like the well. Knock yourself out.”
Sakura resisted the siren call of the cool pretty oasis out in the yard for another week after that conversation, too engrossed in the work she had piled up in her room. She wasn’t quite sure she should take files out of the hospital to rework, but well, the house was more secure than anywhere else in the village with the Sand Siblings.
So one evening, when she finally closed a file, she snuck outside under the moon. She hadn’t brought a bathing suit on this trip so her underwear and sports bra would have to do. She went to the far end of the oasis, hidden by tall palms, and shucked her robes off, slipping silently into the blessedly cool water. She sighed in bliss at the soothing feel of the water and dunked under it.
She swam as deep as she could, feeling sand under her fingertips and surfacing with a smile. The moon was full and bright and Sakura floated on the water, staring up at the stars and mapping the constellations.
There was the sound of shifting sand and Sakura looked over automatically to find red hair and teal eyes.
“Gaara,” Sakura gasped, ducking further under the water.
The sand under her feet rebelled and shoved her upwards until Sakura stumbled closer to the shore, thighs dragging through the water as she shuddered once at the feeling of live sand.
“Gaara,” Sakura swallowed trying not to show how her chakra went to her feet, balancing her one the sand so she could react if it came alive again.
“What are you wearing?” Gaara frowned, eyes on her chest.
“A-a sports bra,” Sakura said slowly, resisting the urge to cover her wet chest.
He tilted his head and did not remove his gaze. Sakura got the feeling he had never seen a woman so undressed. In the desert where people stayed covered to battle the sun and where the kunoichi were few and far between and prickly like the cactus, he had probably never been close enough to see one as undressed as she was.
“I didn’t bring my bathing suit,” Sakura added when the silence stretched on.
Gaara dragged his eyes down her, uncaring of how she stiffened under his gaze.
“Do the thing where you went deep in the water,” Gaara finally said.
“Diving?” she asked.
He nodded sharply. Sakura threw herself into the water, happy at the excuse to get away. She dove deeply and only regretted it when sand brushed against her at the bottom of her descent. She nearly screamed at the feeling of grains running across her skin, panic making her kick off it and lunge for the surface. She broke the surface with a harsh gasp and paddled water in the middle.
“Do all Konoha ninja know how to swim?” Gaara asked.
“Yes,” Sakura breathed shallowly, “Do you not?”
But of course he probably hadn’t. There was not enough water in the desert and who would have taught Gaara after all?
“It is interesting,” Gaara said.
He settled on the edge of the water, on leg tucked in so he could rest an arm on his knee. His eyes stayed keenly on her.
“Do it again,” Gaara said.
Sakura dove again to escape his eyes. She ended up showing him the front stroke, back stroke, and butterfly, feeling her heart beating like a drum in her chest as his eyes followed her every move. He must have sensed her panic because the sand did not brush against her again and she was happy to do any tricks not to feel the grains rasp against her skin.
The hospital really was atrociously ran and Sakura was not let anywhere near the shinobi until one day when some clan head’s son injured himself on a mission and it was declared there was no help for him but prayer. But the man had already heard that Sakura was present in the hospital. All the ninja must have been appraised of the foreigner that was healing their civilians under watchful eyes.
“Heal him,” the clan head demanded, “Or I shall declare war on your tribe.”
It was an empty threat; first being she had no tribe or clan, second being that Suna wouldn’t let the death of a clan heir via accident start a war they might not win. Sakura didn’t say any of this though, just tied her sleeves back and pulled on sterile gloves, barging into to surgery room the other doctors had already left. The nurse she bullied into helping her did so with a tremble in her hand.
Sakura didn’t even notice Gaara in the corner until she was stitching the boy up.
“You better have washed your hands,” Sakura snapped, low on energy and patience.
Gaara gave her an inscrutable expression and simply watched as Sakura tied of the stitches.
“Get lost,” Sakura waved at the nurse, not unkindly.
The woman fled. When Sakura was sure the boy was fine she wheeled him and his IV and heart monitor out of the room, fenagling it all with ease until she found a room to tuck him in.
“Room 11,” she told the father who stood at attention in the hall, “He’ll be fine in a few days if he gets enough nutrients and antibiotics.”
The man didn’t even say thanks as he strode off. At least he’d make sure the nurses followed up with care. Sakura had already stripped her gloves but retreated to a small washroom to scrub her hands and dab at the sweat on her face.
“I will tell the council to let you have control of the hospital,” Gaara murmured from the shadows.
“You have that power?” she asked him, too tired to moderate her tone.
“Yes,” he said watching her.
Sakura splashed water on her face and ignored the reflection of him and the shifting sound of sand.
“You are not what I expected Haruno Sakura,” he said in the silence.
“Good,” Sakura said, “I’d hate to be predictable.”
By the next afternoon she had been given free reign of the hospital.
Sakura was almost nodding off over the paperwork in the privacy of her office. Her office being what must have been a broom closet at one point before she’d arrived. Now it had a tiny desk, a flickering light, and a tall stack of paperwork. But most importantly it was all hers and no one bothered her here unless for an emergency. Sakura had even removed her head wrappings and her sunglasses in the privacy of the room.
Sakura had nearly drifted off when the sound of sand spilling against tile had her stiffening. The click of her lock coming undone prefaced the entrance of Gaara. He stood in the doorway, completely unconcerned with how he had unlocked her inner sanctum and entered without permission.
“Come,” he commanded.
Sakura clenched her jaw and stood. Her first instinct was to snap at him, to snarl and growl like a dog. But then she collected herself and stood knowing that it was only the lack of sleep getting to her. If Tsunade could see her now, see her lack of control, she’d be smacked upside the head.
Sakura followed Gaara from the office and out of the hospital, covering her hair and face and pulling the sunglasses on. The sun had just finished rising, red and looming on the horizon as Suna came alive. Sakura followed Gaara to a small coffee shop near the hospital and only faintly twitched as people slipped out around her, casting worried looks at Gaara. A few elders made of sterner stuff simply watched him like a mad-dog, keeping to their seats.
Sakura followed Gaara to the back corner of the shop and dropped down on the mat across from him when he gave her a sharp look. Her nose twitched with the rich scent of coffee but she said nothing as Gaara sat on his own mat, shifting his gourd.
The owner of the shop hurried over, bowing his head and not saying a word as he laid a coffee setup before them. Under Gaara’s sharp look Sakura let the veil over her face come unclipped to sip at the coffee. She swallowed the thick black drink and shuddered only once. The people of Suna liked their coffee as hot and strong as the sun and she was still not used to the richness. They drank it black too, no cream or sugar like was common in Konoha.
“Am I allowed in here?” Sakura asked faintly as she peered at the few other customers not scared away by Gaara.
They were all men.
Gaara merely gave her a look and sipped his coffee. She supposed for a boy who couldn’t sleep, coffee was a must. She watched him drink his coffee and he watched her in return.
When she finished her cup and went to clip her veil back in black Gaara made a twitchy abortive motion and she froze.
“I want to see your face,” he scowled.
Sakura lowered her hand away from the veil. He gave a growl and reached for her. Sakura carefully didn’t move. He tugged her head wrap off, stripping away cloth until everything above her shoulders was bare, even tossing her sunglasses to the side. She carefully ran her hand through her hair when he sat back down, knowing it was a slightly greasy and mussed. Her skin was no prettier, bone dry from the heat. He poor lips were still chapped and bled sometimes.
Gaara made a gesture at the shop keeper and their coffee was refilled even as the tall man bowed and left them a small board.
“What is this?” Sakura asked as Gaara started to place pieces on the checkered board.
“Chess,” Gaara grunted.
Sakura said nothing more even as Gaara moved a piece and then looked at her. She learned the game through his own moves and how he sneered when she did something wrong. The coffee shop keeper whispered the game’s purpose to her when Gaara won. Sakura drank thick black coffee and played and played as Gaara stared at her, everyone else looking carefully away.
The nurses at the hospital started to take a liking to her. As did the doctors. All of them saw the work she did and it only took a few weeks to put their suspicions aside to start asking her questions. Sakura was happy to answer any questions. She showed a doctor how to do appendix surgery and showed a nurse how properly chart a patient’s vitals. Sakura showed a janitor how to disinfect an X-ray and showed the receptionist how to make a queue. Sakura became a teacher and found herself run all the more ragged for it.
But there was good with the bad and Sakura also found herself getting more resources, being let in more. She found some of the stiff attitude loosen and felt some of the tension seep from her shoulders.
“You really are quite good,” a doctor told her one day.
Somehow, he made it sound condescending and awed at the same time.
“For a young woman,” he continued, ruining the compliment, “You will be a doctor in a few years with more study.”
Sakura twitched, very aware of the fact that since she was not legally recognized as a doctor by civilians, that he was trying to get some sort of leg up on her after she had had to reteach him basic techniques. It was an ego trip and so she let the man say what he liked with only a slight purse of her lips.
“Don’t listen to him,” a ninja said with a shy smile after the doctor had left, “I think you’re amazing.”
She smiled at the genin who had been pulled into the hospital program due to injury. He would never fight again with the limp and the permanent damage to his hands, but he was still useful in the hospital with his easy manner and organizational skills.
He was a sweet boy and had taken to following Sakura when she was on shift, offering his help where she needed it. Right now he was helping her refile everything and anything.
“You’re a good man, Hiro,” she told the perpetual-genin.
He blushed. It was cute. Maybe that’s why she let him kiss her in the shadow of the file room.
It was a trick of course. No foreign ninja would cozy up to her that quick no matter how pretty she might have looked. It was all a trick to get closer to her, to keep a better eye on her, to find out her motives and loyalty. Sakura would have had to be dumber than a rock not to see it. But it was quite nice of them to come at her so transparently, pushing a genin at her and not an undercover ANBU. Quite polite.
Either way she only got one sweet shy kiss, and then the boy was tossed down the hall like a rag-doll.
“Gaara,” Sakura said sharply at the growling red-head suddenly in front of her.
She carefully did not let her jack-rabbiting heart rate show in her face.
“You are not allowed to touch her,” Gaara told Hiro harshly, “Tell the council to back off.”
He bared his teeth, bared his sand, and growled low and threateningly. The genin wouldn’t even let Sakura heal his bruised ribs after that and Sakura mourned the loss of the helping hands. Willingness to file day in and day out didn’t often come as cheap as shy sweet kisses and an obvious watch. Sakura watched the boy disappear and watched Gaara loom in his corner like an irritated cat and turned back to the filing. If her hands trembled, well there was no one to see it anymore. Sakura reclipped the face veil and pretended Gaara wasn’t watching her like a sand snake.
“Do you like watching me eat?” Sakura asked, aiming for a bland tone, but voice sounding more tired than anything.
Gaara shifted from his corner and said nothing as Sakura spooned another mouthful of curry in, looking at her paper work. Her life was endless work these days, but it kept her mind off of other things. Other things like the constant eyes of Gaara. She wouldn’t be surprised to turn and find him taking notes one day with how much he scrutinized her.
Some days he was subtle and only the feeling of eyes told her he was watching (or maybe she was just paranoid).
Other days he was blatant, sitting in the chair in her room, watching openly as she ate. It was enough to make a girl self-conscious if she didn’t have so many other concerns.
“I like to see your face,” Gaara answered.
“Is it the hair?” Sakura asked, “Or the eye color? I haven’t seen too many green eyes. But then again I have seen even less teal eyes and you have those.”
“Its…” Gaara paused, “Your face is pleasing to look at.”
“Thank you,” she said dryly.
At least the homicidal maniac thought she was cute. That would be a story to tell Ino when he got back (so the man who tried to kill me at the chunin exam thinks I’m pretty).
Sakura continued eating her food over her paperwork but found her shoulders a tad less tense. Perhaps it was the humor.