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Bruised and Angry Heart, Please be Gentle

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Sakura watched as the hospital slammed shutters shut and bolted doors.

“How long until the storm hits us?” she asked a man scurrying past

“Five minutes at most,” he shouted before he was gone.

The siren that had sounded had only sounded two minutes ago and already fortifications were raised. Sakura was impressed with the efficiency even if she was confused as to what to do.

“Let’s go.”

Sakura felt her back muscles tense before she could smooth away the surprise. She looked over at Gaara who was for once not watching her but looking at the dusty sky.

“I should stay in the hospital in case they need me,” Sakura said slowly.

“The storm will last more than two days,” Gaara said.

“All the more reason to stay here,” Sakura said.

Gaara frowned, the expression displeased but Sakura stuck her chin out. There were some battles she would not bow meekly to.

“They can summon you if they need you,” he said looking at her with narrowed eyes, “There is a system of summon that can be used even in the storm.”

Sakura held for a moment then slowly nodded. Gaara held out a hand and she took it. The walk through the village showed her how quickly people in Suna responded to sandstorms as they battened down the hatches. They didn’t even make it halfway before the storm hit them. Sakura tucked her veil more tightly about her face and squinted behind her glasses as winds and sand and dust roared through the narrow streets, tunneled through the village. It wasn’t even the sand that was the problem, it was how fine the dust was as it slipped between every crease of her clothing. Gaara noticed her problem and a moment later a barrier of sand had swirled around her.

“Thank you,” Sakura said quietly.

Gaara had seemed unbothered by the storm and for him to see it bothered her and do something about it…well maybe that spoke of growth.

The storm raged around them and by the time they got to the Kage home, even with his barrier, Sakura needed to shake the dust out. She didn’t protest as Gaara followed her into her room. The servants had made the place secure and Sakura could hear the roar of the storm but none of it slipped inside.

Sakura pulled her clothes off, shaking away as much dust and sand as she could. Gaara kept an eye on her, eyes idly running up and down her skin, but she could see half his attention was on the storm. It sounded like a dull roar outside, similar but different to the windstorms that hit the coast.

A maid knocked at the door and came in with her head bowed. Two more maids followed her and Sakura watched them set up a small table and lay out an array of coffee, dates, and nuts. A chessboard followed and Gaara waved them off as one started to put the pieces on. They scurried off, door shutting behind them sharply.

“The storm will last a few days,” Gaara said as he took a seat, “Join me.”

She wondered if he was inviting her to two days of chess and coffee. Sakura was pretty sure she’d die if she drank coffee for two days straight. She joined him anyways and tried to focus on the game, the roaring a dull echo in her ears.

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“Sakura!”

Sakura paused and looked around, unsure of who had called her. She glanced about the coffee house and found a hand waving at her, a rather plain face topped with messy brown hair. Sakura blinked once, twice, and then made her way over.

“Here for a coffee?” Kankuro asked lacking the usual outfit and no sight of his paint.

He was an odd sight looking like a normal civilian tucked in a corner

“I was going to grab a coffee,” she agreed.

Coffee had been a new thing for her. Well, this kind of coffee at least, she was more used to iced coffee from the convenience store back home, but Sakura was growing to enjoy it.

“Do you have time to join me?” Kankuro asked.

“I do, but I don’t want to interrupt,” Sakura said glancing at his companion.

The man smiled at her, quite handsome and stood.

“I was on my way out,” he said as he passed her.

She watched the way he and Kankuro shared a lingering glance and then shrugged and took his seat.

“Was that your boyfriend?” Sakura asked as she took her seat.

Kankuro paused and looked at her carefully.

“Yes,” he finally said, voice bland.

“He’s cute,” Sakura raised her hands sensing the defensive posture.

She tried to remember if same-sex marriage was allowed in Suna. It had been legal in Konoha since Senju Hashirama wrote the charter but she didn’t know about Suna.

The host interrupted the moment to pour her a cup of coffee and bring fruits and some little pastry like things to replace an empty plate near Kankuro.

Kankuro reached for a contraption she’d missed in the conversation and brought a long thin tube-like thing towards his mouth. She eyed it as he inhaled and wasn't surprised to smell tobacco as eh exhaled.

“A waterpipe,” he said to her curious look, “Here.”

She took it curiously and inhaled the sharp tang of tobacco.

“Not my thing,” Sakura coughed handing the thing back.

Her chakra burned away the bacteria on the mouth piece with barely a thought, sterilizing it. She wondered faintly how many germs people passed with those things if they passed them around as easily as Kankuro did. Kankuro took it back easily and nudged the plate of snacks towards her. Sakura picked up her coffee and nibbled on a date in between sips.

“So,” Kankuro said after a long moment, “You’ve been here in Suna for a while now. You must be heading home soon.”

Sakura set her cup down.

“Hopefully,” she said quietly, “I miss home.”

Kankuro was watching her, face solemn.

“Gaara won’t like it,” he remarked.

“No, he won’t,” Sakura agreed.

To be honest she didn’t know what to do. It was true she’d probably be recalled home soon. But…deep down Sakura was worried Gaara wouldn’t understand, that he wouldn’t let her leave. Sakura wondered if he’d write a letter to Konoha pledge Suna’s loyalty and continued peace if they simply gave him a no-name civilian born chunin. Sakura picked her coffee up again to hide the trembling.

All Gaara had to do was deny her leaving and Sakura would be stuck.

“Hey, never mind that now,” Kankuro said lightly, “Lets talk about something else. How is the hospital going? The elders are still in a tizzy after every update.”

“It’s good,” Sakura swallowed, grasping the conversation like a lifeline, “There is still resistance to my changes so many months later, but it’s the minority.”

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Sakura stared blankly at the papers and had to shake her head as she realized she’d read the whole thing without really looking at it.

“Haruno,” Hiromi said carefully, “Maybe you should go get some sleep.”

“I need to finish these,” Sakura waved idly at the pile of papers.

“I’m sure we can handle it,” Hiromi said.

“No, I’ll stay.”

Hiromi backed down but Sakura caught her sneaking worried peeks at her. Sakura knew it was because of how hard Sakura was working herself. But how could Sakura help it? Her year-long mission was now clocked at eleven months. And Sakura was so excited for the end she was dreaming of it; dreaming of anmitsu at her favorite stand near the flower district, dreaming of Ino and her bouquets of flowers and snide words, dreaming of Tsunade and her barking laughter.

But…

But Gaara.

Sakura wasn’t sure she could escape him. But like so many months ago when he’d asked her to stay she hadn’t been able to say yes even to appease him. Yes was not an answer, was not a choice. Sakura was a Konoha-nin and she didn’t want to change that.

Well, she though dully looking at the paper again, that was a worry for another time. Hopefully everything would just stay quiet until the day she was supposed to leave and she could slip away.

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