Sakura was leaving a surgery room when she found Kankuro leaning against a wall.
“Should you be working when you’re still recovering?” Kankuro raised a brow.
“Too much to do,” Sakura said thinking of how full the hospital was after the attack.
Hiromi had already seen to her, helped Sakura better heal a few injuries she’d had, but they’d both been needed with the influx of burn patients. Sasori of the red Sands and Deidara of Iwa, S-rank criminals that they were, had done a lot of damage. Their attacks had done more damage to the city as well which had left unstable structures and collapsed streets and people had gotten injured trying to do clean up on top of the battle injured.
“Take time to rest,” Kankuro told her seriously, “No one would blame you if you took a few days off to just sleep.”
“No,” Sakura said stubbornly.
He sighed and shook his head but there was a fond twist to his lips.
“How is Temari?” Sakura asked instead.
The blonde hadn’t needed to come to the hospital but had been recommended bed rest.
“Same as you,” Kankuro said, “Should be in bed but she’s running around doing work.”
Sakura nodded with a wince. Temari had broken an arm in three places and they’d had to give her a cast instead of using the large amount of chakra it too to heal a fully broken bone. Hopefully when the injured list shrunk they’d properly fix it but Sakura knew how hard it would be to do paperwork and work with her dominant hand broken until then.
“How are all the patients here?” Kankuro asked.
“The worst off have been helped or…” she winced thinking of those who hadn’t be saved, “It’s mostly non-emergency cases now. Lots of skin grafts and burns to keep an eye on though.”
“So the hospital will be busy for…”
“It will be crazy for another week,” Sakura said, “After that it should calm down.”
“Good. Two weeks then,” Kankuro nodded.
“Two weeks?” Sakura asked.
Kankuro stepped close, into her personal space.
“In exactly two weeks you pack your bags and meet me at the gates at 7pm,” Kankuro said so low she barely heard it, “You got me? Let your team know to be discreet.”
She stared at him for a long moment, barely breathing.
“Yeah,” she finally said, “Yeah. Thank you.”
He gave her a pat on the shoulder and disappeared around a corner. Sakura stared after him and decided she needed to get Kankuro something really nice.
“Hey,” Sakura said softly.
Gaara looked up from his desk, eyes furrowed. The frustration ebbed away as he looked at her until he nearly smiled. She’d never seen him smile but this was damn close.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, looking at his bandaged hands.
The demon helped heal damage but even it had been exhausted after Gaara had tapped its chakra to manipulate enough sand to save the village from a bomb the size of a wagon after Deidara had died.
“Fine,” Gaara said looking Sakura over carefully.
“Let’s do dinner,” Sakura said abruptly.
Gaara stared at her.
“I was thinking we could go get that curry you like,” she said nervously.
He still stared. They’d done dinner a few times, went to the coffee house more often. But it was never by Sakura’s invitation. He stared for a moment longer and then nodded slowly.
“Good,” Sakura tried to say brightly, “Let’s go.”
He looked at his paperwork and then at her again.
“It will do the people good to see you out and about,” she tried.
Gaara had been so busy here he’d barely been seen outside. He nodded finally and when he stood he left the papers behind. Sakura took his hand when he was close enough and Gaara stared at their clasped hands the entire way out of the Kage tower.
The curry place he liked wasn’t far away and was one of the places untouched by the bombs. As such it was quite busy, but any restaurant would have room for their Kage, and a table for two was made and set immediately. Sakura ignored the glances sent their way knowing it was because today she’d forgone the head wrap and her pink hair was very visible and it was obvious who she was.
The curry was good. A tad to hot for Sakura but she was used to the spice of Suna now and she wolfed it down. Gaara spent most of dinner staring at her but he did take a moment or two to glance at his people and out the small window at the streets. When they finished the curry the owner dropped them off some sort of small cake that was soaked in syrup and tasted amazing.
“Hey, I had a question,” Sakura said after the desert was gone.
Gaara tilted his head, listening.
“Can same-sex couples get married in Suna?”
Gaara stared at her as if confused.
“Can a man marry a man or a woman marry a woman?” She tried to further explain.
“…Would they want to?” Gaara asked, and she could hear genuine confusion in her voice.
Sakura reminded herself Gaara had been raised as a half feral killing machine who hadn’t known what love was, not even familial love.
“Some,” Sakura said, “There are some people out there that do not like the opposite sex, they aren’t attracted to them. Some men like to date other men, some women like to kiss other women. In Konoha they have the same rights as a heterosexual couple. They are allowed to get married and inherit their partners things if they should die.”
Gaara stared at her.
“I have never heard of it,” Gaara finally said, “I am unsure if it is allowed.”
“You should make it legal,” Sakura said with absolutely no subtly, “Its not fair that a man can marry a woman he loves, but a man can’t marry a man he loves. Love is important in our violent lives.”
“Love is important,” Gaara agreed slowly.
“The council might not like it,” Sakura said, “But…could you please try?”
He stared at her.
“This is important to you?” he asked curious.
“Yes,” Sakura said, “Very.”
She said no more. It wasn’t her right to out anyone.
“Then I shall do it,” Gaara said, and that was that.
When they finally left the restaurant the sun was sinking, the air cooling, and people were out in droves. Many were going about their usual business, stepping over rubble to do so, but just as many were helping with clean up. Gaara halted in front of a group that were trying to fully knock down the last wall of a collapsed brick house.
Before the people even knew their kage was there sand whirled up and knocked the wall down while also cushioning the blow so that it didn’t fragment or hurt anyone. The people gaped and turned to Gaara before realizing who we was and Sakura saw beaming smiles grow as people bowed and then thanked Gaara profusely. Gaara seemed puzzled by their good cheer.
Sakura supposed Gaara had been accepted as Kage, was respected, but his people had still held some fear in their hearts for the cold vicious boy he had been. Sakura wondered though if Gaara realized what he’d shown his people as he fought off the two invaders. Wondered if he realized he’d shown a caring heart that really did want to defend his citizens. The people of Suna had seen how he had worked so hard in their defense and they would remember it for a long time to come. Gaara had proved to be a Kage who loved his people and now they freely showed love in return.
Sakura had been worried about leaving, had been worried not only about Gaara not letting her leave, but worried about how Gaara would react to the one person who had shown him anything resembling love beyond his siblings leaving his side.
But looking at the citizens of Suna who beamed at their Kage she thought, maybe he would be okay.
Sakura wandered through the marketplace like she was out for an evening stroll and spent some money at a few stands, tucking things away into her pockets, carrying a large bag of take-out under one arm. Everything she owned was sealed on her person.
Finally, after what felt like enough time, she wandered for the gates. The sun was dipping low, close to setting, and the sky was awash with brilliant colors. It made Suna all the more colorful and Sakura looked around with her shades off to get her final fill of the place.
She found Kankuro lingering at the gates and Hiromi and her team found them a moment later.
“Well, let’s go,” Kankuro said, nodding to the guards who glanced at them curiously but didn’t try to stop them.
They set off across the sands and Sakura tried so hard to keep her pace instead of pushing harder. As the moon rose they kept going. The desert was cold at night but still easier to handle than the beating hot sun of the day. It was only as the reached an oasis a good few hours out of Suna that they stopped. The sun was not yet rising but dawn would be soon. Kankuro showed the chunin team how to set up their tents deep in the sand to stay cool while also not disturbing the few plants of the oasis.
Hiromi found Sakura standing on the edge of the sand staring back towards Suna.
“Did we just slip away in the night,” Hiromi asked carefully.
“Yeah,” Sakura said.
“Did…did we have permission from the Kazekage to do that?”
Hiromi was silent for a long moment.
“Should we not be pushing harder then? To get more distance?”
“No. Here is fine,” Sakura said, “Go get some rest Hiromi. We will come wake you when it’s time to go.”
Hiromi relented and joined her team in their tents. Kankuro came and stood beside Sakura.
“Still have that take-out?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said nodding to the bag she’d carried.
“Well, let’s start,” he said, “I’m starving.”
And so they sat near the edge of the water and peeled open all the containers of curries and spiced meats and bread. It was cold by now but the great thing was they were all foods that still tasted good as such.
They had barely taken their first few bites when an angry whirlwind of sand swept upon the oasis. It stopped before it hit them and a furious looking Gaara stepped out of the winds, Temari at his side.
They both faltered when Kankuro and Sakura waved at them over the array of take-out.
“We brought your favorites,” Kankuro told Temari, “That stand at the corner of Red Street.”
Temari looked at him, blinking, and then at the food, then at Gaara. Gaara was staring at Sakura and she patted the ground next to her in invitation.
“Break bread with us,” Sakura said.
Gaara stared for a moment more and Sakura wasn’t sure this was going to work. Then he sat. Sakura served him and despite looking busy and uninterested, his siblings were staring in anticipation. Finally Gaara bit into the bread and all tension left them.
The old tribe tradition of breaking bread around an oasis was a peace statement. It was an agreement that no violence would take place around such a precious resource. In the old days, even waring tribes would break bread around an oasis to share the water.
They ate in mostly silence and When the food was gone or packed up Kankuro stood and drew Temari away, leaving Sakura and Gaara in peace.
“You left Suna,” Gaara finally said flatly.
“I did. If you didn’t realize it’s been a year. My mission was over.”
“…You didn’t say goodbye,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Gaara, if I had come up to your office to say goodbye, would you have let me leave?” Sakura asked pointedly.
His silence answered her well enough.
“Kankuro got me past the gates, got us here and arranged this. We are not in hearing range of any of your citizens, you can yell at me or get angry or upset with no judgement,” Sakura said.
Because having a fight about this in Suna would have been a nightmare. Shinobi might have felt obligated to stop Sakura if she started yelling at their Kage or tried to disobey any order to stay. Gaara would have been able to keep her trapped in his walls with simple commands. And if it had come to yelling, if Sakura had kicked up a fuss, it wouldn’t have been good for Gaara’s people to see him forcing a foreign kunoichi to stay in his home. That would be a political nightmare and might hurt new relations he’d built with his people.
It was best to get everything out of the way here out in the sand.
Gaara was silent for a long time, staring at her.
“I’m going home Gaara,” Sakura said when the silence stretched endlessly.
He didn’t yell or do anything. He simply stared at her. Sakura made a decision.
“Come on,” she said, “Let’s go for a swim.”
“I can’t swim,” he repeated the words of so long ago when they’d been in the Kage’s oasis.
“Then I’ll teach you,” Sakura said as she should have all those months ago.