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Violet Roses

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Sasuke avoided Konoha. Other than giving Naruto updates on his various missions he quickly gathered what supplies he needed and then promptly left. He never stayed more than a night, and he never stopped at the home he supposedly shared with Sakura.

He didn't want to see how the village was developing, and he didn't care for most of the citizens, whether he knew them or not. He did his duty because of his loyalty to Naruto and nothing more. Konoha was...not someplace he really wanted to be, at any given time. The memories of the massacre of his family compounded with the village elders' participation in the matter doesn't necessarily make him feel at home, whether Naruto was there or not. And lately, even the pull of seeing the blond wasn't enough to convince him to stop by more often than he needed to.

Sasuke usually stayed away from most of the great shinobi villages. He didn't have a particular reason for that, he just had an inkling that seeing Naruto's many comrades would be more trouble than it was worth. None were too fond of the Uchiha, due to actions of his past. Which was more than fine, for Sasuke. The fewer people near him the better he seemed to do anyway. Avoiding all of Naruto's friends and acquaintances probably made travelling harder than it needed to be for him (as he avoided stopping many places for that very reason, no matter how convenient it would be to resupply more often), but he grew tired of the mildly annoyed gazes thrown his way and the obvious distrust. The Uchiha trusted only one person himself, but being faced with the expressions of those that adored Naruto but only found Sasuke to be a nuisance was...annoying. He wouldn't say so, but it discouraged a lot of social interaction that Sasuke may have attempted otherwise.

The Uchiha stuck better to the shadows.




So, in his efforts to avoid Naruto's friends, he's less than thrilled when he has to stop in Sunagakure for supplies. He kicks himself internally for his carelessness, and for not planning better to avoid this. He'd been pursuing an enemy of the leaf Naruto had tasked him with finding and capturing, but he hasn't been paying attention to his supplies, or lack thereof.

And now he needed to stop in the large desert village, as it was the village closest to where Sasuke set up camp.

The Uchiha adjusts his cloak and runs his hand over his pack slung over his hip. Almost empty. He needed food, bandages…

Mismatched eyes land on the entrance to the village, and the man's exhausted brain tries to shift through several other options. None are ideal, but he could wait and make the trip to a smaller, more remote village where no one would look twice at him…

He can't. He knows he can't. Sasuke knows it's not tactically wise. The smart thing would be to get what he needs, ignore the stares and whispers about 'Konoha's former missing nin' and get out. There was no guarantee he'd have a bad experience just trying to gather his supplies and leave, but Sasuke isn't sure he wants to risk it.

And then there was the biggest obstacle. The Kazekage. One of Naruto's closest friends and the leader of said desert village.

Gaara would know immediately of Sasuke's presence, if he didn't know that Sasuke was already in the desert to begin with. The years he'd known the man taught him that the Kazekage was able to use his sand to sense who was where, though he rarely used it.

Sasuke simply grits his teeth and walks through Suna's gates.

Chapter Text

Somehow, after leaving Konoha in order to redeem himself, he was more adrift than ever. After the war he wanted to stay with Naruto more than anything, but he felt he didn't deserve to, that Sasuke would be no good to his friend as he was. No good to anyone. The guilt that ate at him when he saw the space where the blond's arm used to be assured him of that fact. And then, in a more selfish sense…

Sasuke wanted to get away from Konoha as soon as possible. Just being there made him sick, and it was impossible for him to be able to function in a village where the masses lived happily, unknowing of the brutality his family suffered, and why. He couldn't look into the villagers' smiling faces - the ones that rejected Naruto as a child, and to this day never apologized - and sleep soundly at night. He could never feel at home there. It was impossible. 

He wondered how Naruto could manage to stay. 

And Sasuke would have asked him (and he planned to, when he finally came back from his journey and had things figured out) if he wasn't then so suddenly faced with the news of Naruto's wedding.

Kakashi had summoned him to the Hokage's office as soon as he set foot in the village, and Sasuke accepted the ANBU escort (and he'd noticeda while ago that no one else ever needed an escort, only him, but Kakashi never had anything to say about that) - then was staring at his old sensei as he repeated the words that Sasuke was so sure he'd misheard the first time.

"Naruto is marrying Hyuuga Hinata, this spring." Kakashi told him, eyes smiling like it was good news, "Isn't that nice?"

The words registered, but they didn't make any sense. 

Sasuke had just turned on his heel and left.

He didn't stop to see anyone, he just walked out of the village and to the edge of the forest, fist clenched so tightly that he felt the blood pool in his palm where his nails bit into the skin. The need to get away almost suffocated him, and the little that was left of his missing arm throbbed painfully.

Naruto was getting married. 

Naruto was marrying Hinata. 

Had they always been close? They couldn't be. Naruto told Sasuke everything, and he'd never mentioned her. 

Sasuke didn't know. But he knew that for some reason his heart was breaking, and he couldn't articulate why, or why it hurt so bad.

He'd stood at the edge of that dark forest and clenched his jaw as tears escaped his eyes, his expression was carefully blank but his mind up in smoke.

Didn't Naruto promise him that he would - ?

Why would he tie himself to her in such a way? Wasn't Sasuke already his bond? Wasn't that enough? What about what Naruto said at the valley? Why would he need her? How had she somehow stepped between them and - ?

Sasuke didn't even know what he expected between Naruto and himself. But for some reason that he couldn't articulate (or maybe didn't want to, it would hurt too bad), this felt like being abandoned somehow. He'd never tell a living soul that, but it did. Something broke in his chest at the news.

Where had this come from? 

Sasuke once again is left standing alone amongst the trees, trying to stop his heart from breaking and crumbling between his fingers like dust.

His whole life felt like that sometimes.  

____________

 

When the time comes he sends him one small, folded paper. 

'Congratulations.'

____________

 

Sasuke can't say Suna has changed, simply because he's never been there. He's never had cause to visit, and he's never had reason to find himself in the desert at all. There is nothing in Suna that interests him, thus when he sets foot in the village that day, it's for the first time.

He doesn't know what he expects, but for some reason the busyness of the village somewhat surprises him, though his face remains the same mask of indifference it always is. The place always seemed like it would be completely quiet, abandoned like the desert itself. But the village was bustling and borderline hectic. Sasuke was forced to keep close to buildings in an effort to not stand out more than he already did. His black cloak was clearly not the common garment worn here, and various people rush about, all dressed spectacularly colorfully - small children in bright yellow and pink kimonos and adults in vivid teals to deep greens and blues. Flora adorns the sandy colored buildings, pots of plantlife hung all about, other buildings covered in vines and flowers. 

Interesting. How did such leafy plants survive here? How did they keep them from being scorched by the desert sun? How did they keep them hydrated?

He gets about twenty steps towards the marketplace before he's stopped by a cloud of sand that seemingly billows in from nowhere.

Sasuke pauses and looks to the cloud before him, sensing a chakra signature he hasn't felt in a very long time. He tenses, readying himself for the inevitably loaded and snippy exchange they're no doubt about to have. Naruto's other Kage friends didn't often waste energy on being civil to Sasuke if Naruto himself wasn't present. 

Just because he was used to it doesn't mean he looked forward to it, and the Kazekage was the closest to Naruto of all of the current village leaders.

Gaara materializes slowly and calmly, his eyes on Sasuke and his expression as blank as ever. Soon he's tangible and solid - all red hair and green eyes - right in front of him, just blinking at him. Several ANBU nin run up to the Kazekage's side, somehow looking stressed and hurried even behind their masks. They're clearly just escorting the Kazekage around the village (and a few years ago he'd heard Naruto laugh about how Gaara was required by his council to keep ANBU with him, as he had a habit of running off without telling anyone where he would be. Naruto seemed fondly amused by his odd, red-haired friend, and Sasuke was barely listening at the time, but the memory surfaces now), but Sasuke isn't paying them any mind.

The man's hair is a lot less messy, and a lot more like he's discovered a comb, and he's only the smallest bit taller than when Sasuke last saw him, which was after the war all those years ago. Eight years, to be more precise. Seven, maybe? 

It barely looks like the man has gotten older at all. 

Sasuke's had at least one growth spurt since then, but Gaara certainly has not , still standing at the same height the Uchiha remembers. Interesting. 

All in all, the man looked pretty much the same. Same pale, young looking face and steely green eyes. Same dark circles, too. Same blank expression.

"Uchiha Sasuke." He greets, "It's been a long time."

Sasuke braces himself before he responds, apprehensive and hesitant.

"It has." 

"I figured it would be polite to greet you, at least - before letting you go on your way. Feel free to stay as long as you like and take what you need." He says simply, before turning and walking off abruptly.

Sasuke blinks, watching the Kazekage's retreating back.

Well. Gaara is still strange, then. At least time hasn't changed that. 

Sasuke's not one for small talk himself.

The ANBU hurry to follow their Kazekage - barely sparing Sasuke a glance - while Sasuke wonders why he feels the mild stirring of something that feels a bit like confusion. 

Gaara isn't having anyone watch him.

As much as Naruto's fellow kage claimed to trust Sasuke when Naruto was around, they still had ANBU tailing him whenever he stopped in their villages for supplies during his travels. Hence why he stopped doing so long ago, and stuck to smaller villages.

But...he looks around, mismatched eyes scanning sandy rooftops and roads behind him. 

No one. No one's watching him, not even covertly. Gaara was letting Sasuke wander about completely unwatched. He's truly left to his own devices. The man had truly just come to greet him and then disappear.

And Sasuke doesn't know what to make of that.

He gathers what he needs and leaves. He refuses to think about it.

Chapter Text

Sasuke wakes early, nightmares from years ago wrenching him from his sleep and dragging him back to consciousness. He's used to them, but they still annoy him immensely, shoving them away to the back of his mind like he has for ages now. He bathes in a nearby lake before dressing and unwrapping a rice ball, settling under a tree and watching the sun rise and the world warm and wake up around him. The lake rushes to the shore not too far away, but he barely spares it a glance. The forest is quiet.

He likes quiet. 

Sasuke had escaped the desert as fast as he could, almost fleeing Suna - unwilling to push his luck. Exhaustion puts a sag to his shoulders that wasn't there a few short years ago, and he blinks tired eyes and sets them on the sky above him.

Blue. There was a time when the color was comforting to him.

(It used to remind him of Naruto's eyes, but no longer.)

He eats his breakfast alone, next to the rushing water of the river, thinking of strategies to draw out the latest enemy Naruto has sent him after.

His chest aches, and not completely in a physical sense.




 

The next month, when he's low on supplies again and finds himself near Suna, he doesn't have to think too incredibly hard about stopping there. He knows they'll at least leave him be, and Gaara wouldn't fuss nor have him watched, so he makes preparations for the short stop he'll make in the village.

He's in and out in less than two hours, and thankfully - just like last time - no one looks twice at him. No Gaara this time, either.

It's almost strange, and definitely a change, being able to wander about the center of a busy village and not be addressed in any way. The shopkeepers thank him with a 'have a nice day' like they do anyone else, and he finds himself not having to stick to the outskirts of the marketplace to avoid being spotted.

Here, no one seems to care that the last Uchiha, formerly a missing nin and terrorist, was wandering about.

But if Sasuke is anything, it's cautious, and while he'd like to sleep in an actual inn on an actual bed for once, he gathers his supplies and leaves again, resuming his mission.

Sasuke returns to Suna two months later, his shoulder sore from a battle fought in the woods earlier that week, his stitches pulling as he stretches his arm. It wasn't easy, stitching himself up with only one arm and a hastily conjured shadow clone. The clone was unsteady and having one arm didn't help. 

(Naruto was always better with clones. Better at everything, almost, though Sasuke would never admit it to his face.)

He managed alone, like he did everything else.

But still, the wound ached and Sasuke was exhausted. He needed supplies yet again, and for some reason he always ended up in the desert, like something was drawing him there. The alluring prospect of being able to gather supplies without being watched, no doubt.

That's why he finds himself in the busy Suna marketplace yet again, shoving extra kunai into his pack and mentally checking the item off his list. Next he needs food, and medical supplies. Then-

A red blur rushes past him, holding the hand of a smaller figure Sasuke can only see out of the corner of his eye. When he turns he sees Gaara holding a small child's hand, leading him to a stall. Sasuke pauses, curious.

The child points to something and Gaara bends to speak to him, before asking the shopkeeper something. The shopkeeper hands the Kazekage a plush bear, and Sasuke watches Gaara hand it to the child.

Gaara pays and takes the child's hand again, smiling softly as he leads the boy down the market stalls.

Then they're gone, almost as quickly as they arrived.

Sasuke stares after them, brows furrowed.




 

He would like to say that the sight doesn't stick with him - that it doesn't make him think of the little girl that waits in Konoha with his hair and eyes, but that would be a lie. Sarada should be about four years old now, he thinks. He hasn't seen her since she was three, but his stops in Konoha are few and far between, and he's not willing to change that. Sasuke rarely saw his own daughter, only about once or twice a year, when he could bear to stomach Haruno's presence. Which was so rare that he was sure the child barely even remembered his face. He never stayed for long, either. He couldn't. Usually if he stayed any longer than a few moments to see his daughter Haruno would get her hands on him again, and he...he just couldn't.

There was a time - when he was a child who just lost everything he'd ever known and any family he ever had - when he dreamed of growing up and beginning to rebuild his clan. An...odd dream for a child maybe, to have children to honor his lost family, but it was a goal he held onto during those lonely days. Those days when he was just relocated to a small apartment by himself and given a weekly allowance from the liquidated assets of his dead clan.

He just wanted any family, anyone. Any survivor. 

Sasuke used to lie in bed in that empty apartment, the voices of his family and clan members echoing through his head as he stared at the ceiling, wishing he wasn't alone. That this didn't hurt so bad.

The little girl he hardly saw was his only blood connection, and Sasuke often wondered what it would be like if he could just take his daughter with him. So many times he thought that having the little girl near him would be so much better for them both, but he couldn't justify taking her from a stable home to travel with him. It was dangerous, and Sakura would definitely fight him on it, and then she'd…

No. His daughter was innocent. She shouldn't have to deal with the likes of him, or be caught between the two of them.

Just because he doesn't love her mother doesn't mean he doesn't love her.

Sasuke feels like people often make the mistake of thinking that he has no capacity for love at all.

He wonders if anyone would believe him if he told them that wasn't true.

Sasuke doubts it.




 

He leaves again, quicker this time.

But he can't help wondering who that little boy was.




 

Sasuke nurses the stab wound on his shoulder after another battle with some faceless enemy ninja that Naruto sent him after, rinnegan activating before a surge of chakra pulls through him and teleports him to the desert. He doesn't know why that's the first place he thinks of, but he settles there for a night - about a day away from the village - clumsily patching himself up and succumbing to exhaustion.

He doesn't even really remember why he was sent after them, and truthfully he doesn't care (he cares about so little these days) but he accepted the orders like he always did, simply doing as he was told. 

Sasuke wonders when his memory got so bad. But he supposes when he doesn't care he can't be expected to remember the details of some random, low level thugs he's been sent to cut down. 

He'd tried to refrain from having to kill them, hence his injury, but in the end the men proved to be too dangerous and had to be eliminated. He'd done so easily, but his hesitance to outright murder them immediately caused one to surprise him and bury a kunai in his shoulder.

Why was it always his shoulder? He had one good arm left, he'd like to keep it intact.

Shit.

As much chakra and jutsu as he had, pain was pain and he was still human after all, so he spent the night gritting his teeth and avoiding his side, not seeking to aggravate the wound further.

Needless to say, he doesn't get much sleep, and when he arrives in Suna the next day he sticks to the shadows though he knows he doesn't have to (and maybe it's a habit that he can't quite shake, but it doesn't matter), and in his weariness almost crashes right into the Kazekage himself.

Well, not crashes, but he doesn't quite see Gaara until he's face to face with him, looking down at the man in something like very muted surprise. It was rare that Sasuke wasn't vigilant and conscious of himself. He's sure his exhaustion doesn't help, but he mentally scolds himself anyway, forcing his tired mind to focus. He couldn't be so sloppy.

Sasuke had to stay sharp. Focus.

But it was getting harder and harder to do so, though he was loathe to admit it to himself. Maybe he was just tired. Not in the trivial way that could be fixed with sleep, but rather a bone-deep weariness that he didn't know how to shake. He barely knew what it was. Travelling was possibly taking its toll, but he couldn't return to Konoha to rest for an extended period of time, and he couldn't stop moving. He already was being summoned to the Leaf, but he wouldn't stay for any longer than it took for him to give Naruto his report of the latest mission. Just because it was getting harder to get up in the morning didn't mean Sasuke could rest. He didn't deserve to.

No. Sasuke just had to get himself together.

Gaara's non-existent brows furrow.

"You've returned."

Sasuke is pulled from his thoughts at the sound of Gaara's voice, his green eyes blank and staring.

"Yes." 

Usually one word responses - especially from Sasuke - tended to put people off, but Gaara looks blank and unbothered by Sasuke's lack of small talk or greeting. Green eyes drift to his shoulder.

"You're bleeding."

Sasuke blinks at him for a moment before glancing down at his shoulder, eyeing the sluggish flow of blood that soaks through his cloak. It's a sizeable patch, which means apparently he'd been bleeding for a while. Well, that explains the brain fog, he supposed.

He bites back an annoyed sigh. Not even his best stitching efforts could keep his blood inside his body where it belonged, it seemed.

"I have bandages." Gaara says easily, turning to walk away, clearly expecting Sasuke to follow. 

He watches the man's retreating back for a moment.

It's presumptuous of the Kazekage to think Sasuke would want his help. Presumptuous to think that he'd follow him without question.

And for some reason, he does. Sasuke either tends to overthink or not at all, and this is one of the few times where he just moves without pondering it beforehand. After all, if Gaara had an issue with him being here he would have said so months ago, and the man had no reason to do him any harm. Especially if he hasn't already.

They walk in silence, Sasuke a few places behind Gaara, feeling the blood drip down his chest under his shirt and vest. Tactically, it was smart to accept the medical attention being offered to him, but he still eyed the multiple ANBU with a practiced wariness. He knew they weren't watching him - merely overseeing the safety of their Kazekage - but Sasuke still refuses to let his guard down, eyes scanning the roof of the Kazekage mansion where the majority of them gather, eyes on Gaara as he lead Sasuke inside. 

He wonders how Gaara can handle being watched so closely, but he doesn't ask. It wasn't his business.

"If you would like to see the medics I can lead you to the medical ward, but I figure you would rather patch yourself up?" He asks, not turning around as he leads Sasuke down a hallway.

"Hn."

"Then I'll supply you with bandages and antiseptic." Gaara tells him, turning down another corridor before stepping into a room filled with potted plants and a large desk placed in the center. 

The surface is littered with papers, as if someone was in the middle of reading them all, and potted plants took up space on the windowsills and hung from the ceiling. 

Cacti.

But he notices the scent most of all.

The smell of Gaara's office makes him notice the smell of the entire village in a second, and he finally notices the scents are...vastly different from anywhere else he's ever been.

Suna smelled sweet. A lingering scent of sugar and flowers hung in the air, mixed with the earthiness that Sasuke has come to associate with the desert.

"Your village smells like a confectionery factory." Sasuke says before he can stop himself. 

The sweet smell hangs in the air, but it's bearable. He can even ignore it, after a while. In a way, he sort of only just noticed. Or rather, he noticed but he didn't quite make the distinction that Sunagakure smelled different than most villages until now.

Sasuke wasn't a particularly sensitive alpha. Pheromones often went ignored by him, and he couldn't understand the idea of losing control simply because of a smell. He never could.

But well, his sense of smell was dampened ever since that night, when Itachi filled his nose with the scent of his family's blood and the stench of death. He feels as if he's smelled nothing else ever since.

Gaara blinks, and rummages around in the desk drawer "Suna has a population of about 90% omegas, so I would imagine so."

Sasuke raises an eyebrow, glancing out the window, "Really."

"Is that a problem?"

"No. This is just the first I've heard of a majority omegan village." Sasuke says. It's true. He'd heard of mostly alpha or beta villages, but omegas were usually few and far between, if you came across them at all.

How has Suna not been overrun with rabid alphas? How was this large a concentrated number of omegas in one place living so safely? Ordinarily they'd constantly be attacked by any alpha who caught a whiff of the village's scent. Groups, even.

How was Suna still standing?  

Gaara, probably. Stories about the fearsome Kazekage probably deterred a lot of trouble. But still, the Uchiha thought, Suna was still somewhat of a shaky village, just now finding its footing largely thanks to Gaara's reformation of the place. A bit behind but not any less impressive than the other shinobi nations. 

But still.

It strikes him that the wind probably confused any alphas looking to follow the scent should they by chance even get a whiff of it from across the desert. Which was unlikely. 

With a little more thought Sasuke supposed it was possible after all. 

Interesting.

Omega pheromones rarely affected him, so his curiosity was purely factual, simply wondering how a village of this sort ran. Was it ran any differently at all?

He doesn't ask.

Sasuke's eyes land on a scroll lying on the desk, addressed to the Hokage and written in the usual code they all sent sensitive information in. 

Gaara was writing Naruto. About what, Sasuke wasn't sure, but the reminder of the Hokage makes Sasuke stomach turn. He's been ordered to return to the Leaf at some point within the next few days to give his report about the thugs he'd just wiped out. He didn't look forward to it.

Gaara follows his eyes, handing him the bottle and the box of bandages.

"There seems to be some traces of Kaguya's chakra littered about my desert. I figured Naruto should know." He says, like it was so easy to tell Sasuke such sensitive information. The Uchiha doesn't know what to make of Gaara, truthfully. The man clearly doesn't have a problem speaking to him, even though…

Sasuke decides not to think too hard about it.

"I am...on my way there." Sasuke says, wondering if he sounds as reluctant to return to Konoha as he feels, "If you have a scroll to send, I can deliver it."

It's the least he could offer, for the bandages and privacy.

Sasuke went quiet, waiting for Gaara to decline. He would, he was sure. 

People didn't trust Sasuke. He wasn't trustworthy. There was no way Gaara would trust him with a secure message for the Hokage's eyes alone-

"Would you? I would appreciate it." Gaara says, "But only if it's no trouble."

Sasuke blinks. Surprised.

"Hn." 

Gaara hands him the scroll and Sasuke pulls out another, drawing blood and pressing his finger to the seal. The scroll vanishes. He'll summon it when it comes time to give it to Naruto.

His eyes suddenly land on the farthest wall. 

An impressive collection of books and scrolls are displayed on a few shelves by the door that span the entire space, and the sight makes Sasuke pause. 

Books . So many books. He doesn't mean to stare, but his eyes fall on the shelves and he doesn't move, eyes greedily scanning the titles. 

His eyes fall on the spine of each book, quickly assessing the volumes.

Sasuke always picked up what he could find along his travels, but they were rarely to his tastes. He settled for them anyway, yearning for an escape of any kind. Something to grasp onto other than just the world passing him by. Something to focus on other than the mess that was constantly swirling about in his head. 

Mismatched eyes scan the titles on the second shelf and Sasuke feels himself brighten inside, just a bit. Volumes on ninjutsu, psychology…

"Feel free to take one with you." Gaara says suddenly, and Sasuke is reminded of the man's presence, "These books could definitely stand to be read by someone other than me."

These days possibly more than ever Sasuke ached to read anything he could get his hands on. 

Anything to not think.

And then there was the escape. He didn't have to think about himself, or Konoha, or the Uchiha legacy. Whether the thoughts at the time were good or bad were almost irrelevant - they were simply overwhelming, no matter what. The world after the war was more peaceful than ever, but for Sasuke it got infinitely more complicated. He had to try and navigate the world in a strange middle ground where he was still looked at with disdain and fear for his past actions, but also acknowledged as the strongest shinobi standing by Naruto's side. He has untrustworthy to most, but still regarded with the tainted respect that came with fear. It was unnerving in a way Sasuke didn't anticipate. 

So he buried himself in books he found during his journey after the war. Sasuke let the stories and thoughts of others wash over him and send him adrift in a quiet place where he didn't have to think about so much. 

Sasuke read anything he could get his hands on. Fantasies from Iwa and medical journals from the Hidden Waterfall. He found a book of supernatural horror stories written by some reclusive author from the Sand village. He found that in a tiny village along the border of the Sound, actually…

Gaara words catch up to Sasuke and he turns to look at the Kazekage, who stands there neatening the papers on his desk and gathering scrolls to reorganize.

The man was so strange with how he simply allowed Sasuke to wander about his village, trusting him...and now... lending him books?

He has no reason to trust Sasuke. They weren't friends, (Sasuke doesn't have friends. He just has Naruto. His only bond, and he was a tool for the Hokage more than anything else because he didn't deserve Naruto's friendship, even now) and their allyship was nothing more than their villages vowing to come to each other's aid, and Sasuke being Konoha's war dog meant that should Suna be in danger he'd be deployed to help, but there was no personal bond between them. And while Gaara clearly didn't wish him harm, he couldn't quite understand why the man was so accommodating towards him. Nice, even. 

Gaara was so odd. Sasuke always thought so.

"Are you sure?"

"I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't." Gaara says, bluntly but not unkindly.

Sasuke chooses a book on psychology.




 

When Sasuke returns it two weeks later, Gaara lends him a new one. This one is suggested by the Kazekage personally, and Sasuke takes it, deeming it interesting enough to give his time. He nods to Gaara in thanks and sets off.

He reads the book over the course of the next month, and while the writing style is very... interesting, he enjoys it.

When he arrives in Suna to return it, Gaara turns towards the bookshelf and pulls another one from it before handing it to Sasuke.

"I'd like to hear your thoughts on that one." He says, wandering over to his desk, "I found it interesting."

Sasuke opens it to the first page as soon as he steps out of the office door.

 

Chapter Text

"Message from Gaara." He says, handing Naruto the scroll. He stays by the window, eyes averted from the blue of the Hokage's eyes. He strides into Naruto's office unannounced as he usually does, still reluctant to even be in the building to begin with. He hated this place almost as much as his own "house".  Once upon a time the murder of his family was decided here. 

Seeing Naruto behind that desk should have been reassuring, but Sasuke knows better now. He was no longer fooled by the blond's words. Years of experience taught him that words only went so far, and that no one was as strong as they claimed to be.

That promises made by bright eyed boys in valleys of stone and water only held so much weight. The real world set in soon enough.

Naruto looks tired, but he sits up when Sasuke enters. His hair is a mess and his clothing is wrinkled, his Hokage cloak thrown across the small couch on the other side of the office.

Another day sleeping in the office, then. The Uchiha could tell. He would ask, but he doesn't want to hear about Naruto's home life. He couldn't care less.

He doesn't want to hear Naruto gripe about how he couldn't go home to his wife last night. He didn't want to see the disappointed look on Naruto's face when he mourned over not having seen the Hyuga woman or his children for a day or two. He doesn't want to hear about the missed family dinners or anything else.

After a while it got easier to just not ask than to have to listen to Naruto ramble about his family. Talking to Naruto was always complicated - Sasuke always felt like Naruto brought up every emotion in him - but it was even more infinitely complicated now that he felt so disconnected from everything. Including Naruto. 

Sasuke doesn't know how or when it happened, but a rift formed between them. But the worst part was that it was like only Sasuke saw it. 

At one point, Naruto was the most important person to him. The only who meant more than anyone else, but after the war...something happened. Maybe Naruto changed. Maybe Sasuke couldn't recognize him anymore.

Maybe it was a rift between Sasuke and everyone - everything - else. What right did he have to hold such a strange resentment for the blond for just living the life he wanted? It wasn't Naruto's fault that he was trapped in this life.

Well, it may be. Just a little. He did force him to open his eyes and keep on living when they were laying half conscious in that valley all those years ago. Sasuke had been ready to take his own life and call it quits, but...

The man gives him an annoyed yet fond look, "Hello to you too. Geez, Sasuke."

The Uchiha shrugs, "He's feeling traces of Kaguya's chakra in the desert."

Naruto doesn't comment further on Sasuke's lack of greeting. He may not really fully understand Sasuke anymore, but he at least knew that the man wasn't up for small talk. Hardly ever was. Never had been.

Naruto scans the contents of the scroll, "He remembers how it feels enough to sense it? Even though he was in the infinite Tsukuyomi? And it's been years ?" Naruto raises an eyebrow, "Damn."

"Hn."

Sasuke had thought the same thing. How did Gaara even remember Kaguya's chakra signature? Only a small handful of people were present for that. 

"Always surprising me, Gaara." Naruto murmurs to himself with a small smile, before he looks up from the scroll and at Sasuke, "Do you mind checking it out? I don't think anyone else could handle it, and I'll send a clone if you need backup until I can catch up. This is pretty serious."

Sasuke nodded.

"Sorry, I know you probably wanted to rest, but ah - well, yanno, it's Gaara so…"

"I'll leave now." Sasuke nods, liking that idea just fine. The desert was preferable to Konoha. Sasuke was just happy he wouldn't be forced to stay and speak to people he had no desire to interact with.

Suna always managed to take priority over other villages when it came to Naruto. It was no secret that if Iwa or some other village were in danger or Gaara needed assistance with so much as paperwork, the Kazekage took priority to the Hokage. 

No one was surprised, and no one begrudged Naruto for his preference. It was hardly ever a problem, really. Gaara rarely needed Naruto's help, so it didn't come up often. Naruto still kept a close eye on Suna - and his friend - all the same, willing and ready to jump in and offer assistance should anything arise whether Gaara called for help or not.

Yeah, the Hokage's favoritism for Sunagakure and its leader were obvious.

Almost as obvious as the Hokage's preference for the Uchiha.

Sasuke leaves before he can twist himself up in knots thinking about it.




The same little boy from the market was surrounded by toys and stuffed animals on a small, colorful rug in the Kazekage's office. He has little model animals and trucks that he's clearly thrown aside in favor of a plush bear, and the small cloud of sand that hovers nearby is hard to miss. The grains are black, like iron. Sasuke's never seen it before, and he takes a moment to observe the substance before concluding that Gaara had various methods for watching this child, and it was probably for protection, much like the Kazekage's own sand.

The child doesn't bother to look up when he enters, curiously tugging at the bear's bowtie and giving it a puzzled look. He tilts his head, observing the plush for a second, before simply hugging the toy to himself, content.

Gaara is doing paperwork at his desk, and every few moments his eyes glance at the child, making sure he's doing alright. Sasuke takes off his sword at the door, bracing it against the wall. He never brought weapons around Sarada, and this child was clearly close to Gaara in some way, so he figured he'd extend the same courtesy. The boy couldn't be more than five years of age.

He wonders if the ANBU of the Sand village were expecting him.  They didn't stop him from walking right into the Kazekage mansion and into Gaara's office - they simply stepped aside at the door and let him through without a thought.

"Message from Naruto." He says, putting the scroll on the desk, taking a step back and glancing at the redhead, who dutifully nods to him in greeting and opens the scroll.

The boy looks up from the stuffed bear he plays with, looking at Sasuke curiously.

"He says that if you feel anything in the desert again, don't hesitate to call one of us." Sasuke says, handing him the accompanying letter. It was how Naruto chose to send his more personal messages to his fellow Kage, namely Gaara. Scrolls were for official business. 

Letters were for pleading with your friends to keep themselves out of danger. Apparently.

Gaara blinks at him but takes the paper, looking faintly affronted, "I can handle it. That's not necessary."

Sasuke gives him a level look, "It's what he said. He'd like to know."

"I'll handle it." Gaara says simply, unravelling the scroll, "If anything ever arrived in Suna it would be far too late to call anyone anyway."

"Naruto was adamant." Sasuke says.

It's true. Naruto would rather deal with the threat himself instead of having Gaara possibly put in danger and out of his depth. 

Sasuke knew that was Naruto's real issue here. He was... protective of a handful of people, and the Kazekage is definitely one of them.

"I'm sure he was,'' Gaara says. It sounds non-committal and more casual than Sasuke knows Naruto would like, especially when talking about Gaara's safety. 

Sasuke knew that wasn't any sort of agreement from the Kazekage, though. Gaara hasn't agreed not to fight, should he cross paths with whoever was scattering that chakra around. Naruto wouldn't be happy about that.

Gaara stands after a moment, placing the scroll on the desk and brushing past Sasuke to pick up the young child, holding him close for a moment.

"It's time for bed, Shinki. Uncle Kankuro is going to tuck you in, alright?" He tells the child, and Sasuke watches in surprise as Gaara goes from blank to warm in an instant when dealing with the boy. 

Shinki hugs Gaara and pouts, "Can't you?"

"I'll be along shortly. I just need to speak to someone about something important first." Gaara says, and right on time, Kankuro opens the door and peeks inside.

His face is free of makeup for once (and Sasuke might have forgotten that Gaara's brother didn't have his face paint pretty much grafted onto his face, seeing as he's seen the man maybe three times in his entire life) and he smiles at his brother before his expression becomes one of muted confusion upon seeing Sasuke of all people in the room with them as well.

Gaara doesn't address his brother's confusion though, he just gently puts the boy in Kankuro's arms and nods at them both.

"Thank you, Kankuro. I'll see you in a bit, Shinki. Be good."

The puppeteer looks between Gaara and Sasuke (who stands there frozen and a bit unsure what to do) and adjusts the boy before turning to leave, "C'mon buddy. Let's get you all ready for bed."

Then they're gone and Gaara's looking at him again, picking up the scroll and moving to stand behind his desk.

"I can't promise that I won't engage an enemy in my desert, but if Naruto is so eager to help, I'll inform him that his continued support of Sunagakure is quite enough." Gaara says, "I wouldn't be a Kage worth anything if I allowed someone else to defend my people in my place."

"He won't accept that." Sasuke says, eyes on the toys the child left on the floor. 

"He's going to have to." Gaara says simply, penning a response, "He cannot solve everyone's problems."

Sasuke doesn't know what to say to that. He just knows he agrees.

"How did you enjoy the book?"

Sasuke looks up and blinks at the Kazekage, who gives him a quizzical look. It takes him a second to realize that the man means the book he lent him a few weeks ago. Right. Sasuke actually finished it that week, and then reread it. Some part of him wanted to see what Gaara saw, and he wondered why he liked it so much. It was a well written piece, he just wondered what drew the Kazekage to it.

It also occurs to him that this is Gaara's way of changing the subject.

Sasuke takes the volume from his pack, "It was interesting, but clearly written by someone who was quite unhinged."

Gaara managed a small smile as he finished up his response to Naruto, looking over the scroll, "I agree. The subject matter was enough to keep me entertained though."

"Likewise." Sasuke says. He wants to ask a million questions. He wants to ask who that little boy was. He wants to ask Gaara why he likes that particular story so much. 

Sasuke keeps quiet.

Chapter Text

Initially, Sasuke camps out in the desert for a few nights, just keeping an eye on the place, like Naruto directed him to. He spends his time reading the latest book Gaara lent him, and looking out for anything unusual.

(He distantly wonders when he became a messenger for the Hokage, and when this became Naruto directing him instead of the partnership the blond said he wanted at the valley, but he shakes the thought from his head. Maybe this was always what Naruto meant.)

He wakes early in the mornings, often rising before the sun - waking from his usual nightmares and restlessness - before he eats the food he has packed away and gathers his camping supplies. Then he walks the perimeter, eyes open for anything amiss and chakra searching for any other chakra signatures. Sometimes he senses small shreds of the chakra that Gaara reported, but he can never follow it for long before it scatters and disappears into the warm air, like mist.

The desert is windy and quiet - vast and seemingly never ending. Once he's out there, he can't imagine being anywhere else. The sand stretches on for as far as his eyes can see, a sea of tan and gold.

So, so quiet.

But on the fifth day - when he shakes sand from his camping supplies and prepares to canvas the area for anything unusual - he feels something nearby. 

Sasuke pauses what he's doing and starts to slowly and quietly make his way toward the intrusion.

A disturbance. He pushes his hair out of his face and quickly gathers himself, focusing on a few grains of sand, his rinnegan spinning to life. Sasuke feels that familiar shift and he's closer to the whirling tornado of sand he's spied in the distance, swirling into the air.

Teleportation was one of his eyes more useful abilities, he'll admit.

He looks at the whirlwind, observing the patterns of the sandstorm. 

It doesn't... look natural. It looks like someone is doing it consciously. The movement of the minerals looks too choreographed and...deliberate? 

It looked like they were dancing. If such a thing were possible.

Sasuke moves closer, squinting as the grains start to sting his face the closer he gets. He raises his arm to shield his eyes, and he focuses a little further ahead yet again before quickly teleporting closer. The world shifts as he moves, and his eyes suddenly catch on a short, shadowy figure. 

Sasuke takes a few careful steps forward, hand moving from his face to reach for his sword on his back, slowly. His fingers clasp around the handle of the blade, and he tenses slightly, ready to draw his weapon at the slightest provocation. He takes a few more careful steps towards the center of the sandstorm, the sound of his boots crunching along the desert floor completely overpowered by the sound of the wind whipping about.

A figure slowly comes into view.  A pale hand, a lock of red hair.

Ah.

Of course.

Sasuke supposes he shouldn't be surprised.

He sees Gaara in the center, holding that same little boy. He's a bright, red spot in the sea of tan, catching Sasuke's eye easily. Shinki clings to the Kazekage, and the boy waves his hands into the air, trying to catch the grains of sand that float about. Gaara smiles at him warmly, pointing to what Sasuke can now see are swirling shapes floating in the center of the whirlwind.

Sasuke doesn't know why, but he just freezes and watches them for a long moment. Eyes glued to them and completely at a loss for what to do. A part of him urges him to turn and walk away, act like he never saw anything and push the image from his head - and usually he definitely would simply because this was none of his business and had nothing to do with him, but for some reason he can't move. He just stares.

Sasuke expected an enemy, maybe a wanderer - not Gaara entertaining this little boy. 

"See that one?" Gaara asks gently, pointing to a small but animated fish he's created from the sand in the wind.

The boy smiles, trying to grab the swirling creation that swims around his fingers, narrowly avoiding the child's hand. Gaara makes the fish collapse out of shape and turn into a dolphin, cleverly dodging Shinki's clumsy attempts to grasp it.

Gaara watches him, quietly amused.

"Father, a starfish? Please? Like in my book?" He asks, looking up at Gaara. Gaara scraps the dolphin and crafts a starfish that bobs about and floats around Shinki's head. The child laughs quietly.

Sasuke looks at the little boy. So that's who he was.

Gaara had a son. 

He knew the man was an omega, but he'd never heard anything about Gaara having a child. Nothing at all, in fact.

And with who? Did Naruto know? Why didn't he say anything? Why didn't anyone say anything? The omega didn't smell like he was bonded, and there were no signs of a mating bite at all.

And more than that, Sasuke doesn't know why he's so curious. He usually wouldn't care, but something about the fact that he doesn't know bothers him. He wants to ask, and it's like every time he sees the Kazekage he just ended up with more fucking questions. 

He guesses he wants to know more, though he isn't sure why. And he isn't quite sure why it bothers him that he doesn't.

Sasuke hasn't thought this hard about his own emotions for a while. He hasn't been so confused by them in a while either. Sasuke knew misery and detachment, it was familiar, but this was a new feeling he had to think over, examine and inspect. 

And he still didn't know what to make of how he felt, looking at the Kazekage. Confusion? Curiosity? Maybe.

"Sasuke." Gaara says, and he's pulled from his thoughts and faced with the redhead blinking up at him. The little boy tilts his head, looking on curiously. 

Sasuke thinks maybe he's seen Gaara do that a few times before. Picking up his father's habits, most likely. Sarada had a few of Sasuke's mannerisms too, even if he hardly saw her.

The sandstorm had settled while Sasuke was absorbed in his own thoughts, and Gaara had apparently seen and acknowledged his presence while the Uchiha wasn't paying attention.

"Gaara."

Green eyes blink at him again.

"Taking a walk?"

He observes the sand as it settles.

"I was given orders."

"To watch the desert, I assume." He says, narrowing his eyes, "Are you out here alone?"

Sasuke doesn't know what to say to that. He could say yes, and it would be the truth, but he doesn't think that's what Gaara's asking.

It's a loaded question. It's obvious by the look in the man's eyes.

Gaara just blinks at his silence before adjusting Shinki and turning around, walking away. 

"Well, dinner is in an hour, so we should be going." He says, and Sasuke watches him go and ponders how strange and incredibly abrupt the man is. The sand crunches beneath his boots, and Sasuke is about to turn and head back to his own camp until he hears Gaara address him again.

"You should hurry before we leave you behind." The Kazekage calls, "It's very easy to lose me in the desert if you fall behind."

Gaara keeps walking, and Sasuke turns to stare after him again. Then he takes a step, and another, and suddenly he's walking at Gaara's side, blinking down at the little boy in the man's arms who eyes him curiously.

He doesn't know why he follows the Kazekage again, but in his defense, lately Gaara and his village have been one of the more...agreeable things in Sasuke's life. He guesses. 

Though it feels strange to acknowledge it, and he doesn't really know what to make of it or what that really even means.

"Have you been out here long?" Gaara asks, pulling him from his thoughts. 

Gaara's looking forward, eyes on the desert and expression distantly troubled. Though Sasuke doesn't know why Gaara would care. What would it matter to him? To anyone?

"A few days."

Gaara's expression grows slightly darker in a subtle way, like he's angry and doesn't want to show it, "And Naruto ordered you to do this."

It's not a question. Sasuke doesn't need to answer.

"Who're you?" Shinki pipes up suddenly.

Sasuke looks at the child, unsure what to say for a moment. He wasn't really expecting that question.

"I'm...just someone who's known your father for a long time." He says haltingly.

The little boy looks at him for a long moment, but seems to accept that answer.

"Okay." He says after a moment, "I'm Shinki."

"Sasuke. Hello." Sasuke says. He can't help being a bit amused by the boy. Sarada often got that reaction from him too. Not quite a smile, but close. He actually wasn't completely terrible with children, like people might think.

He misses his daughter, in that moment.

"You're lucky, he's usually not so talkative around people he doesn't know." Gaara says after a moment.

Shinki busies himself with the button on Gaara's coat, fiddling with them, effectively distracted.

"Hn. Really." 

"Really."

Sasuke is about to say something (though he doesn't know what, exactly) but then he notices they're at the entrance to the village and he'd barely noticed they were approaching. The guards materialize yet again, following their Kage as soon as he enters through the village gates.

Sasuke is flanked as well as a result, but not watched. They barely spare him a glance. The people of the village greet the Kazekage and his son as he passes, cheering their praises and adoration. Sasuke watches Gaara quietly greet and thank his villagers as he passes while Shinki shyly hides his face in his dad's jacket, obviously unsure of what to do with affection from so many strangers thrown his way. Sasuke avoids what eye contact he can, and instead keeps his eyes on the buildings they pass, trying to keep himself out of any limelight despite being walking with the Kazekage. It works, and he's thankfully ignored. A few villagers give him a curious glance, but he doesn't have to speak to anyone, and he's grateful.

The village seems even more green than the last time he visited, the sanded buildings covered in even more vines and flowers. 

They walk in silence, and Gaara doesn't force conversation. It's quiet, but comfortable. 

Gaara leads him into the mansion and Sasuke notes how the ANBU bow to the Kazekage and then quickly scatter, watching from the rooftops surrounding the Kazekage residence. Only one escorts the redhead inside and then bows low before disappearing out the window, content that their Kazekage is safe for the night.

They kept such a close eye on him. Sasuke didn't envy that sort of attention. Having eyes on him made him more and more uncomfortable as the years went on. During the academy, everyone was always staring at him, and after his clan's massacre he shrunk under their gazes and wanted nothing more than to hide from all prying eyes. Sasuke hated it. Hell, even Naruto got a bit uncomfortable when people stared at him, even as Hokage. But Gaara acted like he barely felt anyone's eyes on him at all.

It's not like he can ponder that long though, because he's suddenly distracted by the fact that he's in Gaara's home for some reason, and he isn't completely sure why he followed the man and agreed to come with him in the first place, but he's here and he finds himself even more curious about the man before him, even if he wouldn't say so out loud.

Gaara's preference for plant life was obvious, judging by the amount of greenery in pretty much every room. The residential section of the mansion was in the west wing, away from their offices but close enough to the medical wing in case of emergency, and he finds himself standing in the middle of Gaara's living room. 

The offices felt completely different from where Gaara and his son stayed. Sasuke assumed that was the point.

The living room was littered with toys that Sasuke assumed to be Shinki's - stuffed animals and coloring books tossed about - looking very much like a small child went through it all that afternoon. Plants were on the windowsills, in various colorful pots. Some were in crystal clear orbs that hung from the ceiling. More bookcases lined the wall. A kotatsu table was in the middle of the room.

Sasuke takes off his cape, holding it over his arm and trying not to fidget. He's unsure how to react. People don't usually just invite Sasuke into their home. Sasuke didn't usually go .

"Any allergies or dietary preferences?" Gaara asks simply, putting Shinki down and telling him to tidy up his toys on the floor before dinner. The little boy flies towards the stuffed animals first, scooping them up and putting them back in the toy chest.

Sasuke shakes his head silently, fidgeting where he stands. 

Gaara nods and heads into the adjoining room. Sasuke follows, unsure what else to do.

The kitchen is like any other, and Sasuke distantly wonders if every Kazekage before him lived in a normal apartment in the mansion like Gaara did. He doubts it. This space seemed exclusive to the redhead, who silently flips on the stove and sets a pot on it, reheating it.

Shinki wanders in, blinks up at Sasuke and then asks, "Help?"

The Uchiha nods, relieved that he has something to do with his hand. He sets his cape on a chair and takes the plates the boy hands him.

"They go there." Shinki says, pointing to the table. Sasuke nods and places them there, trying not to stare at either Gaara or his son.

Sasuke doesn't know how he even got here, really. They haven't seen each other in years and now - after only a few conversations and shared books over a handful of weeks - Sasuke is having dinner with them.

And while Sasuke feels an interesting blend of dull shock and awkwardness that he tries to hide, Gaara just acts as he usually does. Like nothing was out of place at all. Like Sasuke isn't just sitting at his dinner table, when this is the last place anyone would think he would be. Having dinner with the Kazekage and his kid.

Gaara just seats Shinki in his chair and gives him his chopsticks (small, colorful and clearly for children) before putting food on the plate in front of Sasuke as well.

Gaara doesn't eat anything, he just pours himself a cup of tea and sits next to Shinki, getting to work cutting the child's food into smaller pieces.

"Better?" He asks. Shinki nods and happily starts to eat, chattering to his father about something Sasuke has no idea about.

Sasuke looks down at his own plate. Right. He should eat too. He still feels somewhat out of place, but Gaara's casual air settles him, he guesses. He feels the tension leak from his shoulders, even if it's just a bit.

Gaara asks Sasuke no questions, and he doesn't force Sasuke to speak. It's like he knows the man wouldn't be up for it. And that was fine. Sasuke's thankful for that. He feels like he's always being forced to do something he doesn't want to lately, and it's exhausting. It's been exhausting for years.

Hell, Gaara hardly seemed like he expected anything from Sasuke.

Sasuke relaxes a bit more, picking up his own chopsticks.

He usually ate alone these days, and he'd grown accustomed to it. It occurs to him, as he hears Gaara and Shinki make conversation, that this is the first meal in about a year that he's had with others. Maybe longer. He isn't sure.

Sasuke has almost forgotten what it was like. To sit down and share food and company with others, hear them talk and feel their presence.




"I should get back to my...mission." he says once the dishes are cleared, wondering why he feels oddly reluctant to leave, "But, hn. Thank you."

Gaara nods, looking up at him from where he kneels to wipe Shinki's mouth with a napkin, "Of course. Though it is still...strange to me that Naruto would have you in the desert by yourself."

Sasuke barely holds back a bitter and sudden 'well he thinks I'm a wind-up toy who is meant to be sent wherever he pleases, apparently' and instead he just looks away, unsure how to respond. What could he say to that? 

Of course Gaara wouldn't know what Sasuke's position is. He likely didn't know that Sasuke was mostly the Hokage's war dog. Technically, no one was supposed to know. Sasuke is technically supposed to keep a low profile wherever he goes so no one finds out he's Konoha's secret weapon.

"Lord Hokage has a reason." He says, and the words taste bitter on his tongue.

"Of course, but…" Gaara frowns, a break in his usually stoic expression, "You really shouldn't be out there. It drops below freezing at night and the sandstorms…"

"It's fine." Sasuke says, "I can...handle it."

Gaara gives him a slightly troubled look before he looks away. Shinki is handed off to an attendant who arrives to put the child to bed, and Gaara leads him to the village entrance. The ANBU jump to attention again. The night is slightly chilly, and Sasuke knows that by the time the sun goes down completely the desert will go still and cold, like it has every night since he's been there.

"If you're sure, I won't say anything more about it.." He says, "Though there are always inns and places for you in the village, if you ever get tired of dealing with the elements."

Something about that suggestion makes a part of Sasuke's chest get tight, like he can't breathe. The Uchiha finds himself annoyed with himself and all these new reactions he's having lately. How annoying.

He nods, and he realizes they're already at the entrance and the ANBU nin are flanking them yet again.

Sasuke cracks and finally asks.

"How do you deal with being watched every minute?" Sasuke asks, eyeing the ANBU who tail Gaara, keeping their usual close eye on the Kazekage.

Green eyes look at him for a moment, thoughtful. Sasuke tries not to stare again.

Sasuke realized, a few weeks ago, that Gaara didn't actually have any pupils. Something was always very different about his eyes, but Sasuke wasn't really trying to look all that closely when they were kids, then teenagers, usually trying to beat the shit out of each other. 

Anyway, Gaara's eyes made it look like he wasn't looking at anything in particular, which made him appear almost spacey and not all there.

It was never the truth, though. Gaara's eyes were always right on their target, focused. Sasuke doesn't know when exactly he started noticing this stuff, and he doesn't know why he does, but it catches his attention.

The man is strange, he guesses. It's not a negative, Sasuke just can't help but notice. He doesn't know why that is.

"It's not hard to lose them." He says simply, and he starts to lose color in front of Sasuke's eyes as he crumbles into sand and begins to scatter and blow away in the wind.

Sasuke covers his face with the crook of his arm on instinct, though Gaara obviously expertly controls every grain to avoid touching Sasuke as he drifts away. 

The ANBU immediately jump to attention, their masks somehow portraying their alarm and panic at their leader's sudden disappearance.

Sasuke watches Gaara disappear and he sees the ANBU scatter, clearly trying to locate Gaara's whereabouts.

Well, Sasuke guessed that was it, then.

He turns and exits the village, shaking his head. Of course.




Sasuke eats his next meal alone in the desert the next morning. He tries to ignore how empty it feels in comparison to the last one.

It's best not to think about it.

Chapter Text

Sasuke is only in the desert for another day before he wakes to find a bento box with fresh food steaming in front of his small campsite.

He can smell the package, and it smells like...Gaara. The Kazekage's scent lingers in the desert, even though he's clearly long gone, but he picks it up startlingly easily. Sasuke doesn't know when he got familiar enough with the man's scent to recognize it so quickly and with so little effort, but he has, and he can smell the omega's scent all over the small box left by his campsite.

There's food, and then there's a small case of bandages and antiseptic, some other medical supplies and herbs. A thermos. Blankets are folded under the box.

Gaara.

Usually Sasuke wouldn't accept it, but he knows who it came from so he has no reason to be suspicious. That familiar rosy scent sets him at ease, and he has no idea why. He doesn't know what to think about anything that's happened lately, but he finds himself reaching for the box and storing the contents in his pouches, wondering why he has the strange urge to inhale as much of that flowery, earthy scent as possible. It confuses him, and Sasuke doesn't even really have a similar experience or feeling to compare it to. 

Sasuke chooses not to think about it for the moment.




The food is delicious.




By the time Sasuke actually faces the threat in the desert he's been out there for three weeks, and his camping supplies consist mostly of the supplies Gaara's left for him. He rationalizes his quick acceptance of the Kazekage's help because he's been keeping watch and unable to retrieve supplies from Suna himself, but he also feels like that is only half of his reasoning for letting Gaara get this close. He contemplates it for a few days at a time, but he hasn't come to any concrete conclusion, and he finds himself more confused by his thoughts and emotions than ever.

And he finds that endlessly frustrating. Just like Gaara himself. 

He'd woken every morning since that day to new supplies left outside his camp, and he could tell they were all from the same place. Everything smelled like a rose garden, and by the second week Sasuke is even more frustrated and confused by the fact that he sort of hopes that one day the man comes around when he's awake so he can actually interact with him.

The thought comes to him when he's picking through the things Gaara's left one morning, and he immediately freezes and wonders where the hell that came from. Sasuke hasn't actually wanted to speak to anyone in ages. He used to look forward to mission debriefings with Naruto, but now he dreaded seeing the blond. He was always behind that desk, and always giving Sasuke that blankly cheerful look, like he expected Sasuke to be just as content with things as he was. Haruno was a nightmare to deal with, and he spoke to no one else in Konoha - often opting to leave the village to avoid seeing anyone else he didn't know how to talk to - but for some reason Sasuke caught himself regretting that Gaara only came around when he was asleep - when he was unable to speak to him.

What the hell was it? Curiousity? Confusion?

Sasuke has no idea, and he's getting just a bit fed up with himself and these strange thoughts that seem to be coming from nowhere.

But one morning he doesn't have time to have his usual crisis regarding the Kazekage, because he senses the strange chakra closer than ever before, and he jumps to attention - his hand on his sword, like it's instinct - as he feels his rinnegan swirl to life. The desert is deathly quiet, but the Uchiha can feel the dark, sharp and oppressive aura of the Otsutsuki clan's power. His skin crawls, just like it did battling Kaguya way back then. Sweat begins to pool under his collar, the sun high in the sky and already beating down on Sasuke's neck.

He follows the trail, lightning fast and on high alert - ready to strike at the threat as soon as it's within eyeshot.

When he finds the figure standing in the desert - not too far from where he's set up camp - Sasuke doesn't hesitate. He never does, and finds no reason to. His sword is drawn in less than a second and he's striking at the being that he can sense the concentration of chakra from, and he only gets a glimpse of a smug grin before he's struck the figure head on.

The man has snow white skin and lavender eyes, like the Hyuga woman that Naruto married. Sasuke distantly remembers learning that the Hyuga are descendants of Kaguya and her ilk. 

The byakugan, then.

He's dressed in a white robe, his grin grim and smug. He moves fast, and launches himself away from the Uchiha, landing gracefully a few feet away.

Lavender eyes narrow at him and Sasuke feels that familiar swell of irritation when his hit doesn't land, but he steadies himself as his sharingan eye activates.

"And who are you?" The man drawls. He looks at Sasuke like he's a particularly bothersome insect, and it immediately grates on his nerves.

"What do you want with this place?" Sasuke snaps, ignoring the question.  

Lavender eyes blink at him.

"You mortals are very interesting." His enemy spits, grinning nastily, "Maybe I'll take those eyes of yours."

The Uchiha doesn't flinch. It's not the first time someone has threatened to do so. He vividly remembers Itachi in that moment, his brother's fingers digging into his eye socket...

"I would definitely like to see you try." He says easily, leveling his blade at the man, "I'll ask once more, and only once more. What is your business here?"

The man takes a step, casual and not at all fazed by the sword in Sasuke's hand. 

"Reconnaissance. I wished to see the world that Kaguya couldn't bring to its knees." He says, grinning wider and showing off rows of sharp teeth, "Quite an interesting world you all have here…"

Sasuke strikes again, quick as light. The man dodges, grin widening - looking manic.

He tilts his head in thought, blinking at Sasuke.

"But I came across the most interesting thing!" He licks his lips, "There's a very...alluring smell of... omega in this desert. The scent is on you, too." 

Sasuke glares.

He laughs, "Maybe I'm hoping I'll run into whoever that delicious scent belongs to. I would enjoy having a human omega. I hear they break so easily."

Sasuke grits his teeth.

"I can't say I know what you mean." He spits.

The man's grin widens, "Really? No idea?"

He uses his rinnegan to teleport close enough to attack, building his chakra and summoning Susanoo's arm to grip the man and hold him steady.

Sasuke's sword is a blur, and in a flash of silver and blood the man is wailing in pained rage, swinging wildly at the Uchiha - smug, casual air long gone.

It's only when Sasuke stumbles back can he see the damage he's inflicted.

He manages to slice into the man's leg and take his arm clean off, wounding and crippling him in a single strike, and it happens so quick that Sasuke doesn't notice the enemy's remaining arm summoning a weapon that looks suspiciously like a hook. In a second every bit of reflex training kicks in, and he forgoes shielding himself to instead summon the black flames from his sharingan eye to envelop the enemy.

But the hook in the man's hand is buried in his stomach before he can even blink, and Sasuke feels a sharp dig into his ribcage. Pain rocks through him and the world explodes in white for a moment.

The feeling of having one's chakra ripped out wasn't pleasant in the least. Especially with as much chakra as Sasuke had. It was a sharp, burning pain and a sickeningly shocking yanking feeling from the center of his core, and then he saw the sun, the sand and the world go black.

Maybe he falls, maybe he doesn't, but he can't tell. All he can hear is his own blood in his ears and all he can see is the encroaching darkness around him.

It wasn't all bad. Maybe he'd die. That'd be...something, wouldn't it?

But he... smells something - someone - familiar. It's earthy, like the desert he's been surrounded by for weeks, but there's a sweetness to it that the desert itself didn't usually carry. Rose...? The scent fills his senses, and then Sasuke is slumped and unconscious. 

He hears nothing.




Sasuke is in and out of consciousness for days. 

He thinks maybe he hears a voice, but he can't completely be sure. It's talking to him, or...around him? A few actually, but the only one he recognizes in his borderline comatose state is quiet, even, and familiar.  And yet he still can't quite put his finger on it. 

Sasuke can't exactly place it, but he feels like he knows who it is, even distantly.

But for some reason that voice sends him drifting, and he can't tell which way is up or down, but the lack of direction is peaceful, for some reason. Quiet. 

There's that familiar scent that wraps around him and relaxes him, settling him into a comfortable unconsciousness. The world softens and fades away, and he's left floating.

Chapter Text

When he wakes all he smells is something...floral. It's sweet, but not overwhelming, though it's still the first thing he senses upon waking.  

The injured Uchiha can definitely smell him. The Kazekage's scent dulled some pained ache in his body that he couldn't identify, being as out of it as he was. He inhales deep and the scent floods his senses, and he sinks deeper into that haze, pulled by the soothing scent. Sasuke's nerves even out and he feels a sense of relief washing over him, the tension leaking from his body. 

He finally opens his eyes to a pale pink ceiling with terrariums hanging from it. The sunlight coming through the windows glints off of the glass, casting light beams along the walls and lighting up the room.

He's on a bed. Sasuke can feel the blankets under him, and he tries to claw his way back to the surface of the murky water of awareness to find out where he is and what to do next, but he knows where he is almost as soon as he opens his eyes.

He's never seen Gaara's bedroom, but he somehow knows that's exactly where he is. The scent is so thoroughly and obviously the Kazekage's, and the room had the same pale pink walls and potted plants as the Kazekage's kitchen and living room. 

He realizes he's taken to taking deep breaths since he woke up here, and was gulping down Gaara's scent like he needed it.

He's exhausted enough to believe that. It was normal to fixate on a particularly soothing scent when injured and lying in a bed that was all but drowned in it. He knew little about omegas, but their scent was designed to soothe, he at least remembers hearing that. That's why they were generally stereotyped as caregivers.

Sasuke was... exhausted and unwilling to dwell on why he had the urge to inhale as much of that calming scent he possibly could. He's too tired to have an emotional crisis about Gaara again.

He's still out of it when the door opens and the Kazekage steps through, holding Shinki. Green eyes meet Sasuke's bleary-eyed gaze and he puts the child down before addressing him. 

"You're awake."

Sasuke wants to say something , but he can barely move much less speak.

"Forgive me. I know you don't seem fond of doctors, but I had to have someone come look at you. Your chakra was almost completely drained. I brought you here since I didn't think you'd like the hospital, and thankfully your condition didn't deteriorate…"

Gaara looks at him, but all Sasuke can do is inhale that calming scent and try to think through the haze and understand what's being said to him.

He squints at Gaara, brain foggy and trying to focus on the man's face to respond.

"Ah. It's probably best not to overload you with information…" Gaara says, placing a glass of water on the night table next to the bed.

That's when another pair of green eyes make their appearance once again, this time at the end of the bed. Shinki isn't tall enough to peer over the edge completely, but he certainly tries.

The boy blinks at him curiously before his little voice asks, "What happened to you?"

Sasuke takes another slow breath and tries to answer. The strength leaves him as quickly as he musters it. He gives the boy an apologetic look.

"Sasuke is tired, I'm sure. We should let him rest a bit more, Shinki."

"But I want to talk to him." Shinki says, sounding disappointed. He tugs at his father's coat, frowning. Gaara bends to pick him up, holding him close.

"I know, but maybe he'll be up for talking when he's feeling better."

The boy seems to accept that answer, but he looks at Sasuke with disappointed eyes, pouting slightly. Shinki rests his cheek on his father's chest, eyes on Sasuke. 

Gaara adjusts his son in his arms and turns to him.

"Rest. You're still recovering your chakra. I'll bring you dinner when it's finished."

Sasuke takes a breath, and nods slowly. He's still weak, but he can at least do that, and he watches Gaara adjust his son on his hip and make his way to the door. He tries to speak, to say anything before Gaara walks away, but he's just trying to get his breath back.

Sasuke has just enough strength to give the boy a small wave as Gaara carries him out the room.

Sasuke falls back asleep almost immediately.




Sasuke doesn't know how much time passes, but by the time Gaara steps through the door with a steaming bowl of something that smells delicious, Sasuke has woken up and regained some mobility. If only partially. He can sit up, and his hand no longer feels numb and disconnected from his body, which he counts as an accomplishment. His legs are another story, though. He won't be walking until at least tomorrow. He's too tired to feel strange about being in Gaara's bed, and Gaara acts as if nothing is different at all, like Sasuke was always in his home. 

Gaara sets the food on the nightstand, and Shinki wanders in, sipping from a cup. He looks up at Sasuke before pushing the cup onto the nightstand and peers up at Sasuke again, curiously.

"How're you feeling?" Gaara asks.

Sasuke takes a breath, trying to pinpoint how much chakra he's recovered. He concentrates for a moment, and then grimaces.

Not enough. Not nearly enough.

Sasuke briefly considers saying he's fine, but he's far too tired to lie at this point, and he is in Gaara's home. He may as well be truthful. If anyone knows his condition it's the man who's been taking care of him for the past...how many days has he been unconscious?

"Everything feels...numb." he says, "How long was I...?"

Gaara places a bottle of painkillers on the nightstand as well, "Four days. I'm surprised you're awake."

Gaara opens his mouth to say something else, but he's quickly interrupted by the sound of an ANBU ninja knocking twice and stepping through the door. The ninja is tall, and towers over the Kazekage, but he bows low in respect before he straightens.

"I apologise for the abrupt interruption. Lord Kazekage, there's an urgent matter." The ANBU says. 

He starts to say something more, but then catches sight of Shinki, who looks up at them with wide eyes. In an obvious effort not to alarm the Kazekage's small son, the ninja straightens his back and opens the door for Gaara. 

"I will inform you on the way, sir."

"Of course." He nods, then pauses and looks at Shinki, "Ah -"

And for the first time Sasuke sees Gaara hesitate. Green eyes land on Shinki, and it takes only a second for Sasuke to understand why Gaara was frozen in place.

"I can watch him." Sasuke offers.

He doesn't really think about it, and honestly he doesn't really have to. The boy is quiet and doesn't seem like the kind of child that particularly liked being rowdy. He was the calmest child Sasuke's sure he's ever seen. Sarada was pretty well behaved from what he remembered, but even she was a bit more bouncy than Shinki.

So no bother, really.

It was the least he could offer, for the shelter, food and medical care. Gaara didn't have to help him. He could have just shipped him back to Konoha, but he didn't. Sasuke doesn't know why, and he doesn't know why he feels...something about that, but it's true.

Gaara blinks at him, "Are you sure? I -"

"Yeah, it's fine."

Gaara hesitates for only a moment more before he nods.

"Thank you, Sasuke. I'll be back soon." Then he bends to kiss Shinki's forehead, "And you. No running off, okay?"

Shinki nods.

Then the Kazekage takes his leave. The little boy fidgets for a moment, before he pulls himself up onto the bed beside Sasuke. He plays with his teddy bear for a moment, and Sasuke eats the food left for him, keeping an eye on Shinki.

The child plays with his bear quietly for a moment, before he pauses and thinks.

After a moment of silence Shinki looks at Sasuke, "What happened to you?"

"Got into a fight."

"Why?"

"Somebody was in your desert who shouldn't be."

"A bad person?" 

"Yeah."

"Oh." Then the little boy hugs his bear closer, eyeing Sasuke critically, "Did you get him?"

For some reason that makes Sasuke smile, just a little bit.

"Yeah, I got him."

"With your eye?" He asks, looking at Sasuke's rinnegan eye with interest.

"Yeah."

"Oh." Shinki considers that, "You're very strong, right?"

Sasuke doesn't know how to answer that. He's taken on gods and won, though he had help.

"I've...trained for a long time."

"Father says I can't be a ninja." Shinki says, "Are you a ninja?"

"I am."

"Is it hard?"

"Very hard."

"Oh."

Shinki takes a moment to think, "Father is a ninja, right?"

"He is."

"I wonder why I can't be one." Shinki says, tugging at his bear's bowtie, "We have the same powers."

"He doesn't want you to get hurt. Being a ninja is very dangerous. It's not very fun, either."

"Then why do you do it?" He asks.

"That's a good question." Sasuke says, looking up at the ceiling, "I don't really have an answer for that."

"Okay." Shinki shrugs, blinking up at Sasuke.

"Why do you want to be a ninja?" Sasuke asks. 

He's actually kind of intrigued by this child. He was blunt and thoughtful. Strange for a child, until he remembers who's raising him. 

"Because Father is." He says simply, like that's all the reason he needs.

Sasuke bites down a small smile. He nods. Of course.

"Your father wants to keep you safe."

Shinki thinks for a moment, "I know."

Sasuke nods, "Good."

They're quiet for a while after that, but eventually Shinki pipes up again.

"Why is your eye purple?"

Sasuke considers the question and tries to think of the easiest way to explain his rinnegan to a small child. Sasuke's head was still a bit foggy, but he is able to order his thoughts after a moment.

"My clan had special eye techniques. This," he says, pointing to where his hair parts and reveals his eye, "Is one of the final stages."

"Eye...tech..technics.." Shinki tries to repeat, stumbling over his words, "Techn...iques?"

Sasuke nods.

"Oh." The boy says, "Is it hard?"

"To use?"

Shinki nods.

"Not if you practice."

"Like my sand."

"Yeah. You just need training."

Shinki blinks at him, "Do adults train a lot?"

"Some do."

"Oh."

It goes on like that for a while, just Shinki asking questions and Sasuke trying to answer to the best of his ability, and eventually Gaara arrives again and Sasuke has finished the bowl of food, taken the painkillers and is feeling a lot more grounded.

The Kazekage hasn't been gone long, but by the time he comes back Shinki is half asleep holding his teddy bear and Sasuke is feeling the sleep tugging at him as well. 

"Apologies, that took longer than I thought. Thank you for watching him." Is the first thing Gaara says upon stepping through the door again. His eyes land on Shinki - who is almost completely asleep - and he immediately moves to pick up the child.

"It's fine." Sasuke says, blinking sleep from his eyes, "You don't have to thank me."

Being thanked for something so small felt strange, especially after everything.

Gaara gives him a searching look, and Sasuke thinks he almost imagines it because he blinks and Gaara's expression is even and blank once again.

"All the same, I appreciate it." He says, shifting Shinki to one side and picking up Sasuke's empty bowl in the other, "Rest. I'm close if you need anything else."

Sasuke nods, feeling more exhausted. He clearly had more recovering to do if simply being awake was this tiring. He feels the alluring pulls of unconsciousness weighing him down, and by the time Gaara and Shinki leave Sasuke is half asleep.




He wakes during the night and realizes he probably should have asked Gaara where the bathroom was. It feels wrong to go wandering around, but thankfully his legs have chosen to cooperate - albeit very slowly and clumsily.

But he can walk, and that's what he focuses on.

He stumbles a bit, but he finds his way out of the room and down the short, dark hallway. 

The house is dim, the only lights the small lanterns that were obviously lit not too long ago. They line the walls, giving off a flickering and gentle light.

Sasuke finds himself in the living room once again, but he doesn't find anyone awake. 

The room is quiet and dark - the single lantern on the kotatsu table almost flickered out. Gaara is curled up under the kotatsu with Shinki, holding a storybook. They're both asleep, Shinki cuddled into his father's chest and Gaara holding him close. The book is still open to where they left off before they both nodded off.

Sasuke pauses in the doorway, unsure what to do. He's thinking about whether he should wake them both up or not, or whether it would be intrusive - or whether he should do anything at all - but it turns out he doesn't have to wonder. Kankuro walks through the door a second later.

He catches sight of Sasuke before his eyes fall on his little brother and his nephew, asleep.

"You're up." The puppeteer says, looking impressed.

"Yeah. I was just looking for…" Sasuke starts, before his eyes land on Gaara and Shinki once more. "Are they...okay?" Sasuke asks haltingly. 

He has no idea how to speak to Gaara's brother, but the man doesn't look shocked to see him, so it occurs to him that he knew Sasuke was here. Or he just doesn't care.

"We should leave 'em, actually." Kankuro says as he runs his hand through his hair. 

"Hn."

"Yeah, ah. He doesn't get a whole lot of sleep." He says, eyes on his brother, "He's usually working, or watching Shinki. And I don't think Shinki would like being woken up to be put in his own bed. So."

Sasuke nods.

"Did you need somethin'?" Kankuro asks.

Sasuke feels grogginess and exhaustion hit him all over again. He's been standing for too long, and his legs are starting to protest.

He tugs a hand through his messy, black hair. "I was looking for the bathroom." He mumbles.

"Through that hallway and to the right." Kankuro says, blowing out the lantern and taking the book from his brother's loose grip, "Then go crash. You look like you're fuckin' dying or something."

Sasuke gives him a bland look at that, and the puppeteer just raises his eyebrows in a look that clearly says 'but am I wrong?'.

Sasuke guesses he isn't.

He leaves Gaara and Shinki to Kankuro, and by the time he makes it back to the bed he's staying upright by pure willpower alone.

He's out like a light in less than a minute.

Chapter Text

Sasuke wakes the next morning in what he can only call indescribable pain.

Phantom limb pain struck Sasuke more often than he'd like to admit. His arm often burned rather painfully - and for hours or days at a time - like he was feeling Naruto's rasengan burning away his flesh all over again.

He used to wonder whether Naruto felt the same sensation, but now he doesn't even think about it. He just grits his teeth and tries to sit up, squinting at the sunlight streaming through the windows.

Sasuke's arm aches worse than it has in years, and truthfully he's never really known what to do about it. He was trained to manage pain - Orochimaru made sure of that - but he can only let what remains of his arm burn and burn until he's gritting his teeth and silently begging for it to pass quickly.

After all these years the pain still completely blindsided him and nearly brought him to his knees. 

Not pleasant. It shook Sasuke in a quietly drastic and devastating way every time it happened. In other words, he hated it. It robbed him of sleep all too often, and sleep was the only reprieve Sasuke got from life, so he wasn't too thrilled when the pain flared.

Sasuke shivers awake in a cold sweat, pain coursing through him that lights his arm aflame, and he grits his teeth and forces himself to push it back, to ignore it…

The sudden knock at the door does little to distract him, but once it opens and Gaara steps through...his arm only aches until he takes a breath, and it takes Sasuke a long, confused moment to realize that Gaara's scent chases away the agonizing burning, achy feeling in his arm. Or what's left of it. The fact that the room suddenly smells of the Kazekage again helps the ache subside into a dull throb, and Sasuke finds himself taking a few deep breaths before he can even speak, relief coursing through him. He can breathe again, and no longer feels like he's been robbed of air.

Sasuke inhales, trying to soothe himself and be rid of the ache in his missing limb. Gaara's scent ebbs and flows as usual, and so does the relief from the pain in Sasuke's arm, but at this point he'll take anything. He grits his teeth as the burning returns in bursts, but its still preferable to how it usually was. Which was a steady, scorching pain that he was sure he deserved. 

Gaara's brows furrow in concern as he looks at the Uchiha, "How're you doing?"

Sasuke tries to say something, but pain takes his breath once more and he grits his teeth again as the pain swells again.

Shinki clutches at his father's coat, following him and looking at Sasuke curiously. Gaara sets his food on the night table, giving Sasuke a considering look.

"You're unwell." Gaara observes, "Your scent has changed. What's wrong?"

Sasuke shakes his head, gritting his teeth. It's his problem. No one else's. He's inconvenienced Gaara enough, he thinks.

"It's nothing."

Gaara frowns at him - looking somewhat troubled - and watches him for a moment before the sweet smell of the room intensifies, and Sasuke's senses are overwhelmed once more.

Suddenly, the pain completely drains from him again. It's a relief, leaving only the aftershocks. 

He looks to his side, tired eyes on the man setting a cup of water - next to the bowl he's prepared for him - on the nightstand next to the bed. It strikes him - once he can think without agony clouding his mind again - that Gaara has started to pump out stronger, more soothing pheromones in response to Sasuke's discomfort.

He knew - in a factual sense, maybe he read it somewhere - that omegas could put out different scents for when they felt safe, felt threatened or upset…

Or meant to soothe. 

The scent goes softer, but it fills the space of the room quicker and a bit more thoroughly, to the point where Sasuke can smell little else. It immediately saps the pain and tension from his muscles and bones, even the torn ones of his severed arm that ached so viciously just a moment before.

It's like morphine and he sags against the mattress in relief, almost sinking into the pillows and blankets. He takes a deep breath. 

It's like a natural high slugging through his veins, and he feels the pain curl away completely once more. He's too tired and pained to feel strange about the fact that his body reacts to Gaara's or what that means. No one else's scent has never affected him like this, but Sasuke isn't up for analyzing that right now. He'd have little idea what to think of it anyway.

But Gaara pauses in confusion. He looks surprised, like he initially didn't notice his scent filling the room as it did all of a sudden. His sand swirls about, just as unsettled as the Kazekage suddenly was. Shinki clings to his father's leg, clearly soothed by his scent as well and as unwilling as ever to be separated from his parent.

Sasuke watches Gaara silently panic for a moment. The confusion is so genuine on his face, and Sasuke has never seen Gaara so baffled before. Did he not mean to do it? Was it just a natural biological response? Does Gaara not even know what his scent is doing?

The Kazekage touches his neck gingerly, right on his scent gland, looking confused. 

"I...is that me? I'm not quite sure what is going on." He says. He lightly touches his neck again, frowning.

"Why's that happening ?" Gaara mumbles, clearly to himself. He mumbles something about suppressants, looking troubled.

Sasuke feels his face start to flush, but he isn't quite sure why. His sense of smell was usually dampened, but all he can smell is Gaara and he starts to feel just a little bit...dizzy, and his head fills with a pleasant fog that he doesn't know how to get out of. 

Sasuke usually only smelled things that were so potent he couldn't ignore it. He knew it was odd for an alpha to not pick up every scent, but after the massacre Sasuke couldn't smell things like he did before. It all smelled like blood. Or metal. Lightning during a storm. Or fire. 

After the war the stench of all the death on the battlefield was all he could remember for a very, very long time.

But here, in Suna…he could pick up every little aspect of Gaara's scent. The rose. The lavender. Grass and sand. He could even scent Shinki on him. It was so...odd. 

Sasuke wasn't used to being so... receptive. It was almost too much.

Gaara's scent makes him dizzy, and his head feels a bit...light.

He mentally scolds himself for having such a ridiculous reaction. He must still have a concussion, and his chakra is regenerating a bit sluggishly today. That must be it. He'd barely recovered half of his reserves, after all.

"I'm sorry, I... I can't seem to do much to stop it…" the Kazekage says, looking regretful.

Sasuke feels his face get uncomfortably warm. Then he feels like an idiot. Like a kid.

"Hn. It's helping. So."

Sasuke wasn't used to caring what he said. Especially not these days, when he cared about so little. He'd always just said what he thought no matter how anyone else felt about it, but for some reason with the Kazekage he finds himself a bit…hesitant? More thoughtful? Sasuke has no idea, he just knows it annoys him greatly. Why the hell couldn't he function?

He's been wracking his brain for weeks trying to figure this out, and all it's gotten him are more questions and frustration. 

Gaara blinks at him, silent for a moment, "Oh. I'm glad. That's...good."

He realizes he hasn't seen so much expression from Gaara before. 

He was usually pretty blank, but then again...if you looked closely and paid attention, you could clearly see his personality and little quirks coming through. Like how his eyes crinkled when he was amused, or the small, barely there smile he gave sometimes. He tilted his head in a way that distinctly reminded Sasuke of the red pandas that he often came across in the forests during his travels.

But it's not like Sasuke's thought about this a lot or anything.

Sasuke feels a flash of frustration. What the hell were these thoughts?! How the hell did he make them stop? What was wrong with him? He usually ignored everything, but he found himself noticing things about the Kazekage of all people. 

Irritating.

"You look uncomfortable. I'll leave." Gaara says suddenly, turning to go. Shinki whines and reaches for him, and he picks up the child and hugs him close while he snuggles into his father's arms, the comforting scent seemingly lulling him to sleep.

Sasuke feels a distinct sense of loss as Gaara turns to excuse himself.

Sasuke frowns, "This is your room. If anything I should leave."

"You're the injured one." Gaara argues. Sasuke doesn't know what to say to that.

They stare at each other for a long moment, in silence. They stay like that for longer than either would admit, just picking apart the emotions in each other's eyes, unsure what to do.

"Fine." Sasuke concedes, moment breaking slightly, "But you still don't have to leave."

Was that odd to say? Sasuke didn't know what he was fucking doing. 

This feels like dangerous new territory, like he's wandering around a dimension he's never visited before. 

He guessed this was one reason why he had no friends other than Naruto. Usually he didn't care, but he found himself wishing he was better at communicating when he spoke to Gaara. He wasn't sure why though. Sasuke feels like he's missing something important and right in front of his face, but he's too blind to see it.

And that was endlessly frustrating. 

"Okay." Gaara says. He pauses for a moment before he asks, "Are you still in pain?"

Sasuke nods. It was a dull throb again, and if Gaara left he's sure the scent he'd leave in the room would be enough to soothe him for a few hours at least, but...

"Then I...will just keep doing what I'm doing, then." The Kazekage says. Shinki huffs in his sleep, fidgeting slightly in Gaara's arms, oblivious to the adults.

Sasuke feels himself inwardly sigh in relief.

"You left the books."

"I did." Gaara says, "Did you like any?"

"A few, yeah."

"Whenever you're well enough feel free to find the mansion's library. There are more selections there."

"A library…"

"I take it it's been a while since you've visited one."

Sasuke takes another deep breath, relaxing further. 

"The last was in the Hidden Waterfall." He says, "Though that was a bookshop, not a library."

"Was there nothing there that interested you?"

"No, not particularly."

Gaara adjusts Shinki, "That's too bad. Hopefully the library has better options for you."

They talk a little more about the books until Sasuke feels the pull of sleep tugging at him and then Sasuke has finished his food and Shinki wakes and sleepily asks him more innocently prying questions (while Gaara looks on, smiling lightly) before they all retire to bed and the apartment goes dark.

The thought hits him in the middle of the night. If he's in Gaara's bed, where is Gaara sleeping?

On the fifth night he finds out, because in his tired stumbling he accidentally nudges open Shinki's room door instead of the bathroom. Gaara is curled up with his son, the both of them slumbering softly. Shinki clutches at his father's sleep shirt, stirring briefly before settling. He's never seen Gaara without his coat, and he's a bit surprised at how small he really is. Gaara usually exuded such a quietly powerful energy that made him look... bigger. At least, that's what Sasuke thought. But here...

Sasuke closes the door, unwilling to disturb them further.

He remembers the few times he got to tuck Sarada in, and he feels distinctly lonely for the rest of the night.




Sasuke is in Gaara's home for two weeks while his chakra replenishes itself.

He reads. 

Books appear at his bedside. He knows it's Gaara because the volumes smell like him, but he picks through them and gathers a few he's interested in. Gaara leaves him piles of selections to choose from while the Kazekage is working during the day. The apartment is quiet without Gaara and his son, but Sasuke mostly just sleeps and reads, so it's fine. His chakra regeneration starts to pick up at around the seventh day, gathering momentum and replenishing quicker with every passing day after that, and he avoids thinking about having to go back to Konoha and report to Naruto after this.

Sasuke recovers, thinks himself in frustrated circles about the Sand's Kazekage and reads.




When he's well enough to leave, he finds Gaara handing him a bento and his pack filled with slim novels and scrolls for him to read on his journey back to the Leaf for his debriefings. He'd gotten several letters from Naruto over the past two weeks, and he knew he could only stall for so long. He couldn't avoid it forever, no matter how much he never wanted to see that place again.

Sasuke looks back at Suna and feels a strange sense of loss.

Chapter Text

Naruto looks up when he enters, blue eyes widening in obvious surprise.

"You're back! You okay? I got a letter from Gaara and he said you got hurt."

Sasuke tosses him the scroll. He's scribbled his report on it as he made his way back to Konoha. It was one way to get his mind off of the fact that he was headed somewhere he hated for the millionth time. 

"I'm fine."

"You sure? He was really mad, yanno?" Naruto frowns, opening the scroll and skimming the contents, "He totally yelled at me for sending you out there…"

"Did he."

Sasuke feels...he doesn't know. Why would Gaara care about his wellbeing? What could Sasuke offer him, especially since Gaara asked for nothing in return? All Sasuke did was take the man's bed from him for two weeks and eat his food. 

But...he wasn't too surprised that Gaara ripped into Naruto for this. He remembers the dark look that crossed the Kazekage's face when he learned that Naruto ordered him to scout out the desert. Even Sasuke could see the man's concern and confusion as to why Naruto would have him out there.

And well...Gaara was selfless. What else could he call it? He gave up his bed for Sasuke and made sure to...take care of him.  Gave him the books that were in his pack right now, even.

But why? Sasuke couldn't figure that part out.

"He hasn't been that angry at me in a long time. Since I showed up on the battlefield during the war." He says, looking troubled, "You okay?"

"I already said I'm fine."

Naruto sighs, "Okay, okay. Just...makin' sure, I guess."

Sasuke hovers by the door as Naruto skims his report once more. The silence is deafening and Sasuke wants nothing more than to not be here right now, but he holds steady and tries not to look at Naruto, sitting behind that desk and looking so unrecognizable. 

Once upon a time they knew how to speak to each other, but now...

Maybe Sasuke should be saddened at how they ended up. How everything ended up. How they both are tools of the corrupt system that left them so broken as children, and now as adults.

Sasuke can't feel anything anymore. Maybe it's better that way.

Naruto sets the scroll aside, "We took the prisoner off Suna's hands. It's not really smart for them to keep a dangerous alpha under lockdown, no matter how badly you crippled him. So he's in Konoha's prison instead. Here's the report on him if you wanna see it."

Sasuke takes the file and flips it open, only mildly interested. The photograph of the Ototsuki is a bit blurry, but he can see the state of the man isn't much better than the last time Sasuke saw him before he passed out in the desert. He's slightly bloodier, though. And he's...missing an eye. 

Sasuke's brows furrow in confusion. He doesn't remember blinding him...

"Who took his eye out?" Sasuke asks, putting the file back on Naruto's desk.

The Hokage frowns, "Gaara, actually. Crazy bastard tried to bite him."

Something in Sasuke stirs at that. Something angry and dark.

"--went crazy when Gaara, Kankuro and the Sand's ANBU showed up and tried to restrain him. He was really weakened, thanks to you, but he made one last ditch effort to attack Gaara." Naruto says, "Honestly, I have a reason to yell at Gaara too. He let him get close on purpose and stabbed him in the eye."

"On purpose." Sasuke mutters, frowning. Sasuke entertains the thought of talking to Gaara about that too. 

"Yeah. He's too reckless sometimes. He's just better at hiding it, yanno?" Naruto sighs, looking annoyed, "That's why I didn't want him fighting whoever was out there. If he was forcibly bonded..."

Sasuke feels something like rage churn in his gut.

"Crazy bastard tried to bite him."

"I've always wanted a human omega." The man had said, "I hear they break so easily."

"Well, whatever. The guy didn't get the chance. Good thing Gaara's fast, but still..." Naruto mutters.

Naruto looks at him curiously for a moment, pausing. 

"You smell like him, by the way." He says, brows furrowing, "Your scent's all mingled with his. It's weird."

Sasuke shrugs, unwilling to talk about it. It wasn't anyone's business but his own.

And maybe...Suna was a place he wanted to keep for himself. Why did Naruto need to know every little thing in his life, anyway? Sasuke didn't know everything about his. As soon as Naruto got married he'd been shut out, regulated to the background while the man played happy and domestic husband and complacent leader of a child-soldier factory that he called a village.

The silence is awkward and long and Naruto clearly feels uncomfortable, but Sasuke doesn't feel inclined to say anything. What did it matter? It seemed like Naruto hardly listened to him most of the time anyway. 

"Uh, okay. Well...Orochimaru has a scroll for me. Do you mind?" Naruto asks after a moment, "It's an easy enough mission since you're still recovering."

Sasuke's body locks up at the mention of the Sannin. The bottom of his stomach drops and he suddenly feels nauseous. 

He takes the scroll and says nothing. If he opens his mouth he'll vomit, he's sure.

"I know you don't like him but you know," Naruto sighs, shrugging, "He has information that could help the village, and the elders insisted, so…"

The elders.

Sasuke turns and leaves without another word. He doesn't know what makes him feel more sickened - the prospect of having to see the man or Naruto's excuses and complacency.




Sasuke never told anyone what Orochimaru did to him. It was a disgusting, sick and dark secret he kept to himself. His own secret shame. What would anyone even say? That it was his fault for going to him in the first place? Sasuke already knew that.

And really, he'd rather die than tell anyone how the Sannin had routinely pinned him down and invaded him as he whispered in his ear about his "training". Sasuke didn't even want to remember. If he could tear the memories from his brain he would in a heartbeat, but he was still suffering flashbacks to this day.

Flashbacks like the one he's having now, having left Naruto's office and made a beeline for the forest outside the village.

Fucking sharingan remembered everything. The first time the man had wrestled him to the ground and stripped him he was sure his sharingan would evolve, and he's honestly still surprised it hadn't.

He grits his teeth and clenched his fist, trying to breathe. His lungs protest from lack of air, and he can only gasp for a few precious breaths before he stumbles against a tree and has to close his eyes and try to focus.

He forces the nausea to the back of his mind and feels himself disconnect in that way he longed for in the moment, and he straightens, curses his own weakness and keeps moving.




Orochimaru's lair was as dark and ominous as anyone would expect. The winding corridors were easy to get lost in, but Sasuke spent years here once upon a time, so he finds his way around with a practiced ease that makes him a bit angry now. He still remembered this horrible place so well. 

Sasuke fucking hated it here.

He finds Suigetsu not too far into the lair, cleaning his sword and so absorbed in his weapon that Sasuke has to clear his throat to get the man's attention. 

He looks up from his sword at last and smirks in the dim light.

"Oh. Sasuke. You're still alive." Suigetsu snarks, "Been a while."

"It has."

Seigetsu looks at him for a moment, curious.

"What."

"You smell different."

"I don't know what you mean." Sasuke says, eyes narrowing. Suigetsu rolls his eyes.

"Where is he."

"Down the hall." Suigetsu says, used to Sasuke's blunt nature. They were on a team and travelled together for a few months. Taka was short lived, but they knew each other's habits, even still.

Sasuke turns and leaves him without a word, wanting to get this over with. He hasn't seen the man since after the war, and he never wanted to see him again, but Sasuke very rarely got what he wanted. Once upon a time Naruto did everything he could to keep Sasuke from Orochimaru. And now he was sending him to the Sannin. 

Time changes things, he's learned. Not always for the better.

The room is dark when he steps inside, only a few candles flickering, giving the place a very dim glow. The figure in the corner meditating is undoubtedly Orochimaru, but Sasuke doesn't spare him a glance. His skin crawls just being in the same room with the man.

"Ah. Sasuke." 

The voice is slimy and smooth. Sasuke barely tampers down the urge to flinch. 

"I'm here for a scroll. Do you have it." He says, refusing to take his eyes off the door. His skin itched as soon as he stepped foot in this place, and he wanted to leave as soon as possible. He had no intention of making small talk with his former "sensei".

No. Not sensei. Teachers didn't do what he did to Sasuke. Tormentor, more like.

It was a very small mercy that he wasn't in the room where it happened. 

The figure stands and his footsteps echo in the emptiness of the space, getting closer to the tense man standing in the middle of the room. 

A hand reaches toward him and Sasuke dodges it like it's a burning metal rod trying to brand him. His heart leaps into his throat and his instincts kick in all at once in a desperate flurry of thoughts and panic, though he makes an effort to keep his expression even. 

Hands wandering down his body as he shook and screamed. Wet, cold, relentlessly cruel fingers twisting inside of him until it was replaced with something hot and large, far too big for his small body. His cheek pressed against the cold floor. This wasn't his body. It didn't belong to him. He screamed and it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt

Sasuke draws his sword and levels it at the man's throat, " Don't touch me."

"Still so hostile, Sasuke?" The snake grins, and Sasuke feels a bit sicker at the lecherous expression thrown his way. Like all those years ago, when he made a pastime of ruining Sasuke's body with his own.

"Do you have the scroll or not?" He snaps, his fraying nerves breaking. The man was too close and Sasuke couldn't breathe - old memories bubbling to the surface. Memories he'd tried to hard to push to the back of his mind on the way here. He hated Naruto for sending him here. He hated himself for not being able to refuse his closest friend, even though everything about their relationship was broken-

He hated it here, and he hates the fact that he's started to tremble even more. He grips his sword tighter, trying not to give himself away.

Sasuke could decapitate the monster right here, but...he'd only be hunted by Konoha for it. They'd use any reason to make him an enemy of the state again. Especially the elders that Naruto now worked so closely with. The village kept Orochimaru in its back pocket, and Sasuke could hardly believe that he'd been pardoned for his crimes simply because he was useful. He's considered it so many times, just coming back here and finishing the job, but he'd be branded a traitor all over again, and... Sarada still lived in the village. His child.

He couldn't do anything to jeopardize his daughter. She was an innocent child who had the misfortune of being his child. Sasuke couldn't make things hard for her, and it was already lucky that the fact that he was hardly around meant that she wasn't likely to be discriminated against in the village despite having the Uchiha name.

(But a small voice - thick with self-hatred and loathing - suggests that Sasuke is the same as his old mentor. A monster that Konoha kept in the basement that they let loose to do their bidding when he was useful. When he had something to give them in return for his freedom…)

"So mean. " The man pouts mockingly, "And after all the fun we've had…"

Sasuke's stomach turns and he stomps down the urge to gag as the Sannin chuckles. His stomach goes hot in rage and he can't hold his tongue.

"I was twelve, you disgusting bastard."

Sasuke wants to kill him. He wants to tear into him so badly, make him feel a modicum of the agony Sasuke felt as he held him down and destroyed his mind further.

"And yet you delivered yourself to me." Orochimaru shrugs, smile never wavering, "You walked in here of your own volition, did you not?"

Sasuke's rage is snuffed out like a candle. It's replaced with nausea that's so much stronger than before.

He's right. He's right, isn't he? Sasuke did it to himself. He clenches his jaw and swallows, heart pounding. His own fault.

His own fault.

"Do you have the scroll or not."

The parcel is tossed to him and he only catches it because he's so on guard around this monster of a man that his reflexes have been set alight and cranked up to a million. 

He turns to leave and tries not to feel like he's fleeing. 

Sasuke can feel Orochimaru's eyes on his back.





Sasuke makes it a few few miles away before he doubles over and throws up onto the grass. He shivers and gasps, though the air is warm and the sun is shining.

The birds chirp happily, and he can't help but feel like even they're mocking him.




He spends the next day with his stomach turning and he finds himself unable to eat for days after that. The only thing that brings any sort of relief are the books the Kazekage gave him, the omega's scent still on the pages.

Sasuke wonders what that means.

Chapter Text

Sasuke spirals for days. Flashbacks assault him at every turn, and in the end he chooses to just send the scroll to Naruto via his hawk. He couldn't handle being in Konoha on top of everything else right now. 

Garuda is a dutiful bird, arriving within minutes of being summoned, and he feels only a bit better after petting the bird for a moment before letting it soar back into the sky, the encrypted scroll tied to her leg.

Sasuke attempts to eat that day, but he feels sick whenever he takes a bite of the onigiri he's packed, so he wraps it back up and tries to breathe through the sudden nausea before he decides what he wants to do and where he wants to go next. At least until he's given another mission.




Sasuke finds himself in Suna a day later. 

Something about the sand soothes him now, and he found himself making his way there with very little thought on his part. It's just where his body takes him.

The ANBU bow to him at the gates, like they were expecting him. Sasuke isn't sure what to do with that, and he simply makes his way to the Kazekage mansion, too tired to act like he's here for any other reason. Besides, he did have the man's books to return.

Right. The books. That's why he's here, in the Kazekage mansion, walking through the door to Gaara's office once more. 

The place has become familiar to him, and the scent of the omega isn't a surprise any longer. If anything, he was able to trace the man by his scent now, and it led him here. As usual.

Gaara's at his desk, a scene he's seen so many times before. The familiarity is a welcome relief from the discomfort he's been living in for the past few days. He feels as if his skin is too tight - like it fits wrong, like it's suffocating - and he knows it's stress, but the familiar potted plants lining the windowsills and the pale clay buildings if the village help ground him, in an odd way.

Eyes settle on the familiar face of the Kazekage and Sasuke feels that desperate need to run and rip his skin from his bones edging away, bit by bit.

He's so tired, and Gaara smells so nice -

"Sasuke." He smiles, "I was wondering when you'd come back. How are you?"

For some reason, Sasuke thought that...maybe...Gaara could see that Sasuke didn't want to leave. The Uchiha knew he looked wild and troubled, and that desperate melancholy that was usually was so buried in his eyes was so plain and raw now. It was on the surface. Sasuke begins to tremble, just a bit as his headache grows worse for a moment. 

"I…" 

He has no idea what to say. Sasuke can't think, suddenly. The relief of being someplace he didn't hate and the exhaustion of the last few days war with each other in his mind, and he isn't sure what to do with Gaara's concern.

Why did Gaara care anyway? Why was he so warm toward Sasuke? What could he offer him? He couldn't even offer Sakura anything, and she obsessed over him for years.

He wonders if he needs help. He wonders if feeling like this is normal. If zoning out for days on end simply because he didn't care about anything was something everyone did. He wonders if everyone had the flashbacks and the feeling that it all amounted to nothing in the end. 

But Sasuke is Sasuke and Sasuke doesn't ask for help, so  when Gaara gives him a quiet once over and his eyes go warm and worried, he has no idea what to make of it or how to say that he just needed a quiet place to not feel like he's drowning for a while.

"Are you alright?" Gaara asks, standing. His scent goes strong and sweet again, the same display as when Sasuke's arm ached when he was recovering in Gaara's bed. Something raw, lonely, tired and longing inside Sasuke reaches for Gaara and that scent that makes him feel so... settled. 

That painful tangle in his chest loosens just a bit, and Sasuke has no idea what look is in his eyes, but it's clearly pained enough to make the Kazekage's body react to his own once again.

"I…" Sasuke trails off again, at a loss for words. He's too tired to explain how drawn and worn he feels, his shoulders just sag and he barely represses a sigh. The last few days have been so exhausting and he hasn't been eating well either, which just makes him even more fatigued and weary. He still feels slightly sick.

"Yeah." Sasuke says, unable to think of anything else to say. His migraine worsens as the seconds tick by.

"Convincing." Gaara deadpans - not unkindly, just disbelieving. 

Sasuke is quiet for a beat, before he speaks again.

"Had to collect a scroll from Orochimaru." Sasuke says dully, "I don't like him. Obviously. That's all. Just a little tired."

He isn't sure why he tells him. Sasuke's nature was to keep things to himself. But he finds himself too tired to lie to Gaara. 

He must be more worn out than he thought.

Gaara's face twists in confusion for a fraction of a second before he frowns, "Orochimaru - hasn't he been imprisoned?"

Now it's Sasuke's turn to be confused. That is, until he remembers that while their Kage are friends, that doesn't mean all intel between Suna and Konoha were shared. It couldn't be. They were two completely different countries with two different councils, laws, interests and rules of confidentiality. The villages didn't share all their policies and relations. That's not how it worked, age of peace or not.

Sasuke doesn't know what to say.

"Sasuke…" Gaara's face goes serious and dark, "Are you saying that Orochimaru is still roaming about free somewhere."

It's not a question.

Sasuke grits his teeth and again has no clue what to say. 

It turns out he doesn't have to say anything. His silence says it all. Gaara's expression darkens further and the Kazekage looks furious for a split second before his face goes carefully blank again.

"And Naruto knows of this, I assume." Gaara says, though it's still not a question - because he knows the answer already, "And he sent you there."

Sasuke is silent and he finds himself unable to look at the silently furious omega. He stares at the stack of books by Gaara's desk.

"An asset to Konoha, I suppose."

Gaara frowns and take another good look at Sasuke's face, green eyes calculating and observing Sasuke's obvious discomfort before he nods. 

"Excuse me." 

Gaara leaves the room and Sasuke is left standing there and wondering if he just did something very, very wrong.

When he returns a few long moments later Sasuke is staring at the wall, completely disassociated and zoned out, and he only barely notices Gaara saying something to him a soft voice that can't quite cut through the haze of his weariness. He doesn't catch it, but he can't refocus, and all he feels is Gaara taking his arm and leading him down a few hallways. The route is familiar as well.

That's all he remembers of that day, and he wakes the next morning in Gaara's bed once more.




He wakes in time for the steam from the plate of breakfast Gaara's left by his bedside to still be rising, and he shakes off the lethargy and confusion and realizes that at some point yesterday Gaara's given up his bed for Sasuke again. 

The Kazekage is nowhere to be found, but Sasuke knows he's already in his office. He's learned enough of Gaara's routine from the time he was recovering here to understand that the Kazekage woke early and confined himself to his office to work for a few hours before he collected Shinki from Kankuro later in the day.

Sasuke wakes to the sun soaking the desert in yellow and the sunlight streaming in through the windows. He takes a deep breath and feels more settled than he has in days. Gaara's scent has a lot to do with it, he knows that now.

He slowly sits up, eyes roaming familiar walls and plants. The succulent on the windowsill has sprouted a small, red flower since he was here last.

Sasuke takes a second to steady himself, and he feels his chakra realign before he starts to eat and fully wake up. He guesses he needed sleep more than he thought. 

That was the best he's slept in days.

He finishes the steaming food left for him, and then he finally stands, feeling settled. Sasuke grabs his cloak and sword,  - left by the door for him - and he makes his way out of the room.




Gaara is in his office behind his desk again, dealing with what looks like double the paperwork from yesterday.

He looks up from the document he's absorbed in when Sasuke enters, pausing his work and observing the Uchiha.

"You're awake. Are you feeling better?"

Gaara doesn't look at him with any judgement or pity, only curiosity. 

And that helps in a way Sasuke can't articulate. He nods.

"Thank you. I...guess I was more tired than I thought." He says, feeling something that may be shame anyway, whether Gaara judged him or not. 

Embarrassment? 

Either way, he doesn't like the fact that the Kazekage saw him like that. So...disconnected from everything. Hell, he barely remembers anything after telling Gaara about Orochimaru. 

Sasuke needs to get ahold of himself. 

"Travelling is draining, I'm sure." Gaara says, and Sasuke is thankful he makes no mention of the obvious breakdown he had the day before.

He nods, taking in the papers Gaara holds in his hands. Being Kazekage didn't look any less stressful, in his opinion.

Then he remembers something else.

"I have your books." He says, taking them from his pack and handing them back, "Thank you."

"Of course." The Kazekage says, "Feel free to take more, if you want."

If he does, he has an excuse to come back. Well, that and he did enjoy the books rather thoroughly. 

But he also supposed that Gaara would accept him back even without the excuse of returning his literature and scrolls.

He nods, "Any recommendations?"

Gaara gives him a small smile, "I might have some. I'll see what I can find."

He suddenly remembers his last conversation with Naruto as the omega walks over to the bookshelf and scans the spines of the books and scrolls.

"Naruto told me that he almost bit you." Sasuke says, "The Otsotsuki."

Gaara's face takes on a slightly stunned expression, and he looks surprised that it's been brought up until he goes carefully blank again and turns back to the shelves.

"Yes, he...attempted to." He says, "Though he obviously didn't succeed. I used the opportunity to wound him further."

So Naruto was right. Gaara did let the crazy alpha get close on purpose.

"You shouldn't be so reckless." Sasuke says, "He could've bonded you."

Gaara sighs, "I've already been lectured by Kankuro. Then Temari."

"Still." Sasuke tells him, "You should be more careful. There was no guarantee that would work. What if he wasn't fazed or he couldn't feel pain? What if he pushed through even after you stabbed him and he still bit you?"

Gaara frowns, "Hm. I guess I wasn't thinking of that. I'm...aware I'm by no means the strongest, but I think I can handle one wounded, crazed maniac."

Sasuke doesn't particularly like how blasé Gaara was about this, but he holds his tongue and simply frowns at the unbothered redhead.

If he was bonded by the Otsotsuki, he'd be tethered to him for life, and he would definitely end up forced to bear the man's children and wear his mark. And yet Gaara didn't seem particularly fazed at all.

Gaara gives him a slightly amused look, "Fine. I'll be more careful. Is that what you'd like to hear?"

"Hn. Better than nothing, I guess." Sasuke says, catching sight of the volumes in Gaara's hands, "I'm guessing you have a new book for me?" Sasuke says knowingly, hand extended towards the Kazekage.

Gaara considered him for a moment, their eyes meeting briefly. The redhead hands him a few small books, not much thicker than the last ones Sasuke finished.

"I think you'll enjoy these."

"And what are they?"

"One is Philosophy. The other is fantasy. The scroll is a collection of poetry."

"Hn. Well, it should be better than the last one."

Gaara just blinks at him, a hint of a smile on his lips and his hands clasped behind his back, "Do you not like haikus, Sasuke?"

"They're not my favorite, at least not what I've read so far." 

Gaara gives him a pointed look, "I'll be sure to work on finding more poetry you're sure to like, then."

"Hn. Don't let me down." Sasuke says.

The small smile feels foreign on his face, but it's definitely there.




When he leaves he feels a bit more steady, and less like his skin is constantly crawling.

Sasuke wishes he had a word for this feeling, but he doesn't. Not yet, at least.




When he returns two weeks later to return it, he's greeted by an empty office and an assistant who seems to be gathering some of the papers on the Kazekage's desk. She looks up when he enters, and Sasuke pauses and blinks at her. 

"Where's Gaara?" He asks, eyes scanning the office. The Kazekage is nowhere to be found, but his scent is strong and lingering. He obviously hasn't been gone long.

"Lord Kazekage is in his heat chambers." She says, "Unfortunately he'll be unable to speak with anyone for a few days. Can I help you with something?"

Sasuke doesn't know why he feels like he's been smacked in the head. Omegas had heats every two months, usually for a week at a time. Of course Gaara would be the same.

But still, something in Sasuke darkens at that. Was someone in the room with him? Was someone helping him through his heat right now? If so, who were they? Were they the same person who had Shinki with him?

And why does Sasuke want to ram his sword through their throat?

"If you need to speak with him you can leave a message and come back in a week." She offers helpfully.

Sasuke nods and leaves without a word, mood soured. It occurs to him that he could leave the books on his desk, or with the assistant, but he would rather hand them back himself, in person. 

He gets no letter from Naruto, which only means he doesn't have a mission, so he spends his time travelling and trying not to think about Gaara in heat and most likely with someone Sasuke's never met. 

He stops at a tea shop on the border of the Land of Rice Paddies and tries not to snap at the waitress who gets a bit too close to him. Her smile is wide and she sidled up to his side, voice going annoyingly sweet and cloying. 

Irritating.

She tries to make small talk with him, and Sasuke's one word answers and non-committal grunts only seem to spur her on further. He leaves once she starts giggling and fluttering her eyelashes at him, abandoning the idea of having his tea quietly, like he planned.

Another thought strikes him. If Gaara was spending his heats with someone, why didn't they bond him? Shouldn't Gaara have a mating mark? 

With no idea where the thought comes from, he can't stop thinking about it. 

Unless Shinki was adopted…

The child had the same powers as Gaara, though. What were the odds that Gaara didn't have him himself?

Sasuke spends the rest of the day weighing the points in his head, unsure what to think. Thinking about Gaara in heat becomes what his brain fixates on, and he partially blames his instincts for that.

Even still, the thoughts don't leave him, and he finds himself not even noticing time going by. It's been a week before he knows it, and he receives a letter from Gaara saying that he's available to see Sasuke now, if he wanted to come by again. 

Sasuke feels an odd sense of satisfaction at Gaara reaching out to him first, and he begins to make his way to the Sand once more.




Gaara smells different. Not too much, just a bit stronger and warmer, but he doesn't scent anyone else on the omega. Which confuses Sasuke further. Did he spend his heat alone? 

He would ask, but despite not being too social even Sasuke knows that would be inappropriate. Personal, even. Sasuke made a point to spend his ruts alone, was Gaara the same?

Gaara is at his desk writing up a document when he enters, totally immersed in his work though he looks up when he senses Sasuke lingering by the doorway. 

"Oh, Sasuke. Hello." 

The Uchiha nods at him, taking in how tired the omega looks. Heats were exhausting, so he's heard. The Kazekage still looks flushed and somewhat dazed, green eyes slightly unfocused and dark circles a bit more prominent.

"I'm sorry I was... indisposed when you came by last." He says.

"You look tired."

"The last few days have been...somewhat exhausting." he says, glancing back at the documents on his desk, "But I'll be fine."

"I've heard."

Sasuke stares for a moment, taking in how Gaara's hair is still a bit ruffled. It's not much, but he notices.

Then he snaps out of it, remembering why he's here.

"I have your books." Sasuke says, opening his pack and taking out the volumes, handing them over. Gaara reaches for them and Sasuke tries to ignore how warm Gaara's fingers are against his own for a split second.

"How did you like them?"

"The poetry wasn't my favorite, but I liked the short stories." Sasuke tells him, "The fantasy ones are a bit far-fetched, but not bad."

Gaara gives him a small smile, "Everything you've seen and done and fantasies are still far-fetched?"

Sasuke scoffs, "Everything I've seen and lived through has been equally as ridiculous."

He hears Gaara laugh for the first time. It's not loud, nor boisterous, but a small chuckle. Sasuke feels strangely blindsided all over again.

"That's fair." The Kazekage tells him, "If you'd like to see the library, I can show you. I'm aware you didn't get to see it the last time you were here."

"Thank you." 

Gaara rises and Sasuke is immediately overwhelmed by the warmth of his scent as he brushes past Sasuke and towards the door. He shakes himself out of it quickly enough to follow without faltering.

The corridors of the mansion wind in seemingly confusing circles, but Sasuke is able to easily memorize the way, following Gaara closely. The assistants they come across bow to the Kazekage as he passes and Gaara waves at them to stand and be at ease, greeting them politely before continuing down the hallway. 

One man freezes as Gaara crosses him before bowing, his back stiff. He's muscled and his shoulders are scarred, a clear sign of a shinobi. His hair is messy and tied back in a small bun, and he clearly scents Gaara as soon as he comes close, nostrils flaring.

Sasuke knows he's an alpha as soon as he sees him.

"Lord Gaara." He says, sounding strained.

"Hello, Shira." Gaara says, "Are you well?"

The man straightens and his eyes quickly roam Gaara's body for a second too long, his fists clenching as he nods.

"Yes. I'm well. And you?"

"Fine, thank you." 

Gaara doesn't notice how the man stares at him, that dark look in his eyes as his pupils dilate. The man - Shira - inhales deeply, obviously savoring the scent of the Kazekage as he passes.

Sasuke sort of wants to punch him. The other alpha swallows thickly, and Gaara's too preoccupied with finding his way down the hall to notice that the man has turned to follow them, obviously inhaling his Kazekage's scent that smells like warmth and post-heat.

"Lord Gaara, I meant to ask you about the plans for the dojo in the square…"

"Ah, yes. I'm sure Kankuro could help you with any inquiries you have." Gaara says, turning to look at him, "Since he's heading up the project. I have little to do with it, I'm afraid."

Sasuke bristles, annoyed. 

This Shira guy was too close - hovering around the Kazekage like a wet blanket. His scent immediately puts Sasuke off.

The scent of an all too interested alpha. Sasuke's gotten so used to Gaara's scent that this guy's was a rude surprise to his senses, and Sasuke immediately hated it. It felt wrong. 

"Yes sir, but I was hoping that - "

Sasuke doesn't even hear the rest of his sentence, gritting his teeth and trying to resist strangling whoever this alpha was. He nudges closer to Gaara and in front of Sasuke, and that only makes Sasuke want to throttle him all the more. 

"I understand. We can have a council meeting about it later."

"Ah, well... the council is busy, I'm certain. We can talk it over ourselves - just the two of us, I'm sure? Over some sake, perhaps? There's a very nice curry restaurant nearby and I'm sure I-"

Yeah, Sasuke doesn't like this guy. He misses the rest of the conversation because all he hears is his blood rushing in his ears. Gaara says something and the man bows and leaves, clearly hesitating like he wants to think of something else to keep Gaara's attention on him. Eventually he stops hovering and Sasuke is finally glaring at the man's retreating back. 

Finally.

Gaara sighs, clearly troubled.

"Who is that." Sasuke grits out, trying not to sound as pissed off as he feels.

"Takahami Shira." Gaara says, then he looks a bit regretful, "He's...not the best at...keeping our relationship professional, but he's a...dedicated associate."

'Yeah, I bet', Sasuke thinks bitterly.

He guesses he should have expected this, seeing as Gaara smells as...agreeable as he does currently, but he doesn't like the fact that he didn't seem to get the hint that Gaara wasn't particularly interested.

Unless...was he?

Sasuke didn't like that thought either. Maybe Gaara's scent was making him a little crazy. 

But…No, Gaara looked more exasperated than anything.

"He should know not to approach you so casually." Sasuke says, trying not to sound completely peeved.

Gaara leads him through another arched doorway, into a small but grand library.

"Kankuro says so as well. I don't wish to be rude, so I simply try to avoid the topic altogether..." Gaara says, "And here is the library. Feel free to pick anything you like."

Sasuke - still silently fuming from the brush with the other alpha - observes the titles lined against the shelves, along with the scrolls placed on the tables alongside them. He looks through the books, but he can't fully focus on them, or how quietly peaceful the library is. 

He didn't like the look of that alpha. He was too pushy, too... Sasuke doesn't know. 

He makes a mental note to keep an eye on him, whoever he is.

Gaara's called away for a meeting, but he promises to return to the library as soon as he can, and Sasuke nods and watches Gaara leave, his eyes on the Kazekage's retreating form.

He wasn't shocked that the alpha was interested in the redhead, he just... didn't like the look of him. How his eyes looked Gaara up and down like he was a piece of meat, or something similar. Sasuke was wary and suspicious of the dark look in his eyes as he looked at the omega.

Shira, huh?

Hn.

He doesn't notice how much time passes, but he has a small stack of books on one of the many tables by the time he hears someone approach and clear their throat.

He turns to see Kankuro leaning against the doorway, arms folded. His face is painted again, and Sasuke realizes he hasn't seen the man with his makeup on in a while.

He's about to ask where Gaara is, but the man speaks before he gets the chance.

"So how pissed is Naruto?" The puppeteer asks, eyebrows raised.

Sasuke frowns, "What?"

"About Orochimaru?" He says, looking at Sasuke like he's an idiot, "How mad is he?"

"About…?"

"The Sand arresting him?" Kankuro says, "I mean, I figured he'd be furious."

Arrest? What?

"Speak plainly." Sasuke says, still annoyed by the alpha from earlier and not in the mood for the puppeteer's guessing games, "What are you talking about?"

"Did Gaara not tell you?"

"He's been in a meeting for the past hour or so." Sasuke says, irritation rising, "What are you talking about?"

Kankuro looks at him like he's especially dull, and Sasuke is about to snap at him again until the man finally says something. 

"Gaara gave the order and had him arrested in his cave in the Hidden Sound this morning." Kankuro shrugs, "On the grounds of murder and several violations of human rights. Guess word hasn't gotten around yet."

Then the man shrugs casually and leaves Sasuke standing in the middle of the Kazekage mansion's library, frozen.