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Gaara could recall the first time he’d seen her.

The hidden sand village praised itself for being calm; for being as serene as the desert it centered, and yet, she’d stepped in through the gates and somehow, all hell had broken loose. She’d been nothing short of noticeable; scantily dressed while everyone sported long, protective robes—she would eventually inform him it was because she wanted to get a tan— with eyes too bright to match the dull ones of the civilians, and a smile too wide to be that of a shinobi.

And yet, with a headband securely wrapped around her slender neck; she’d defiantly proclaimed that she was a kunoichi nonetheless.

She’d warily stepped into his office, her frame small and respectful as she bowed to the title he owned, and his eyes had narrowed in curiosity as she carefully stepped in, offering him a slip of paper; written in heavy black ink was the penmanship of none other than a fellow kage such as himself, informing him that the short female facing him, with bright eyes and a friendly grin, had been chosen as their diplomatic wing to further ally themselves with the power that suna was becoming, following the war.

His eyes dart to her briefly, a polite smile playing at his lips as he welcomes her as best as he can with the very few social customs he and his family had managed to instill within him; she’s not too baffled with his monotone voice and he’s not too baffled with her too friendly demeanor. She listens as he explains and he takes his own turn listening to her; the meeting is brief, mainly to discuss the goals of her stay and the conditions of it, and it’s only a few minutes before she’s out of the door, readying herself to meet with his sister, the one in charge of her stay.

Late at night, his siblings slip into his office with bags of purchased meals and Temari complains about the hyperactive individual who’d been sent to further strengthen her village’s alliance with the sand: “She’s tiring,”;  ”She has so many ideas,”; “She’s got no brakes,”; “She knows what she wants.

Gaara, though having only briefly chatted with the young woman whose name he still ignored, could see how she would withhold these flamboyant qualities.

Days go by, and suna’s changed; even the men who deliver his daily paperwork have taken notice, for it seems the sand is hotter and the sky is bluer; Gaara knows why, for it seemed that the scantily dressed woman in charge of building an extension to the inn by the north has taken his village by storm; yet, when asked, his shoulders simply slump in an unknowing shrug.

Weeks of observation have led him to a singular conclusion; she’s restless, almost as though life had been pressed into the confines of a kunoichi whose name he ignored and whose mannerisms had gathered the attention of the whole of his village; Gaara knew not whether her presence aggravated or amused him more, for seeing her run around the village and dragging along his poor men had chuckles vibrating at his throat, but watching the councilmen gawking at her from atop the kazekage tower had not been too enjoyable.

Gaara knows; he knows too well he should not be setting any attention on this woman who would soon become but a radiant memory in the back of his mind, and yet, ocean eyes seem to follow her around on their own will as she skips about, hair moving along with her as she laughed and giggled, hand clasped onto that of a shinobi who’d become her target for the day; pale lips would often stretch into a smile of admiration as he gazed at her, one that stays even as his brother rushed into his office at the end of the day, claiming things: “Dude, she’s crazy!”; “They finished building the extension in like two days!”; “I guess she gets the work done,”; “She’s driven all of our men crazy, I swear, she’s nuts!

Gaara could only smile in amusement as he listened to his brother, wondering if he should take his own courage into his hands and become one of the men she restlessly tormented; such thoughts make their way out of his lips as he asks his brother for advice, and wide eyes widen even more as the puppeteer questions whether his baby brother has some sort of death wish; the kazekage can only chuckle.

His decision had been made the following day as he watched her yet again, catering to the needs of a senior woman who gripped two large buckets of water and attempted to carry them back to her home; the woman, whose name was still a mystery, rushed to her side, taking hold of the water and bolting in the direction of what she knew to be her home, he watches, as she goes back and forth, carrying buckets of water to the woman’s house repeatedly until every single recipient of the woman’s house is carrying water in it and the large pot at the edge of town needs to be refilled again, he watches, as she stumbles out into the great desert with a shinobi —one that Gaara suspects to be his dear brother— in hopes of traveling to the oasis to carry another supply of water; amused, he can only heave a breath, as he turns back to the piles of paperwork at his side, taking yet another report and beginning to read through it; yet his mind wanders to the very woman who’d caught his attention,  questioning whether or not he would find her as the day would reach its end.

It’s a quarter past nine as he wanders out, arms crossed onto his chest as he watches over the village he’d swore to protect, the lives of the villagers that lie dormant are beneath him and as his eyes wander across, looking for a certain restless ninja, he cannot seem to land on the too-short kimono, neither can he grasp the familiar hue of her hair in the dead of the night; a short breath later, and he takes a seat onto the roof, promising himself to take a break tomorrow to find her and have a taste at the liveliness she seemed to portray.

Yet, from the shadows, almost as though she’d heard his silent plea, he could see her, running back into the village with tenacity, a clone at her side, both carrying large pots of water and running back towards the reserve of the village; his eyes followed her, quickly noticing the few additional pots that seemed to reside there; all full, waiting to be used; tenacity, a concept which Gaara had only recently began to familiarize himself with, had been something he’d always admired, whether it be the tenacity to hold onto one’s dream or, the tenacity to achieve some sort of accomplishment; in silence, he found himself descending the roof on which he stood, his steps concealed as he slowly followed after her and into the deep desert where she expertly made her way to the nearest oasis; her breath uneven as she took a seat beneath the numerous citrus trees.

Gaara, having never been a social butterfly, found himself uncertain of how to make his presence known, and for a while, he simply resigned to watching her in silent wonder; chaotic in the day she was, yet, during the dead of the night, she seemed stilled by the blistering light of the moonlight, her legs crossed as she leaned onto her arms, admiring the stars in a uncharacteristic silence as she drank in the beauty of the desert; a beauty that Gaara had long drank, and long grew to adore, and yet, it seemed that this woman, with skin damp with sweat and eyes brighter than the sky, with a loud voice and unhushed commands, had stolen his attention; a swift howl of the wind awoke him from his trance and before he could stop himself, he stepped further towards the oasis; those bright eyes, ones he’d only witnessed in the hot light of the day, seemed to grow warmer at night, welcoming him as she smiled with genuineness and a grace that only she possessed; “Kazekage-sama!

That short cry of welcome had his heart hammering in ways he could not explain, neither could he understand, and he simply nodded his head before he joined her side; small talk ensued, with questions concerning her stay coming into play and her timid and polite giggles are echoing through the foliage of the trees; similarly, she’d questioned him just as he had her, a playful grin at her lips as she questioned his sanity from having to handle all of that paperwork; he chuckles, and she continues to talk, and she talks a lot, and he listens,  with a small hum or a word thrown every once in a while, and Gaara likes how she talks, how much she talks, because he does not, and he finds himself drawn to her more.

At first, she complains; about the weather, the heat, whatever shyness had first been present is now a forgotten memory, she claims sand is everywhere, she finds it in her hair, in her pockets, in her underwear, and he’s silent and unresponsive, and she’s not expecting a reaction from him at all; he feels at ease.

Then, she talks; freely, limitlessly, she talks about what she wants to achieve, what she wants to do with her life, she tells him how she wants to travel around the world, she speaks of a land, the land of the moon, she tells him she wants to go there first, she giggles and laughs, and tells him her dreams are silly, and he shakes his head, claiming he would love to see the world too, for he has yet to even see the ocean, and she gawks as she tells him she’ll take him someday; and he tells her he’d love to, only he cannot, for he has duty and he has leadership. A frown adorns her lips and she promises to visit those places for him; suddenly, he feels warm, too warm.

At last, she yawns and she grumbles and suddenly, the attention is all on him, and he’s supposed to be speaking, and so, following pattern, he complains too; about how his wrist hurts because of all the paperwork, and she giggles, but he takes it back, claiming that the small pain is worth it because this village has become as prosperous as it is thanks to him, and she’s touched, her eyes are swelling with tears and Gaara is afraid; has he pained or frightened her in some way? But she never leaves, so he assumes they’re not tears of pain, nor of fright, but of admiration. His heart, one he believed to be dead for so long, is beating soundly in his chest and he’s certain she can hear it; but she can’t, because she’s by his side, her head is pressed to his shoulder and her eyes are shut, she’s fallen asleep.

She wakes up as the sun appears from the ground in the horizon; her lips are blue from the cold and she’s questioning where she is; she’s quickly turning red as she sees him and he’s curious, eyes are blown and he’s expecting answers and she’s simply giggling at his reaction as she lifts herself from the sand, dusts herself and prepares herself to leave, informing him that this would be her last day in the sand and she’d be leaving home the upcoming night; his throat burns and his eyes fall and quickly, before she has the time to escape, he’s beckoning her to join him for dinner, to which she simply nods with a knowing gaze; his heart is not at ease.

The whole day, he cannot think of anything but her departure; his thoughts are wavering and his mind is not there and Temari notices, she grows worried and thinks about postponing her own journey to the leaf but he shakes his head, assuring her everything will be alright; but her eyebrows are furrowed and she speaks to Kankuro, and he, just as his sister, is uncertain of why their brother would be feeling uneasy.

Night rolls by and she’s there before him; a quaint little restaurant where the waiters are dressed in red and the lights above their heads are sunlight hued, she’s there, dressed in the very same kimono in which she’d once strolled in the village and as they talk and eat, his knee brushes against her own bare one and she blushes and he’s curious at the sudden redness on her cheeks, but never says anything, and she’s bold, she’s very bold, for she reaches over the table to grip his hand just as she’d done that one shinobi; but there’s a difference in her touch, she’s delicate with him, and he feels warmth surging to his cheeks and she giggles, claiming his face matches his hair and he’s uncertain what that means, but part of him knows; for his heart is hammering wildly in his chest, and he tells her, because he’s honest, he’s too honest, and she’s quickly smiling just as widely as before as she boldly claims, “You’re crushing on me,”, but Gaara has no idea what that means, and so, he says nothing, but leaves his hand on top of hers as they eat.

Kankuro and Temari are strolling by when he’s seeing her off by the edge of town, his lips are pulled into a small smile and hers are too, she promises she’ll visit, and her eyes are twinkling just like the night before so he believes her; she’s full of hope and so is he and she’s much shorter than he is, so she stands onto the edge of her toes and presses a chaste kiss to his cheek before running off; Kankuro and Temari are quickly at his side demanding to know what happened but he can only say one thing; “I’m crushing on her,” to which, his siblings are baffled.

It takes a while, for him to grasp the nature of his feelings, but it doesn’t take as long as it does for her to stroll back into the village with large eyes full of hope and a wide smile full of excitement; but Gaara is patient, too patient, and he waits, even as the council demands for him to marry for the sake of bringing a heir to his title, they ask him who he wants to marry, and assure him he will marry whoever he wishes for them to bring; but it’s not fair to her, for he knows she’s busy, discovering a world he longed to see, but as Temari had once claimed, “You’re as blind as a bat in love,”, and perhaps he is, and it’s alright, for he knows she would be his eyes.

He never gives up; and one day, he no longer has to.

For piercing his ears is the sudden opening of his door as the scantily dressed kunoichi —whose kimono somehow got even shorter— storms into his office in the middle of a meeting with an array of shinobi behind her claiming they’d tried to hold her off; with a small smile pressed to his lips, Gaara puts an end to the meeting, watching as the council left his office and the shinobi followed suit, all murmuring about this kunoichi who had taken their kage’s insanity.

They’re walking now, and she’s talking, because she talks too much, and he missed it, she tells him of her missions, of her travels, she spends a good hour just describing the land of the moon, eyes wide over a land she’s visited months and months ago but the amazement never ceased, and she tells him she’d already checked off the sand village off her list, but had come back explicitly for him; Gaara smiles, and his heart is hammering again. He’s missed the sensation, and somehow, it feels better now, knowing what it means.

She asks him things and he find himself talking, not as much as she is, but his pride in the underlying tone in his voice as he tells her that the village hidden in the sand has grown, they’ve become the main supply for squash and watermelon and there’s even a metal foundry at the very south of the village, not to mention how glass and mirror artifacts have become just as popular as iron forgery; she giggles as she listens to him, praising him relentlessly and claiming it’s all thanks to him and it baffles him how easily she can bring his cheeks to heat up.

She stays for a month; and they spend each day together, she even accompanies him to his sister’s wedding to that lazy strategist from the leaf, and she’s holding his arm and flaunting him and people are asking questions; and he finds himself unable to answer any of them for their relationship had never been disclosed, what were they? Gaara quickly found the answer to that on the evening following their return to the sand village, because sitting on his desk, glancing at the moon, Gaara could not allow the moment to go by without pressing a kiss to her knuckles, for he knew not what else to do and she, she was bold, so bold, and was quick to lift herself off the sturdy wood before settling onto the expanse of his lap, pressing her lips to his in a chaste kiss; the shinobi who’d walked in that evening, much to their ignorance, would claim it wasn’t all that chaste.

She can only stay here for a week more, for she’s a shinobi, she has duties to go back to, and it is begrudgingly that he allows her to leave, bidding her farewell just as he’d done before but her lips are attached to his own and his arms are secured around her, almost as though he’s attempting to memorize the feeling of her warmth and she the strength of his arms; she pulls back, and it’s evident there are tears in her eyes, but she never sheds them, she simply winks and smiles at him, making him promise that he’d write to her and she promising she’ll visit him when she can.

And she does.

It’s short, too short, if you ask him; it’s only the affair of three days, she’s here on mission, a diplomatic mission, she enters his office with two other shinobi, they’re requesting the permission to open a port at the edge of the desert to facilitate the access to the sand from their own village, and he finds himself unable to look at her comrades because he’s missed her, and it’s clear she’d missed him; they’re quickly dismissed, as the kazekage claims he will think about it and she almost leaves too, teasing him before his sand grasps her wrist and drags her back towards him; kisses are shared and words of love too, and Gaara doesn’t forget that night, for it seemed stains of red lipstick along his chest had eternally been burnt into his skin and his heart.

She leaves him again, leaves him with a potted succulent and beckons him to care for it and cherish it, and so he does.

They write to each other whenever they can, but it’s not enough, and Gaara is patient, but Kankuro snorts at him and tells him: “Dude, you’re too patient, you should do something about you and your girlfriend,”, and the sentence baffles him but the next day he finds himself writing to Temari, questioning what he should do, for  as far as he’s concerned, his sister is the biggest romantic expert in his life in the present time and Kankuro is offended but he puts no mind to his sulking brother as they rush together to the aviary to retrieve their sister’s letter from the mail.

She has her suggestions; ones sarcastic, beckoning him to move, others smart, like requesting the kage in charge of her duties to permanently move her to the sand, and others a bit crazy; suggesting he takes his courage in two hands and asks for her hand in marriage and Kankuro is adamant about the idea but he tells him: “Go for it, if you feel it’s what’s right, baby bro.”

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to think about it too long, because she’s back again for a little longer this time, and she’s tired, because these constant trips are tiring, but he’s worth it, she tells him; the dark circles under her eyes are evidence she’d not stopped along the way and had persisted through the journey and he’s flattered, but he feels guilt eating at his heart; they spend two weeks together, and on the third, he asks her: “Would you ever want to get married?

She’s baffled, so she asks: “Where’s this coming from?” but quickly, she’s smiling, “Of course! Is there such a thing as a girl not wanting to get married?” and he smiles, and she chuckles: “Why? Are you thinking about proposing?

And he is, but he doesn’t tell her this, because he may be too honest, but he knows he shouldn’t be about this; “It should be a surprise,” Temari had said, after she’d complained about Shikamaru’s half assed proposal, even if she had accepted it.

And she’s excited, because he’s asking her about wedding gifts and why marriage is so important but he never gives away anything, and as Matsuri’s wedding comes by and the two attend it together, she’s certain this was the sole reason he’d been asking her these questions and she’s upset and angry and Gaara seems not the least bit upset by this but he is curious; and when she leaves, he doesn’t understand why she doesn’t kiss him and simply leaves him with a kiss to the cheek and a silent huff, at least not until he receives a letter from Temari written with penmanship so poor he could feel her scolding  radiating off of the yellow paper.

And so, he makes sure everything is going well in his village and asks his brother to briefly replace him as he prepares his satchel with necessities and his brother chuckles, asking: “So you’re finally doing it, huh?” and Gaara simply smiles at his brother as he jokes about being the only single sand sibling left.

He leaves the following morning, and the journey is long, very long, and he understands why she’s tired each and every time she joins him; his visit is unexpected, and he wishes to see her when he’s not looking like a living-deceased being and so he stops at an inn in the village, eats and takes a rest, freshens up and heads to what had been directed to him as her clan’s compound and he finds himself rushing at the prospect of seeing her and before he knows it, he is facing a set of wooden double doors yet his hands cannot seem to lift and knock on the surface.

He doesn’t have to, for it seems a servant joins him and they’re quick to open the door, they urge him to step towards the building at the center of the compound to which he does, watching as droplets of water fall about and the servants sweep at the wooden parquets, he’s quick to reach the center home, and which appears to be the largest one, and he walks along the steps, his feet beginning to ache with worrisome stress and this time he is quick to knock, coming to face the very woman who he’d come to adore, dressed in what appears to be pajamas with a toothbrush stuck between her lips and she whines and splutters because it’s early, it’s too early, and he can’t see her like this and he’s simply tilting his head in curiosity as he wonders what’s so bad about her current stature and she’s quick to shun him down demanding what he wants and he retrieves what appears to be a blossomed succulent, potted in ornate clay and demands for her father and she’s quick to redden just as she had before as she calls for her father, and the man of the hour appears.

And he is scary; but Gaara’s never been scared of anything, he takes a deep breath as the man serves him tea and demands to know his intentions and Gaara speaks with a patient confidence and stilled wisdom, gaining the respect of her father who is quickly agreeing to give him his daughter’s hand and Gaara is relieved: the ball of nerves in his stomach is unraveling and the woman he’d come to adore is quick to shove open the door to the small tea room just as she’d done to his office door before jumping into his arms and her father is scolding her for being so rash but she doesn’t care and neither does Gaara, even as she pulls him into a kiss in front of her father, a kiss which would later result in him being threatened for how could the senior ever blame his daughter for anything.

She’s extravagant with the wedding flowers and stressed with flavors of cakes and colors of napkins and Gaara can only watch as she and her girlfriends —under the supervision of his pregnant sister— are discussing what colors and schemes would befit the wedding and he lets her drag him around from store to store during the days where work is light, and somehow he’s become the very shinobi he used to watch her drag around but he knows that her hand, clasped around his, has a much deeper meaning.

The wedding comes along and his brother is at his side, so is Naruto Uzumaki and his own wife, he’s dressed in red with a dandelion tucked onto a pocket and he’s not scared, he’s never been, and he knows this is what he wants; she comes out, draped in teal contrasting his own red robes and her kimono is short, but it doesn’t matter because all of the sand village is used to it —because yes, she invited the whole of the village— and in her ears are his mother’s earrings and he can only hope that she’s proud he’s come this far; to have someone love him, and cherish him, and adore him.

That night, they simply talk; and Gaara is happy, he’s so happy, and he’s not scared, so he tells her, of a burdensome past and memories he wishes he could forget, and she never runs, she never tears the band of gold from her finger but simply grips his hand and assures him that she has never once thought of him as a monster and that men would not be human without mistakes of the past; her arms are wrapped around him in a comforting hug before she quickly sheds away her wisdom in favor of lewd intentions and takes a seat onto his lap and for the whole of the night she’s restless, and it’s okay, because Gaara has willingly married her and would gladly have her restlessness any day.

They’ve been married for a year when she finally takes him to gaze at the ocean, to meet the seagulls she’s mentioned far too many times and he finds himself able to understand why she says his eyes remind her of the ocean; a similar hue, he answers, and she simply shakes her head, informing him that it’s a similar depth.

It was as they sat silently by the shore that she parted red-painted lips to ask: “When did you know?” Her question is vague but she doesn’t need to finish, because he knows what she’s asking, and he knows the answer far too well; and his lips lift into a short smile, the very smile she’d come to adore and beckoned him to smile more, “It was when I saw you.” And perhaps the answer is vague; for he'd seen her smiling and running, he'd seen her from the confines of his office and he'd seen her lying by him, but he knows he doesn’t need to finish, because she knows what he’s saying; and words are unnecessary when destiny has been answering questions for them from the very start.