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Romancing the Kazekage

Chapter Text

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the type of courtesan I am referring to, please direct your attention to the following Youtube video:

Umrao Jaan (2006) - Salaam (English Subtitles)

Or you can watch any dance from Umrao Jaan (the 2006 version, I suggest) with English subtitles to get a feel of what this story is about.

The courtesans of this story are sophisticated, intelligent women who have been trained in the art of poetry, dance, politics, science and many other pursuits that seem desirable.

This story will contain lemons and other adult themes; after all we are dealing with essentially high class prostitutes.

Alright? Everyone understand? Then, let's begin.


Chapter 1

The Moon Sat On a Balcony

The loop of the 'g' in the word 'Kazekage' had started off as a sharp, narrow point, mirroring the quick, dedicated manner in which the young Kazekage had begun his work. As though every letter stole precious time, he had zoomed through hours of paperwork in minutes...that was until he realised that upon finishing with his reports he would have nothing better to do than meet his council. In a desperate bid to prevent such interaction from happening, Gaara had taken to making sure every letter was taken care of.

Now, the loop hung limp and fat as the leader of men took his time, idly swirling his pen on the yellowing parchment; begging for the working day to be over. He glanced around his office, ornate and grand, it swallowed him into a world he was unsure of. One moment he was ushered away from public eye and the next, limelight had been thrust upon him. Is it what he wanted? Even he did not know.

He was avoiding meetings with his council, just to be rid of them, stopping servants from bringing him his lunch just so he did not have to endure their stares. Gaara was in a world he was yet to understand; bored and alone, he sat at his desk, deceptively resolute, unknown to be fearful.

The Kazekage's gaze left his office and dropped down to the work in front of him. Was not there something that could tear him away from this place, from his station as a leader? Rubbing his eyes, he relaxed a little as a soft breeze flew in through his window and ruffled his crimson hair.

"Gaara!" The Kazekage looked up, alarmed as his elder brother barged into the office, a large smile on his face, a glass of something in his hand.

"Kankuro," Gaara nodded at his brother and watched, almost with jealousy, at the way his brother grinned and jostled and was happy; what would it be like to feel that way?

"Geez…you've only been Kazekage two days and they've given you this much work?" Kankuro helped himself to the seat opposite Gaara's desk and picked up a bundle of papers, eyes madly skimming the pages.

Deciding he had had enough of the interruption, Gaara put his head down and got back to work. "I'm technically not Kazakage until the festival." He murmured without looking up.

Throwing the papers back down on the desk, Kankuro marched over to the window and gestured to the calm plains of Sunagakure. "You are a man of power now, little brother," Kankuro ignored Gaara's look of boredom, "aren't you going to take advantage of all the benefits that comes with?" A moment of silence. "Are you almost done?" The puppet master puffed out his chest in triumph as he saw he had caught his brother's attention.

"Almost," Gaara glanced up at him with a quizzical look, "why?"

Kankuro swayed slightly as he walked over to him, put his hand on Gaara's desk, leant in and indicated with a nod to all the papers around them. "Get over this insanity and let us leave this place!" He announced, dramatically, "I feel completely walled in." He sniffed and could see Gaara was seriously considering the offer.

It was exactly as Kankuro had said- he felt walled in too. Put in too small a box and told to stay put, that's what it felt like to be Kazekage. He glanced down to the fat, pathetic 'g' he had scribbled and made up his mind instantly.

"Where to?" Gaara asked, already standing. "But I don't want to go anywhere inappropriate." He added before his brother could respond.

"A place where politics is discussed perhaps?" Kankuro asked, trying to hide his smirk, "where they serve fine tea and contemplate the writings of the Great Philosophers?" Gaara put on his robe to leave the palace.

"That sounds agreeable." The Kazeakge said with a nod and, Gaara being Gaara, took no notice of the bellowing laugh his brother gave or the massive pat on the back Kankuro gave him than almost knocked him over in surprise.

"Agreeable," Kankuro murmured, ushering his brother out of the office, "very agreeable."


Diamonds or rubies? Rubies or emeralds? Crushed silk or chiffon? Tea in a china cup or plum wine from a goblet? Decisions perhaps every girl wishes she could make every day, every hour, as Ai did.

Yes or no?

The only question that mattered was left unuttered, non-existent in a world of choices, in a world of beautiful things.

The girl with too many decisions to make closed the curtain that divided her sleeping quarters and her fountain room as she heard the footsteps of someone fast approaching. Ai looked past her fountain to the mirror ahead and took in what she saw. Fair skin and dark hair with electric blue eyes that shone out in any darkness. She was slim and graceful, as she was trained to be. Was she beautiful? Ai grimaced at the thought. How could she ever know the answer in this world that was bursting at the seams with other beautiful things?

"Ai!" She jumped at the sound of her name and proceeded to wash her hair at the fountain. She leant over, picked up a golden jug and plunged it into the water. She watched as rose petals, put there by another working girl, swirled and fought against the pull as they were sucked into the jug.

"It is your first show tonight!" The voice, excited and sweet, came again from the other side of the curtain. "Megumi-sama has picked out the finest silks," a heartbeat of silence, "I hear the new Kazekage is coming," The voice had changed; no longer excited and jittery, but calm and dreamy. Ai poured the water from the jug over her head and let out a deep breath as the cool water soothed her in Sunagakure's heat.

"They are yet to announce his identity." Ai responded in a bored voice, trying desperately to hide her nerves." It is kept secret until the festival." Her soft voice drifted with the steam through the curtain.

"He will keep his face covered I think," her friend responded, Ai was unsure if she had even listened to her. Just like Miko, the girl behind the curtain, so carefree and witty, no wonder she was everyone's favourite dancer. "Perhaps this new Kazekage will be a regular like the last." Miko's stream of consciousness filtered through the curtain to Ai. "Now he was handsome." She heard Ai laugh.

"He was a lot older than you!"

"So? All the Kazelage's are old! It's because they are the most wise and best at fighting or something-"

"I thought your conversations specialised in politics? You should know why." Ai smiled, she enjoyed teasing Miko, and the relaxed conversation was soothing her nerves. Her smile faded as she pushed her hair back. "Oh no…Does that mean that I'm just going to be dancing for an old man?" It was Miko's turn to laugh.

"Yes I suppose," she heard Ai groan, "but there will be the others."

"Others?"

"Everyone is coming to see the new flower of the Tea House!" Miko responded happily. A few moments of silence passed. Miko knew these moments, she had experienced them a few years ago, when it was her first performance. "When you do it a couple of times," Miko chirped in a hopeful voice, "you will gain many admirers and they will give you the most beautiful of gifts."

"Uh-huh." Ai nodded behind the curtain; not paying any attention, trying to keep her mind off it. Unbeknownst to Ai, Miko took great offence to not being listened to, especially when she was trying to help.

"You know he might not be too wrinkly."

"Oh, be quiet Miko!" Ai shouted over and slumped onto a marble seat by the fountain. "I am not allowed to know his identity before everyone else so I will never see him!" Ai reasoned to herself but Miko was uninterested.

"Ooooh…imagine," Miko whispered dreamily, "...you and the Kazekage. That is like a dream come true for most of us." Looking around the room, Miko saw Ai's clothes for her performance laid out on the bed. She went over and straightened them out. Brushing the silk with her fingers and smiling as the gems shone and glittered in the lamplight, she heard Ai push the curtain away to reveal herself in a towel, a look of distress on her face.

"What if he wants to…" Ai's voice trailed away and she slumped her shoulders in defeat; "what would it be like, to be with someone you barely know?" Miko raised an eyebrow; it was entirely unprofessional to speak in the way Ai was. It implied she still had not given in to the rules of her job.

"Ai," Miko said slowly, wondering how to proceed, but upon seeing the look of worry on Ai's face, she quickly decided against a lecture. "You will be fine." Miko reassured her. With a quick smile and nod of the head, she walked up to Ai and kissed her on the forehead. "Perhaps he will give you a nick-name, it's a sure sign of affection!" Miko laughed happile and Ai forced a smile. "I'll prepare drinks," Miko beamed and put a reassuring hand on Ai's shoulder.

Ai let her leave and looked over to the bed. Blush pink silk glistened at her as though reminding her: "it's time."


The troubled Kazekage rode in a carriage different to that of his brother's. If they were seen together then people might guess the identity of the Kazekage and it was a backward tradition, in Gaara's opinion, that they should not know until the festival. It also explained why Gaara had to wear this ridiculous garb: the traditional Kazekage uniform, complete with hat and face covering. Only his ocean coloured eyes were visible while the rest of him thrashed and ripped at the material, desperate to breathe.

The claustrophobia lead him to lower his window and lean out slightly to catch what little breeze was available in this part of Sunagakure. As he was taking a deep breath in, he saw his brother's carriage, a little further ahead, pull up in front of a house made of glass. The mere size of it impressed Gaara; the palace was not even that big. This house must have been at least seven storeys, with different coloured glass burning as it reflected the dying sun.

As Gaara took in the beautiful home, he thought he spied the moon sitting on the highest balcony and he stared in utter fascination as it glittered and shone from its perch as though welcoming him home.


From the seventh storey, Ai stood on her balcony in a last attempt to calm down. She took deep breaths and went through her dance in her head as the lyrics of her song, a song she had written, were running fast out of her memory as her nerves crept in.

And all at once they stopped. Like a wave of worry something tore through Ai that caused all her thoughts to stop. Ai had seen it; the carriage of the Kazekage was pulling up outside her home. He was here. The Kazekage had come to see her.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Her First Dance/Welcoming the New Moon

Gaara entered the Tea House flanked by his guards and, through the crowds gathered around the Tea House he even spotted several of his council members wandering towards it in a drunken stupor. His brow furrowed in confusion as he continued to follow Kankuro into the grandiose building; this district was known for containing the night life of Suna, why on Earth would Kankuro bring him here to discuss politics?

His thoughts were interrupted as they entered the building and Gaara was stunned not only by the mere size, but by how beautiful it was. Everything seemed to be made of glass, all of varying shades and the Tea House seemed to be lit by starlight; silvery light flittered and sparkled from lamps that lined the corridor they entered. Gaara kept well between his guards, entirely ambivalent to the whispers he heard around him, his eyes steadily fixed on his elder brother.

Eventually, Gaara's gaze ventured to his surroundings and noticed that the majority of people lining the corridors were women. Dressed in colours only found in dreams, they walked as though their footsteps were followed by the sound of twinkling stars. A group of them giggled as Gaara passed and he looked to them; flowers in their hair and the sound of glitter at their feet was actually produced by anklets. In a moment Gaara put it all together and looked around for his brother in alarm; he could not be seen in a place like this!

"Kankuaro-kun!" Gaara heard a honey-dipped voice call for his brother and strained to see around his guard to a larger, elderly woman who appraised Kankuro with great affection. "it has been too long!" The woman, dressed in alarming shades of pink that glittered with gold trim held out a hand to Kankuro which he took with equal cheeriness.

"Megumi-chan!" Kankuro greeted her with a kiss on her hand to which the woman Gaara now knew to be Megumi almost squealed in delight. The elderly woman was followed by a court of at least eight girls, all in equally bright clothing, giving Kankuro a look that made Gaara almost blush with embarrassment. Megumi was about to tell the girls behind her something when she noticed him.

"Kazekage-sama!" She exclaimed and as she bowed, the girls behind her followed suit. "I am honored you have come to see us! Please," she gestured to the room behind her and as though enchanted, the glass doors slowly opened to reveal a circular room, the edged lines with cushions and low tables- leaving the centre of the room free for performance.

Gaara followed Megumi and Kankuro into the grand room, flooded with light from a crystal chandelier the size of which Gaara had never seen. The floor and ceiling both had a mirrored marble pattern, with swirls of gold and flecks of silver to give the illusion of stars. The girls of Megumi's court followed Gaara as though chained to him; he glanced in the mirrors that lined the room and could see them all behind him, giggling and twirling their hair. Slowly, the young Kazekage became frustrated; Kankuro knew he hated places like this, it is completely inappropriate for a man of power to be seen here. Although, as they took their seats, on cushions around a low table, Gaara could see many members of council also in the room and could feel his cheeks burn slightly as they all realized he was there. He would never let Kankuro forget this embarr-

The Kazekage's thoughts were interrupted by the sight of her. As though she were a bride being given away, Megumi-chan escorted in a girl who couldn't be any older than Gaara. She kept her eyes down out of respect for the Kazekage and let herself be led by the older woman. Dark waves of silken hair fell to her hips and Gaara watched, a strange feeling of amazement stirring up inside of him, as her hair dipped and swayed, following the movement of her hips as she walked. The girl wore a light shade of pink and was surrounded by jewels as though bathed in moonlight and as she came closer Gaara strained his eyes to see her face. Fair skin and soft, petal like lips was all he could see for she kept her head down and Gaara, unknowing of what feeling he was experiencing, had a sudden wave of frustration flow through him as he wanted to command her to look up so he could see her eyes.

"Gaara," Kankuro whispered pointedly and the Kazekage's wonderings were disturbed as he looked around to see a girl in yellow offer him sake. He took the drink but only so he would not be interrupted again when trying to see the girl they brought in. Megumi had left the girl sat in the middle of the mirrored room and walked up to Kankuro.

"This is Ai," she beamed proudly, "my last student! It is her first performance." Gaara was no longer listening; his eyes were focused on her face, silently willing her to look up.

There was silence for a few moments before the instruments started up, a string instrument like a harp struck a note and the girl, as though she knew what it would do to him, looked up straight into his eyes.

For a moment Gaara was breathless; they were the colour of sapphire. Deep and haunting they did not look away from him and Gaara found that he could no tear his gaze from her. As though it were only the two of them in the room she lifted her hands and began to twist them into shapes before petal lips parted and she sang. Gaara wasn't entirely sure what she was singing about; his eyes were hypnotised merely by her movement. She moved with such grace and elegance that the leader of men could not take his eyes away from her figure. Her voice spoke out to him for a moment and he caught words of a first love she had been waiting for.

The dancer called Ai stood and walked over to another man in the audience. She sang to him sweet nothings for a while and the drunkard threw a small red bag at her feet, Ai thanked him with a smile and continued to sing.

Megumi gestured to her student and Ai's gaze came upon the Kazekage. He could see her properly now; she looked so young and delicate and Gaara found that his mouth became dry as she swayed her hips towards him. He quickly grabbed the sake and took a sip. Ai came to sit in front of him and although they were only feet apart, there seemed to be a greater distance between them; the realm of the Kazekage and that of a courtesan were miles apart and yet, he was mesmerized by her.

Realising that Gaara was distracted, Kankuro threw a red bag of jewels at her feet, and her eyes thanked him. Now that she was close, Gaara could hear what she was singing:

"Stay a while, handsome stranger, our night has come," she sang to him and Gaara found he was slowly moving forwards towards her. Upon realizing this, the Kazekage straightened up and he could see her smirk at his enchantment. With a longing look of goodbye, Ai stood and finished the dance.

The song ended with her in the middle of the room; the story of her song having a happy ending- the stranger stayed until the end of forever. The men and women clapped as more silk bags were thrown to her feet; she thanked everyone with smiles and then turned to walk away. Women walked to the middle of the room and picked up the bags before returning their attention to their customers.

Feeling came back into Gaara's body and he took a deep breath as though he had stopped breathing for her entire performance. Kankuro leaned over to him.

"What did you think?" Kankuro whispered as inconspicuously as possible.

"She was-"

"Beautiful?"

"No, I think she was rather arrogant." Gaara's eyes narrowed as he saw her figure in the distance.

"What?" Kankuro was shocked; he knew his brother disliked her profession but there was no need to be so harsh.

"She clearly thinks of herself very highly; probably all the attention from these lecherous fools," Gaara gestured to the rest of the audience.

"What's up with you?" Kankuro replied in disbelief, "this was her first performance; the first time anyone has seen her. They're going to ask you soon-"

"Ask what?" Gaara looked around, worried.

"Kazekage-sama?" The girl in yellow who had sat next to him smiled, "would you like to go and see Ai in private?" Kankuro was sure his brother would say no and was about to diffuse the situation but to his surprise, Gaara nodded. The women around them all squealed in delight as Gaara rose to his feet.

"I'll just stay here." Kankuro winked at him as the women lead Gaara to another room. Gaara looked back and saw his brother laughing with the other men- teasing the girls and calling for more sake.


The Kazekage was growing tired and restless in his garb as he was lead to Ai's room. It was stuffy and uncomfortable in his outfit and he was trying to deny that it was mainly due to nerves over meeting this girl. They stopped short outside a room with a huge blue door which seemed to sparkle, but upon closer inspection Gaara could see that the tiny flecks of light were small silver flowers painted onto the ageing wood. The women bowed to him.

"Ai is just through the door." They left. Gaara looked at the door and thought for a moment before impulsively deciding on how to approach the situation. He glanced around to make sure no one was there and took off his customary robes to reveal his civilian clothes beneath. Gaara wanted to see if she would still smirk at him knowing it was the monster that the villagers knew as Gaara. He placed his robes behind a vase containing giant pink flowers, before pressing both hands to the cold wood of the door and pushing it open.

The room was just as beautiful as the rest of the Tea House and Gaara spied the dancer sitting on a four poster bed, her knees drawn up to her chest, still in her dancing clothes. As he approached her Gaara saw her glance up at him. She lowered her gaze quickly.

Ai knew exactly who this boy was; Gaara was notorious, of course, for being the youngest son of the fourth Kazekage, with the demon Shukaku sealed inside of him. Having primarily focused on History, Ai knew a great deal about the Shinobi families of Sunagakure. She knew all there was to know about the boy. What she was not prepared for, however, was how effortlessly handsome he was.

Her skin burned under his gaze; those ocean coloured eyes seemed to penetrate her as she sat, begging for another chance to look at him. Cautiously, she let her eyes travel along the bed and up to him. Gaara walked to her as though a warrior going in to battle; he held himself to his full height and appraised her at the foot of her bed. They looked at each other for a moment and Ai felt butterflies flutter in her stomach at the sight of him; crimson waves of hair hid the kanji symbol on his forehead that Ai had read about and those oceanic eyes looked at her with such intent that her body weakened.

"Why do you look relived?" Gaara's voice was softer than she imagined. Those sapphire eyes glanced up at him and she smiled upon realizing they must be the same age.

"I just," her voice faltered as she took in the sight of him, "I thought I would be seeing the Kazekage. I was worried I would do something wrong." She tried to finish her sentence as quickly as possible because she was growing frustrated that she could not speak when he looked at her.

"Do you know who I am?" He asked and she nodded slowly.

"Gaara," she spoke his name softly, "the shinobi." He was surprised.

"Are you not scared?" Gaara asked and folded his arms before narrowing his eyes on her.

"No." Ai spoke with such confidence that it stirred something inside of him, "because I can see you too are scared." She smirked and Gaara tried hard to hide his nerves. Why did this girl, who he had only known a few moments, make him so nervous?

"You would rather see Gaara than the new Kazekage?" She nodded. "Oh? And what is so bad about the new Kazekage?"

"It's just that…well," her voice dropped to a whisper and she leant forwards, "he must be really old."

For the first time in a long time Gaara gave a small smile and upon seeing it, Ai blushed. Another impulse rippled through him and he moved away from the bed and instead went to sit on a chair that was on the balcony outside. There were two chairs surrounding a low table; Gaara took his seat and looked back for her.

"There's no need to sit there." Gaara called to her. "Come out here. I wish to speak with you."

"To speak with me?" Gaara heard her anklets before her voice, they tinkled with every footstep and, as she came out into the night-time, Gaara watched with childlike fascination as she looked with such love up to the starlit sky. She had wrapped her veil around herself like a shawl and even the as the veil dragged on the floor behind her, it made a melodious jingle.

"I hear you are capable of having a conversation." She blushed at the harshness in his voice and sat opposite him as he gestured. She found him so authoritative and commanding but in a calm and even kind manner. Power seeped from him; Sabaku no Gaara was known for being violent and ill-tempered, able to strike down anyone who he wanted but to her he acted with such a peaceful demeanour, she could not believe it was the person she had read about.

"What is it you wish to talk of?" Ai asked and Gaara had to pull himself together as her dark rimmed eyes appraised him with such innocence.

"I want to ask you a question, see if you can answer it." Ai smiled; she liked riddles. As he talked she began to remove her jewelry and as it came off Gaara could see it was pure gold and the stones were all real. "Why is it all women are vain?" Gaara looked genuinely bemused until he saw the offence on her face and was forced to smile a little at her pout.

"Excuse me?" Ai looked at him and blushed as she realised that someone so handsome must have had their fair share of vain women.

"I know of many women who only go outside at night to show the moon that they are more beautiful than her." Her eyes glanced down and she blushed. He thought he'd stepped over some line but she spoke again:

"With respect, Gaara-sama, we are not vain." As she spoke, Ai began to remove her earrings. Gaara rolled his eyes at her answer and was immediately shocked when she changed her mind and became angry. "Even if we are, so what?"

She placed her foot onto a chair beside her and clicked her tongue impatiently as she struggled to remove her anklet. Ai was struggling to remove the chain around her feet; the clasp was stuck and-

"Ah," she gasped as Gaara slipped off his chair and went to kneel in front of her, he could see her tense up in fear or nerves as he placed his fingertips on the metal around her ankle. The dancer got a hold of herself. "Why should we not be vain or even arrogant?" Ai began and as she did she lifted her foot and, as Gaara was trying to untie her anklet, she tugged her foot towards herself so Gaara was pulled towards her. He looked up at her, "when we have the world at our feet?" Gaara had stopped trying to untie the anklet, as he was enchanted merely by her lack of fear of him, but was pulled ever closer to her as she tugged again. She leant towards him and in a whisper added; "even when we break hearts," she tugged a little harder and he had to move closer, "you have to admit we do it with a certain charm." Tugging again he almost fell into her lap. He could not tear his eyes away from her deep blue ones, their faces were merely inches away, their breathing had hastened and Gaara could feel his heart pounding in his chest. "Why not be vain when our beauty drives you crazy?" She smiled at him but her smile faded quickly as Gaara moved his face close to hers. Her eyes locked on his lips as he took a breath.

"I…" He paused and saw her nervousness grow at what he was about to do, "untied your anklet." He held it up for her to see and dropped it. Ai quickly snatched it from the air and relaxed. She leant back to appraise her opponent; he sat back too and remained calm and controlled. It did not go unnoticed by Gaara that Ai was annoyed. She stood haughtily and walked over to the edge of the balcony. According to her training, she knew she had to show disinterest to entice him and, to her surprise, it seemed to work.

"Listen to me a moment," Gaara walked after her and was at her side in an instant. "Would you like to know the secret of your beauty and charm?" She turned to him and raised a quizzical eyebrow. "It is the weaker of men who behold magic in your mundane actions and honour your silly tantrums with attention." He growled at her, "we, men, make your looks legendary. Where would you be without us-"

"If you think we owe our looks to you then it is clear that your own beauty has you so intoxicated that you can't think straight." She scowled. "Why else would you talk such nonsense?" She turned away and walked off but Gaara was too quick for her, he grabbed her hand and twisted her arm behind her back. "Hey," Ai looked around for someone to help, "that hurts!" She struggled and looked back to him in shock. But her struggling stopped at once for she did not realize how close she was to him. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck. She looked deep into his eyes and was grabbed by the intensity in them that their hold paralysed her.

"Obviously you have missed the point." His voice came out as a low growl. "Never mind. If vanity suits you then that's fine." She rolled her eyes and tried to move away but he pulled her in closer so her back was against his chest. "Just don't forget," Gaara whispered, "that the glow of your face is because of me."

"It's clear now that we have cast a spell on you," she breathed, "with our petal soft skin, lips like buds and hair so dark and fragrant like the night." She glanced at him, waiting for a response. When he said nothing she smiled triumphantly, pulled her arm out of his grip and began to walk away into the room.

"See what I mean? Not all girls have dark hair; you were just thinking of yourself." She turned back to him, fully irritated now. "Anyway, we're the ones who compared your skin to blossoms, lips to buds and your hair to the beauty of the night." He whispered, her eyes were glassy as though seeing him in some different light. His voice still held the growl as before but there was something that made her catch her breath. "Is it not men who respond to your glance as if it's magical? And your words as if they are poetry? It is us who gave you this beauty, don't forget that." Gaara looked at her once more and realised her eyes held defeat. He smiled with triumph and went to walk past her to exit the room. She held up a hand and placed in on his chest.

"Listen to me a moment?" She whispered.

"What is there left to say?"

"You are the ones who call us vain and arrogant, yet beautiful and elegant. So you know what?" He looked confused for a moment and was startled when she looked up at him with a smile. "Don't blame us for your mistakes." Her eyes held daggers and Gaara, frustrated with the feelings she stirred up inside of him, had had enough.

"Here." He held up a bag and threw it at her. She caught it but did not look as if she had even registered his actions; she merely stared at him.

"What is it?"

"Payment, for our time together. Farewell, Ai." Gaara walked up to the door.

"Goodbye, Gaara-sama." He looked at her once more and they stood, caught in a mysterious bond of attraction, confusion and lust, neither knowing what to make of the other. He finally gained the courage to tear his eyes away from her and leave the room.

Upon the door closing Ai sat on the bed, breathing hard, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Slowly she began to laugh; who would have thought Gaara, the jinchuriki, could be so…

Ai's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Come in," Ai cringed under the hope that it was him again. Miko walked in, beaming at her friend who seemed breathless.

"That was really quick…oh, you're still dressed." She looked disappointed and could not understand why Ai was smiling so much.

"Yes, he just wanted to talk." Ai shook her head.

"Well, what was he like?" Miko asked and jumped on the bed, Ai sat next to her, excited to tell her friend about her first encounter.

"He was," Ai searched for the right word, "arrogant!" Miko laughed. "And…hot as sin." The girl's eyes misted over and Miko raised an eyebrow.

"Reall?" Miko couldn't understand how her friend had such a quick change of heart towards her customer.

"I was speechless under his gaze," Ai continued.

"Wow," Miko looked puzzled. "At least you've made a good impression on the Kazekage." Ai turned to her friend sharply. Her look of far-off dreaminess suddenly replaced with one of wide-eyed in shock.

"KAZEKAGE?"

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Desire

~Two Days Later~

Lost in a world of silk and golden thread, Ai sat, transfixed, by the sight of red. It burned for her in the distance, bright and vibrant, mocking, almost, in the callous way the silk billowed and swayed when hung in front of the window. The red silk licked the floor as it moved, inviting her to wrap it around herself.

Her thoughts travelled to her first meeting with him, with Gaara, the jinchuriki. She sighed; so he had become the Kazekage? With a small smile, she looked down to the white silk in her hands that she was supposed to be inspecting. He had become the greatest shinobi in the village…no wonder he was so arrogant and unnecessarily confrontational! He spoke to her as though he already owned her!...But why did that make him so much more-

"Ai?" The sound of her name spoken so sharply snatched her out of her fantasies and threw her back into reality. In reality she was sat on the floor, besides Megumi and Miko's throne-like chairs, as a merchant threw various fabrics into the air, letting them unfurl at the women's feet. Megumi was choosing material to be made into dresses for the women of the Tea House to wear at the festival that evening.

Megumi, Miko and the tailor were looking at Ai in alarm and she followed their eyes downwards to her hands. "Oh, sorry!" She exclaimed and released the white silk in her hands as she realised she had been clutching the delicate fabric with such a vice-like grip that she could have damaged it. Brushing her hair behind her ear in embarrassment, Ai looked over to her teacher who's look of alarm did not falter as she nodded towards the material in Miko's hands.

"Oh," Ai spoke softly and looked down to the turquoise colour that had caught Miko's eye and smiled her approval. "It is beautiful," Ai said and stole a quick glance up at the red silk. The merchant, an elderly man that had been the tailor for the Tea House for many years, saw her looking and smiled.

"Has red captured your attention, utsukushii (pretty one)?" He asked her and Ai jumped and blushed under such scrutiny.

"No." She said defiantly and averted her eyes from the window.

"Ai will be wearing white." Megumi, Ai's teacher, stated without looking up from her inspection of the turquoise material Miko had chosen. Her aged hands ran along the cotton, which had silver threads spun throughout it to look like shooting stars.

"White?" Ai asked in surprise; why on Earth would Megumi-sama want to send her when she had argued with the Kazekage and who she had then described as arrogant to her fellow courtesans? Surely her meeting with him was a cause for embarrassment; the Kazekage had practically stormed out! "I'm going?" Megumi looked up at the girl and sighed in exasperation before bowing her head to let her round glasses slide to the tip of her nose so she could look at Ai properly.

"We have to present a gift to the Kazekage on behalf of the Tea House-"

"But I-"

"You will be suitable."

"But he-"

"That is all, Ai." Megumi stated in a matter-of-fact way. Suitable, the word echoed in Ai's head as she sat in stony silence.

From that moment the meeting followed in the usual business-like manner, the vibrancy of the red silk seemed to fade away and dissolve into the background as Ai sat, forced to stare at different shades of white, silently fuming at the thought of being in the same room as that egotistic, vain, good looking, fool! Ai simply crossed her arms and pouted all the way through the fitting, occasionally she nodded or murmured agreement until, eventually, the tailor left.

Ai stood as soon as Megumi and Miko had said goodbye to him and shut the doors. The young dancer tapped her feet impatiently to hear the jingle of her anklets; she lifted up her long skirt and inspected the chains on her feet to ensure there were no entanglements of the bells.

Miko and Megumi were stood by the door where they had bid the tailor farewell and, when Miko left, Megumi turned and appraised Ai who was inspecting her anklets as though they had done her some personal insult.

"I hope the Kazekage can see past the dark cloud of pride that spins above your head." Megumi said sternly and Ai looked at her in earnest.

"I'm sorry, sensei," the young girl let her shoulders fall in defeat; "it's just that…the way he talks to me! The way he looks at me! You would think he-"

"Owned you?" Megumi raised an eyebrow at her student and waited for Ai to respond. Ai cast her eyes downwards and pulled all her hair to one side of her neck.

There was no need to confirm it, for it was true; Ai belonged to him the moment he threw the bag of coins to her at their first meeting.

A few more moments of silence passed between the two women; both stuck on either sides of the courtesan world. The elder, Megumi, was too used to shutting her emotions away to realise exactly how Ai felt and Ai, the younger, was too naïve to really understand the implications of her trade.

Ai watched out of the corner of her eye as her teacher walked over to her throne-like chair and sat down before gesturing for Ai to sit in front of her. Ai did as told and knelt in front of her teacher as she had been taught to do from the moment she arrived at this place. Megumi reached down and took Ai's hands in hers; she looked deep into the young girl's blue eyes that were so full of hope.

"You know why it has to be you?" Megumi asked in a voice that was dripping with melancholy. "Because you are untouched." Ai lowered her gaze; she hated being reminded of it- of the fact that her worth came down simply to her virginity. "That is suitable for a Kazekage…" Megumi continued to speak, giving Ai the age-old lecture that every courtesan hears from their master. "I am sure I do not need to remind you of your uses? Of how to behave amongst men of power?" Megumi questioned the young courtesan who looked up at her and shook her head. "He will adore you." Megumi said sweetly as though speaking to a daughter; the elder woman lifted her hand and stroked Ai's hair in a motherly way. "He will marvel at your beauty and gasp in your seduction," Ai lowered her head, her cheeks turning slightly pink. "And he may even tell you he loves you." After a moment of Megumi looking her up and down, she sighed, "you know no one can truly love a courtesan, just as a courtesan can never truly love anyone. She sells only a dream of her heart, an imitation." Megumi put a finger under Ai's chin and lifted the young girl's head to look up at her. "You know why I am telling you this?" Ai nodded.

"There is only heartbreak in love." She recited. Ai inwardly scoffed; her teacher had no idea that the person she was talking about was Gaara. She was lucky in one respect; Gaara, the monster, was incapable of loving anyone. In a strange, twisted way, it was a perfect match.


The young Kazekage was sat at his desk, as he always was since his appointment. Scribbling on papers, looking through mission reports and occasionally requesting things from the servant outside his office.

Gaara was reading through a particularly mundane report from a team of genin when his concentration was broken and he heard it. A noise that had been haunting him for days, giving him tormented nights and hours full of lost thoughts.

That damned tinkling! As though stars were falling to the Earth and shattering into millions of tiny pieces. He heard it everywhere; he could not be rid of it!

Today he was supposed to be preparing for the traditions involved with accepting the position of Kazekage but Gaara's thoughts were a world away from anything to do with the festival tonight. His mind was solely occupied by a vision of blue eyes, being licked and teased by dark, shimmering waves of hair. The young Kazekage, beside himself with frustration, ran a hand through his hair and sighed. The look on her face when he said goodbye was a look he will never forget. Her beautiful eyes narrowed on him as though asking him to stay and there was something in that look, a feeling of want and confusion that stirred something in Gaara that he had taken two years to calm down. Something shook and vibrated in his very core, at just the thought of her.

"No!" He said out loud and brought his fist down on the table with such force that a small crack formed in the wood. This distraction was ridiculous! She was a courtesan! She sold herself and that was something that Gaara simply could not fathom; did it not insult her, to be amongst women who degraded themselves?

He stood from his desk, determined to find the source of the sound and be rid of it forever. As he stood, however, his elder sister entered the room.

"Gaara," Temari said and raised an eyebrow at the look of surprise on her brother's face; "going somewhere?"

"I," Gaara thought about how absurd it would sound to Temari if he told her he was being tormented by the sound of anklets, "was coming to find you." He finished.

"Oh?" Temari stood in the doorway and appraised her younger brother; he had been somewhat distracted for the past few days. Gaara was, perhaps, non-responsive most days but distractions lead him to days without speaking a word to anyone. It was unnerving, this new Gaara, the quiet, respectful Kazekage that had come to be. Temari was sure it was merely the quiet before the storm. Gaara took a deep breath and exhaled as though irritated by something.

"How are plans for this evening going?" He asked, hoping she would remember she had to organise something and leave. To his dismay, Temari smiled proudly and put her hands on her hips.

"We are almost finished." The blonde shinobi could already tell her brother had stopped listening. "The council requires your presence in one hour to go over the Kazekage agreement." She said sharply and Gaara looked up at her.

"Oh, yes, I'll be there." He rubbed the back of his neck and did not bid his sister farewell as she left the room with a cheerful wave.

Temari closed the door behind her and leant against the hard wood to contemplate what was happening. She thought Gaara might be nervous about today but he seemed positively terrified; his mind seemed to be racing with thoughts he never let anyone in on. She bit her thumb impatiently as she walked away and couldn't help but think Kankuro had something to do with this.


The evening came quickly for the new Kazekage. Too quickly; he wanted to finish his work before the festival but he had been so distracted that he ran out of time.

He had already signed the formal agreement earlier that day, with his council and siblings as witnesses. Gaara thought of how his hand had trembled slightly, as the weight of responsibility loomed over him before he signed. But before he knew it, Gaara was already a few steps from his brother and sister who were stood, waiting to take him out to be seen by the village.

"Oi, Gaara!" Kankuro called to him and Gaara, feeling a little numb and apprehensive, looked down the corridor to his elder siblings and began to walk towards them.

"How are you feeling?" Temari asked with a smile as he approached. She exchanged a quick look with Kankuro; both had noticed Gaara's lack of enthusiasm for the impending evening. They were surprised, however, when Gaara took his place between them and looked at his sister with soft eyes.

"What makes a good Kazekage?" He asked her and the blonde shinobi bowed her head with a smile.

"You do." She replied and put a hand on his shoulder. Gaara turned as he felt the weight of Kankuro's hand fall onto his other shoulder. The puppeteer looked at his brother with a broad smile.

"Ready?" Kankuro asked. Gaara nodded.

The three sand siblings walked in their line to the doors that lead to the palace's most grand balcony. It was a place where the Kazekage usually addressed his people in a time of crisis or jubilance. Gaara wondered which of those two would be felt tonight.

He took a breath as the two huge wooden doors creaked open before them and for a moment the light of the dying sun blinded Gaara as he walked out. He blinked against the golden light to see the inhabitants of Sunagakure stood in silence. Thousands of civilians looked up at the young Kazekage who was stood on the balcony above them.

Temari was greeted by a silence she knew too well; the silence of fear. Each member of the village saw Gaara stood before them and could not believe their eyes. Would they accept him?

"Gone," Gaara spoke suddenly, "are the times of hardship and violence." Temari turned to her brother, shocked to hear him speak like a born-leader. "Gone are the hours of terror and silence." Temari felt her eyes begin to well up with tears. "I am your Kazekage, your servant, my people." Gaara's voice carried on the winds of the desert, down to the gathered crowd that stood in eerie silence. "I bring the beginning of fortuitous days." Before Gaara had even finished his sentence, Sunagakure erupted into a frenzy of cheers and shouts of celebration.

"Gaara," Kankruo whispered and wiped his eyes hurriedly as the red headed Kazekage turned to him.

"What is it, Kankuro?" Gaara asked softly, looking at both his siblings with a small frown. They were smiling, but their eyes were misted over; what strange emotion was that?

"Nothing," Kankuro replied and, in an instant, his attitude changed and he embraced his brother. "Let's celebrate!"

"Yes!" Temari shouted and as soon as Kankuro let go of his younger brother, Temari grabbed a hold of Gaara, almost suffocating him.


The evening passed much as Gaara had anticipated; being pushed back and forth to meet various people of his council. Putting his hand in the air to wave at his people when they called him. Eating with whoever gave him food, drinking with whoever gave him wine. As the day moved on and the sun began to set Gaara found he was tired from the constant blushing over the attention everyone suddenly showed him.

"It's been a long day, I want to rest." Everyone seemed to agree with him on this and as he left he had to endure many goodbyes before he reached the palace again. His escort left him here and now he was sure he could hear the haunting sound of anklets once more.

"Gaara!" He turned, not at the sound of his name, but at the tinkle of anklets. His expression of hope was replaced by mild disgust as he was approached by a slightly tipsy Kankuro.

"Oh, it's you." Gaara was actually talking to the girl in turquoise who was draped over Kankuro's arm; she wore anklets.

"I think you'll find our friends at the Tea House have left a gift for you in the palace." Kankuro winked at him. Gaara's eyes widened as Kankuro and the girl slinked away, back into the festivities. The Kazekage sighed before ascending the steps to his quarters.


Gaara approached his bedroom door with caution; he had searched every other room in the palace and they had been empty so he was sure he would find the gift in here. He pushed the doors open and looked around the room.

"You!" He stopped in shock at his door as he saw who was in front of him.

"Kazekage." Ai was stood in the middle of the room and bowed as she addressed him, trying to hide her resentment for being back in the same room as him.

"What're you doing here?!" Gaara was puzzled by the intrusion but shut the door behind him and walked into his room.

"I'm your gift…from the Tea House." She answered with equal confusion; why was he playing innocent?

"But why would they send you-"

"Hey!" She stood to her full height and dropped her sweet-toned voice before crossing her arms. "I wasn't exactly too thrilled about it either." She pouted.

"You're angry…at me?" Gaara too, folded his arms and looked her up and down as though she were an opponent to weigh up.

"You never told me you were the Kazekage!" As she said it, Ai seemed to remember that he was indeed the Kazekage and she should hold her tongue in front of him. She bowed her head and waited for him to speak.

Gaara considered her for a moment, stood before him in a white silk dress, adorned with diamonds the size of which he had never seen. She even had a string of diamonds tied in her hair like a halo. Ai looked innocent, and unaware of any affect she had on mankind; with her glistening pink lips and dark-rimmed eyes, Gaara found he could not hold on to his shock.

"Forgive me." He stated calmly and as he did Ai looked up and unfolded her arms, "how long are you here for?" Gaara asked and removed his Kazekage hat before placing it on a table next to him. His sudden change in demeanour made Ai soften too; perhaps she had been too quick to judge.

"I will stay at the palace for as long as you wish." Ai began to walk over to him as she saw he was going to remove the outer robe of the Kazekage uniform. "Here," she murmured and put both her hands on his right shoulder, "allow me." Gaara looked down to her, she was mere inches from his face glistening and glittering in diamonds, keeping her gaze purposefully averted.

Ai pulled gently at the material and guided it off his right shoulder into her hands. She attempted to move to his left side but he grabbed her hand before it reached his shoulder. Her skin was warm to his touch and so delicately soft, Gaara felt as though he could break her if he held her hand with too much strength. Finally her gaze met his and Ai smiled sweetly at the look of distrust he gave her.

"To stop someone who is trying to help you," she whispered and almost blew the words gently into his ear, "is simply bad manners, Kazekage." Gaara leant towards her.

"And to dance in front of intoxicated men," he paused for a moment, watching her grow intimidated by his closeness, "is shameful." He let her hand go violently and walked past her, shrugging off the rest of his cloak as he did so. Gaara placed it on a chair beside his bed and turned to her. She had not moved, with her back to him, Ai spoke softly.

"Were you not one of those men, Kazekage?" She turned to him, her diamond earrings and bangles tinkling as she shimmered in the moonlight before him. Her eyes narrowed on him and a smirk of triumph struck her face; the Kazekage had met his match.

Beneath his cloak he wore a long black, full sleeved shirt and dark trousers. He leant against his bedpost, folded his arms and watched the girl in white smirk in a way that made something in Gaara stir and wake. It was almost as though Shukaku could smell her, could want her, could see how fragile and delicate she was; could see how breakable she was. He tore his gaze from her in an attempt to calm this rising desire.

Gaara had to get away from her. Or she had to get away from him.

"Leave." The young Kazekage breathed the word as though suppressing anger. His tone frightened Ai and he heard her jewellery jingle as she took a step back in fear.

"'Til morning, Kazekage." Gaara heard her say and looked up in time to see her white veil steal out of the door in her wake.

 

Chapter Text

Before the chapter begins I would like to make something clear: sometimes Ai will say words in Japanese (to the best of Valentine's ability) in the middle of "speaking" English. I have done this because I think it is a good way of demonstrating that Ai traditionally speaks an ancient, more beautiful version of the language so dips in and out of either dialect. It is simply to add a little more realism to the story.

***

Chapter 4

The Tempest & The Moon

The morning following the festival saw the village buzzing with excitement over a new Kazekage, over a new era of prosperity. The red headed shinobi that they were all talking about walked through the palace greeted by smiles and cheerful waves to which he had no idea how to respond. Gaara simply nodded thanks to anyone who greeted him and blushed as young women in the palace smiled at him in a way they had never done so before. Bizzarely, Gaara almost missed being feared; at least then he was not put under any pressure to interact with anyone.

The Kazekage approached his office and opened the door to find Ai, lying on her front on the chaise chair that lined the windows of his office. She was dressed in shocking pink with the embroidery of pale green and blue flowers twisting around her figure. It was the simplest Gaara had ever seen her dressed; with a thin gold chain around her neck, matching minimalist anklets and bangles and small gold studs in her ears. Her hair was tied up in a braid but she let a few loose curls frame her face as she lay, nonchalant and unaware of her discourtesy. She looked like a doll, almost, porcelain and ornate, lounging in his office as though it were hers. At the end of the chair she had put a small table on which she had placed playing cards. She did not look up as the Kazekage entered.

"What are you doing?" Gaara asked as he walked into his office. She kept her gaze on the playing cards in front of her, occasionally looking at the few cards she had in her hands. The pack of cards was decorated with flowers and golden numerals; Gaara eyed them with scrutiny.

"Winning a bet," the girl gestured to the cards laid out in front of her and continued to ignore him. Gaara sighed.

"What are you doing in my office?" Gaara snarled and began to grow impatient as she still did not look over to him. Ai sighed and blew a curl softly away from her lips.

"Growing bored of the conversation offered therein," she replied with such insolence that the Kazekage shut his door loudly, walked over to her and waited for her to look up, all the while trying to prevent his brow from furrowing in frustration. He would not respect her actions by reacting to them. "Do you need something, Kazekage?" Ai asked sweetly and looked up to him with a smile. Her electric blue eyes, full of mischief, caught sight of his face and for a moment she was paralyzed by him. He noticed the smirk fade from her face as she took in the sight of him. Unaware, as Gaara always was, of what he did to women, he shoved an envelope in her face.

"Take this to Kankuro," he said loudly and it seemed to shock her back to Earth. Her eyes widened and blinked up at him as Gaara nudged the letter towards her. After a moment Ai shot him a look of indignation before returning to her game. The Kazekage jerked in shock; "hey!" He shouted at her; how dare she ignore him? Ai continued to pick up cards and inspect them before smiling and placing them into the growing pile in her hand.

"You know, Kazekage, the uguisu (nightingale) only sings when it hears music," she responded. "Ask a little sweeter…and I will consider your command." In less than a moment Gaara flicked his wrist, a gust of wind issued forth, scattering her cards onto the carpet. "Goodness!" Ai exclaimed and sat up as he walked past her. "Upon hearing a 'no' you bring such a tempest to my doorstep?" The young Kazekage went to sit at his desk and looked at her with a bored expression; she spoke such an ancient dialect! Her riddles and poetry infuriated him as much as her actions. "You have a terrible temper." She giggled and answered his expression which clearly suggested he did not want to be spoken to so enigmatically. Gaara looked at her with bored eyes before deciding to treat her with the same disdain she had shown him; he took the papers on the desk in front of him and began to work.

The courtesan eyed him coyly from her robes of deep pink, her big blue eyes giving him sideways glances as she slinked over to his bookshelf. Holding her cards tightly in her hand she walked, alongside the Kazekage's private library, towards him until she came to his desk. Ai stood before him, opposing him, daring him to speak again but Gaara remained steadfast and kept his eyes on his work; trying to show her he did not care for her company. He refused to even ask her to leave.

"Come," Ai said softly, so softly in fact that Gaara looked up at her; wondering what had changed her attitude suddenly. She stood at the edge of his desk, her cards hanging loosely in her right hand. "If you can place the letter in my hands, I will do as you say." Slowly the Kazekage rose, accepting her challenge and the girl's eyes flooded with mischief once more. Quickly, Gaara snatched the cards from her hand and she gasped in offence. "Hey, give them back!" She exclaimed and went to grab them as Gaara extended them to her but he snatched them back in an instant.

"Sorry, would you like me to do something for you?" He asked with no trace of humour and extended them to her. Like a lioness hunting her prey, she narrowed her eyes on him and waited a moment before, in a viper-like action, she want to grab them but the shinobi was, of course, too quick for her and moved them out of her grasp.

"Hey!" She shouted and there was something in the way her lips pouted and her brow furrowed that made Gaara give a small smile.

"Sorry," he said after seeing her reaction and went to put the cards on the desk between them. As Ai went to retrieve her cards in a rush, Gaara snatched them out of her reach so that Ai's hand came down on the table with such force, that she withdrew her hand instantly and cried out in pain.

"Ouch," she gasped and looked up at him with a hurtful look, cradling her hand. "I was mistaken," she turned form him in a huff. "You are Raijin (A/N: God of thunder and lightning- she is likening Gaara to the tempest mentioned earlier) himself." She turned from him with a hurtful look and crossed her arms in frustration.

Gaara was unsure if it were out of annoyance or guilt, but he did not like to see her upset. He walked around the table to stand in front of her and handed her the cards.

"Please," he asked the nightingale, "will you take the letter?"

With an appreciative smile, Ai held out her hand. Gaara went to place the letter in her outstretched hand but her smile was replaced by one of malevolence and she threw the cards in his face viciously. Without his gourd, sand did not lend him shelter from her revenge and the cards scattered around the pair.

Ai had not even blinked before-

"Kazekage!" Ai gasped as Gaara moved so quickly she did not have time to register him put his hand up and grab a handful of her hair. She looked at him with wide, frightened eyes and he stared back at her. His face was passive and gentle, as though nothing unusual was happening but Ai could see that there was something behind his eyes that she had never seen before. A violent intent that flooded her with dread- before he had seemed playful but this, this horror was real. Ai put a hand on his where he was holding her hair and looked up at him in fear.

"Do you know what the tempest does to the moon?" He growled, looking into her fear-filled eyes, breathing in her scent. She remained quiet. "It clouds it in darkness. Swallows it in anguish." As she tried to wriggle free he pulled harder and shivered in pleasure as he saw the look of pain on her face. "Leave, whore." He snapped and let go of her hair, Ai recoiled and cowered away from him, her eyes watering from pain. "Women of sin are not fit to wander the same halls as a Kage." He spat at her and walked back to his chair. She remained with her back to him, her beautiful hair that she took hours to set for him, now askew with curls falling loose of the braid.

"Whore." She laughed as she said it, her shoulders shook, "judged by a title that was thrust upon me by forces beyond my control." She turned to him quickly, her eyes burning with tears of frustration. "Tell me, Kazekage- do the rain drops dodge me as I walk? Does the sunlight hide away from my face for the shame of touching me? Do the winds of the desert not offer me pleasurable salvation in the Summer months?" She paused and waited for him to respond. The Kazekage looked away and Ai, aware of her own vulnerability, dropped her gaze. "If nature does not discriminate, why do you?" A sickly smile adorned her face; "we are the same, you and I, Gaara." Upon hearing her say his given name he looked up to her, a feeling of guilt rising in his stomach. "Both put into positions that we did not ask for and then forced to play out that role. You escaped," she laughed and gestured to him, "because you are a shinobi, because you are the son of a Kazekage, because you are a man." Ai spat at him and shook her head in resignation as Gaara looked away. "A whore." She paused, her emotions flooding her. "I defy you, Kazekage- find another woman who speaks as though she were the daughter of Benten (A/N: Goddess of words, speech, eloquence etc.). One, who can tell you how to resolve political difficulties in a moment, who can recount the great history of our village, who can leave you as satisfied as I can." She stopped, taking pleasure in the colour that rose in his cheeks upon hearing her spoke so bluntly. "Bring this celestial creature to me and I will kiss the ground on which she walks." Ai looked at him in disgust. "Yes, I am a whore," Ai said, holding herself to her full height. "Do we courtesans not have hearts?" She asked him, "do we not bleed? Are we not human?" At her own words Ai gasped as a tear fell from her eyelashes; how did she let her emotions get the better of her? The fragile girl seemed to remember who she was talking to and bowed, "whatever your wish, Kazekage, I shall take my leave." She stated without emotion. The girl in pink turned away gently and walked to the door. She paused with her hand on the doorknob. "In case you are wondering; I won my bet." She cocked her head back to him and saw his face, full of incomprehension. "You are heartless." With the last word, she left his office.

Chapter Text

Stalemate

Mornings in the Kazekage's palace were unmatched; desert sunlight, golden and warming, flooded rooms to the brim with a shining brilliance. If you woke early enough, before the servants began to bang the water pots in the kitchen and call out to each other with instructions on how to maintain the grandeur of the place, you could hear birdsong. Sweet and mesmerizing, the birds of Suna spoke to anyone who dared listen while they recounted the tales of the night.

The quiet of morning, the peace that Suna felt in the early hours of the day, was unrivalled, in Ai's opinion and as she walked quietly through the palace, she found herself becoming lost and enchanted by the beautiful solitude that presented itself. It did not however, shake a more pressing matter from her mind.

Three days had passed since her argument with the Kazekage and it was a conversation that would haunt her forever for it spread around the courtesan community like wildfire in the hours following the incident. Ai had spoken out of turn, out of naiveté and offended the Kazekage. But this news was not the biggest rumor spinning around her head in lost whispers. She knew the women of the Tea House, other Houses even, were talking about it. Ai could feel the chill in the wind as she walked passed them and endured their sneers. They all knew it. Megumi knew it. It weighed on her like a dark cloud of incompetence; Ai had failed to seduce the Kazekage.

After he had told her to leave she kept to her word and avoided him like the other side of a river bank; ever-twisting, ever-following, never to meet the other side. They had not seen each other since and Ai could feel the reputation of the Tea House slipping from her grasp. Failure to solidify her relationship with the Kazekage meant that the Tea House would be known for having second-rate, Kazekage-rejected, average dancers. It meant that her own reputation as a dancer would be diminished before her career even began. It was a business transaction. He was a client and she needed to fulfil a contract. And yet she felt that there was so much more going on behind those ocean eyes.

"Ai!"She turned at the sound of her name, just as she was about to enter the quarters of the palace that usually housed the courtesans. The young dancer had a look of polite interest as a man, a few years older than her, with a mess of brown hair, approached her with a smile.

"Yes?" She asked sweetly and the look of innocence on her face made the boy laugh as he realized she did not recognize him. He came to a halt beside her.

"It's me," as he spoke she raised an eyebrow before a look of realization took over her features.

"Kankuro-san!" She smiled up at him, taking in his face without the usual purple paint, "you have a handsome face; why do you mar what the Gods gave you with war paint?" He blinked down at her, a thin smile spreading across his face; so delicate and simple, how on Earth did she match up with his younger, blood-thirsty, erratically-aggressive brother? Dressed in blue, Ai made hearts melt, but could the warmth of her do anything to the Kazekage, famous for having a heart of stone? Kankuro's smile faded at the thought of this; Gaara could hurt this innocent girl with just a look.

"Even you hide your face behind a veil," Kankuro answered as they walked through to the courtyard that was devoted to the courtesans by some ancient Kazekage. Ai smiled coyly and was about to respond when another voice joined the fray.

"Word has it that three nights have passed and the Kazekage and his first courtesan are yet to sleep in the same room." Miko, Ai's friend from the Tea house, teased her as she walked up to the pair and handed Kankuro some tea. Ai narrowed her eyes on her friend.

"Why, Miko-chan, we all know the most beautiful of flowers bloom last; the sunshine of Summer is reserved for them alone."

Kankuro beamed, "You speak so wonderfully, Ai!" The dancer looked over with an appreciative smile and bowed her head, "you have stolen my heart." Upon hearing this, laughter filled the air like soft singing as the gathered women showed their appreciation for Kankuro's words. But Ai could sense it, could feel the daggers in their breath on her neck as they all waited to see her fail. Kankuro was led away by a few other dancers as Ai stood awkwardly, not wanting to meet anyone for fear of their prying questions.

"Ai," the dark haired girl looked up and, avoiding everyone else's eye, saw her sensei stood at an iron table in the courtyard. The table was littered with cups of tea, small biscuits and chocolates, along with books of poetry and the works of the Great Philosophers. Megumi had clearly just finished her breakfast and was beckoning Ai with a stern look. "Come." Megumi looked down at her student through her circular glasses and saw Ai blush a little and lower her gaze as everyone in the courtyard sat in silence and stared at her. She could feel their glares, their smirks, hear their petty comments about how she had not yet managed to seduce the jinchuriki. Ai walked with her head lowered to meet her teacher who said nothing but began to walk into the Kazekage's gardens. Ai followed intently.

The gardens in the palace were exquisite; maintained by botanists or magicians, Ai could not tell for there were plants of which she had never seen before. They offered shade and fruit and flowers of all kinds so the girl was sure there must be some magic afoot. The gardens were the only place you found true greenery in Suna and there was even a small, man-made pond. Ai glanced around, breathing deeply to take in the smell of honeysuckle.

After a few minutes of walking in silence, a few paces behind her teacher, with nothing but the birdsong for company, Ai grew restless. She walked a little quicker until she was at Megumi's side and stopped.

"Megumi-sama, I know I am yet to-"

"What kind of tree is this?" Megumi stopped and interrupted her. Without looking at Ai, she held up her hand and pointed to a tree which draped over the pond with pale pink blossoms. Ai looked over quickly but did not register what her teacher wanted from her.

"The Kazekage will not see me!" Ai pleaded desperately but her teacher remained unaffected.

"What tree is this?" Megumi asked again, still looking over at the pond.

"I don't know!" The girl in blue grew impatient with her teacher's lack of attention.

"You do not know?" Megumi turned to her, an eyebrow raised and it was that look that indicated to Ai that she was in now in serious trouble. "A courtesan does not know the name of such a beautiful object?" Ai looked to the floor; she knew what was coming, she was going to be scolded. "You forget yourself, Ai." Megumi stated loudly, dangerously as though daring her student to voice any other childish thoughts. "Try again." Ai sighed and looked over, taking in the delicate way the dark branches twisted and twirled and dipped into the water; causing ripples to spread out over the crystal clear reflection of the sky. She could see a few blossoms break away and dance to safety on the light Suna breeze.

"It is Sakura," Ai said quietly, embarrassed for losing her composure, "a cherry tree." She finished feebly.

"My dearest, Ai," Megumi spoke softly and put a finger under Ai's chin to lift the girl's head so they could look one another, "do I really need to explain to you how important it is that we solidify our relationship with the new Kazekage and council?" Ai blinked up at her, feeling lost.

"He shirks me as though I were the rain," Ai shook her head. "His words burn me like a chilling Winter wind. He is merciless." She bit her lip in frustration.

"Does he intimidate you?" Megumi asked.

"No, I…" The young courtesan faltered and could see from the look on Megumi's face that the teacher had figured it all out. "There is a power in his every movement," Ai explained and began to walk after Megumi as her teacher started to walk again. "I cannot tear myself away from whatever oath he binds me to. I stumble over my words and forget how to breath whenever he's around me-"

"You are infatuated?"

"I…no, I, no!" Megumi smirked as Ai tried to wriggle out of the corner she had put herself in. "I am intimidated by his aggression." She finished, not knowing how to continue.

"Ai," Megumi stated simply, "you are intimidated." Ai inwardly rolled her eyes; was Megumi really going to patronize her? "It is a big task to ask of you. Gaara is a man who possesses infinite virtues; he is of noble blood, he possesses riches, power, he is the most skilled shinobi in this village and the most powerful Kazekage we have ever known. You are beautiful, poised, elegant, intelligent and many men have compared you to the silent, radiant moon." The elder woman spoke as though to herself. "You are faced with this man, this daunting task of seduction and you are young, inexperienced and have a terrible habit of talking back," she smiled as Ai opened her mouth to protest but then shut it quickly. "He has shirked you not once but twice now and I understand what that can do to a dancer's confidence; you feel powerless against him?" Ai did not need to respond; it was all true. That was exactly how she felt. Seduction seemed near-impossible with his hatred of her profession. "It seems as though we have reached a stalemate." Megumi stopped walking and Ai stood beside her, lost in thoughts of how to tip the balance of power in her favor. "You are over thinking things, my dear." Ai shook her head.

"I'm afraid I cannot think at all; I have no idea what it is I need to do to move this relationship further." Ai mumbled.

"You have the skill, Ai, to seduce anyone you wish," Megumi reached out a hand as a cherry blossom floated down to the pair. She caught it in her palm and showed it to Ai, "you have simply lost confidence and that will come once you remember that you are seducing the youngest Kazekage in history; he is just as scared and youthful as you are." As Ai looked at her uncomprehendingly, Megumi tapped the girl's forehead, an affectionate way of showing her she was being naïve. "Gaara is a virgin." Megumi laughed as colour rushed and forced their way from Ai's insides to her skin. All this whole time, Ai had not even thought about it! The way he spoke, the way he held himself you would think it were the last thing on his mind! "The Kazekage is fighting a losing battle; caught between his desire for you and his distrust of dancers." Megumi leant in as Ai peered at the flower in her hand, a smile spreading across the young girl's face. "He is trying to resist the pull of the moon," the wiser courtesan smiled, "surely she will put up a fight to conquer this rebellion?" Her face aglow with recharged confidence, Ai smiled and blew the cherry blossom from Megumi's hand.

"I shall."

Chapter Text

His First Kiss/Unto the Moonrise

"The Great Philosophers fall into four categories; the most modern of which Sunagakure takes as its Political Philosophy…" Gaara nodded as his tutor, Hana-sama, an elder female teacher of the village, continued to recite her lesson. They were sat on cushions that had been laid out by servants, on the Kazekage's balcony. The balcony was more like a veranda; a huge wooden square that hung over the courtyard of the palace as the Kazekage's quarters were on the fifth floor. The palace was shaped like a rectangle with the middle occupied by courtyards that housed the gardens. The gardens were lined with the four walls of the palace. Each floor had an open walkway so that members of the council, the Kazekage's family and guests, could walk out, on each floor, to view the gardens below. The sun was at its highest point in the sky and shone down onto the palace, illuminating everything with a golden light and unforgiving heat. The smell of flowers drifted up to the teacher and student as they sat, both enduring the heat.

It was the usual setting for Gaara's lessons that did not pertain to shinobi skills; it was here that he learnt how to be a Kage. Hana-sama taught him most of the things he did not learn as a shinobi: politics, economics, history…the list seemed to go on forever and Gaara, known for not being the most patient man, was growing restless. He found the white Kazekage robe a little suffocating as it had a high neck that twisted around him. At least he didn't have to wear the hat in his private quarters.

The young Kazekage liked to have his lessons here as he found his office stuffy at this time of the day; the breeze of Suna comforted and consoled him as he sat, bored, listening to his aged teacher rattle on about something from a thousand years ago. Tea was served before the lesson began and Gaara found himself idly swirling the contents of his cup, wondering if it would be possible to drown himself in the contents.

"It was known as the enlightenment period…" she continued to recite in front of him, as though from a book and Gaara, who was nodding along with her monotonous banter, spied something unusual in the distance. As inconspicuously as possible, he stole a glance over at the balcony that lined the Northern side of the palace. It looked as though he were glancing at Hana's shoulder but Gaara was intrigued by what was going on behind her; one floor below, on the walkway, Temari had been stopped by a gardener who looked thunderous.

"Wretched thief!" The gardener, a short and feeble looking man, shouted at her and, as Temari had only been innocently walking to the library, she raised an eyebrow at him with a look that could kill. Gaara's elder sister spoke but he could not hear her for the distance. The gardener, on the other hand, let his frustration determine the volume at which he spoke. "Starlight came down to Earth and tricked me!" He shouted at the blonde shinobi who folded her arms; so he was not accusing her of thievery. "She convinced me that I did not have tsubaki (A/N: Red camellia flower) growing in the greenhouse and when I turned to show her she stole a birdcage and ran into the palace." Gaara looked away quickly to Hana-sama and nodded again, to maintain the illusion of focus, before he let his eyes flit back to the commotion. While Temari was trying to calm the gardener down, Gaara caught sight of starlight running along the balcony on the floor directly below the pair.

Ai was in blue, she ran through the palace as though it were a fairground, dodging diplomats and running through groups of women who cursed her name as she scattered them in fear. Directly below Temari and the gardener she stopped and Gaara could see her laughing as the walkway emptied. Her veil had fallen from her head and been lost somewhere during the chase but he knew it was her; she glittered in the Suna sun and her smile lit up the world.

"Hey, where did she go?!" Ai jumped and Gaara, his heart beating a little faster, watched in a confusing mix of bewilderment and respect as the girl glanced around her, wondering where to hide from the oncoming guard that were chasing her. All over a birdcage? Gaara wondered what on Earth she wanted with it and why on Earth the gardener had called the guards over such a petty thing.

"…if we look back through time over each Kazeage's position…" Hana-sama, oblivious to the world around her, did not notice that the Kazekage was paying no attention to her and sat, transfixed, at the scene unfolding on the balconies beyond them.

Temari and the gardener had also heard the guards' shouts and proceeded to make their way to the lower balcony where Ai was. The courtesan was being cornered; the guards were coming from the right and Temari and the gardener were coming from the left. There were no doors to go through, no way down; she was doomed. Gaara watched Ai as she looked around for somewhere to run or hide before he did something he could not explain.

The courtesan glanced down each side of the corridor as she heard hurried footsteps coming from either side; what to do? What to do? All this over a couple of birds? Ai heard a twig snap behind her and turned to the railing of the balcony quickly, ready with excuses for her actions. What she saw made her stop for a moment. A twig, from the rose bush that climbed the pillars of the palace, had indeed snapped but the cause of the break was a strange sight. A mass of sand, like a cloud, hovered in the air beyond the balcony as though beckoning her. Blue eyes narrowed on it as she took a few tentative steps towards the edge of the balcony. Ai thought for a moment before she heard the voices of Temari and the gardener approaching and, without hesitation, she jumped up onto the railing and, with a lot of faith, jumped down onto the cloud of sand. It took a moment for her to adjust her balance but when she did the sand lowered, keeping her out of sight to those on the balcony of the third floor. Ai crouched on the sand behind a pillar, taking in the sweet scent of the roses, unaware that he was watching her.

"If you are inattentive, Gaara-kun, I may leave you to your daydreams of her." Gaara snapped his gaze back to Hana-sama and saw that she had turned her head to see Ai floating on sand a little way behind her.

"Forgive me, Hana-sama," Gaara said and looked down to the tea cup in his hands. Hana turned back to the Kazekage and smirked.

"I will suspend our lesson for today, Kazekage," she spoke in a croaky, ancient voice and stood, Gaara stood out of respect to see her out. "I hope tomorrow will be less full of distraction."

"Yes. Sorry." The red headed shinobi flushed with embarrassment and nodded his thanks to her as she left. He could hear her muttering about "back in her day" as he turned back to see Temari speaking with the gardener and the guards, all stood on the balcony to which Ai had run, wondering where she had disappeared to. The gardener was waving his hands in the air dramatically and Gaara could see Ai, hidden from their view, silently laughing into her hands. The group on the balcony dispersed and soon it was empty.

Without even moving, without even being consciously aware of it, Gaara made the sand that Ai was stood on, move higher to let her slip back onto the veranda. The Kazekage looked on, trying denying this strange new feeling that felt as though it was slipping itself into his bloodstream. As Ai landed softly on the veranda, she turned to the sand.

The girl being chased as starlight looked around for the person who was helping her but her blue eyes could not find his. She took a step towards the sand and lifted her left hand to her mouth and slowly, as Gaara watched with baited breath, she bowed her head, closed her eyes and pushed her lips against a ring on her finger. In thanks, she took the ring off her hand and placed it on top of the sand. With another quick glance up at the heavens, as though he might be there, she smiled and walked away.

***

Hours had passed since the incident on the palace balconies and Gaara could not shake it from his mind. Why was it, wherever Ai went, chaos seemed to followed after? It baffled him that he cared so much, that he wanted to know why she would run for a couple of birds. Why would the girl bother to steal? Why did she act with no consent to consequences? It ate at him; why did he care so much?! It was driving him mad with curiosity. He had not seen her for days and had been trying to forget her but somehow she managed to tumble back into his life. Her presence was a nuisance, a distraction; she acted so bizarrely, so out of whim and heart that he, bound by the role given to him at birth, could not understand her.

The ring she had placed on the sand now sat, mocking him with its brilliance, on his desk. Sparkling in the light of a dying sun, it was every inch of her; beautiful and delicate, annoyingly unlike him or anything he knew to be wonderful. It was a plain silver band with a large, rectangular, blue stone, an aquamarine according to Temari who had asked about it earlier. He shot it a look of distaste. Why had she given it to the sand?

Gaara reached out a hand and picked up the ring. Her fingers were so slender, the shinobi observed as he stroked the cold metal of the band. Why did she act the way she did? So careless, so reckless, so charming and aloof! She reminded him a little of his friend, Uzumaki Naruto, the Konoha shinobi; he too had a care-free nature but a fierce heart. Gaara had caught a little glimpse of that fire in Ai a few days ago. What was it about her that stirred his curiosity? Turning the ring so he could see the stone, he let his thumb brush the light blue gem that shone in his hands. Her soft lips had pushed against the gem in such a delicate, sacrificial manner, as though she were giving up a part of herself to him-

"Ah!" Gaara dropped the ring as though it burned him. It was not only his curiosity that was stirring; at the thought of her, Shukaku was growing restless as though waking to a bloodlust. The Kazekage propped his elbows onto the desk and, with his hands clasped, pushed his lips against his fingers. He closed his eyes thought for a little while about what he should do but one thing was clear: he had to be rid of her. The door opened and one of his students, Matsuri, walked in.

"Gaara-sam-"

"There is a girl residing in the palace as a guest, her name is Ai; bring her to me." Gaara did not open his eyes so he did not see the look that struck Matsuri's face. The Kazekage had never spoken to her so abruptly, never been so lost in thoughts unknown, never asked for the presence of another woman.

"Y-yes, Sir!" Matsuri bowed and left the room, leaving Gaara to think quickly about his plan of action. He sat back and squared his shoulders; she was not going to win this time. He placed the ring in the pocket of his shirt and waited. Within moments, there was a knock at the door. The Kazekage took a breath.

"Enter," he commanded. The door opened and Ai appeared as a silhouette at his door before walking into what was left of the sunlight in his office. She had her gaze lowered, her light blue veil placed back neatly on her head; looking innocent and dream-like. The door shut behind her and the pair waited in silence.

"You asked for me, Kazekage?" She paused and Gaara took a breath, aware of how he changed in her presence; he felt his commanding nature slipping away for she stood so defiantly, as though she knew exactly what he had called her for. He stood his ground, keeping a close guard on his emotions; he had not let himself get lost in a storm of emotion in nearly two years and if he failed to maintain a calm nature, he had no idea what Shukaku might do.

"What happened today?" Her electric-blue eyes flicked up to him.

"It seems someone saved me from a lot of trouble," Ai smirked. He sighed.

"What happened with the gardener?" It was Ai's turn to sigh. She huffed and walked over to the window to watch the sunset, twiddling the end of her veil with her fingers.

"He had caged two songbirds."

"Hardly a reason to steal." The Kazekage commented and Ai inwardly rolled her eyes; that Kazekage-tone, so calm and unyielding, made her want to wake up the Gaara she had heard about.

"What did I steal, Kazekage?" She turned to Gaara with a pleading look, her eyes glittering. "Whose right is it to command a bird to fly? To command them to sing?" She walked over to the desk and stood before him, "I gave them back what was taken from them; I gave them freedom." The Kazekage said nothing and Ai shot him a look of impatience. "If you accuse me of doing wrong then you are condemning yourself."

"How so?"

"Was it not you, Kazekage, who saved me from my comeuppance?" She smirked as he remained silent. "Not every shinobi in Sunagakure can control sand with such effortless attention." She spoke the last statement in a sultry, girlish manner but when Gaara looked her straight in the eye and she seemed to falter. His gaze was merciless; every glance he gave her seemed to shoot straight through her.

"Regardless of my involvement," Gaara spoke in the most diplomatic tone he could master, "you stole from the Kazekage's palace." He stood from the desk and Ai's face turned to a look of confusion and amusement; was he about to punish her? "Guests have a certain protocol they must follow- what?" Ai had started to laugh; she put a hand up to her mouth and giggled before regaining her usual manner and appraising the Kazekage.

"Coward." Gaara jerked as Ai gave him a mocking look of disbelief; the corners of her mouth curling up into a smile. His eyes widened before narrowing on the insolent girl.

"What did you say?" Both had dropped their "Kazkeage" and "courtesan" tones. Seeing each other for what they really were; hating each other for their lack of integrity. And suddenly, seduction was forgotten, as was punishment and it was back to adolescent bickering.

"A coward." Ai put her hands on her hips and held her head high. "You would rather punish me and be rid of me than really face your fear." Ai raised her voice and Gaara retaliated with equal distaste:

"What is it that I am supposed to fear?" He asked her loudly.

"The real reason behind why it was you helped me."

"I helped you to save me the paperwork-"

"Paperwork?!" Ai laughed again and looked away from him. "Forgive my insolence, Kazekage, but you are naïve even to the ways of your own heart." Gaara walked around his desk and stood opposite her, a growl she had never heard before entered his voice.

"How dare y-"

"You're bored." She interrupted with an accusation that seemed to catch the Kazekage off-guard. Gaara took a step away from her, the growl in his voice now gone.

"What?"

"What is it you do every day besides teach or be taught? Attend meetings or dinners?" Ai scoffed. "When are you ever yourself?" His lack of response irritated her and she raised her voice again. "The only time I ever see you act on your own will is when you are arguing with me!"

"That's not true!" Gaara raised an accusatory finger at her and Ai smiled mockingly.

"Oh sorry," she commented "did someone tell you to point at another person in the room or do you actually have the capacity for self-determination?" Gaara shook his head with a look of utter incomprehension. "Do you even partake in anything remotely ninja-orientated or has the lure of bureaucracy got the better of you?"

"You are insufferable!" He shouted at her.

"And you are grateful for the intrusion!" She retaliated. "The stars still move, Kazekage, around a greater purpose. They are not stationary. Perhaps if you upheld similar initiative, we would not find ourselves at each other's throats whenever you decide you want to remember what it's like to feel alive!" She turned away from him with a shake of her head and walked a few feet away. This Kazekage was nothing more than a nineteen year old shinobi with an over-inflated ego.

Gaara needed to regain control of the situation. He was growing frustrated with her fallacious accusations; speaking to her for a moment longer was going to make him boil over. He could feel, in every breath he took, Shukaku's purr as he slept, slowly rising to Gaara's consciousness. He looked across to Ai, her back to him, her sky-blue veil hiding her from him. Did she really think he was so meek?

"You honestly think I do nothing for myself?" He spoke softly, without thinking, knowing he should end the conversation and tell her to leave the palace for good but he found he could not tear himself away from her. She turned back as he spoke; his voice was soft. "Do you know how often my council falls into pandemonium because they cannot find me?" Ai unfolded her arms, a sense of guilt rising in her stomach. "It's true, Ai, that I follow the rules and regulations that are befitting of a Kazekage. But it is foolish to think that I follow blindly, that I resign myself to a title." Their eyes met.

"Where do you go?" She asked gently.

"None of your concern." He replied. She sighed.

"No more than an idle lie then." Gaara closed his eyes as she spoke.

"You are insufferable."

"And you are unashamedly incarcerated." She turned again and walked to the door. "Let us not deny what is happening here," she said as she reached the door. "Try as you might, something has a hold on you, something that cannot give me up." She turned her head and spoke as though he were right next to her. "Call me, whenever you wish to feel alive." The courtesan lifted her hand to open the door.

"Wait, Ai." Her hand hovered in the air.

"What is it, Kazekage?"

"Come here." Ai heard him opening a window and turned to see he had removed the white outer-layer of his Kazekage uniform to reveal his casual clothes underneath; the long, red, cloak-like shirt and dark trousers. He reached over to his gourd that was placed beside his desk and secured it on his back with a long leather strap. He pushed the window open a little further and looked over to her. "Come." He said again and Ai, her face adorned with a look of intrigue, walked over to him. She peered out of the window to see Sunagakure, becoming sleepy and still in the sunset hours as a cloud of sand began to form before the window. "Get on." Gaara instructed her and, with a sideways glance at him, she lifted her dress, balanced herself on the windowsill and jumped onto the sand.

It was frightening and disorienting; being up so high with nothing but sand beneath your feet. Ai looked out to the village as lights began to flicker on in homes of civilians and lanterns lining the pavements were lit.

"Ah," she gasped as the sand lowered slightly when the Kazekage came to stand beside her on the sand. The quietness of the village, the vast emptiness of the world before them, made all previous frustrations forgotten. "Where are we going?" Ai asked and looked up at him. He did not look to her.

"A place of solitude." He informed her.

"Where is that?" He did not respond as Ai gasped and grabbed his arm when the sand jerked forwards to move. She kept her hand there, maintaining her balance as they began to move off. Eventually the village began to grow smaller in the distance, the lights of homes flickering and glittering as they ascended, further into the unknown parts of the world.

Ai could not help but smile; what an invigorating sense of freedom, to feel the winds of the desert glide past you as your soared through the darkening sky. She held on to the Kazekage's arm and looked around them, flitting from one side of the sand to the other, marveling at the world, smiling at the disappearing towns beneath them.

All the while Gaara watched her, his eyes never left her face; she was innocent and simple and that gave him a feeling he had very rarely experienced. It filled him with warmth to watch her smile and point out to places she knew and wanted to know. Her sense of adventure, her love of freedom, spoke to something within him that he never thought he could ever know.

Suddenly Ai spun around at the sound of it. Crashing into the Earth, the majestic ocean lay before them, dark and spinning, it called to her. As Gaara's sand met the shore, Ai ran out into the night, into the beckoning sea. The horizon twinkled with lights of far off cities and it was that time of night, before the moonrise, when the sky is dark but there is enough light of the dying sun, to see the beauty of the world around you.

The Kazekage did not move from where his sand rested but watched the dancer as she kicked off her shoes, lifted her dress and ran into the sea. Ai may have even been shouting something into the looming darkness, he could not tell as she ran. Upon entering the water she stopped to let it lap over her feet and soothe her as she tilted her head back to gaze and the stars. The sea was gentle and calm, the only sound was the movement of the waves as they cascaded around her. She turned back to him.

Gaara stood watching her, his face calm, his arms folded. In the hours before the moonrise his skin looked as though it were porcelain. She smiled; Gaara was painfully handsome. Everything he did, the way he spoke, the mannerisms he had, his silence, his stare, his gait, his power, his wonderfully defined body, held enough majesty to rival even the ocean. Lifting her dress, she walked out of the water towards him.

"I watch the sun set here sometimes," Gaara spoke suddenly as she approached. She stood a few feet from him and for a moment, seemed paralyzed before she began to flit around again. She turned from him and he watched in silence as she looked around them.

"But," Ai glanced around, "where is the moon?" He took a step to stand beside her.

"I hear she walks the Earth now." Her eyes widened as he spoke and she looked over to him. He stared at her as the world stood still; she was effortlessly endearing and Gaara could not keep his guard up anymore. He could not understand the look on her face, was she curious or happy, it seemed to be a mixture of both. She took a step towards him and he unfolded his arms in surprise. Ai noticed him recoil and slowed down a little. She walked up to him, her eyes never leaving his face, and placed her hands on his chest.

Ai went up onto the tips of her toes and leant in, she kept her eyes locked with his, feeling the rising and falling of his chest as his breathing deepened. She gave him a last look of reassurance for he seemed to be scared or nervous, before she closed her eyes and pushed her lips softly to the corner of his mouth.

The young Kazekage stood with his arms by his side, the tips of his fingers tingling, as a sensation of want began to course through him; the feel of her was unlike anything he had ever known. Ai was so soft and gentle. She moved away from him and opened her eyes. He was looking down at her with an expression of nervous excitement. Had he kept his eyes open? And he hadn't pulled her into embrace either. She did not find it humorous but sweet; did this boy not know how to love?

On the shore, at the edge of the world, Ai and Gaara stood in twilight, willing the other to show them what they wanted.

"Close your eyes," Ai whispered and leant in to his ear. Gaara did as told, "put your hands on me, Gaara." At the sound of this phrase, Ai felt Gaara's gentle manner leave them for a moment as he roughly placed his hands on her hips before following the contour of her body to her waist. "What do you feel?" She murmured and put the arches of her lips against his. The Kazekage let out a shuddering breath and wrapped his arms around her tightly, pulling her into embrace.

"Alive." He growled before instinct took over and Gaara closed what space there was between their lips and pushed back against her with such torturing gentleness that Ai could feel herself succumbing to his charms. As she felt him explore her, feel her, want her, she tried hard to calm the desire rising in her. Unexpectedly, she pushed herself away from him.

Gaara opened his eyes, shook his head defiantly and with a hungry look that made her melt, advanced on her once more. She kept her hand against his chest to stop him moving closer and Gaara had half a mind to push her arm away pull her into him again but the look on her face made him stop. Ai looked at him with a small smile and with almost loving, affectionate eyes. It was a look that would make men follow her to the edge of the Earth and so the Kazekage obeyed, wanting to see what the mischievous glint in her eye was foretelling.

Ai let her hand travel down his chest, as she lowered herself to her knees; eventually her hand gripped his belt buckle. The sight of her, kneeling, submissive, sacrificial almost, her lips pouting and glistening from their kiss, was waking something up inside of him. He shook his head at her.

"No Ai, don't kneel." He begged her, wondering what was happening inside of him, what this ocean of emotion was that was flooding him. The girl tilted her head up to him.

"Why not?" She asked but Gaara's vision was beginning to blur. Something was happening, something was building up inside of him.

"I will frighten you." He pleaded with all his will for her to get up but something was taking over his body, calling out for her. Shukaku was waking up.

"Frighten me then." She whispered but Gaara already was losing control. He was being taken over by the bloodlust. Shukaku could smell her sickly sweet perfume, it was filling Gaara's head. The Kazekage fell to his knees and shut his eyes to shut out the vision of her, to try and regain control. "Kazekage, what's the matter?" Ai's voice was no longer seductive but panic-stricken.

"Get away from me!" He shouted at her and put his hands on his ears to rid himself of Shukaku's murmuring. He thrashed his head from side to side, trying to get Shukaku out of his mind, trying to stop Ai from getting closer but the girl was too concerned for him to worry about her safety. She put a hand on the side of Gaara's face as he thrashed and tried to calm the panic that was rising inside of her.

"Gaara!" She shouted for even the ocean started to tumble and swirl and swallow them in the roaring sounds of the waves as they thrashed in the night. Sand on the shore began to float up into the air and spin around them. The world was humming and crashing as the Kazekage, on his knees, begged Shukaku to leave him alone and pleaded with Ai to do as he said and get away from him.

In a moment, everything stopped. Gaara stopped moving, the ocean stilled and the sand floated to the ground again. Ai glanced around as everything descended into tranquility. The night breeze seemed to soothe the Kazekage who, with his eyes still closed, took a breath. Ai placed her hands on either side of his face.

"Kazekage?" She asked softly but she could still sense, something was wrong. There was something menacing in the silent way he held himself.

"You should have run." Gaara murmured and opened his eyes. Ai screamed as fear shook her; the person looking back at her was no longer the Kazekage she knew. She was staring into the eyes of a demon.

Chapter Text

The Demon in Him
***

Ai was paralyzed with fear as she knelt before what used to be the Kazekage. His calm green eyes were no longer there; instead she found that she could not tear her gaze away from the yellowing, manic eyes that swallowed her whole. The whites of his eyes had turned black as the night around them and the corner of his lips curved to a smirk. Ai could hear the growl, the purr, of Shukaku on the sea breeze.

The courtesan was not even aware that she had stopped breathing. Her bottom lip trembled as Gaara raised a hand slowly to place the tips of his fingers on her temple. A bolt of electricity seemed to pass between them as the Kazekage pushed his fingertips against her head so she could feel his nails on her soft, delicate skin. She winced as he dragged his nails from her forehead, down her face and across her cheek before they found her lips. Gently, watching her skin blush under his touch, Gaara's nails scraped across her lips, letting his thumb pull down her quivering bottom lip to open her mouth.

The biju inside the Kazekage shivered, as did what was left of Gaara, when he saw her lips open for him. She was entirely at his mercy and it was the fear in her, the innocence, the untouchable beauty, that rendered her unbearably seductive to them both. He placed his fingers beneath her chin and tilted Ai's face to his.

The dancer complied without hesitation for it was not only her fear that kept her rooted to the spot; the way he touched her, the way he, Shukaku, looked at her, made her believe she could still feel Gaara in there somewhere, fighting to be heard. Her desire to see him again, the boy she had first kissed, took her over and she let the monster kiss her.

Gaara liked how she did not move; she kept her mouth open as he placed a kiss on her bottom lip. Shukaku shuddered; her lips were soft, plump and red, he could smell the blood in her, he could taste the fear in the warmth of her mouth. Gaara had kept his eyes open, not out of inexperience, but out of the need to see what he did to her. Ai had her eyes closed and her face held a pained expression as though denying to herself what she really wanted. He liked it. The Kazekage closed his eyes, placed his hands on either side of her face and lowered himself onto her once more.

There was something so different in the way he kissed; something fluid, lustful and commanding surged through Gaara and when he opened his mouth to taste her a little more, Ai gasped and against her will, as though under some spell, began to return the affection. She could feel herself weakening for him as the shinobi ran his tongue along her lips and Ai could hear a deep rumble, a growl, issue from him. He withdrew from their kiss and they opened their eyes.

What Shukaku saw caught him unawares; there was something in her eyes that called out for Gaara. Some emotion he did not understand or know was pulling Gaara out of the darkness. Her big blue eyes were filling up with...was it sadness, grief? Gaara needed to see her, to ask her what that look was, why she looked at him that way. His vision was blurring again, the demon was clawing at his consciousness in a desperate bid to remain in control. The Kazekage swayed as if faint and closed his eyes.

"Kazekage!" Ai let out a gasp of relief for when Gaara opened his eyes again they were back to those piercing opals that she knew. He took her face in his hands and leant down to rest his forehead against hers; breathing heavily from the effort it took to calm Shukaku down to the depths of his subconscious.

"Ai," he whispered, "I cannot keep Shukaku at bay for long; return to the palace and tell them where I am-"

"I will not leave y- ah!" Gaara had grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled so hard her eyes began to water. Her head was being pulled back until she was facing the stars, tears streaming from her glittering eyes. Gaara took a few deep breaths, trying to keep his eyes away from her face; Shukaku was thunderous, another look at her could mean the end of them both.

"Do as I say." In an instant Gaara let go of her hair and with the other hand summoned the sand beneath her to move. Ai was thrown off balance as she brought her head back to face him but was lifted into the air and was forced to get onto all fours to look over the edge of the sand that was rising above the Earth.

"Gaara!" She held out a hand for him as she was swept away on a cloud of sand and wind, up into the night. Ai looked down to him as he became a silhouette on the beach and could see the Kazekage, shouting at his shadow, thrashing on the ground, trying to regain control. She looked around for some way to get to him but she was already too high. As she glanced from side to side she saw shadows move across the beach to meet the Kazekage. Ai looked on in apprehension until she saw one of the shadows move in a familiar manner, using strings at his fingertips to control what looked like another person. Her heart rate slowed; it was Kankuro, the puppet master. A more careful look and Ai could see the other shadows were shinobi. Surely the Kazekage could get Shukaku under control without the need for intervention from the other shinobi? He had managed fine for two years! Gaara had lived with the beast for so long, why, now, was Shukaku restless?

As she swept up into the night, her shoulders fell; Gaara and Shukaku were blended together so intricately it was hard to tell where one ended and where one began. Her fingers brushed her lips and all the way back to the palace her thoughts and wishes for Gaara to be safe, for Shukaku to be controlled, were marred by a more painful question; which one had kissed her?

***

The balconies of the palace were looming up ahead as Ai steadied herself on the sand, prepared to jump off at any instant for she could feel the sand loosening beneath her feet; its pace was becoming sluggish and jarred. As the Kazekage began to fade away for a demon, his control on the sand also began to weaken. In small trickles, the glittering mass Ai was stood on began to crumble. She prepared to fall from the sky as the sand approached a lower floor of the palace and just as the girl hopped on to the balcony, the sand crashed into the railing and fell into the courtyard.

Ai glanced from side to side, listening for any commotion. It was the middle of the night; no lights were on in the palace, there was no one around. She spun around to look over the balcony but the courtyard was empty. After a moment, she turned back to the palace as she heard a door behind her open and light poured itself into the night. She shielded her eyes and in the same moment, Ai heard shouts from below; they were calling for medic ninja and Palace officials.

"Ai?" She lowered her arm from in front of her face and, as her eyes adjusted, she caught sight of Megumi standing in the doorway before her. "Speak, child," the teacher spoke comfortingly, "what is it that has you so afflicted?" But Ai could not speak, she could not think. She had to get to him. "Why is your dress wet?" But Ai was already running through the palace. They would take Gaara to the Sick Bay to be monitored, surely. So the courtesan ran. "Ai!" She heard her teacher call after her but did not turn back. She kept running and twirling and spinning through the palace to find him.

Ai suddenly found herself stood in the corridor that lead to the Sick Bay; beyond this point was shinobi territory. It was a world that courtesans sought to control from a distance, indeed, empires were built on the whispers of courtesans into the ears of enchanted Kage. It was not a world that they were welcomed into so openly; courtesans were seen in secret, in the reflection of water, in starlight. They never acted on their own will, nor did they actively seek the company of shinobi; Ai would defy everything the Tea House and the Palace stood for, if she went through the doors.

She took a moment to compose herself, fixing her veil, wiping her eyes; there was no mirror around to see how she really looked but she found she did not care. The Sick Bay was located in the basement of the Palace and as she approached the doors tentatively, she saw people rushing in and out, turning on lights, waking up the inhabitants of the Palace. Ai did not hesitate; she walked straight through the doors leading to the hospital beds.

The room was plunged in that fluorescent, unforgiving light and the sickly smell of hospital disinfectant lingered in the air. The bright white light shone on the busy room; everyone was too engrossed in the chaos to ask Ai what she was doing there. As her eyes scanned the scene she saw Kankuro, stood at the other end of the room, talking to an older shinobi, probably a medic. Ai moved forwards but had to narrowly dodge a group of shinobi carrying scrolls and candles. She glided through the chaotic ward cautiously, unnoticed.

"…The Kazekage has not had to control the Biju with such strength for over a year now." She could hear, as she got closer, what the older man was telling Kankuro. "His defenses were down and something triggered Shukaku to wake-" Kankuro and the fellow shinobi broke conversation to look down as someone on the bed beside them stirred. Her eyes caught sight of the hand of the person lying down and she moved forwards.

Ai was stopped immediately by someone holding out an arm in front of her. She followed the arm to the body of the person it belonged to. It was the Kazekage's older sister, Temari. The deadly female shinobi had her arms spread out to prevent Ai from getting closer.

The young courtesan, who would usually have held her veil and lowered her gaze, looked on at Temari defiantly. "You aren't allowed anywhere near him, Oiran (A/N: this is actually the Japanese word for 'courtesan' but, as keen readers will know, we aren't actually dealing with Japanese courtesans. Temari is using a common word to belittle Ai; it is as though she is calling her 'whore' but has too much pride to even say the word directly)." At the sound of his sister's tone, commanding and malicious, Kankuro noticed what was happening in the middle of the room and took a step forwards. Ai and Temari did not avert their gaze from one another.

"Temari," Kankuro came to stand behind his sister, blocking Gaara from Ai's view, "what's all this about?" He asked politely; Kankuro, known for being the most easy-going of all the siblings, saw no harm in a courtesan coming into shinobi territory. Temari felt otherwise; a woman can be a shinobi, a mother, a doctor, a friend, when she is none, she is nothing. The blonde shinobi held her head high and kept her arms fanned out.

"She was with him when it happened. We can't trust her." Temari said and gave a small smirk of triumph as Ai remained silent. The two women stood there at a deadlock; both acting for different reasons to protect the same man. The room stilled, watching, waiting; knowing that with words Ai could cut Temari down in a moment and with a flick of her wrist Temari could cut Ai into nothingness. The dancer and the fighter stood their ground.

"What is happening here?" A voice, aged and beautiful, spoke out like birdsong into the room. Ai kept her eyes fixed on Temari as Megumi spoke. The elder courtesan arrived in her finery, with other girls of the Tea House, to stand with their fellow dancer.

"Megumi-san," Kankuro began with closing his eyes, smiling and holding up he hands to signal surrender, "there is no need for such animosity between us."

"Indeed, Kankuro," Megumi, dressed in silver, white stones and pearls glistening around her neck and wrists, appraised the young shinobi. "The Tea House and the Palace have an alliance like no other." She was right, Kankuro knew this; the Tea House was the second greatest power in Sunagakure, housing women who knew not only secrets, but how to use them. It was as though two great families were meeting; the courtesans and the members of the palace. Both held significant power in the community and one could not function without the other. The two sides stood, opposing each other, Temari could sense the power the older woman had but was not backing down; she stood for the dignity of the palace. She would be damned to see it ruined by the actions of one childish courtesan.

Baki, one of Gaara's advisors and a close friend to the family of the Kazekage, came to stand beside Temari who was relentless; she held up her arms to prevent Ai even seeing the Gaara. Being much older than the Kazekage's family, Baki knew of the alliance the Tea House had with the Palace and how valuable it was. Wars could be started and ended by just a few whispers from these women; villages fell to their knees because of the control courtesans had over men of power. It was a relationship that was best not to turn sour.

"Baki," Megumi said his name with a voice soft as silk, "we are, all of us, citizens of Sunagakure, are we not?" Baki stood as though to attention.

"Yes, ma'am." He turned to Temari, "Temari-sama, please-"

"Ai…" Everyone jumped as a feeble voice issued from behind Kankuro. After a heartbeat of silence, the puppeteer sighed and took a step back to let the courtesan pass and Temari, after a moment's hesitation, grudgingly lowered her arms. Ai stepped between the two ninja and looked on at their younger brother who lay, eyes closed, brow furrowed, whispering something. Temari looked to the floor, her back to the Kazekage, as everyone else in the room kept their eyes on Ai. The dancer paused between the sand siblings and seemed to be taken aback be the sight of him, alone and in pain, Gaara whispered her name. "…Ai…?" Her heart broke and she ran to him, on her knees, by the bed, she grasped his hand.

"Ga-" She felt the room freeze as though witnessing something blasphemous as she began to say the Kazekage's first name. "Kazekage?" She corrected herself. Gaara relaxed upon hearing her voice; his body was no longer tense and his brow no longer furrowed. Slowly, the Kazekage was able to open his eyes.

Ai swam into his vision, her face worried, biting her lip in suspense and those big blue eyes…those eyes with that look. Ai felt him tugging away from her so she released his hand and watched as he raised it to the side of her face. She closed her eyes and smiled into his palm. He felt warm and comforting as he stroked her face, his eyes blinking slowly as though on the brink of consciousness.

Her smile faded quickly, for she opened her eyes to find his hand slipping down her face. Ai looked across to him quickly to see that sickly, lustful smile that Shukaku had for her and within an instant Gaara sat bolt upright with a hand wrapped around her throat.

"Gaara!" Kankuro cried out as the Kazekage held Ai's throat with increasing pressure. The room erupted into chaos as shinobi and medics ran over to Ai. In a blur of colour and commotion, Ai felt Gaara release her throat and she tumbled backwards. She stood quickly to see the Kazekage writhing as though in pain whilst another shinobi took out what Ai guessed was a sealing scroll.

"Get her out of here!" Temari shouted at some ninja who took Ai by the arm and escorted her, dragged her, from the room.

"No, no listen to me!" Ai screamed and tried to free herself from the shinobi's grip. "He wasn't hurting me!" No one was paying her any attention. "It didn't hurt m-" Ai stopped as she caught the look on Megumi's face. The courtesans had all turned to follow her from the room and her teacher was fuming with anger; Ai was forgetting herself, her role, her place, her value. Ai quietened and let the shinobi drag her away; she looked past the following entourage of dancer to see Gaara shuddering and muttering in the harsh hospital lighting. Ai tried to protest; when Gaara had held her throat he had not inflicted any pain. She could see in his eyes the battle between Gaara and the beast. He had control. The Kazekage did not hurt her. The ninja let go of Ai once she was out of the room and without thinking she tried to re-enter but Megumi grabbed her arm, she turned to her teacher.

"I have to tell them; Gaara did not cause me any harm-"

"Do not forget yourself, Ai." Megumi commanded and Ai, the fire fading from her as she saw the cold, dead look in Megumi's eyes. "You are first and foremost a courtesan of the Tea House; do not treat shinobi as though they are your kin." Ai was about to retaliate but she saw the way everyone outside the room was looking at her. They had eyebrows raised, looks of panic and worry; they were looking at her as though she were mad. Ai resigned herself to being taken back to her quarters.

***

An hour or so later, the shinobi of Sunagakure had managed to get the beast under control through the use of a sealing scroll. Those closest to the Kazekage now remained at his bedside; Baki, Kankuro and a thunderous Temari. Kankuro placed an arm around his sister who shrugged him away before going to Gaara's side and placing a cloth in a small bowl of water and patting it on his forehead. Her little brother winced under the cold feel of the cloth and she noticed, as she looked him up and down, that Gaara's hand, clenched into a tight fist, had a small trickle of blood escaping between his fingers. When did he cut himself? How did anything cut through his armor of sand?

"Baki." She commanded.

"I see it." Her teacher replied before going to Gaara's side. The three gathered ninja looked on in curiosity as the eldest lifted the Kazekage's hand to see where the cut was but it seemed Gaara was clutching onto something in his hand. Without a second thought, Kankuro placed chakra strings on Gaara's finger tips and prised his hand open. Small trickles of blood left the Kazekage's hand to reveal, a shimmering blue stone. In fact, it was a ring.

Chapter Text

Lust


 

Home.

It was a word Ai had no use for, for she never knew "home". Orphaned at a young age and adopted by the Tea House; hundreds of women became her mother, for moments, for days, never forever. She was raised in these glass walls, on these marble floors she learnt how to walk, how to dance, how to seduce with her gait. Within these rooms, she had learnt how to talk, how to recite poetry, how to sing like the skylark. Everything she was, was because of this place, the Tea House; it defined her and it was, as much as she could not understand the term, home.

She even had her own room here, her own fountain room, her own balcony. Was any of it…hers? Did anything really belong to her? Clothes, jewelry, books that she had been given all disappeared when they had served their purpose; she never wore the same dress twice, nor the same gems and she never needed to read a book twice. As a commodity herself, as an object of value, to be exchanged and sold, how could she ever own anything?

The young courtesan sat now, on her swing that hung in her balcony. Knees drawn up to her chest, dressed in a simple white nightshirt that came to just above her knees with plain silver anklets tied to her feet for she could not be without them. She had not worn a veil on her head in days; what was the need? No makeup, which was unusual practice considering that at the palace she had had to wear it every day.

But she was not at the palace, she was back, alone and silent, on her swing, letting the breeze of Sunagakure gently rock her back and forth in the light of the sunrise.

The heat of the desert was filling the air around her but it felt so far away. Ever since leaving the palace, everything she experienced seemed distant; conversations sounded like the last echo in a valley, colour faded and surrendered to monochrome, emotions, once a deep ocean of swirling chaos, now felt like the irritating drip of a tap in a nearby room.

Miko, her friend, along with other girls of the Tea House, had come to her room yesterday evening and, in an attempt to alleviate her melancholy, they had steamed her hair with fragrance of the jasmine flower. She could smell it now, the blossom jasmine on the wind and she frowned with remembrance; the dancers had sat Ai at her ancient, glass dressing table and ran a brush through her long silken hair. They had talked and sang around her as she remained quiet, staring into nothingness. She had not even noticed Miko kiss her head and say goodnight, or the other girls giggle and ask her how Gaara was as a lover.

At the thought of him, Ai shut her eyes tightly; she wanted to be rid of him. That wretched, wretched, boy! He had a hold on her like none she had ever known; Ai could think of nothing but the beauty of his face, the caress of his voice, the lick of heat that flickered inside of her when they had kissed.

"No!" She shouted, held her legs tight to her chest and buried her face into her knees. "Leave me alone." She whispered as she rocked, "leave me alone."

Days without him were long, they had passed with moonless nights and she had survived through them on heavy sighs. What had happened that night, the night she kissed the Kazekage, had exhausted and terrified her. The girl was put through severe emotional and physical stress, more than her sensei had anticipated and so, in what Megumi thought was an act of kindness, she had forbidden Ai from entering the palace and from seeing the Kazekage again.

Megumi had no idea what was going on inside the girl's head for even Ai could not understand it. She tore at Gaara when he was around her, like a child pinching and pulling at the hair of another, she teased him and complained about him and challenged him. So why on Earth had Ai taken their separation with such vivacious heartbreak? One moment Ai was screaming not to be in the same room as the young Kazekage and the next moment she was screaming at those who pulled them apart.

Teacher and student had not spoken in days because of this. Because of what happened that night.

~Flashback: The moments following Ai being escorted out of the sickbay~ 

The ninja let go of Ai once she was out of the room and, without thinking, she tried to re-enter but Megumi grabbed her arm, she turned to her teacher.

"I have to tell them that the Kazekage did not cause me any harm-"

"Do not forget yourself, Ai." Megumi commanded and spoke louder when Ai opened her mouth to retaliate; "you are first and foremost a courtesan of the Tea House; do not treat shinobi as though they are your kin." Megumi knew Ai held nothing but disdain for authority that was grounded simply in tradition; the regulations put in place by the treatise between the courtesans and the shinobi were meaningless to her. Like a sea of endless commands and rules; Ai felt swallowed by her ties to the courtesans; she lowered her gaze to the floor and began breathing heavily. "Ai?" Megumi spoke with all the authority an elder courtesan had. Slowly, Ai raised her head to face her teacher.

Her usually serene and delicate face was screwed up in frustration and her eyes flashed red. She opened her mouth to speak but as she glanced around she saw the way everyone outside the room was looking at her. They had eyebrows raised, looks of panic and worry; they were looking at her as though she were mad. "Take a moment, my dear." Megumi spoke softly and put a hand on Ai's shoulder. Ai, still frustrated, looked back at the older woman in alarm; why had she suddenly changed her tone? "Close your eyes, take a breath." Her teacher instructed and Ai rolled her eyes; Megumi's old trick for making her calm down. Her sensei would often employ this tactic when Ai was a child and began to throw tantrums. It usually worked but as a result, Ai's childhood temper was soon replaced by a bad habit of talking back.

In spite of her indignation, Ai complied begrudgingly, if only to make the stares stop. As her eyes closed, she could already feel herself calming down; the anger of being parted from him began to ebb away and her breathing became shallower. "Come, girls." She heard Megumi say and Ai stood in line with her fellow dancers and began to walk with them.

Their anklets tinkled in unison as they walked, in line, in perfect time, like an army, through the palace. There were whispers and giggles spinning around Ai but she could not hear them nor respond to them, her mind was alive with thoughts of him and the demon and the tension she had created between courtesan and shinobi; she knew she was to pay a dear price for what she had done. Ai had stepped into a world unknown with blind faith that they would see nothing wrong in her actions. She saw no sense in what anyone older than her did; she was trying to protect the Kazekage! And instead they treated her as though she were nothing.

Such was the life of a courtesan. Such was her life.

"Leave us." Ai, who had been so lost in her thoughts, looked up suddenly to find that Megumi had brought them all into what looked like a library; oil lamps offered dim light to see the rows of books and scrolls that littered desks. The other girls around Ai, including her friend Miko, disappeared as quickly as shadows drowned in candlelight. A strong wind howled in the distance, shaking the shutters of the windows in the library, the oil lamps flickered and glittered as Ai glanced around the room in a haze of tired confusion, waiting for the inevitable scolding.

Megumi took a few steps to the middle of the room and turned to her student. "Before I ask you to inform me of what happened on the shore, I will warn you, Ai; do not forget the value you owe to the Tea House. Do not forget that you are a courtesan. If you wish to be a whore, I will happily find you a brothel to retreat to." Startled, Ai shook her head and took a step forwards.

"A whore?" She tilted her head in confusion; "I haven't even slept with him-"

"Haven't?" Megumi interrupted as Ai stood, completely dumfounded about what was happening here. "Apostrophes are reserved for the lay-man, Ai." Her teacher spat out the words as though they were venom. "Punctuation that breaks up prose is the language of whores." Ai actually smiled at hearing this; a sick smile of utter disbelief.

"Apostrophes?!" Ai breathed. "The Kazekage is in pain because of me." She pointed to the door, back in the direction of the hospital and shook her head; why were elders so shamelessly petty? "Gaara is hurting. And yet you wish to give me a lesson in punctuation?" The two women stood opposite each other, the bond they had taken years to nurture was now bending, ready to snap, for they could not understand one another. Both were blinded; the elder by power, societal recognition and culture whilst Ai…well, even she was not sure what it was that had a hold on her. Upon hearing her speak, Megumi almost retreated into herself; she lowered her voice and raised an eyebrow. In a whisper, she voiced a fear:

"What is he to you besides financial and social stability?" As Megumi spoke, Ai grew tired of her old fashioned attitude and stood to her full height.

"He is a human being!" She cried.

"Ai!" Megumi stopped her student with a single utterance of her name as the harsh winds of the desert shattered against the windows. "Fish in dark waters can have no relationship with birds in bright skies." Megumi stood forwards, glittering in silver and diamonds. Ai did not back down, her eyes shone with tears of frustration.

"And yet our planet has some relation to stars, men have some relation to Gods!"

"That is not how women of the Tea House are raised!"

"Then perhaps it is time for revolt!" And with the last word, Ai ran from her teacher for the second time that night; she turned on her heel, pushed the doors of the library open and ran out into the palace.

Ai ran to the palace entrance and looked around for some means of escape. She heard it before she saw it; the shuffling of hooves and her eyes narrowed on a carriage that had drawn up outside the palace gates. She walked over hurriedly, glancing up at the sky where the stars were fading to give way to the daytime. Her frustration did not care for the cold that Sunagakure felt before the dawn; she marched on to the carriage and approached the driver, a stout man who stood to attention, instantly recognizing her as a Tea House dancer.

"Where to, ma'am?" He asked and she stole a quick glance back at the palace steps to see Megumi walk out and stop to watch her. Ai turned back to the driver.

"The Tea House." She instructed and went to the doors of the carriage.

"Payment?" His question called her back and she turned to him. Holding up her wrist, Ai removed a single gold bangle.

"Here," she muttered absent-mindedly and threw it to him. "It is pure gold." She was about to turn away when a hand that did not belong to the driver, caught her bangle as it shot through the air. A man, perhaps a few years older than herself, walked out into the first light of the day and appraised her. Ai shot him a quick glance and knew him immediately; chiseled features, dark hair and eyes, dressed as though ready for a banquet- he was royalty. His eyes were a dark shade of blue and Ai took a fraction of a step back as they looked her up and down.

"Payment is not necessary." He spoke in a husky, tired voice; he had clearly traveled a long while to get to the palace in the middle of the night. "This is my carriage," he informed her and Ai, feeling slightly sheepish that her frustration had blinded her to the point of stealing from the royal, cast her eyes downwards in respect and bowed. "You may take it wherever you please." Ai raised herself up again and let her eyes flick up to him in the last moment; she knew his stare, that hungry, powerful glance that men of royalty have. "Perhaps, your bangle would be best traded for shoes." Cursing herself, Ai realized she had left her shoes on the beach and tried to regain some of the power in the conversation:

"Perhaps, Prince, your gaze could wander elsewhere?" She said sweetly but with a look that could kill.

The man took a few steps forward and smiled; he could see that she was intimidated. Ai felt vulnerable; she did not have her usual flawless appearance, she was not wearing shoes, she had her guard down. The usually quick-witted courtesan was not prepared for a battle of words after the night she had had. He came close to her and held up her bangle for her to retrieve.

"Forgive the trespasses of my eyes, dear one," he whispered; "they are but slaves to your beauty." Ai was at a loss for words; he was…charming. Her world had been thrown into such chaos in these few hours that she had forgotten the pleasure of flirtation. His rugged features, those dark eyes, made her forget her reason for leaving the palace but slowly, she raised a hand to take her bangle back. He leant in a little further and saw the way the girl's eyes glazed over dreamily as he whispered: "payment is taken in the glances I may steal at you." He moved back and Ai retreated with a small smile. A servant opened the carriage door and she took a step towards it. With a nod of her head she thanked him.

"Goodnight, Prince."

The boy, who was indeed a prince, kept his eyes locked on her as she got into his carriage. The servant was about to close the door but the prince commanded him to leave and instead shut the door behind Ai for her. He looked up at that blue eyed girl as though she fascinated him; he had never seen anyone so entirely lovely in all his life. Their eyes did not part from one another.

"Until we meet again." He said and the carriage moved off. He stood, watching, and did not even turn as he heard the footsteps of someone approach him. "How is it moonlight walks the Earth, Megumi-sama?" He asked dreamily. Megumi looked to him and shook her head.

"No, Prince, there walks Vanity."

~End flashback, Ai's room~

Ai's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on her door.


~ The Palace ~

"You called for me, Gaara-sama?" Looking up, the Kazekage saw Matsuri pop her head around his office door with a look of concern. He inwardly groaned; that pathetic look of pity had been haunting him for days. His family and close friends had taken to tilting their heads at him in worry following him losing control at the beach. How tiresome.

"Yes, come in and sit down." He spoke sternly, remembering the days when losing control meant people would cower in fear; that's how Gaara preferred things. None of this mollycoddling or safeguarding existed when he let himself fall under Shukaku's will. "I wish to talk with you."

"To talk," Matsuri murmured uncertainly and went to sit down in front of his desk, "…with me?" She sat upright, her hands on her knees, her cheeks pink. She glanced up at him quickly and blushed furiously; the young Kazekage had a rogue-like reputation among her class. Handsome and talented, Gaara unwillingly, unknowingly left a trail of broken hearts as he showed no interest in any of them.

"Yes," Matsuri leant forwards in interest; the Kazekage was known for being a very reserved, contemplative young shinobi, an invitation to conversation was the last thing she had expected. Gaara looked her up and down, wondering if he dared speak what was on his mind. She was his first student and the closest stranger he had ever known; one of the first people to acknowledge him as anything but a monster, he trusted her. Gaara lifted a hand to the papers on his desk and Matsuri raised an eyebrow at him as he looked like he was simply reading them. Eventually the Kazekage began to fiddle with the corner of the paper and she could see, from the way his back stiffened and the furrow in his brow that he was regretting his decision to speak with her. But why? What thoughts had he been so lost in these few days? His student was on the edge of her seat, begging to know. "How do you feel," Matsuri leant in further for her teacher was speaking barely above a whisper, "when I look at you?" The young girl jerked in surprise as those shockingly-blue eyes flashed up at her intently. Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth to speak but no sound issued from her. The Kazekage leant forwards, noticing her abrupt reaction, "are you alright?" Matsuri nodded slowly, barely blinking. "Would you like some water?" She nodded again as Gaara indicated with a nod to the glass on his desk.

Matsuri reached out and grabbed the glass with both of her hands for fear that under his merciless gaze she would become weak. Gaara sat in silence for a full minute as Matsuri drained the glass in one gulp as though trying to decrease her body temperature; why was it, whenever he spoke to these girls, they would act as though they had never spoken to anyone in their entire lives? It was infuriating. The Kazekage knew full well that a few of his students found him attractive but their behavior truly baffled him sometimes.

"Could you just," Matsuri began after a few deep breaths, "ask me that again?" Perhaps she had misheard.

"How do you feel when I look at you?" The Kazekage asked again and with a little more of a growl in his voice.

"I feel," she glanced up at him and turned red before looking into the glass in her hands, "my heart stopping." Matsuri gave a small smile and pushed her hair behind her ear. Gaara nodded slowly.

"How do you feel when I speak with you?" As the Kazekage asked her this, the girl looked up with a broad smile.

"Honored, Gaara-sama!"

"Do you fear me?" Gaara stood from his desk quickly and Matsuri looked up at him with eyes full of sadness; how could she ever fear him?

"No!" She said defiantly with a shake of her head. As Gaara walked towards her, he saw her shift backwards in her seat as though terrified that he was coming closer to her.

"Would you ever dare challenge me?" He asked and came to stand beside her. Matsuri turned her head to him.

"Never!" She looked up at him and gulped. He was eyeing her with curiosity. With an interest he had never shown in her before. Her eyes glassed over as he leant down to her.

"Matsuri?"

"Yes?" Was she speaking, she didn't know; she could barely feel anything anymore given that the Kazekage was mere inches from her face.

"How do you feel when I touch you?" Gaara put a hand to the side of her face and watched as Matsuri's glazed over expression became redder…and redder…until-

"Gaara-sama!" The shrill squeal that issued from Matsuri made even Shukaku wake up and cover his ears in annoyance. Gaara stood bolt upright and covered his ears with his hands, watching as Matsuri jumped up to him, clasped her hands in front of her and closed her eyes. "You're my teacher, it' would be so forbidden-"

"I was only asking a question." Gaara proceeded to fold his arms but his utterance went unnoticed by Matsuri who stood on shaking legs and slowly backed away to the door.

"No, no, no," she muttered, "this is a dream. This cannot be real. I don't even have any make up on…"

"Matsuri-" But upon hearing the Kazekage say her name she squealed again, opened his office door and ran out. Gaara stood, dumbfounded, completely in the dark about what insanity had just occurred, as his brother and sister walked in. Both his siblings raised eyebrows at Matsuri as she ran past them.

"You know, if scaring girls were part of the job description for being a Kazekage, you would be doing very well, little brother." Kankuro smiled as he walked into the room, Temari followed, shaking her head.

"Gaara," she spoke softly, placing her hands on her hips, "the council wants you to know that the welcoming banquet for the royal is tonight." Her younger brother nodded as he took a seat at his desk. "And the Tea House has been invited as per Baki's request." She said through gritted teeth. She watched her brother, aware of how he changed when she said this; Gaara had leant forward to inspect some work but upon hearing this news he clasped his hands together and sat as though in deep contemplation. "We must maintain adequate relations with them; the Tea House knows too much for us to estrange them." He nodded and Temari, who looked like she wanted to say more, stopped herself and showed herself out. Kankuro went to follow her and before he shut the door, he cocked his head back to Gaara.

"Ai will be there." Either the Kazekage did not hear or did not acknowledge what Kankuro had said for Gaara kept his gaze lowered as though he had gone back to work. Kankuro sighed; what a strange and twisting relationship Gaara and Ai had, one moment they were at each other's throats, the next they became misery when pulled apart. He followed Temari into the hallway. Kankuro had heard from other courtesans around the dinner table, as they clung to the arms of his brother's council, about how Ai had shut herself away upon being told she was not allowed near the young Kazekage. They had such a hold over one another and Knakuro could not help but think that, as was inevitable with Gaara, they were all witnessing a love story that would inevitable end in tragedy. Death followed Gaara like a shadow and Kankuro could not bear the thought of his brother falling for someone, only to have it end in heartbreak.

Back in the Kazekage's office, an aquamarine was catching the light of an afternoon sun. Twirling it around in his fingers, Gaara was spirited away to his last moments with her. In truth, the last thing he could remember was her kneeling before him, ready to do something near-sinful. It flooded him with an emotion unlike any he knew; it was almost as though he wanted to feel her shudder and writhe at his mercy, like his enemies years ago. The Kazekage's brow furrowed. No, it wasn't like that dark murderous intent he felt back then. It was different. But how? Gaara could not name it but he knew one thing; he wanted her.

He thought back to barely a few moments ago when Matsuri had been in the room. Gaara knew she wanted him, she had made it clear many times through her blushing and barely-suppressed, overly-enthusiastic support for him as Kazekage. Gaara may come across distant, disinterested and, some had said, naïve, but he wasn't an idiot. He knew Matsuri was a girl, willing to do anything and everything for him, but when he looked at her…it was not the same.

He had asked her how she felt when the Kazekage looked at her….Matsuri had said that her heart stopped. Did he do that to Ai? He could not tell. When he spoke to Ai, he almost, almost, smiled at the thought of it; she looked disinterested, as though she had better things to do. Ai was mischievous and, was the word flirtatious? She knew exactly what to do to irritate him, to stir his curiosity, to make him die in the heat of want.

Matsuri did not fear him either. Was she mad? The Kazekage had the power to kill her without even moving. Ai, on the other hand, had the smirk wiped from her face out of fearing him. It was….delicious. Irresistible to him, to the old Gaara, the younger, more devilish, blood-thirsty Gaara who had not emerged for years. She brought out that side of him when she merely bit her bottom lip in worry of what he might do to her.

His student had also said that she would never challenge him. He sighed; all his relationship was with Ai was an irritating battle of wits. The girl practically reveled in unnerving him! As though she were designed solely to rile him; she recited riddles and poetry and quips and rhetoric full of nothing but torment for him….

How did Ai feel when he touched her?

The part of Gaara that was waking up, the part hungry for her, was dying to know this. To hear, from her lips, a gasp, a sigh of gratification. To see her beautiful face screw up in pain and frustration and beg for him was all he wanted.

That moon-like girl had a hold of him. And the Kazekage knew it. He even knew that word that explained this dark, sinful feeling:

Lust.

 

Chapter Text

Bear in mind, throughout the story, that Ai's name means 'love' so there is usually a double meaning whenever the word 'love' is mentioned.

Group of women accompanying Ai in her dance have their lyrics italicised. Ai's singing is not italicised. 


The Song That Started the Legend

Ai stood from her swing quickly and, as she approached her desk, she blew out a few candles that had leant her light to study in the nighttime. As with every object in the Tea House, her writing desk was not as it really seemed for she lifted up the table top to reveal a hidden compartment underneath. The desk was aged and enchanting, a pale wood painted white which was now chipping and fading, but the hidden compartment was clean and well-kept for Ai had made good use of it over the years. With a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure there were no prying eyes, she reached out for some books on her shelf that she had stolen from Megumi's private library. Ai placed them in the hidden compartment quickly and shut the unconventional "lid" to her desk.

As she crossed her room, the cold sunshine of the morning was beginning to creep in. The mornings at the Tea House had always seemed slightly grey and dull, for the place truly became alive in the nighttime. Unlike the Palace, this place reveled in chaos when the sun set, for now it seemed empty and asleep. It seemed to fit her mood perfectly.

Upon approaching the door, Ai looked over to her mirror; she wiped her eyes hurriedly and tied up her hair in a loose ponytail before opening the door slowly. She had only opened it a few inches before a hand began to sneak its way through the crack, it was holding onto a porcelain mug.

"A peace offering; warm milk and honey, it was your favorite." A voice spoke softly and, despite herself, Ai walked away. She left the door ajar in an attempt to be as welcoming as she felt and went to sit on her bed. Megumi walked in, revealing that the hand with the mug belonged to her. Ai's sensei looked forlorn. "Still not speaking to me?" Ai avoided Megumi's gaze and looked down to her crocheted blanket. The girl began fiddling with a hole she had made when she tore the blanket in her childhood; picking at the soft cream yarn with her delicate fingers. Megumi went to stand in front of her; "will you at least drink something?" Megumi held out the mug and Ai, knowing that at this stage she was only being childish, took it gratefully but remained in stubborn silence. Her teacher took this to mean that they had reached some common ground and so sat down next to her student. "What is it that has you so afflicted, dear one?" Her teacher reached over and brushed hair from her face as Ai took a sip of the warm drink.

The same question, over and over, for days. Even after they had argued, upon re-entering the Tea House, into the early morning! Megumi had forbidden Ai from meeting with the Kazekage for the foreseeable future; it was dangerous for the both of them. The blue-eyed dancer had refused to accept this and she was not likely to back down any time soon.

A few moments of silence passed before Megumi sighed; "it seems our chirping skylark has left us for a mute." The elder courtesan reached down to the floor and picked up two small boxes that Ai had not noticed. "Perhaps she will grant us one last exchange upon seeing her gifts." Ai, out of curiosity more than materialism, looked up at her sensei with a wry smile as Megumi gestured to two packages in her lap, beautifully wrapped in ivory paper and tied with a silver ribbon. She handed the smallest one to Ai.

Ai took the package and eyed it with scrutiny before delicately pulling back the ribbon and deviling into the small silver box that was revealed as the ivory paper fell away. Flicking the lid of the box open, she peered inside. Her eyes flashed as she looked up at Megumi with a large smile and moved forwards to embrace her teacher who laughed heartily.

"I am glad you approve," Megumi smiled and stroked her student's hair, "wear it proudly," she whispered as Ai pulled away from her, beaming.

"I shall." The young dancer said happily and removed, from the antique box, a small silver band, the middle of which housed a single diamond; it was an armlet. In the courtesan community, a teacher presented her student with her first armlet following her recognition as an established dancer; it was true that Ai was yet to seduce anyone but her skills were unmatched and so, to Megumi, it only seemed right. As Ai would become more experienced, her lovers, her customers, would add diamonds and further bands to the armlet and it was this that showed the ranking of a courtesan. Megumi wore seven thin bands on her left arm, tied with a single ribbon, diamonds in each band, shining and glittering, showing to the world her skill. "The other?" Ai looked to the other, larger gift in Megumi's lap and, with a gasp of remembrance, Megumi handed her the box.

"It arrived this morning," the older courtesan said, nonchalantly and Ai, placing her armlet on the bed beside her, took the box and opened it. A small cream-coloured card fell into her lap and she picked it up to read an inscription, written in black ink, in filigree-like handwriting:

Perhaps a gold bangle would suffice as payment?

Ai put the card down with a frown and looked into the box. She removed a pair a silk shoes and a wave of recognition passed over her. "From the Prince?" She asked and looked up to Megumi who smiled.

"You have not even danced for him and yet he sends you gifts," she laughed, "if only I had been so talented in my youth!" Ai smiled down at the shoes. Silver silk with embroidery of silver thread; had she managed to make such an impression in two minutes of meeting? "Ai," she looked up as Megumi spoke in a serious tone, "the palace is holding a banquet for the young Prince, tonight, they have requested a dancer in honor-"

"Of course I will." Ai spoke sharply and stood from the bed. With her back to her teacher, she began to stretch. Megumi stood too and shook her head.

"Whilst I am pleased that you have regained your usual spirit, I am afraid that I cannot allow-"

"This is ridiculous," Ai turned to her, "I am the first courtesan to the Kaze-"

"It is too dangerous for you." Megumi pleaded but Ai placed her hands on her hips and stood defiantly.

"Under whose judgment?" She frowned.

"Under mine, my child; I cannot see you be put through so much stress again." Her teacher answered but it was not good enough for a girl as stubborn as Ai.

"I can speak for myse…" Ai's voice trailed away and her head turned to the direction of her open door. The first dance practice of the morning were beginning and she could hear the musicians striking their harps to familiar chords. The notes floated in on the morning breeze. "Is that-?" After a moment of barely thinking, Ai ran from her room.

"Ai!" Megumi shouted after her and rolled her eyes; this girl was running nowadays more than she was dancing.

The Tea House was once the pride of Sunagakure; it was built by an aristocrat who grew fat and greedy and spent his money on cheap whores and alcohol until he succumbed to eating himself to his grave. He had built it as a testament to his own legend; as a collector of fine and beautiful things the Tea House was filled with items from all over the world. With architecture common to the dessert interspersed with more Western decoration, the aristocrat spared no expensive and even had the audacity to cheat the dessert by placing a large fountain in the courtyard. In his will, he left the house to his concubines who saw no reason to stop working and over time, the class of prostitute reached its highest possibility and courtesans now inhabited the place. It was a building of ancient grandeur; with all objects and infrastructure now mere whispers of how grand the place was. The only rooms kept in the best condition were those seen by customers; there was no need for Megumi to spend more than necessary on maintaining the place. Even the courtyard that held morning dance practices now looked like the ruin of a castle with grey, stone arches crumbling and being overtaken by roses climbing their way into the cracks. The Tea House was a jungle, a war between stone and glass, with beautiful relics ageing in every corner and Ai ran through it all, barely noticing the shouts of people calling for her to stop.

Ai entered the courtyard to the shock of those gathered and did not blink twice as they gestured to her in alarm. She did not care for their whispers; her eyes narrowed on the musicians who avoided her gaze so she looked for the dancer who was practicing that morning. Many dancers fluttered in and out of the courtyard, looking like tropical birds for the bright colours they wore stood out against the grey stone that surrounded them. Only one girl was stood in the centre, preparing to dance.

Miko, a dancer with green eyes and chocolate brown hair, Ai's oldest and closet friend, turned upon hearing the hurried footsteps, to face Ai. Miko's eyes widened as she realized the poorly dressed individual was her friend, for it was a very rare sight where a courtesan was in anything other than her finery.

"Ai! Are you feeling bett-"

"What are you doing?" Ai interrupted. Miko's smile faded; it was incredibly out of character for Ai to be so aggressive.

"Whatever do you mean?" In the chill of the morning, those gathered in the courtyard shivered upon hearing Miko's dangerous tone. A few dancers even shuffled back

"I wrote this song," Ai responded as Miko took a few cautious steps towards her, a thin smile spread over Miko's face.

"I will be performing at the palace tonight and we did not want such a beautiful song to go unsung."

"Then I will sing it." Ai snapped as Miko let out an airy laugh as though shooing away the idea.

"Megumi-sama has instructed me-"

"I will sing it." Ai repeated. The two friends stared at each other a moment longer before Miko's look of surprise was replaced by something Ai had never seen before. The green-eyed girl slinked over to Ai and shook her head.

"The Kazekage has cast quite a spell on you, hasn't he?" Miko whispered and flicked her eyes over to the crumbling arches behind Ai to see Megumi stood, watching the quarrel, wondering how far Ai would go for him.

"Whatever do you mean?" Ai asked with a sickly sweet smile.

"One moment you are completely passive, letting the waves of the day wash over you as we all try to coax our moon down from the night, and yet," Miko took a step toward Ai, "you cause such a storm at the thought of another girl dancing for him." Ai remained silent; Miko had no idea what she was up against.

The blue eyed dancer knew what her friend was doing; she was trying to get a rise out of her so Megumi would see that Ai was still emotionally vulnerable when it came to Gaara. If this happened, Megumi would replace Ai, out of the need to protect her, with the next best dancer. That was undoubtedly Miko and Ai was determined not to let him get away. She had to see him. Ai was being flooded by an overwhelming and incomprehensible feeling that she was trying to deny; she needed him.

"Well, I can see you are as stubborn as ever, Ai." Miko said cheerfully and closed her eyes with a smile to signal surrender. "Of course I would never get in your way," she gestured to the centre of the courtyard, "please, begin your practice; you have not danced for a few days." Ai smiled at her as Miko walked past her to go out of the courtyard but as they became level, the look in each other's eye was far from friendly. Upon entering the archways, Miko went to stand with Megumi and both watched as Ai began to instruct the musicians and called one of the younger dancers out assist her.

In the half-lit darkness of the arches, Megumi and Miko exchanged a glance.

"Why are things playing out this way, sensei?" Miko asked innocently and pouted as Megumi did not respond. "Why is she the one-"

"It has to be her." Megumi responded wisely. The teacher of courtesans contemplated a moment, wondering how much to tell Miko. Megumi was playing a dangerous game, the pieces of the chess board had been put in place nineteen years ago and she was simply taking the first move. The rest was up to Ai and Gaara…but how much should she give away to Ai's rival? What would be the benefit in hinting at the plan that was slowly revealing itself to the world? "There is more to Ai than you know, Miko, more than even she understands." Megumi spoke softly, delicately, daring Miko to ask more. The girl fell for her teacher's ruse.

"But why did you make me pretend to take over her dance? And why did you forbid her from seeing the Kazekage, only to give in a few days later?" Miko crossed her arms in annoyance and blew a straying strand of hair from her face.

"Because now," Megumi sighed and placed a hand on the wall next to her, looking out to Ai, "she will pour her soul into every note."

"But why is it so important that Ai be the one to dance for the Kazekage?"

"It is written in her destiny."

"How so?"

"You remember the story I told you as a child," Megumi spoke with a small smile; "Ketsueki ai no dendetsu (The Legend of the Blood- Love)?" Miko took a moment to think before it registered with her.

"The story between the Gods?" As Miko spoke in barely a whisper, Megumi nodded.

"The love capable of starting or ending all wars." The elder woman sighed and looked to the crumbling stone that she was leaning against. The arch had carvings of flowers, fading and crumbling away, giving way to the real roses that were pushing their way through the cracks, towards the light. Such a delicate shade of pink, the roses unfurled and cowered in the breeze of the desert. "It is their story. I am sure of it." Megumi said with a small smile.

Miko looked out at Ai who was bossing her entourage of dancers around and raised an eyebrow. "How can you be so sure?"

"Her father forewarned me." As Megumi said this, Miko's eyes widened.

"Her father?"


Dinner was passing him by; the Kazekage sat with his council, siblings and royal guests in the hall where auspicious dinners usually took place. His Kazekage hat hung on the back of his chair as Gaara suffocated in the traditional robes that he had grown to hate. His back straight, his hand stretched out, holding the small clay cup of sake that had been poured for him. Gaara lowered his head slightly and Temari, who was sat on his right, could sense the dark clouds that were around him; the Kazekage's mind seemed to be elsewhere for he took no notice of the jubilant hubbub that surrounded him.

He stole a glance at the clock; the hand that counted down the minutes seemed to be moving torturously slowly. It was almost nine o'clock. It was almost time.

"Kazekage," a voice brought him out of his thoughts and he looked to his left, to see Prince Nobutara smiling at him with that welcoming, open manner that the Prince had mastered. "You have become not only the youngest Kazekage in history but also the youngest Kage the world has ever known." Gaara nodded his head in thanks to Nobu's words, "tell me: how did you manage such a feat?" The Prince spoke with such ease at these gatherings; Gaara had been kept away from such things for so long that he found it difficult to be as at ease as the Prince was. It was the hardest part about being a Kage, in Gaara's opinion; the social, public-side of things was complicated and new to him. Nobtara was handsome and charming; he was almost the exact opposite to Gaara who remained quiet most of the time, isolated, unwilling to make himself known for fear of being shunned.

Temari watched her brother eagerly; over the space of only a few months she had seen Gaara change and shift to become the Kage that sat before her. The blood-lust was gone, replaced by the desire to be recognized by his village and those who once feared him. Gaara was calm and contemplative... not of late, granted, not since she came into his life. That girl was slowly unravelling what had taken years to tie up. Ai was a bizarre conundrum; Gaara seemed to come back to life when she was near and his siblings saw him happy for a few moments. The problem was- Gaara seemed to come back to life when she was near. Temari sighed and looked up quickly as Gaara opened his mouth to speak.

"With a lot of determination, Nobutara-san," Gaara spoke in that usual soft manner, aware that all eyes were on him, "Sunagakure became lost in the shinobi world; marred by lies and violence, it is my goal to re-establish our village and regain the honor we have forgotten." Gaara's words were met with a murmur of approval.

"Spoken like a true Kage," Baki said and raised his glass to the Kazekage, others around the table followed. Gaara felt more at ease; so he was getting better at this.

"Shall we retire to the courtyard?" Kankuro suggested cheerfully, much to the annoyance of Temari who shot him a look to silence him but it was too late. The puppet master grinned at his sister apologetically as everyone around the table stood upon seeing the Kazekage stand. Dinner was over, Temari remained in her seat, her lips pursed. The dancer from the Tea House was said to be ready for nine o'clock and, as the blonde looked up at the clock, she saw the clock strike nine. The guests all left the table smiling and talking happily; excited to see what the Tea House, which had a reputation like royalty, had to offer. Temari stood eventually as a group of women walked by her and she joined their group with a flase-smile. At least Ai was not dancing.


The performance was to take place in a stone courtyard that was situated in the back, private quarters of the palace. White stone arches lined the courtyard which was left open and empty for occasions such as this. The arches housed the seating for the royals and shinobi that would watch. The white stone glittered in the candlelight which was flickering and teasing fireflies as they dared to get too close. White birds that inhabited the courtyard fluttered away as they heard approaching footsteps.

Prince Nobutara entered the courtyard behind the Kazekage and looked up at the night sky that the desert had to offer. He frowned; no moon again tonight. Other than that the Palace was quite beautiful; strange that a Kage should have such a splendid home, considering he was merely a shinobi, not of noble or royal blood. But Sunagakure did have one of the earliest established dynasties in the world, perhaps the palace was simply a testament to the nobility of old.

Everyone went to take their seats on cushions surrounding the clearing in the courtyard, all hidden in the shade of the arches, waiting with baited breath to see who was coming to sing for them that night. The Kazekage and the Prince sat beside on another, the sand siblings beside their brother, members of the royal house by their prince. Musicians entered the courtyard and sat opposite the gathered guests, followed by courtesans who bowed and took seats behind the musicians. It began with the tinkling of anklets.

Gaara closed his eyes; that sound, it called out for him but she was not there. Where was she? He opened his eyes and could see the bright colours that the Tea House women wore but he could not see one that looked like her. None shone, like Ai did. None bit their lip in that seductive, mischievous manner that she did.

Perhaps she had not come. Perhaps, like always, he had scared someone away. Why did they run from him? At the thought of this lonesome and overbearing inevitability, Gaara bowed his head as something in his chest constricted and twisted in pain. Would he ever see her again? That skylark? That teasing summer breeze? Did she hate him? Did she long for him like he did for her? Did she think about him at all? He had never got to ask her, had he, what that feeling was that showed in her eyes when she kissed him?

"On the desert plains there sat Love," Gaara looked up at the sound of her name and saw, whilst he had been lost in his thoughts, that the performance had begun. The dancer in front of them who had her head bowed, had an entourage of women behind her, their voices stretched out into the night for him.

"Alone and peaceful, in the calm of the sands, she whispers a name,

In the torturous heat of a moonless night 

She looks into the darkness, defiant, determined." The dancer sat still, her head lowered and in the darkness Gaara had this strange feeling, from her figure, from her smirk, that the girl sat in red was indeed Love.

Who is she calling for? 

Who is it that has such a vigilant follower?

Tell us, who does Love await?" At the last syllable,the dancer lifted her head. Ai looked straight to him, for she had eyes for no one else, and upon capturing his gaze, the skylark sang:

"I beckon that which claws at my heart and stifles my breath;

Suffocates me in anguish and breathes life into me.

I await the Tempest." Ai reached out a hand for him.

"Come on to me, Tempest,

Save me from this burning desert,

Rain over me; stain me with your colour,

Steal me away with your callous words and beautiful song.

You leave me desolate, untouched, writhing in need,

If cruelty be your skill then teach me,

I am your undoubting follower." Ai bowed to him and Gaara had to close his eyes and take a breath for Shukaku trembled at her actions and Gaara began to feel that familiar ache, at her words.

"Teach me, you heartless storm, how it is you leave me breathless." She stood, the sound of her jewelry tinkling around her, the blood red colour of her skirt swept up of the white stone floor as she twirled and spun.

"Naiveté and lust breed merely dreams;

A tempest shall never descend into our world.

The desert shall never hear the drumming of thunder, nor the patter of raindrops.

Foolish one, beautiful one, you have fallen under some spell." The women, all dressed in white as though purposely trying to blend into the background, moved around Ai but it did not matter to the Kazekage for he could see only her. Ai laughed at their words and the gathered royalty and shinobi could see the courtesans giggling and applauding their comrade as her audience became captivated.

"I have felt the heat of a desert storm,

I have tasted it." Like a spark of electricity Kankuro realized that Ai's words were offering something more dangerous to her audience than anyone else suspected. He leant forwards to Gaara with an idea to get him to leave but the Kazekage predicted his siblings may interrupt and so tilted his head back to Kankuro with a look of annoyance; he was not going to be mollycoddled any longer. Ai was right; he had forgotten what it felt like to feel alive.

"I am but a victim of the tempest's curse and now

The thunder is here, it is my very heartbeat,

Rain sounds at my footsteps and lightning flashes here, in these eyes." Ai was slowly building a reputation that would lead to her downfall, in Temari's opinion, for she approached the Kazekage and the prince as though daring anyone to tell her not to get closer. She sat before the Kazekage and the two were finally face to face, after long, difficult nights of not being able to know one another.

Gaara had to break eye contact; those eyes with that look again! He couldn't stand what it did to him, what she did to him.

"Come on to me, Tempest," she sang but did not move, outraged that he could possibly tear his gaze from her but she knew, as did the other dancers, that her words would get to him.

"Rain over me, stain me with your colour," there was something in her words, like a spell, bringing up pictures of blood and pleasure and her and ecstasy.

"If cruelty be your skill then teach me,

I am your undoubting follower." She bowed before her Kazekage.

Teach me, you heartless storm, how it is to love you." The musicians struck the last note and Ai remained with her head bowed. Applause filled her ears, words of commendation and proclamations of love came her way but she waited for him to do something, to say something.

"Goodnight, Nobutara-san, until the morning." The Kazekage stood and walked straight passed her. Ai snapped her gaze up and turned to watch him leave, a look of distress slowly crept its way onto her face. She half wanted to scream at him; how dare he leave?! How dare he ignore her?! She saw his white robes steal out of the courtyard and up the steps to the Kazekage's quarters. Ai stood slowly; that egotistical, malevolent, discourteous-!

"I see the shoes I gave you were appreciated." Someone commented and Ai turned back to see the Prince looking down to her shoes. She suddenly remembered herself and swapped her look of utter outrage for one of happy surprise. The girl in blood-red bowed to the prince.

"Thank you, your highness." Ai remained stooped in her bow for usually royalty would say something to make you stand again but the boy said nothing. Instead, he put a finger to her chin and lifted her head.

"I did not catch your name in our first meeting." He whispered as those around them moved back into the hall where they had dinner. He lowered his hand from her face.

"Ai," she replied with a small smile.

"A suitable name," the prince said almost to himself.

"And you," for a moment Ai became lost in that mess of dark hair he had, "your highness?" She added.

"Nobutara-"

"Prince?!" Someone called out for him and the two turned to see an elderly woman of the royal household beckoning him. He turned to her quickly and took her hand.

"Again, fate interrupts," the prince whispered, "I will see you again," he murmured as he brought her hands up to his lips and softly kissed her.

"Ah," Ai gasped and withdrew from his grasp. "Until then," she said and bowed quickly. Nobutara smiled; her shyness now after being so bold with her singing, was intriguing to him.

"Prince?" The woman called again and Nobutara left Ai standing on her own, staring after him. As he walked he exuded such power and charisma, she saw other girls turn at the sight of him. Ai had bigger things on her mind for the moment and turned to face the stairs the Kazekage had walked up.

"Ai?" She glanced over her shoulder and saw Megumi beckoning her. She knew Megumi was about to forbid her from doing the reckless thing she wanted to do but Ai knew no force on Earth could stop her from having one last chance to scold him. "I…" her sensei's voice trailed away as she saw that glint in the young dancer's eye. "It is your choice, do as you wish." There was no stopping it now. The pages of a novel had begun to turn, that blood-red love was beginning to blossom and who was she to get in the way of legend?

Ai lifted her skirt and ascended the steps to meet her tempest.

 

Chapter Text

Sex


The night was a velvet dark, humid, bleak and barren. Candles flickered in the palace, warming the air with the scent of sandalwood as the moon ascended to meet the storm. Drapes billowed and swayed on the Kazekage's balcony, beckoning in the night, calling kismet to throw off the veil and reveal itself to the world.

On nights like this, in these hours of isolation, locked away in his room, his blood used to boil. The hunger for death was insatiable and the need to feel power surge through him was turning into desperation. All Gaara wanted was to let go, to unhinge the door that he had crafted between Shukaku and the world. To be swallowed whole by his insanity and taste blood was an overbearing instinct he was finding harder to silence.

The Kazekage stood in the half-darkness of his bedroom, his shadow flickered against the wall in the candlelight. His hands gripped the chair at his dressing table with such force that his knuckles were white from the pain of clutching to sanity. His head bowed, Gaara's face furrowed and contorted as he fought against his instincts. He staggered his breathing, trying to remain in control, trying not to listen to Shukaku's whispers that were attempting to persuade him that it would all feel better if he followed that scent of blood on the air.

Usually a cold moon would lend him company on nights like this, to cool his blood, to help him part with the lust. But there was no moon tonight.

"Ah!" Shukaku raised his head at the thought of her and Gaara gripped the frame of the chair so tightly a crack formed beneath his finger tips and ran along the wood, splintering the beautiful carvings, as though a blade had been run along the chair.

He couldn't take this anymore. It was tearing him apart. He didn't want to hurt her. He didn't want to hurt anyone anymore. But his blood was boiling, his heart was pounding fit to burst -

"Kazekage?" The temperature in the room plummeted, at just the sound of her voice. Delicate and coy, the moon watched him from the doorway.

Slowly, Gaara opened his eyes and looked up to the mirror in front of him, the grand, gold-framed mirror that hung on his dressing table. He saw her in its reflection. The sight of Ai stood in red the colour of blood, her fair skin glowing in the candlelight of his room, her bright eyes narrowing on him with that look that killed him, so pure and innocent…she was to be his undoing.

His eyes were red, she noticed, his crimson waves of hair messy and rugged. The Kazekage stood hunched over his dressing table chair, his Kazekage robes abandoned to reveal his black clothes beneath. She had to take a breath and look away for the feeling of want was turning into an ailment. He was her weakness and she sighed deeply; no woman knew addiction, obsession, insanity, until you knew him.

They looked at one another in the reflection of the mirror. The outside world was forgotten, a distant memory, a dream, no longer a hindrance. The silence stretched on as they appraised one another; the coldness of the moon fighting against the heat of his blood, a war was breaking out between them and both were caught in the cross-fire.

Gaara bowed his head; he couldn't look at her anymore. The candles flickered as though cowering when he spoke suddenly:

"What did I do to deserve this torture?" His voice was husky, as though his throat were sore and dry.

"Torture?" She asked gently. Gaara looked back up at her reflection and growled.

"Two years it took me to tame this beast," he snarled; "this disease of madness!" He shut his eyes tightly as he felt Shukaku tremble. "And yet," he looked up to her, "in just a glance you unravel all that I have worked so hard to restrain." The frustration in his voice withered away, his shoulders slumped as he looked on at her as though defeated.

"Kazeka-"

"Don't." He turned from the mirror to see her properly. "Don't call me that." She bowed her head in respect for his wishes; there was something different about him in this moment. It is as though, all along, she had met the tied up, responsibility-bound Kazekage and finally, after weeks of waiting, she was meeting him, she was finally facing Gaara. "I know you do it on purpose." He interrupted her thoughts, "you do it to appease me; you think all this immorality, will be forgotten if you coat the situation with honey-dipped words." He began to raise his voice against her, as she stood in silence; "You think I don't know the games courtesans play? The games women play? You appease me so I see past what you are." He winced as though the thought of it caused him pain. "A whore." Gaara spoke so bluntly, so cruelly that Ai recoiled. "I detest it. It repulses me. You manipulate men and sell yourself for their pleasure; it is degrading, disgusting, I can't stand the thought of what you are." It was Ai's turn to wince at his words as though they cut her; how could he be so cruel? Did he not know that it was not out of duty that she came here, but out of her own desire? She looked up at him, her eyes beginning to shine as frustration coursed through her; why did he always accuse her of being dishonest? She opened her mouth to speak but Gaara would not let her play her games of rhetoric with him.

"But it doesn't stop." He whispered as though to himself but his tone was enough to stop Ai in her tracks; he was no longer angry, he sounded defeated. Gaara looked to the floor, misery engulfing him. "The pain of wanting you does not reside no matter how many times I tell myself that I should stay away from you." Gaara glanced up and gestured to the girl in the doorway. "Who thought a woman of sin could look so much like an angel?" With a small smile, Ai shut the door with her foot and began to walk towards him. "Why did no one warn me that the price of not seeing you for days would be agony?"

"Gaa-"

"Stay away from me!" He shouted at her suddenly and lashed out his arm to stop her coming close. Ai jumped and cowered a few feet away from him, she held her veil around her tightly like a shawl as it slipped from her head. "Don't you understand what I am, Ai?" His eyes widened, manically almost, as he could not fathom why she would want to get closer. "Doesn't it scare you? After we kissed I almost killed you; is not that in itself enough to warn you that I am trouble?" The Kazekage slid down to the floor until he was sat, his back against his chair, one knee brought up to his chest, his head in his hands, breathing heavily out of frustration. His face contorting in pain as his anger fuelled Shukaku's temper.

Ai stood, unsure of what to do or what to say; one moment he wanted her, the next he didn't.

"I want, so badly," He took his hands from his face and looked up at her, "to fuck you." Ai bit her lip and smiled a smile of relief; like a curse, his words ignited something inside of her, something that had been waiting to hear him say it. "I want to taste every part of you, to know every curve, every dip of your body, to hear every sweet sigh you take when I show you exactly what it is I think of, when I think of you." Gaara watched her melt; Ai lowered herself gently to her knees, her gaze cast downwards and, placing her hands on the floor in front of her, began to crawl towards him.

The Kazekage let out a shuddering breath; how did she know exactly what to do, he wondered as their gaze met, to make his body stiffen and melt at the same time? Her big blue eyes filled with mischief and longing as she crawled up to Gaara and stretched out towards him to meet his lips. The Kazekage closed his eyes as she leant towards him. Inches from his face, Ai stopped and watched his handsome features become pained as he felt her close. She was not about to give in so easily.

"What do you think of, Gaara?" She whispered and watched as his lips part to speak.

"Terrible, wrong, sinful things." As Ai put the arches of her lips against his, he shivered. "No, Ai, please stop." She kept her lips so close to his that as Gaara spoke, their lips brushed.

"Let the priests in the temple pray for you, Kazeakge; I am here to make sure that there is something worth saving you from." He smiled and shook his head.

"Shukaku won't let me touch you. He wants you, Ai." Gaara spoke softly as though fearful the demon might hear him.

"I do not fear him." She said defiantly and retreated a little. Gaara opened his eyes; she spoke as though frustrated. Ai was looking to the floor, her dark thick waves of hair falling around her, licking the floor as she spoke. "Why do you insist on denying yourself what you want?" She asked him and shook her head, "why do you find it so hard to imagine that I could want you as well?" Gaara was going to interrupt but she spoke over him, "this week has been painful and cold without you, Gaara." He sighed; so it was too late to save them from each other. "The pain that has been inflicted on you, I feel it too; we are tied to one another by a thread of fate."

"What do you want from me Ai?"

"I told you, Kazekage," she smiled to the floor, "rain over me. Stain me. Steal me away." Ai placed her hands in front of her and as she lowered herself to the floor she spread out her arms and bowed to him in surrender. "I am you undoubting follower; teach me, Gaara, how it is you make lo- ah!" Gaara had reached out for her and grabbed a handful of her dark clouds of hair, to pull her up to face him. Her eyes shone and glittered as Ai put a hand up to where he gripped her hair, she looked at him with pleading, tear-filled eyes. But there was more in her eyes than simply fear; the pain of longing, the final whisper of surrender to his will, was there in her eyes. Gaara knelt and towered above her, holding her close, his lips inches from hers, her eyes straining with tears of lust. "I am bound to you, Gaara," as she spoke she reached up and brushed hair from the kanji on his forehead; "like the night to the sky." Ai gasped again, her glistening lips quivering as he pulled her hair a little harder. Gaara caged her; he was strong and broad and made her feel petite and breakable in his arms. The young Kazekage's opal eyes looked down at her with increasing curiosity as a tear rolled slowly out of her eyes. "Gaara," Love begged, "let me into your heart," she saw his eyes become deeper, loving almost as he watched her. "I will see it catch fire."

With his left hand in her hair, Gaara let his other hand wipe the tear from her face, snake down from her neck, over the curve of her breasts to her waist. His gaze followed his hand for he wanted to know every inch of her skin that was blushing and burning from his touch. He followed the dip of her waist around to her back and pulled her lower half into him. At the same time he pulled her hair back so Ai was forced to face the ceiling; she was opening up, unfurling for him. Her neck stretched as he pulled her hair and her torso lengthened as the Kazekage pulled her closer.

Gaara leant down, closed his eyes and sunk his teeth gently into her neck. He felt himself twitch as a soft gasp escaped her lips. He withdrew a little and kissed the skin he had nipped at; it was wet and warm and as he continued his torture of gentle kisses, Ai slowly opened her eyes only to view the Kazekage's ceiling.

Her mind was elsewhere, it seemed to be able to feel every pore of her skin burning for him. With his hands controlling her like a puppet designed for his torturous love, it was obvious to her that her body was weightless to him. She adored everything about it and it made her wonder; could sex really be like this? Was this really how mortals made love? Somehow she doubted it as Gaara continued to kiss and bite his way across her collarbone, he was stirring something inside her that felt deeper than her soul. It was nothing like the poetry she read, nothing like the songs she had been taught to sing; it was an intoxicating mix of spiritual in the way they connected and felt one another but entirely animalistic in the way he tugged at her and clawed at her.

Smoothing his lips across her gently and taking deep, long kisses was not alerting Shukaku to Ai's presence; perhaps Gaara was able to tame the beast when around her? Perhaps he could actually touch her now? He released her hair and Ai slowly brought her head back to meet his as Gaara made his way up her neck. Her nose brushed his cheek affectionately as he went to rest both his hands on her waist. As the Kazekage waited there, his eyes caught on her lips, Ai put her hands up to his chest and began to unbutton his shirt. With every inch of his skin that she revealed, she brushed it with her fingertips, feeling how hard his skin was. After years of battle and training, his body was rough and rugged from war.

"Did I cause you pain?" He breathed heavily and kissed the corner of her lips.

"Yes," she murmured and Gaara looked away in shame; he didn't mean to hurt h- "but I like the way you hurt me." His eyes widened in surprise as she whispered to him and pulled his shirt down, off his shoulders. Their eyes met. "Fuck me, Gaara."

Shukaku heard her say it, but Gaara liked it more. In less than an instant, that insatiable blood-lust took over. To own her in that moment, to make a fallen angel out of her, this moon-like girl who was foolishly ready to sacrifice her innocence for him, it woke him up. A rage, an insanity filled him and Gaara could not control himself any longer.

"Gaara, wai-" But Gaara could no longer hear her; he shoved her to the floor, parted her legs and climbed on top of her. The demon was stirring and he was finding it harder and harder to control himself. The shinobi looked down to the girl and placed a hand gently around her throat. He leant down to her, his crimson hair falling into hers.

"You are denying weeks of pent up desire," he growled softly, "I will not wait for you any longer, Ai. You are mine." With that, he reached down and ripped open the front of her dress before his hands coarsely cupped and smoothed over her breasts. He was rough out of inexperience and his unsatisfied thirst for her made him rush as his hands explored her but Ai did not mind. In fact she adored his sadistic and hurried affection; her back began to peel away from the floor as she arched, lifting her chest in the air to be closer to him. With her eyes closed, she bit her lip as Gaara let his tongue, warm and wet, glide in the valley between her breasts. The sensation even made her giggle. At the sound of her laughter, Gaara smiled, before pulling her dress up over her hips. She helped him to remove her underwear and as Gaara knelt and Ai sat in front of him, he reached down between her legs and let out a shuddering sigh.

Ai was soaking wet for him, and she gasped and twitched as he let his fingers slip up and down. For a few minutes, the young Kazekage did not indulge her in the things she started to beg for.

"Please," she whispered as she fell back to lie on the floor once more, "just slip inside me Gaara, I need you," lust and greed for him made Ai say all kinds of things. The more Gaara withheld, the dirtier, more desperate Ai became. It was delicious to watch someone with such a beautiful-angelic face, turn out to have such a filthy mouth. "Fuck me, Gaara, don't keep me in this agony…let me taste you….I need you." He watched her writhe as he stroked her, his fingers becoming soaked. Eventually, Ai became frustrated with waiting. The blue eyed beauty sat up and pushed his hand away from her roughly.

"Hey!" Gaara shouted at her but Ai shouted back:

"Don't think you can torture me just because I belong to you!" She screamed at him before suddenly becoming coy; upon hearing her shout, Gaara smiled an almost evil, michshevious smile and moved onto her again. As he advanced, she was forced, out of fear of that sickly-sinful smile, to lie back down. He loved to intimidate her; he could see from the way she did not know how to react that she was fearful and curious at the same time. He towered over her as she lay on the floor; his broad physique overshadowed her as she looked up at him.

"What did you say?" He asked and Ai pouted as he reached down to the courtesan and, with his fingers that were wet from her, he traced the outline of her lips. Ai knew what he wanted her to say and, despite herself, she wanted to say it again.

"I belong to you, Gaara." He did not let her even finish her statement; he dipped his wet fingers into her mouth as she opened it to speak. Ai licked and sucked on his fingers almost gratefully and pulled up her dress again. The Kazekage leant down to kiss her and as he did, with one hand in her mouth, he used his other to unzip his trousers.

His dick was thick and hard and throbbing for her and Gaara gasped into her mouth as a spasm of pleasure shot through him when he stroked himself. But Ai was unaware of his actions for she was swept up and lost in his wonderful face, in his crimson hair; her hands ran through it and tugged at it as she tasted herself on his lips. Ai was trying to keep up but something was changing; his movements were becoming jerked, his kisses turned to bites so she had to withdraw from his embrace. She pushed him back and saw his brow furrowed, his breathing was heaving as he gazed hungrily at her.

"Kazekage?" Ai looked up at him with terrified eyes. It was not Shukaku, but the blood-lust that the demon fueled was taking Gaara over. Shukaku's desire was feeding into Gaara's and the demon was beginning to win. Before Ai could protest, Gaara turned her around and forced her face into the carpet by pushing the back of her head to the floor. Her dark hair cascaded around her and she tried to break free of his grasp but to the shinobi her strength was nothing. Gaara pinned her to the floor, lifted her dress over her hips once more and thrust his cock inside of her.

Ai cried out; the pain was far more than she expected but Gaara hadn't even given her a chance to become comfortable, he held her down and kept himself inside her for a few moments. Ai felt nothing but the pain of his dick filling her up, she winced and writhed and almost begged for it to be over. But the Kazekage pulled back slowly, before thrusting his hips and slipping himself back into her inviting warmth once more.

"Gaara, please-!" Gaara held that position, almost completely on top of Ai, towering over her, his dick throbbing inside her as she squeezed around him and tried to adjust to alleviate her pain. But every tiny, frustrated movement she made felt so good to him. He tilted his head back in ecstasy, his red hair sticking to his forehead with the sweat that built up from the effort of controlling himself. Gaara groaned in relief as one hand leant on the floor for balance and the other gripped onto Ai's hip, drawing her up into him. He withdrew slowly before slamming himself into her yet again. He let out a shuddering sigh as pleasure came not only in small waves all through his body, but sharp electrical bolts that shot through his cock that was becoming covered in Ai's sweet and sticky juices. So this was sex.

He withdrew again before slamming back into her, almost lazily, as though tired from his lust, like a warrior, exhausted from battle, enjoying the spoils of war, he savored every moment. Pulling back again he felt himself twitch with delight as he felt her getting wetter, getting used to the pain he caused her. He slid back into her and eventually, within only a few moments, Gaara began to fuck her in the way he had dreamt about. Hard and unforgiving, the Kazekage unleashed all desire he had for her by clawing at her skin, reaching down and pulling roughly at her hair as he fucked her. He felt her twitching, he heard her groaning but Gaara did not stop, not even when she asked him to slow down. His frustration of being without her had gone on too long, he needed her to give him some sweet release from this torture he had been under.

He needed Ai to bring him to ecstasy, to let his blood boil over. And so she did, that delicate, innocent whore felt his hips buckle and his cock stiffen inside of her as he almost collapsed on top of her; he put his head on her shoulder and reached around her to hold her breast as he climaxed. He breathing staggered, his hips lost rhythm for a moment as he groaned in pleasure. His twitching subsided until eventually all was still.

Ai was almost curled up underneath him, wincing, her eyes watering from pain, her hair flowing around her like soft waves of the nighttime. The dancer felt him gently slip off her and move away. Slowly, Ai opened her eyes and pushed her hair back as she tried to sit up. Her back was stiff and painful after his cruel sex and she frowned as a pain shot through her hips. Not a moment of pleasure was given to her but to her it did not matter. As her pain subsided she was finally able to open her eyes and look around for him.

Gaara was sat besides her, facing the opposite direction, his legs crossed, he was already re-dressed. He had re-buttoned his shirt and sat with his head bowed, eyes closed and eerie and uncomfortable silence filled the room as though Gaara knew he had made a mistake.

With one hand holding her dress against her chest, for he had ripped off the buttons, Ai reached out with the other to push his hair away from his forehead affectionately. The Kazekage sensed her movement and moved out of her reach. Ai gasped; he was going to ignore her, treat her like a mistake, like he didn't want her? She shook her head with a look of offence:

"You are intolerable!" She exclaimed and stood up. The courtesan lifted her skirt and searched the floor for her veil. Ai did not bother to look to him as he stood on his feet shakily. She ignored Gaara as he winced and put a hand over his eye as though something in his head were clawing at his brain. The Kazekage went to sit on the edge of his bed and hung his head in shame.

Love was flitting like a breeze around his room but Shukaku would not let him rest; the demon was breathing heavily, drawing shaky breaths and rattling around in the Kazekage's subconscious. Shukaku was unsure of how he felt about what had happened. The beast was whispering to Gaara that the shinobi did not take advantage of how sweet her skin would taste, of how good it would have felt to have seen the look on her face when he fucked her. Shukaku was disturbed and irritated and he whined inside Gaara's head in a way the man had never felt; he winced as a pain shot behind his eye.

Ai had moved into the Kazekage's bathroom and was finishing washing her hands when she caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. A mess of dark curls and those diamond blue eyes looked back at her. So that was it. Virginity gone. The corner of her lips curved into a smirk; whether or not it was painful or pleasurable, regardless of the fact he was borderline abusive, she was glad. Ai would not have wanted it any other way. She adjusted her hair as best she could and sighed at her reflection.

Did he not want her any longer; now that he had taken what he wanted? Was Gaara really like that? Is there any way a man could kiss her like that and not want to see her again? To her, he was becoming a drug; she would do anything for the intoxication of him, of Gaara. But he did not want her to touch him, did he? It was over between them. Ai wrapped her veil around her like a shawl and walked out of the bathroom.

The young Kazekage was where she left him; alone and in silence, on the edge of his bed, his head bowed. Fine, if that's the way he wanted to leave things then she would respect his selfish wishes. Ai gathered her dress and walked to the door with a heavy heart; would he ever speak to her again-?

"Stay," Ai stopped dead in her tracks. Her hand hovered above the door handle and her big blue eyes snapped open as she heard something she never thought she would hear. The girl in red turned to her lover slowly, he kept his head bowed, his gaze averted. Her eyes began to mist over as he confirmed her fears; "please, stay." His voice broke, as did her heart.

Without a second thought, Ai released her veil from her grasp and walked to him swiftly. He did not look up as she approached and Ai could tell that it was because he did not want to; his body was trembling and he was biting his lip. As she approached, Gaara turned his head away, almost ashamed of himself for continuing this farce.

One look at him was enough to make any woman weak but in this moment, seeing him vulnerable made Ai aware of what he was asking of her; he wanted her to love him. If only for the night.

"Gaara," his name escaped her lips softly as the courtesan knelt down in front of him and took his hand. Gaara was not distant to her after sex because he was ashamed of having succumbed to sleeping with a courtesan; he was vulnerable following the effort it took to protect her from Shukaku. Ai kissed his hand softly, affectionately, wondering how he would respond. He withdrew his hand quickly and pushed her away a little, "ah," she gasped softly.

"Forgive me," the Kazekage finally turned to her, "I never meant to harm you." He pleaded with her and looked down to the girl he was finding it hard to be parted from. She looked back at his eyes, which were stinging from the effort to hold back what he was feeling, and smiled.

"I know you can never hurt me, Kazekage," she whispered and Gaara shook his head at her. Her skin was glowing as though she were constantly bathed in the light of a star. Ai was everything he wanted in that moment and he could no longer deny what was happening inside of him. "Gaara," Ai spoke softly as his eyes filled with tears.

"The sight of you consoles me, Saku (New moon)." The crimson haired boy whispered and took her face in his hands. "Where have you been for so long?" He asked her and it was the look on his face, one of hurt, and his shaking voice that made her eyes begin to fill with tears too. "Why did you abandon me, Love?" He asked and Ai shook her head. Gaara leant forwards and leant his forehead on hers, "it has left me broken." Ai kissed him quickly.

"I never left you, beloved." She whispered and smiled at him as tears escaped her eyes. "I was marked on you the moment the Gods made me for you" Gaara smiled at her consoling words. "I am here. Always."

 

Chapter Text

Prayer and Sin

Sunagakure's history was a rich tapestry of customs and clans; it was home to the oldest known civilisation and religion. Thousands of years of tradition was rumoured to be engraved on the hands of every descendant; each life line, each crease in your palm is said to hold your past and your future. It was often remarked that the Creator himself looked unto the world and smiled down at Sungakure with such affection that he allowed demigods to live there; the people of the village of Sand were rumoured to be the children of those gods.

Few know now, of the history, the legend of the Sand, few can read the ancient scripts or speak the forgotten languages. Only a handful in their nation could recite the prayers properly and sing out the names of the gods with perfect eloquence. If you asked in the village, who to go to for guidance on these lost traditions, you would be pointed in one of three directions:

Some may tell you to visit scholars, who were ageing and bias to more politically-centred teachings, others would tell you to see the Royal families of the land for it was their duty to uphold traditions out of respect for their lineage. But if you really wanted to hear the ancient poetry and recount tales of Sunagakure's great history, you go to the oldest establishments in the village: the Five Houses.

Home to the courtesans of the village, it was these women who were schooled in the most ancient of languages and taught even the most obscure of traditions. For they were the backbone of the community before shinobi entered the world; they were the ones who shaped the future of their Kingdoms and were naturally entrusted with the village's history. Over time, of course, people believed courtesans were becoming outdated and expensive; reserved for royals and Kage. But royals marry early nowadays to establish trade relations and Kage, it seemed, were getting younger and harder to influence.

But the threat of extinction did not stop her from adhering to tradition.

Ai was sat in a Summer breeze, kneeling before a low table on which small statues of the gods were placed. A pastel yellow veil on her head, her eyes closed, hands clasped, she knelt in prayer.

Prayers at dawn were her favourite; the smell of incense early in the morning, the songlike prayer waking up the house along with sunshine, the smell of the freshly cut flowers- it was soothing and captivating. Prayers cleansed your mind of thoughts of the world around you so you could find peace.

She had woken before the sunrise and asked servants at the palace to bring her everything she needed to perform morning prayers, to bless the Kazekage's room and the man himself. The servants, the young ones never even having heard of some of the things she asked for, obliged and looked on in curiosity as they helped her to set up the small shrine in the Kazekage's quarters.

With her head bowed, that dancing girl, that thief of songbirds, that catcher of falling hearts, was sat, silent, in prayer.

From the table, behind stone eyes, the god Rajin caught sight of Love, on her knees before him, in worship. The statue, carved of red stone found in the caverns on the outskirts of the village, watched as that moonlike girl gave a small smile. Who was it that Love could pray for? Who was it that could make her smile in that mischievous, innocent manner? Almost as though his thoughts had manifested themselves as a breeze, a quiet wind issued forth and teased the girl's veil as though trying to make it slip from her head.

Upon feeling the god's will, electric blue eyes flickered open and glanced at the figure of Rajin. The god of yore gasped from his stony cage; what eyes! The girl smiled up at him for she had always found it odd as a child, that people in the desert should worship a god of rain. Regardless, Rajin watched as that moonlike girl struck and match and lit the incense beside him, showered him and smaller statues in a flurry of rose petals and bowed to him. In return, he blessed the mugs of milk she had offered him. One, presumably was an offering to him but the other mug?

As Ai finished her prayer, that teasing breeze fluttered past her to the open balcony doors and the girl followed it with her gaze to where it made the drapes billow and sway to reveal the silhouette of someone stood on the balcony, looking out into the world. At the sight of his figure, she smiled.

"Ah!" Ai put a hand on her hip and winced as she stood a little too quickly; she was still a little stiff and in pain after her first night with the Kazekage. After rubbing her side to rid her of the ache, the courtesan leant down to the table and picked up one of the mugs of milk.

Gaara was stood on his balcony, his hands against the stone banister, leaning forwards a little, watching, appreciating the quietness of his village in the morning. Even at this time of day, Suna was so hot that he decided to remove his shirt so he stood, silent and observant as always, in his white cotton trousers, looking around his village with an almost new found fascination.

The world was seeming different to him; no longer did Suna feel like a burden, no longer did the pressures of being a Kage haunt him. The world seemed lighter, he felt stronger, as though his chakra were weightless- before it would take him some effort to manipulate sand but now it was a nonexistent hardship. The sunshine that used to mark the beginning of a new day of torment, of strange looks and taunting from villagers, was now golden and shimmering. The world was new. It was easier to breathe. What was this feeling?

Gaara bowed his head, his crimson hair falling in lustrous waves, as he heard her approach. That young Kazekage, that demon boy, that heartless, rugged, handsome man, was tragically too hurt, too overshadowed by a past of death and anguish to see that his answer came in the form of Love.

He turned back to his room to see Ai enter the balcony, looking out at the ever-distant horizon as she approached him, holding the edge of her veil in her left hand, a mug of milk in the other.

What Gaara could not realise, what he could not understand, was that Ai heralded the end of his loneliness. The darkness inside the boy, that anger that used to consume him, was fading in wake of the moonlight. But Gaara could not see it; like someone kept in darkness for so long, a glimpse of moonlight was near-blinding.

Ai had her eyes on the village, adoring the silence of the morning but her gaze could not stay away from Gaara for very long. Her big blue eyes turned to him now as he leant lazily against the balcony railing, arms folded, shirtless and every inch a warrior, Gaara's cool and nonchalant demeanour made her smile coyly.

She approached him with her head bowed and held up the mug.

"What is it?" He asked as he unfolded his arms and looked down to her face, silently begging for her to look up.

"Boshū (an offering)." She said sweetly and looked up to him.

"What am I supposed to do with it?" Gaara asked and looked down skeptically at the mug in her hand. She huffed and inwardly rolled her eyes; after all the years of training to do things properly and traditionally, this fool had no appreciation of her customs.

"Raijin himself blessed it so you may be safe." Gaara tried to prevent his brow from furrowing in frustration; that courtesan tone. That sickly sweet, seductive way of talking where Ai blew words like a delicate, exotic breeze up to him. In a way, he liked it; it showed that she wanted to please him. In a way, he hated it; he wanted to see the real her, the one who acted a little spoilt, a little arrogant because he loved to see that look of confidence turn to one of innocence when he leant in towards her. There was one way to achieve this with Ai: challenge her, outsmart her, tease her, twist her arm behind her back and that girl with the face of a goddess, would surrender to his every whim.

He sniffed at the mug in her hand and pulled a face. "I dislike milk and saffron smells strange." Ai raised an eyebrow; this spoilt prince- the most expensive spice in the world was not to his liking! More than that, he was too good for her offering, and after all the hard work she had put into the prayers!

"Fine." She spoke bluntly and as she walked away Gaara watched her put the mug over her shoulder and let go of it.

"Ai" Gaara whispered quietly and winced as the clay mug smashed onto the floor. Love had a temper not unlike his own. The shinobi did feel bad, given that she had prepared the boshū just for him. He had only been teasing her and shook his head at Ai as her figure disappeared behind his drapes. Gaara leant down to pick up what was left of the cup.

"Who exactly do you think is here to clean up after you, Ai?" She had already walked back into the room but upon hearing him speak, she pushed back the drapes that separated the bedroom and the balcony and looked to him with a smile, those blue eyes catching the sunlight.

"Looks like you are." Ai looked down at him and tilted her head as he picked up the clay; how unlike Gaara to honour her silly tantrum. She had expected him to twist her arm and pull her back to him but for some reason, today, he was different.

Upon realising his mistake of giving in to her, Gaara let go of the clay and stood. "Vanity will get you no where." The Kazekage remarked cooly. Ai let the drape fall between them.

"It got me to you, did it not?" He followed her voice into the room and watched that dark hair sway and her smile begin to fade as he started to walk towards her. Those blue eyes, full of mischief, become round and fearful as he approached her so confidently. Gaara was unashamedly reckless in his lust for her and it made the dancer weak at the knees when he advanced on her like this. She walked backward and jumped when the back of her knee hit the shrine she had made in the room. Her hand, which dangled precariously above the other boshū on the table, accidentally brushed the milk that she had offered to Raijin and she gasped as her ring finger dipped into the cool liquid.

"Ah," she brought her left hand up to her face to see her wet finger but the Kazekage took her hand before she had time to look at it. Ai watched in curiosity as Gaara took her hand, leant in close to her and placed her ring finger on his lips. The blessed milk ran along her finger onto his lips and into his mouth. The girl kept her eyes on his lips; the way they were so smooth against her finger and how wet and warm and inviting his mouth was when he took the tip of her finger and kissed it. He flicked his eyes up to her and smirked as the sight of his dark-rimmed, opal eyes, full of affection, made her jump a little. He leant in.

"Come to my office after lunch," he whispered, "there is something I wish to discuss with you." And with that Ai nodded and Gaara walked away, put on his shirt, and left the room to begin work for the day.


Mornings for dancing girls followed a very strict routine; up at dawn, then prayers followed by breakfast, then classes began. Every dancer was taught the same basic curriculum, but some specialised in a field to make them more desirable for a particular clientele. For instance, Miko and Ai were both trained to dance, to sing, to write poetry and music, but Miko enjoyed playing games and so trained in old card games and even learnt how to cheat efficiently on behalf of her customer. This meant that Miko was often found in the company of gamblers and thieves.

Ai, on the other hand, was regarded as a bookworm; constantly reading, thirsting after legends and history. She had studied most things shinobi study and had a theoretical understanding of everything ninja-related. Megumi was glad when Ai had demonstrated an interest in the world of shinobi for the elder had picked Ai from a handful of girls to be raised specifically for Kage or royalty.

Therefore Ai specialised in war and politics so it was not unusual to find her amidst the fray of a great debate or sat in places unknown with a book that that spoke of poetry and romance and science and war. However, Megumi had noticed that over the past few weeks, the books Ai was sneaking from her teacher's private library were all running along a dangerous theme.

As the wise, elder courtesan entered the courtyard for lunch, she spied the moon perched on a swing, hidden by the low branches of a cherry tree. Ai was sat as innocent as ever; reading and twirling her hair between her fingers.

"Very ambitious of you; to attempt to read a whole novel in jōdai nihongo (old Japanese)," Ai jumped as someone spoke to her, their voice cutting through the peace of the morning like a knife through ripened fruit.

"Megumi-sama!" Ai gave a pathetic attempt to hide the book behind her back but her teacher simply held out her aged hand, adorned with a hand harness made up of glittering gemstones, all shimmering in anticipation to see what scolding Ai would receive.

"Did you think I would not notice all these books missing from my person?" Ai avoided her glare and handed over the book. "There are a handful of people alive today who can read the dead language and only two of them reside in this village. I am one of them. You are the other." Ai smiled apologetically as Megumi took a seat beside her swing. The book had golden, delicate pages that seemed to wither in the sunlight. The book was little over a hundred years old and shivered with age, as though fearful it would fall to pieces, as the woman inspected the cover. Ai watched Megumi's face, trying to read it, to see what a smile or a frown might give away. Megumi showed no trace of emotion as she turned to Ai.

"My dear," Megumi began, looking out into the courtyard, wondering how to go on, "this book ," she indicated with a nod to the book in her hands, "is about bijū (tailed beasts). What interest do you have in them?"

"I am supposed to be in the court of a jinchūriki," Ai responded. "Surely it would be unwise to advance in ignorance?" Teacher and student looked at one another.

"I should have raised you for a feudal lord; you speak so diplomatically. Shinobi are men of action, they have no time for eloquence." Megumi nodded her appreciation at Ai's words but she knew the truth. She knew Ai; Megumi raised the girl and could see straight through her. Ai was stubborn and intelligent; once she had put her mind on something it was difficult to convince her otherwise. Ai had set her sights on Gaara and rumour in the Bath House was that she was seen leaving his quarters early this morning. "I trust you know what you are doing, my dear?" Ai smiled.

"Of course."

"Then I leave it in your hands." Megumi reached over and placed the book in Ai's lap. She beat down, kissed the girl on the forehead and smiled at her. "I am proud of you."

As Megumi walked away, she thought of what Ai was reading. That book had been handed down through great shinobi families and finally Megumi stumbled upon it in her heydays. It was not a simple book recounting the history of the tailed beasts, but it spoke of their incarceration in human sacrifices. It was a near-outlawed book, reserved only for those who wished to tamper in forbidden justu. If it were any other girl, Megumi would see no harm in a dancer reading about bijū. But the truth was that Ai was not ordinary. Her relationship with the Kazekage was not ordinary.

The pages of this legend were turning quicker than Megumi believed possible. She wondered what Ai would do at the very end of it all, what choice Gaara would make when faced with it? Death followed the Kazekage like a shadow; what could he possibly do to save Ai from himself?


The Kazekage had not been very busy that morning, which he was grateful for; Shukaku was still acting restless and nagging at Gaara's subconscious in the manner he did when Gaara was a small child. Before the shinobi consented to Shukaku's murderous rampages, the bijū would whine and wait until Gaara was of an age where he could influence him. It would drive Gaara to insanity; to have this constant whinging accompanied with an instinct for violence. He shook his head as though to shut the monster up; the incessant nagging was so irritating, especially since Gaara had learnt to quieten the bloodlust.

It was difficult to forget the night before; that feeling of having Ai close to him, of seeing her eyes fill up with longing for him, was something he never thought he, Gaara the demon child, would ever get to experience. She was exactly what he would call beautiful and simple and loving; everything he longed for.

After he had asked her to stay with him, the Kazekage had rested his head on her stomach and clutched onto her clothing every time Shukaku trembled and caused him pain. The damned one-tails caused the Kazekage such grievance, he could not keep his guard up in front of her. As the pain subsided in the early hours of the morning, Gaara revealed to her some of his heartache. He shouldn't have done that, it was foolish and naive to entrust Ai with information about himself. She was a courtesan; the girl could sell him out in an instant if someone offered her more than he could.

Deep down, he knew it wasn't true. He knew that Love was becoming something he could not bear the thought of losing. Nonetheless, he had to lose her. He had to shake her, to wake her up, to show her that their relationship was entirely professional-

"Kazekage?" And yet, he sighed, she spoke his name as though she were the one breathing life into him. He looked up from his desk to see Ai stood in his doorway, as usual, but for once, she looked glad to see him.

"Come in." He called to her and sat back in his chair. Ai entered with the smell of roses; she was painted in a pastel yellow today and smiled at him before brushing a curl behind her ear in shyness. "Sit, Ai." He gestured to the chair in front of his desk and Ai did as told. The Kazekage leant forwards and addressed her.

"I trust you have told no one about last night?" As he spoke, he caught the smile that faded from her face, she seemed surprised by the question.

"No."

"I think it is something we should keep to ourselves." Gaara folded his arms as Ai looked away, clearly irritated; this boy changed his mind as quickly as a shadow escaped sunlight. Her shoulders slumped a little.

"Are you going to tell me it was a mistake?"

"No." Gaara spoke quickly, determined, in that Kazekage voice he hated. Ai looked up at him, her eyes wide and innocent.

"Then?" She implored him; why was he pushing her away. It was his turn to avert his eyes, he found it so hard to distance himself. "Do not punish me with silence, Gaara." Ai continued; "do not treat me as one of the Kazekage's council members." Her voice turned to a whisper as she spoke to the floor; "don't put me back there, Gaara." He said nothing. Both were beginning to hurt from his noncommittal attitude. "Last night-"

"You did your job." Ai closed her eyes as though his words had cut straight through her.

"And you? She asked, not wanting to her an answer. "What was it to you?" Gaara said nothing. "It is clear from your demeanour that something has changed in only a few hours since dawn."

"Nothing has changed, Ai." The Kazekage spoke confidently, his arms still folded, an unmoving mountain, unaffected by her words. "I have simply confirmed my plans for you and I." Their eyes met.

"Plans?"

"Yes. " Gaara replied, "you are going to help me." The girl's eyes seemed to dance as she looked across his face, "will you?" Her brow furrowed; where was he? Where was the boy she met yesterday? Ai caught sight of his Kazekage hat hanging on the back of his chair and sighed; what made her think she could ever mean more to him? She had been a foo.

"Of course." Ai finally spoke.

"Good." A moment of silence. The dancing girl fiddled with her bracelet so the stones caught some of the light in the office. She looked up to him and spoke without a hint of emotion:

"What is it you will have me do for you, Kazekage?"

"Seduce Nobutara." Silence.

"The prince?" Her voice lacked its usual sing-song-like quality for she spoke so bluntly.

"Yes." He hardly let her finish. "You are to tell no one of our meeting and become close to him instead." Ai nodded. "Arrange a performance, go to him afterwards, seduce him-."

"Might I ask why I need to do this? It will be easier to interrogate if I know my goals." Ai spoke over him, she didn't want to hear it, she didn't want to hear about her work just now. Not from him.

"The Akatsuki is moving, I trust you know who they are?" The woman in lemon yellow nodded, her earrings tinkling as she did. "We believe the royals have some connection to them." Ai smiled a little; soboku-sa (such naivety), she thought.

"You would be wrong." Ai advised him and the two looked at each other. Studying each other, wondering why they were here, in this moment, back to petty bickering when all they wanted was to go back to the night before.

Ai had been raised to think about politics since childhood, Kage were merely men of war, put into a political position when deemed physically capable, what being strong had to do with politics she had no idea. Gaara was naive and easily influenced. He would be making a mistake by infiltrating Nobutara's council.

"Regardless of your opinion on the matter, we need to gather intel." Done. Finished. That was it. The Kazekage had spoken. Picked her up from one place and put her in another Fine. Finished. Done. "Will you help me?" Ai stood and smiled the smile she was taught years ago.

"Of course." She bowed to him.

"Then go. " He said finally. "We will meet in secret to discuss what you have found." Ai, in her frustration, had already begun to walk away from him. As she opened the door she glanced back to Gaara.

"Goodbye, Kazekage." He said nothing as she walked out and shut the door.

Gaara put his head in his hands and pulled at his hair out of frustration; why did things have to be this way? Why could he not be honest with her? Why could he not ask her if she too wanted him and only him? Was he being naive, foolish, gullible? Was he falling for a courtesan's trick? The young Kazekage was once more unsure of himself, distrusting of his own judgements.

Unbeknownst to Gaara, Ai remained stood, leaning against the wood of his office door, half-begging for him to call her back. But he did not. Against all odds, against everyone's judgements Ai had gone to him last night in a hope to see he felt the same as her but it was clearly a ruse to permit himself to sleep with her. She almost laughed; how could she have been so gullible? She walked away from him.


Comments/Kudos appreciated!

Chapter Text

The Prince


Gaara?

The Kazekage looked up as his name was whispered on the breeze that swept through his office. He waited a moment, his eyes darting this way and that, wondering who it was that whispered his name. But his office was empty; the only movement was the rustling of leaves that belonged to a pot plant, put next to his door by Temari. He thought no more of it and went back to his work.

I know you can hear me, Gaara. 

He sighed; of course he knew the voice well, for it was a part of him since birth, it had spoken to him more than any human being for the demon was his only company in his lonely and desperate childhood. But Shukaku had not been speaking as much or as loudly over these last few years following Gaara's attempt to quieten the biju. Of late, however, it was proving difficult to shut him up. Gaara spoke to himself:

"It is unlike you, Shukaku, to talk nowadays without being addressed by me; perhaps you are forgetting the way we left things-"

The way YOU left things, you heartless boy! Cooping me up in here, without a moment for me to defend myself. It's positively sickening the way you've treated me. ME the demon-

"Get to the point, please; I have a lot of work to do now, I'm-"

Kazekage now! Oh yes, I keep forgetting in the moments you take for air before scolding me again-

"SHUKAKU." Without even realising it, Gaara had entered the plane on which he and Shukaku communicated face-to-face. He had materialised in front of the demon's cage so quickly, that Shukaku jumped back at the sight of him and trembled in the cage Gaara crafted for him. "Do not test my patience. What do you want?"

Gaara's subconscious was a dark, cold place, it took the form of his childhood bedroom; the place where he and Shukaku first became acquainted. He had built this setting in his mind and housed the demon in a large, sealed cage that seemed to hover in empty space where his bedroom door should have been. The crimson-haired shinobi stood in his room, amidst the horrible white light, surrounded by soft toys and presents, to face his biju who was curled up like a ball in his cage, his tail curling over his eyes to hide himself from the Kazekage. Gaara stood at the edge of the carpet where it faded away to the darkness which housed Shukaku.

The biju lifted his tail and saw that nonchalant, disinterested expression on Gaara's face and, out of frustration, moved viper-quick up to the bars of his cage, pushing his face against the red wood that imprisoned him. The wood strained and cracked against the pressure Shukaku put on the cage for he hurled himself at the ninja who kept him here, with all his might. His large black eyes bulged out of the space between the wooden bars, each eye the size of Gaara's skull, looking on at that arrogant jinchuriki with distaste. "Why did you send her away?!" The demon bellowed and shook the cage violently. It took a moment for Gaara to realise what the beast was asking and his eyes widened in surprise.

"Ai?" He asked and Shukaku whined.

"Yes!" The sand monster screeched, forcing Gaara to put a hand up to his eye and wince.

"Stop making that noise, it's irritating." As he spoke, Shukaku reduced his whine to a whimper. "My actions are no concern of yours." Those dark eyes flashed as the monster huffed, clearly unsatisfied with the answer, before he retreated back into the darkness. "What makes you think I would let her remain in my company, with you screeching her name every time I see her?" Shukaku's tail became limp and rubbed the ground as though the monster had become coy.

"I only wanted to speak with her." The biju protested. Gaara folded his arms.

"Of course you did," he replied sarcastically, "that was evident in the remarks you made about her skin and blood." There was a moment of silence before Shukaku whispered:

"I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone in those thoughts." The demon smirked.

"I wouldn't let you anywhere near her." The shinobi spoke loudly and at his words, the racoon-like monster stirred, his voice became deep and gentle:

"You care for her?" Shukaku asked. Gaara folded his arms with impatience.

"I care for anyone more than I care for your bloodlust." He retorted and let no emotion show on his face at all but Shukaku could see, in Gaara's gait, in his eyes, in the confident way he stood there, barely breathing, that something was new.

"No," Shukaku whispered, "…something's different about this one-"

"Be quiet." The Kaekage interrupted so quickly that Shukaku knew he hit a nerve. More than that, the demon pondered, this idiot of a boy didn't even know what he was getting himself into. Shukaku raised his head and gave a sickly smile.

"You," Shukaku's smirk widened to a deathly grin and his shoulders began to shake as he held in laughter at Gaara's ignorance.;"you don't know who she is, do you?" Try as he might, Gaara found it difficult to control his emotions; unwillingly he unfolded his arms and took a pose as though he were ready to fight.

"I'm not interested in your lies." Gaara said heatedly.

"Ahahahaha," Shukaku's booming laugher flooded Gaara's head, "you fool: caught Love staring you in the face and you dismiss her because she's a whore-"

"I dismissed her because of you!" Gaara tried to speak over the demon who was now rolling around in his cage in blissful satisfaction. "And she's a courtesan, not a whore-"

"So she can rattle off a bit of rhetoric; you're still paying for her aren't you?!" Shukaku bellowed through his laughter.

"I've had enough of this." Gaara said, shaking his head. As he felt himself sucked up back into reality, leaving the biju in his subconscious, he continued to hear Shukaku's taunts:

Ahahahaha, she came to him as bold as a full moon on a cloudless night and he sends her away! AHAHAHA!

Gaara snapped his eyes open, shook his head, looked around his office to make sure he was not disorientated, and went back to work. Shukaku continued to murmur and laugh in the pauses the Kazekage took from his work. The one tails was such a nuisance and continued to be one for the rest of the day.


"The Kazekage threw her out of his room, can you imagine?"

"I don't understand why she doesn't just give up and go back to the Tea House. Give Akina house a chance. We have decent performers."

"You know what Megumi is like; she only ever sings Ai's praises. Like the girl was dropped on Earth by the Creator himself: Ai is destined for Kage and royalty. It takes more than a pretty face-"

"Or a virgin."

"To seduce someone like the Kazekage. I think Gaara must have a very specific taste in women, that's why he got rid of her-"

"Years of being a psychopath and social embarrassment are bound to have given him some strange fetishes."

"To be fair, I can think of a few women who would happily indulge him." The giggles and rumours that drifted in through Ai's open window did nothing to console her. She was frustrated, torn, embarrassed and ashamed of what she had lead herself to believe. Gaara had played her for a fool and the shinobi had won. Ai had to forget about him, she had to leave him behind, in the depths of her mind and focus on the task at hand.

The dancer glanced up into her mirror and gave herself a reassuring look; seduce Nobutara, get Gaara the information that didn't exist (for she knew straight away the royals were not involved with the Akatsuki, only an idiot would think otherwise), report back to the Kazekage and leave the palace. Her gaze lowered from the mirror; leave the palace. Leave him behind.

"Ready?" Ai looked up again to see her teacher's reflection, stood by her door. Megumi walked up to her and put a hand on her shoulder, lowered herself into the reflection in the mirror alongside Ai and smiled.

"You are so beautiful; Gaara is a fool for giving you up- ah!" Megumi gasped quietly as Ai shrugged her away and finished putting blush on her cheeks.

"Gaara is a fool regardless." Ai snapped impatiently and put her blusher brush back down on the table, before standing and correcting one of her three necklaces. Each pearl necklace was a different length to give the illusion of a single tiered necklace. She wore it with a dress the lightest shade of lilac and red lips, for what are more enticing, to calm the wild and wondering minds of men, than red lips? The colours, against her snow-white skin and raven-black hair, made her eyes look like crystal and her lips look like rosebuds.

As Ai was escorted out of her room with Megumi and they took the stairs down to one of the many courtyards in the palace, heads turned, whispers swept about the pair like butterflies. There was the girl who made the Kazekage create such a frenzy, before he abandoned her for more experienced women. Or: there was the girl who had seduced the demon, Gaara, before setting her sights on royalty. Either way, it did not paint a delicate picture of either of the pair, but Ai was determined to do her job well and finally be rid of these palace walls.

The courtyard she entered was smaller than the other she had danced in for it was the prince's private courtyard in the palace. It had those same white pillars shimmering like moonstone in the twilight hours, and white doves that fluttered around her as she entered. Megumi retreated to the darkness of the palace and left Ai to walk into the centre of the courtyard as though it were a stage, her anklets the only sound echoing in the stony square.

"I was a little surprised to receive an invitation to see you, Ai." At the sound of her name, Ai stole a sideways glance into the corridor that was housed by the pillars to see the prince stood, leaning lazily against the stone. She turned to him fully and smiled before bowing.

"I believe I am indebted to you, your highness," she replied and stood to her full height. The prince nodded and took a seat beside a low table. Ai sat before him, shimmering, glittering, sparkling as though the diamonds she wore were already dancing for her. The prince and courtesan looked on at each other with curiosity; both sat in colours near-white, feeling as though the outside world were forgotten, watching one another for a chance to glimpse a smile.

Nobutara was different to any royal she had ever encountered; good looking and good natured, his stare arrested all her thoughts. What would it be like, she wondered to be with someone so….simple? So beautiful and unaffected?

A harp struck a note, breaking her reverie but she did not break eye contact as she sat before the Prince and blood-red lips parted for her to sing:

"A weightless kite, a starling, I drifted through the sky at night.

The scent of jasmine on my hair lifted up to the stars

As I swayed, lost in a flurry of starlight and moonbeams,

My sight caught hold of him and he locked unto my heart.

I found a fellow traveller, waiting, like me, for someone.

Hoping, like me, for someone.

At his gaze, the night stilled, the breeze that carried me to heaven was extinguished,

And like a fallen star, I fell down to Earth, only to be caught by him.

After moments, barely breathing, barely swaying,

He heard destiny call his name for greater things.

He wove his black magic into the kohl of my eyes

And like the moon, I was alone again." There was a dip in the music as though someone struck the wrong note; the musicians were waiting for Ai to sing the next line but something had stopped her. As the harp player lead the rest of her accompanying ensemble, Ai's head tilted to the sky and shot the moon a look of distaste. There was a figure watching from a distance and her eyes narrowed on him. Unmistakably, unashamedly, the Kazekage stood watching from a higher floor.

Infuriated, is not a word that does justice to the way Ai felt, as she watched Gaara watch her. Angry questions tumbled, stumbled over each other into her mind as she took a breath to stop herself from calling him out from his hiding place. Did he not think she was capable of doing her job? This was courtesan territory, this mission was hers alone. Gaara: so controlling, so unyielding, so overbearing. That fool was more trouble than he was worth.

The musicians, who were looking at one another out of the corner of their eyes, were all wondering if the usually flawless performer had forgotten her own song but as they looked on they became aware that Ai had not forgotten the song, she was changing it. Bringing her right hand to meet her right ankle, she began tapping on the chains that bound he feet. She was changing the rhythm of the song and the musicians, who knew Ai well, followed her lead and seamlessly, an untrained eye or ear could never tell, the song changed. The drumbeat echoed over the harps now, filling the courtyard with something like a war song, signalling attack. The tinkling of chimes and anklets no longer sprinkled over the song as though floating through the breeze towards the audience; each tap, each jingle of a bell seemed purposeful, defined, awake.

The Prince, who assumed the last few moments had all been for dramatic effect, leaned in a little to see Ai almost scoff in disbelief before continuing the performance:

"Wanderer, abandon any false pretension that you have scarred me," even the way she sang changed. No longer was she the nightingale, no longer was there a sweetness to every note she sang; her of; her voice was filled to the brim with an arrogance.

"Once we met I tied a thread of fate to you, of debt to you,

So your heart will not release its intoxication of me.

Each moment passes you is coiled with sighs of your lonesome nature.

Nights without me will see you restless

My eyes may be filled with your curse but you are left with nothing but the sight of me;

Your want of me will drive you to madness and see you search above heaven for the girl you swore was the moon." The dancer scoffed and tore her gaze away from the sky..

"As though I would be wrapped in some dark cloud of the monsoon,

As though the night could hold me.

Search beneath the oceans, wanderer, you may find some trace of my beauty there.

You are wounded by my affection, dear one, handsome one, dark one.

Accede to your devotion of me and I will unlock our last night from your eyes.

Freedom and imprisonment come in the form of Love, dear one."

The drum beat stopped, the harps struck their last note that seemed to carry on into the night as though they were perplexed and undue of how to stop themselves. Nobutara stood and watched the girl as she seemed to shake her head at someone on a higher floor. What a strange turn the song took; almost as though Ai had performed a song half-written, as though the tale had not reached its true ending.

What a strange, beautiful, elusive creature she was. So full of fire and sweetness and ache; the courtesan stirred the curiosity of many and the Prince found that he too had been caught under her spell. The man stood as the musicians exited the courtyard and Ai rose to her feet slowly, her coyness came back to her as she looked a little flustered.

"As much as I appreciated your poetry, Ai," she jerked in surprise for, as the prince spoke, he turned away from her and began to walk back into his room, "I believe it was a bangle, that was owed to me." Ai took a quick glance up to the floor that Gaara was on but he had vanished. Good, she thought, with him out of the way she could do what she was sent here to do. Ai took a breath and followed the prince, walking by swaying her hips in a slow deliberate manner.

Once he was in the room, Nobutara turned back to her and sat on the end of his bed, watching her approach him. Ai entered the room and stole a hidden glance around; everything about him was golden, rich and warm. From the lavish silk bedsheets he so cooly lounged on, to the colour in his eyes, so dark and arresting. Ai smiled at him from his doorway before lifting her left hand up to her face. Everything was thought out, every careful movement, every delicate glance, was seduction and Ai was accomplished in it.

With her elbow lifted, she left her left hand hang limp besides her face. Nobutara leant back and sighed a little as he found he could not focus on the gold bangles on her wrist when they were placed so close to her red lips. Ai kept her gaze lowered, on her bangles and gently, began to slip them off her wrist with her other hand. The sound of them clattering on the marble floor seemed to make the candles in the room quiver in fear for they flickered and shimmered on her face as the prince watched her.

When Ai's wrist was bare, she finally looked up to him.

"They are yours," she whispered.

"And you?" What a commanding, authoritative voice he had. The courtesan took of a brooch that was placed on her shoulder and the silk she wore slipped from her figure, caressing her curves as it fell to the floor.

"Yours."


Sleeping with the prince was not at all how Ai had expected. It still hurt, she was unsurprised by that but his manners, the way he treated her, was shocking. Nobutara was playful, slow and affectionate; it was almost as though sex came second to spending time with her. They spoke and laughed while he held her hand and kissed her neck. He seemed to adore her, to be completely at ease and happy. The Prince even made her giggle with kisses and bites as he explored her body. Sex with him was fun and not as intense as her first time, Ai relaxed in his arms and even smiled when he felt bad that sex was too painful to see her climax. What a strange man, that he should care for her pleasure.

They slept soon after and before she drifted into dreams Ai confirmed her plans in her head; she would question him at breakfast.


"AI!?"

"Ah!" Ai woke with a start to the sound of her name being screamed. She sat bolt upright, the sound of her heart pounding in her chest was flooding her ears as she strained to listen for him again. She was breathing heavily, shaking with shock, looking around the dark room as though Gaara was near her.

But there was nothing. No one. The room was empty except for her and Nobutara who lay soundlessly asleep, unperturbed by the shout she was so sure she heard. But the silence stretched on, her heart slowed, her breathing returned to normal. She glanced to the prince who lay beside her, his dark hair flopped onto his handsome face in a way that made her smile.

Ai's smirk faded as she thought of the shout she heard; perhaps it was a dream? Perhaps Gaara had not called out for her? She threw off the bedsheets and got out of the bed slowly, being careful not to wake Nobutara. Once up, she walked to the full length mirror that sparkled in the corner of the room and placed her white night robe on. She needed fresh air, it would be fine to step out into the courtyard at this time.

She stole a glance at the mirror and pushed her hair to one side. Ai stood in the silvery light of the moon and looked at herself as though to reassure her that she was not going mad. Her robe was made of an opaque white chiffon, figureless but almost dreamlike, the soft waves of white silk flowed around her. The material was pinned by a silver brooch in between her breasts, giving the robe a very low neck which Ai had always liked but never been allowed to wear. She sighed as she retreated from the mirror and walked out into Nobutara's courtyard.

The night air was crisp and cool as she took a deep breath; this is what she needed, a moment just to clear her h-

Ai's thoughts of relaxation were interrupted as she came across an unusual sight on the palace balconies opposite her, a few floors up. The lights were on. Dark figures were running back and forth, on closer inspection they were shinobi. It was the middle of the night, what were they all doing up at this hour? Ai took a step forwards and strained her eyes to see in the darkness that the shinobi were all carrying scrolls. Red ribbons with lead weights on the ends, tied the scrolls together. That was generally how sealing scrolls were fastened. Why would they have sealing scrolls on them?

Ai's breathing stopped all at once. That was the Kazekage's quarters she was looking at.

It took a moment for her brain to fully comprehend what was happening.

"Gaara." She whispered before picking up the skirt of her robe and running.


Kudos/Comments appreciated!

Was fun seeing Shukaku in this chapter. Was more fun seeing Gaara tell him off. Awwww.

Chapter Text

Overdose/ Tie Me to Dusk

There was something in the dead silence of the night that seemed ominous to her. As Ai walked into the Kazekage's quarters, she noticed the candles flicker in fear upon hearing the distant shouts of shinobi. Even Ai could feel it, in her bones, licking around her legs as though trying to catch her; Shukaku's intent flooded the palace with eerie malcontent. The beast was in the shadows, clawing at the walls to get to blood, seeping itself out of Gaara's soul.

As Ai approached the corridor that lead to Gaara's room, she began to hear a rumble, no, a buzzing, a humming in the air, deep and endless, it was a sound she had heard before and it struck a note of fear in her.

The hall outside the Kazekage's room was in chaos; shinobi were running around in a frenzied attempt to get things under control. There were a group of ninja stood at the entrance to the Kazekage's bedroom, Kankuro included, all looked as though they were hesitating before going in to battle. Baki, Kankuro, and three other palace guards seemed to be waiting to enter Gaara's room.

The courtesan walked down the corridor with such confidence that no one dared ask her what she was doing there. Heads turned as men caught sight of those red lips, the thin white gown, those crystal blue eyes, before they remembered where they were and returned to their impending tasks. Ninja ran past her, shouting to one another for new sealing scrolls, cursing themselves for not acting sooner. Ai glided through the mess, to make her way to Gaara's bedroom door. That buzzing she heard earlier was getting louder. It was a familiar and foreboding noise. Where had she heard it before?

"Ai!" Kankuro exclaimed upon seeing the dancer come and stand next to him. "What are you doing here?" But Ai was not listening, she was staring, wide-eyed, at the bizarre and terrifying scene before her.

The Kazekage's figure was barely visible through a wall of spinning sand. The source of the humming heard in the corridor was the sand whipping through the air at such a rapid pace. It was also what was preventing Kankuro and the other ninja from entering the room to help the Kazekage. Clumps of sand were whizzing around the bedroom, around Gaara's figure, marring any view of him. The Kazekage looked like a washed out silhouette, stood, frighteningly silent and unmoving, by his dresser. Gaara's ultimate defence was preventing him from being saved, a bittersweet irony that left Ai's mind racing; what to do, what to do?

"What happened?" She asked Kankuro who frowned as he saw Ai reach across him and remove, from a pile of equipment placed there by other sand shinobi, a kunai. Did she have a plan?

"Gaara lost control. I don't know what- what are you doing?!" Kankuro shouted at her as Ai took the kunai in her right hand and cut the tip of her ring finger on her left hand. Blood trickled like a firework from her skin and Ai held out her bloodied finger to the sand. "Are you mad?" Kankuro grabbed her arm and held her back.

"No." Ai withdrew her arm from his grip and looked at him with such determination that Kankuro did not stop her when she held out her hand to the sand again. Almost as though the glittering mass had a life of its own, it seemed to sense her presence and began to part, making an entrance for her. Sand seemed to rush towards her arm before sensing something and missing the girl by inches. Kankuro and Baki looked on in confusion; why was Shukaku letting Ai through? She lowered her arm as though satisfied with her hypothesis. "I need to borrow some chakra," Ai exclaimed suddenly and Kankuro looked startled for a moment before nodding; she seemed to know what she was doing.

"Jin," he called and another Shinobi came to stand with Ai and Kankuro upon hearing his name. He glanced at Ai in confusion before remembering himself and standing to attention in front of the puppet master.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Let Ai borrow some chakra."

"Of course," Jin held out his hand for Ai to perform a medical ninjutsu but before he even had time to register what was was going on, Ai whispered her thanks and swiped her bleeding fingertip across his forehead. "Wha-?!" Ai put her hand up to his forehead.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu (summoning jutsu)," Ai whispered and in seconds kanji began to unfurl from beneath her hand and scatter themselves across Jin's skin in the familiar summoning circle that the shinobi recognised. But before anyone could figure out what was happening, Jin collapsed.

Shinobi ran forward in alarm and helped to hold him up, as he stirred on the brink of consciousness. "He will be fine in a few hours, just let him rest." The dancer murmured but had already turned away. The ninja were all too shocked to say or do much else, many of them helped to escort Jin to the sickbay but Kankuro and Baki watched the dancer with a keen eye. Before Jin collapsed, Ai had summoned a sealing scroll and snatched it as it appeared in the air before his forehead. She then began to unfasten the scroll.

Kankuro's eyes narrowed on the sealing scroll in her hands and he raised an eyebrow; she had performed a jutsu without weaving a single sign. The boy with the painted face did not know whether he should be shocked or impressed.

Beside Kankuro stood his teacher, Baki, who shook his head as though he could not comprehend what was happening. Her jutsu and the scroll were written in jōdai nihongo (old Japanese). Being older and wiser, the ninja knew that there were only a few people left who can read or write it. Another thought occurred to him as he watched her: only a had full of other beings can understand the text, namely-

"Shukaku!" Ai shouted through the sand.

Biju. This girl could communicate with tailed beasts in a language no one could understand?

Both Baki and Kankuro watched in awe as the courtesan made the spinning wall of sand part like curtains to form an opening through which she could walk.

"Ai!" Kankuro shouted in alarm but, before Ai stepped through, she cocked her head back to him.

"Shukaku won't hurt me."

"How can you be so sure?" Baki asked.

"He wants me alive." Those blue eyes flashed before the girl mistaken for moonbeams, walked toward death.

Ai entered the room with a quiet determination; she must not show Shukaku any trace of fear or he would snuff her out in the breath of his sigh. She walked into darkness, the room was eerily quiet considering the sound the sand made to the outside world. But in here, in this bubble he created, Gaara was God. Controller of sound, sand and Ai herself; she found herself unmovable at the sight of him.

Gaara was stood against the wall opposite his bed, his head tilted upwards, brow dripping with sweat from the effort it was taking to calm the blood lust. It was his breathing that caught her attention. Shuddering and deep, as though trying to control himself, as though he were mere moments away from going completely insane from the want, from the ache that was burning in his blood. He stood in the moonlight, in his dark trousers, thrashing his head this way and that, his nails scraping the wall behind him, running through his hair and tugging at it as he closed his eyes and faced the ceiling. His torso, his beautifully defined physique, trembling and clenching in the moonlight.

The courtesan stood, transfixed. Was she breathing? Was she even there? It was hard to tell. Without warning, Gaara flung his head forwards, pulled roughly at his crimson locks and cried out, alerting Ai to her own existence. The girl jumped and the movement was noticed by the demon boy. His hands shaking, his lip quivering, his breathing tiring, Gaara lowered his hands, stood straight and looked directly at her.

"Ai?"

She took a breath.

It was insane that something inside of her should shake and vibrate with such intensity, upon hearing Gaara say her name like he wanted her. The two teenagers caught each other in what felt was a moment of silence. The sand around them had halted and instead formed a wall between them and the shinobi outside.

Ai stood, in a white robe so thin Gaara could make out every inch of her curves, every mouthwatering, lick-able, fuck-able part of her. He gritted his teeth, keeping Shukaku at bay for just a few moments longer so he could take in her face. Her eyes were dancing, as though wanting to drink in every part of him. Her lips, he had to close his eyes, Gods, why did she have to have red lips? They were glistening, they were shimmering for him, ready for her to get on her knees and open her mouth-

"Aaaah!" Gaara groaned and put a hand up to cover his right eye, as though something were paining in his head.

Ai had come to rescue him but she had no recollection of her task. That lustful, reckless smile he had, Gaara, not Shukaku, drove her mad. It pained her, it frustrated her, it made her want to scream, push him up against the wall and feel his bare skin on hers. The kunai was slipping from her grip, her knees were going weak, for Gaara was undoubtedly the most handsome man she had ever known. Those dark rimmed opal eyes grabbed a hold of her and kept her prisoner. He was her escape, Gaara controlled this world she stepped into. And she seemed to have stepped straight into him.

"AAAAH!" Gaara yelled and bent forwards, both hands back in his hair, screaming as though in agony. The sight of him in pain alerted the girl. Ai remembered herself and grasped the kunai and sealing scroll in her right hand. She held her left hand, her bloodied ring finger, out to him.

"Gaara," She whispered. Gaara's arms dropped to his side as the pain left him, he stood, almost lazily, upright and looked at her. Shukaku was quieting, relaxing, upon hearing her presence, he allowed Gaara a moment of freedom from the demon's torture. The Kazekage squinted in the darkness to see, as Ai walked towards him, her hand become illuminated by the moonlight. His eyes narrowed on her ring finger.

"What…?" Gaara asked uncertainly, barely finishing his sentence, tired from the effort it took to fight his biju.

"Boshu (offering)," Ai whispered in response and smiled a little as she saw Gaara shudder. She was offering him her blood. He smirked and as she approached she kept a close eye on his movement for any indication that Shukaku might attack. But the one tails seemed to be calm as she came towards him.

Gaara did not notice Ai drop the kunai or sealing scroll from which she had removed two tags. His eyes were fixated with her fingertip, it was wet and warm with the smallest cut and trickle of blood. Like honey dripping over the rim of a jar, waiting to be licked, waiting for someone who was in need of something sticky and sweet. And the Kazekage was entirely in need of her. That boy looked at her as though she stood for everything he had ever wanted; his eyes were tired, full of adoration and hunger, beckoning Love into his arms.

The warrior opened his mouth gently as she approached, with a look that gave Ai a strange urge to open her mouth and kiss him instead. But the courtesan stayed true to her task and Gaara reached out his hand to grasp hers, before tugging her closer and taking her finger into his mouth. Gaara lapped at her finger greedily, almost purring. Ai took the opportunity, while he was distracted to, with her free hand, take one of his hands an place it above him, against the wall, before sticking it in place with one of the sealing tags- binding his wrist to the wall with the paper. She pushed into him as she did it so his back hit the wall and when it did he became aware of the trick she had played and looked up to his wrist in alarm. The Kazekage's eyes narrowed and Shukaku's screeching began as he saw the seal had him pinned to the wall. He still had one hand free, Gaara could snap that wretched moonbeam like a twig-

"Ah," Gaara gasped softly into her mouth as Ai pushed up against him and kissed him deeply. He barely had moments to register what was happening; his free hand snaked around her waist and pulled her closer. He begged Ai to open her mouth a little do he could taste her, like he had been longing to since he sent her away. But Ai had planned ahead and with him once more distracted, she took the other sealing tag and placed it on his neck. "AH!" Gaara pushed Ai away and she fell out of his embrace, onto the floor. The kunai fell from her hand and slid along the floor, away from her.

Shukaku cried out in pain as the tag seemed to dissolve into Gaara's skin. The boy himself whined and screamed as though in agony as he used his free hand to cradle his head which felt as though it were about to explode. Shukaku was clawing at his insides, desperately trying not to be pushed back into the darkness but the seal was too strong. The kanji from the paper seemed to burn into his skin and dissolve. In an instant, the demon was gone.

The young Kazekage stood, one hand above his head, bound to the wall, his other covering his right eye as he stood hunched, trying to regain his breath. His dark red hair fell, plastered to his brow from the sweat he had worked up. His breathing was heavy, his back heaving until, finally, he stood upright and licked his lips at her.

They stared at each other; how would he react to her rescue? Gaara looked the girl up and down before sighing as though defeated.

"You wrote these seals?" He asked as though he already knew the answer. Ai nodded. "Come to me, Ai." Gaara asked her so sweetly and held his free arm out to welcome her. The dancer smiled and was about to oblige when the wall of sand between the Kazekage's room and the outside world disappeared, unveiling the goings on in his room. Ai paused as the sand fell, not sure of what instructions Gaara would give her when in sight of his council.

"Gaara, you alright?" She heard Kankuro call. The courtesan and Kazekage did not look away from each other. Both were trying to figure the other one out. Wondering what move to make, who would go first, where they would place each other.

"Yes," Gaara called back into the darkness beyond the room. No shinobi would enter the Kazekage's room without being called upon, so Kankuro waited to hear from the girl. "Ai is going to show me how she wrote the seals," he continued, "everything is fine. Please go to bed." Outside the room, Kankuro and Baki exchanged a look.

"Very well, Kazekage," Baki called and cleared the hallway outside the room. A small breeze flew through the room and shut the Kazekage's door. Leaving Ai and Gaara waiting for one another in the darkness. Their eyes never left each other.

"Come to me, Ai." Gaara asked her again and, with a small smirk, the girl took a step into his embrace. She was expecting him to be rough, to pull and tug at her as he usually did but the Kazekage simply held her and rested his head on her shoulder. He was tired and did not have the strength to keep his guard up around her. Ai was becoming too familiar to him; she was becoming his friend.

That wretched moonbeam fit into his embrace well and placed her hands up upon his bare chest, feeling how broad, how stiff, how heroic his figure was. Ai was denying to herself that she were a little disappointed in receiving only a hug but smiled nonetheless as he lifted his head from her shoulder and kissed her cheek. "Remove the seal." He whispered suddenly and Ai moved back a little and smirked before glancing up to his hand. Gaara had his hands on her hips and moved in to kiss her as she leant back. But then he noticed her smile. "What's funny?" He asked with no trace of amusement but something inside of him adored her smile. Ai took a step away from him, pushing him away with one hand.

"Do have the great Kazekage at my mercy?" Her smile broadened and she giggled as Gaara tried to move towards her but was constrained to the wall. He looked back at his hand and growled before glancing back to Ai who tiled her head at him. "Has Sabuko no Gaara been so easily defeated?" The courtesan said in her song-like voice, her blue eyes sparkled up at him in the moonlight.

"You think a paper seal is going to contain me?" The ninja growled at her, standing to his full height, towering above her. But Ai did not cower; her love of mischief, of teasing him, kept a smirk on her face.

"I wrote it; it is unbreakable to those who do not know the dead language." As she spoke, her smile faded for she felt something winding around her middle. She gasped in alarm for when she looked to her midriff, she saw, snaking its way around her, was sand. "Ah!" Ai gasped as the sand that captured her pulled her down onto her knees in front of its master. Gaara bent down to her so he were mere inches from her face.

"I'm bigger than you, Ai." He whispered, enjoying the smirk fading from her face, to be replaced by a look of fear. Her eyes darting from his gaze to his lips and back again. Gaara was so intense in the way he appraised her; he did not need the sand to bring Ai to her knees for him. "Let me out of this." He whispered. Ai had a few moments of trying to wriggle free of the sand before deciding she had no choice. Begrudgingly, Ai lifted her right hand and formed half of the tiger hand sign.

"Kai (release)." She whispered and dropped her hand and gaze in defeat as the seal pinning Gaara to the wall seemed to vanish. The Kazekage stood straight and as his hand fell from the wall, he rubbed his wrist. "Now let me free," Ai protested as Gaara stood there, idly massaging his hand. He glanced down to her and shrugged before walking off, leaving an open-mouthed Ai staring after him.

"Let me free." Ai said, louder, indignantly as though she could not believe she had to ask twice.

"Why?" Gaara asked nonchalantly, rubbing his wrist, looking around his room for his shirt.

"What do you mean why?" The girl cried but was immediately silenced as Gaara turned back to her, half in the shadows and leant against his desk.

"Why not keep you here, like this?" The Kazekage bowed his head a little but kept his glistening eyes on Ai. He stood lazily and walked over to her, all previous thoughts of finding his clothing forgotten; a chance to see that look on her face again, was too hard to resist. The boy with eyes that arrested so many women, walked over to the girl he thought was so deliciously delicate, and stood in front of her.

Ai could not help herself, she had to drink in every inch of him; her eyes skimmed his face, his neck, his collar, his chest….they descended his frame as though hypnotised and did not stop at his belt buckle. The dancer had a fleeting fantasy about somehow undoing his belt with her teeth. Ai jumped as Gaara bent down to her, his gaze locking onto hers. The Kazekage put his hand beneath her chin, tilted her beautiful face towards him and ran his thumb down her lips, opening her mouth as he dragged her bottom lip downwards. Gaara looked at her as though fascinated.

"Why not keep you chained to me?" He whispered as though he were seriously considering the idea, looking into her eyes for any trace that she may say yes. Ai's chest was rising and falling rapidly, that boy was sending shivers down her spine, all over her, waking her up. "Like the moon is bound to the darkness; why not tie you to dusk and make the moon whole, every night?" Her eyes were caught on his lips. She gulped; speech left her as Gaara nodded, content with his plan, his thumb still brushing her bottom lip. "Would you happily sacrifice your freedom to me, Ai?" Yes. 

Ai scoffed. "Your princely upbringing has made you a fool," she protested, that fire, that mischief, flooding her eyes and she tilted her chin at him as though daring him to say more. "As though you could steal me from the nigh-" She was stopped short as Gaara got onto his knees and kissed her softly.

Her eyes widened in surprise for a moment before she smiled into his kiss and closed her eyes. As she melted into him, Gaara wrapped his arms around her and brought Ai into his about him was dark, his crimson hair, those rims around his eyes, the way he looked at her, the lust he had for her. Dark. But so inviting and Ai wanted nothing more to get lost inside that darkness with him. To be tied to him.

The Kazekage remained on his knees, a strong pillar of resilience, letting only his lips and tongue move into her. As soon as the sand let her go, Ai poured herself over him like water, like water thirsting for the ocean, she opened her mouth for him and gasped in delight as Gaara licked her tongue. A spark of electricity passed between them as Gaara put both his hand on either side of her face and kissed her deeply.

Without even realising he had unpinned her robe, Ai felt the cold of the night around her shoulders as the white silk fell to the floor. Gaara's attention moved from her mouth to her neck and shoulders. The smell of her skin, the feel of it, soft and warm, her fragrance drifting up in the heat between them, drove him mad. To Gaara, insanity was nothing new, desire was nothing new but there was something, something in this girl that brought him close to an overdose.

Why is it, beyond all encumbrances, we always end up on our knees for each other? Why can't I shake you? My faith, my sin, my addiction, my release; why do they all answer to your name? Why has everything become you? 

Ai's head hit the soft carpet of Gaara's bedroom as he laid her down on to the floor. The Kazekage was so calm and gentle with her; she looked up at him anxiously for she could not rid herself of the image of Gaara with that blood-thirsty look, lapping at her finger as though eager to drink her. But that blood-thirsty boy looked down to her with such warm, confident affection, that it made her beating heart slow its pace.

His hair ruffled in the night breeze and the moonlight fell around him like the light of a halo. Gaara reached down and brushed her cheek with his knuckles as Ai looked up, her eyes misted over with the intoxication of lust; what was that look he was giving her? She had never seen it before. The boy leant down to her and kissed her cheek softly. His cool and calm demeanour frightened her; the dancer grasped the white silk that had fallen to the floor beneath her, as though she needed to hold on to the Earth for fear of being swept away by him. Gaara paused a mere inch from her lips and took a breath.

What has become of me? 

Gaara leant in a little further and kissed her softly, pushing his full lips against hers. As he did, he moved between her legs and let his hips fall gently into her. Ai could not help but smile into their kiss as she felt how hard he was already and as she did, she saw Gaara smirk a little. She released the white silk from her grasp and placed both her hands on either side of his face. They looked into each other's eyes. Ai let her gaze search his face. Wondering if she should speak, wondering if he would listen. What was he thinking that he could not tell her? What thoughts was this boy so lost in?

The Kazekage stared back at the girl with the memories of every hurtful moment he had ever spent trying to tell anyone he loved them. How could he tell her how he felt? Even he did not understand it.

I was Gaara. Once. Before you. 

Gaara took her hands away from his face and let them fall to her sides. He then knelt before her and placed both his hands on her waist, before he smoothed over her contour and cupped her breasts. Ai took a deep breath and her back stiffened as the Kazekage's thumbs glided over her nipples. She even smiled a little as the torturously gentle caress gave her little shivers of pleasure. Ai closed her eyes and tilted her head back as Gaara's tongue glided over her right breast. Her smile faded, her back began to peel away from the floor, her brow began to furrow, her hands were caught in his hair as the Kazekage licked and kissed and bit in his exploration of her.

Now, your blood beats through my aching heart. 

That girl with the sapphire eyes bit her lip as Gaara's tongue began to work its way down her body, to her stomach where she giggled and writhed for release as Gaara held her hands down to prevent her from pushing him away. Her figure was so small and delicate compared to his. She was so breakable, so fragile, all he wanted was to keep her safe. The boy with hair the colour of blood, let his tongue taste every inch of her.

"Ah!" The sound that issued from Ai's mouth left all previous thoughts of safety and adoration forgotten. Gaara snapped his head back up to her and looked directly at her face to see Ai staring back at him with wide-eyes; shocked that a demon could treat her body like a flower of paradise. With a cruel, malicious smirk, the Kazekage licked his lips until they glistened in the moonlight and lowered himself to that spot that had caused Ai to gasp in such a deliciously weak and lustful manner. Between her slender legs, Gaara placed his moistened lips tenderly on her womanhood and gasped softly as he felt how wet she was. He let his tongue, flat and wide, glide along her lips and it was with one more delicate gasp from the courtesan, that Gaara realised holding back was not one of his strengths when it came to Ai.

I was sleeping until woken by the taste of you.

In an instant, the world changed. The girl was shuddering, gasping for air, whimpering as though on the edge of death. The breeze of the night cooling her naked body as she arched her back and moaned, unraveling delight, twisting in anticipation, for what he was stirring inside of her. Torture. Unbearable, undeniable, Gaara sought out that side of her that would beg for him, that would do anything for him, that worshipped him.

The girl with the moonlike face grasped the white silk beneath her so tightly she heard it rip. She opened her eyes and looked to the ceiling as the Kazekage kissed her and let his tongue dart in between the lips of her womanhood, searching for that spot that she could feel was beginning to numb with pleasure. Whoever knew Gaara would be so talented?

"Ah!" Ai could not stand it any longer. Her legs were beginning to tremble, she could feel how creamy and warm it was were his tongue met her body. Every small flick of his tongue, every gentle bite, every long and wet lick he took, was drawing her closer into the darkness with him. Into that unreachable moment of ecstasy; she was there with him. With Gaara.

The dancer felt something inside of her pulse and spread across her body like a wildfire before her hips buckled and she grasped a handful of his hair.

"Gaara," Ai whispered his name as she came. Waves of pleasure washed over her, she writhed and moaned and gasped and bit her lip. Gaara moved away from her and sat on his knees. Watching her beautiful face screw up in sheer euphoria. Her body shivered and jerked like someone on the brink of death and Gaara watched in satisfaction as the heat of the bloodlust cooled. Watching the fight go out of her, watching her give in, surrendering to him, was what he craved.

As Ai's breathing returned to normal she opened her eyes and sat up. They looked at one another.

I am no longer the man I was. 

Ai thew her arms around his neck and drew him into embrace. She kissed him so fiercely that they had to break apart and gasp for air. They put their foreheads together, eyes closed, breathing heavily and he asked:

"Sacrifice your freedom to me Ai." He commanded. Ai gulped and felt goosebumps all over her body as spoke.

"I am already chained to you, Gaara." She conceded and opened her eyes suddenly as Gaara stood and picked her up. She wrapped her legs around his waist and pushed her breast against his bare chest. The Kazekage moved across his room as Ai kissed his neck and shoulders, doing anything and everything to be close to him. "Ah!" Gaara did not put her gently on to his bed, instead he dropped her violently before removing his trousers. Ai gritted her teeth as Gaara stood, naked, powerful, the Controller of everything, so reckless, so roguish, so rough and razor-sharp.

The Kazekage pushed his courtesan to lie down, before turning her onto her side so her back was to him. Ai smiled; Gaara was so particular, so controlling in the way he fuck-

"AH!" Ai screamed as Gaara yanked her arm and twisted it behind her back. He went to lie down beside her and, with his free hand, pushed hair away from her neck and sank his teeth into her flesh. The girl winced; it was definitely Gaara's turn.

It seemed like he was massive compared to her; Gaara caged her as she parted her legs and he held tightly onto her with one hand on her hip and the other kept her arm twisted behind her back. Ai waited for the pain.

She groaned a little as he entered her. It was still painful. Would she ever get used to this? Wasn't this at some point supposed to be pleasurable for her too? Her thoughts were interrupted as Gaara thirst himself deeper inside of her sticky and welcoming warmth. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back in pleasure. She felt so good. How had he lived so long without this? As he slowly pulsed inside her, he released her arm and instead put one arm around her as though hugging her and pulled her hair with the other. As the Kazekage fucked her, he licked and bit her neck.

The dancer grasped the bedsheets and steadied herself with her now free arm. She winced at every inch of him, until, in half a heartbeat, something changed. As Gaara pushed up inside of her, Ai felt something deep inside the pain, something unimaginable and wonderful. She let him pull out and thrust again and when he did the girl opened her eyes in astonishment at this new feeling. The Kazekage was, for some reason, savouring every movement, going slow, and over the next few deep thrusts he gave her, the pleasure began to overcome the pain.

The demon boy noticed a change in Ai. It started with a moan. It issued from her soft lips like a breeze in the night, delicate and disbelieving. She began to part her legs a little wider, her head tiled back, her whole body moved into his, she pushed herself into him, she was getting wetter. Gaara propped himself up onto his elbow to watch in satisfaction as the whore inside of Ai came out.

She pushed her hips into him, bit her lip and licked them as her moaning became louder, as the ripples of pleasure became deeper. Ai reached back for him and pulled him by the neck towards her, panting as she did so, before she turned her face to him and kissed him. She moaned into his mouth at the pleasure his cock gave her. She smiled. So this was sex. Gaara withdrew from her kiss.

"Fuck me harder." She asked and the Kazekage obliged. The sealing tag Ai had placed on him quietened the biju until it was nonexistent and could not interfere in this raw and human moment they were in. But that did not mean that Gaara had changed. He was still as hungry for her to feel a little pain, he was still in desperate need to abuse her a little.

Gaara. So controlling. So demanding. He pinned Ai to the bed and fucked her until it hurt again. He pulled at her roughly and thrust his cock deep inside of her until he wrapped his arms around her and groaned as he climaxed inside of her. Letting each shiver of pleasure guide his hips, making the most out of her body before satisfaction was reached and the Kazekage moved away from her so he could lie on his back.

Ai rolled over so she could face him. She had a broad smile as she looked over to him.

"What is it?" He asked her and reached over to stroke her arm. Ai put her head on the pillow, her dark waves of hair falling upon the white sheets. She reached over to him and outlined his lips with her finger.

"You're good at this." She giggled as Gaara looked a little dumbfounded. Her smile faded and she closed her eyes. Gaara looked on at her and sighed. After a moments hesitation, he appraised her:

"Ai?" But the girl was already lost in dreams of him. The Kazekage, not one to be drawn into dreams, sat up and reached for his trousers before turning to look at her. She was so sweet, lost and lonely like him, in this world. He sighed and pulled a thin sheet over her body.

I am no longer the man I was.


Kudos/Comments appreciated! 

Chapter Text

I thought that to get y'all to understand the courtesan theme a bit more, I would recommend videos that you should feel free to check out. I'll probably give a video every few chapters or so and, if you are coming straight to this chapter, look back at the other chapters to see their newly added video recommendations. All of the videos will be from bollywood movies because that's the only place I have ever seen old school courtesans done properly and these videos are how I was taught. Not to be a courtesan, obviously, but to learn their style of language, dance etc.

This chapter's video is: Devdas meets Chandramukhi. If you youtube this phrase, there's a video with english subtitles.

Enjoy this chapter!


The Counsel of Others

Gaara was a dreamless man for he never slept; a curse, given to him at birth, robbed him of the kind embrace of slumber. But what need was there to become lost in fantasies when she, who walked straight out of his wildest thoughts, lay content beside him?

The handsome man, once mistaken for a monster, looked over to Ai; watching the slow rising and falling over her chest, spying the curve of her long lashes as he blew gently to move a straying curl of hair from her lips.

Love stirred upon feeling the soft breeze against her skin and Gaara looked at her, almost hopeful that she would wake, but her eyes did not open. Ai frowned a little in a childish, sweet manner, before turning away from him. Gaara ran a hand through his hair and tugged at it a little; this was…everything felt…inevitable. Ai had spoken of a thread that tied them together, something deeper than either of them could control. The Kazekage, a rational man, a skeptic even, could not help but feel the tug of the divine thread of fate.

With a sigh, Gaara stood from his bed, put on his trousers and walked to his wardrobe. The sun was rising, he noticed the golden rays of light begin to pour into the room from behind his curtains and caused illuminated stripes of gold to appear on the wood of his cupboard. From within it, he pulled out a robe of royal blue with a trim of gold. He put it on but left the robe untied; Sunagakure was warm even at sunrise and no none would see him shirtless on his balcony at this time of day anyway.

On his way to the balcony, the crimson haired shinobi snatched a book from his private library, before pulling aside the curtains and stepping out on to the veranda. Gaara took a deep, satisfying breath of morning air as he stepped out into the sunshine. The world was peaceful, the air was beginning to warm with the scent of jasmine from the gardens. Gaara leant against the railing of his balcony, facing his room, and opened his book to read.

"You like Ariwara no Kai, Kazekage?" A soft voice fell like birdsong into the melody of the morning and the Kazekage looked up to see that songbird appraising him from the doorway that lead to his room. Her white robe falling off her shoulders, curls curling out of her hair, smiling at him; Ai looked angelic in the morning, strange given that last night she was anything but. With a small smile at this thought, he shrugged.

"His work seems less elusive to me, now that I have conversed with you." Ai laughed and approached coyly. "You are familiar with his work?" The Kazekage asked and watched Ai attentively as she placed her hands on the balcony's banister beside him and looked out into the world. She smiled in the way one does when reminiscing.

"He was my teacher." She said fondly, pulling her robe over her shoulders as she spoke. "He was the writer of-"

"Bakudaina Densetsu (A/N: The Untold Legends), the poems that recount the legends of the Gods." As Gaara spoke, so confidently, Ai shot him a look of suspicion. "I know his work; the books were given to me as a child." Gaara said in explanation before they both shared a small smirk at one another and looked back into the plains of the desert.

The two young lovers stood in silence on the balcony, enjoying the quiet of the morning, each enjoying the company of the other.

"His work," Gaara began, "ends halfway through a poem." Ai nodded.

"The poem Love, is incomplete. Kai-sensei left the Tea House before he finished it and the House published whatever remained." Flicking through the book, Gaara found the last poem and skimmed the page.

"He who walks in the shadow of love, will surely have heaven beneath his feet." Gaara read the last line of the poem in his gentle, yet authoritative voice and as he read Ai moved with a small smile closer to his face. "I wonder if that is true." He pondered in a way that Ai found hard not to giggle at; there was a sweetness behind the violent and commanding facade that the Kazekage adopted. His naïveté of basic human things was almost childlike; how funny that a murderer should be so innocent. Ai's smile faded.

"Can you not imagine it?" Ai asked. Gaara's brow furrowed as his fingers outlined the black ink on the page in front of him.

"I have some recollection of loving someone." He whispered and looked as though he was trying hard to remember, before he shook his head, "it was a lifetime ago; it is not worth reliving hashed and shattered memor…" His voice trailed away as the girl placed both hands on either side of his face, pulled him towards her and looked deep into his eyes with that look he could not understand.

"Can you not imagine it?" She asked again.

"I…" Gaara could not find words that would meet her look of longing with the same emotion. Her eyes were glistening in the sunlight, her lips, full and plump were quivering in anticipation to hear him speak. But the Kazekage could not say anything; like a vice on his larynx, the heartache of his childhood would not let him say it.

"Gaara?" Ai and Gaara looked up, suddenly, into the room at the sound of Temari's voice. Gaara took a protective step forward to block Ai from anyone's view. The morning breeze pulled the curtain back from his door so his big sister could see him from his bedroom. Temari appraised her brother with a smile, it was so funny to see Gaara, who she used to think of as a monster, stood in a regal robe of blue and gold, the white curtain curling away as though in fear of him. What a fine shinobi he had turned out to be. Kankuro appeared behind her and smiled at his brother.

"Hey, little bro," Kankuro waved him in but Gaara did not budge, "we have to have lunch with the Prince today-"

"He's leaving,"Temari interrupted as though irritated that Kankuro had not gotten to the point soon enough.

"Thank the Gods," Kankuro interjected under his breath.

"And I think…"Temari's smile faded, her back straightened, her arms folded. "Oh, Gaara," she said in disappointment.

In the silence of the morning, a strong breeze had fluttered into the room and around the young Kazekage like a whirlwind, lifting up Ai's hair around her. Like wisps of black smoke, they signalled her position to the others. Even her anklets tinkled in the breeze in a high-pitched, teasing way, as though delighted to get Ai into trouble.

Out of respect for those in a higher position than her, Ai stepped out from behind Gaara, her head bowed, holding her breath for the scolding.

"How long has this been going on?" Temari asked although she seemed like she did not want to know the answer. "Gaara?" She spoke louder as the two teenagers did not answer.

"What concern is it of yours, Temari?" Ai looked up at Gaara with wide eyes, shocked that he would speak like that to his sister. Upon hearing this, Temari opened her mouth in offence and took a few steps forward.

"You would risk the reputation of the palace, of our family, of yourself,"Temari raised her voice, "all for some…some…I can't even say the word-"

"Temari-sama, please-"

"Learn to speak when you are spoken to." Temari silenced Ai with a single sentence. "Leave." The blonde shinobi nodded towards the door sharply and rolled her eyes as Ai looked back to Gaara. He averted his eyes from her. Why would he not look at her? Why was he so full of fear and doubt? The Kazekage finally spoke:

"Leave, Ai." Gaara said sternly. With every moment, Ai's heart felt heavier, as though the weight of his attitude were nestling upon it. Ai nodded even though he was not looking at her. She walked past Temari, with her head held high, only to save face, and as she passed Kankuro she could have sworn, for the briefest of moments, that he smiled at her.

The door shut with a sharp thwack as she left.

Gaara walked past Temari with a look that said: happy now? The Kazekage was not a man of many words; before, his anger would result in violence, now, he remained in discourteous silence whenever someone irritated him. His elder sister's shoulders slumped as she looked apologetic. Gaara sat at his desk, his face turned away from his two siblings.

"You have worked so hard, Gaara," Temari spoke softly. "Do not throw it all away because blue eyes give you a second glance. I know you are young. I know this is new…"

"But this is no way to establish yourself as a Kage." Kankuro, to the surprise of his siblings, spoke up. He never liked to meddle in anyone's affairs but he knew his sister needed his support, he knew his little brother needed guidance. "I'm sure Ai is sweet but she isn't the sort of girl you should-"

"What sort of girl should I be spending my nights with?" Gaara turned his head to them sharply. They had not seen him become heated in a long time. Both Temari and Kankuro lowered their arms and took stance, preparing for what may come. "And who are you to tell me anyway?" The Kazekage was particularly out of character; he raised his voice, slumped in his chair and hissed at them: "Why doesn't anyone in this palace ever have the decency to leave me be?" Temari's mouth fell open in shock at her, usually calm, brother's words as Kankuro put his hands up in surrender and smiled.

"Woah, Gaara, we didn't come here to have an argument-"

"That girl has acted more like family to me than either of you ever have!" Gaara stood. "When Shukaku grows restless she comes running, she doesn't cower or bury her head in the sand!" Temari took a step back. "She is kind and treats me like a human being. I went straight from being a jinchuriki, a monster, to being a Kage living in these quarters of the palace. And in each of those positions I have found myself quarantined- shut out from the rest of the world! And you two stand there telling me what to do and who to see? I'm sick of this." He stood and put his hands in his hair. "SHUT UP!" Temari and Kankruo jumped.

"We didn't say anyt-"

"I'm talking to Shukaku." Gaara interrupted and took a few deep breaths. It took him a few moments to calm down and when he did, he sat back down and sighed. "Ai takes me away from everything; from being a jinchuriki, from being a Kage. I felt like I never knew myself but when I am around her I feel like she can see through all this. I feel like she can see who I am." Temari took a sharp breath.

"Gaara," she spoke calmly, "are you in love with her?" The three stood in silence for a moment. "She is a courtes-"

"Temari," she looked over to Kankuro as he put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. It was not her turn to speak. They waited with baited breath to hear Gaara's response.

"No." Gaara's voice came out hoarse and dry as though he did not want to say it. Temari was about to speak again but Kankuro guided her from the room with a stern look.

"Lunch is at one." Gaara heard his brother say.


News of the Prince's departure swept through the palace like wildfire; he was taking leave of the Palace with great haste and had only agreed to lunch if Ai were to perform a last dance to bid him farewell. Megumi had arranged everything before Ai had even woken that morning; the girl's clothes, jewellery and entourage of dancers were all ready for her. Ai had been summoned to her room which, unknown to anyone else, she had never actually slept in while at the palace.

Megumi walked through the palace halls hurriedly, stopping and bowing to those of high position, before carrying on to Ai's room where she heard there had been a…hindrance to Ai's preparation. That girl, Megumi fumed, she was nothing but trouble! She should never have taken in the daughter of a dreamer- like father like daughter! Always so enchanted with the world, their heads in the clouds, spinning alongside the stars. Ridiculous! Megumi reached Ai's door and waited for a servant boy to open it for her.

Upon entering the room, Megumi came to the living room of Ai's quarters and looked around to see a few dancing girls all staring in the direction of the bedroom as though waiting for something.

"What are you all-?" As the older courtesan began to speak, the girls all looked over to her in surprise as though they had not noticed her enter. At the same moment as her opening her mouth, however, someone stormed out of Ai's bedroom. "Miko!" Megumi said in surprise as the girl, Ai's good friend, walked out of Ai's bedroom looking thunderous. "What is going on?"

"She is impossible!" Miko said exasperatedly. "She refuses to dance- she refuses to even put her clothes on!" The look of distress on Miko's face transferred to Megumi; the problem with pretty girls is that they get so used to getting their own way, Ai was no exception. There was no time for this spoilt behaviour.

"Come," Megumi took Miko's hand and waved to the rest of the girls, "the rest of you, buy us time." The girls, all dressed in varying shades of blue, left the room, looking likes waves of the ocean. The leader of the Tea House took her student by the hand and lead her back through to Ai's bedroom.

The room was grand and enormous; with a round bed in the middle, a canopy of white silk falling around it. On the floor, by the bed, clutching at the bedsheets, a tear rolling down her sweet face, sat Ai. She was motionless and had no reaction to them entering the room. Her clothes, a silvery colour one could only call moonlight, were laid out on her bed beside her jewellery, glittering in the sunlight. Megumi forced a smile.

"Ai, what is that has afflicted you so?" She asked almost happily. Too happily in fact, even Miko was surprised and stayed by the door as her teacher went over the the bed and sat beside Ai. She stroked Ai's hair with motherly affection. "I would ask if it were the Kazekage but he banished…oh." Megumi stopped, her smile stopped, as Ai winced upon hearing the word Kazekage. A few moments of silenced passed in which a tiny trickle of a tear escaped the young dancer's big blue eyes. Megumi shifted on the bed, sat upright and pulled her veil higher on her head. "You are-"

"In love with him." Ai said dreamily. Miko tried to hide her surprise; how on earth was Ai in love with the Kazekage? They had only ever met once of twice!

"Please, Ai," Megumi almost scoffed, "this is a dream!" She exclaimed but her temperament did nothing to Ai who was held as though in some trance.

"Gaara is not a dream." The girl breathed, "he is reality. He is my fate." Her teacher laughed disbelievingly.

"You are young." Megumi was trying to be patient, trying to let a teenage love affair have some importance. But Ai was testing her patience. "You do not know what love is!"

"It is what keeps me tied to him. It is what resonates in my heart." Ai gripped the silk bedsheets as though clutching to the dream of him. Megumi lost what little patience she had for this.

"Is that why you seduced Nobutara?" The elder courtesan asked bluntly. Ai finally reacted; she raised her head and opened her mouth to respond but nothing she could say could rid her of the guilt. Megumi shook her head. "Face facts, princess: a whore cannot afford the luxury of love! " The woman stood and gestured to Ai who looked aghast. "You think the clothes you are wearing were bought from the value of love?! It is from the hard work of us, courtesans, breathing dreams into the eyes of our admirers that lead to you having such a pleasant upbringing."

"Kismet is inevitable!" Ai shouted back but Megumi was relentless:

"Do you think it is written on the palms of the Kazekage that he should love a whore?" Ai looked away as she said this, not wanting to hear it. "Is it written in the stars that a man of his stature should give himself entirely to a woman of our creed? Well?" Ai did not respond, she put her head in her hands as hot, full tears escaped her eyes. "Has he given himself to you?" Megumi asked. "Has he defended you? Has he proclaimed his love?" Still, Ai said nothing. "No? Then stop this foolishness." Small gasps of hurt began to escape Ai's mouth as she cried. Megumi straightened her back and glanced at Miko who looked entirely bewildered by the whole situation. The oldest courtesan began with a whisper:

"I will speak in this language because you and I alone understand it." Ai lowered her hands from her face and looked up at Megumi as her teacher began to speak a forgotten language. "You are losing your way, Ai. To read books about biju is no threat to courtesan etiquette, but to act upon what you read, to perform ninjutsu, is beneath us."The girl looked affronted.

"I did it to save him!" Ai screamed.

"And how does he thank you?" Megumi shouted back. "By sleeping with you and throwing you out of his room in the morning?" Silence. The look on Ai's face, as she watched the sunlight dance on the floor in front of her, was enough to tell Megumi that the girl had lost. "I will not have one of my girls acting so out of turn; if you dared perform ninjutsu again, join the shinobi, see if they will welcome you with such open arms." Ai glanced up at Megumi and blinked away tears. How funny, she acts one way and Gaara tells her to leave, she acts another and her family tells her to leave. There is no winning move for a courtesan.

"Get ready. The Prince leaves in an hour."


Reviews appreciated!

 

Chapter Text

Howdy, today's video is "Kahe Chhed Mohe" it's a song from the movie Devdas. The woman dancing is a courtesan and the song is essentially how I envisioned the song in this chapter. Enjoy!


The Legend of the Blood-Love. Part I

There is the world. Beneath it lies space, stretching on for an infinitesimal distance and above it, surrounded by a swirling chaos of galaxies and oceans, lies Tengoku (heaven). Home to the Gods, origin of existence, Palace of the Creator and resting place for higher spirits; the heavenly plane existed before the world we know. Like the first wafts of fragrance from the smallest blossoms in Spring, it is in the early years of it's existence in which the tale of the Blood-Love unfolded.

Gods lived in peace together, undisturbed by the wars that went on in the planes beneath them, unperturbed by the swelling storms encompassing the mass that would later become Earth. They lived like the lull of a bird's first song, swaying in the melody of grace. Until, of course, Renai was found.

Born from the light of a pole star, she came with reckless charm and beauty to rival even Kichijo (Goddess of fertility, beauty and luck). Dubbed the goddess of spiritual grace, eloquence and love, Renai tore through the hearts of Gods as delicately as a Spring breeze shakes blossoms from a cherry tree. She bought chaos, jealousy, pleasure and rage to the Gods of Tengoku and it did not sit well with the Creator. He grew tired of her antics; hypnotising and enslaving other Kami (Gods) with her loveliness, it was difficult to run a civilisation with the likes of her fluttering around!

In a moment of utter frustration at Renai's anarchy, the Creator made the moon and tied her to it. Outside of the world, he left her in isolation so that she may wallow in solitude and no longer entice other Gods with her mischief.

Without her, paradise seemed lost, stars lost their glimmer and Gods grew fat and lamented her long lost charm.

A young God, Senso, a warrior who travelled far from heaven, had never encountered Renai for he had gone into battle only a day before she was found. He returned to his homeland to find it barren and forgotten. Senso was told of Renai's incarceration and grew curious; who was it that could have come into the world and created such havoc only to be missed when she left? Senso went in search of her.

He found her hidden in a star, singing softly, a silver thread made from the Creator's hair was wrapped around her ankle and chained her to the moon. Everything about her captivated him, as she stared so innocently and coyly from her cage to see who it was that came to meet her. The first moment they met he asked her name and that was it; when she answered he left.

Senso returned many times to meet with Renai, whose humour and mischief both soothed and enraged him. A warrior with a fierce temper, he often left her calling after him when he grew angry with her. Often he would stop talking to her for days and return demanding an apology. Their arguments shook the moon itself; cast it in shadow for when Renai frowned the stars cowered. Sometimes, for Renai had a temper not unlike his own, she would ignore him, play with the clouds and blow away stardust, make him look like a fool with a twist of a few words.

One day Senso approached her and, as she called to him with a smile, without a word he took her in his arms and kissed her. Well, Renai had never felt anything quite like it. How dare he touch her without even greeting her!? How dare he stop?! Senso told her he was going to take her home and, just like that, he cut the silver thread from her ankle and unleashed her from her celestial imprisonment.

Upon returning to heaven, Senso and Renai were called in front of the Creator. Renee fell to her knees and begged the all-powerful god to let her by their affection, the Creator granted her wish.

Following her restoration as a kami, Senso and his beloved began a relationship that mimicked both the ocean and the sky; thunderous, calm, gentle, beautiful and terrifying. They fought moments before making love, they hated one another moments before embracing and they could not live without one another.

This is the mark of blood-love. It is the phenomenal ability of love to throw aside barriers, to mar the lines between opposites and see them be born out of each other. When mortals find themselves in the torturous cycle of love coming from hate and hate coming from love. Of pleasure coming from pain and pain coming from pleasure, they are said to have reached the state of paradise that Senso and Renai found themselves in. They are said to have reached a heavenly love; that only experienced by gods.

One cannot say at what stroke of the clock's hands did the delicate and chained Ai fall in love with Gaara of the desert. By which moon did she glance upon his handsome face and realise her heart was no longer in her own keeping? And in what treacherous world did the two young lovers find themselves in, that they could not escape together? Love was only an ailment to them. A wound preventing each from living their lives. This red, defected, remorse of love was unbearable. It made them enemies, lovers, warriors, victims and without their consent, without respect for his station, it tied them to one another.

With bowed heads, Gaara and Ai sat either side of a white curtain that divided a courtyard in two.

The Kazekage was surrounded by his family, mentors and those who came with the Prince. Nobutara sat to his left, completely unaware of the Kazekage's sombre mood. Gaara was lost in thoughts unknown, irresponsive to his surroundings, his siblings tried their best to lighten his mood. Nothing worked, as they suspected. Gaara's mood now was effected only by her.

As though struck by a lightning bolt, Gaara's attention snapped upwards as the instruments began to play. The tune was unlike how Gaara was feeling; it was playful and happy, it was not a song he thought Ai would be singing. Nonetheless the curtain rose and there she sat, with a small smile on her face, dressed in moonlight, sparkling in the sun. She looked straight to the prince before gesturing to the dancers behind her to come and sit close as though she were about to tell a story.

"Sat in starlight I went unnoticed by the world,

Imprisoned for having cities of men fall at my feet,

I was left to wallow in loneliness

Until my gaze fell upon him."

Gaara looked over to Nobutara who sat with a smile as Ai pointed to him.

"A handsome stranger came with a gust of wind that shook the waters,

He found me sat in starlight, down by the riverbank,

And threw pebbles to catch my attention!"

The women surrounding Ai, all dressed in shades of blue, giggled as though she were really recounting the tale of her love. Gaara scoffed; Ai's aloof manner made everyone fall in love with her! Gaara was angry. He couldn't understand it! Why was she acting like this? She was supposed to be hurting too, wasn't she? Or was he being irrational? The damned curse of his childhood constantly left him second guessing his feelings.

Ai stood with a twirl.

"I spied him through the dark waves of the night

And beckoned him closer

As he told me of his victories in worlds far off.

He reeled me in with tales of war and poetry from beyond the stars." The women all looked off dreamily as Ai gestured to the skies.

"Before the rogue in him snatched me in the nighttime

And twisted my arm behind my back

With such force the bangles I made from moonstone broke!" With a fake look of surprise Ai had all eyes on her.

"Upon our next meeting his demeanour never faded;

His cruelty knows no bounds;

I grow restless at the sight of him

And beg him not to come close,

But my heartless lover never listens;

He pulls at my hair and teases me so."

"Whenever the flute of heaven signals the doors to open,

I shrug and put on a farce to show I did not welcome his company.

But my mischievous anklets begin to chime to the rhythm of the flute

And my desire to see him is unmasked.

Last I saw my cruel lover,

He pulled me in and whispered words I shall never forget,

Words that gave me meaning,

Words that gave me freedom." Ai's sweet voice broke a little, as she sang the last line and looked to the floor.

"And just like that; he was gone." Love stilled in the night.

"Oh, stranger, I beg of you, do not leave me.

Oh, stranger, I beg of you, do not forget me." Ai looked up to the Kazekage but he had averted his eyes.

"If you ever stumble upon my imprisonment again,

Set me free, cruel one, dark one, heartless one." 

The drums continued to play, the string instruments continued to shower the night with a flurry of notes that sounded like twinkling stars, as Ai walked determinedly up to Gaara. Fiercely as though going in to battle, she walked to him with no regard for the wishes of the palace. The music seemed to be building to a crescendo; the dancers behind Ai were twirling, the courtyard was a mess of blue and white as the girl dressed in moonlight approached the audience.

"Lover, do not leave me." She sang and came to sit in front of Gaara and the Prince. "Dark one, do not forget me," the audience watched in bewilderment as Ai took the prince's hand in her lap.

Courtesans held their breath for they knew what was about to happen. Most women from the royal and shinobi courts were familiar with the practice too and waited to see what the prince would do. Ai raised her right hand to her face and, with her little finger, wiped some of the kohl from under her eye. The drums built their pace, the dancers twirled, Ai lowered her finger to his palm.

"Oh, stranger, do not forget-" Everything stopped. The drums stopped. The dancers almost fell mid-twirl. Someone had grabbed Ai's wrist to prevent her from marking the prince. The dancer's eyes travelled upwards to see who it was that had stopped her. Her gaze met dark rimmed opal eyes and she let out a sigh; has it come to this, Gaara?


Kudos and comments appreciated :)

Chapter Text

Ai and Gaara walked in silence through the palace. The trouble-ridden Kazekage grasped Ai's wrist tightly and lead the girl, dressed in moonlight, along stone passageways, through darkened archways and up winding staircases. Ai had her right hand stretched out as Gaara dragged her with him, her other hand held on to the pendant of her pearl necklace as though it were some source of comfort. The only noise was the tinkling of her anklets, playing a tune to entice birds in the palace gardens to call out to Ai as thought to ask her where she was going. As though they were asking her why she followed, fearful of the man in front of her.

With a dark and furrowed brow, Gaara walked on. The dancer gasped softly as Gaara's grip intensified and broke one of the bangles on her wrist; the pearlescent glass fell in pieces to the floor with a tinkle that made Ai wince. The shinobi had no such reaction; he walked as though swallowed by a dark cloud that fell around them. He went unaffected by anything happened; members of the Kazekage's court called to him or asked him where he was going but Gaara did not heed their calls. Ai followed behind him, her gaze cast downwards, her white veil trailing along the floor behind them.

The two ascended to meet the sun at noon, as they climbed the stairs leading to the roof. At the top of the stairs Gaara pushed open a door and lead Ai out onto the rooftop of the palace. He let go of her hand and left the dancer standing by the doorway. As the door shut behind her, she stood, nonplussed, staring at his back in stunned silence as the Kazekage walked out to the edge of the roof.

The daytime was sinfully hot in Sunagakure; the sun was at its highest point and sat in a cloudless, blue sky. There was no breeze to alleviate this torture as Gaara and his courtesan stood in silence. All Ai could see was Gaara, stood against the sky, it looked almost as though he were stood on the brink of nothingness; just warm, open sky. Suddenly, he spoke:

"Why are we here, Ai?" Upon hearing his question, Love stirred.

"Here?" She asked, even though she knew entirely what the shinobi meant.

"We are from different worlds; shinobi and courtesan, innocent and murderer, beauty and monster." Gaara spoke with so much power, as though he was speaking something sacred. "We should not be stood here now." His voice became a whisper. "It shouldn't ache like this." He turned back to her, his hand grasping at the white material of his Kazekage cloak, clinging on to something in his chest. There was something sharp and painful in his throat as he cleared it to speak; "why are we here?" He asked again. Ai cast her gaze downwards and sighed a little; what could she say that she had not said before? Gaara was impossible, conflicted and complicated; he was more than her delicate self could handle. But Gaara did not give her a chance to answer. He shrugged off his Kazekage robe to reveal his deep red cloak beneath, and continued his discourse:

"Everyone I have ever loved, has hurt me," Gaara looked away from her as he placed his Kazekage robe on the balcony of the roof. "Lied to me. Deceived me. I was a child and they tried to kill me." It surprised Ai that Gaara's tone was confident and self-assured; he no longer harboured any ill-feelings towards his childhood. "I have learnt to forgive, I have learnt to move on. My soul was broken into a thousand jagged shards by those who claimed to love me." The Kazekage looked over to the girl, trying to articulate what this pain, the one stinging in his eyes and clutching his heart, was doing to him. "It has taken me painful, slow years, to rebuild my soul. I became who I am for the sake of my village. I am strong; I mastered my biju and won over my people. But now, I live in fear."

"Fear?" Ai took a step forwards as though to tend to him but stopped when she caught that dangerous look in his eye.

"I live in fear of what you have done to me. The success of my endeavours hangs in the balance when you glance at me. You came into my life like no more than a summer breeze, and yet all that I have worked so hard for, is undone." Gaara shook his head at her, his eyes stinging. "I managed to quieten Shukaku, but now he grows restless without your cool blood around me." The Kazekage closed his eyes and sighed. "Because it all comes rushing back." Upon opening his eyes he gestured to her; "why do you have this look of longing for me? Why do you show up in the dead of night promising me relief from my want of you?" Ai did not know whether to smile or apologise. "I had even reduced my hunger for death, but now my appetite craves something not entirely different. That deathless death you endure when we are alone, makes me weak, makes me burn. How, when I have become so strong?" Gaara demanded an answer out of her but the girl stood, unable to approach him, unable to give him answers. "How, when I have made myself believe love is not in my fate?" He raised his voice. "How are you here!? How are you doing this?!" Ai opened her mouth to speak but found she could utter nothing in response. The Kazekage saw she was speechless and his shoulders slumped in disappointment.

Silence stretched on until, eventually, Gaara couldn't take it anymore. He grumbled to the ground:

"The poem, Love, I know how it ends." Ai looked up, surprised, as he spoke.

"How?" She asked and raised an eyebrow. Gaara smiled in a disbelieving manner.

"With you." He looked up at her. "It was always you." The Kazkage began to walk towards her. "In the end, what else is there?" He was approaching fast, Ai felt the need to say something, anything, she was beginning to retreat.

"I-"

"I'm sure you do, Ai." Gaara interrupted with a nod.

"We-"

"I'm sure we are, Ai." Her back hit the wall. He approached her and stood directly in front of her, he looked down at her and, mere inches from her face, he smirked in a manner that irked her.

"Let me speak!" Ai shouted and grew evermore infuriated as the Kazekage put his hands against the door on either side of her, caging her. He smiled.

"Speak." He ordered her. "Go on." Ai could not believe it; how dare he patronise her! She stood, fuming, in silence as he mocked her, unable to move, unable to escape him. "Look," Gaara held up his hands to her, giving her some space to breathe, "I'm not touching you, there is no sand winding its way around you, why are you silent?" He asked but Ai felt sheepish talking to someone who exuded power so effortlessly. "It was your insatiable appetite for conversation that got us here, is it not?" All who knew her, knew Ai did not take kindly to criticism. In her young, naive and reckless manner, she had to confront him.

"What do you mean?" Ai tilted her chin at him in defiance. Gaara took a step back and shook his head with a sick smile:

"Oh, you suddenly chirp up at a chance to bicker with me? That is always your manner." The dancer was growing fed up at his accusations. She moved close towards him and spat words at him as though disgusted.

"I am not the one constantly pushing and pulling against the tide-!"

"What does that mean?" The Kazekage moved close to his courtesan again.

"It means I am the only one being honest!" She shouted back.

"Honest?" Gaara laughed. "Then what was all that with Nobutara?" Ai looked bashful for a moment before regaining her confidence.

"Performance!" Gaara simply looked confused and took a few steps away from her as though to take a deep breath, Ai walked out to meet him in the middle of the roof.

"So what were you doing; taking his hand?" As he asked this, that bashful look slinked its way back on Ai's face and she looked to the ground.

"Kizuato (A/N: Scar)." She whispered. Gaara, who was growing near mad of her antics, shook his head in irritation.

"What?" He asked exasperatedly. "Speak in a suitable dialect-"

"It is a tradition of our people" Ai interrupted quickly, not wanting him to get his way, "when one considers another beautiful they scar them by marking their skin, usually with black kohl." Her eyes softened, her voice returned to its usual melodic cadence. "To make them imperfect, so they are protected from the evil eye." Gaara simply stared back at her, unimpressed; these ancient customs were infuriating to him, not founded in reason or rationale. It was exactly her; fairy tale-like and sweet. He sighed as they looked at one another.

"Why are you ding this Ai?"

"Doing what? I am only doing whatever is asked of me!"

"Why are you poisoning me with all this?"

"With all what?!"

"With you!" The red headed shinobi retaliated; "your scent is in my blood, I feel the warmth of you on my skin, I hear your voice in darkness. You heal me and cut me. You have created a war in my soul; what are you? What is this?!" Ai looked away as he approached.

"An impossible love." She whispered.

"What?"

"You push me away and yet you crave me." Ai turned her back to him. "I cannot be a part of this any longer." She wiped her eyes hurriedly. "You are tearing me apart, Gaara."

"I am tearing you apart?"

"Why do you put dreams in my head of what could be?" Ai faced him, her bottom lip trembling. "Why do you speak to me as though I am yours and you are mine?" The courtesan walked up to the Kazekage and, with no thought of her place or his strength, she pushed him, demanding an answer. "Why behind closed doors do you love me so fearlessly and yet under the gaze of others you cower like a child!" Gaara remained passive, standing at his full height, his chest strong, he did not even flinch when she touched him.

"Do not test me, Ai."

"How could I? Moments pass and you are never the same in each." The dancer whispered up to him. She inwardly rolled her eyes and looked away. "I may be a courtesan," she mumbled, "but I am worth more than this unrequited affection." Ai held her head high as she spoke to him with a hint of spite. "Have you not heard my reputation as the Utsukushīdesu (beautiful one) of the Tea House ranges over countries now; I am called upon by royalty and shinobi." Blue eyes narrowed on him before she turned away haughtily. "I need not attend the court of a Kage." She spat out bitterly, trying to maintain the illusion that her heart wasn't breaking. Gaara looked at her as though seeing Ai for the first time. With her back to him, he reached out and placed a finger beneath her chin. Perhaps it was his strength, perhaps it was her will, but Ai turned to him completely as he tilted her chin towards him. She refused to make eye contact as Gaara observed her intently, her eyes were filling with pearls of tears as she held her emotions back.

"Such vanity?" The Kazekage asked softly.

"Why not be vain?" Ai pushed his finger away from her. "What are you, but skilled an handsome? We are matched, Kazekage. If you take pride in being a shinobi, then I take pride in being a courtesan."

"Even the moon is not that vain." He warned her.

"The moon is scarred, yet she endures." The girl retorted and as she turned away from him, the Kazekage did something he could not explain. In less than a moment, Gaara pulled her by her hair to face him, before he snatched the pearl necklace she wore so tightly that the latch broke. He struck her forehead with the large pendant. "Ah!" Ai cried out and cradled her forehead as pearls scattered around them. The Kazekage dropped the necklace. "Gaara, what have you done?" She asked, her eyes closed, breathing heavily. Gaara bent down beside her and moved her hands away to inspect his head. He blew gently on the small cut that had formed directly beneath her hairline. A small droplet of blood formed before spilling over and trickling down her forehead.

"Kizuato." Gaara answered her. Her eyes widened as she looked up at him. "I have scarred you like the moon, with the mark of my love." The blood trickled down between her eyes before catching her eyelashes.

"Love?" She asked and closed her eyes as she stood and Gaara placed his lips against the cut on her forehead.

"This has gone far enough." Ai and Gaara looked over as the door to the rooftop opened and Megumi stepped through, unaccompanied, to appraise the two. She looked regal and commanding in a white and gold dress. The village elder glanced at her student with, what Ai thought looked like, sadness.

"Megumi-sama-"

"Who scarred you?" Megumi interrupted Ai by lifting a hand and pointing to the girl's forehead.

"I," Ai looked to the floor, "fell." Megumi almost scoffed.

"Enough of this. You council awaits you, Kazekage, I suggest you tend to them before they consider your frequent vanishings indicative of your commitment to the village." Megumi stepped away from the doorway so he could leave. Ai felt Gaara move her hair from her shoulder.

"Meet me in the gardens at dusk." He whispered.


I'm not getting much feedback on this site so I'm thinking of taking the story down from here. I mean if you really don't want to read it anywhere else, let me know. Otherwise this'll be it from me for a while i think!

Chapter Text

I have received a lot of questions on different sites so I figured other people may be asking the same things so I shall answer/explain a few of the issues here (apologies for this very long beginning note): 

References within the anime/manga

1. Boshu; the act of offering in which one gives food/gifts to a God. A practice not uncommon in most Eastern religions. However, the way I have used it (with Ai dipping her ring finger into milk/cutting her ring finger to offer blood) has been completely made up by me and is indeed a reference to Yashamaru's act of kindness towards Gaara as a child in which he cuts his finger to demonstrate physical pain to Gaara and a deeper lesson about love. I founded boshu on this because it is one of the first acts of love Gaara experiences. Yashamaru does cut his ring finger too but there is a further meaning behind this which will be explained later in the fic.

2. Kizuato; the act of "marking" someone to ward off the evil eye is common practice in many countries (usually with dark kohl). However, in this fic it is a reference to Gaara scarring himself with the kanji symbol on his forehead, when he was a child; the only person he accepted and loved in his blood-thirsty days was himself, now Ai is the only other person marked by him. It is the only way in which Gaara can act within love, it is a ritual entirely fitting of the blood-love; he had to inflict pain on Ai to perform an act of great affection. Poor guy doesn't know any better :( Lucky for me it is one hell of a literary theme.

Other points to note:

1. "She was Gaara's first love." A couple of astute reviewers have inferred that I mean that Ai and Gaara will not end up together. As is usual with this story, all is not as it seems so please do not assume the worst!

2. "A love to start or end all wars." Yes, this is a reference to the 4th shinobi war, yes this fic follows the story of the manga, yes I am upset they put that chunin exam filler in the anime because now it skews everything in this fic.

3. The fact that Gaara has acted more like a whore than Ai; hahahaha, I found this hilarious in one PM that pointed this out! i.e. Gaara has performed more sexual favours than Ai even though she's supposed to be the prostitute. (Still laughing at the idea of Gaara being the courtesan instead). In answer to this observation I have two things to say:

a) Ai is not a prostitute, she is a courtesan; as such, sex comes into her "secondary skills set". Courtesans are sought after for their intelligence, beauty, entertainment skills and company. Sex, whilst of course being a big part of courtesan culture, is considered far too sacred of an act for a courtesan to act entirely whorish; it is between her and the customer to engage in sex however they want. So for this reason it is not odd that Ai should…um…be a little less…adventurous(?) than Gaara. Hahahaha.

b) Their relationship is not an orthodox noble man meets courtesan deal, so it is not unusual that their sex life be just as unorthodox.

4. Ai swearing. I received a little stick for Ai swearing in lemons, considering Megumi won't even let her use apostrophes. Ai has a rebellious nature and I would hope, from stealing birdcages, from using apostrophes, from defying all social norms and continuing a sexual relationship with a psychopathic jinchurriki-turned-Kage, that her swearing a little is not completely shocking.

5. Ai using jutsu. Let the fic develop, see where that stuff goes, it is going to be amazing!

6. Ai's clothes. I get a lot of: "she's wearing a skirt, she's wearing a dress…? WHICH ONE IS IT?" I've said many times that the courtesan culture I refer to in the fic is that of the Mughal Empire (think India C15-18th) and Ai essentially dresses like the women in the videos I am constantly suggesting. To be more specific, I envisage Ai to wear lenghas. If you search for pictures of Aishwarya Rai in Umrao Jaan (2006), basically anything she wears, Ai wears very similar stuff. Or just google the term lengha. (Ai doesn't do the cropped blouse…well not just yet ;) Ah, ending on a parenthesis!).

Yes, if you review more these subtleties could be teased out of me much earlier and we would not find ourselves in the position of me explaining to you why this story is on another level. Tell your friends. So that they also refrain from leaving reviews.


Chapter 18: The Will of Ariwara no Kai

Megumi spilt her tea, the morning Ai arrived at the Tea House. She remembered the moment clearly; her chair scraping backwards on the stone floor as the clock struck six, the teacup in her hand falling back onto the table, white tea spilling over and through the iron filagree tabletop, as she looked up to see who would knock on her door so early in the morning.

The day was overcast and bleak, and she had walked towards the doors of her House with an uncertain, ominous feeling as though she were about to reveal something unwanted. What caught her eye, upon opening the doors was not at all as she thought; like a bottled moonbeam, she came across light and warmth and hope. The dancer's eyes welled with tears as she looked upon the face of her dearest friend, the poet, Ariwara no Kai.

"Kai!" She remembered speaking his name with disbelief, though the memory of the sound had now faded to an echo. Megumi had gone to embrace his withered and tired soul but the handsome friend pushed her back and revealed what was in his arms. A tear fell from Megumi's cheek when she saw her.

A frail and fair child, cooing and laughing and reaching up for her father's beard as he held her, wrapped in a white cotton cloth. Skin pale as the moon, hair dark as the night and eyes so blue they rivalled the sky itself. Beside herself with happiness, Megumi took the child in her arms and called Ai her own. The dancer spun in bliss and laughed as the child did, spinning and giggling as though they had been united through fate. The woman's long dark hair flowing around them like the wisps of desert wind.

"Her mother, Kai?" Megumi had asked but her smile faded, that cold ominous feeling returned as Kai sighed and shut the door behind him. Megumi held tight to the child for fear she may drop her in surprise at what Kai proceeded to tell her.

That day, that morning, Megumi's world changed. Only moments before meeting Ai she believed her sole purpose was to orchestrate the proceedings of a courtesan House but what Kai told her changed her charge entirely. She was entrusted with something far more precious than what she thought her life would ever, could ever, entail. But she trusted her friend, he was a good man, simple and loyal and he would never ask of her the impossible. So Megumi took this beautiful, lonesome child and raised her as though her own. Ai became a part of the Tea House, became a part of Megumi's life for good. So now, at the thought of finally losing her, Megumi could not help but weep.

The two, almost mother and daughter, were sat on Megumi's bed in the palace. The day had turned cold, the room almost seemed grey and silent. The room was full to the brim with grey, fading glass, even the chandelier looked as though it were tired and hung listlessly from the ceiling. The only thing you could hear was the occasional tinkle from the wind chimes outside, the tick of the grandfather clock in the corner, as Ai sat in white, unable to look at her teacher for the shame of disobeying her.

"Have I hurt you so much?" Ai asked slowly, looking down to the floor. "By loving him?" Megumi shook her head as hot tears ran down her aged and beautiful face. She also wore white, but with a trim of gold and gold jewellery with seemed to have lost its lustre. What a strange symmetry life had; the day she met Ai she had wept with joy, the day for Ai to leave, she wept with regret.

"No, Utsukushīdesu (beautiful one)," Megumi replied with her head bowed. Ai glanced up.

"Why did you call me that? A name given to me by others?" Megumi almost laughed upon hearing this and sniffed.

"You have so many names now," the elder courtesan breathed heavily and wiped her eyes with the end of her veil. "I hear they talk of you in other villages; the girl with the moonlike face, the girl who can talk to biju, beautiful one, divine one, all names others have given you." As she spoke, heavy tears escaped her eyes, her breathing became deep and heavy and Ai, so delicate in her manner, could not help but feel this emptiness too.

"And why does that upset you so?" As the young girl spoke, Megumi looked up to her most beloved student. Ai: so innocent, so beautiful, so willing to do the right thing, to please those who mean most to her.

"Because it seems you are no longer in my keeping." Megumi sobbed, "it seems your time has come." Ai looked startled and tilted her head.

"My time has come to…?"

"To leave me." A heartbeat passed before Ai moved forwards and embraced her teacher.

"Never!" She shouted as Megumi, tears still rolling down her face, smiled at the affection. "You are the closest thing I have ever known to family!" Ai's shouts were muffled by Megumi's veil that she buried into for comfort.

"No, my child." Ai withdrew slowly as she noticed Megumi change; the woman's back stiffened, her voice became deeper, more serious, all tears stopped at once. As Ai moved back, Megumi looked her in the eye and nodded; it was time. "I must tell you about your family. I must tell you what was entrusted to me nineteen years ago." Ai's veil fell from her head as Megumi spoke and she opened her mouth as though to say something but nothing would come to her. "I remember the day your father brought you to me-"

"I have a father?" Instantly, unwelcome tears filled the girl's eyes.

"We all do, some of us are lucky enough to know who they are." The elder woman sighed, a shuddering a deep sigh. "Many in our profession will never know, but you, my dear, have always been one to break the rules." Ai gulped as though terrified to ask:

"You know my father?" Megumi looked her straight in the eye and could not hold her gaze for the shame of keeping this secret. She whispered:

"You knew your father." Ai shook her head; what was Megumi talking about, she was raised in the Tea House, among women. The only man she ever knew was…like a deep wave from a black ocean, realisation crashed all around her. The girl's eyes widened, her heart stopped. Ai was not even aware that she was shaking her head.

"No." Ai whispered. "No it can't be!"

"Kai did not want to tell you-"

"It cannot be!" Ai stood from the bed and looked at Megumi as though she were mad. The hurt was unbearable; her father had been so close to her all these years? He had left her alone in that place?! Before she knew it, Ai was shouting her sorrows: "What kind of father spends half of your life with you and says nothing of his relation to you!? What kind of father would take his daughter to a whore house to be raised there?! TO BECOME A COURTESAN?!" Tears spilled over the brim of her eyes as she tried to regain breath after shouting. She was taking steps away from Megumi, walking backwards, wanting to be rid of the lies. Megumi beckoned her back and pleaded with her:

"There is more to it than that alone, Ai!" But the girl would not have it.

"Lies." AI whispered to herself. "This has to be, this is…." she looked up to Megumi with such a look of heartbreak that her teacher began to cry again. "This is not love. He is not a father."

"Ai, please, sit. There is more to this than even I understand." Ai jumped as the clock in the corner struck seven in the evening. Its chime echoed around the room like a deep boom, a wind whipped the windows and seemed to seep into the room, causing the chandelier to sway and creak as though ready to fall. Ai approached the bed and took a seat opposite her sensei, her brow furrowed in pain. Why was this happening now? She looked up as Megumi continued the story of Ai's origin.

"Kai came to the Tea House, a child in his arms, saying I must raise her outside of standard norms. He was a poet; a poor man, an artist, he had no way of keeping you safe." She looked at Ai as though that were reason enough to forgive him. "Your father sought your protection, from what, I still cannot say for he never told me; he simply instructed that you needed to be among royalty, among higher class shinobi, to be protected." Ai shook her head in disbelief, causing her teacher to lean forwards and put a hand on hers. "Please, try to understand. For women in this world there are only a few ways we can achieve this; either be born into royalty, be trained in ninjutsu or become a courtesan. Your father was not of royal blood and he strictly forbade you training in any shinobi skill. I was his friend of old and he remembered that the courtesan life is not a bad one. Yes, we are denied love, but we have everything else we could ever possibly ask for. It was the best decision he could make." Again, Megumi looked up at Ai as though begging her forgiveness for lying all these years. Ai simply kept her guard up, not wanting to give into the fantasy that her father may still be alive.

"I cannot believe you." Ai responded, looking away from her teacher. "What was he protecting me from?"

"He did not say."

"Then what use was he?" The girl became infuriated again but listened as her teacher spoke.

"I did as asked. I trained you for the most noble of men in existence; Kage, Princes, Kings…they would all bow down to your skill. And they have," Megumi smiled at her and brushed hair away from Ai's face as though this were somehow consolation enough. "And you have made a name for yourself across this world; you are safe. Wherever you go, someone will protect you."

"Relying on others for protection," Ai scoffed. "Is there no way out of this encroaching servitude?"

"Not for a courtesan, my dear." That was it, it answer to everything; not for a courtesan. Hot, angry tears seeped out of the corner of her eyes as she wiped them hurriedly.

"So he made no mention of my mother? The woman who bore me?" She asked quickly.

"You have none."

"How can that be true?" Enraged, Ai looked at Megumi who sighed. "This is absurd!"

"Kai was a man who found himself in the most unimaginable possibilities; he lived half in dreams, I cannot say if what he told me is true." These riddles as answers were becoming tiresome to Ai. She cocked her head at Megumi.

"What did he tell you?"

"He said you were the second half of his poem Love, come to life." Ai looked away. That was it? That was the best version of the truth her so-called "father" and Megumi could concoct? Her blue eyes flashed dangerously.

"He was a pathetic man." She whispered.

"He loved you!"

"So he lied to me for sixteen years and then abandoned me?! He knew full well he was raising his daughter to be a whore?!" Ai was disgusted, outraged, she preferred the idea of having no parents at all.

"I cannot say why, I cannot answer these questions. But he can, if you wish to ask him." Ai looked up in shock.

"What?"

"He told me; when she is called upon by the world, she will want to find me, when that day comes you must let her go. And here we are, with that day fast approaching on the horizon." The girl's eyes were dancing as Megumi spoke; the possibilities of her past, of her future, were so close to being knowable. "What do you want to do, Ai?" Silent seconds trickled by. The chandelier creaked above them, ready to unhinge.

"I do not know." Ai finally replied.

"Your father entrusted me with one last thing, to aid you on your journey to him." The young dancer turned to her aged teacher and watched as the woman pulled out, from her robes, a small white packet. Ai stared on in curiosity as Megumi pulled apart the paper which fell like white petals on to the bed, to reveal-

"Anklets?" Ai raised an eyebrow. "That is the costume of courtesans; what was he-"

"Have you ever noticed, Ai, that I forbid you from removing your anklets?" Her teacher interrupted her. "Have you never noticed that you sleep with thin chains that are irremovable?" Ai looked down to her feet, to her ankles and shook her head; she had never thought about it. Didn't all courtesans wear anklets all the time? "The day you arrived in my life, Kai brought you in wearing anklets. You were no more than a few weeks old. I cannot explain it, he did not give me answers; those remain with your father." Ai was no longer looking at her, perhaps she was no longer listening. She picked up the white packet from the bed and stared determinedly in front of her. "What will you do, Ai?" As Megumi spoke, Ai was already moving towards to door.

"I do not know." Ai whispered and at the door, she stopped.

"The legend of the blood-love runs deep in your fate, Ai." Megumi warned her. "It is a treacherous and heartbreaking love." Ai was about to leave when Megumi's dangerous tone of voice kept her back. "He is a jinchuuriki; Gaara is a murderer. Your love for him has driven you to perform ninjutsu; I have failed in carrying out your father's wishes." Megumi's voice cracked, her brow furrowed as she realised she had let down her friend, her very own first love. Ai took a breath.

"He is no father of mine."


The walk to the gardens passed her by for Ai was not in the right frame of mind. Her veil trailed untidily behind her, the white package hung limp in her hand as she walked between servants lighting candles in the hallways to welcome the evening. Before she knew it, Ai was walking into the gardens, the warmth of the night air around her, a breeze cooling her neck. Her white dress flowed like satin against the grass beneath her feet and the diamonds she wore tinkled in tune with water she could her splashing nearby. She was lit up by the glittering stones she wore, perhaps the fireflies though she was one of them for their golden light shimmered around her as she entered the garden.

In the corner of the gardens, the wood painted a pale lilac colour that looked white at dusk, was a large, octagonal pavilion. Hidden beneath low branches of a cherry tree, the Kazekage waited in twilight for her. Upon hearing her footsteps Gaara walked out to the entrance of the pavilion, a grand and ornate arch, and caught sight of her as she entered the garden. She was still dressed in white, glittering in diamonds, achingly beautiful. Was she crying?

Ai entered the gardens with a forlorn look; she felt empty, hollow, as though she needed to find something to fill her up. What was it she was looking for? She continued to walk towards the pavilion, desperately trying to make sense of what she had just been told.

"Ah," she gasped softly as a tear fell from her eyelashes and she caught sight of him. Gaara stood in his red cloak, his dark-rimmed eyes beckoning her into the darkness with him. The vision of him shocked her for she felt it, that pang of recognition, that flicker of want; what would console her now, is love. She walked towards him, her pace quickened, upon approaching she threw the packet in her hands onto the ground and found that she was running towards him.

"Ai, what-" Gaara could not finish his sentence for she threw her arms around him and kissed him, wanting desperately to feel again the way he made her feel; safe, loved, like she was a part of something. Tears rolled down her face as she felt him against her; his hands on her waist smoothing round to her back so he could take her in his arms. Gaara was everything she wanted, everything she needed and in that moment nothing could come between them. As she pulled away from their deep kiss, Gaara kept her in his embrace and kissed her softly a few times, savouring her softness, her delicateness, as though she were a Summer breeze about to leave him. he rested his forehead on hers and both realised their hands had found one another's and they clasped onto each other, their hands between their chests as though holding each other's hearts.

"What happened, Ai?" Gaara asked softly as Ai looked up at him, her bottom lip trembling, her brow furrowing.

"I learnt of something today…."


Unknown to the Kazekage, to his family or close friends even, talk of revolt, of overthrowing Gaara, was growing attractive to the power-hungry in Sunagakure. Little known to anyone in the village, those interested in mutiny were gathered, several floors below Gaara and Ai, in a secret chamber, only used during war time.

Seven men sat in the dank, half-lit basement room; around a large round table, similar to the one in the Kazekage's palace. All came with the same dark intent that flooded the room, the same terrible conviction; Gaara was to be overthrown in the next few months.

"I am sure many of you are now familiar with the company he keeps?" One man, aged, a voice that sounded like butter being scraped against dry bread, spoke up. Murmurs rippled across the table.

"A whore." One voice piped up as others nodded.

"A girl of the Tea House," another added. The elderly man put his hand up to signal a call for silence.

"Gaara has not proven himself; he is a reckless and over-ambitious leader who does not have the age, wisdom or even sanity to see our village re-established." Shouts of agreement echoed across the table. "It is entirely fitting that a man who killed for pleasure, who seeks the company of royalty over shinobi, should attach himself to no more than a whore."

"He is young and will ruin us with his rebellious nature!" The old man nodded as another member of the revolt shouted across the table.

"Indeed," the man sighed, "he will bring ruination to our village, all we need to do is show the village what kind of person he is and they will call upon us, the elders, to overthrow him." Everyone around the table nodded.

"But the opinion in the village is one of support; seeing Gaara with this girl, even though she is a courtesan, they believe he has a loving side!" Gasps of disbelief and mutters of disgust came in response. "They believe she can change him! She has a reputation among the village for being kind and gentle, she is the key to his current success." Again, the elder put up his hand to bring the babbling rabble back to silence.

"Then we must pull them apart, destroy their relationship; let us ruin him by taking her away and watch his self-destruction." These remarks were met by applause which was silenced by one sentence uttered at the doorway:

"Perhaps I can be of some service." Out of the shadows, like a flower being guided to sunlight, Miho slinked to join the revolt.


"And?" Gaara asked. He and Ai were sat on the marble floor of the pavilion; her white veil caught on the breeze was swirling around them as though to protect their private conversation from the world outside. The sky was dark now, they had been speaking for hours.

"And what?" Ai asked, wiping her eyes. She knelt before the Kazekage who leant against a wooden pillar, on knee bought up to his chest.

"What will you do?" He asked, unsure of what to say; he had never known his parents and what he knew of them was hurtful, who was he to advise her? Perhaps this was important, perhaps if the tables were turned she would tell him to go out into the world and search for his lost parent.

"I do not know," Ai whispered back, her hair was falling lose of the clips that held it away from her face so she unclipped her hair entirely and let it fall like dark waves of the night, down to her hips. "I do not know where there is a place for me, in this world." Gaara did not know what to say; with all his heart he wanted her here with him, always, but how could he deny her freedom?

"Find it, Ai." He said through gritted teeth and leant forwards. He took her hands in his and kissed the scar he had made there earlier.

"You think I should go?" Her bottom lip quivered.

"I think you should seek happiness." Ai let go of his hands in a huff. "What is the matter?" He asked.

"Do I have no place here?" She asked and turned away. The Kazekage sighed and ran a hand through his hair before, in his usual act of affection for her, he put his hand in her hair and pulled at it so she turned to face him. "Ah!"

"Do not assume so much of me is your enemy, Ai." He whispered in that dangerous, seductive manner he had mastered. Her glittering eyes softened as he looked at her so intently. "You always have a place, right…" He planted a soft, torturous kiss on her bottom lip, "here." Gaara pulled away from her and she smiled.

"I-"

"Kazkeage-sama!" The pair jumped and bumped heads as, yet again, they were discovered. Gaara jumped to his feet and stood protectively in front of Ai.

"What is it?" He asked the servant boy who had clearly come running in haste.

"The village is under attack." Ai gasped and put a hand on Gaara's shoulder.

"Who is it?" The Kazekage commanded but was already forming battle plans in his head.

"The Akatsuki; they entered the village on a giant white bird."

"Give word to Kankuro; prepare troops for aerial combat, evacuate the centre." Gaara instructed before the boy even had time to finish.

"Yes, Kazekage-sama!" The servant bowed and ran from the gardens. Gaara turned back to Ai.

"I have to go." As he spoke, Ai nodded. Gaara put his hands on both sides of her face and kissed her.

"Be safe," Ai whispered and put her hand against his on her cheek. As he let her go she remained holding onto his hand until it was physically impossible to do so and he had to part from her. As Gaara jumped onto sand he summoned from the garden and Ai watched him ascend to meet the enemy, her eye caught the sparkle of the anklets she had dropped earlier.

Her futures were unfolding in front of her, forcing her to make a choice. What choice should she make?

Chapter Text

For those of you wishing to relive the "Rescue Gaara" arc and in case you want to remember what the heck this fic is referring to, this chapter is set around episodes 4-9 of the anime.


Chapter 18: The Girl Who Lit the Lamp/A Blue Moon

Work started only hours after the Kazekage's capture. Anyone and everyone who was fit to work, had to pull their weight. Children were even recruited to fit into small crevices between rubble and retrieve valuable debris from the chaos that the battle had left in its wake. Thank goodness for genin; so eager and ready to take on any task asked of them. So thrilled that every task had been bumped up to the level of a "B mission" due to the state of emergency.

Not everyone was as eager to offer a helping hand though. Elders, naturally, were exempt from such tasks, politicians and council members were given the duty of orchestrating the emergency plans, shinobi were strategising Gaara's rescue. And then, there were the courtesans. The five Houses were known to the greater community, of course. Sunagakure was the oldest dynasty on Earth, there was once a time when courtesans were in power, the ruling class. Nowadays, with their presence known and accepted, they were called upon by the public on very rare occasions. What use was a woman who knew poetry and history, or a House that contained gemstones and silk dresses, in the face of a crisis? They were not needed and the courtesans took pride in that fact; they did not have to be constrained to any manual labor.

The eldest women of the Five Houses took on tasks befitting of their skills. They partook in the funeral rituals from the temples, they spoke to and advised widows of the shinobi who had given their lives to protect the village. Seen in secret, their voices only manifested themselves as scribbled notes to the Kazekage's council.

However, there was one courtesan, the first courtesan to the Kazekage to be precise, who devoted herself to an entirely different task. Her charge was one born out of the events that unfolded that night.

~The night of the battle, in the Palace Gardens~

Ai watched as the boy she was desperate to hold on to, was swept up into the night. Gaara rose to meet the stars with such power and reckless abandon that those in the palace that caught a glimpse of him were frozen in awe. The Kazekage was formidable, though young, and skilled, though naive; even those untrained in shinobi skills wanted to watch the fight for Sunagakure.

Ai's stare was broken by the shouts of palace guards, warning onlookers to retreat further inside the palace. The dancer glanced around to see citizens, members of the Kazekage's court and shinobi begin to rush around in a panic. Yet, Ai did not move. She seemed to be functioning slower than she should be; her thoughts were sluggish, her pace was slow, as though she were trying to figure out her next move, even the shouts of the guards sounded slow and far away.

Again, her mind which felt fuzzy was awoken by the sound of an explosion nearby. She glanced up over the garden walls to see the Kazekage's sand take the brunt of the blast before she looked up to Gaara. The sight of him threw her back into reality. Sound returned with unapologising loudness, the village was ablaze with frantic shouting, explosions, fire, embers flying everywhere. Blue eyes narrowed on Gaara and Ai nodded at her own thought; get to higher ground.

She tore from the garden with haste and ran through the archway to re-enter the palace. Ai looked left; that lead to the courtesan quarters, she glanced right; that lead to the Kazekage qua…Ai looked behind her. There, nestled in the grass, glistening as though they were drops of dew in the morning, were diamond anklets left to her by her father. The girl's brow furrowed before, with a slight sigh, she ran back into the gardens, collected the anklets from the grass and continued back into the palace. She took a right turn.

Ai reached the Kazekage's balcony within minutes. She had pushed aside the door, fumbled through the curtains until, at last, she came to face-to-face with the battle. She squinted in the darkness to see a man with long, straight blonde hair, stood in a black and red cloak…the Akatsuki, it had to be! The intruder stood on a giant white bird; his hair flowing in the wind as the bird swooped through the night sky to avoid Gaara's attacks.

Ai, who had never seen a fight between shinobi, who had no idea what to expect, figured that she would find the look of the white bird comical at any other time. But in this moment the blonde figure was wreaking havoc on the village and the bird's drawn-on, emotionless features were quite terrifying. Ai looked right to see Gaara, floating on his sand, defending the village, keeping an eye on his opponent, on his own safety and on the village beneath him. It was too much for one person, surely?

The dancer glanced around the rooftops, the grounds, to see if anyone was able to help. From below, ninja were escorting and protecting civilians into shelter, at least they were saving as many as possible. On the rooftop directly opposite her, Ai spotted Kankuro, ordering shinobi to fire what looked like arrows, at the giant bird. Ai was beginning to panic, her heart was beating loudly in her chest, she could feel it pounding against her ribcage, attempting to jump into her throat. They were not prepared, it was clear. Gaara could not handle this on his own; there was too much to protect.

In less than a moment, the whole night went dark. Instinctively, Ai covered her head with her arms as the environment changed. But nothing happened; any attack she was expecting did not reach her. Ai lowered her arms and looked up to see the darkness had come because Gaara had flooded the sky with sand to protect the village from another explosion.

It was no use; with his attention on defending the village Gaara could not focus on attacking. Again, Ai looked over to Kankuro, still instructing others to fire weapons towards the intruder. Her eyes sparkled with an idea. Weapons. Something useful, something that could help. With a firm look up at Gaara, full of nothing but determination, Ai raised her hand to her forehead. The cut Gaara had made there that morning was still fresh, still ready to ooze blood. With the nail of her thumb she pierced her skin once more and did not even wince as the cut reopened. Her dark, glistening blood formed a small blob on her hairline, before seeping over, like a tear and tricking down her forehead. Ai straightened her hand and placed her palm in front of her forehead. Was this going to hurt? She had no idea.

""Kuchiyose no Jutsu (summoning jutsu)," Ai whispered. A strange feeling, like a cold egg being cracked on her forehead, started from wherever the blood touched her skin. With a soft gasp Ai felt energy leave her; that must be the chakra needed to perform the technique. "Ah," she gasped again, what an odd feeling; the cold egg on her head, her weakening knees, her vision was blurring. How did shinobi do this? It was enough to make Ai feel sick. "Ah!" A gasp of surprise this time as, from a small cloud of smoke in front of her, a glass vial appeared. She caught it mid-air and strained to see it in the darkness, after, for the fist time in her life, she used her own chakra to perform a summoning jutsu.

Inside the small glass vial, stopped with a dark, cedar wood cork, was a white, glittering powder. "Gaara!" Ai shouted and with all her might threw the vial up to the Kazekage. Did he see it? Had he even heard her? She did not know. Ai was not even aware that she had fallen to her knees. Her long black waved of hair was licking the stone floor of the balcony as she held on to the railing, desperately trying to keep her eyes on him.

But Gaara was no more than a blur, like a thick brushstroke of dark paint against the night sky. Ai's consciousness was slipping away, the blurs were all blurring into one.

No, Ai begged as her mind tried desperately to keep her awake. No, please. Gaara! How will you ever know…? Ai slipped off the balcony railing and into unconsciousness.

Several hours later, Ai had been found by Temari who entered Gaara's room while searching the palace for enemies. She spotted Ai, collapsed on the cold, hard stone of the balcony and ran over to her. The dancer had a small trickle of blood running down her temple, Temari wiped the blood away hurriedly. She called for assistance and had Ai carried to the sickbay.

No one knew what had happened to the courtesan, why she was in Gaara's room, why she had collapsed, why she was found holding onto diamond anklets so tightly the metal scratched her; all strange and unanswered questions that had to be left unasked for the moment.

~Present Day~

Ai was stood on that same balcony, awaiting his return. She had waited there for two days now; Ai had kept a close watch on that cold and distant dessert for any sign of his return. She did not sleep, she barely ate, she simply watched and waited. Those two days had been the same; desolate and bleak, no word, no news. Her presence on the balcony went noticed by all. Members of the court, shinobi, servants, visitors, as they passed in the gardens beneath the balcony, they would call to her:

"Beautiful one, what are you doing?"

"Waiting for him." She would answer, never letting her eyes, even for a moment, leave the landscape beyond the village.

The story of what had unfolded between Ai and Gaara was finally revealed the morning following the Kazekage's fight. Rumour spread around the palace like wildfire when Ai was found on Gaara's balcony. The whispers reached everyone inside and outside the palace. Whether a mess of lies and exaggerations or the rather complicated but endearing truth, the story of Gaara and his first love struck everyone who knew him with a thought so dark, so heart-wrenchingly cruel, that made all those loyal to Sunagakure, bow their heads in shame.

No one was shocked that Gaara was capable of loving someone, nor was anyone shocked that someone could love the feared and demonic Gaara. What resounded in the hearts of all was the realisation that Gaara had gone so long unloved. The people of Sunagakure wept for a motherless and fatherless child, abandoned from birth, raised in a cold, lonely and desperate existence. They had not given that poor child a chance, they were too fearful to open up their hearts to him. They had forbidden their children from going near the boy. How cruel, to go so long without knowing the warmth of embrace, only to be snatched from love in an instant. And how disgustingly pious, how shamefully arrogant they all had been to shun him, he who worked so hard to gain their trust. Gaara had grown into a fine man, one worthy of being named 'Kazekage'; he united their nation and welcomed even their criticism, only to better himself.

Even elder shinobi, hearing of Ai and Gaara's fate, would shake their heads as though to say "such a shame." How fitting that the young Kazekage, the reckless devilish rogue of a man should fall for a delicate girl of the Tea House, should take her heart with such unrelenting affection, only for the two of them to be pulled apart by fate! And how loyal she was! She stood on that balcony all hours of the day, all hours of the night, in the hopes that she may see him again.

From outside the palace walls, civilians, ordinary villagers, could see Ai stood on the Kazekage's balcony and had naturally began to discuss the beautiful village girl who kept such a focused vigil on the horizon. They had even noticed that she made sure to keep an oil lamp lit on Gaara's balcony, in case he should ever wander home, he would need a guiding light. The lamp was one which sat beside Ai on the balcony railing, glass coloured cream to let out a gold, glittering light. Each morning, Ai replaced the oil in the lantern and kept it burning with the belief that a lamp lit for a loved one draws the wayfarer home.

Now, at dusk, the sun was setting on the horizon; the fireflies began to gather around her as though to keep her company. Everything was bathed in a rich, bronze light; the dark gold the earth in the dessert turns before it is swallowed into darkness. Ai was at her usual place on the balcony, having tended to the lamp, she stood in an indigo dress, looking as though someone had plucked the moon out of the sky and wrapped it in inky waves of the night. At this time, prayers and dinner were being tended to, so Ai had no audience like earlier in the day. Or so she thought.

Ai had lit the lamp with the same flame that lit up the candles in the small shrine she made in Gaara's room. Perched at the centre of that shrine, was a statue of the god Raijin who, as usual, watched Love with curiosity.

The god captured in stone sighed at the sight of a broken heart. And who was this girl anyway that she thought to share the flame for a god with the flame for a mortal? It was blasphemous! From his red stone cage Raijin watched Ai every morning prepare prayers in front of him and then proceed to the ritual of keeping enough oil in the lamp on the balcony. How strange! What love was this?

"Enough, Ai." Raijin's thoughts all stopped as once as someone new entered the Kazekage's room. This woman seemed to have a lot of power over the girl called 'Ai', for the young woman dressed in indigo turned to the doorway with a look of utter melancholy. The indigo silk she wore had a thick border of antique gold and the way the veil fell from her head and dragged on the floor behind her indicated that the thread used was actual gold.

Megumi looked over to Ai, through the doorway that lead to the balcony, with a heavy heart. Two days had gone by with no news, the chances were getting slimmer with every hour that trickled by. Ai, so sweetly childish and frustratingly stubborn; she had shut herself away in the palace, thinking only of the Kazekage. She performed prayers in his room separately to the rest of the household; her unorthodox manner was creating a flurry of whispers about the Tea House and the reckless girl it bore.

The young dancer lowered her gaze before turning back to look out of the balcony.

"Two days, Ai." Megumi continued and walked forwards. "I gave you two days and Gaara has not returned."

"Give me a century and I would not move from this place." Ai responded dreamily, her voice trailing into the room on a breeze.

"AI!" Megumi raised her voice the loudest Ai had ever heard it; the young courtesan turned around with a look of panic. Her teacher joined her on the balcony and raised a shaking finger at the lamp. "A single flame is not sustenance; who do you think is providing for you while you reside in this palace?" Finally Ai's attention was caught; without provisions, how was she to stay here at all? "In a state of emergency the courtesans are the last to be looked after." Megumi warned her, "the funds the Kazekage had for you are no longer being taken care of. Our presence in the palace rests only on the assumption that Gaara will return." The candles in the room quivered, even the lantern Ai had kept alight seem to burn a little less bright upon hearing Megumi's foreboding words. Ai looked to the floor, down to the gold trim of her veil as it fell heavy against the stone. Her vision began to blur with tears, her bottom lip trembled as she felt that familiar weakness in her soul, at the thought of losing him. The girl was being overtaken by a nothingness, by an emptiness that licked at her insides. What was life without him?

"Megumi-sama, please give me one more-" Ai pleaded but her teacher could not be patient any more; the elder held up a hand to the girl to silence her.

"My heart is breaking for you, Ai." Megumi put the hand she had raised against Ai's face. "Rumours around the Tea House are vicious; that I raised a rebellious and feisty dancer…they would not be half wrong." The women both laughed as a tear fell from Ai's big blue eyes. "But there are wonderful, beautiful rumours about you and your precious Kazekage." Ai looked puzzled; she had been so isolated she had no idea what was going on outside. "Both of you are gaining respect and admiration far faster, far greater than anyone could imagine-"

"Wha-"

"And you are no longer my child." Megumi interrupted her student with a sigh. "You know where your roots lie and now you know where your heart is kept." Ai nodded slowly, "so I can only advise you as best I can." The aged and wise courtesan took her hand away from Ai's face and flicked her head as an affectionate way of showing the girl she was being naive. "Act smart."

"Smart?"

"Do not neglect what is important or real. Gaara is not here in this moment. What was keeping you here is lost." Megumi explained. "You must face reality; money to keep you at the palace will cease to be given to the Tea House and we cannot support you here. The Kazekage made no commitments to you. You must engage with us as best you can, blend in, do not make yourself an obvious target to the higher ups. Now that your relationship with the Kazekage has been made public, your courtesan etiquette must adapt. And in his absence, you must be smart about things. Join us for prayers at least." Ai lowered her gaze; Megumi was right. Ai had shut herself away following Gaara's capture. The world moved on without her; she was holding on to that moment in the gardens, to that last look of reassurance the Kazekage had given her.

Before Ai could respond, however, someone ran into the room. A young servant boy entered and bowed hastily. Aware that Megumi was the eldest, he turned to address her first.

"Sorry to interrupt, but Ai-sama has visitors at the palace gates." Both Megumi and Ai raised an eyebrow at the boy; 'visitors' who stayed at the palace gates and called for a member of the Kazekage's court were usually civilians. What on Earth would civilians want to speak to Ai about?


The servant escorted Ai and Megumi to the palace gates which, though usually open, were closed in respect to the Kazekage's absence. The wooden gates, with wooden bars, stood between the courtesans and the villagers and, as the two women approached, they found that it was not a few civilians that had called for Ai; there was a crowd gathered outside. With the sun vanishing fast in the sky, someone had begun to light the lanterns in the street. Ai pulled her veil back over her head and approached the gate with caution.

"Y-yes?" She called out uncertainly, suddenly aware of how young she was. A middle aged man with a gruff voice called to her:

"Are you the girl who keeps the lamp lit?" He asked, "up in the Kazekage's balcony?" As Ai finally reached the gate she looked around at the gathered crowd and saw mothers holding their babies, children holding on to the wooden bars of the gates, trying to get a good look at her. All with sad, tired eyes. She nodded.

"Yes, I am." As she spoke an elderly woman, so ancient her grandchildren were helping her hold up a small clay bowl to Ai.

"Take this." The woman spoke softly. Ai did not want to take the bowl straight away. Courtesans, prostitutes, were not acknowledged so openly, were they mocking her? But how could she distrust a village elder? She chose to pretend that she was fixing her veil so could not take the bowl, before she enquired:

"What is it?"

"Oil." A mother, a few feet away spoke to Ai kindly. "From the temple in the square." The mother smiled at Ai with an affection the girl was not familiar with. Ai blushed, beginning to feel overwhelmed.

"You are from the Tea House, yes?" The elder had a soft, crackly voice, like a dying fire. Ai nodded slowly, fearful they may shun her. The woman grinned; "your beauty and poise are explained." The elderly lady held out the bowl and Ai took it. " Keep the lamp burning for another night." Ai gasped.

"Thank you." She spoke softly for the woman before taking a step back to address the crowd. "Thank you. I am lost for words. This is so kind." Many nodded at her thanks, a few even wiped their eyes.

"The Kazekage is so young." A man muttered nearby.

"He is our protection. Our salvation." Another added. "His capture is a great loss to us all." Again, nods of agreement, murmurs of support. The mother who was cradling her child frowned as a tear fell down her face.

"You, gentle one, have shown us that the beast is no monster." She said as she rocked the child in her arms. "Gaara has gone too long feared. He was another woman's child but he never knew affection. It is a great shame on our village that he went so long alone. He is a good man." Ai felt her eyes being to well with tears; whoever thought it would come to this? Gaara, can you hear them? "Keep the lantern burning, dear one."

"Yes." Ai whispered before realising she must address the crowd. She took another step back and shouted to the villagers of Sunagakure. "Yes!" As the villagers left, all nodded to her in appreciation, many wiped their eyes, a few children smiled up at her, a few of the boys even blushed as she smiled at them. They dispersed, leaving Ai holding onto the wood of the palace gates, never having experienced such trust, such devotion, in all her life. Gaara, can you see them? Tears streamed down Ai's face as she rested her head against the wood of the gates. Where are you, beloved?

Her teacher put a hand on her shoulder and spoke: "The village is looking to you, Ai. The time to take action is now; what will you do?" Ai turned to her with swollen eyes; how many times must she face choices she feels to young, to naive to even comprehend? With a sigh, the girl made up her mind.

"Prepare a place for me in the palace temple. I shall be at evening prayers."


In her indigo dress, anklets tinkling, antique gold jewellery glittering around her, Ai walked towards the sickbay to speak with the Kazekage's siblings before she attended prayers. She walked alone, as she had become accustomed to in these past few weeks. It was unusual to see a courtesan without an entourage of women around her but Ai, having a secret relationship with the Kazekage had meant she had to sneak around alone a lot of the time. She was used to her own company and had no fear at all as she did not even look at the palace member she was approaching; Ai simply bowed her head in respect and carried on.

Ai. At the sound of her name Ai turned around in alarm.

"Did you call for me?" Ai asked a boy, stood across the hallway, possibly a year younger than her, with a mess of blonde hair. He lifted her head to face her.

"No…" The boy's voice, husky and full of surprise, trailed off as they appraised one another. "Do I-"

"Know you?" They spoke at the same time and jumped as they did so. Ai looked the boy up and down as he did the same to her. She found it quite endearing that he should wear his forehead protector with such pride; she could think of no other shinobi she met who actually wore it across their forehead. Ai opened her mouth to speak but found that there was something about him, something so welcoming and familiar…Her blue eyes took in that forehead protector one last time and she smiled in confusion; Konoha reinforcements had arrived?

Ai took a step back in surprise as the boy leant in to her closely, inspecting her face intently. Out of his black and orange jacket fell a blue crystal, held around his neck by a thin strap of black leather. Ai caught a glimpse as it flashed in the light.

"I'm sure we've never met." Ai spoke first and the boy nodded.

"I don't think we have." He smiled at her, a big toothy grin that was enough to make Ai smile too. "Guess you look like someone familiar."

"I guess so." Ai responded sweetly.

"Naruto," Ai and the boy she now knew was called Naruto, looked down the hallway to see a pretty girl with pink hair and an older shinobi with spiky silver hair walking up to the two of them. "Temari wants to speak with us." The girl seemed to notice Ai and waved at her in greeting. "Hello! I am Sakura, from Konoha." She said brightly. As Ai nodded a greeting, the older ninja appraised her.

"Hatake, Kakashi," he introduced himself and suddenly Ai felt at ease; in truth she had never spent time with anyone her age who was 'normal', only other dancers, musicians and, now that she thought about it, Gaara. Her only other company growing up was adults, so her panic of meeting two normal teenage shinobi ebbed away as Kakashi nodded to her. "We are here to assist Sunagakure." Any trace of happiness left Ai's face, her expression became entirely serious as she bowed to him.

"I am Ai." She said softly before standing to her full height. She retreated a little as she saw Kakashi look her up and down as though trying to figure her out. Before anyone could speak, however, Sakura stepped forwards and pointed directly at Ai's forehead.

"Did you get that yesterday during all the chaos?" She asked and before Ai had a chance to even respond, the pink haired girl tilted her head with a smile. "I'm a medic- I can get rid of any scarring if you'd like-"

"No!" Naruto and Sakura jumped as Ai raised her voice and covered her forehead with her hand. "I mean, no..thank you." She continued. There was a moment of silence in which the Konoha kunoichi raised an eyebrow and looked Ai up and down. "Please ensure the safe return of our Kazekage." She requested.

"Isn't that why you're hanging around here?" Naruto asked her and Ai shook her head in confusion. "To help with the rescue?" The girl smiled apologetically.

"I'm afraid not."

"Ooooooh, I get it!" Ai, Sakura and Kakashi looked at him blankly. "You're Gaara's girlfriend!" Naruto puffed out his chest as though proud of his deductive skills. Ai blushed and smiled a little.

"Not exactly, Naruto." Ai's smile faded as Kakashi spoke; had he figured her out so quickly?

"Eh?" Naruto looked between Ai and Kakashi who seemed to be staring at one another, "what do you mean?"

"I would not want to keep you from your meeting." Ai spoke quickly and turned to Naruto with a small smile, "I'm sure we'll meet again, Naruto." The blonde shinobi began to blush, threw a hand behind his head and rubbed his neck in embarrassment and girl in indigo looked over her shoulder and smiled at them before continuing on her way.

"Is she a princess?" Naruto asked as the girl vanished down the hallway. "She speaks so proper and stands up straight…and she's very beautiful," Naruto added as an after thought. Sakura was curious too; why had her sensei gone quiet about addressing Ai? Both students looked up to their teacher who smiled and closed his eyes at them.

"Time for questions later. We have a meeting to attend."


No Gaara in this chapter. We're all missing him :(

Kudos and comments appreciated! Are you enjoying the story so far? Let me now!

Chapter Text

I hope this works.


Where can my tired soul wander to, to find my lost innocence? My lost dreams? My lost childhood?

Where has disappeared the warmth in which I made myself a home? 

Where will I find again a friend, a family…love?

Did I ever find my purpose? Was I ever needed?

Was I ever wanted?

I am no longer the man I was.

Was that not enough…to save me from this end?

Ai. 

Why are you so far away?

"Gaara?" someone breathed his name as the young Kazekage opened his eyes and came across a familiar and foreboding sight. Towering above him, leaning over the young shinobi, glaring at him as though it had never seen a man before, a racoon-like beast with a painted face, stood, observant, unnaturally quiet.

Is that my name? Thoughts came so numbingly slow, tumbling over each other in his disoriented state. The Kazekage could not feel the tips of his fingers, nor the ground beneath him. His vision was blurred, causing him to blink and even that seemed to take all the energy he had. The beast breathed a heavy sigh upon realising the boy was finding it hard to adjust to this place. As Shukaku's breath ruffled the hair on Gaara's head, some sense of existing came back to the man. As in the moments before you wake from sleep, a heaviness returned to Gaara and he became aware of his own body.

Slowly, he held out his hand to the beast as though beckoning it. But as he raised his limb limply, he glanced at fingertips, as they stretched towards the light. Is that…my hand? He could feel himself beginning to breathe a little easier. But who exactly was I?…No, who am I? The beast beyond his hand came back into focus and slowly, unsteadily, Gaara sat up. The Biju above him moved back to give him some room. As the Kazekage raised himself, all notion of existence, of time and space, were forgotten.

What…what is this place? Looking around him all Gaara could see was nothingness. Empty and infinite, white and luminous, a vacuum containing only him and this monster. Nothingness. As far as the eye could see.

Nothingness. The Kazekage winced, a weakness ran through his whole body and his legs shook as he struggled to stand. As he did so, he heard the clanking of a chain. Looking to the floor he saw the thick, grey links of a chain, rusted and worn out. He followed it with his eyes from where it tied around his foot, to where it snaked along the floor and up into the air, to rest, locked in place, around a collar on the beast. The chain was flaking with rust, wearing away.

"We are before the gates." Shukaku spoke suddenly and Gaara turned his head to look around for any sign of a gate. But as he looked out into that white, luminous plane, a feeling of remembrance came back to him.

I should not be here, Gaara's thoughts were echoing around him; I was…doing something. It felt like trying to piece back together a puzzle that he only had half the pieces for. His mind was fuzzy, his memory hazy…he was doing something, going somewhere, to speak to someone, to tell them something important, what was it? What was it?

"This is the end, Gaara." Again, the beast spoke and caught the jinchuriki's attention. I was Gaara once…before you…What were these memories? Shades of black, blue and red…enemies? Lovers? Gaara cleared his head and glanced up at Shukaku.

"The end of us?" Boy and beast stood, side by side, looking out into the blank void before them as flakes of rust from the chain were caught on an unknown breeze and floated away.

"The end of you, the end of I." Shukaku's voice boomed into the infinite plane. "What is the difference? We are one and the same." Gaara's brow furrowed.

No…someone showed me that's not true. Like a bolt of lightening, something struck inside of Gaara's mind and he shot a look of panic and realisation at Shukaku. Gaara opened his mouth to speak.

"At least," the monster interrupted whatever the boy was going to say, "that's what I used to think." "Before you found a bigger purpose, before you realised you could gain recognition from your peers, your village and your elders. Before you met that moonbeam of yours." The one-tails began to laugh with nostalgia. "She really spoke nohingo beautifully, didn't she? It sounded like a lullaby to me!" A vision of blue eyes floated into Gaara's head, something beautiful, something far away. He knew someone like that once, didn't he? Now your blood beats through my aching heart.

"She?" He asked.

"That poets dream, that summer rose, that girl from which all loveliness flows!" Shukaku let out a booming laugh which echoed in the boy's head. "Have you so easily forgotten the girl who would whisper to you and I in the dead of night, to calm our arguments, to appease our appetites? She, who acknowledged the division between us?" Gaara looked out into the nothingness. There, he saw her.

"Ai."


"Ai?" Kankuro spoke suddenly as he realised the dancer's attention was no longer on him. Ai had looked over suddenly to the doorway as though she were expecting someone to walk in. "Ai?" The girl's dark hair fell off her shoulders as she turned to see Kankuro staring at her with a bemused look.

"I apologise, Kankuro-san," Ai bowed her head quickly, "I thought I heard someone say my name." Standing from her chair, the girl retrieved a wet towel from a small bowl to dab Kankuro's head. "What is it you were saying?"

"You were the one talking, Ai." The girl paused with the towel dangling precariously in her hand and above Kankuro's head, she looked straight at the man and frowned.

"Was I?"

"Maybe you are the one who needs the hospital bed…?" Kankuro asked kindly but Ai seemed to be lost. Again, she looked to the door.

"I apologise; I have been a little out of sorts lately." She kept her eyes fixed on the door for a few moments longer before turning back to Kankuro and dabbing his head with the wet cloth. The two were in the sickbay, Ai was tending to Kankuro's recovery and offering him some company in the late afternoon.

Sakura, from the Leaf Village, had saved Kankuro's life following his battle with a member of the Akatsuki. All shinobi were then briefed for the rescue mission and left, with the Konoha shinobi, last night. Now, the palace seemed empty and Kankuro's usually cheery demeanour had faded. The reality of the situation was beginning to sink into the bones of the palace's inhabitants.

In the emptiness of the Kazekage's absence, Ai had snuck away to visit Kankuro, almost hoping for sanctuary in his kind words. But as they contemplated the situation, in that cold, overly disinfected hospital room, beneath that horrible white light, no one could find peace.

"Do you," Kankuro spoke up in the uncomfortable silence, his usually painted face now bare and coloured grey with fatigue. He cleared his throat, "do you feel any different?" Ai continued to dab his forehead, calmly, as though it were a delicate procedure, before she brought the white cloth back over the water bowl and wrung it out. As the water trickled out of the towel with that soothing, pitter-patter sound, Kankuro interrupted its calm. "Do you feel-" Ai threw the towel into the bowl.

"What nonsense are you asking me?" Ai turned to him sharply and Kankuro almost cowered as she raised her voice. Water had splashed out of the bowl, all over the table it was placed on.

"Ai-"

"Why should I feel any different?" Ai pulled her veil over her head haughtily. "What are you asking?" She muttered under her breath as though she didn't want to hear it.

"He is my little brother." The corner of her vision began to blur as Kankuro spoke hoarsely. "I feel different when he is in a meeting, when he is training genin, when he is travelling…" Ai gasped and knelt by the bed as Kankuro winced through angry tears as though frustrated with himself. "I don't feel him here anymore." As Ai closed her eyes, a tear rolled down her cheek, she grasped Kankuro's hand. "You," the boy gasped, "you are a part of him." Never before had Kankuro let emotion get the better of him; not when his mother passed away, he hadn't even reacted when he discovered his father died. But Gaara seemed to come into his life much later; the real, true Gaara, not controlled by murderous intent. Now, to lose his little brother; It was something unbearable. "I saw you in every decision he made; he chose to eat in the gardens per chance he could catch a glimpse of you walking by. He demanded we throw out all playing cards from the palace after quarrelling with you." Kankuro grasped Ai's hand tightly as they looked at one another. "Ai, where is my little brother?" Ai bowed her head as tears seeped from her eyes.

The sound of footsteps fell into the room and Ai quickly wiped her tears before standing. With what little strength he hand, Kankuro wiped his eyes hurriedly. Ai turned to the door to leave and bowed her head as Temari entered to the room. Ai kept her eyes cast downwards as she passed Temari, still very much ashamed of her scolding from the blonde shinobi the last time they met.

"Are you leaving?" Ai stopped dead in the doorway, her eyes widened with shock at being addressed so casually by Temari. She turned slowly but kept her gaze on the floor.

"I am sure you have much to discuss, Temari-sama." As Ai spoke, Kankuro shot a dangerous look at his sister; protective and aggressive, Kankuro was not in favour of seeing Ai mistreated.

"What do I do, Ai?" Temari's voice, usually so strong, so defiant, now sounded like the frail and timid voice of a frightened child. Ai glanced up to see Temari with one hand on her hip, her face in her other hand, taken short, rapid breaths. "We told him not to see you and he could see nothing else. We told him to forget you but you were all he thought about. We told him not to go to you and he ran." Her face flushed pink, her bottom lip trembled. "Why won't he come now?" Temari turned to Ai, her eyes pleading. "Why is he still not listening to me?" Ai ran forwards and embraced Temari.

They stood there a while, Temari crying on Ai's shoulder, clutching at her dress, trying to relieve some of this agony. After some time, they sat on chairs beside Kankuro's bed, in silence, wondering why Gaara could no longer hear their pleas for his safe return.


Gaara blinked into the whiteness as he saw the figure of a girl on the horizon. He took an unsteady step towards her and marvelled at the new sensation of feeling he acquired in his legs as he used them. He looked down to his legs and took another step, watching as the chain around his ankle began to fade away.

"Gaara?" The boy looked up to Shukaku, whose outline was turning into a greenish, blueish hue, his true colours fading, his presence dissolving.

Yes? Gaara thought, his body too weak to let him speak. The beast looked down to Gaara, almost with affection.

"I return now." As the biju spoke, Gaara nodded. Shukaku and Gaara stared at each other with mutual understanding; what do you say to someone who was shackled to you without consent? "Goodbye."

Goodbye, Shukaku. The beast began to fade completely, leaving Gaara alone in this desolate place.

The Kazekage turned back to the figure he had spotted on the horizon. She was making her way to him, hesitantly, stopping occasionally and looking back as though wondering if she were walking in the right direction. Bathed in a golden light, like the vision of a goddess, she approached.

Gaara gasped upon glancing at her face; she looked so different, so beautiful, older even! Wrapped in colours of white and gold, her usual gemstone jewellery replaced with thick gold bands; she looked like an empress. Her usually natural and doll-like face was painted differently, a slick lick of black lined her eyes as she fluttered her eyelashes at him. Even her hair was different, it fell in sweet ringlets around her face and was held back by a golden tiara. Red velvety lips curved into a soft smile as she approached him in that usual seductive manner.

"Who is it you ask for, stranger?" She enquired sweetly.

Ai, Gaara thought, must you play your foolish games at a time like this? The young Kazekage almost fell to his knees when she smiled at him mischievously.

"I must!" She protested, her smile turning into a smirk. The boy watched as her blue eyes sparkled silver with mischief. "Who is it you are asking for?" Gaara, so tired, so longing to hold her in his arms, to sleep in her embrace, smiled.

A girl. Ai raised her eye brows in mock-surprise.

"Oh!" She exclaimed and folded her arms. "Describe her to me." The girl demanded and tilted her head to indicate that she was waiting to hear him speak; her raindrop shaped earrings tinkled as she did so. "Ah!" She gasped as Gaara took a step towards her. The roguish Kazekage looked her in the eye and there was something beckoning, welcoming, dangerous in his stare that made Ai's arms unfold in surrender. With another step forwards, Gaara put a finger beneath her chin and tilted her face towards him. He watched with a sense of nostalgia, as that smirk was wiped off her face.

I look for the girl who hides herself in cherry blossom, only to be revealed in the sweetness of its fragrance. The one who whispers in melody, who flirts with light and flits between shadows. Ai pushed his finger away from her but he grabbed her wrist as she did so and brought her closer. My dusk, my night, my universe. The one so beautiful I crafted her into poetry and wore her. The Kazekage lifted his free hand and indicated the kanji on his forehead. Ai tried to wriggle free but his intense stare paralysed her; her expression was fearful, disbelieving. My declaration of belief-

"Belief?" Ai breathed

In miracles. Gaara tilted her face towards him once more and leant in until he were a mere inch from her. How else would one explain moonlight in the day? Gaara released her. That moonlike girl glanced at him coyly and smiled in a 'come-hither' manner, before biting her lip and taking another step back.

Gaara was smiling faintly as Ai slinked away from him mischievously. Where are you going?

"Somewhere you can't follow!" She breathed as Gaara shook his head at her. With what little energy remained, he let out an airy laugh.


"Ah," Ai awoke with a slight start, with the feeling that someone was around her. On Earthly planes, the young courtesan had been drifting deep in slumber, only to be woken by a sound so familiar, but she could not quite place it.

From under white silk sheets, Ai emerged, sat up and glanced around. She was in her room in the palace, this was the third time she had slept there. White net curtains were draped around the bed and obscured her view of the room around her. Gently she parted the drapes with her slender finger tips and pulled them back. Her blue eyes sparkled in the moonlight as she looked out to her balcony.

"Hello? Is someone there?" She asked, wondering if she had in fact seen a shadow move on her balcony, or if it had just been a cloud passing over the moon. Pulling the curtains back, Ai stood from the bed, reached over for the lantern that was lit on a table next to her. Holding the base of the oil lamp, Ai placed a shawl on her shoulders and walked through the balcony doors, into the nighttime.

From the balcony she blinked, sleepily, at the world around her. Her face illuminated by the soft glow from the lantern, she searched the gardens for any sign of him. Her soft waves of hair swaying around her.

"Ai?" Megumi called to her from a window nearby but the girl did not look around, she was focussed on the world beyond the palace. "What are you doing?"

"I heard someone laughing…" Ai answered dreamily.

"At this time of the morning? The sun is about to rise. You must be mistaken," the elder assured her, "ready yourself for prayers and come quickly."

"Yes," Ai nodded slowly and turned back to her room. "Mistaken."


I cannot follow you, Ai. Gaara protested but Ai, who was slowly disappearing from view away now, called back to him.

"What's that in your pocket?" As she spoke, Gaara's brow furrowed, he seemed to become aware of a weight in his pocket. Looking down he was surprised to see the red cotton of his civilian robes. He placed his hand into his pocket uncertainly and clasped hold of a large silver pendant. From his pocket, he lifted out a broken pearl necklace. Pearls fell free of the chain and scattered onto the floor.


Ai's veil fell from her head as a breeze rushed in out of nowhere, into the temple, blowing out a few candles in the room. Ai turned from the shrine to look towards the doors.

"Ai?" Megumi did not move her sight from the shrine in front of her but noticed her student's movement. Ai had turned away in the middle of prayers. "Ai?" The elder courtesan felt the fabric of her student's dress as Ai turned back to face the shrine.

"Excuse me, Megumi-sama, I thought I heard…" What is it she had heard? Such a familiar sound…What was that? Ai wondered to herself as women around the room began to relight the candles that the cruel wind had snuffed out.

Ai bowed her head as her teacher lit the incense on the low table in front of them. The two were sat at the front the morning prayer ceremony in the palace's main temple. The room, a sandy stone room full of golden light from hanging candles and lanterns lining the wall, was full of women of the Tea House. In all shades of the rainbow, bathed in golden light, they sat on the floor in rows before the shrine.

An eight foot tall statue of Raijin stood impressively at the centre of the shrine, that rich reddish brown stone, found in caverns beyond the dessert, was carved into the god's stately figure. Intricate, ornate, glowing as though light came from him, Raijin towered above the smaller gods that sat either side of him. The room was hot, filling with the scent of sandalwood, spicy and rich, from the incense and trays of flowers that lay about the place. Megumi continued the prayer, reciting from scriptures in the dead language, the women behind her sang softly as temple bells chimed above them. Ai kept her gaze down on the scripture in front of her, reciting under her breath.

On heavenly planes her lover stood, beckoning her.

Gaara tried to catch as many of the pearls as possible but they bounced all around him and seemed to fall over the edge of the whiteness that surrounded him. He looked up, hoping to see Ai laughing at his clumsiness, but to his dismay, she was not there. Hi brow furrowed.

Ai? 

"If you are inattentive, Ai, you may retire from morning prayers." Megumi said haughtily as, yet again, her student had turned away from the shrine. Was she looking to the doors?

"Apologies," Ai said feebly and turned her attention back to her recitation.

Ai's chest felt heavy, her wrists weak; was she losing sight of what was real? I know I can hear you, Gaara, she thought before closing her eyes tightly as though wanting to be rid of the sound of his voice. Am I going mad? 

Ai stood as the other women did, following Megumi's lead. The girl's white skirt lifted up as she stood, the thick red border licked the floor gently as the skirt swayed. Simply dressed, a blouse of white with that same red border, Ai was dressed like any other village girl. All that would give her away were the thin strands of gold that she had tied around each of her ankles.

As the temple bells tinkled, so did the jewellery of the dancers as they all moved around the room to place flowers, light candles and pay respects to the deities. Ai picked up a tray of flowers and stood with many women of the Tea House, Megumi and Miho included, and threw blossoms softly into the small bath of water at the front of the shrine. Ai's blank expression did not go unnoticed by her peers.

Gaara looked around for that moonbeam but she had disappeared. No, he could not face the end like this. Not alone. Not without her.

Ai, please come back!

In the palace temple, the sound of a silver tray clattering against the stone floor, echoed around the room. The red blossoms were swept up on the breeze and all in the room watched with rising alarm, as their youngest dancer turned, wide-eyed, with a panicked expression, to the doors. He was there. He was calling her.

Gaara!

"Ai!" Megumi shouted and moved towards her. "Have you lost your mind?"

"I…." but the girl did not know what to say. Why is this happening?

"What exactly-?"

"I heard laughter at daybreak." Ai interrupted her teacher who merely shrugged.

"Just your imagination getting the better of you." Megumi said wisely. No! Why don't they understand?

"His voice-"

"Whose voice?" Megumi's expression turned dark as Ai began to raise her voice, as she began to gesture towards the doors and look around at everyone as thought pleading.

"The pearls of a broken necklace!" Ai protested as though that explained everything.

"What necklace?!"

"The one that scarred me here!" Ai lifted her hand to her forehead, her fingers were trembling, her eyes were burning with tears. Am I going mad?

Where are you, Ai?

"Gaara!" Ai looked to the doors and tore from the room in an instant. Like startled birds, the women fluttered out of her way as she exited the temple with haste. Her white and red veil had fallen from her head but clung to her shoulder and dragged on the floor behind her.

"Ai!" Frantic shouting tried to call her back but Ai was already out in the first rays of sunshine, running along the walkway that lined each palace floor.

I know I can hear you. She thought determinedly as she took the stairs that lead into the gardens. I know it is you, Gaara.

Her feet fell hard on the marble as she ran, in silk slippers, through the palace. Only he was in her thoughts; he was calling her, she had to go to him! Where are you, Gaara? Her heart was pounding fit to burst, her anklets almost unhooked as she ran. Faster and faster. Give me some sign Gaara. 

Ai, please don't leave me here. Gaara fell to his knees and pleaded with her.

Hot, full tears ran down Ai's face and she tried to wipe them away to see where she was going. I'm coming, Gaara, I won't leave you alone.

There! In the distance, beyond the Kazekage's balcony, was a white shimmering light. How could she explain it? How could anyone?

"Ai, stop!" Palace officials called for her as her veil unwrapped itself from her and was dragged away on a breeze and into the palace gardens. She did not stop, she could not even hear this world anymore.

Just one more minute. One more minute and I swear to remember every feature of your face, the way you smile, the way you breathe…just another moment to remember you. His face screwed up with the pain of realising this was it. Gaara's knuckles turned white as his fingers dug into his knees. This was the end. Ai, why are you so far away?

No, Gaara, I'm a few steps from you. Ai pushed open the doors of the Kazekage's chambers and almost tumbled into the room. Don't give up. Don't give up!

"Ah!" Ai almost cried out in the pain of grief, for as she looked for that shimmering light it was no more. The room was dark. Empty.

Ai. How will you ever know…?

She fell to her knees. How will you ever know…?

That I'm in love with you?

That I'm in love with you?


 

Did it work? Let me know with a comment! Kudos appreciated!

 

Chapter Text

For the Village

The palace baths, once a place of jubilant commotion, were now left empty. Built right at the edge of the palace with a glass dome ceiling, the giant rectangular bath had its water warmed by the desert sun. Streaming in through the glass, reflecting off the antique gold metal of the surrounding furnishings. Lanterns, unlit at this time of day, lined the walls with delicate glass shades; with the sunlight their gold holsters shimmered and reflected off the water in the bath. The room was alive with light, twinkling as though talking, as though to give company to a frequent visitor.

A girl lay on the side of the bath, fully clothed in black cotton, that same antique gold around her ankles, wrists and neck. Unmoved by the beauty of the sunset through the glass ceiling, uncaring for the water that was lapping at her foot as she dangled it over the edge of the bath. Her eyes, red and tired, her body weak and aching, she sighed. Love had had enough of this world.

From her hair she removed a hair clip; the shape of a peacock made out of a peach-coloured crystal, she let loose the needle that clasped the clip to her hair. Slowly, feeling as though her body were not her own, Ai cut across the tip of her ring finger. She watched with no trace of emotion, with no response to the pain, as the blood oozed out of her self-inflicted wound and ran down her finger. Lowering her hand into the water, Ai looked up to the ceiling as the blood seeped into the bath. The crimson unfurled like ribbons into the water and slowly, her eyes turned wide and hopeless and tears rolled, warm and unwelcome, down her face.

"You were in love with him?" Ai did not flinch as her friend spoke from the shadowed doorway; slinking into the light, a beautiful girl with emerald eyes glittered in silver and appraised our heroine with a keen eye. Ai breathed a little.

"I am." She conceded. Miko walked over to the edge of the bath, opposite her friend.

"But the Kazekage is dead." Miko announced to the empty room, questioning Ai's choice of phrasing; surely the girl meant to say 'I was?' "You said it so yourself." Miko reiterated. No emotion entered Ai's face, no quiver in her voice:

"Yes." She breathed, bringing her hand out of the water to rest on her stomach. The droplets of water ran down her hand, gliding over her fingertips and onto her clothes, the black become blacker, her skin becoming colder. "But our hearts beat in unison and so they cease in unison" she murmured. "We are the same." Miko, whose eye had been trailing into the water, looked across to her friend suddenly, disbelieving what she was hearing.

"You are dead?" She asked.

"Why not be?-"

"Don't speak like this, Ai." Miko interrupted her, not wanting to hear something that might be true, not wanting to hear something that might stop her from keeping true to her task. She walked swiftly around the bath until she towered over Ai like a beautiful willow tree; her long brown curls dancing in a soft breeze as she looked down at her friend. "I was your sister, and yet I did not know what was happening between you and a man you would give your life for." As she spoke, Ai raised herself to sit up, and brought her knees to her chest. As she did so, the edge of her skirt fell into the bath; the black material swirled in the gentle current, unnoticed and unimportant to the girl who wore it.

Miko knelt down beside Ai and pushed her hair from her forehead affectionately. Finally, Ai looked up to her; Ai's bottom lip trembled, her eyes glittered and she gasped:

"I am sorry." Miko drew her into embrace and Ai cried, whimpered, on her shoulder.

"I cannot believe it is true." Miko said after a moment of letting Ai compose herself. From her shoulder, into which Ai had burrowed, a soft voice issued.

"Believe what?"

"That Gaara could fall in love." Miko gasped in surprise as she felt Ai's shoulders lift and fall as the girl began to laugh. "What?"

"Love?" Ai moved away from Miko to look her in the eye. "Gaara does not love." Miko raised an eyebrow and felt Ai's head as though to check for a fever. But Ai pushed her hand away and continued to look at her with that dangerous glint in her eye. "If you knew him, you would hurt like this too."

"No one knew him." Miko almost laughed, "Gaara kept like the dark side of the moon; out of sight!" Again, Ai laughed. "He let everyone think he was driven by madness, a curse! How was any girl ever to get close to him?" As she spoke, Ai shook her head with a small smile, round teardrops rolling down her worn face. A few moments passed before Miko spoke; "tell me about him." Ai cast her gaze downwards. To remember him, in between the sorrow, amidst the pain, was the memory of something beautiful.

"How else would you expect a prince of our time to behave?" Ai whispered to the water, "how else should the moon keep secret it's darkness other than to hide it? And what good would madness do if it infected the minds of mortals?" Miko leant in closer, a small, malicious smile spreading across her face; so it was far-off look, that gleam in her eyes, that smile that never left her face…Ai was in love. Miko watched as her friend's blue eyes glazed over and focussed on something far off and wonderful. "The Kazekage…Gaara, was everything I thought a man could be. Wise and strong, talented and rational; he would have lead this village into a new age." Miko leant in closer to listen and adopted a look of bemusement; how strange to hear of a more personable side to Gaara of the desert. Ai smiled, "princely though, a little spoilt." Memories on the rooftop floated back into her memory and her smile faded a little. "Arrogant and aggressive," her smile faded completely, "violent even." Ai lifted her skirt out of the water of the bath and wrung out the water gently. "But," Ai gasped, her cheeks flushing red from the effort to contain her emotions, "amidst all that bravery and ferocity, was someone naive…someone who could not, to the agony of others, understand even their own heart."Ai laughed at her own predicament. "I never heard him say it," she admitted to her friend with a shake of her head; "he never confessed his love for me. That is what makes this so unbearable." Ai's bottom lip trembled and she looked away as her friend leant in closer.

"What do you mean?" Miko asked softly as Ai closed her eyes tightly, large, round tears falling down her face.

"Gaara does not love. He lures you in with that handsome face and roguish charm and binds you to some darkness that you can never be rid of." Ai whispered, "you will forever crave him, want him, achefor him. For all the softness in his eyes, for his wandering touch, for his temper," the girl laughed. "When you shut your eyes you will not be rid of the sight of him. When the wind blows your hair from your shoulder you will turn as if to find him beside you." She fell silent and after a moment her brow furrowed, "no. It does not feel like love."

"Then?" Miko urged her, "what is it?"

"Ketsueki ai." Blood-love needs no translation. Even Miko understood what this meant. So it was true. "Otherwise," Miko, whose mind had been wandering, snapped her attention back to Ai, "what can I say that a thousand poets have not already said?" Ai shrugged, "it has been done; I am in love." A curse to all courtesans; love had found another victim. Silent seconds trickled past until Miko asked an unexpected question:

"You slept with him?" Even Ai smirked a little.

"Yes." Her eyes seemed to light up as she answered and it was clear, from the look in Miko's eye, from the way she tilted her head at Ai, that she wanted to know a little more. "What else is there to say?" Ai asked, a flush of colour entering her cheeks.

"Just what every girl in Sunagakure is dying to know," Miko giggled as her friend tried to hide a smile.

"When Gaara would look at me, with eyes that showed he could not resist temptation any longer, I would feel myself begin to melt." Ai smirked in remembrance; "I would fall to my knees in a second if he asked me to." Miko looked impressed.

"So the speculation is true." Miko confirmed with a knowing smile; "the Kazekage was a skilled lover?" Ai shrugged.

"I only have the prince to compare him to," she added quickly, "but there was something in the way he would kiss me, that made me feel as though I were being sacrificed and worshipped all in the same moment."

"Really?"

"What is that line at the end of the legend?" Ai asked herself. "Love throws aside barriers, to mar the lines between opposites and see them be born out of each other." The girl regained that far-off look; "sex and violence, love and hatred, pain and pleasure…servant and Goddess. They are all so inextricably linked. He made them that way. Tied me up and brought me into his darkness, made me fall in love with him and then, vanished." Ai bowed her head, her shoulders slumped. Miko put a hand on her shoulder and offered the end of her veil to Ai, to wipe the girl's tears.

"He was a good man." Miko said to her.

"Like no other." Ai confirmed as she wiped her face with Miko's veil. Miko looked her old friend up and down; Ai was so young, so naive. She had no idea that there was so much more than her own worries in the world. How selfish. It would not matter if Ai were sacrificed for the betterment of the village.

"Only someone like Gaara could have made our village great again." Miko spoke cold and clearly into the room.

"The village?" Ai said, throwing aside Miko's veil and going to lie down again. "What can be done now? It has been four days. When news breaks of Gaara's death everything he has worked hard for will fall out of place." There was a moments silence. Ai looked up through the domed glass ceiling to see the sky turning dark.

"Not so." Ai glanced up to Miko as the girl spoke.

"What do you mean?" As Ai asked, Miko glanced around the room and pulled Ai to sit up and lean in close, as though to listen to a great secret.

"Prince Nobutara was not even a third of the way through his journey when news reached him about the Kazekage's capture." Miko whispered urgently. "The prince turned back and is arriving at the palace this evening. As Sunagakure falls under his rule, he shall aid with appointment of a new Kazekage and see over the village." Ai, who could not understand why Miko was behaving as though this were important or even critical news, lay back down with a quick shrug.

"The prince is a good man." Ai responded but Miko pulled her back up again, causing Ai to frown in annoyance.

"That is why you should go to him." Miko urged her. Ai pulled her hand out of Miko's grasp.

"What?" The blue eyed dancer asked impatiently.

"The village is looking to you, Megumi-sama said so herself." Miko spoke quickly but she could already see Ai's mind beginning to race. "Seek an audience with the prince, inform him of everything you discussed with Gaara, to help the village." Ai shook her head to signal that she could not do such a thing.

"I have other things to tend to," Ai said feebly, not wanting to give too much away to Miko. If the green eyed girl had any inkling that Kai, who raised them both, was Ai's real father, who knew what chaos would unfurl. But Miko, who was acting on her own interests, took Ai by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eye.

"What would The Kazekage want you to do? Miko saw the girl's eyes begin to dance as she seriously considered what Miko was proposing. Could Ai do anything to set things right? Plans Gaara discussed with her, were any of them pressing matters? A light flashed across her eyes and Ai looked up.

"I must speak to the prince."


 

Poison sinks into blood with unrelenting pain; it writhes itself around your body like a snake caught in a net; daring to break the thread, to tear through the material and unleash its anger on whoever imprisoned it. The pain, some say, can make you beg for death. But if you overcome it, if you manage to live through such horrible agony, the knowledge that your life was so easily threatened, does not go away. The hours before your body returns to normal, before your blood flows fearless through your veins, you feel somewhat like the shell of the person you once were. Poison lives with you.

At least, Kankuro mused, that must be the reason for this feeling, right? 

Temari had not spoken to him since he had left the sick bay. She was too busy helping run the village in this time of chaos. If he ever happened upon her in the palace when she was free, drinking tea or sitting in the library, she would look away from him or leave the room. It had been this way for two days now. Of course, Temari did not blame Kankuro for what happened to Gaara, she would never even let such a thought cross her mind, but it seemed Kankuro reminded her of the brother she had lost. That constant reminder was too much to bear and so, as Kankuro tried to find shelter in the company of friends, he found that he was more alone than ever.

It had been four days since Ai had run from the palace temple. In other words, it had been four days since Gaara's death. Ai never told anyone, she had not spoken a word to even Kankuro or Temari. But the siblings knew, from that cold, lonely look on Ai's face as she was escorted out of the Kazekage's room, from the way her veil fell heavy upon the floor and dragged behind her as she walked. From that glance she gave them before her lips trembled and she had to look away, they knew that their brother was no longer in this world. Where was Ai now? Tamara had not seen nor spoken to her and Kankuro, whose movement was still slow following his healing, had not found the energy to seek Ai's company.

This evening, however, he decided to eat his dinner quickly and go in search of Love. Talking to her might offer him some solace at this time. He could not explain her relationship with Gaara, who could? Whoever understood that boy? Perhaps she did. Perhaps she could offer some comfort.

Kankuro abandoned his dinner half way, finding his appetite was still not returning to normal, and left his quarters. Still walking with a slight limp, he made his way to where the courtesans stayed during their time in the palace. Of course, members of the palace were not usually permitted to go there, courtesans came to their customers, but Kankuro was not much in the mood to stick to the rules this evening.

The sun was sinking below the horizon and Kankuro walked past servants lighting up the lamps that lit the corridors. The palace was soon glowing with golden light as the night became darker. Upon approaching the courtesans doorway, he stopped and wondered if he was doing the right thing. His thoughts were, luckily, interrupted.

"Kankuro-san, you honour us with your visit." He turned at the sound of a sultry voice to see a girl with chestnut brown hair bowing to him. As she straightened up, her emerald eyes caught him off guard. "Perhaps I can be the one you are looking for?" She asked with a small smile.

"Miko," Kankuro said and watched her smile fade as she heard the weight of grief in his voice. "I am looking for Ai." Miko lowered her gaze and looked fearful of speaking. "Miko-"

"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to speak with me?" Miko asked with a bright smile. But there was something behind her smile, Kankuro noticed as he raised an eyebrow at her, something false and fearful.

"Miko, where is Ai?" He asked. With a quick change of face, Miko looked terribly upset.

"She is distraught, beside herself with sadness, she wishes to see no one-"

"Where is Ai?" Kankuro demanded. The way this girl was changing her emotions and her story, it was clear she was lying, covering something up. Miko bit her lip, with a worried frown she beckoned him closer to whisper.

"She is meeting with the Prince." Miko looked ashamedly down at the floor. Kankuro took in a sharp breath, disbelieving of what he was hearing.

"What did you say?" He asked slowly.

"She is young and foolish, please do not be upset with her-"

"Answer me as plainly as I have asked." The shinobi commanded.

"She heard of the prince's return and left immediately for the guest quarters in the palace."

"Why?" Miko blushed and adopted a defeated look as recited the age old fate every courtesan detests.

"Why does any courtesan meet a man of power in private?" Kankuro shook his head as she spoke; it couldn't be. "Not all beautiful faces are innocent ones; Ai is, like all of us, a working girl. Our loyalties are with our Houses and our Houses do not run on love." Miko's eyes filled with tears as Kankuro's breathing began to get faster, he shook his head and clutched at his heart as though it were fit to break. "I am sorry. The Kazekage was a good man." Kankuro could not look at her any longer; it was sickening, devastating. No, he had to see for himself. "I am sorry!" Miko called after Kankuro as he took flight to the guest quarters.


 

"Ai."

"Your highness." Holding onto an oil lamp, the beautiful dancer bowed to the kind prince. Dressed in the colour of a rose, Ai glittered before him like starlight.

They met in secret in the gardens that were devoted to guests at the palace. With plenty of trees to obscure any view of them, and a fountain to drown out their words. The two appraised each other from a short distance. Ai placed the lamp on the edge of a white stone fountain, before turning to the prince and adjusting her veil. She was so good at being delicate, the prince noticed, from the way she let a few curls of hair stroke her face in the night breeze, to the way she let her gaze linger on the ground before looking up to him.

"Ai." The prince said again and Ai looked up in surprise for the first time Nobutara had spoken, he had sounded formal and princely, this time however, he sounded consoling. Ai's elegant pose left her for a moment as she saw him standing with open arms as though the welcome her home. She walked up to him swiftly and fell into his embrace.

Prince Nobutara who, after days of travelling, was worn out and exhausted, wrapped his arms around the girl and rested his chin on her head. "Everything will be fine," he whispered, "I am here now." Ai clutched onto his robes and slowly became aware of the rising and falling of his chest as he breathed. So calm and welcoming, he made her feel so at peace.

"You know of the Kazekage's fate?" Ai asked quietly.

"There has been no news." Ai sighed; so she and Gaara's siblings were the only ones who knew the truth. "But I am here to assist Sunagakure." Ai moved out of his embrace and he held her at arms length.

"We are glad for it." Her eyes were glittering in the moonlight, her lips glistening, almost, beneath the stars. So delicate and afraid, she looked up at him as though he were her saviour. Wasn't he? The Prince had travelled so far and for such a long time, and yet upon arriving he set aside everything, just to meet with this girl. Did that not mean something? The Prince wondered as he looked down to her and placed a hand on her cheek. Gently, as though tempting a butterfly to land on his fingertip, the Prince brought her back into embrace.

That look in his eye, Ai noticed, that warm, inviting, beckoning look, was so familiar. The glow of his skin reminded her so much of the boy she loved. Would it be so terrible, to feel that way again, if even for a moment? The Prince drew her closer. Gaara, Ai thought as she was brought into the Prince's broad embrace, where are you? In some crazy way, Ai believed for just a second, that she could feel Gaara again in this moment. In this human moment of affection, there was something so similar to him. She closed her eyes and let the prince kiss her.

"Ai!" The Prince exclaimed as she immediately pushed him away. "Do not be frightened, it's me." He moved forward again to hold her but Ai pushed him away, looking shocked. Ai could not explain how she let herself, for even a second, be enchanted by him. It was madness- a foolish trick of the moonlight on his face! It was grief trying to hold on to whatever piece of Gaara it could find. Ai put her fingertips to her lips and wipes them softly. The prince frowned, "explain yourself." Ai gasped a little and looked around as though someone else could help her explain.

"I am sorry," Ai said in between gasps, a tear falling from her eyes. "I do not know what came over me," she said quietly, as though all breath had escaped her body. He pretty face screwed up in confusion as though she really could not understand herself.

"Do not deny me, Ai." With a single sentence, her eye's widened in shock as the world was thrown back into perspective for her. The prince did not have genuine affection for her; he was used to dealing with courtesans. Her wishing to see him at this hour was not a friend wishing to see a friend, he saw it as a transaction. The prince, accustomed to these relationships, may have genuinely like some part of Ai, but it did not mean he saw her for more than a courtesan.

What was she doing here? How had she been so naive? Ai gathered herself and closed her eyes briefly, trying to remember what it was like to actually work as a courtesan. She had very rarely behaved in a 'professional' manner. Stannic to her full heigh, wiping away a tear, her shoulders slumped as though defeated. "Deny you what, your highness?" She asked gently.

"Yourself." Ai let out a small, disbelieving laugh at her circumstances as the prince spoke before turned away from him.

"I'm afraid," she replied as her eyes met with the flame of the oil lamp, "I am not mine to give." The orange flame was flame dancing in the wind, calling to her as though in a hurry to speak with the girl. With a small smile, Ai picked up the lamp once more and turned back to him, her face shining in gold light.

"Oh?" He asked coldly. Ai looked into the lamp.

"I belong to the Kazekage." She answered. "You must ask him for me."

"Who knows when the Kazekage will return." As he spoke, Ai turned away slowly and proceeded to leave the gardens, realising now that there was no hope here.

"Then who knows when I shall be free to be yours."

"You called upon me, Ai," he reminded her, stopping Ai in her tracks. "I do not have to heed the call of a courtesan."

"A courtesan," Ai's voice carried in the wind, back to the prince. "Is a woman who is sold, correct?" The prince shrugged impatiently; what had happened to the flirtatious, carefree girl he once knew?

"I suppose."

"And I have told you, I am not for sale. So I must no longer be a courtesan." The prince looked on at Ai, completely thunderous, completely disbelieving that a woman of her kind could refuse him. "I came to discuss the future of the village with you. If you are unable to agree to my request then I shall take my leave." The prince said nothing. "Goodnight, Prince." As the girl left the gardens, the prince scowled; vanity. 

Ai shook her head as she entered the palace once more; she was angry and disappointed in herself. What a fool she had been, to think of the prince as anything other than a customer. And how reckless, how shameful to let her grief get the better of her-

"Kankuro-san!" Ai exclaimed as the two nearly bumped into one another. "How are y…" Ai thought for a moment before raising an eyebrow; "what are you doing in this part of the palace?" She asked gently. Kankuro, whose plain face was still grey with illness, frowned upon seeing her. He seemed to be clammy and shivering, shaking; perhaps the poison was still nestled in his bones.

"I was walking to the library." Kankuro responded, not looking at her. Ai was perplexed; why would he not meet her gaze? In fact, he seemed to be blinking away tears. She had been wanting to speak to him for days but her sorrow had been too overbearing to see one of Gaara's siblings. Even just a quick embrace from Kankuro would make some of the hurt go away but he was acting so bizarre. Even now, as Ai looked him up and down, his shaking seemed to stop, he stared blankly at the lamp in her hands. "You're still holding on to that thing?" He asked in a deep, monotone voice. Ai took a moment before she realised what he was asking.

"Yes. Of cour…" But Kankuro seemed to snigger almost, at the lamp. "Kankuro, what?"

"I will see you shortly." The puppet master interrupted her before walking swiftly past her. Ai took a step back as he almost walked into her. She was left staring after him, wondering what had just happened between them.


 

Everyone is just waiting for Gaara. Myself included.

Kudos and comments appreciated. Tell me how excited you are for the reunion lemon hahahaha…BECAUSE I AM.

Chapter Text

So we are all cool with the Kazekage living in a palace, yes? Good.

Also, anything in  italics  is Valentine's way of indicating that they are speaking in the 'old dialect'. I though the idea of 'old Japanese' would be quite cool and add another level of old-age romanticism, but now I'm not so sure…thoughts?

Enjoy the chapter!


Chapter 21

Gaara's Return 

As when you plunge, head first, into ice-cold water and emerge, gasping for air, fighting for life, our handsome prince found himself near-drowning, on the brink of consciousness. Slowly, steadily, he began to breathe easy. There was something weightless, something free about his current being that he could not understand; as though what had been tying him to the ground had suddenly set him free. All his emotions came tumbling in at once with relentless ambition; each one vying to be felt the most. Anger, happiness, sadness, grief, relief….all crept up and leapt on him with such ferocity that it was enough to send anyone to tears.

But Gaara did not let the heat of emotion get to him, for he could hear something calming, something like a cool breeze upon his brow, slowing down his thoughts, giving him peace. He heard her singing, welcoming him home.

" I am your undoubting follower; teach me, Gaara, how it is to love you." 

"Ai?" The Kazekage opened his eyes and glanced around to find himself stood on the balcony of his bedroom. Feeling came rushing back into his fingertips and suddenly he could feel the hard stone of the balcony beneath his feet, the gentle breeze of the desert on his neck and the warmth of hearing birdsong. He felt strong, alive, ready to not let go of her.

"Gaara?" He heard an innocent and hopeful voice call out to him. Stepping between the white drapes that lead to his room, the Kazekage entered and came upon a sight that brought back that storm of emotions. There, sat upright and looking straight at him, was that doe-eyed beauty he had left on Earth. "Where have you been, Gaara?" Ai asked sweetly, standing from the bed. "I have been so alone." Gaara walked up to her swiftly and embraced her. She rested against his chest, a round teardrop fell from the tip of her nose.

"I am here now, Ai." The girl watched as a tear fell onto her hand that clutched onto the red fabric of Gaara's shirt. She looked up at him.

"For how long?"

"Forever."

Ai woke with a start as the bells of the temple in the village square began to chime with a low and thick-sounding GONG. She put a hand to her face and wiped her eyes quickly before remembering the conversation she had just had. She looked urgently around her, parted the drapes that surrounded her bed and looked around her room. Nothing. She leant against one of the posts of her bed and sighed. Had he been a dream?

Birdsong drifted in through her open window and Ai looked out onto daybreak. With a quick glance at the clock in her room she sighed before standing, to ready herself for prayers.


Gaara was never a very talkative child. Nor was he keen to express himself as he grew older; he remained in constant, unnerving silence. It was enough to drive anyone mad; how are you? What are you thinking? All questions that went unanswered for he was never willing to give a response. So what did Temari know of her younger brother? At the end of it all, what had he been to her? He was no longer a monster, that was clear. He no longer frightened her, in fact, he took orders from her! He listened to her and learnt to understand that her seniority to him meant something; it meant she knew better than him at times.

But what did she know of Gaara?

For the first time in her life, Temari was doubting herself. She was fearful of something that was not her brother. It was not even that she was wrong or lying, she was not scared of being to blame. But what she was terrified of, was remaining in the unknown.

Was Gaara really dead? She had seen it in the girl's eyes; Ai had slinked out of Gaara's room as though all the life had been forced out of her. The dancer had to be practically dragged from the balcony when they had found her. Temari and Kankuro stood with baited breath as they watched the delicate girl and waited. They knew Ai could tell them of Gaara's fate. How could they explain this belief? How could anyone. It just was.

And so, when Ai turned to them with that cold, blank stare, both were struck in the same manner as when a crisp cold air bites at your lungs. For a moment you cannot quite fathom that something so delicate cold hurt you, and eventually, you become numb to it. You become accustomed to the icy breeze.

As Temari sat in the living room that belonged to the Kazekage's family, curled up on the sofa, holding onto an empty clay mug, she wiped away a straying tear. Gaara was gone. She had seen it for herself in the broken glass of a photograph she had placed on her bedside table. She thought of Ai; that girl knew as little of the world as her brother did. Gaara was naive and alien to most things, including people. It shocked all in the household when Temari and Kankuro had found the two of them together. Well, seeing Gaara with a girl, that was not shocking; Temari had seen the way village girls would throw themselves at the tactless and unaware Kazekage. No, what had shocked her most was the way he would look at Ai; he was so full of love for that girl. And what had Temari done other than torn the two apart? What use was it now to think about it? Ai had not been seen for day-

"Temari-sama?" As though her thoughts were a premonition, the blond shinobi looked to the door of the living room to see Ai stood in a pale blue dress. A light pink veil with a gold trim on her head, looking as though she had stepped out of heaven and back onto the earth. The dancer had her long dark hair over one shoulder and was holding on to the cream coloured lamp that had become symbolic of her attachment to Gaara. Upon seeing Ai's face, Temari wiped another tear away quickly and gestured to the fireplace in the room.

The living room was a less ornate room than most in the palace; as part of the Kazekage's family quarters, it was only visited by the three siblings and occasionally their peers. Now, the room held vigil for its lost prince; candles lined every inch of the far wall. Along the mantlepiece, small tea lights and lanterns, much like Ai's, were lined up in respect for Gaara's absence. Hundreds of lights, from villagers, from the Kazekage's council, from overseas friends, were overseeing a little shrine for Gaara's safe return. All that could be heard was the light crackle of the fire and the chiming of jewellery as Ai placed her lantern amidst all the others.

Ai turned back to the room and looked at Temari whose face was red and swollen with grief. Slowly, as Ai tilted her head at the girl in sympathy, Temari began to gasp and nod her head and beckon Ai over hurriedly. The dancer obliged and knelt in front of the shinobi to embrace her. Blond strands of hair obscured Ai's view as Gaara's sister wept.

"Thank you." Temari whispered eventually. Ai, confused by this, raised an eyebrow at Temari as she moved away. "For being here," Temari explained, "Gaara was right. You are calming as the moon." Ai smiled softly.

"I would not-"

Forever.

The girl jumped to her feet, her arms went limp at her sides as she stared towards the door as though she had seen a ghost.

"Ai?" Temari asked, wiping her eyes. "What is it?" But Ai was already shaking her head in disbelief. The small chain of diamonds in her hair was threatening to fall out of place as her veil fell from her head. "Are you okay?" Ai was walking silently towards the doors which had closed behind her when she entered the room.

"What's wrong, Temari?" From another door way, leading to his bedroom, Kankuro entered upon hearing Temari talking to someone. As he looked around, he found an odd sight. His sister was sitting on the sofa, staring at Ai who walked slowly towards the doors of the living room, her heavy veil dragging on the floor, looking as though she had seen the impossible. This could only mean one thing. Kankuro's face became solemn. "Ai. Can you hear him?" But the dancer seemed undisturbed by Kankuro's question.

Ai reached the heavy, wooden doors of the living room and shook her head. It couldn't be. It wasn't possible. She placed both her hands softly on the large gold door handles and, with little strength, pushed the doors open. A frightful and wicked wind flew into the room.

In less than a second, Temari stood before her, the deadly kunoichi held her fan unfurled as she twirled it against the deadly breeze that had entered and shattered the lanterns behind them. Kankuro, kunai in hand, stood beside them, waiting for someone to enter.

After a few moments, Ai, who had ducked and held her hands above her head, lowered them slowly as the thing they were all waiting for, did not happen.

"What was that?" Temari asked slowly as her eyes adjusted to the change in light; the wind had tipped over most of the lanterns in the vigil, plunging the room into an eerie glow.

"I have no idea," Kankuro responded, replacing his kunai back into the fabric of his robes. "Ai?" The girl turned suddenly away from the doors to look back at the vigil. With wide eyes, Ai pointed to the direction of the mantlepiece. The two sand siblings followed her gaze, past the tipped over and shattered shards of unlucky lanterns, through the now-dark tea lights that had been blown out by the breeze, and up to the only remaining light in the room. There, amidst the darkness, Ai's lantern remained lit.

"Does it mean…?" Temari asked quietly, not wanting to get her hopes up. She looked down to Ai who remained silent, mystified by what was happening. A heartbeats silence passed.

"Go." Ai whispered suddenly. Temari looked up at Kankuro who seemed to be eyeing the dancer with scrutiny.

"Kankuro," her brother looked over to her, "gather reinforcements, let's move out." After a moments hesitation, Kankuro nodded, kissed Ai on the forehead and ran from the room. Temari did the same, leaving our heroine staring after them.


A hawk came with the message not long after Temari and Kankuro's departure. The Kazekage was saved from sure death by an elder of the village. Ai's ears began to ring as she listened through a locked door, into the council's meeting. A lump formed in her throat, her eyes began to burn as the whispers in the room began to turn into shouts of relief, of joy! She even heard one or two of the elders let out a gasp that sounded close to a sob.

"He shall return by noon," Ai tilted her head back to rest against the door, she practically slid down to the floor in relief. "Prepare the village for his welcome." The girl with the pink veil took to her feet and ran through the palace as though in some dream; her heart was light and her soul felt free. He was coming. Gaara was coming back to her.


If it had been hard to catch a glimpse of the moon since the Kazekage's capture, it was certainly not as difficult as this! Megumi had been searching for Ai for over an hour now. She had wandered through the palace gardens and searched through all the temples, but Ai was nowhere to be found.

Preparations for the Kazekage's return had been well underway since mid-morning and Ai was needed for all sorts of preparation. There was to be a funeral at noon when Gaara returned and a festival in the evening to celebrate. Paper lanterns on strings were already being hoisted up and strung between buildings. The colours of bubblegum pink, mint green and lemon yellow, were streaming from house to house. Villagers were jubilant and all of a sudden hungry; trays of food were being passed around with warm smiles and embraces for all. Flowers, all the shades of red and orange that this desert village had to offer, were placed outside of homes, in fountains, in girls' hair. There was music and laughter in the air for the first time in so long.

You could hear folk songs being sung in doorways, the clinking of glasses and chimes of temple bells. Even the sun seemed to shine more and heat up the Earth until the sand shone bronze and bright. Children ran from house to house, spreading the news, urging their grandmothers to make them sweets only brought out for special occasions. There was an air about Sunagakure that filled its inhabitants with courage and happiness.

And, as Megumi spied a pink veil vanish out of sight around a corner, it seemed one of the most important members of Suna was not so keen to join in the festivities.

"Ai!" Megumi announced as she entered the tower in which Ai had hidden herself away. "The temple bells are calling you," she exclaimed as she came to find Ai sitting on a window sill, looking down at the village. "Colours are raining in the streets, the village is set to rejoice, the flutes play out in the square, the girls are all twirling for you-!" Megumi stopped mid-twirl, she smiled affectionately, proudly, at her student and eyes began to burn a little. "Silly girl," Megumi said as Ai wiped her eyes on her veil. "Why are you locked away crying?" Ai released her veil so it hung from her head and licked the floor, it curled around a glass lantern. "Be sure your tears do not douse your lamp." As she spoke, Ai leant down and picked up the lantern. She peered into it as though to see him there.

"I am afraid, Megumi-sama," she said quietly, "no power on Earth could put out this flame." Megumi laughed and clapped her hands as though to ready Ai for work. The young girl looked up, a little startled.

"Your beloved Kazekage is returning." Megumi said, sounding as though she couldn't understand Ai's sombre mood. But she understood it. Any woman who has ever loved will remember the feeling that comes with the end of waiting. "I wish I could be young again," the elder courtesan laughed a little, "to remember this feeling. What is it like, my darling Ai, to be so in love?" Ai looked over at her and smiled a little.

"It is all I am." She said. How unusual, this songbird was usually full of melody and today, the day she should be ready to sing, it seemed she had lost her voice.

"Then why are you hiding yourself away?" Megumi asked. Ai shrugged and looked out of the window.

"I thought I could see better from here."

"You won't go down?" Her teacher urged her.

"Perhaps he will not want to see me." Ai said quietly, finally voicing her fears, "perhaps he will have forgotten me." Megumi rolled her eyes in an over-dramatic fashion.

"Perhaps Rajin himself will materialise and slap you to save my wrist the ache!" As her teacher approached her, Ai tried to hide her forehead but Megumi was too quick for her and rapped on it with her knuckles. "Perhaps your Kazekage is coming but only to glance at the moon," Megumi pushed aside Ai's hair from her face and began to speak in a forgotten tongue. "He loves you. We all knew it. Even before Gaara did. Now please come down so we can all hear him say it." Ai smiled and embraced her teacher.


"Ready?" Megumi asked Ai as she stood before all the women of the Tea House who resided at the palace.

"One moment!" From the back of the gathered crowd of dancers, who all stood in the main courtyard of the palace, a young dancer ran forwards and held up Ai's lantern before the crowd. "In case you lose your way," the crowd giggled around Ai as she blushed and smiled in thanks. Taking the lantern from the girl, who fell back into place, Ai stood before Megumi, at the head of the crowd, and nodded.

"Ready," she said and began to follow her teacher out of the courtyard. The courtesans, all dressed in colours of pinks, greens and yellows to match the paper lanterns in the village, had prepared trays of sweets for the festivities. Each girl carried some treasure in a tray as the procession headed out of the palace. Dressed in a pale green, the colour of Gaara's eyes, a trim of pink and white on her veil, Ai held only her lantern as she lead the girls out into the desert village.

Up went the parasols to shade them from the sun as they entered the village square. Orange coloured umbrellas with a lace trim gave shade to every girl as they met with the other townspeople, who smiled at them with warmth and excitement. Calls of the girls' resemblance to the sweets in their trays, echoed from the back of the slowly expanding crowd. Children ran out of their homes, dragging their elders to joining the festivities. Young girls of the village threw rose petals and confetti into the air as their mother's sang or scolded them for wasting the petals until the Kazekage were home. Shouts of jubilance echoed in the village square as, for the first time in a long time, the courtesans stood side by side with the villagers.

Perhaps it was a new beginning, Megumi thought as she glanced around, finding it odd that she was exchanging smiles with village women her own age. Or perhaps, she thought as she looked down to the unnaturally-quiet Ai, it was her doing. That girl was never one to follow rules and now, she lead them out, side by side with the rest of the village. The elder smiled as her eyes welled up; what a truly spectacular day this was going to be.

Beside her, Ai could not help but feel entirely different. What should she say to Gaara when they meet? Should she even greet him? His council members will surely greet him first…but then why should she greet him at all? They were no more than acquaintances in the public eye…weren't they? She had been so wrapped up in her own feelings that now, at the thought of facing him, she was terrified. She glanced around nervously and could barely smile when people recognised her and waved or called to her with affectionate nicknames. Her stomach was in knots; this was too much. Her grip was tightening on the handle of her lantern, which, in the middle of the day, was pointless. She must look a fool-!

"There they are!" Ai's heart jumped into her throat, she looked through the crowd to see, coming fast upon the horizon, a crowd of shinobi walking steadily towards the village. The ceremonial conch shell was hoisted into the air by a palace official and it's call of celebration echoed throughout the desert.

The courtesans, who were set to greet the Kazekage in the middle of the crowd, were lead by villagers with shouts of encouragement and cheering. Thousands of people gathered at the gates of Sunagakure and Ai's nervousness left her for a moment as she saw grown men wiping their eyes with relief at Gaara's return. She laughed as she saw them and was caught off guard when Miko grabbed her by the wrist and shook her to get Ai's attention.

"He's here, he's here!" Miko shouted and moved forwards with the rest of the girls. She did not notice Ai simply stand still and let the crowd move around her. Ai became swallowed by the surrounding crowd until she felt like an insignificant blur in the background. Ai turned slowly to face the palace and, hoping to remain unnoticed, began to make her way back. What had she been thinking? Was this even real?

Her thoughts of doubt were interrupted as she noticed the crowd fall silent. In fact they began to move away from her, they were making a clear path to the palace for the Kazekage. Ai moved between them and blended into the crowd. She could even see Megumi looking around for her as the procession began to enter through the gate to the village.

Ai kept her gaze downwards, not wanting to draw attention to herself, feeling perfectly hidden among the crowd. She looked up for a moment to glance pink hair walk past. Ai looked through the crowd to see Sakura, the Konoha ninja, walking beside a coffin with a heavy heart.

"Gaara-sama!" A shout of relief came from the crowd as the Kazekage began to follow after the coffin. Ai lowered her gaze again, hoping to go unnoticed. Why had she worn this colour? Amidst the villagers, all dressed in the colours of the desert, reds and earthy tones, she looked like a forgotten gemstone. Perhaps she could just move a little further towards the back?

The Kazekage walked side-by-side with his brother and closest friend; holding onto them for support as his body was still weak from death. The sun was near blinding and the crowd looked like a blur of reds and browns. He could hear cheering, girls calling out, squealing his name in that horrible way he never thought he would miss. But he did miss it; he longed to see his people again, to hoist the flag of his village against a red desert sun and stand together with his comrades. But there was something, he considered, as he saw the back of her darting between colourful banners, blending in with the pastel-coloured confetti, that he longed to see, much more than anything else.

"Naruto," he said softly, with what little energy he had. Upon hearing Gaara speak, Naruto glanced over to him and saw that look of determination in the Kazekage's eyes. Gently, Naruto let go of Gaara and Kankuro, who had already known what his brother was going to say, let Gaara take his first step alone. As he did so, the crowd quietened a little and parted for the Kazekage to walk alone.

The girl he was chasing after was darting between villagers, hiding among the colours, wanting to go unseen. The difficulty Ai was unaware of, was that Gaara could see no one else. She suddenly became aware that the villagers were moving away from her. She looked around to find eyes already on her, watching her with a small smile. What-?

"Ai?" The world stopped. She closed her eyes and took a breath. Was this real? As she opened her eyes she noticed the crowd around her disperse so she could be plainly seen by all. The girl in mint green turned slowly to face him, lowered her head and bowed slowly. Gaara gasped upon seeing her sweet face and laughed softly when she bowed.

"You bow to me?" Gaara asked teasingly. How could this girl think he were the one to be worshipped? He shook his head as she stood and, after a moment, their eyes met. Ai opened her mouth to speak but no words came to her. "How can you possibly bow to me?" Gaara asked, "your name took my last breath." Ai could not speak, she was paralysed by the sight of him. He stood so broad, so strong and achingly handsome, that there were no words to describe what she was feeling. The kazekage put a finger beneath her chin and tilted her head to him. "Do you know why?" He came in close and whispered, watching her eyes glisten over, her cheeks blush. "Because I have memorised you, Ai. You have become poetry. I have memorised you until you are the sound of my heartbeat." The girl smiled a little at him in a way that made all pain obsolete. Gaara took a step away from her to look at her properly, standing there, shy of him, aware that all eyes were on them. "I have often asked myself what was my reason for living." The Kazekage announced to a crowd in which all were near-tearful. "Now I know. It was to live just a few moments in the beauty of your grace." Ai immediately put a hand on Gaara's shoulder to stop him bowing. Many elders shared her reaction and gasped at this unorthodox display; a Kage bowing to a courtesan! Those who knew the pair, Gaara's siblings and Megumi included, actually found it quite funny.

Gaara was still mid-bow when Ai tried to push him to stand straight but to him, her strength was nothing. As a tear fell from Gaara's eyes and darkened the sand between them, the kazekage stood, pushed her hand away from him effortlessly and, holding onto her wrist, brought her in close.

"I love you." He gasped and kissed her forehead, "I am no longer incomplete, Ai, because I called you 'mine' even before I understood what that meant." Gaara took her face in his hands and rested his forehead against Ai's."I have memorised you, so you will remain in every moment with me, inori no yōna (like a prayer)." The crowd was cheering, confetti caught the breeze that twirled around the village. But in this moment there only stood Gaara and his Love.

Ai held out a hand to Naruto who looked shocked at being called to them. He approached with caution and was surprised when the girl simply struck her ring finger against a kunai that was tied to his jacket. She raised her finger up to Gaara's forehead, where her name met his skin.

"Death cannot part us, Gaara." She murmured softly, never letting her eyes leave his. She wiped her finger across the Kanji on his forehead, letting her blood trickle down his skin. "I am in love with you."


What do you think? Love confession worthy of this fic?

Let me know in a comment! Kudos appreciated :)

 

Chapter Text

The inspiration for the song in this chapter is:

Mohe Rang Do Laal  from the movie  Bajirao Mastaani. 

Because let's face it, there haven't been enough songs. And no skipping ahead to other songs from that movie. Let's just keep those a surprise.

Also, I have to say it because I feel bad for stealing, even though it is just the first line of the song. The actual song she sings is more like Ab tohe jane na doongifrom the same movie. Whenever I hear it, I see Ai.

Terrible movie though.

Alright, watched/heard the songs? Whoop whoop, let's go.


Love

Midday passed Gaara by in moments, still tired and aching from death, the funeral of his saviour and first meal went by unnoticed and uneventful. Ai was unable to be with him at the funeral, for her teacher was leading the prayers and required the girl's assistance, and at lunch Gaara had sat with his council to discuss what had happened during his absence.

The young Kazekage, still desperate to relax a little, to talk with Naruto and spend time with Ai, was impatient with those around him. His elder siblings and council members did not let him out of their sight, saying that it was best he remain in their company until he felt strong enough to be on his own. In a way, Gaara was glad for it. As much as he tried to be strong, as much as he put on a brave face, he was exhausted and withered from his experiences. Every time Temari turned away from him, he would look up at her, hoping she would not leave his side. He had even, for the first time in his life, put his hand on top of hers when she stood from the table at lunch to stop her from leaving him.

Kankuro, who had noticed these small changes in Gaara's behaviour, almost teared up when Gaara asked him to stay after lunch and have tea.

"Sure, little brother." Kankuro had said with a small smile, fighting an urge to ruffle Gaara's hair.

Gaara had changed, death had changed him, she had changed him. He was no longer the blood-thirsty, human-hating, scream-inducing thirteen year old shinobi they had once known. He was learning of the value of others, of friendship, of sibling relationships. Gaara was learning to love. And it was heartbreakingly sweet to those who saw him bend down to pick up Temari's papers as they fell from her arms, or push Kankuro's bottle of sake away from him in a protective manner.

Even the Kazekage noticed people treating him differently as he walked through the palace on his own. The smiles they had for him were genuine now, not out of fear or respect, but admiration and affection. It was enough to turn Gaara's cheeks the same colour as his hair. The young girls in the palace would swoon as he glanced at them and "awww" in unison as he looked away in embarrassment. But he only craved the glance of one girl and so he continued on his walk to see her.

A message came by servant at lunch, her cursive penmanship filled up a small piece of parchment like filagree and told him, as was tradition, that he must soothe his aching muscles in holy water. Nothing was unusual in that at all. In fact, it was common practice for the Kazekage after coming home from battle. Maids in the kitchens would be sent out to collect the water from the temples and the six Houses, to fill his bath. He would spend the evening soaking in the water and sunlight of the desert, taking care of his aching body, healing his wounds. Usually, the wife of the Kazekage would see to these arrangements and, following the events of the morning, no one questioned Ai as she took on that role.

It was a strange and beautiful time in Sungakure; Gaara and Ai were spoken of in every household during the daytime. Talks of how pretty and delicate she was, of how strong and handsome the young Kazekage was, drifted through the air in the desert like the smell of jasmine flowers. The world had changed because of them. Their love, bright and bold, filled up the universe until he overcame death, until the courtesans, forced into keeping on the outskirts of society, were valued. The blood-love had returned to Suna and brought with it hope for a new future.

As Gaara continued to walk to the palace baths, he could overhear folk song coming from the gardens as servants and courtesans readied decorations and food for the festival in the evening. He was so pleased to be home; the palace was ablaze with laughter and celebration in a way he had never seen before. But his body was tired from death, aching for warmth and sunlight, desperate for the feel of her, to rest in Love's embrace.

The Kazekage entered the palace baths and was greeted by a swirl of colours as women of the Tea House bowed to him and ran past with broad smiles as they exited the baths to give him privacy. One girl, who he recognised as Ai's friend, Miko, walked towards him and took from his shoulders his Kazekage robe, to reveal his clothes beneath. A long white shirt and baggy white trousers, made of a thin cotton to keep him cool in the heat of the desert. Miko hung his robe and, without a word, only a smirk, she left the baths with the other women.

Unsure of what to do, Gaara walked through cautiously to the room that housed the main bath. Unlike most people, who stare up at the glass domed ceiling in awe, the Kazekage caught sight of the moon sitting on the edge of his bath. With her back to him, Ai was kneeling at a small shrine on the other side of the pool, her head bowed in prayer. Upon hearing him enter, she turned and smiled at the sight of this handsome and strong prince, who was looking over to her with longing.

Ai stood from the shrine, her eyes sparkling with the reflection of the water in the bath. She wore a simple white dress that trailed along the floor and only silver anklets. Gaara could just make out that she was holding on to a small pot made of red clay. It was clay ground from the same stone the statues of the gods are made out of in Sunagakure.

The temple bells chimed in the distance, the soft singing of prayers could be heard throughout the palace as the two lovers looked at one another through the rising steam of the bath. The sun was beginning to set, the orangey-pink light reflected off the antique furnishings in the bath house, giving the room a golden glow. The lamps that lined the wall glittered and shone through the room, making the water in the bat sparkle. The glass dome towered impressively above them as it began to mist over and the first evening stars were obscured from view. The incense and flowers that adorned the shrine let their fragrance float up between the wisps of steam and cling on, as beads of sweat, to Gaara's skin.

The girl lifted her skirt and took the steps down into the bath, her dress becoming heavier as she descended into the water. The ends of her hair entered the water and fell like black clouds around her figure. Her white dress became sheer and clung to her curves, forcing Gaara to swallow hard and keep focussed on the task at hand. With glowing skin, Ai let her big blue eyes move slowly from the clay pot in her hands, up to Gaara. He was caught off-guard by the look of love and longing she had for him but realised that her come-hither stare was calling him into the water with her.

Gently, slowly, for he was still so tired, Gaara removed his shirt. He pulled the white cotton up over his head, lengthening his torso as he gave his shirt a final tug before throwing it onto the floor beside him. His crimson waves of hair became ruffled as the his shirt had glided over his figure and Gaara shook his head gently to move his displaced hair from his eyes. Nothing would block his vision of her. The Kazekage entered the bath, feeling the welcome waves of hot water lapping at his aching muscles.

As he approached her, so cooly, so defiantly, he kept his distance, aware that Ai had to perform a ritual. His upbringing was so isolated from religion, his instincts always closer to sin, that he watched and waited for her instruction. They moved towards one another, eventually the water came just above Ai's elbows, just below Gaara's waist. Ai dipped her fingertips into the clay pot and Gaara peered at it curiously to see, gliding over her fingers, a liquid that swirled, shimmering against the red clay.

"What is it?" Gaara asked quietly. Ai felt the liquid slipping from her finger tips and looked up at him.

"Oil, from the temple in the square." The steam in the room had formed little droplets on Ai's skin and Gaara watched hungrily as one trickled from her collarbone and down, between her breasts, before catching the material of her dress. "Let me anoint your forehead, Kazekage." She nodded at him to bow slightly so she could reach up. Gaara obliged.

"And then?" He asked as she extended her hand to his forehead.

"Then I leave you to bathe." She whispered and swiped her fingertips across Gaara's forehead. Before she had time to blink, Gaara grabbed her hand as she lowered it from him and with his other hand lashed out and struck the clay bowl from her grasp. "Gaara!" Ai shouted and jumped as the bowl smashed against the marble wall behind her. But Gaara paid her no attention, he pulled her in by the wrist.

"No prayer you can ever whisper will save you from me." The Kazekage growled at her. Mere inches from his face, Ai tried to stand her ground, a stance which became increasingly difficult as Gaara placed her hand on his chest. She gestured with a nod back to the shrine.

"Gaara, we have to…" But the Kazekage pulled her in by the waist and hoisted her up to him. He leant in close, feeling her delicate frame in his embrace, his beautiful, dark-rimmed eyes narrowed on her, begging her to give in. But still she kept her head bowed.

"I want you." Gaara whispered. Finally Ai looked up to him. His heart almost melted; there it was, that look! The same one she gave him the first time they had kissed, the look he was so desperate to understand. "Why do you look at me like that?" He asked as the steam spread all around them, shutting out the world, letting it just be the two of them in this moment.

"Because I want you too." Ai closed the distance between them, wrapped her legs around his waist and pushed her lips against his. As her hands became lost in his hair, she let her tongue taste him a little. The Kazekage gasped.

"I can't believe I forgot how you feel." He whispered in a moment they took for breath. He was intrigued as Ai narrowed her eyes on him and smiled mischievously. She dropped an arm from around him and pulled her dress off one shoulder.

"Feel me," Ai encouraged and Gaara smiled before lowering himself to her shoulder and gliding his lips across her soft, dewy skin. Ai moved forwards and put her lips against Gaara's neck as he worked his way down to her collarbone, his hand pulling her dress down further and cupping her breast. Gaara grunted in satisfaction as he grasped on to her full, supple flesh. She felt so soft and breakable, it was so intoxicating to Gaara who smiled up at her and removed her dress from her other shoulder. Ai's breasts bounced and dipped into the pool, and with his mouth watering for her, Gaara pulled her into his embrace so her breasts were pushed up against his chest. Her hair licked his torso in the water, reminding him to pull at it gently as he kissed her.

"Ah," Ai let out a delicate gasp as she felt him take a handful of her hair and pull slowly. Gaara's back hit the edge of the pool but went unnoticed by the pair as their motions became more frenzied, as they were suddenly desperate to be as close as possible. Her lips left his and she clung to him, leaning back in pleasure as she let Gaara's hands explore her, before her lips found his again. The room was getting hotter, wetter, it was harder to breath, harder to see anything but each other, to feel anything but the touch of wet fingertips-

"Ai!" Gaara held Ai close as someone called the girl's name from outside the bath house. Ai looked around for a clock that hung on the wall but there was no need; bells chimed in the distance. She turned back to Gaara with an apologetic smile.

"What is it?" He asked as she kissed him softly.

"Time to go."

"No!" Gaara held on to her as she tried to break free of his embrace.

"We have to prepare for the festival." As she said this, Gaara bowed his head and leant against her chest. The world seemed silent and empty again as they broke apart. The Kazekage left the bath house begrudgingly and told Ai to join him before he left the palace for the festival. It was odd, but a part of their love was still a secret, still unknown to the world, so they kissed behind closed doors as they said goodbye.


Ai found herself stood outside of her comfort zone; amidst council members, shinobi and politicians, she writhed with discomfort. She was stood behind Gaara, behind his siblings, in line with Baki, Gaara's teacher. It was a strange position for her to take, but then again, any position in this entourage was strange when occupied by a courtesan! Someone pushed open the palace gates and the group began to walk out into the light of a setting desert sun.

"Ai?" The dancer looked up as Temari asked for her. The blonde shinobi looked over her shoulder and grabbed onto Ai's hand, dragging her into line with herself and Kankuro. Ai began to blush pink with nerves and excitement. She saw Gaara glance over his shoulder and smile at her. Dressed in a light shade of blue, Ai checked her veil was pinned to her head properly as they descended into the village.

As the collection of palace members entered the main square of Sunagakure, Ai was numb to all the cheers for the Kazekage, all the calls of her name, for she was swept up in the excitement of the village. Looking up, she could see colourful lanterns glittering and bobbing up and down in the cool night air. Her laughter at the sight of children taking more food than they could eat, was swept up on a breeze that swirled around the village of Sand, sending sparks from the lanterns up into the night. There was a magic in the air, everyone could feel its intoxication as villagers and council members sat together and feasted and drank until they patted one another on the back for no reason other than celebration.

"Ai!" For the second time that night a girl called out her name and Ai turned to watch Gaara being help captive in conversation with a diplomat and his daughter. Sakura, who had called out to her, approached from behind Gaara who was giving Ai a weary look.

"Sakura!" Ai exclaimed and bowed her head to the girl in greeting. "Naruto!" As he approached Ai leant forwards and kissed him on the cheek. Naruto, who had not been expecting it, and had been looking around at the village with a small smile, jumped upon feeling her affection.

"Hey!" He shouted before realising who it was and lowering his voice. "Oh…errr…"

"Thank you, Naruto." The pretty girl said with a tilt of her head and a small smile. Naruto seemed paralysed for a second as those blue eyes of hers sparkled at him. Sakura jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

"Ai said thank you, Naruto." The pink haired kunoichi whispered urgently.

"Don't mention it!" He replied happily, throwing a hand behind his neck and rubbing it in embarrassment. A little way away, Gaara, who was nodding along with the diplomat's statements and keeping his arm out of the daughter's reach, gave a small smile as he saw what was unfolding near him. Ai and Naruto were meeting and they had greeted one another as if they knew each other! The Kazekage could see Naruto blushing under Ai's glances as though he were allergic to her attention.

"Kazekage?" Matsuri put a hand on Gaara's shoulder and he looked over to her. Poor thing, she looked so disheartened following Gaara's reunion with Ai. He supposed that, to most people, it came as a bit of a shock; hardly anyone had known of his relationship with the courtesan. "The elders wish to speak with you." Gaara glanced back to Ai who was laughing, with Sakura, as Naruto tried to talk himself out of a hole he had dug. With a small sigh of regret, for Gaara wanted nothing more than to join their conversation, he turned back to Matsuri and nodded. As Gaara moved away, Megumi, the elder of the Tea House, bowed to him. It was a little awkward, given their history, but Megumi was delighted to see the young Kazekage back in the village and this put Gaara at ease. She beamed at him, let him pass, and continued on her walk to Ai.

The dancer spotted her sensei walking towards her and bowed her head to Naruto and Sakura. "I am afraid I must take my leave, Naruto. I have to perform shortly. Perhaps afterwards we can discuss summoning techniques in detail, Sakura?" Ai smiled at them both and moved away to greet her teacher.

"Perform…?" Naruto whispered.

"Naruto," Kakashi spoke his student's name as he approached the pair. "Have you not yet figured it out?" Sakura, who was pretending to know exactly what her teacher was talking about, looked up at him expectantly. Naruto looked like he was counting the clues on his hands until Kakashi put a hand on his head to stop him. "She is a courtesan." Sakura was taken aback.

"You mean…she…?" The pink haired girl looked around to catch a glimpse of Ai, so exquisite and dainty, sat in front of an elderly village woman, helping her to arrange a tray of flowers. How strange that someone who looked so much like an angel could actually be-

"What's a courtesan?" Naruto asked and Kakashi inwardly rolled his eyes before bending down and whispering to the boy. Sakura watched with a small smile as Naruto's eyes widened in shock and disbelief. "You mean…she…and Gaara?" Naruto pushed his index fingers together and Sakura grimaced.

"It is a little more complex than that, Naruto!" She hit him gently on the back the head. "It's an art form."

"Which part?" Naruto tilted his head at her. Sakura and Kakashi did not know whether to hang their heads in embarrassment or laugh. "But…she loves him."

"Well that's clear to everyone…" Sakura gestured around to everyone who were discussing the pair.

"No, she said that death couldn't keep them apart…" He muttered and watched Ai pinch the cheek of a toddler in affection.

"When?" Sakura asked.

"When she cut her finger on my kunai. She said 'death cannot part us, Gaara. I am in love with you.'" The boy stated. Kakashi raised an eyebrow.

"Naruto, she was speaking in jōdai nihongo (old Japanese), how did you…?" But as Naruto became intrigued by the smell of ramen from a stand nearby and Sakura was intrigued by glittering crystal flowers being sold by a merchant.

"So the boy does not know the dead language?" A voice said from behind Kakashi. The shinobi turned to see a man with dark hair and a handsome face, approach him with ease. It was not obvious but it looked as though the man had shinobi guarding him on either side. In fact, to Kakashi's trained eye, he could see this man was of noble rank for there were guards dressed in royal garb all over the place.

"No, he does not." Kakashi responded, trying to figure the man out.

"Forgive me," the stranger said with a small smile, "I am Prince Nobutara." So Kakashi was right; he was a royal. Dressed in robes of white a gold, he certainly looked the part.

"Kakashi, of Konoha," the shinobi bowed and a wave of recollection passed over the prince's face.

"Konoha's white fang!" He exclaimed and Kakashi nodded courteously. "I have a great interest in language," the prince said. "How is it the boy could understand Ai?" He inquired and Kakashi looked pensive. There were only a handful of people who could understand the dead language. Kakashi knew one of them personally; Jiraiya, trained in language and literature for a while and knew the dead language well. Apart from that, only creatures from other dimensions could…Kakashi's eyes narrowed on his student in the distance, gorging on ramen.

"The Kyūbi (nine tails)!" Kakashi muttered to himself.

"Sorry?" The prince asked but Kakashi shook his head.

"I'm not sure, your highness." As the man spoke, bells chimed through out the village, calling forth an audience to see the performance.

"You should get a good seat," Nobutara said quietly, "she's quite the performer." The prince gestured to his guards who stepped aside so he could move off. Kakashi frowned as he watched him go.

The stage was set; a square of grey marble, lined with a border of cream lamps, stood impressively in the centre of the village. Low seating was set up around the square stage and many began to take their seats. Women in white, some holding instruments, some merely tapping their feet to make their anklets sound, came onto the marble and the Kazekage and his village took their seats around the stage. The night was warm and fragrant with roses and Gaara, who was looking around for his love, turned at the sound of her anklets.

The crowd parted to let Ai walk to the stage, holding on to her lamp, her face was illuminated gold. To Gaara, she looked very much like how she looked when they met before his death. Like an empress, about to teach the world the art of love, she descended into their world like some heavenly creature. As she approached him, she knelt down in front of him and smiled. Gaara was sat, looking more royal than she could ever imagine, in cream coloured clothes with delicate gold embroidery and, Temari passed to him, a deep red shawl that matched his hair. He smiled at her and immediately regretted it as many members in the audience began to "awwwwh" or cheer. Ai placed her lamp beside him, stood, bowed gently and turned to the stage. As she took her first step onto the marble, her jewellery tinkled to signal the start. And so, in a nostalgic way that Gaara had grown to appreciate, the string instruments struck a note, and the performance began.

"Now I shan't let you go." Ai still had her back to the audience. Her voice was so full of love and sincerity that the audience was held captive by her words. She did not even move as her entourage of dancers moved around the stage. Ai elegantly extended her hand to the sky. "The night, like a call to prayer, has come." Ai turned back to Gaara. His shock, that her eyes were full of tears, was short-lived for he shared the same emotion as her. It was difficult to believe where they were now.

"You, like Senso, have returned from war

And I, like Renai, remain your keepsake.

Come to me, my love, I shan't let you go." Ai reached out for him before twirling around the stage and singing to the audience as though to tell them a story.

"By chance, we met one fateful night

and between the stars made our vows.

Now, Love has become an intoxication

and you have become everything.

Come to me, my love, I shan't let you go." Ai stopped mid-twirl and walked back over to Gaara slowly.

"What I was once unable to say,

The world is now whispering.

They tell the story of us, beloved,

and I hear it echo out through the centuries,

binding us to a legend." She knelt down in front of him.

This night of waiting shall be over soon.

The lamps are burning and so I burn with them." Ai held her hand over her lamp that was sat besides Gaara, she held it there, feeling the heat, sharp against her hand. But the pain was nothing when she looked at him.

"Under your gaze, I burn." Her eyes filled with tears again. In fact, many women in the audience wiped their eyes, Temari included. "Now I shan't, no, I shan't let you go." The song ended, the last note was hit as a tear fell from the dancer's eyes. The crowd erupted into cheer and applause as Gaara took Ai's hand from the flame and stood with her. They both smiled around at the crowd as the villagers called for Ai to be placed in the temple beside the other goddesses.

Ai laughed, the laugh of a teenager for the first time in her life, as her teacher began shouting at the villagers, telling them how blasphemous that would be. The villagers all joked with her and surrendered to the elder who told them she would pray that their sense comes back to them. Megumi turned to Ai with a great smile of triumph.

"Ai-!" But Ai had vanished. She was nowhere in sight. Megumi chucked to herself.

"Gaara?" Temari, the Kazekage's older sister, was looking around anxiously for the boy. She caught sight of Ai's teacher laughing to herself.

"My dear," Megumi said and put a hand on Temari's shoulder, "let them be lost in love for a little while." It took a moment for Temari to realise what the woman meant and Megumi left a very red-faced Temari standing on her own by the stage.


Hidden away in the Kazekage's quarters of the palace, her hand pinned above her head, her nails digging into Gaara's shoulder, Love was held captive by his embrace. Her back hit the mirror of the dressing table in his room as he hoisted her up on to it but she did not even notice for Ai simply pulled him back into her. Feeling his outline beneath his clothing, aching to touch his skin, dying from the want of him. The dancer's soft moans and gentle gasps echoed through out the room and stopped suddenly as she realised Gaara was slowing down.

The Kazekage pushed her away and Ai looked up at him, puzzled. With a small smile, Gaara began to unbutton his shirt. Ai tutted with impatience at his pace and went to rip his shirt from him but Gaara simply pushed her away again. He watched her with a rye smile as her big blue eyes rounded in with lust and love as she bit her soft, petal-like lips at him. She sat, breathing heavily from desire, unable to shake lust from inside of her,desperate for him. And Gaara could not help but torture her.

Ai looked like everything he ever wanted. So pure and delicate, so inviting and delicious; she like hope, friendship and happiness. In fact, looked like love to the boy who had craved it for so long. Oh, how is still craved it! Gaara had chased after love since childhood, begged for it, clung to it, hoped, wished, killed for it. And now, here Love was, saying she was his and only his. Well now, he considered as he opened his shirt and allowed her to place her hands on him, it was his turn. He would make Love beg for him. Enslave her, punish her, do all the things she did to him for nineteen years. Torment and enrage her, until all the breath in her body could only say his name. Until she was shivering for him out of want. Gaara loved her. She was everything he ever wanted. And he would show her that.

"Gaara," Ai whispered his name softly as she planted gentle kisses on his chest. Grasping handful of her dark hair, he pulled her up so they were face to face. "Ah!" She gasped and put a hand in her hair to stop him pulling.

"I love you." He whispered softly.

"I love you." She said with a small smile before it was wiped of her face as he pulled harder.

"Remember something for me Ai?" He asked her as he pulled her hair, forcing her to stare up at the ceiling.

"Yes?" She gasped in response.

"When you are clothed you belong to the world," his freehand snaked down her bare neck, to her chest where he began to untie a ribbon pinning the front of her dress together. "When you are naked you are mine." Gently, the ribbon began to unfurl, "I will tear this world into pieces one day."He released her hair as both his hands became occupied with removing her dress for her. Ai brought her head back down to face him, her dark hair failing in front of her eyes. So this was love.


I know, I know, I promised the lemon two chapters ago but I feel like this one is long enough. And you know, from the way this chapter ends, that I have to complete the lemon next chapter so look forward to that!

I need your honest opinion, Gaara's thoughts on loving Ai…how did we feel about them? A step too crazy or spot on? Review and let me know. 

Also, it is not a fashion faux pas for boys to wear shawls. Just look at Ranveer Singh in Mohe Rang. Looks, well it is a little sparkly, but all in all…shawls are great. I know, I'm over selling it. 

REVIEW

 

Chapter Text

A Missing Diamond

With a furrowed brow, resting his hands on the wall opposite him as though to steady himself, Gaara opened his eyes a little and watched in satisfaction as a small crack formed in the wall under his hand. The bricks beneath were straining under the pressure of him leaning against them; like he was trying to hold onto his sanity. He scrapped his nails along the cold wall, trying to catch on to something that was threatening to tear away.

"Ah," the Kazekage shook his head and bit his bottom lip in an attempt to prevent the rough, inexperienced, almost animal noises that escaped him. He couldn't even bring himself to look at her; who knew what he might do? With his torso clenching and twitching in the candlelight, Gaara let a hand slink down the wall, to grasp a handful of Ai's hair as she knelt before him. Almost immediately Gaara lifted his hand again and put it against the wall.

Ai smirked upon seeing this and let him into her mouth a little more. It was so fun to tease Gaara, to bring him to the edge of something dangerous and watch him unravel. The man's instincts were far too strong, too primal and violent, for him to even put his hands on her. To even look at her! The courtesan was not even trying; her hands were placed firmly on his hips, her soft lips gliding over his member as her tongue searched for places that made him shake his head, as though begging her to stop. But she wouldn't. It was far too much fun, too irresistible to feel him tense up inside her warm and wet mouth whenever her tongue slipped underneath the head of his cock.

"Ugh!" Another satisfying and guttural sound issued from the Kazekage who was beginning to rethink his thoughts of Ai. In the raw, human heat of sex, Gaara found he could no longer hold on to thoughts of dominating her; how, when she was so skilled at making him feel this way? If anything he should reward the way she stroked, licked, tasted, worshipped him. Wasn't that what this was? Wasn't Love on her knees for him because she desired no one else but Gaara?

As Ai felt his strong, rigid dick begin to pulse, she moved away from him, giving him one final, long lick. Gaara grunted as she did so and, as Ai wiped her mouth and looked up to him, she saw Gaara was caging her; resting his head against the wall like he was trying to regain his senses. Each twitch, each pulse, was getting him closer to the edge, but he didn't want to go there yet. He pushed her away as his courtesan began to place small, wet kisses around his soft crimson curls. Gaara moved away from the wall and looked down to her. She smirked up at him.

"Ah!" Ai gasped as Gaara grabbed a handful of her hair, pulled her head back slightly and leant down to kiss her. Her mouth seemed more supple and wet now, after she had him in her mouth, or perhaps it was that Gaara's mouth had started watering at the sigh of her, he couldn't tell. As he bent down, his cock brushed the soft skin of her breasts, making her shudder with anticipation. Gaara opened his mouth a little more, just to feel how much she wanted him. Ai's tongue traced the outline of his lips, her hands ran across his chest, pulling him in by the shoulders so he was forced onto his knees. Of course, the Kazekage could have pushed her away easily but he loved to feel her want him. As soon as he was on his knees, however, he puled Ai by her hair, so she lay on the ground.

Her beautiful naked body lay so delicately before him and slowly, Gaara lowered himself to lie next to her. Keeping his hand in her hair, he pushed the side of his body into hers, letting his cock rub against her thigh. Gaara's free hand snaked down her face, over her breasts where he stayed a while, roughly scooping and pulling at her soft flesh until it turned red with heat and pain. As he broke their kiss, Ai opened her blue eyes at him.

"What do you want, Ai?" He whispered to her. Ai smiled and fluttered her eyelashes at him. Just to wipe that flirtatious look off her face, he pulled her hair a little harder, making her wince. "Beg for it." Ai could feel her body shuddering for him, between her legs was wet with anticipation, aching for the feel of his dick. But she wanted something different. She pouted at him, her ruby-red lips calling him back to kiss her.

"Touch me- ah!" Ai put a hand to her mouth as Gaara yanked on her hair once more.

"I said," Gaara whispered as he stroked the side of her face with his nose, "beg."

"Please, Gaara," Love begged him, "touch me." As though she were asking for his mercy, to be put out of her misery, Gaara obliged. With torturously slow strokes, Gaara placed his hands between her legs and ran his fingertips along the outline of her womanhood. With his teeth digging into her neck, his cock brushing her leg as she writhed in agony, the Kazekage plunged two fingers into her sticky and inviting warmth. Ai's hands jumped to his chest, her whole back lifted off the carpet and into his embrace. Her lips found his neck and returned his bites.

Ai pushed her breasts up against him as Gaara brought his fingers out of her, before re-entering her to hear Ai gasp again. The Kazekage looked at her in awe as he placed his thumb on that spot that made her open her eyes and kiss him intensely. As her lips locked onto his, Gaara increased the pace at which his fingers worked, stroking and tapping in perfect rhythm to match the motion her hips were making. Faster, with a little more force, the Kazekage could feel her getting wetter as Ai broke away from him and lay on the floor, opening her legs a little wider, letting him fuck her a little harder with his fingers.

"Gaara!" There it was, Gaara heard it, that gasp of his name that hurt for him, that was begging him to put Ai out of her misery and force the life out of her. Faster, deeper, more intensely, he moved his hands, he watched her shiver. Harder, to hurt her just a little, quicker, to match her shuddering figure until- "Ah!" The girl grabbed a hold of him and let her hips buckle, her thighs clamp around his hand, until she moaned a little louder and lay back down.

But Gaara did not want it to end there; he longed to see her face screw up in pain and pleasure for him. So he kept his hands moving, not letting her stop him. When Ai put up a hand to his face he simply bit her wrist and carried on. Harder and harder, he tortured her until her breathing began to deepen once more. Her soft moans, her delicate whimpers, drove him crazy. Gaara wanted to see that deathless death he caused once more and he knew exactly how to get it. He released her hair and moved down so he could place his lips against her womanhood, to take over the pleasure his thumb was causing.

"Gods…Gaara…" The princely man had to fight the desire to stuff his cock inside of her whenever Ai began to speak in sex. Why is it she spoke like a songbird during the day and like a whore at night? Such a pretty face, such a filthy mouth. Gaara adored it. So he continued to pleasure her until she said all sorts of terrible, sinful, unimaginable things. His tongue darted between her lips, his fingers moved in and out of her but it turned out Gaara need not do much else; Ai grinder her hips and moved herself up to meet his mouth. She squirmed and writhed beneath him, pulling on his hair, panting his name. Gaara could feel her begin to twitch, to pulse around his fingers and he kissed her softly as she orgasmed for the second time.

Her moaning stopped, her breathing returned to normal. The cool night air blew in from the balcony as his blood-lust cooled. He glanced up at her and smiled as she did, before he pushed her legs aside and climbed on top of her. Out of habit, Ai went to turn around as this was the position Gaara seemed to favour. But Gaara put a hand on her shoulder to stop her and pushed her to lie back down. Above her, Gaara smoothed Ai's hair from her face and kissed her tenderly. Ai was taken aback a little; it was unlike Gaara to be so affectionate during sex. A hand went from her head to her throat and Ai almost smiled; he was just taking a break from his usual sadistic affection.

"Tell me if it hurts," Ai nodded, it had been a while since they- "because I like to hear it." Gaara bit her bottom lip, smoothed a hand down her thigh, brought her legs apart violently and entered her. "Ugh…" Gaara shuddered as he pushed up inside of her; his strong and heroic figure tensing and stretching as he rocked slowly in and out, savouring every moment, feeling every inch of himself being caressed by her.

The girl began to moan a little louder as he lifted his hips from her, before pushing back into her. Gaara's grip around her throat remained firm but light, of course he didn't actually want to hurt Ai. He just wanted to own her, to dominate her, to abuse her with his love. He began to thrust a little harder, a little faster, Ai's moans became louder, sounding in rhythm to the pace he fucked her at. Gradually, Gaara could contain himself no longer and he pulled Ai in by her rear, up into himself, forcing his dick as deep inside of her as he could go. He looked down at her with a beautiful, maleficent smirk as his lust began to take over. Until his hips were crashing into her, until Ai was finding it harder to breath with his hand around her throat. She winced at every inch of him as he became harder, as his motions became wilder, until he groaned in ecstasy and felt himself pulse inside of her.

Gaara fell onto the carpet beside his first love and brought her into embrace. Panting, he held Ai in his arms and kissed her forehead. She moved out of his arms and sat up, looking at him with a small smile.

"Again?" She asked and laughed as Gaara nodded and tackled her back to the floor.


"Ai!" Kankuro welcomed a shocked AI with an embrace as she approached the Kazekage's family at the entrance of the palace.

"Good morning, Kankuro-sama!" Ai said brightly as she smiled and looked around at everyone gathered. She caught Gaara's eye and bowed.

"Kazekage," she said smoothly as he nodded to her.

"Ai." The group was gathered at the entrance of the palace; Gaara's siblings, Baki, elders of the village and…the prince. Ai cast her gaze downwards as she bowed to him. A sudden feeling of embarrassment rose up and settled in her stomach; last time they met she had refused his advances, would he still be amicable towards her?

"Come," Baki said to everyone, "the Konoha shinobi will be departing from the palace gates. Once again, Temari grabbed Ai by the hand and pulled her in line with Gaara's siblings. It was a little awkward; no one had discussed what Ai's position was now. She was no longer a courtesan, that was certain, but she was not a wife, she was not even of enough of a credible caste to be considered a 'partner' to the Kazekage. And yet he had accepted her as his love and so had his family. As the group walked out to the gates, this odd and complex thought muddled around in Ai's head.

"Ai," Temari whispered, "stand beside Gaara." Ai wanted to protest but the blonde shinobi pushed her beside Gaara. It went unnoticed by all but the Prince and Baki; the elders of the group coughed in polite disagreement with Temari's actions. As Ai stepped beside the Kazekage, she smiled as she saw Sakura and Naruto approach the palace gates. In a dress of orange and pink, Ai looked like a desert flower that had caught a breeze and landed next to Gaara.

"You did not have to give us a farewell party, Temari," Kakashi said as they approached.

"Nonsense," Temari responded with a smile, "once again we are indebted to you, Konoha."

"Friends do not hold one another in debt." Everyone turned slowly as Naruto spoke up. He was looking directly at Gaara who nodded to him.

"Until we meet again," Gaara said to him.

"Goodbye, Naruto." Ai said gently and watched with amusement as Naruto's face began to turn red. This was met with several sniggers from the gathered crowd.

And with that, the ninja from the Leaf Village waved a cheery goodbye and walked the long walk out into the desert, to find their way back home. Ai lowered her hand and stopped waving as they steadily became tiny dots on the horizon.

"Let's have lunch." Kankuro proposed to Baki who began to shout orders at servants to prepare lunch. Temari took Ai's hand again and dragged her through to the Kazekage's living quarters.

As the group re-entered the palace, there were a few who looked on as though scoffing. The prince remained in this group, watching Ai as she smiled back at Gaara, her dark hair shimmering beneath a chiffon orange veil. She had so casually disregarded him? She, a courtesan who he had treated like something more than a whore? He couldn't stand the thought of it. Something had to be done. The crowd began to disperse, leaving the prince on his lonesome.

"You are not the only one, your highness." He turned as a voice, smooth as silk, came from behind him. A courtesan, dressed in an emerald green to match her eyes, bowed to him.

"What is that supposed to mean, girl?" He snarled at her but Miko did not seem to falter under his cruel gaze.

"There are those of us who see the union of a Kage and a whore as sacrilege." The prince scoffed as she spoke, his dark hair falling in front of his eyes. As they appraised one another, a thought shimmered in his eyes.

"I take it you are in alliance with the elders?" He asked her. The girl simply blinked in a way that told him he was right. "Then I trust you will see to it that this," from his robes he pulled out a small silk package, "finds a use after I leave?" Miko took the packet and nodded to him. She stared after him a little while longer as he turned on his heel and left. What elegance, what power, what masculinity! She thought as she eyed him up. Such a shame that she had been raised for thieves and gamblers, while Ai had been raised for men like him, only to waste her time and fall in love.

As Miko turned back to the palace, she opened up the packet and looked inside. Between cream-coloured parchment, there was a small, crisp note. What was more interesting, however, was what Miko recognised to be an armlet with a single diamond housed in the centre.


 

Kudos and comments appreciated :)

Chapter Text

Sex, when filled with love, becomes something rare and precious to mortals. Eyes filled with nothing but affection, gentle gasps of delight and the soft brushing of fingertips against bare skin, can make even the most cynical of humans bear witness to something magical. Like flowers in the sunshine, any woman can unfurl when a man looks at you, but only Ai was lucky enough to suffer from Gaara's love. For he, who never knew how to touch something as gentle as a moonbeam, could not help but let his love chain her to him and bind her to his every whim.

Gaara was hopelessly in love with Ai; like the tide to the moon, he was pulled towards her by forces unknown and unexplainable. He loved to watch her delicate figure cease up and her hair unfurl as her head trashed in ecstasy. More than that, beyond anything physical or human, Ai and Gaara found themselves amidst the heat and frenzy of the blood-love. He longed to cool his heated brow against her cold beauty and she loved to feel every inch of her body burn in lust for him. They sat up for hours every night, in each tower's embrace, vowing never to let one another go. On these nights, both left the Earth and found themselves somewhere near paradise.

The young Kazekage had lost himself in Love, until he was no longer himself. He could not recall her name, nor his, for all they were was Love.


Two months had passed since Gaara's return and the village had seen many changes. The place still jubilant, still ecstatic and uplifted; gifts were still being sent to the palace every day to bless the Kazekage, his family and his Love. Villagers would request meetings with the Kazekage to hear his advice on all sorts of curious topics. They all seemed to forget that Gaara was only nineteen! He was no better equipped to answer their inquires than another teenager in the village. He was a shinobi, not a farmer or a jeweller or a carpenter or an architect, and yet…they valued his opinion. They all knew he was right, the moment he had said it; Gaara brought the beginning of fortuitous days.

The village's opinion of Gaara was not the only thing that had changed since his return. His students, his female students, all looked on at him as he walked past them, with sorrowful, heartbroken glances. Temari and Kankuro, who often only spoke to Gaara when it was necessary, were now wandering into his office at all hours to discuss meaningless and frivolous things. Gaara was learning things about them he had never even thought to ask about before. Only the other day, Kankuro had barged into his office and announced that Gaara should learn tehonbiki, a gamblers game; if Gaara were to ever meet with a few feudal lords, he should know how to cheat. Needless to say Gaara threw his brother out of his office before the playing cards had even hit his desk. Temari also sauntered in occasionally, and had once even asked if she could visit Konoha for a while. When Gaara asked why, Temari became angry and told him that he should understand by now. But Gaara had no idea what she was talking about. It was an odd, confusing and chaotic time for the young Kazekage and finding peace in his own village was becoming difficult.

Now, the Kazekage sat at his desk, reading through papers, grateful for a moment of silence. As he signed off another proposed mission for a group of chounin, he put down his pen and reached over for a clay cup of jasmine tea. It was warm and fragrant and gave him a second to breathe. He glanced up at the clock. It was almost four in the afternoon, the working day would be over in three more hours and he could call Ai down from whatever balcony she was perched on. At the thought of her, he smiled.

The past two months had passed as though from some sort of dream. Gaara had to remind himself that this was his life now, that he had finally gained the respect and trust of his village, all thanks to that glittering moonbeam he had chanced upon in the Spring. Ai tumbled into his life and brought with her an end to his solitude, an end to his grief. She had opened up new worlds to him, ones he did not think it were possible to find on earthly planes.

Sex, which had once been completely alien to him, now clustered together with his instincts for violence and love for her in some strange, twisted, romantic way and resulted in nights of Gaara completely losing himself to lust. Ai was, of course, trained in the art of love making but her gentle nature and delicate figure were merely a catalyst to the Kazekage's appetite for her. Without Shukaku,Ai and Gaara assumed that it would be safer for them but they were wrong. Gaara had been so used to keeping his guard up when he was a jinchuriki that, without Shukaku, he had no gauge on his emotions. It was like feeling everything all over again, for the first time. Without the pressure to restrain himself, Gaara had caused Ai pain without meaning to. It was not as though he were completely to blame though. Ai pushed him, teased him, tested him, showed him things he could never have imagined of and made him beg her to do it again. Sex with Ai was a twisted, beautiful, violent and loving affair. One which Gaara, a cynical and apathetic man, would call as close to the divine as he dared.

The divine, Gaara pondered over this thought for a moment. He had heard whispers in the corridors, from courtesans and palace members, that the blood-love had returned to earth. He had heard about it, of course he had, great poems and legends were written around the relationship of Renai and her lover, Senso. Was it true? Was this that legendary, divine love? How could it be when he had been denied love for so long? How did it make any sense to suddenly be at the centre of an ancient love story?

"Gaara?" The Kazekage looked up as his elder sister entered the room. "Do you have the reports?"

"Yes, here you are, Temari." Gaara stood and picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. He walked over and handed them to his elder sister. She smiled at him.

"At the temple." Gaara raised an eyebrow as she spoke. "The answer to your question." She responded to his quizzical look and laughed as he smiled bashfully. "Go and see her, it will be a while until you see one another again." Temari left with a faint smile as Gaara nodded his agreement.

The walk to the temple in the centre of the village was quiet that afternoon; most villagers were at work and the children must have been in school. In fact, Gaara did not see anyone on his walk and he was grateful for it- he was never one to welcome attention with such open arms. As he approached the temple in the square, the bells began to chime from the towers above, as he ascended the steps that lead to the entrance. At the sound of the bells, white doves fluttered out of the temple with haste, escorting a figure, dressed in silver, who was walking out into the sunshine.

"Kazekage," a girl nodded to him with a barely-concealed smirk, as she left the temple, leaving Gaara to stare at the back of her in surprise. Ai forever loved to irk him. He lowered his gaze and shook his head with feigned annoyance. The pair stood back to back as he spoke.

"Have you so easily forgotten me?" Gaara asked, making the girl stop in her tracks. Ai smirked to herself and spoke clearly like a birdsong into the morning:

"The sea does not remember the shore with which she so fleetingly visits." As she spoke, Gaara smiled before turning to her.

"I am not the shore." He humoured her before kneeling down at the top of the temple steps and gently clasping hold of the end of her silvery veil that trailed so freely behind her.

"Then?" Ai turned to him suddenly and tried to stop a look of surprise crossing her face as she came upon the sight of him kneeling; what was he going to to? She appraised him, lifting an eyebrow, pouting at him as though daring him to answer her. "You are broad and strong; a cliff, perhaps?" Gaara pulled her veil taught, causing the colour to rise in Ai's cheeks; she knew what he was planning.

"You have named me before, Ai." Gaara whispered dangerously. And it was that flash of malevolence in his eye that Ai recognised. She gave a small smile.

"The tempest." She whispered, barely noticing Gaara begin to pull her veil towards himself.

"Which cuts through the sea-" He pulled her veil a little harder, forcing her onto her knees before the temple steps.

"Ah!"

"Controls it, tortures it, makes it write for mercy." As he spoke, her eyes filled with remorse, begging him not to continue. But Gaara, being Gaara, wanted her. He did not stop, he continued to pull her veil so her head was brought down to the step in front of him. Ai practically lay on the temple steps before him.

"We are on the steps of a temple, you blasphemous fool." She whispered, their eyes locked.

"And you are desperate," Gaara murmured, moving closer to her, "helpless, to the need to sin with me." Ai could not stand it any longer; his stare, his lips, his touch, she needed it now.

"Take me to the palace." She breathed.

"Later." Gaara dropped her veil and stood suddenly. "I must speak with a monk here." And with that, he left, leaving an open-mouthed Ai staring after him.


Gaara was hunched over his desk, reading through a long and very boring mission report. He had stood in an attempt to make his boredom lift a little. It did no such thing.

"Yes?" Gaara spoke as the door to his office opened. He stole a quick glance at the clock beside the door; there was only a half hour of the working day left. Then he and Ai could…but his thoughts stopped at once as that silvery nymph walked into his office. "Ai?" He stood gently and spoke her name softly, wondering why she would come to him early.

The girl, who had kept her eyes cast down, let her gaze gentle trail along the floor, up to him. The way she flicked her eyelashes up in the last moment, a soft smirk on her face, the gentle jingle of her jewellery, was enough to tell Gaara what she wanted. Before he had time to react, she lowered herself to her knees. Gaara stood straight, looking intrigued.

"Now?" He asked, trying to hide his excitement. Ai nodded, her eyes softening into a come-hither stare. "Here?" He asked a little more urgently. Again, Ai said nothing, simply nodded. He came to stand in front of her, curious to see if she was being sincere or if this was punishment for abandoning her at the temple. "I have papers to sign." He reminded her as though he would not heed her call, but something still pulled him to his knees in front of her.

"Sign them later," she whispered, kissing his neck.

"I have council members to meet." Gaara protested, although somehow his Kazekage robe fell from his shoulders as Ai's lips found his.

"Meet them later," Ai advised, taking a deep kiss while he was distracted with pulling her veil from her head.

"I have students to teach." He pleaded with her as Ai removed her blouse and lay down, pulling Gaara on top of her.

"Teach them later." Ai giggled as he kissed her, opening her legs to welcome him into embrace. Instinctively, her hand travelled from his neck, along his shoulder and arm, to grasp his hand. What she found there, however, surprised her. She pulled away from him and looked to his hand. Gaara smiled guilty as Ai saw the pen in his hand, attempting to sign the last report of the day that had somehow ended up on the floor beside them. Ai stared at him indignantly before grabbing the pen.

"Ai, no!" But it was too late; keeping eye contact with Gaara, Ai drew a thick, black line straight down the middle of the report. She threw the pen across the room and looked at him as tough daring him to speak. "Such is your vanity that you will not come second to my work?" The dancer said nothing, simply stared at him, wondering what he was going to do. "Why do you do this, Ai?" He whispered to her, looking down at her lips, his mouth watering. "Now I have no choice." His hand followed the curve of her waist, along her breasts and up to her neck. There, he held her with a little pressure. "Why do you insist on me causing you a little pain?" He asked her but Ai had begun to smile, she helped him to lift up her skirt so he could make love to her.

The girl could not explain it, neither could Gaara. What was it about a little pain, a little control, a little madness that made this so much better? Sometimes, Ai let him use her entirely, and she did not seek her own pleasure. It was enough for her, to satisfy him. Perhaps it was her courtesan upbringing that made her so keen to please, or perhaps it was the odd combination of being his slave and his goddess at the same time. She didn't know. But he never let her stop to think too much about it.

That evening passed like this; with Ai clinging to him, moaning underneath him as he fucked her with such frenzied lust that neither had time to remove their clothes. It was the strangest mix of beautiful and painful Ai had ever experienced. In his last moments before climax, Ai was surprised when Gaara looked down to her and kissed her with tenderness.

"I love you," he whispered to her before his body began to shake and tremble with pleasure. As Gaara peeled himself away from her, Ai fell into his embrace on the floor.

"Are you ready to leave tonight?" She asked softly.

"Yes," Gaara replied, slightly breathlessly. "I will miss you." He smiled a little; he couldn't remember ever missing anyone.

"Do not forget me." She looked up at him and the Kazekage kissed her softly.

"Never," he assured her.


Endo Yori had lived through the reign of three Kazekage's; the third was his nephew who met his demise to Sasori of the Akatsuki. The Akatsuki. That damned group of outlaws, of fallen ninja, shameful, disobedient characters who putrified the earth with the stink of their sins. The fourth Kazekage, Raza, had been a great shinobi of his time; pragmatic and loyal, he turned sour under the influence of Orochimaru. Yori had even been there, the day the youngest child of the third Kazekage was born.

He remembered Raza exiting the hospital room where his wife lay, preparing to give birth, his hands shaking, his lips turning a blueish hue; something was wrong. Yori could remember putting a hand on Raza's shoulder as he sat beside him, and whispering something secret to him. Something that gave the Kazekage an idea. All knew too well that the village of Sand was under threat of extinction; the weapons and shinobi they produced were not up to the same standards as other villages. So what if, from an ancient iron tea kettle, could come forth a great asset to the village? Raza could not deny that it was a shining opportunity for Sunagakure, a glimmering beacon of hope that he could hold up to his people and announce that the world should fear the village of Sand once more.

Yori had been an older shinobi, the day of Gaara's birth. He had looked on in hope and triumph as the child wept in the arms of his slowly dying mother. But that was the last time Gaara gave Suna a reason to believe in him. He was born into the world out of the death of his own mother. And after that a trail of death, destruction and devastation was left behind that malevolent boy who smirked and stirred with anticipation as he itched to kill again. Some of the softer, more gentle elders of the village could not see through those opal eyes that charmed them with warmth and skill and clarity. But Yori could see it, just as he saw it the moment Karura's hands fell limp around the child. Gaara was the epitome of evil.

And now, Yori's knuckles turned white as he clenched his fists at the thought of it, he was Kazekage! And to add salt to an expanding wound, the treacherous boy had taken a whore for a partner! It disgusted him, repulsed him, to see his village become this. And they all spoke about her so fondly! Villagers, elders, shinobi and alike, all spoke of the two star-crossed lovers, claiming they were the first on earth to witness the blood-love. Yori took a sip of bitter, cold tea as he winced in disgust. Blood-love! That wretched, unsightly, unholy, unworthy whore had cursed them all with some enchantment! Just as Gaara had done! And many had sat back and let this happen! Well now, it had gone too far. The Kazekage and his courtesan were in the public eye, the reputation of the village would be in tatters by the Winter. Not under Endo Yori's watchful gaze. He would be sure to put things right.

Two months had passed since Gaara's return and much had changed, and was still changing, in the village. Many were jubilant, the palace was often in chaos of celebration and even the younger shinobi had gained a new lease of life. Everyone saw the shallow and superficial improvements of the village to be to the credit of the hopeless Kazekage. That girl, Ai, had remained in the palace as a guest- scrounging on the kindness of the higher ups! That was Yori's ancestors' hard work and riches she so frivolously took for granted. She was asked to leave the Tea House and renounce her title as a courtesan but she was yet to do so. It was shameful, what the village of Sand had become; in awe of a young whore!

Sitting in an underground meeting room, Yori now took another sip of his tea, swirling the bitter and sour contents of his cup in his mouth, swishing it around his teeth with eager hastiness; he wanted the meeting to start quickly. Around a large round table, sat many of the elders of the village, and even younger shinobi, all ready to partake in the destruction of the Kazekage. Yori's thin and fragile arms emerged out of the sleeves of his robe as he clasped his hands together in front of him and rested his chin against his finger tips, his long white beard falling onto the table. Those gathered around the table fell quiet as Yori took this position every time he was about to speak.

"Friends," Yori began, his voice rattling out of his throat as though he had never spoken before, "the time is near."

"We have waited months!" A younger shinobi spoke out of turn and was immediately silenced by another village elder:

"Hold your tongue! This is not a simple matter of assassination!" An elder called across the table.

"Indeed," Yori continued, nodding his head in agreement, "our previous attempts to remove the Kazekage from his position have been easily thwarted. This," Yori held up a single finger, "this requires time and thought. We must not grow impatient!" The old man shouted and brought his fist down on the table suddenly, making those around him jump. "We all know what is to happen?" There was a general murmur of agreement around the table. "Good, now be gone." As members of the rebellion against Gaara stood from the table, Yori turned to the shinobi next to him. "I notice were are missing a few of our friends. See to it that they are never seen again." With that, and on shaking legs, Yori stood slowly to leave.


Ai was smiling down at a village mother who was handing her a basket of fruit in the main hall of the temple in the square. It was just after dusk; there was a little sunlight to see the village and the lamps were being lit in the street. Inside the temple, beneath candlelight, Ai took the basket with a warm smile; it was beautifully tied together with blue and green ribbon, affectionately chosen as the colour of Ai and Gaara's eyes.

"I trust the Kazekage and his siblings left in good time?" The mother asked sweetly.

"They did." Ai responded as she looked into the basket full of sweet, juicy mangos and plums.

"And they shall return…?"

"In a few days, not to worry." Ai assured her. Many of the villagers did not want Gaara to leave them again since his abduction. But Ai stood faithfully by the statement that he was stronger and wiser with their support.

"Goodnight, my dear." The woman said, wrapping a shawl around herself as she exited the temple.

"Goodnight. Thank you again!" Ai called to her before placing the basket by the other offerings to the gods. the priest would bless them in the morning. With a quick doe of her head to the deities in the hall, Ai picked up her skirt and left the temple. She came across the sight of the village at night; with the bustle of villagers walking from shops to restaurants to their homes, the air was thick and warm with the smell of honeysuckle. Ai smiled around at the scene and proceeded to descend the temple steps.

"Ai?" At the sound of her name, on the last step, Ai turned slightly to see Baki, Gaara's teacher and advisor, stood with a group of shinobi. The look on his face was solemn, it wiped the smile from Ai's lips.

"Yes?" Ai said softly, aware that the men around Baki had begun to shuffle towards her with an unspoken aggression.

"You are under arrest for high treason by attempted assassination of the Kazekage."


 

Kudos and comments appreciated!

Chapter Text

 

The prison cells in Sunagakure had never housed a woman, let alone a courtesan. They were unaccustomed to her delicate, dewy skin so only let in light from between the cracks of the wooden boards that blocked out a view of the sky. The cell was dingy, dusty and the iron bars looked like they could break when a little force was applied; the orangey-brown flakes of rust fell like autumn leaves from where the iron met the stone and settled in tidy piles at the door of her cell.

No, they were not accustomed to a woman, or any prisoner for that matter, so imagine the storm of whispers and rumours of shock and betrayal that swept up around the Village of Sand like a desert wind, as they all watched the moon being captured and shackled in the middle of the square. She had held her head high with dignity and poise as disbelieving tears filled their eyes and hands covered gaping mouths. They watched that delicate moonbeam being dragged straight out of the sky and into a pit. The village was met with silence. Unnerving and unwilling to face the reality; their delicate songbird had been accused of treason.

Ai sat now, on her knees, her head bowed as though in prayer, waiting for her guard to re-enter the complex. The dungeons of Sunagakure were kept under close watch by the head of the police; a middle-aged shinobi by the name Ishimaru. He had a kind but stern face, the sort of face Ai expected a father to have. He had greeted her with a look she had never seen in an adult's face; a look of disappointment. She refused to show any trace of emotion, any sign that they could bring her down from her stark position as a supporter of the Kazekage. She could barely understand the charges; when they had brought her in, they had rattled off something about security interference on her part and Shukaku's incarceration and then left her on her lonesome; with only the rust and brick for company. So she had remained in the same position for two days now; sat on her knees, hands clasped in her lap, sitting in the sole sunbeam that filtered in through the cracks between the wood above her. She had asked no questions and refused to answer any until Gaara returned.

The dancer lifted her gaze from the floor as she heard Ishimaru enter the dungeons with her breakfast. Her big blue eyes narrowed on him as he approached her cage. He had long brown hair, tied in a loose ponytail at the base of his neck, and strong masculine features. Ai imagined in his youth he must have been very handsome, but now his face was cracked and scratched like the desert plains for the stress of his job was beginning to manifest on his skin. He held a bowl of porridge and looked down at the girl who sat in the corner, at the back of her cell, with a sympathetic look.

"You won't eat, utsukushii (pretty one)?" He asked in his kind voice, only to be met with a haughty stare and a turn of her head so she was no longer looking at him. "You shouldn't be so difficult." He lowered the bowl through a small door and placed it inside her cage. Under his breath, he muttered: "I have enough trouble getting my Noriko to eat, and she is four!" Suddenly, Ai was angry. In her youthful, foolish, naive character, she finally broke her silence:

"I demand to know why I am being kept here!" She exclaimed. Ishimaru, who had a look of surprise on his face, as though he did not know she could speak, folded his arms.

"They explained that to you when you entered the cell." Ai frowned as he spoke; he was an odd man, he almost had a smirk on his face!

"No. They told me they had reason to believe I was involved in the assassination of the Kazekage but did not explain my links to the event exactly. I demand to know!" Ishimaru was smiling at her now and it infuriated Ai. She pouted and turned away from him, raising her head high with indignation.

"You remind me of my wife." He said suddenly. "She had a beautiful face and fierce temper." Ai raised an eyebrow and turned to face him. "It's so sad to think you are a courtesan." He mused a little longer, staring at Ai with a look of deep sympathy. "What kind of parent would give up their daughter to a whore house, I have no idea-"

"I have no parents." Ai snapped. "I was born from poetry, haven't you heard?" Ishimaru laughed.

"They did warn me you were adept at the art of conversation, uta (poem). You speak wonderfully." He bowed his head in acknowledgement of her cadence and rhythm, her use of ancient phrasing and melodic voice. "Even if what you say is full of venom, it feels like honey. And I have heard many things about you, dear one." He spied her through the bars of her cage as though looking in to see a timid songbird. "They say Gaara, the demon, has enchanted the blood-love to return to Earth. They say you must be a fallen angel, to tempt someone so full of evil-"

"Do not speak foul or ill-advised words in front of me, guard. If the blood-love has returned to Earth then you speak against the gods." Ai whispered dangerously. Ishimaru held his hands up in surrender.

"I daren't speak a word against you, uta. I am a supporter of the Kazekage and see in your face your innocence." Ai's face softened and she wished to ask him something but in that same moment, the doors to the dungeon flung open and a shinobi, staggered in on shaking legs, clearly intoxicated from the night before, entered. He called out to Ishimaru and Ai returned to her position of ignoring the world as it went by.


In the middle of her second night in the cell, Ai was woken by a faint tapping sound. Her eyes opened and closed suddenly as light flooded them; a silvery, cold light of the nighttime entered the cell from the ceiling. The girl slowly propped herself up onto her elbows and watched in confusion as the small window in the ceiling, that was blocked by wooden boards, was dismantled. The boards were picked up and out of the cell, giving her a clear view of the moon in the sky and of her rescuer. Blonde hair flopped over blue eyes as a boy with a serious face looked down at her in the cell.

"N-naruto?" Ai whispered in disbelief, wondering if she was dreaming.

"Ai." Naruto said softly and reached down into the cell. "Give me your hand." Without thinking, Ai stood on shaking legs and extended her hand to him. The shinobi began to lift her out of the cell.

"Naruto, what-?" The courtesan mumbled in a tired confusion as Naruto picked her up in his arms. She was exhausted from troubled sleep and refusing to eat for two days. The boy carried her into the palace.

"Something called to me in the night and whispered your name. I cannot explain it and, to be honest, I don't care what the explanation is." He said in a voice that reminded her of the Kazekage. The boy managed to enter the palace and Gaara's chambers undisturbed by palace guards. "You are Gaara no inori (Gaara's prayer) and the prayer of someone who went so long unheard, is something worth protecting." Naruto lay her down gently on Gaara's bed. "Sleep now, Ai. Gaara will be here soon." Ai had never felt such relief in her life. Within moments, the view of Naruto's angelic face blurred and faded to darkness as she let sleep take her.


"Ai?" The girl woke with a start to find Naruto leaning over her. "Gaara is waiting for you in his council's meeting room. Go now, make sure no one sees you." Ai, who had been expecting Naruto's appearance to have been a dream, looked around the room in a sleepy haze. She sat up slowly.

"And you?" She asked.

"I have to go." Naruto stood straight and walked straight to the door. Ai was unsure and uncertain about everything but she felt safe in his presence. For that, she was grateful.

"Thank you, Naruto." She called to him as he escaped the room hurriedly.

The courtesan found a white and grey dress with billowy sleeves and delicate ivory and silver embroidery. She changed and washed quickly, before placing the grey veil on her head and leaving for the council room.


Entering the grand circular room in the dead of night was as unnerving as it was risky; Ai stole glances down the corridor to make sure no one was following her, before she crept inside. The room was lit by a series of lanterns lining the walls; they cast an orangey glow around the room and flickered as she entered, alerting the only other person there, of her presence.

The Kazekage turned to her as he felt a breeze enter the room with her. Gaara stood in his red clothing, still tired from his travels, still confused as to what Naruto had explained to him.

"Gaara." She spoke almost disbelieving that it was him.

"Ai." He held out his arms to her. As though the she were finally free of the shackles of her cell, Ai ran to him and they embraced. "Are you okay?" Gaara kissed her softly. "What happened?" Her blue eyes widened in sadness.

"How can I explain?" Ai said, suddenly emotion was overwhelming her; big tears fell fast from her eyelashes as Gaara held her in his arms. "I am not even sure myself."

"What other than a whore could steal into the night and take up an audience with the blinded-Kazekage in his council room? And under the eyes of our forefathers!" As the elder, Endo Yori, spoke suddenly, the Kazekage gripped Ai tighter in his arms. They looked over to the doors to see the elder enter the room with a group of his supporters. Shinobi, advisors and council men entered as though prepared to battle. Upon seeing her captors again, Ai's hands gripped onto the material of Gaara's robe, up against his chest, as though fearful she would be torn away from him. Gaara took stance as though ready to fight. His broad physique tensed under Ai's grip.

"I won't have vicious words spoken in this room, Yori-sama." The Kazekage said coldly. "If you wish to use such an accusatory tone, I suggest you wait until the morning so we can speak before a court." Yori, a skinny arm emerging from the folds of his robe, lifted a hand to point straight at Ai.

"Devil's work does not wait to take place in a courtroom, Kazekage. Do not be taken so lightly." He said in a warning tone. As he spoke, Gaara's siblings entered the room from behind him. Kankuro looked from Ai, clutching at Gaara, eyes full of tears, to the group of men at the doors and raised an eyebrow.

"Yori, you senile old fool, what ruckus are you causing in the middle of the night?" Kankuro was irritated that he had only arrived back at the palace a few moments ago and already trouble had started. Someone in the group of accusers sniggered:

"It seems your keepers are here to protect you, Gaara."

Temari, who noticed a familiar face in the group, turned to them. "Baki, what is going on?" She asked her teacher who, from behind Yori, glanced over at her quickly but did not let his sight leave Gaara for too long; if things got out of hand, this group of expert shinobi may not be enough to take down the Kazekage, he he would have to be fully focused.

"We have reason to believe that this woman aided the assassination of the Kazekage." He explained. Temari looked stumped.

"What? Ai is a courtesan. What skill does she know of that could possibly lend itself to the assassination?" She asked. The answer came from someone unexpected.

"Ai knows ninjutsu." Kankuro said quietly, as though not wanting to admit it. Temari cocked her head back at her brother.

"What?"

"She also knowsdai nohingo (old Japanese)." Baki expained. "She can communicate with tailed beasts. Write in scripture only they understand." With a frown, Temari turned back to her teacher, still not following.

"How is that possible?" As she asked, men walked forwards from the group and, holding onto leather satchels, tipped their contents onto the round table in the room. In the dim light, Ai could make out familiar objects. Yori gestured to the table for Temari to inspect.

"Books, parchment, ink, ribbons, weights, stolen from the palace libraries." He explained as she sifted through the items. "They were discovered hidden in the courtesan's desk at the Tea House."

"I-I didn't do anything wrong." Ai protested and released Gaara's robes from her grip. "Megumi-sama…" The girl stopped short; if she brought her teacher into this, it could mean the end of her reputation, the end of the Tea House. Ai could not let that happen. Yori raised an eyebrow.

"Yes?"

"I did nothing wrong!" Ai repeated, much to the elder's dissatisfaction.

"Then why did you attempt to communicate with Shukaku?" He asked, raising his voice. "Why is it you were the last person to see the Kazekage before his fight with the Akatsuki? What were you doing on his balcony, out of sight from everyone else?" As the questions tumbled out of his mouth, Ai's heart began to pound hard in her chest, her emotions were rising to her throat, struggling to be heard. Her voice was stifled by fear.

"Ai," Temari turned to her, holding up a book on tailed beasts, "did you create seals?" Ai swallowed hard.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because Shukaku would not let him rest-"

"What does it matter to you, girl, if the Kazekage does not rest?" The old man demanded.

"I am in love with him." Ai answered slowly. Her look of pleading was met with laughter from the crowd.

"Ha!" Yori threw his head back and laughed hard. "The Kazekage went without sleep for nineteen years, do not confuse your use in the nighttime for affection. Love? This whore and her namesake are no more than fallacious dreams-" The room plunged into darkness as sand erupted from behind the Kazekage and swept around the room like a storm. The sudden gust of wind caused the lanterns' flames to reduce to nothingness. Suddenly, light returned as the sand stopped and retreated, hovering over Gaara and Ai like a raincloud, allowing oxygen to return to the lamps and let them burn. Gaara kept the sand above him to remind his council of the strength they were testing and would be facing soon if they continued this way.

"With respect," Gaara spat at the old man, "you would do well to mind your tongue while in my presence, Yori-sama." The elder looked outraged and held his tongue a moment.

"Kazekage," a voice chirped from the back of the crowd, "what can this girl really know of love?" Ai took a step forwards, her fear turned to anger:

"Only as much as the world lets me! You force your preconceived ideas of a courtesan onto me and scold me if I do not play out that role! Yes, I am a courtesan. It does not make me inhuman. I do not lack emotion or want or need. I know love as clearly as I know you are stood in front of me. I would give my life for the Kazekage." Yori did not let a heartbeat of silence pass:

"Why then would you weaken him, if so keen to protect him?"

"Because the bijū caused him pain."

"So you admit it, you did weaken Shukaku before the Kazekage was to fight?"

"No! I never went near Shukaku before the Akatsuki arrived. I last spoke to the beast the night no one could go near the Kazekage because Shukaku caused a sandstorm in his room." Yori, who was skilled in the art of politics and arguing, knew better than this teenage courtesan. He brought the conversation to a standstill as he let silence seep back into the room for a moment.

"Ah," he began again dramatically, "then this brings us to the question your so-called love and loyalty. From where did you appear on that night?" Her eyes widened, she knew were he was going. Glancing at the floor quickly, Ai held her head high.

"From Prince Nobutara's chambers." She answered. A slow murmur, a gentle snigger, passed through the group.

"Forgive me, Kazekage. Have you not heard enough?" The old man asked. Gaara folded his arms.

"I sent her to Nobutara." He answered cooly. Temari, who was the only one in the room who had not been a part of any of the events mentioned, turned to her brother.

"Gaara?"

"We needed to know his position on the Akatsuki." He responded.

"And did you ever find out?" Yori spoke again suddenly. "No? Because she would not divulge such information against her loving prince." Ai blinked in disbelief. Her face went blank.

"Loving…?" She murmured. "The prince and I have no such affection."

"Ai." The entire room turned to the Kazekage's elder brother as he spoke. "Do not lie in front of council members. And do not take my little brother for a fool." Gaara stirred behind Ai.

"Kankuro?" The word came out like a soft growl from Gaara's lips.

"I saw her and the prince together following your abduction. They were," he searched for the right phrasing," embracing in the palace gardens in the dead of night." Ai began to shake her head.

"No, Kankuro, that is not what it looked like!" A shinobi walked forwards from the group and held out a small white package to the Kazekage. Ai looked dumbfounded; how was this happening?

"Is this not what it looks like either?" As Gaara peered inside the package, his heart stopped. He turned to Ai and held it out the her. "So, Kazekage. What do you think of this wretch's loyalty and love now?" Ai's delicate fingers peeled open the ivory paper and found inside the armlet Megumi had gifted her. So much had happened in the past few months that Ai had not even thought about it's whereabouts. She assumed she had left it at the Tea house. But on closer inspection, a small inscription was scribbled in dark ink on the white parchment: My dearest Ai, I return that which you lost in my embrace. Your loving Prince.

Ai was shaking her head in disbelief. "This…this is not real. I did not go near the prince!" She protested, turning to Gaara. He would not meet her eye.

"And yet, here we are." Yori's voice echoed in her head as though it were far away. She was staring at Gaara, feeling her heart begin to weep; it was drowning her insides, the fact that he would not look at her.

"Gaara?" She heard Temari's voice in the distance.

"Remain in this room until I call you, council men." Gaara addressed the group. "Kankuro, Temari, Ai, come with me to my office."

"Kaze-"

"Keep watch over this room, Baki." The man addressed his teacher as he walked past him, not entirely sure of how much he could trust him. Ai followed as though in a daze; feeling as though her body did not belong to her.

Once they entered Gaara's office, he went to stand in front of his desk as his siblings waited by the door, allowing Ai to stand in the centre of the room. The Kazekage leant against his desk and looked up at her with tired eyes.

"Speak." He ordered.

"Gaara, what happened between Nobutara and I was not as it seemed. I went to him to convince him to help the village." Ai pleaded.

"It is not your place to sway the politics of Sunagakure, Ai." Temari spoke up behind her, making Ai turned back and address her.

"With respect, Temari-sama, courtesans have more influence than you would think." The dancer turned back to Gaara. "I missed you terribly and worried for the future of the village. I wanted to make sure that Suna remained in good hands." Something inside of Ai's chest pained a little when she saw something similar to a sneer pass over Gaara's face.

"You speak so highly of Nobutara." He spoke in that soft, dangerous voice. "Why would he wish to accuse you of being unfaithful?"

"The Prince was infatuated with me." Ai explained, her big blue eyes round with sadness. "This is comeuppance for my refusing him the gardens. What you saw, Kankuro-sama, was the moment before I pushed him away." Ai turned to the man with the painted face and explained herself. He raised an eyebrow and folded his arms:

"So no more than friendship existed between the two of you?" He asked. Again, Ai knew what was coming.

"I," her voice faltered, there was no way out of this. "Gaara once asked me to seduce the Prince." She admitted.

"So you were with him, the night you rescued Gaara from Shukaku's temper?" Temari wanted to confirm Yori's allegations.

"Yes." Ai turned back to Gaara. "This was before anything came to pass between us, Gaara." He looked up at her. His wonderful opal eyes met hers, that frown of uncertainty faded away and his eyes softened.

"I understand." Ai almost collapsed in relief as Gaara spoke. She walked up to him and fell into his embrace.

"Gaara, this is not a simple situation. It cannot be so easily reconciled by claiming it was a misunderstanding." As his sister spoke, Gaara placed a gentle kiss against Ai's forehead. She closed her eyes and let her beating heart slow its pace.

"What do you mean, Temari?" The Kazekage asked.

"The village elders are suspicious of Ai; no courtesan has ever stepped so bravely into shinobi territory and yet that is all Ai ever seemed to do. They will not accept this union." Kankuro nodded his agreement and added:

"The village will have lost sympathy for your relationship with a girl of the tea house, having seen her arrested." He paused for a moment, wondering if he should continue. "In the eyes of everyone but us, Ai is a traitor."

"And you have worked so hard to gain their trust, Gaara." A note of pleading entered Temari's voice. "All your work will be undone if you both choose to remain like this." Gaara stood straight, holding onto Ai as if he knew what was going to happen.

"What are you asking me?" He asked in a dangerous whisper. Temari shared a look with Kankuro.

"For the sake of the village and yourself, this relationship must end." At her words, Ai bowed her head.

"We can explain." Gaara protested.

"What use in explaining?" His sister spoke in a dejected, defeated tone. "Gaara, you destroyed lives of villagers in your youth, how can you expect them to continue to trust you if you go against Yori, a trusted village elder?"

"We can tell him-"

"He will not back down, you know this." Temari could not meet his gaze.

"We can-"

"They are right." The Kazekage was silenced as his love spoke softly.

"Ai?" Gaara whispered her voice disbelievingly; she sounded like she had given up.

"What would you have me do?" Ai looked up at him, full tears flowing freely from her eyes. "Live as your partner, as your wife? And have the village turn against you? I will not be the cause of your suffering." Taking her hands in his, Gaara held them up to his lips and kissed them.

"And leaving me will not lead to that?" He asked her.

"Gaara." Temari did not want to rush her brother but in the world of politics, time is not simply time; it does not go by unnoticed. If they spent too long alone in here, it would give the council more reason to doubt Gaara. "You know what is to be done." Gaara could barely hear her; he stared at his first love with all the heartache he had ever known. It constricted and pained in his chest, he was barely able to speak as their eyes met. With a look of determination, Ai turned to Temari:

"If I take on the charges, what will happen to me?"

"Banishment, most likely." Ai nodded at her answer.

"I will go to another House before dawn, Megumi-sama will see to it." Ai turned to Gaara who looked at the girl he had fallen so madly in love with and found that he could only say her name.

"Ai." His bottom lip trembled. How had it come to this? Ai smiled at him softly.

"You are not alone in this world, Gaara." She whispered as they put their foreheads together. "When I leave you, you will have a village on your side. You are home here and loved. Do not throw that away for me." Ai kissed the corner of his mouth and looked deep into his eyes as they turned red and hot from the pain. "And I will not be alone." She assured him. "I will travel with each and every moment I spent with you etched into my heart. Yes, I go, wrapped in your tempest, in shades of anguish cursing the world for all the bitterness I will endure from the nights without you. But I am grateful to that storm for it was your temper that gifted me the mark of your love." Gaara shook his head; he didn't want to hear these things.

"I wonder what will become of me?" The dancer almost laughed and looked dreamily up at him as though she could see her future in his eyes. "I suppose I will fade to legend. As the girl who once glimpsed the blood-love in your eyes, Kazekage. Do not fear for me or worry for me; I will become the watery and misted image of the girl who once had your heart and that is more than any woman in this world could ask for. I love you, Gaara." He brought her into a rough and fierce embrace, not wanting to let her go. Into his chest she whispered: "this is where our destinies part." Tearing herself away from him, the agony of parting began to rise up inside of Ai as she took one last look at him before turning and walking away. After a few steps she found her veil was held taught, stopping her from moving forward. She waited with her head bowed for him to come up behind her, put a finger beneath her chin and turn her back to face him.

"How can I live without you, Love?" Gaara gasped. "I prayed for you in every breath." Ai reached up with her veil and dried his face, shaking her head as though to tell him to speak no more. "How can I live through the pain of loving you, of wanting you, of needing you?" He was begging her for answers, so close to falling onto his knees for her. "Forever will I long for you. Forever I will worship you. You and nothing else." Gaara kissed her deeply, causing Temari to exit the room hurriedly for she did not want Gaara to see her cry. Kankuro followed after her. "This wretched blood-love; it has made us false enemies."

"But gifted us a moment in each other's hearts. There, you and I will remain." She said sweetly.

"I love you, Ai."

"I love you, Gaara." With one finally longing look at each other, fingertips untwined from one another, the utter pain of loss engulfed them. The red, defected, unearthly love had found its victim; the cursed destiny of Ai and Gaara, written by the gods, had come to its tragic end. Upon trembling legs and with a heavy heart, Ai left Gaara's office.

Out in the corridor, Ai came across Temari who was sobbing in her brother's arms. They looked at one another.

"Temari-sama." The women embraced as Ai tried her hardest not to cry. She knew she had to walk past the council members, she would not let them think she was broken.

"Thank you for bringing our brother back to us." Temari whispered. As they released each other, Kankuro appraised the young dancer.

"Ai, I'm so sorry." Was all he could say. Ai nodded; she was ready to take on the role of a traitor if it was to save her beloved.

"Why be sorry when the destiny befits the destined?" Yori, who had grown tired of waiting in the council room, approached the three stood outside the Kazekage's office. "You may be beautiful, young one, but you are a whore. Do not besmirch the halls of Kage any longer; be gone." Ai, who would not let her emotional turmoil be belittled, actually smiled:

"Besmirch the halls?" She repeated. "Have you such pride that you cannot see past my beauty and status to see a heart? It beats with blood, as does yours, elder." She snapped.

"You speak as if you have honour to defend."

"That would be a curious thing, wouldn't it?" Ai whispered, taking a step towards him. "A courtesan with honour. Laughable. Just as laughable as your aged tactics, Yori-sama." Temari and Kankuro shifted nervously behind her; they could not protect her from Yori or else they would be accused of helping a traitor. Ai was not backing down; "the Kazekage will not be so easily removed from power. See my banishment not as your victory, but as his sacrifice."

"Do not speak to me as though I am unjust. It is not in a courtesan's destiny to be married." The elder retorted.

"And yet," Ai spoke patronisingly, "we often find ourselves in the company of husbands. Curious, wouldn't you say?" Yori sniffed in indignation at her words.

"What are you implying, whore?"

"That he who frequents alleys of disrepute do so unashamedly." Ai raised her voice to the shock of those gathered. "The children born in brothels are of your ilk, Yori-sama. They are born of aristocratic fathers, Perhaps I have danced beside your daughter, your sister?"

"How dare you?!" Yori's face contorted in rage.

"I dare because I am not fearful of you." With this, Ai smirked, knowing the old food knew he could not intimidate her; she had already lost all there was to lose. Without Gaara, what was there in her life?

"I will remember our parting, Ai."

"For your sake, be sure to." With the last word, Ai gathered herself, lifted her head high and walked out of the palace of Suna. Hiding to those who saw only the back of her, the fear in her eyes and the pain of loss in her frown for she had lost everything in only the early hours of the morning. Ai walked out into the world unknown, uncertain of her future and fearful for her beloved Kazekage.

Forces unknown were at work, etching out the tale of the blood-love, calling upon gods and kismet to write out the destinies of the two star-crossed lovers. War was steadily approaching on the horizon, the Kazekage would be faced with battle soon. And into the world unknown, a songbird set flight, unaware that her fate was rushing towards her.


 

Kudos and comments appreciated :)

 

Chapter Text

The palace of Sunagakure was on fire. The temple in the centre of the magnificent building was cast into burning white and orange flame, crackling and spitting, shooting sparks up into the air. The stars were obscured from view as thick dark smoke spewed out from the window above the shrine. The unbearable heat sucked out all moisture from the atmosphere, making the air barely breathable. It had started when a glass lantern, that had once belonged to a girl called Love, was tipped over by a frightful wind. It had entered the shrine behind a boy filled with the desperation and agony of heartache. That wicked breeze had followed the tail of his cloak and swept around the room when the boy's red-stained, hurt-filled eyes merely glanced up at the statue of Raijin and cursed the ancient god. Obscuring the hellish scene from those outside the temple, was sparkling, burning sand that spun around the figure of the boy; merely giving glimpses to a terrified audience, of the havoc he wreaked inside the holy room.

"Gaara, please stop this!" His elder sister, unable to use her powers to blow away the sand for fear of increasing the height of the flames, cried helplessly from the doorway. Beside her, one of Gaara's students tried to put on a brave face; Matsuri clenched her fists to her chest, closed her eyes and shouted through the tumbling sand and crackling fire:

"Gaara-sama, it will be okay!" But she was terrified of the sight of dark-rimmed eyes as they turned to her. She gasped, her legs trembling, knocking her knees together, as Sabaku no Gaara turned his head to her slowly. That look on his face, the utter pain of loss, gripped her voice in her throat and would not let her say anymore. Beside her, Kankuro watched on in horror along with other supporters of Gaara. From the small crowd, Temari called out to her brother.

"Kankuro, can't you-"

"Hmph." The crowd turned as someone scoffed from behind them. In the dancing shadows from the fire Gaara had started, Endo Yori stood with his supporters. Temari's eyes narrowed on him. "Let the child be. He knows no better than violent tantrums, after all!" The Kazekage's sister hoisted her hand over her shoulder to grab her fan, only to find her brother's hand resting there, a grave look on his face, telling her not to be drawn into confrontation. And so, with heavy hearts and barely suppressed repulsion, the Kazekage's family and friends watched the vicious man walk away from Gaara's ruination.

In the darkness of the hallways, a few minutes later, Yori found a quiet spot. Barely any light, only the one lantern in the corner, only the sound of a fountain nearby, he turned to his group of five men, all stood, eagerly awaiting to hear the next part of the plan. Yori stroked his beard and looked around at his men, his aged face half showing a smirk of triumph. "This is good." He huffed proudly, "that is Gaara's support he sets fire to and the wretched boy will burn as a result of his own self-destruction." The smiles on the faces of his men faded slightly as, from the darkness behind Yori, a strange sound issued. Like a heavy marble, something was rolling along the floor to them. They took stance, prepared to fight. The tension in the atmosphere eased as, out of the dark corner, rolled a bottle of sake. Yori tutted impatiently; probably a cat and a drunkard in the palace gardens. He turned back to his men. "We shall reclaim Suna by the Fall."

"That's a shame; I was hoping to re-decorate my office in the Fall." The men in front of Yori jumped as the Kazekage emerged out of the shadows. With red eyes and darker circles than usual, Gaara appraised members of the rebellion against him with a reckless, almost joking manner. This earned a shake of the head from Yori, who turned almost in disbelief before he realised what Gaara was up to.

The boy setting fire to the temple was a sand clone. A distraction put up as a faux-reaction from Gaara to convince the village he was upset. Which he was, there could be no doubt. But it had to be something big, something that could be over within a day before they could see things return to normal. Yori's gaze narrowed on the Kazekage; was he that smart? Was he that adept to politics that he knew the game was played subtly, over years? Gaara seemed to figure out what was on the elder's mind and so he bowed his head a little and smiled.

"Do not mistake my inexperience for naivety, Yori-sama," he growled. "Suspect it instead as the reckless and ambitious drive that will thwart any plans you have to overthrow me." Yori stepped forward aggressively.

"Foolish child-!"

"You think taking Love from me will work this time?" Gaara asked loudly, "like it did in my childhood?" The princely man scoffed. "I am no longer the man I was," he took a step towards Yori, feeling his own power brimming beneath the surface, the laugh of a forgotten Shukaku echoing in his head as he watched Yori's supporters step back in fear. Gaara leant forwards and whispered to his enemy: "I will not be weakened by her exile." Gaara shot the men behind Yori a look daring them to come closer as he moved towards their leader. "You would do well to watch the shadows behind you, elder, take notice of the floorboards that creak a little louder nowadays and the way your breath stifles in fear when you look at me-"

"Are you threatening me, boy?"

"Yes." Gaara said, standing to his full height; delighted to hear a note of fear in Yori's voice. "If you do anymore to any one I love, I will kill you." He addressed the group, "if any of your men so much as glance at my sister I will remove their eyes. If any of you ask to meet Kankuro for a drink in the evening, you will meet me instead and I will bring upon you a most gruesome end. Do not take me lightly." His gaze travelled back to Yori who's wrinkled face was screwed up in frustration and fear. "I am no longer the demon child you created, Yori," the Kazekage sighed. "I even pity you. Living out the last years of your life pursuing the hopeless task of overthrowing me." Gaara almost laughed. "Stew in your bitterness; squirm in your failure and curse my success. I have learnt of strength outside of the battle field, test it if you dare." Standing straight, Gaara nodded to Yori with a smirk. "Goonight, elder."

As Gaara walked away from the group, he kept his ears open for any sign that they would pursue him. They did not; his attempt to shake them with fear had been successful. Yori was only powerful because of the men around him, there was no way he could take Gaara on on his own. Without followers, Yori was useless. It was much like Yori's own plan to overthrow Gaara; take his followers away and watch him fade to nothingness. The elder had tried to take Ai away in an attempt to get Gaara to destroy himself, but the young Kazekage was too courageous, too proud, to let such a thing happen. He would not let Ai's banishment be in vain. Entering his office, Gaara took a seat at his desk.

He had faked the temple fire, to the ignorance of the village, in order to give them a moment of fear. In the morning he would emerge calm and apologetic, sincere and young. And they would all breathe easy. It was a simple task of, for appearances sake, acting exactly how the village would expect Gaara to react, before showing them all that he had changed. He had taken Yori's attempt to overthrow him and used it to his advantage. Of course, Gaara, who was becoming more accustomed to the way politics worked, planned to remain so ahead of Yori's game that he even placed himself in the darkness of Yori's path that evening just to frighten him and his men. Just to show him exactly how in control Gaara was. Once Yori figured this out, it was a matter of days before his men abandoned him and joined Gaara. Leaning back in his chair, the Kazekage gave a smile of relief; Ai had given him a strength he had not known before. He was doing well.

That did not mean that the pain of her leaving was gone.

His hand travelled up to his chest and clutched at the material of his red cloak before his eyes closed tightly. Leaning forwards, the Kazekage cursed himself as tears escaped his eyes. The smell of sake swirled around him, making him angry that he had drunk in an attempt to numb the pain. He was so distraught in that moment that he couldn't even look up as his office door opened.

"Well?" He heard his sister say, "did it work?" But Temari stopped short of the desk as she felt another piece of her heart flake away. "Gaara," she spoke his name softly before holding out her arms to him. Gaara could just make out, in his bleary vision, Temari walking around his desk with arms outstretched. Through gasps of hurt, Gaara remained seated but turned to her as she approached and embraced her. With his head against her stomach, Gaara clung to the back of her dress and tried to calm down. "Gaara, you are loved here," Temari repeated Ai's words softly.

"I understand that it is not in my fate to be truly happy," Temari winced as she heard Gaara say this. She was going to protest, to tell him happiness would come his way but her brother would not hear it. "But I don't understand why I have to be tortured too; why won't the world leave me in misery? Why does it have to remind me of her?" Temari looked down at her brother's red hair, unsure of what he was saying.

"Gaara, wha-"

"No!" Gaara turned away from Temari, stood quickly and slammed his fist down on the table, making her jump. He looked around the room, his eyes dancing wildly as though searching for an intruder. He walked to the windows.

"Gaara?" The blonde shinobi spoke his name softly. "What…what are you doing?" She asked as he began to shut the windows of his office.

"Shutting out their voices!" Gaara shouted back, pulling the last window shut. "Their words travel in on a silken breeze and do nothing but cause me agony!" Temari watched, a weight sinking in her stomach as Gaara put his hands to his ears.

"Whose voices?" She asked, dreading the answer.

"Shukaku," Gaara grumbled, shutting his eyes as though it would help, "and Renai-"

"Renai?" His sister asked herself quietly. Her attention was snatched away as Gaara fell to his knees. She ran to him, watching the door, begging Kankuro to come in and help her.

"They do nothing but torture me," Gaara muttered into Temari's dress as she held him, "they won't let me rest! They ask me so many questions-"

"Questions?"

"Where is she?! Where has she gone?!" The boy looked up at Temari as her eyes filled with tears. "Do you know? Can you answer them?" Gaara pleaded with her, grasping tight onto the sleeves of her dress. As Temari shook her head, tears fell from her eyes lashes. She watched her brother look out to the night sky and frown as though he could see her there. "That pale rosebud? That heavenly light?" He asked. "Where has Love disappeared to? Why does she leave traces of herself in my life?" Gaara's gaze softened as he caught sight of the moon, his eyes unfocussed, his breathing heavy. "The crescent moon is Love looking over her shoulder and smiling at me. The tinkle of water from the fountains is the melody of her footsteps. She's in the sky, she is in the air." His lip trembled as he lowered his gaze to the floor. "I am here, living in pieces. Is she out there, living in pieces too?" Temari could not answer him. The girl was lost for words; how could she explain the voice of Shukaku? The voice of a goddess? What was happening here?

Temari waited for Kankuro to enter the office. He helped her lift up a swaying Gaara, unsteady on his feet, and escort him to his bedroom. The two older sand siblings stared at each other in what felt like the loneliest moment they had ever suffered. So many questions were going unanswered, so many thoughts were going unsaid. Was Gaara in control of himself? How did Shukaku's voice remain with him? Why should Gaara hear the voice of a goddess? How much had their little brother drunk?

But there was a more pressing question that lingered in Temari's mind as she loosened her hair free, walking away from Gaara's room after fighting him to sleep. She sighed, going to place her hair ties around her wrist, watching the elastic ribbon stretch and suddenly snap under pressure, she gasped.

Was the ruling of Sunagakure hanging by a thread?


The courtesan world is built, just like any another: amidst a cruel and unforgiving hierarchy. The class system there mirrors that of polite society; that way, customers and courtesans can be easily matched. Great Houses, present in each country, are the highest of courtesan society, catering to the rich and noble. The Tea House was one of the Five Great Houses of the Land of Wind. Below that are the Hachinosu (honeycomb) Houses which engage with the middle ranks of society and beneath them, at the lowest rung in courtesan society are the Chawan (rice bowl) Houses which take care of the rest of the shadows that wander through the darkest parts of town.

It was towards a hachinosu that Ai was walking; her carriage had pulled up outside a long cobbled driveway that led to the House. A few drivers and servants had gathered her belongings from the cart and were racing up to the building so she did not have to wait for them. Walking in a blue dress, wrapped in a grey, Ai glanced up to see dark skies. She paused for a moment and watched grey clouds sway, blocking out the sunlight. Being a girl from the desert, she had never seen such a strange sight. How odd, that the sky was not the colour of her eyes today and instead was the colour of the shroud Megumi had wrapped her in before she left.

Thinking about her teacher, Ai glanced down to the dark, rocky, mossy ground and fought back tears. Megumi, the other girls of the Tea House, had hid their faces behind their veils as they wept and watched the moon leave their home. Her sensei had packed Ai's belongings and, as is tradition when a courtesan is exiled, gave her a veil which resembled a funeral shroud and a single shard of a broken diamond. It's jagged and sharp edge had glittered inside the veil as Ai peered inside and removed it to keep it safely. Ai's face screwed up in pain as she thought about how Megumi could not bear to see her go and had to retire to her quarters, leaving a goodbye unuttered.

The moonlike girl looked up as she heard the doors of the House creaking open ahead of her. Ai had travelled to the edge of the Land of Wind to where it met the borders of the Village Rain. Here, the buildings were grey and motionless, unlike in Suna where everything was gold and warm. She could smell nothing but dampness, no jasmine flowers to ease the breeze which was chilling her to the bone. The sounds here were different too; no birds singing, no tinkling of wind chimes, just the harsh calls of cart drivers to one another as their horses' hooves thudded against the rocky roads. The building in front of Ai was intimidating and imposing; with matte grey walls, a darkened doorway and no signs of life, the place looked gothic and dreary; more like a prison than the one she had to endure in Sunagakure.

With a small gulp to calm her fear, our songbird looked completely out of place with her silk shoes becoming wet against the damp stone floor and her diamond jewellery being the only thing glittering for miles. Approaching the House, she could just about make out that the doors were open and giving view of a black corridor lined with silver lanterns. Ai jumped as suddenly two girls emerged on either side of the doorway. Their faces were hidden by raspberry-coloured veils, dark curls of hair and rose-red lips were all that could be seen. Ai, like a child seeing a china doll and being told not to touch, examined them as secretly as she could. She ascended the steps into the hallway slowly and noticed their fair skin and dark hair. The clothes they wore were very similar to hers except their blouses were cropped at the waist, giving a view of their midriffs. Ai had heard the courtesan clothing varied from House to House and wondered if she would be expected to wear the same.

"Come this way." Ai jumped as the girls spoke in unison. The doors behind her shut with a loud THUD that echoed down the passageway, shutting her away in the darkness. Locked doors, silver bolts and shiny key holes, lined the hallway but it seemed Ai was not needed in any of these rooms. The girls walked, perfectly in sync, the sound of their footsteps echoing in the hall. Out of habit, Ai took a moment to align the speed of her footsteps with theirs so their anklets chimed at the same time. But the sound of her anklets seemed to be the only thing breathing life into this place; it was dead as the darkness inside of it.

Ai's heart was beating a little faster, she could feel her skin beginning to burn with the surge of adrenaline caused by fear. The two girls took her into a large room, almost as big as the first circular hall Ai had danced in at the Tea House. But this room was equally dark as the rest of the place, barely lit by a few low-hanging chandeliers, giving light to a dark green tiled floor and a few mirrors on the wall. Ai was so busy trying to see through the darkness that she jumped as, in a melodramatic fashion, several chandeliers burst into flame and gave light to the room. Now, looking around, Ai could see other girls in raspberry-red, veils over their faces, stood along the edges of the room as though keeping watch over her. It gave Ai the impression of a cult initiation ceremony. At the head of the room, where all the cushions and low sofas were, presumably for customers during performance, was a black throne-like chair in which sat a very beautiful girl. With dark blonde girls and angled, green eyes, she sat in a raspberry coloured dress just like the other girls. Her status as owner of the House was given away by the thick, red velvet shawl she wrapped around herself. Gold embellishments of hand stitched leaves glittered on the shawl, sparkling in her eyes as they narrowed on Ai with a mischievous glint.

"Welcome," she exclaimed dramatically, sat with one leg over the other, a malicious, hungry smirk on her face and the air of someone arrogant, "to Suikinkutsu." (A/N: see end of chapter for explanation of House name). Ai was about to lower her head in a modest greeting but was jarred slightly when the girl gave her no time and delved into dialogue: "I am Lena, owner of this establishment." The girl's left leg bounced up and down as though eager to meet Ai, who stood, a little overwhelmed and unable to find her voice. This girl was, well, loud. She had manners the like of which Ai had never seen in a courtesan! "Well, let us greet you with the usual formalities. It is customary for us to interrogate a new girl whenever she seeks work with us. Is the agreeable with you?" Ai thought for a moment and had hoped she could speak privately with Lena in a bid to keep her private affairs out of the earshot of the rest of these girls.

"I-"

"Yes or no, pretty one." Lena twirled a blonde curl between her fingers and enjoyed the look on Ai's face as colour rose in her cheeks. Ai, deciding it was rude not to follow along, nodded:

"Y-yes."

"Your name?"

"Ai." As the dancer said this, her interrogator bowed her head and looked at Ai with a bored, almost mocking expression.

"A courtesan called Love?" Lena teased her, "how…original." Ai's skin was beginning to burn with embarrassment as she heard the girls around the room begin to giggle at Lena's words and melodramatic fashion. "It says here you perform khatak (A/N: this is Ai's dance style), correct?" Ai cleared her throat.

"Yes."

"How many bells on your anklets?"

"Fifty for performance, one hundred between them. And only twenty for-" but Ai was cut short as Lena gasped loudly, exaggerating her surprise.

"One hundred! My goodness, you could buy this whole place if a single bell were sold, I'm sure." Ai looked to the floor; she was coming from one of the Great Houses, where money was no issue. Here, in a hachinosu, money was harder to come by; the difference in wealth between Ai and the other girls was bound to find some grievances. It seemed this struck a nerve with Lena too, who shifted in her seat, her smirk gone, replaced with a look of disdain. "Your customers." She began, "how many so far?" It was Ai's turn to shift uncomfortably.

"Two."

"Two?!" Lena exclaimed; higher up in society, courtesans were expected to have long relationships with clients so it is not unusual for Ai to have only courted two men, but for a girl from a hachinosu, the idea of two men by aged nineteen was simply inefficient business etiquette. "What's wrong with you?" As she asked the question, she took in the sight of Ai wrapped up in diamonds and seemed to realise. "Oh, never mind. On top or beneath?" The smile returned to Lena's face. Even Ai smiled a little; it was practically a trick question. There was an elusive third answer all courtesans know:

"Whatever the client asks for." Lena smiled at her answer.

"Spit or swallow?"

"Whatever the client asks for."

"Chosen contraceptive?"

"Oral contraceptive." As Ai spoke, Lena's sing-song like teasing voice lost its melody.

"The pill? Only? What are you sleeping with virgins?" The blonde scoffed. Ai looked the girl straight in the eye and spoke softly:

"I retain clients with ease." Ai answered to Lena's surprise; this courtesan from high society was implying Lena's shock is due to the fact that she was no more than a prostitute. Ai was belittling Lena's standing as a courtesan, stripping it down to no more than sex. It is a grave insult between girls in their profession.

"Is that so?" Lena raised an eyebrow. "Name your longest client."

"The current Kazekage-" Flames around the room sparked as the girls erupted into fits of laughter upon hearing the word Kazekage. Lena almost fell out of her throne.

"Sabaku no Gaara?!" She threw her head back and clutched her stomach as she laughed. Eventually, her laughter subsided to a malevolent and smug smirk, she stood from her throne and gestured to Ai. "Your lips are mere unfurling blossoms, how did you survive the bites of the jinchuuriki? You breasts are supple and barely touched, how did you go unscathed by the claws of the keeper of the one-tails?" Lena raised her voice as the girls around the room all whispered to one another. "Your legs are but slender branches of a birch tree, how did they keep up with the vigour of a man who is said to be the strongest Kazekage in history? The demon, the rogue, he who murdered for the sheer joy of taking life. He whose strength and good looks are celebrated around the world! How did you survive, Love?! Tell me!"

"Barely." Ai breathed and, in a single movement, unwrapped her veil so it fell to the floor. The dress she wore had no sleeves, merely straps, giving view of her shoulders, arms and décolletage. Along her skin, dark marks, healing bruises, teeth marks, scratches. She stood, the room fell quiet, all looked on at the girl with glowing skin, the face of an innocent nymph, as she bowed her head and stood so vulnerable and delicate before them. Clearly she had endured worse things than their teasing. Lena gulped upon seeing the soft burning pink of Ai's flesh.

"That Gaara," Ai looked up as Lena's voice changed. She looked half impressed, half curious. "I'd let him take a bite out of me." The girl said almost to herself, earning a limp smile from Ai. Lena looked up at the girl from the Tea House and suddenly her arrogant smirk was displaced by a solemn and serious look. "Are you really the one they talk about?" She asked quietly. "The inori (prayer)? The poem come to life? The victim of the cursed blood-love?."

"I-"

"Enough!" Ai was stopped short as a loud voice echoed from behind her in the hall, she turned to see, in the golden light an older woman in the most shocking shade of pink Ai had ever seen. Her eyes wanted to blink in order to get the colour out of her sight for it was so bright.

"No need to look so frightened," Ai turned back to Lena as she spoke. Our dancer raised an eyebrow, why was Lena acting so differently all of a sudden? Like a surly child being told off? "Oh great Utsukushii (pretty one)! We are humbled by your visit." Lena bowed in an overly-dramatic fashion to a completely baffled Ai.

"I said enough," the older woman, who was fast approaching the pair, shouted at Lena who smiled mischievously at her. "Don't you have some poor village boy to emasculate, Lena?" The woman asked scathingly as she approached Ai. "And give me my shawl, for goodness sake!" Ai's gaze was fixed on the woman beside her, who was rattling some curse words off at Lena with great enthusiasm and snatching back her shawl in haste. But Ai was no longer listening to the words coming out of her mouth; her hair, her eyes, her lips, the way her single lock of grey hair flopped forwards over her eyes! The woman turned to her, glittering in gold and pink, she looked at Ai expectantly but the girl was having trouble getting any words out.

"M-m-"

"Maria." The woman nodded along as though encouraging Ai to speak. "But you may call me Ruby; it is how my customers know me." Ai gasped as the woman, who was a foot taller than her and a little round, winked at her. But Ai was still speechless. The woman smiled knowingly. "Do I remind you of someone?"

"I…"

"Megumi does not mention her twin sister at all, I'm sure." The woman rolled her eyes and picked up Ai's shawl before wrapping the girl in it. "She keeps company with such lofty heights of society that I think her head is in the clouds!" Megumi's twin sister threw her head back and laughed, her booming cackle echoing in the hall. "I am the fun one, my dear." Ruby said sweetly. "Now, let me look at you." The woman took Ai by the shoulders and guided her into the light. Once by a tall candelabra, Ai attempted to smooth down her hair and brush it away from her face. Ruby's smile faded; this girl, she mused as she looked at those big blue eyes and rosebud lips, was so, incredibly young. Had she even felt the harshness of the heat of the sun against her fair skin? A small smile of nostalgia played on Ruby's lips as she thought of her sister and how Megumi would speak so fondly of Ai. "You are beautiful, just as she said." Ruby began to walk around Ai and look her up and down as though inspecting her. "Small waist…full lips…hair like dark clouds of the night." She came, full circle to face Ai again and put a hand gently against the girl's face. "You look like the mould the Creator made the first woman from." Her hand dropped from Ai's face and she wrinkled her nose in thought, inspecting the girl closely. "Of course, that means you were made before he invention of eyebrow threading, or hair dye." Another booming laugh which made Ai jump. She looked over to Lena who was stood in the background, smiling a little. "Not to worry, we'll see to it you're taken care of." The owner of the House seemed to notice Ai's face fall a little at her last comment. "Oh, please don't take my criticism so harshly, pretty one! You must know our business runs on our looks?" Ai nodded slowly, her fatigue getting the better of her. Ruby smiled at her fondly. "You are tired and it seems you have come wrapped up in rainclouds; are you the one who brought the storm?"

"Storm?"

"Oh yes, you were raised in Suna." Ruby's smile widened. "Would you like to see the rain?"

"Rain?" As Ai spoke dreamily, Ruby raised an eyebrow.

"For the one they talk so highly of, you sure are a little slow, my dear." Ai simply looked at Ruby with unfocussed eyes. "You are tired. Then I look forward to meeting you in the morning when we can become properly acquainted with the skylark of the Tea House. Sleep a little, won't you?" She asked sweetly. "Yes?" Ai nodded and Ruby gestured for her to follow two girls out of the hall. The girls came to stand on either side of her and Ai prepared to walk out of the room.

"Ai?" She halted as Ruby called her name. "One moment." Ai turned back to her. "May I see it?"

"See…?" The girl asked slowly.

"Kizuato." Ruby smiled softly, "the mark of the blood-love." Ai, who wore her hair with a side parting in an attempt to hide the scar in the middle of her forehead, pushed up her dark locks away from her face to reveal the diagonal cut Gaara had scarred her with months ago. "My goodness." Ruby gasped and breathed heavy as though witnessing some king of divine miracle. Ai let down her hair. "So it is real." Walking up to Ai, the elder courtesan put a hand on Ai's shoulder. "Do not for a moment let sadness dampen your day. Heartache is what ties us courtesans together." The young girl's eyes danced around Ruby's face as though waiting for the older woman to start laughing at her. When Ai saw that Ruby was sincere, her bottom lip trembled and she fell into the woman's embrace. Ruby put her lips against Ai's head and kissed her. "I am sorry. We are your family now. You are home and safe here." Ai cried a little against Ruby's bosom before standing straight and wiping her eyes. After a quick thank you, Ai was escorted out of the room. Ruby and Lena watched her go.

"None of you are to trouble her." Ruby announced to the room at large. "If I hear a word of it, I will kick you out faster than the wives who follow their husbands here."

"Why does she get special treatment?" As Lena asked this, Ruby rolled her eyes.

"Only you, Lena, could mistake kindness for favouritism. She knows nothing of the world. Look at her!" Ruby gestured to the doorway through which Ai had disappeared. "Have you ever seen someone so naive? We are her family now. Treat her as delicately as a new born child. She is your younger sister."

"She was banished from the court of the Kazekage." Lena scoffed.

"Be that as it may, she reminds me of her father." Ruby smiled sweetly.

"She has the luxury of knowing a parent too?"

"Rumour is she was not born of this world," her sensei spoke dreamily, "Ariwara no Kai chanced upon her-"

"Where?"

"Where a star fell into the sea."

"Do all courtesans speak with such tiresome metaphor?" Lena shook her head with impatient.

"They speak the language of gods. You would do well to appreciate her eloquence." Ruby shouted back to Lena as she began to walk out of the hall, but Lena, who stood with her arms folded, tutted quietly.

"I have no time for cry babies."


Kudos and comments appreciated!

Hey, so for those of you wishing to really bring this whole courtesan hierarchy thing to life, I would advise these videos for each of the types of courtesans mentioned:

Great Houses: Umrao Jaan (any song), Pakeezah (any song). Just youtube these names and songs will come up, you can have a look through. In fact the song 'Thade Rahiyo' from Pakeezah is the first song I learnt to dance too.

Hachinosu: the song 'Main vari vari' from the movie 'Mangal Pandey' or 'Ram Chahe Leela' from the movie "Ram Leela'. Do you see the slight difference? Brighter colours, faster music, little more…in your face ;)

Chawans: 'Mera Dil Muft ka' from the movie 'Agent Vinood' (you may disagree with me on this but I find this song tacky as hell…definitely for a Chawan.) or 'Lovely' from 'Happy New Year' which is basically pole dancing. See the difference? Much louder, faster music and more revealing clothes.

Now you guys can google the term lehenga and pay attention tot he cropped blouses.

Also, look at the level I go to to make this story as original as possible. I know you all appreciate :) All the vids will be up on the tumblr.

 

Chapter Text

Lessons from Lady Karura

The month of August passed with muted colours and deathly heat. The Kazekage remained unseen most of the time; he very rarely left the palace and the village felt the pain of his loss. Sunagakure was living as though in mourning; the festive and jubilant atmosphere that Ai and Gaara's relationship had created was no replaced with a sombre and even bitter ambience. Villagers would pass by the palace, hoping to sneak a glimpse of the Kazekage as he walked from a meeting to his office but there was no sign of him; the palace seemed empty.

Only Gaara's siblings knew of what was happening behind closed doors; Gaara remained in silence most days, only speaking to them if he needed work done urgently. The Kazekage sometimes missed meetings or cancelled his lessons with elders and other shinobi at short notice. Gaara had drawn back into himself; barely uttering a word to anyone, not greeting his students with the usual nod of his head. Twice that month, Temari or Kankuro would find Gaara slumped over his office desk, breathing heavy, an empty bottle of sake rolling under his desk. Temari could barely stand it; her little brother had had to endure so much and now he had to intoxicate himself when the pain of being alone became too much. He had hated the taste, the smell, the feeling of intoxication only a month ago. Now, however, it seemed he was living to plan the nights where he could get away with it. It was, in Temari's opinion, the sick and twisted fate of a childhood of neglect. Not only that, Kankuro mused, it was this bizzare, almost magical, fantastical experience Gaara was having that caused him to drink. He mumbled to them in his unconscious state about hearing Ai's voice, about hearing Shukaku. Kankuro had ever suggested Gaara come with him, back to the Tea House, to remember that there are other women out there in the world. But it was no use. The siblings were at their wits end; who could they call upon to talk sense into their little brother?

It was Temari who thought of her. Hana-sama, Gaara's tutor in everything outside of the shinobi world, was a kind and pragmatic woman. With an aged face, thin and translucent like paper, Hana came with wisdom and grace to rival any scholar. Surely she, who had watched Gaara grow up, who had taught him since childhood, would know a few wise words to say to this lost soul?

Now, she ascended the steps to his office, taking slow, careful steps, wincing at the pain in her hips with every movement. She wore a simple, blossom pink kimono and had her hair tied in her usual tight bun that sat proudly on top of her head. As she approached the door to the Kazekage's office, she panted a little, reflecting on the fact that it was clear she was not long for this world. Without knocking, she entered Gaara's office.

"What is this selfish nature of yours, Kazekage, that you refuse to see me three weeks in a row?" As she spoke, Gaara jumped slightly, away from his book shelf from which he had taken a brown aged book from. He bowed to her as she entered, his long red cloak licking the floor as he did so.

"My deepest apologies, Hana-sama," he sounded sincere and stood again, "I have been busy with work-"

"Nonsense." As she spoke, she noticed Gaara stop as though she was going to carry on, as though she was going to make the conversation a little more light-hearted. But the woman did not; she simply called his excuse nonsense and stood waiting for him to say more. The Kazekage was a little disturbed by this sudden interruption and recovered from it before walking over to his desk and saying casually:

"I-I have a backlog of missions to review-"

"Nonsense." Again, Gaara stopped at his desk chair. That single word that saw right through him. He had been ignoring her and everyone else in his council, but Gaara thought he was doing it very stealthily. It seemed Hana-sama was not buying into his ruse.

"They are," Gaara spoke slowly, lowering himself into his chair, trying to figure out if she had figured him out, "pressing matters."

"Non-"

"Do you have nothing else to say?" The Kazekage spoke abruptly, almost shocked when Hana-sama helped herself to a seat opposite him, practically inviting herself into his life. The boy and woman stared at one another. She took in the sight of his skin which was looking grey and tired, his eyes, usually clear ocean pools, were now stained with red. It was clear Gaara was not as well as he claimed he was. A delicate breeze entered the office and twirled around them as they continued their standoff.

"It has been almost a month since her departure, Gaara-kun." The boy's gaze finally broke away from his teacher's; he could not bear to think about Ai. "Will you not return to your usual routine now?" Gaara swallowed hard.

"I'm afraid I can't." The first truthful thing he had said all month. Gaara knew he could not fool someone who had experienced as much of life as Hana-sama had; she knew every face a person could make, every emotion they could feel. There was no use keeping up a guard. Hana folded her arms and raised an eyebrow.

"Oh?"

"I do not know what my usual routine is anymore; I feel as though my life has been torn apart." Gaara looked to the floor and spoke softly. "I am in pieces; I do not know how to put myself back together. I fumble from task to task, hoping for some guidance but there is none." He looked to her as though pleading, "there is none because I am supposed to be in control of everything. am the guider not the guided and yet I sit here hoping someone else will take the reigns." Gaara stopped speaking quickly; he could hear his voice about to break. He was finding it difficult to cope with the title he had been given. Without Ai, his strength was slowly withering away. He found that he could not face the world anymore.

"The role of Kazekage was never given to anyone who was weak of heart or spirit; you are strong, Gaara-kun, you will see this to the end." Hana spoke clearly and with good advice. But the Kazekage looked up at her with the same tired eyes.

"To what end?" Upon hearing this, Hana smiled to herself.

"You are just like Karura." Upon hearing this name, Gaara's eyes suddenly filled with light. He looked at Hana as though just realising she was there.

"My mother?" He asked urgently. "You knew my mother?"

"Dear boy, she was my pupil before your father was." Gaara was utterly dumbfounded as she said this.

"Wh-what? You never mentioned this before!" His whole life he had glimpsed Hana around the palace and she had taken on the position of his tutor only a year ago and acted as though she knew very little about him. To hear that she knew his mother was baffling.

"When your father was alive he told me it was best not to mention anything to you." Hana shrugged, "now that he has passed on, I feel the time has come to guide you a little." The Kazekage's mind was racing with questions. His relationship with his parents was worse than nonexistent; it was fuelled by hate and distrust. But his mother, who Gaara had never known, forever remained a mystery to him. He had been told as a child that she resented his birth, but deep down, he would have given anything to meet her. A part of him could not believe it, even though it is what fuelled his blood-soaked childhood and early adolescence, a part of him was always hoping someone would come and tell him otherwise. Was this that moment? Did his mother have words meant for him, sent through Hana-sama? Gaara leant forwards, his work forgotten, his sorrow held in uncertainty.

"What did you mean," he asked, "my mother was your pupil before father was?" Hana sat back in her chair, ready to recite the story she had kept secret for twenty years.

"I was a private tutor," she began, her aged voice the perfect fit to tell a story, "living on the outskirts of the village when I received word a young girl from a noble family was in need of tutelage." She looked at Gaara pointedly, "you know of your mother's clan?" The boy shook his head; he knew very little of his ancestry, it had been hidden from him."A great family, full of scholars, wonderful musicians! Your noble heritage comes from your mother's side; they are one of the founding families of this village." Hana informed him; many thought Gaara was raised in a wealthy home because his father was the Kazekage but this was untrue. It was his mother's status and family's prestige that saw to that. He had no idea! "Upon turning thirteen, Karura's parents wanted her to become familiar with politics, philosophy, law, so that she could one day attend the court of the Kazekage as an advisor."

"That's how she met my father? She was his advisor?" Hana smiled as Gaara asked eagerly, wanting to get to the important part of the story faster.

"Not quite." Her smile played like a crack across her face, crooked and full of character. "I met your mother two weeks after her thirteenth birthday. She was bright, particularly astute when it came to politics and incredibly," she searched for a word to do Karura justice, "gentle. The most gentle human being I have ever met. Even more than that moonbeam of yours," she nodded to Gaara, noticing some of the light fade from his eyes as she reminded him of Ai. "That dancing girl had a temper to match yours, I hear." Gaara nodded a little, trying not to think about it; Hana-sama was lucky she caught Gaara on a good day. This time of the night, on the days when the heartache was unbearable, she would have found him unable to have a conversation. "No," Hana caught his attention once more, "Karura was delicate, not like Ai. And when she turned nineteen her parents wished her to be married. So a meeting was set up between Karura's family to meet another family who had a son a few years older than her. They were a shinobi family, famous for their bloodline technique; the ability to control sand. They were supposedly raising the next Kazekage, a fine young shinobi called Raza." Gaara frowned, not in a way that indicated annoyance, but surprise.

"My parents had an arranged marriage?" Karura shook her head, beginning to laugh.

"Oh, how Karura hated him the moment she heard his name!" She exclaimed, a large smile on her face. "How she hated the idea of marriage! Of settling down, becoming a wife. It did not sit well with her. Suddenly this gentle girl became a hurricane; she cursed her parents and ran away."

"Ran away?!"

"Yes! Took her bags, stole her favourite horse from her father's work place and rode all the way to Neba!" Hana was almost in a fit of laughter, her laugh was infectious, even Gaara's mood was beginning to lift a little to hear someone laughing at his mother's actions.

"Neba the hill station?" He thought, a map of his village coming into his head, placing Neba near the edge of the country.

"She entered the station, prepared to board the next available train, only to find the place empty. Neba is near the Village of Rain, they often suffer from electrical malfunctions and so the entire station was abandoned for that week as they attempted to repair the electrics." She explained as Gaara raised an eyebrow. "Such was her foul mood that Karura sat in the train station, alone, watching the sun set. By night fall it was pitch black. But your mother was courageous; unfazed by the darkness outside of her village, Karura stayed in the dark." Gaara tried to picture his mother's face but he had not been able to look at a picture of her since he was a child so the memory of the image was faded and tattered at the edges. "She found a box of matches but try as she might, she could not light one for they were soaked through in the rain. An hour after sunset she heard footsteps approaching and seized up in fear; this girl had been raised in the confines of a nobleman's house, she had never been allowed outside of the village without an escort." Gaara smiled a little; his life was the same. "It was a man. She said he had a gruff and tired voice and when he sensed her presence, the two began talking. In the darkness, Karura became enchanted with the stranger; an older man, she told me. He could tell she was running from something and gave her a lesson in Philosophy that I was yet to teach her." Hana took a moment to adjust the folds of her kimono on her lap, making Gaara inch forwards at his desk, willing to hear the next part of the story.

"What was it?" He prompted his teacher. Hana sighed and her face held deep concentration, trying to figure out how to explain it to the boy.

"Man can never know if it is that our destiny rushes towards us, or that we go in search of it." She said clearly. "The foolhardy will try and reason one way or another and the brave will not waste time searching for an answer. But the only truth we can be sure of is that the moments we spend on this Earth stay with us because they are what shape us, guide us, remain in our very soul." Again, that small smile of reminisce came upon Hana's face. "He told Karura that it may have been in their destinies to meet and it may not have been, but there was one thing he was sure of: he would remember her and their meeting in the dark train station that night, forever. So Karura asked herself: if I cannot be sure that I am running away from my destiny, her destiny being to marry Raza, then am I doing the right thing? Of course, the only thing we can be sure of, like the stranger said, is that the moments we live through are unchanging." Gaara nodded slowly; the uncertainty of the future and how important that uncertainty is was something he often thought about.

"So, what did mother do?" Hana let out an airy laugh.

"She was so infatuated with the stranger that she slept at the train station in the hopes she could glimpse his face in the morning. When sunlight woke her, however, he was gone." Putting a finger to her lips. Hana remembered her student's gentle face as she had recited the story. "Karura went over and over in her head, the words of the stranger; she had resigned herself to the idea that her destiny was to marry Raza and so to change that she needed to run away. But now she knew that she could never be sure of that, and she would rather live through the moment than question its importance. She returned home, willing to meet him." Gaara thought for a moment and looked up at Hana-sama from the corner of his eyes and asked:

"Was the man at the train station my father?" A sly smile spread over Hana's face.

"Naturally." She admitted; it was too good a story for it not to have been Raza. "Karura never knew this, but your father was terrified to marry and had run to Neba in the hopes to catch a train as well! He met a stranger there in the dark and became besotted with that gentle voice. When the sun rose he glimpsed her face and realised that it was Karura, the daughter of the nobleman he was to meet later that day. So he returned home, eager to meet her."

"And?"

"They married a year later." As she spoke, Gaara shook his head; all this talk of love and destiny, it was just confusing to him. It made him feel even more lost in a word he was trying desperately to understand.

"Why are you telling me this?" He asked.

"Because your father gave Karura the idea that there is no such thing as destiny, and so she agreed to meet him. But when your father saw that the girl he met in the dark that night was actually the girl he was running away from, he changed his mind and believed it was their destiny to meet. It was this thought that pushed him to meet her family that day. Isn't that funny?"

"It is amusing, I suppose." Gaara agreed.

"But they are both perfectly acceptable wouldn't you say? In one circumstance accept that this coincidence is fate and in another, accept it as a coincidence; both reasonings lead them to the same happy conclusion." Gaara nodded as she spoke. "Was it your destiny to meet Ai, Gaara-kun?" Hana-Same had developed a habit of surprising Gaara whenever she spoke. He looked at her with a hard, determined stare.

"Yes." He said confidently.

"Was it your destiny to be with her forever?"

"I," thinking about it, really thinking about their relationship, Gaara found that he did not have an answer. "I cannot say for sure."

"What can you be sure of?" Just like Karura had asked herself this question, Gaara was asked. And just like his mother, he answered:

"That the moments spent with her were more important than any speculated kismet."

"Precisely. So, why remain in anguish over an unfulfilled destiny?" His teacher pressed him.

"What do you mean?"

"Why let your life be taken over by the sadness of a dream that you will never know the reality of?" She asked with a sincere look of sympathy. "It is time to move on, Kazekage. This is what your mother and your father realised in that train station that night: one believed in destiny and the other did not. Yet they both moved towards the same end. They both decided not to live pining after possible futures." Gaara looked down to his desk, thinking about what had become of his life. He was only ever pining after an impossible future, it seemed. He was worrying his siblings, losing standing in his village. He needed guidance, he needed to get out of this; just like his mother, he needed someone to show him that all was not lost. He looked up, straight into Hana's wise eyes.

"What do I do?" The Kazekage asked.

"Meet with the women your elders have chosen for you." Her words were met with silence. Gaara had heard this before. Then he had not liked the idea, no however, it seemed an option.

"Kankuro called this a rebound." Gaara had barely finished the sentence when Hana-sama started laughing.

"Good heavens, if we were all following Kankuro's advice the palace would fall into chaos!" Her laughter subsided. "It is time to consider marriage." She said seriously and was pleasantly surprised to find that gaara did not flinch, he did not look scared or bored, he looked serious.

"Marriage?" He was not asking a question, he was thinking about the idea of marriage itself.

"Solidify your status as Kazekage," Hana encouraged him, "bring noble blood back into the palace, carry on your mother's lineage." This last statement seemed to wake Gaara up.

"Carry on…" he thought for a moment about what Hana meant, "have a child?"

"Yes." Gaara seemed to lose all sense of anything; he blinked a few times at her before opening his mouth.

"I-I," but not sentence could come to mind to voice the Kazekage's fears."

"That will all come in due time." His teacher shooed away any overwhelming thoughts with a wave of her hand. "For now, meet the women that we have selected. Make friends." She implored him.

"Friends?" That did not seem like a lot to ask of him.

"Just that." She assured him, a few bracelets on her wrists jingling as she gestured, "begin friendships, nothing more. And if it happens that you and she are agreeable," she smiled a little, "we may look towards a future for the two of you." The Kazekage sat and thought for a good few minutes. Perhaps it would be best to meet new people, to move on, to explore the world. He could not keep asking himself the same questions: where are you, Ai? Why aren't you here beside me? Why are you so far away? He swallowed hard.

"What does Temari think?" He asked.

"Temari agrees it is best you move on." There was no hesitation in Hana's voice. Temari had asked her to come and speak to Gaara to propose this exact idea. The Kazekage looked around the room with unease.

"What did you advise my mother before she met my father?" He asked.

"I told her that if she came to meet her future, she should do so with open arms and courage. She was not one to live with regrets." Gaara nodded at her.

"Very well." He said finally.

"We may arrange the first meeting?" He looked at Hana as she asked this, her voice sincere, her eyes full of encouragement. The Kazekage nodded.

"Yes."


Can I get a nice comment? Or some kudos? :)

 

Chapter Text

How funny that the world should know how she felt; water fell from the skies as though heaven were weeping. She woke to the sound of it. Not the pitter patter she had been warned of in stories from her childhood, but the harsh drumbeat of heavy rain against glass. It was almost deafening; the rumble of wind that wrapped the House up in a damp chill coupled with the sloshing and thundering of raindrops. The world woke Ai to a sky that was declaring war. Her eyes opened slowly and she turned on her back, amidst a mess of blankets, to face the ceiling. Slowly, the canopy of her bed, black net with small black flowers, came into view as her eyes focussed. Ai breathed in deeply and stole a glance about herself; the black net of the curtains that fell around her bed gave the room an even greyer, duller look than she was used to. In Suna, her room had been full of gold, splendid light and teasing breezes; here, the stone was grey and cold, sealing her up in solitude. She sat slowly, stretching in an unladylike manner, stifling a yawn.

The month of August was nearing an end and she was coming up to her fourth week living in Koto. This was the affectionate nickname given by the working girls to their House. It is the second kanji in the House's full name (Suikinkutsu) and is the name of the traditional harp instrument used to accompany their dances. (A/N: this is completely true: Geisha in Japan used this instrument and it is indeed the middle Kanji of Suikinkutsu…I am just interrupting the narrative to boast about how amazing I am for making this work). She was still getting used to the way the place was run; no prayers in the morning, no lessons, just money to be counted and dance practices to be done. Ai had shut herself away in her room for these past few weeks, claiming she had unfinished business to report on with the Tea House. In truth, she sat on her bed all day reading poetry, trying desperately not to think of the boy she left behind.

Ai was constantly confined by her sorrow; some nights she would thrash in restless sleep, plagued by nightmares of being without him. Other nights she ached from the want of him. To feel Gaara's broad physique tense above her, to see his loving eyes soften in the candlelight as he loved her…she was beginning to forget his touch, his voice, his face. Perhaps it was for the better; the sooner she was rid of the thought of him, the less it would hurt. She came to this conclusion every night, but every morning the same hurt would nestle itself in her bones.

Today, she was sat in the dress she wore yesterday. Too miserable to dress herself, too angry to look her reflection in the eye; she went with uncombed hair to bed and had even kept her jewellery on. Sat now in a slightly cropped black shirt, giving a view of her belly button, and a long black skirt, her antique silver jewellery tingled in tune with the sound of the rain. Her attention was captivated by the sound; in Koto it rained almost every day but she had never heard it like this. It seemed to sound like her heart felt; heavy and unrelenting.

Parting the curtains of her bed, Ai slipped out of the tangle of bedsheets, and proceeded to walk to her balcony doors. Glimpsing herself in the mirror, Ai saw her messy bun, untidy and limp, and proceeded to let her hair down. Her dark hair fell to her hips and she frowned; a lot of the girls had made fun of her for keeping such long hair. They had asked why she sat so straight, why she buried her head in books and struck notes on the harp like a lowly musician. They had called her outdated and old fashioned; was it true? Picking up a black veil to match her clothes, Ai simply draped it on her shoulder and frowned; they had called her a bookworm, a librarian's daughter, a mute scholar, for all she did all day was read and speak a word to no one. She sighed and, as she blew a straying strand of her away from her eyes, began to walk towards the balcony. What use was there trying to fit in here? It's not like she was going to work with them any time soon.

As Ai approached the balcony doors; black iron and misted glass, she stood, stock still as though frightened; the colour outside the glass was a dark grey, but it was the early morning! Pushing open the doors Ai gasped; the sky was almost black with thick, angry looking clouds. Rain tumbled from the sky in an unholy rhythm and thumped against the dark stone of her balcony as though calling her out to meet the sky. The dancer took a deep breath of the fresh, damp air and it seemed to fill her up. It seemed the world knew exactly how she felt.

The girl stepped out fearlessly into the rain, she took a few steps to the middle of her balcony and stopped. As though the rain could wash her sadness away, she closed her eyes, held out her arms and tilted her head to the sky. The cold water felt so soothing to her heated brow and the sound offered her a moment of clarity. She found herself constantly wrestling with thoughts and emotions over and over and over again but now, amidst the rain, she felt like she could think clearly. But all that came to her was the image of him. Beneath closed eyes, tears leaked and mingled with the raindrops on her skin. What was this world without him?

Ai's despair was cut short as, when the rain became lighter, she heard a familiar noise. The notes struck from a string instrument floated to her on the breeze but it was not so much the music that caught her attention. She opened her eyes and looked to her right. From her balcony she could see into another room below. There, sat on the windowsill, holding onto what looked like a harp, was a boy. Grey, shimmering hair, teal coloured eyes, he sat, strumming the harp absent-mindedly, singing words that cut straight through Ai.

"I have memorised you…I have memorised you…You have become poetry…You will exist beyond death, as my prayer…"

Her reddened eyes narrowed on him, her mouth opened, wanting to call out to him, to ask him how he knew those words. Words that were spoken to her only a few months ago. Before she had any such chance, however, her bedroom door opened. From the doorway, looking entirely unsurprised by Ai stood out in the rain, was Ruby. The woman tilted her head and sighed at Ai before calling into the room:

"Ai, you have a visitor in an hour. Be dressed and come down quickly." Ruby shut the bedroom door and Ai, stunned from the news that she had a visitor, looked quickly back to the balcony below, but the boy was gone.

Ruby was not there the day Kai brought his daughter to the Tea House. She and her twin sister were not on speaking terms then; Megumi had come into money following the death of her most loyal and noble customer and, instead of sharing her gift with her sister as promised, she had bought the Tea House for herself. After all they had spoken of together, dreamt of together! Her sister had left her nothing but Koto to look after. When Ai turned two, however, Megumi sought out her sister in an attempt to reconcile. At first, Ruby had held her head high with pride and rejected her sister's peace offerings. But when she heard about Ai, a child whose birth could not be explained, she felt as though it were a pilgrimage, a divine order, to meet with this little girl.

At first, Ai had stared between Ruby and Megumi as though she could not understand where the mirror was. Almost able to form complete sentences, she had bossed around children older than her, copying the way Megumi stood and spoke. Thinking about it now, as she heated water for the tea, Ruby put a hand over her mouth as she laughed; Ai had brought such joy into Megumi's life, such light to the Tea House.

"Ah! Lily, watch where you're running!" Ruby shouted after one of her girls as Lily tore through the kitchen, playing a game of chase with the younger girls. "I said stop it!" The owner of the House tried to regain control but there was no use. It was an hour and a half until performances began and the House lit up; this time of day there was an organised chaos, a hubbub, an excitement that no one could control. The whole House was engulfed in a bubble of festivities. That is, of course, the whole House bar one lonesome creature.

Ai had barely spoken a word to anyone. Try as she might, Ruby could not get her to open up, to trust the other girls, to realise she had a place here and was valued. Pouring the boiling water into a dark blue china teapot, Ruby breathed in deeply and let out a long sigh. A month had almost gone by and the girl was practically a mute and, if Ruby were being harsh, useless! Megumi had spoken of this incredibly witty, beautiful, smart young courtesan and, while beauty remained unquestionable, Ai had not demonstrated any other virtues! But what could be done to help someone so heartbroken? Ruby had never seen anything like it; she barely ate, barely spoke, and for a girl of the Tea House, it had surprised Ruby to find that Ai did not care for prayers. What was Ruby to do?

She had thought of him one morning while wandering through a room which was usually left empty; the library at Koto was reserved for those customers who wished to be serenaded but no one in this city wanted anything that lasted more than twenty minutes! Putting this thought aside, Ruby had stumbled across his name on the spines of books and at the bottom of parchment scrolls; who better to advise Ai, who was so in love with poetry and stories, than someone who knew them like he were the first man to write? It seemed a perfect match and so, she had arranged for him to meet with Ai before Ruby would invite him to the main performance that evening. Setting up the tea tray with small clay cups, the tea pot, little cakes and chocolates, Ruby exited the kitchen and was about to pass the stairs in the hallway to enter one of the living rooms, when something caught her eye. She turned to the stairs and her mouth fell open.

At the top of the stairs, dressed in white, antique silver jewellery with tiny diamonds glittering all around her, stood Ai. She could have been mistaken for the moon; her radiance and sweetness was unlike anything Ruby had ever seen! She had adopted the traditional dress worn in this province; a cropped white blouse and long white skirt, although her midriff was hidden as she attached her veil to her hip and bought the other side over her shoulder so the material crossed over her body (A/N: please just check the tumblr if this doesn't make sense!). Half of her long dark hair was pinned with a simple brooch, the rest fell long dark waves past her hips, a few small curls fell around her face. In the darkness of Koto, with its navy blue walls and countless gold-framed mirrors, Ai looked like moonlight itself.

"Ai!" Ruby exclaimed in surprise, moving back so Ai could descend the stairs and stand in front of her. The dancing girl kept her gaze downwards and approached slowly, practically gliding down the staircase. Lily, who had been running around with the other girls, ran through the hallway but brought the chase to a stop when she turned to stare at Ai. Heads turned, doors opened, stares narrowed on her, whispers swept across the House, as the dancer greeted Ruby at the bottom of the stairs. "You look wonderful." Ruby commented, looking Ai up and down, seeing the famous cut of 'Hidden Stone diamonds' the luscious and glittering silk of Konoha; the girl truly looked as Megumi had described.

"Thank you," Ai bowed a little in gratitude. It was funny though, Ruby thought as she took Ai to the living room to meet the guest, how different girls of the Great Houses are. Ai wore such fine jewellery and clothing that there is no way she could carry the tea tray by herself, she would need an entourage. Here, however, they could not afford the luxury of so many servants, so Ruby had to enter the room with Ai in order to put down the tray.

They entered a room made of the colour red; everything, from the books, to the carpet, to the flowers on the table, were of a deep, rich maroon colour. It had the charm of old-fashioned grandeur, to Ai, who followed after Ruby, attempting to keep her gaze down but glance around the room. Out of respect, Ai knew not to make eye contact before the guest greeted her so Ruby guided Ai to the low, long sofa opposite the guest. Her diamond jewellery tinkling, sparkling, she watched out of the corner of her eye as Ruby sat the tea tray on a table between them and left the room. Ai waited for the guest to address her, what she head, however, surprised her.

"If it weren't for the shackles tinkling at your feet I would mistake you for a princess." Ai looked up. In front of her sat a man, much older than her, long spiky white hair, youthful, glowing skin and two distinctive red lines running from each eye down to his jaw. He had a kind and wise face with dark eyes that seemed full of light. Upon hearing his words, Ai smiled. "I amuse you?" The man looked at her with intrigue; this girl, delicate as a flower, smiled up at him softly. She moved forwards to pour tea into a small cup for him.

"Your comment does." She said absent-mindedly as she poured. The smell of rose from the tea lifted up into the room.

"Oh?" The man leant forward and took the cup from her hand as she offered it.

"A princess," Ai scoffed at this thought. "What kind of princess is sold? What other than a whore is paraded in silk dresses and diamond earrings only to hear that she has no buyer?" He could hear the bitterness in her voice and it surprised Ai when he sat back, brought one leg over the other, and smiled at her.

"Do you wish to be bought?" He asked with a wry smile. Ai, however, lowered her gaze.

"My value is less than a chawan girl; I am a traitor to my people, no man would ever lie with me again." The gentleman shrugged at her words as though this idea was not so problematic.

"Do you wish to lie with a man again?" His mischievous grin broadened.

"Only one." Ai replied softly. "The Tempest of Suna." The man nodded at her.

"Sabaku no Gaara." As he spoke, their eyes met and he felt a twitch of pain in his chest as the girl's eyes became alert, awake, as though desperate to hear about him.

"Do you know him?" She asked in earnest.

"Not well." The girl smiled as though reminiscing, her gaze lowered and she breathed in softly.

"Have you ever felt the sting of a bee in the blissful heat of Summer?"

"Yes."

"Then you know him." Upon hearing her, the man seemed even more curious about her. He threw an arm over the back of the sofa to lazily lounge before her. Ai looked up at him with a vague feeling of familiarity.

"Do you know who I am?" He asked after a moment's silence. Ai nodded.

"Jiraiya, the Konoha sannin."

"Very good-"

"Author of The Dynasties of the Land of Fire." She sited his most critically acclaimed satirical work, although her small smile did not go unnoticed by Jiraiya; she clearly knew some of his more popular work too.

"So you know my work?" He asked.

"I hold your first anthology, The Sky and the Moon, close to me heart, as though it contained my very life." Jiraiya smiled; she spoke in that courtesan, sing-song, poetic manner. "You are one of the greatest writers of our time," Ai bowed her head to him, "I am honoured you came to speak with me." Jiraiya lifted his glass to her and drank as though to indicate his thanks for her kind words. After he drained his small cut of rose tea, he addressed her.

"Your father was one of the greatest writers of our time, I am a cheap imitation of his work." He let out a booming laugh which almost shook the chandelier above them. He could see her eyes working him out, trying to decide what to ask. Ai frowned at him; everyone referred to Kai as her father, what was the point in arguing otherwise?

"You knew Kai-sama?" She finally asked.

"Yes. And I know a great deal about you, Ai-sama." She gasped as he said the last word.

"How can you call me that!?" Trying her hardest not to raise her voice at an elder, Ai exclaimed as loudly as she dared. Jiraiya smiled kindly at her.

"Like I said: I know a great deal about you." He placed his cup back on the table between them. "Because I was there the day you were born. If born can be the correct term." He muttered to himself and, after a moments thought, disagreed with his phrasing: "No, it's not. The day you…" he searched for the right term, "came into existence." He stopped, waiting for her to ask the questions. Ai fiddled with a bangle on her wrist and looked up at him with round, naive eyes.

"You knew my mother?"

"You have no mother." Suddenly, Ai's soft and delicate nature left her; she sighed angrily at his words and almost rolled her eyes. This made Jiraiya smile; she was so like what he thought she would be like. It was almost as though he had read a book and was finally meeting a character from it.

"I am growing tired of hearing this story." Ai exclaimed, all manners forgotten. "It is absurd."

"As absurd as hearing the words of the Kazekage as he lay hundreds of miles away on his deathbed?" The elder asked softly. "As absurd as a non-jinchuuriki communicating with beasts across dimensions? As absurd, perhaps, as a courtesan who, having never practiced ninjutsu, can use summoning techniques?" He was bringing up thoughts Ai did not want to have to deal with. She could not be made to think about Suna, let alone Gaara.

"Why is it you came here, Jiraiya-sama?" She asked.

"To tell you of your origin." Again, he smiled as she looked over to him with bored eyes; not this rubbish again!

"How can I believe such nonsense?"

"Suspend your belief in the logical for a few minutes and see how you feel," he suggested, "or at least, grant an old man his wish and humour me a little." Neither of those thoughts seemed very appealing to Ai; he could see in her gaze that she was losing interest. "I was your father's very best friend; he and I went on many adventures together to help our writing. He entrusted me to tell you this story. Are you willing to listen, beautiful one?" Hearing this, Ai seemed to re-think; perhaps Jiraiya, who Kai-sama had often fondly spoken about, could offer her some guidance. And what harm was there in knowing about her origin, even if it was this bizarre and fantastical story? She took a deep breath and looked Jiraiya in the eye.

"Yes."

"It was deep in the jungle that surrounds the Mist Village that we came upon a temple; it was in ruins, but intact enough for us to seek shelter." Jiraiya leant towards the table between them, picked up a sweet and popped it into his mouth. "It was raining and late, neither of us wanted to travel any further even though we had heard a great deal about women of the Mist Village," Ai smiled a little as Jiraiya's eyes misted over with bliss. "So we made a fire in the small temple room and, amidst the flickering light, we both said goodnight and I fell asleep. I was woken to the sound of Kai shouting my name; he had been in the middle of writing a poem, Love, when the most inexplicable thing happened. I ran over to him to see, his wonderful words were no more. The ink had began to run; melt as though rain drops had fallen onto the page until the black liquid pooled at the bottom of the parchment. Kai and I stared in astonishment at the miracle, thinking we had inhaled too much opium in Neba!" With a laugh Jiraiya poured himself more tea. "Gently, as though a spider were weaving its fragile web, the ink began to swirl and dance into the middle of the page until the image of a beautiful woman appeared. It was Renai." Ai stared at him in shock.

"Renai?" She asked, disbelieving of what the man was saying.

"Believe me, child," Jiraiya assured her, "I was as cynical as you are. I was ready to engage in battle with a demon, thinking a creature of evil had lured us into the ruins on purpose. It wasn't until she began to speak, that I could rest easy. It was indeed Renai." But Ai needed more convincing it seemed.

"How can you be sure?" She asked and was met with a shrug of the man's shoulders.

"Instinct." Although not entirely happy with his answer, Ai still listened to his tale. "I had never witnessed a miracle but when her gentle voice accompanied the image of the beautiful woman, I was sure it was her."

"But why would a goddess show herself to you?" Ai frowned. At this question, Jiraiya's care-free and easy-going nature left him for a moment. He contemplated the answer and seemed to put a lot of thought into what he was going to say. Slowly, he began to explain again:

"She believed the words Kai wrote were the most beautiful she had ever heard from a world outside of heaven. She caught onto them as a fragrant breeze lifted Kai's thoughts up to the sky and, having never paid attention to our world before, she suddenly found herself attracted to it. Like the pull of the tide; she was drawn to Earth inexplicably." Ai was caught up in the author's words, he had such a wonderful and enchanting way of reciting his story. "She told us she wished to dwell in this world, live a life here, experience the love of which Kai had written. Renai told us to find her hidden in a single lotus blossom that would unfurl this day in a years time; floating on the river that would flood into this temple on that day. She asked to have her identity protected from mankind so that no one would come to worship or fear or destroy her. If they ever angered her, her power could destroy oceans. But" he added, "she also knew that her curious and mischievous nature would get her into trouble and, if a thing should ever happen, Kai or myself should be there to guide her. And so, here I am, guiding you, beautiful one." Ai's heart was beating a little faster, she felt a little cold and numb at the same time, as though she were not there in the room.

"What are you saying?" She breathed.

"That when we returned to the temple a year later, the child we found nestled amidst the lotus blossoms, floating in the temple, was you. You are Love, incarnate. You are the manifestation of a goddess on earthly planes." His face was completely serious. Ai could barely find words to articulate the thoughts crashing through her head.

"Why would anyone give a goddess the life of a whore?" She asked eventually.

"Because it was the only way to protect you," Jiraiya explained, pushing a lock of white hair away from his eyes. "Imagine if we put Renai into a shinobi academy; the other children would run in fear and she would be isolated. You were not born into royalty, you were born to a poet and he could not protect you. Courtesans are some of the safest, most trusted and well protected women of our world. We knew you would be safe here, under Megumi's gaze." Ai wanted to run from the room; to unheard what she was hearing.

"This is nonsense!" She protested.

"Is it?" Jiraiya silenced her with only two syllables; his voice was serious, loud and commanding. "I have kept in touch with Megumi and Kai all these years and they have informed me of the weird and wonderful things you have done. Things that are unexplainable in most instances, unless you are indeed Renai." But Ai could think of nothing he was referring to.

"What things?" She asked.

"Do you ever remember learning jodai Nohingo (old japanese)? Because you never did learn it." He informed her, "you opened your mouth at fourteen months old and sang like the skylark. You weave no signs before you use a summoning technique, your technique appears written in jodai nohingo, you cannot manipulate your own chakra-"

"How does that-?"

"Because no one ever allowed you to experience it. You are not allowed to use your own chakra; while other girls never asked or worried about it, you were strictly forbade from doing it. Have you ever wondered why you are not allowed to remove your anklets? You sleep with anklets, yes?" Ai nodded quickly.

"Silver strands made from the iron and silver found in the rocks beneath the Hidden Stone Village." She confirmed.

"There is another use for that mix of iron and silver; it is used to create Chakura no Yoroi (A/N: First appeared in second Naruto movie). This is armour, it can also be weapons, that manipulate chakra. Either draining chakra from jutsus performed by attackers or it can enhance the wearer's chakra. Your anklets are designed to do the opposite; they sit on chakra points in your anklets and subdue them, blocking any sensory type shinobi from detecting that they are in the presence of someone powerful. Megumi gave you the anklets Kai left for you, yes? If you put these on, your identity will be revealed, they will not subdue your chakra." Ai raised an eyebrow.

"Why would I ever want to be found to be Renai?"

"Your father's first work was a Philosophical text called 'Utopia'-"

"Utopia?" Ai said the word slowly, trying to recall reading it when she was thirteen.

"It discusses his desire for a world of peace, bliss, one full of love. Who better to achieve this than Renai, goddess of love? If you ever wish to embark on such a journey, put the anklets on. " He encouraged her but Ai found the idea of embarking on a journey all based on a sort of her being a goddess, utterly ridiculous.

"You understand why I find it difficult to believe?"

"Of course," Jiraiya let out a booming laugh again. "I would think you insane for believing it right away!" Ai seemed to sigh with relief; hearing him say that was reassuring.

"But how can it ever be proven?" She asked as the man's laughter faded away.

"In the temple where we first found you, amongst the ruins, inscribed on a crumbling stone wall, is a note from the goddess to you. You may go in search of it, whenever you wish." It was Ai's turn to laugh.

"How am I, a woman with no protection, supposed to step a foot outside the sanctuary of a courtesan House?" But Jiraiya simply shrugged.

"Put on the anklets given by Kai and the protectors will come running." He could see she was on the edge of believing him; right there, about to fall over into finally understanding her origin. Jiraiya's smile faded as that poor girl looked more lost than before. "Do you know why I have chosen to reveal this to you now?" Ai looked up and shook her head at him. "Because young hearts have the tendency to let their relationships define them. This is such an abdominal waste of youth. Your dreams should be what define you; not your ties to the Kazekage." Her gaze travelled slowly back down to the floor.

"But he is my soul. I am living here, soulless. Is he in the palace, living soulless too?" She asked out loud. The man leant forwards and looked at the girl in earnest.

"I'm sure Hana will have talked some sense into him." Ai looked at him and saw the warmth, honour and truth with which he spoke. Was he right? Was Gaara moving on with his life? Even if he was aching for her too? Was he able to keep fighting, to keep walking straight? Perhaps he was. Perhaps he was being strong, resilient to the heart ache. And what was she doing other than sulking? It was practically disrespectful of her to just give up on life, not when Gaara was still being a strong Kazekage. And what if this story of her origin was true? What if she was Renai's incarnation on Earth? The thought was ridiculous! But how could she ever know if she did not step out into the world and find out? But how could she do that with no money? She realised she had said nothing for a while now and glanced up at Jiraiya with a lost look.

"What do I do?" She asked finally. Jiraiya smiled in a fatherly manner.

"Realise how much there is to do, to live for," he advised her. "Become involved in Koto, see what wonders the nightlife here has to offer. Befriend the local politicians, I have heard that is your forte. Tutor some rich man's daughter!" As a second thought Jiraiya added quietly: "or his wife." Ai giggled at what Jiraiya was insinuating, almost shocked that someone so much older than her would suggest such a thing! "Become independent and go in search of the truth. Better yet," he raised his voice with a happiness that Ai found infectious, she began to smile, "lend me some company this evening!" He beamed. Ai's face fell, thinking only one thing.

"C-company?" Jiraiya laughed at the note of fear in her voice.

"I wish to hear Kai's poetry recited in your beautiful voice," he winked at her, earning himself a bashful smile from Ai. "And only the old stuff," Jiraiya waved a hand as though shooing away the more recent of Kai's work, "none of his new, post-modern, minimalist rubbish!" Ai nodded in agreement.

"It is awful." She commented.

"Disgusting." Jiraiya stood, "drink wine with me and tell me how to get in Ruby's good books," he chuckled. "Come! Let us retire to the library. I feel completely walled in here!" He exclaimed dramatically and began to exit the room. "Why Ruby had living rooms built I'll never know…dreary, dull rooms…" AI could hear him muttering as he left for the Library, a small smile spread across her face as, for the first time in weeks, she felt happy.


Well, do you think it's true? Is that actually Ai's story or do we need more proof of this craziness?

Let me know in a comment!

So many of you know dance the same style of dance Ai performs which was performed by courtesans of the Mughal Empire and I wear anklets when I dance. In fact, in some cultures, anklets are synonymous with courtesans/prostitution. I was speaking to my old dance teacher, a very sweet elderly Indian lady, who told me that women wear different types of jewellery because the jewellery presses on chakra points which in some way enhance a woman's health. Women wear anklets because, according to the culture, the anklets sit on chakra points which are connected to her libido. Hence their association with courtesan culture. So I thought it's be interesting to tie that into the story. I think it worked quite well!

Chapter Text

"Don't say anything that could be taken the wrong way. Keep things simple. Be gentle. Do not bring up war or battle or anything that would be considered too vulgar for polite company." Temari sped through her advice as her fingertips brushed the buttons on Gaara's collar until they shone. "Oh, and obviously be polite." She added as an afterthought. The entire morning she had barely paid attention to her two brothers; the girl had been too busy readying the palace for their guests. Now, she was stood with Gaara in their living room, making sure his red cloak had no imperfections, before they walked through to greet the Kamakura family. Temari smoothed down the fabric on Gaara's shoulders and finally looked him in the eye. Her little brother looked entirely lost and stared at her blankly. "Say something." She prompted him, but only one thought came to Gaara's mind:

"This is a lot to remember." He was finding it difficult to speak, as though his nerves were clamping down on his larynx. Kankuro entered the living room, stretching in an entirely nonchalant manner that Gaara envied.

"Temari and I will do most of the talking." Kankuro mumbled through a yawn. He finally caught the uneasy look on Gaara's face as he came to stand beside Temari. "What's the matter?"

"What if," Gaara paused, trying hard to articulate his worries, "what if I scare her?" Temari raised an eyebrow.

"How could you possibly do that?" She asked but Kankuro waved away the idea.

"You're going to be fine, little brother." He reassured Gaara.

"Smile-" Temari encouraged

"Yeah just not in that way you did when you were twelve, that would really freak her out!" Temari elbowed Kankuro in the ribs as he said this.

"Kankuro!"

"Sorry." The puppeteer mumbled, massaging his side. The eldest sibling sighed in exasperation before putting on a smile and taking Gaara's face in her hands.

"It's just the three of us together in this world, Gaara." She said softly. "We've only got each other. You have raised our family back out of the depths of fear. Becoming Kazekage, becoming a great shinobi have given our family a good name again. Now you go on to meet someone you could really have a future with." The girl smiled in earnest at him, "you carry not only your own honour, but ours with you. And we put all of our faith in you that you will see this through to the right end-"

"But Temari-" Gaara began.

"That end may not be with this girl." Temari acknowledged his fear. "Or any girl the elders introduce you to." She smiled at him but Gaara's eyes widened with fear.

"But Temari-"

"The Kamakura family is seated in the drawing room, Temari-sama, you may go through and greet them." Gaara's tutor, Hana, addressed them from the doorway.

"Thank you, Hana-sama." Temari said with a bright smile and turned to the door that lead to the drawing room. A servant moved forwards to open the door.

"But Temari-!"

"What is it?" She hissed at Gaara as the doors opened.

"I've forgotten her name!"

"Oh, gods." Temari whispered, attempting to hide her annoyance as Kankuro snorted with laughter beside her.


As per Jiraiya's advice, Ai firmly decided to become more involved in the life at Koto, although this was proving challenging. Every room she entered, the girls would ignore her or tease her. Of course Ai, who was talented at conversation, could easily outsmart them but chose not to for fear of further isolating herself. So she sat there, accepting their jibes over the dinner table, trying desperately to get along with them. But the girls here were different; no topic of conversation was out of bounds, too vulgar or too distasteful. Ai had the distinct feeling that they openly discussed their activities with their customers just to shock her; to frighten a girl they thought was very timid and inexperienced. But nothing did shock Ai, oddly, she felt much older than them, as though she had lived several lifetimes before they had taken their first breath. It was also because she was treated like an adult during her time at the Tea House; she sat for breakfast with her tutors, very rarely with the other girls and when she did it had always been pleasant. Getting to know the girls here was proving difficult.

It was not helped by the special attention she received from the elders in the House. Ruby and the other elders, dance teachers, cooks, maids, accountants, musicians, often called out for Ai as she passed their rooms, to ask her advice on House matters. Ai did not mind, she fit in for the ten minutes they spoke with her but they threw her back into the wilderness of Koto, earning her jealous stares from other girls. Jiraiya came back to see Ai almost every week since their first meeting; he would bring her fruit from the market or treasures from his travels. In the nights that Jiraiya would stay in Koto, Ai was happiest; the pair grew quite fond of one another, although Ai did often shut the door in annoyance whenever Jiraiya's gaze would start to wander.

"Tell me the story of the King and the Ox again, Jiraiya-sama." She pleaded with him one night but Jiraiya smiled up at her from behind his cup of hot sake and wrinkled his nose.

"You keep asking me to tell you stories when you yourself write so wonderfully, watashi no megami (goddess of mine). Why not put pen to paper and demonstrate your skill?" And so, Jiraiya found himself with a student the likes of which he had never had before. Usually he took on young people who wanted to learn shinobi skills and had never taught anything else. Now, however, he would come and ask Ai to recite whatever work she had written and would offer her guidance. He taught her to master beautiful poetry and effortless foreshadowing in her longer work.

They developed a playful and close bond that Jiraiya was often amused by; Ai was so like the poetry written about her. Renai was known for her beauty and temper, and Ai lived up to that reputation as though trying to prove it. Once, Jiraiya had asked her if she considered writing more adult work and in response she stood with a sweet smile and poured his liquor out the window at the sheer insult of being asked such a thing. Part of Ai simply played the role, like she had done with Gaara; she would feign anger or upset just to have the other person try to make her smile. To Jiraiya it was endearing, there was something very sweet about the way she would spy his movements under her eyelashes to catch a glimpse of his apology. He found, like many others, it was easy to grow enchanted with the young beauty. Ai would stare up at the stars with the same longing he had once felt in his teenage years. She longed for something more than the life she was given, just as Renai would and Jiraiya appreciated that.

One evening, Ai was waiting for Jiraiya and had decided, as on many nights before, to go in search of the silver haired boy who was playing music on the balcony a few weeks ago. The one that had caught her attention out in the rain, the one who sang words she knew too well. She had tried to ask about him but the other dancing girls and the elders of Koto were uninterested or too busy to hear of the mysterious boy from the balcony.

Ai was walking through the bedrooms of Koto with haste; she had forgotten that on Sunday evenings customers were invited into the private quarters before sunset. So Ai was blushing as she found herself in a part of the House she was unfamiliar with; she saw girls slinking their way back to their bedrooms with misty-eyed men wandering behind them. The smell of perfume was thick in the air, the heat of sex warmed up the dark wood of Koto as Love flitted between the rooms, trying desperately not to be seen. Suddenly, she heard the lyrics of that familiar song being shouted in a room further down the corridor. She was glad to have worn a dark blue dress; she blended in with the walls so no man paid attention to her. It was only when Ai's face came clearly into view that they stopped and stared so she was able to make her way to the room with ease.

"YOU HAVE BECOME POETRY!" She frowned as she approached the door from behind which she could hear someone shouting in a drunken manner. It was not that soft singing voice the boy had sung in a few weeks ago; perhaps someone had heard him singing too? Perhaps Ai could find him if she went through the door? Creeping up to the room, the floorboards creaked beneath her feet as Ai pushed the door open.

"Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry!" Ai suddenly shouted into the room as soon as her eyes came across its contents. Lena, her blonde curls askew, blouse on the floor, was stood up against a bookcase; Ai caught a glimpse of her without her blouse on and immediately apologised and went to back out of the room. It wasn't until she saw Lena had no reaction to her intrusion and instead glanced at her quickly and then back to someone else in the room, that Ai stopped what she was doing.

"For the sake of the god's, Ai, get security." Ai took in Lena's face as she hissed at her; a bruise was forming under her eye, her lip was swollen. She looked on in a mix of anger and fear at something that was blocked from Ai's view by the door. Ai, who was not one to leave a friend in danger, swung the door open fully to look over to Lena's bed.

Beside a bed with dark, dusty drapes, swaying on his feet, the front of his shirt ripped with a bottle of something in his hand, stood Lena's customer for the evening. Ai looked him up and down quickly; barely forty, balding with black beady eyes, he was drunk out of his mind and his knuckles were splattered with blood. He had attacked Lena. Ai's blue eyes narrowed on him with hate. She shut the door behind her and walked into the room. At the sound of the door closing, the drunkard finally looked over to her with a lopsided smile of lust.

"Well, well…we…." But words would not come to him as his eyes focussed on the beauty before him. Her cold blue eyes softened into a come-hither stare until they glittered, her skin seemed to shine like the moon, she looked like a delicacy not found on Earth! His mouth opened and closed in astonishment as the girl nodded to him with a small smirk, beckoning him over to her. On uneasy and shaking legs he stumbled over to her as though she were an angel; a look of awe struck his face and he fell onto his knees before her.

Lena, who saw Ai distracting the man, leant down to pick up her blouse and put it on hurriedly. She watched as Ai removed a crystal hair pin from her hair and dragged the needle across her ring finger. "What the hell are you doing, Ai?" She snapped impatiently. "Call security and get him thrown out!" The man barely seemed to notice Lena anymore, the corner of his mouth twitched as Ai smiled down at him. He clasped his hands before her as though kneeling in prayer.

"I have memorised you," he muttered under his breath, looking longingly up at Ai.

"No." Ai said quietly in repose to Lena, "being thrown out of a whore house is no way to treat a woman beater." Lena frowned and watched as Ai raised her bloodied finger to the man's temple. The blonde in the corner gasped as she could swear silver light emitted like a glow from Ai's skin, as though moonlight seeped from her pores. "You deserve a little pain, don't you?" Lena's green eyes widened in surprise as Ai swiped her finger across the man's forehead, "Kuchiyose no Jutsu (summoning jutsu)," she whispered. In an instant, the man's face went from a look of pure bliss before screwing up in pain and sagging in his unconscious state. The light went out from behind the his eyes before his body swayed and fell to the floor with a loud THUD. There was a crack of bone shattering as his nose broke on impact with the hard wooden floor. A dark liquid began to ooze from beneath his face and soak into the wood.

From the puff of smoke that erupted around him in the jutsu, Ai snatched a scroll. She stepped over the man and walked over to Lena who's face was still showing shock. "Here," Ai handed out the scroll to Lena who shook her head in fear, backed up into the bookshelf once more and tried to breathe easy. She had never seen a woman act so cooly around someone who could clearly have hurt them both; AI exuded a power unlike which Lena had ever seen. "It is a disarming tag; you place it on the skin of an attacker to immobilise them, keep it with you." Still Lena did not move and the kind, soft expression on Ai's face faltered. She raised her voice, "you will take it!" She commanded and Lena reached out a shaking hand.

"You," Lena whispered, "you saved my life." Ai smiled and turned back to the body on the floor.

"Not quite," she tilted her head at the attacker, "not much he could have done in that state. Let's clean you up," Ai said turning back to Lena who nodded. As Ai went to grab a cloth from Lena's cupboard, the blonde girl wiped blood from the cut on her lip and spat at the man on the floor. She muttered something under her breath, causing Ai to turn to her sharply.

"What language was that?"

"Tongue of my people," Lena turned to her and winked, "warriors from the land of the Samurai." She exclaimed dramatically.

"It's very beautiful," Ai said as she dampened he cloth with alcohol to clean Lena's cut. The language Lena had spoken reminded her of the dead language, but Lena frowned as she said this.

"I called him the son of a swine fuc-"

"Ai?" The two girls, both caught on different ends of the thread of a thought, looked up to the door as Ruby entered, followed closely by Jiraiya. "What are you doing in the private qua…." But Ruby's face fell as she looked at the body on the floor. "What on Earth?"

"Ai, did you do this?" Jiraiya asked sternly.

"She protected me," Lena interrupted, taking a step in front of Ai ask though to protect her from getting into trouble. Ruby looked at the girls with wide eyes and called for security to take the man to a hospital.

"Ai," Ruby began, unsure of exactly what to say, "I am so grateful that you protected one of our girls but you must not harm customers."

"He will be fine in a few hours!" Ai protested but knew Ruby was right; Ai should not have let her emotions get the better of her and left the job to security. Ruby was about to answer back but Jiraiya but a hand on her shoulder.

"I will discuss this with Ai, Ruby," he said seriously. "Come, Ai," he called to her, "I bought you mangos from the market, perfectly ripe!" He smiled to her as Ai handed the alcohol-doused cloth to Lena and walked to meet Jiraiya.

"You might want to talk to her about that old fashioned hair style," Lena called after them and Jiraiya turned in surprise to her. Ai lowered her gaze and turned to Lena; she had thought some progress would have been made given the last ten minutes. "Convince her to let me have the honour of cutting it for her tonight." Ai looked up in surprise to see Lena smiling at her sincerely. The dark haired beauty smiled back and nodded gratefully before her teacher put his arm around her shoulder and guided her from the room.


The brother and sister of the Kazekage were growing anxious; was Gaara ever going to find a perfect partner? Even they were guilty of not helping the situation; Kankuro once asked if a princess could sing, only to draw attention to the memory of a girl who could. Temari, who constantly asked after the simpler, sweeter girls, would grow angry with Gaara when he seemed bored by them. She would tell him not to look for mischief or beauty but a kind and considerate girl. But for Gaara, who was so used to hearing that he was the one in the wrong, it made him feel even more lost. Temari had to constantly remind herself not to be so impatient with her youngest brother who had loved and lost in the space of almost a year. A boy who, despite his best intentions, could not get Love out of his brain. To make matter worse, on the days where Gaara was fine, other obstacles would present themselves and force any potential relationship out of existence. Only the other day when Gaara had tried to introduce his family to a nice, well-mannered girl from a neighbouring village, the most bizarre and unexplainable thing happened.

Gaara had stood to greet the girl, a timid thing with dark brown curls, and her father. "This is my older sister, Temari and my older brother, Kankuro." He said politely as he gestured to his siblings. The two families were stood either side of a table where tea had been served, in the Kazekage's private drawing room. The girl nodded with a shy smile to Temari and Kankuro as she stepped forward to greet them.

"How do you- AAAH!" Immediately the girl lifted her hands above her head to protect herself as, with a WOOSH, a cloud of sand sped towards her and halted between her and Gaara. Completely blocked from view, Temari's face becoming red with frustration and Kankuro had to hold his snigger as just a smile as Gaara tried to look over the sand to see the girl and her family.

"And this," he began feebly, "is my sand." Kankuro erupted into a fit of laughter.

Hours later, the three were sat in Gaara's office, reminiscing about the difficult meeting. "This is failing miserably." Kankuro commented in a monotone voice but catching a look from Temari he smiled up at his younger brother who sat with his head in his hands. "Not that it is your fault, Gaara!" He assured him but Gaara simply stared at him blankly, not buying into his kind words. Their older sister, who was growing tired of months with not a single girl requesting a second visit, or Gaara showing the faintest bit of interest, huffed in exasperation.

"Next time let's keep the gourd out of the room." She suggested and stood from her chair, "and would it kill you both to smile a little more?" The blonde hissed at her brothers before leaving the office. They could still hear her muttering as she walked down the corridor. Gaara looked up at his brother and frowned.

"I fear it might just kill me, Kankuro." He said and shared a small smile with the puppeteer.

"You and me both, little brother." Kankuro watched as Gaara ran a hand through his hair, making he already messy red locks even messier. He tugged on his hair as though to wake himself up.

"I don't want to meet any more girls!" Gaara shouted finally, "it's too difficult." His brother smiled as he heard the genuine fear and frustration in Gaara's voice. "I realise now that Ai must have been insane to be in love with me!" His older brother grinned broadly.

"This is why I stick to girls at an hourly rate." He said, much to the distaste of the Kazekage who leant back in his chair.

"That's foul." Gaara commented but Kankuro raised an eyebrow at him.

"Says the man who fell in love with one of them." He teased, "I haven't been foolish enough to do such a thing." At this sentence, Gaara frowned.

"But you…" His soft voice trailed away, unsure of how to speak to his brother.

"What?" Kankuro encouraged.

"You go to bed with them don't you?" As Gaara asked the question, the man with a painted face smiled slyly.

"And I say goodbye in the morning." The puppet master shrugged, "sleeping with someone and being in love with them can be mutually exclusive, Gaara. I'm sure you and Ai slept together before you were in love, didn't you?" Kankuro watched with amusement as Gaara shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unable to meet his brother's gaze. It seemed Kankuro was getting closer to the problem at the heart of it all.

"Yes," Gaara said in a quiet voice. "but all these girls are.…" Again, Gaara was unsure of the word to use.

"Are what?" Kankuro urged him.

"They're all so…proper." Finally, Gaara looked his brother in the eye as though somehow, telepathically perhaps, Kankuro would understand him. But it seemed Kankuro was having too much fun, he feigned ignorance and his a smile as he asked:

"Proper?"

"They all smile so politely and pour tea for me and look at me with round eyes!" Gaara finally said, "so innocent, so naive, so…" Kankuro leant forwards.

"So…?" He prompted, earning a blank stare from his brother who huffed as though irritated he would have to say it.

"Uninviting." A smile cracked onto the puppeteer's face as the Kazekage said it.

"Well they're not going to make eyes at you from behind their father's!" Kankuro laughed, "no girl would ever be so bold." But Gaara looked over to his bookshelf quickly, remembering a moment he had spent there with his first love.

"Ai only ever had to look at me to make me lose my senses." He said quietly. "She had this way about her; she could make me feel as though I were the only man in existence." Even Kankuro smiled as Gaara reminisced. "As though I were a goal. As though I were the only thing that could save her." The red headed boy shrugged, finding it a difficult feeling to explain. And she was…" Gaara faltered.

"Was…?"

"Brave." He said confidently. "She could pour thoughts into my head in the middle of a prayer ceremony." Gaara jumped as Kankuro let out a hearty laugh.

"And I am accused of being the deviant out of the two of us?" He watched as even Gaara smiled bashfully. "Ai was a rebel and trained in the art of seduction. Not the type of girl the elders would chose for you." Suddenly, the older sibling was serious. "You have to stop looking for Ai in these girls." But Gaara could not bear to think about her.

"I," he interrupted, trying to change the subject, "I'm just thinking out loud, how am I supposed to feel a connection with any of these girls if I never meet them alone?" Kankuro genuinely seems to consider the idea, he brought his lips to his fingers and thought for a moment before shrugging as though defeated.

"Maybe that's where we're going wrong" he said. "Maybe instead of families meeting, we should set it up so just the two of you can talk?" Gaara's ocean-coloured eyes lit up at this.

"That sounds a lot better. Then there won't be all this pressure to act a certain way or say certain things. I could be myself." He said in earnest.

"Very well then!" Kankuro said happily, standing from his chair. "I will tell Temari there is a new plan of action!"


Ai was in need of money, the Tea House had given her a stipend to become adjusted in Koto and that money was quickly running out. A woman of a particular skills set, she was only accustomed to a few occupations, but after a discussion with Jiraiya and Ruby, she had been assigned the work of a tutor for a young princess. In a town, back out to wards Suna, away from the Village of Rain, was a royal family who lived modestly. With a river running through it, sandy-coloured stone bridges and walkways gave the basic structure of the town which was scattered with small houses and shops. It was a tiny place, in Ai's opinion, nothing like what she would draw if told to sketch a kingdom. With horse-drawn carriages and glass-stained windows, the place looked like something out of a fairy tale. It was sunnier here too, than in Koto; the warm breezes from Suna fluttered through here to meet the rain further North.

With long blonde hair, wispy and straight, and soft grey eyes, the princess looked like a porcelain doll when Ai first met her. But she was a sweet, in the dancer's opinion and a little outspoken, like Ai herself. The princess often sat in clothes she found uncomfortable and too pink or too peach and would sure longingly out of the window to look out at the docks. The princess was, unlike Ai, a tomboy, a lover of the outdoors. She lived to smell the fresh cut grass and blossoming honeysuckle, she hated to be stuck indoors. Ai had told her that her name Taki, suited her because it meant 'waterfall' but the princess had waved away the idea and suggested that she show Ai the beautiful waterfalls in the castle.

The courtesan was introduced as a tutor of poetry, language and etiquette; she could produce a fine princess under her tutelage. So Ai took over the girl's education and created an assortment of more ladylike activities for her to get involved in. Even things Ai did not enjoy; she had to sit with the girl and do needlework. Boring, tiresome, long work! Being the same age, the two girls had to remember to keep their relationship professional; otherwise they could give in to drinking tea and playing cards outside all day. But Ai was particularly strict, she surprised herself by that fact, and kept the girl in order.

It was in the royal house, a small stone castle, that Ai sat now in the study with the young princess. Taki was reading from an old anthology Ai had gifted her and Ai sat opposite her, reading through the princess' writing to make sure it was perfect. Half listening to the girl, half concentrating on the work in front of her, Ai sat as the girl spoke aloud the words in front of her.

"For what else is there but the girl from Konoha?" The princess recited in her sweet voice. Ai nodded gently but kept her eyes on her work. She sat in clothes Jiraiya had bought for her; a deep purple silk with a gold trim, full length sleeves, a long skirt and delicate veil. Her attire had to be completely different as a tutor. No longer did she wear the soft delicate colours of youth, or the tiny diamonds that tinkled around her; she had to wear deep, jewel toned silks and thick bands of gold or silver. When she had first worn the clothes she felt a lot older; these were the kind of threads women of high creeds wore, unlike anything she thought she would ever own.

"It is in the sweet night breezes I hear her voice, in the unfurling of rosebuds I see her face-" Ai looked up with a frown; she knew the poem by heart:

"I see her…?" As she interrupted, the princess looked at her blankly.

"Face." She said again.

"Try again." Ai said with a small smile and reached forward on the desk to grab a spare piece of parchment. She wrote two words on the paper, her delicate kanji symbols unfurling in the ink, before turning the paper around so the princess could read it. "This, is the word for 'face'," she explained putting her pen against the symbol, "and this is the word for-"

"Face!" The princess insisted. "That says face!" Ai smiled.

"It is also the word for honour, your highness."

"How am I supposed to know which one he means?" Taki huffed and folded her arms.

"He means both," Ai said softly, wanting only to encourage the girl. "Once you become accustomed to poetry, you will have a sixth sense for these things. And there is a slight difference in the way the words are written, see?" Ai explained, indicating to the paper once more. But the princess seemed unimpressed.

"How can one see anyone's honour in a rosebud?" The blonde asked.

"In the same way one can hear a voice in the night breeze, perhaps?" At Ai's answer, the princess wrinkled her nose in offence.

"Poetry is ridiculousness!" She muttered with a shake of her head.

"It is the most beautiful manner in which humans can express themselves." Ai replied, "and you need to learn all of this in order to become a young lady." But the princess was already looking out of the window.

"I don't care for it." Taki exclaimed, "come, Ai-sama, let's go shopping!" Ai nodded with a smile before writing something else on the paper between the two women.

"If you can tell me what this means." The blue eyes dancer asked. The princess looked at the symbol before looking up at Ai blankly.

"…Face?" She said feebly, causing Ai to frown.

"Maybe I am a bad teacher…?" Ai asked herself, but this turned out to be the wrong thing to say. The princess, who was already impatient with her lessons, folded her arms in a huff.

"I'm no good at any of this." She moaned but in an exaggerated, dramatic manner that made Ai laugh. Soon, the princess was laughing too.

"Nonsense, you will get there in time." Ai encouraged and the two went back to their routine of Ai reading her work, and the princess reciting. After ten more minutes, the girl fell silent and Ai looked up to see what the matter was. The princess, pushing a blonde lock of hair behind her ear, looked up at Ai, suddenly serious.

"Do you like poetry?" She asked.

"Yes."

"Why?" Ai took a deep breath, wondering how to explain.

"Before pictures or music or books, there was the spoken word," Ai began. "And the only way to express true beauty was through poetry. It is man's first gift from the gods." Knowing this was a good answer, the princess could not retaliate, after thinking for a moment, her eyes lit up.

"Did you hear about the girl the Kazekage fell in love with?" She asked and Ai lowered her gaze quickly.

"No, I," the courtesan faltered. "I have yet to hear." She said bashfully. Many had heard of a village girl falling in love with the Kazekage, word had spread around the five nations. But no one knew the details and Ai's identity was kept secret. She had heard people discussing her and Gaara in the streets before today, but no one had ever spoken directly to her about it. Ai, of course, had to deny ever even hearing about the Kazekage for fear of being linked to the treason she was accused of.

"They say she is beautiful beyond anything this world knows," Taki said, earning a small smile from Ai, "and she was born out of poetry. There are songs written about her and the Kazekage, I hear the choir singing them in the temple when they think no one is listening." Ai had no idea what to say, she simply looked away and fiddled with her gold bangles. Taki noticed this sudden change in demeanour and, as a soft breeze flew in from the river, she leant forwards to talk to Ai. "Do you think she's real or made up?" Ai smiled.

"What do you think?"

"Made up." The princess said matter-of-factly. Try as she might, Ai was a little offended.

"Why is that?"

"Because people are born of people." Taki said, rolling her eyes at any other nonsense. "And the Kazekage is too good looking to be tied down. I refuse to believe it." Ai could feel herself beginning to blush, she looked at the words on the page in front of her, written in the princess' delicate handwriting, her vision began to blur as the image of Gaara came into her head.

"Is he?" Ai asked softly.

"Don't tell me you haven't heard about Sabaku no Gaara!?" Taki's eyes widened but Ai did not want to hear it. She collected the paper in front of her.

"Come, your highness, we still need to-"

"They say he is one of the most handsome warriors of our time." Taki said dreamily, beginning to plait her hair on one side of her head. "Powerful and quiet. One of those silent and strong types, you know? They say he steals hearts with just his eyes." Ai smiled at hearing this.

"How does one steal hearts with eyes?"

"I," the princess thought for a moment before realising her comments earlier about poetry were defeated. "Oh," she muttered with a small smile before looking up at her teacher.

"It seems poetry is not so alien to you after all!" Ai beamed, oddly proud that Taki had spoken in metaphor. The rest of the lesson passed with Ai pleaded with the princess to sit down for an hour long history lesson but the princess was uninterested. As she left the castle, the servants from the kitchens gifted her with a tin of sweets for her home. Ai took them gratefully as she entered her carriage to take the hour long journey back to Koto.


The Kazekage was finding his title more of a burden than usual nowadays. The constant pull and push of meeting families was wearing him down, grinding at his bones until he felt like shutting his doors to the world. Some days were harder than others; he would catch the way a girl spoke, softly at poetically, it would remind him of the girl he lost and the rest of his day would spiral into melancholy. He could barely eat, but drank enough for two, on the nights where he would ache from the want of Love.

Constantly wrestling with the same emotions; anger, hate, fear, despair. It was almost exactly like how he felt when he hit the age of thirteen. Suddenly hormones came rushing in to add to the already confused and chaotic mind he had to play host to. A lot of the time, when he was younger, he felt as though he were never really in his body; a part of his pain numbed him to the point where he had to do something to feel alive. He always had to feed it; the hunger of wanting to feel something. Now, it was harder to give in to that reckless desire so he turned to alcohol. There was just too much pain, everywhere he turned, he could not stand the thought of being without her so he tried to numb himself.

That evening, his brother and sister said that they would not leave him alone, but he left a clone in the office and fled to the beach where he had first kissed her. There, he mourned for her and cursed another meeting with yet another girl who was not her. Kankuro came in search for him and found him, red-eyed and exhausted, on the beach. Hosting Gaara over his shoulder, the puppeteer took him home and knew that this was the last straw. Temari was fearing for the ruling of the village, rumours were spreading that the Kazekage was unfit to serve his people. Kankuro would not see it come to this. He had to do something.


Jiraiya came to see Ai one day, hearing that she had a day off from tutoring the princess. He arrived at Koto on a Tuesday evening, a usually slow and uneventful day, to speak with Ai. When he arrived at the House, however, he found it buzzing with life. Girls were running to and from rooms, the cooks in the kitchen were shouting at one another to cook more food. Ruby was running from room to room desperately trying to hunt down clothes and jewellery that had gone missing. The man assumed it was because this month was a holy month; usually homes are full of life and laughter at these times and Koto certainly seemed to be. It was shimmering with golden candlelight, the fragrance of sandalwood drifted up into the air as he entered.

"Jiraiya-sama!" The man jumped with surprise as a group of girls rounded on him in a corridor of the private quarters. "Ai has learnt to cheat from you!" He smiled down at them all as they held up playing cards to him; he had recently taught Ai how to play a very simple village game and she had clearly taught the girls too. Jiraiya put a hand on his heart, his hair shining behind him as he smiled at the women.

"I would never teach such dishonesty, my dear!" exclaimed but they all pouted at him.

"Don't lie to us!" One shouted

"I swear it!" He protested

"Then no one can beat her-"

"Not even you, sensei." That delicate, seductive voice rang out in the corridor as Ai, dressed in a vivacious red silk, sauntered down the hallway to greet her teacher. She bowed to Jiraiya who took offence to her words.

"Ai," he nodded his head in greeting at her, "let's not say things we will live regret."

"Regrets are not always born out of mistakes, Jiraiya-sama." Ai said sweetly, her tomato red lips curving into a perfect smile, "I regret the day I had to speak to you, for now I am tied to our tedious meetings every week. Although, if it were not for our meeting, I would not know my origin. I do not regret saying I love you to the Kazekage yet that love saw to my banishment. Funny world, ain't it?" She said the last two words with the same common accent of the people in this part of town, making the girls around her, even those running in the corridor, laugh. But Jiraiya was hurt by her words.

"Did you say tedious meetings?" He asked. "What did I do to deserve such a homecoming?" The man asked his student.

"Nothing!" Ai shouted with delight and ran up the stairs as though wanting him to chase her, form the top of the stairs she turned back to him, "I just felt like teasing you!" She giggled and ran off. Her carefree and cheerful attitude seemed to have infected the whole house; the place, which was usually still suddenly felt full of colour and movement.

"Ai! Come here!" Jiraiya called her as she escaped from view. She popped her head over the banister, her gold jewellery tinkling as she leant over to see him.

"What have you brought for me?" She called.

"I brought everyone cake," her teacher shouted back but Ai disappeared from view, "from Neba," he finished feebly, wondering where she had run to.

"Oooooh!" One of the girls eyes up the cake tin in Jiraiya's hand.

"I want cake!" Another giggled before Ruby came into the hall and shooed them all away

"Make tea, girls!" She shouted as she kissed Jiraiya's cheek in greeting. But the man seemed preoccupied, he glanced up the stairs once more.

"Where did she-?"

"And for me?" He jumped as Ai appeared next to him. He smiled at her but tried to put on a stern look as though upset with her. Eventually, her pout and long fluttering eyelashes encouraged him to hand over a book.

"Your father's work." He said as he saw her eye's light up upon seeing it.

"Utopia?" Ai read the cover, her delicate fingertips tracing along the gold foil in which the words were stamped across the cover. "Why would you bring me this?"

"So you may know the literary legacy which you so undeservedly stand on." JIraiya teased her.

"Thank you." She went on her tiptoes and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. "Now come," she was already running down the corridor. "See if you can beat me at shogi!" But Jiraiya was growing impatient with her antics.

"AI!" He bellowed down the corridor. "Why does she keep running off?" He asked Ruby but even the owner of the House was held up in that chaotic, carefree atmosphere.

"I can barely get her to sit still anymore!" Ruby complained. "The younger girls follow her like fireflies follow the lamplight. The older girls are taking lessons from her. My customers catch glimpses of her and they refuse to leave until she meets with them. Oh!" The woman laughed heartily, "when she meets with them she may as well twist their ears for all the rudeness and smart-mouthed words she throws at them! She told the mayor that his shadow took the form of a woman. He was outraged but it turns out she was trying to warn him of one of his wife's spies."But Jiraiya had stopped listening, from where he was stood he could see that someone had entered the kitchen from the outside, someone unknown. The chefs in the kitchen seemed to barely notice the man because of the delicate, quick steps he took. "Why does she have to speak in riddles," Ruby was muttering as Jiraiya turned fully to the kitchen, preparing himself for anything, studying the man's movements. "That moon of ours!" The dark figure was already through the kitchen when one of the girls making tea turned to him with a smile and winked.

"What is it you are after, stranger?" She asked sweetly but the man walked straight passed her. "H-hey!" She called after him indignantly but the figure walked on. Jiraiya ran up to the door to the kitchen and blocked the man's entry in the corridor. Ruby gasped in surprise at the sudden appearance of the nodded figure. Suddenly, the House fell quiet, a chill crept back into the air.

"Speak your name, boy." Jiraiya commanded as girls came out into the corridor, Ruby held her arms up to stop them moving towards Jiraiya and the man. The figure lowered his hood and JIraiya was greeted with the sight of a purple-striped face.

"Who're you calling boy, old man?" The intruder asked scathingly. But before anyone could make another move, a songbird sang out as she ran down the stairs.

"Kankuro?" Jiraiya almost toppled over as Ai pushed passed him. The intruder's eyes widened in surprise before softening in happiness.

"Ai!" He claimed and brought her into embrace.

"What," Ai's voice came muffled from his chest before he released her to look at her face. "what are you doing here?!" She could not believe it; she hadn't seen Kankuro in months.

"Ai?" Jiraiya spoke uncertainly behind her. She turned to the corridor.

"This is the Kazekage's elder brother," she informed them "Kankuro." Everyone in the House gasped; what was the Kazekage's brother doing here? Was it true then? Was Ai really the girl from the story they kept hearing about? Ruby was the first to recover, she took a step forwards and bowed.

"Kankuro? It is a pleasure to have a member of the Kazekage's family with us this evening. A drink?" She gestured to the main part of the house but Kankuro shook his head.

"No, thank you. I am here on urgent business." He informed her before turning to the bur eyes dancer next to him. All smiles disappeared, suddenly his face looked serious, Ai could see he had aged in the last few months. Lines which only came when he frowned now sat on his face permanently. "Ai, I must speak with you alone." He spoke in a grave voice, wiping any sense of cheerfulness from the girl. She nodded to him.

"Of course." She replied. Ai guided him to a drawing room in the private part of the house, there, Kankuro refused to sit, refused to drink, eat or speak in front of anyone else. Ai stood by the window with a heavy heart; this could only mean one thing.

"He's not well, Ai." The girl shut her eyes as though she didn't want to hear it. With her back to Kankuro, she stared out of the window, letting the sinking feeling in her stomach settle itself.

"What has happened?" She asked. Kankuro took a step forwards, his voice showed great urgency.

"He's drinking too much, eating too little, canceling meetings, hiding from palace guests. Nothing anyone says or does can get through to him." Ai turned to him sharply, her gold jewellery glimmering int he candlelight.

"Why have you come here, Kankuro?" She asked.

"To ask you," he answered before shaking his head, that was not true. "To beg you," he corrected himself, "please come and see him." Ai was already shaking her head.

"I can't-"

"Please Ai, for his sake." The puppet master urged her but Ai was feeling weak at the knees, she walked forwards and fell into an armchair.

"I cannot move on from him if I go and see him."

"He cannot move on from you!" Kankuro replied. "He's tortured by his love for you." Ai let out a disbelieving laugh.

"That is all we ever seem to do to one another. Even when we were together it was torturous." A women's silence passed. All that could be heard was the ticking of a clock in the corner and Kankuro's heavy breathing. He had to make her see what this was doing to Gaara.

"I fear for his life."

"You exaggerate." Ai could not bear to hear things like that.

"I wish that were the case." Kankuro muttered grimly. "Temari is losing sleep keeping an eye on him in the nighttime. I have no time to eat because I am constantly keeping watch over the village; Gaara is not strong enough to defend Suna against intruders." Ai swallowed hard, was he really suffering? "I am begging you, speak to him." Ai fixed her veil and looked sceptical.

"What good will that do?" She asked. "Surely parting with him again will only damage the situation beyond repair?" But Kankuro was adamant, he came to kneel in front of her.

"He just wants to see you. And we know you are the only one who can talk sense into him. See him for just an hour and tell him to better himself." He begged her, taking her hands in his.

"You really think Gaara will listen to me?" She asked but Kankuro raised an eyebrow at her.

"Please, Ai. If you ever loved him," Ai looked away as he said this, "if you ever thought of us as family, you would do us this one favour." Ai looked straight into Kankuro's eyes and she could see the pain, the want, the lack of sleep, the ache, all there in his gaze. She took a deep breath before walking to the door of the drawing room.

"In three nights time I shall visit Suna in the cover of darkness. Only then will I speak to him." She glanced over her shoulder at the man who nodded in gratitude.

"I will return for you and escort you back to the village." Kankuro said. As Ai left the room, not wanting to know anymore about how Gaara was suffering, she heard him say: "his life is in your hands, Ai."


That was the longest chapter so far!

Kudos and comments appreciated :)

 

Chapter Text

Nights in the village of Sungakure held onto heat until cold stars twinkled in the sky; it was in these moments before the chill set in, that Love found herself in a horse-drawn carriage, traveling back to her village. The evening was warm and fragrant; temples were burning incense in the distance, lamps were lighting the way to the village like a trail of fireflies, calling Ai home. Beneath the wheels of the cart, the dirt road looked like cracked gold as the horses hooves pounded down on the earth, dragging the cart along the bumpy path. Inside the cart sat Ai and Kankuro, neither saying a word to the other, just waiting, wondering what the night had in store for them.

Only two people at Koto knew of Ai's whereabouts this evening; Jiraiya had planned with Kankuro her route there and back, offered her protection in the form of a blessed ring that she now fiddled with to calm her nerves and Ruby, who had gifted her new clothes and jewellery for good luck. They had both looked at her with sad, round eyes, wondering if she could be the one to save him, fearing she may lose herself on the way.

Ai was dressed in a thick black silk in a bid to remain as invisible as possible in the night. With a trim of real gold thread and small strings of gold around her wrists, ankles and neck, the metal weighed down on her heavier than usual; it was as if her entire being was anxious, nervous to see him again. She bit her deep red lips in apprehension; what could she possibly say to the Kazekage? How unwell was he? Her heart was pounding hard in her chest until she could feel it in her throat; in rhythm to the horses' steps, hard against the ground, her heart wanted to break free. So desperate she was, to lay her eyes on his handsome face, so fearful she was, to see him fallen from grace. She bowed her head gently, her veil sitting heavy on her head, being weighed down by the weight of the gold thread. She sighed before taking a deep breath, as she did a small smile fell across her face; she could smell the jasmine blossoms of the palace gardens, the burnt tea from the kitchens, the gentle burning of the wick in the palace lamps.

"Ai," Kankuro whispered her name and she looked across to catch a glimpse of his worn and worried face, "it's time." She nodded slowly and picked up her skirt as the carriage began to slow down. When it came to a complete stop, Kankuro left the carriage first before holding out a hand to her. With trembling fingers, Ai reached out a hand and grasped the puppet master's with slowly increasing sense of fear. She was back in her village, a place where she was banished from, asked never to return to, all to see a man she was trying so desperately to forget.

Looking around her, Ai found that she was at the steps, inside the palace, that lead up to the Kazekage's quarters. They were the same steps she had ascended on their first night together; the carriage had come all the way into the courtyard where she had danced. Looking around at all the greenery, the white stone of the palace, the inky blue of the sky; the night felt the same as it did then; divine, important, waiting and watching to see what Love could do for the two start-crossed lovers.

Kankuro bid her farewell and good luck as Ai ascended that stone staircase, her skirt falling heaving against the marble, her gaze kept down for fear of her eyes glittering, alerting a guard of her presence. Up the windowing staircase, her heart fluttered like a baby bird about to take flight; unsure of itself, willing to see the world beyond. Along a dark, deserted corridor, Ai found herself in front of the door to the Kazekage's bedroom. She stopped to take rbeath; the last time she had been here, she had said goodbye to Gaara and left her heart with him. Behind this door, what would she find? With a gentle push, the door swung open.

The Kazekage's room was in half-lit darkness, a lantern she recognised sat proudly on the mantlepiece above a fireplace which now was filled with only burning embers. The heat of the room was filled with the scent of sandalwood; a woody and spicy perfume drifted up to the drapes on the balcony which licked the floor as they moved with a desert breeze. In front of the balcony, at his desk, sat Gaara. Her eyes softened, disbelieving almost, that she was seeing him. But he seemed to take no notice of her; at his desk, he rolled an empty bottle on it's side with his fingertips absentmindedly. He sat in his red cloak, hunched over, barely breathing, mesmerised by the movement of the liquid in the glass bottle. On his desk sat beautiful crystal vials and carafes, filled with honey-coloured liquid, glittering in the lamplight. Ai took a step forwards, alerting Gaara to her presence.

"Ah!" Ai gasped softly as his eyes found hers; they were unfocussed, the line of black around them darker than usual. Neither spoke for a moment; they were taking in the sight of each other. How long had it been? Suddenly, Gaara stood on unsteady legs, causing Ai to take an alarmed step towards him as though fearful he would fall. He pointed at her with a trembling hand.

"Are you moonlight or the moon itself?" He asked the girl before him, whose glowing skin and sweet red lips, nestled in a black dress, gave him the impression that the night sky had taken human form. Amidst the flickering candlelight, Ai watched in grief as her first love swayed on his feet. She looked at him with hurt-filled, angry eyes.

"Gaara-"

"Gods!" Gaara stopped her as he raised his voice, the drapes behind him catching onto a breeze and twirling around him. "Don't lecture me again!" He warned her, but Ai, the delicate thing, straight-backed and gentle, raised an eyebrow.

"Again?"

"Why do you wish to torture me, goddess?" As the Kazekage asked this, her eyes widened; what was happening here? "Why do you appear in her form?" With a sigh of misery, Gaara sat back down, watching as Ai approached him, clearly unaware of who she was. A mixture of alcohol and grief had settled itself in his mind, distracting his attention. "Why do you walk on the earth with that same melody to your footsteps and that pout, tempting me to overlook you?" He smiled a little at this thought. "I would never overlook her. My world stops when I see her face," he gestured to her, "I am intoxicated by the sight of you." Ai shook her head, ashamed of what he was saying, heart broken that Kankuro had been right. She nodded to the bottles littering the table in front of him.

"Your desk would disagree." She said, taking a few steps forwards, her skirt dragging on the floor, until she was in front of his desk.

"Oh, this?" The man gestured to the bottles in front of him. "This is merely escape." Ai's fingertips brushed over the cold glass of the bottles, feeling the grooves of the crystal, the weight of the liquid.

"Escape?"

"From the pain of longing for Love." She closed her eyes as he spoke; this was not how it was meant to be. She looked at him in earnest.

"You have love here, Kazekage." But Ai could not console him.

"No." He shook his head violently. "Not like her. Nothing is ever like her." Walking around his desk, Gaara followed her with misty eyes, until she stood next to him. He turned his chair to face her as she knelt before him. Her face looked up at him sincerely, her velvet lips pouting.

"You have a family." She reminded him. "You have a village to run, a palace to maintain, pride, honour."

"All lost."

"Nothing is lost without carelessness."

"What carelessness am I guilty of when it comes to, Love, Renai?" Ai jumped as he spoke and called her a name only Jiraiya had ever called her; how did Gaara know it? What was happening here? "Did I not worship her?" As he spoke again, he captured her attention. "Did I not sacrifice every piece of my being to her?"

"There is carelessness in the love for yourself." A moment's silence as Gaara contemplated her wise words. To Ai's surprise, Gaara reached out a hand and put it against her face; she closed her eyes as the feel of his touch came rushing back with memories of their nights spent together. But Gaara, a malicious smirk on his face, peered down at her as though curious.

"What would a goddess know about Earthly matters?" Ai looked down and shook her head.

"I am not a goddess." She replied slowly.

"Then?" His hand dropped from her face as Ai looked at him with sorrow; did he really not know her? "You bare an uncanny resemblance to someone I once knew." Her heart broke a little.

"Have you so easily forgotten me?" She asked him. "When did you forsake yourself?" That smirk was driving her mad; was he not taking her seriously? Was he that inebriated? She stood with a huff. "You hold the title of Kazekage with all the honour of a coward!" Gaara stood, fuming.

"A coward?!"

"Love gave herself up to the unfairness of your elders in the hopes you would succeed! In the hopes you would stay true to your word and become a respected Kage! Your fate hangs in an uneven balance because of your own actions, because of your selfishness, your self-pity, your shamelessness!" Ai walked away from him as his eyes became round; shocked by her words.

"Goddess-"

"I am not a goddess!" Ai turned, picked up a glass bottle and smashed it against the desk. Gaara jumped as the shards of crystal flew out into the air, as the liquid sprayed the oak of his desk. Picking up a shard as the night breeze thundered into the room, Ai cut her ring finger on her left hand. She held it up to him. "See, I bleed. I am human." Gaara's eyes attempted to focus on the blood that trickled down the finger of her outstretched hand. But memories were flooding his brain; Yashamaru holding his hand out to him, telling him something important, his uncle's last breath on the roof, Ai the night she rescued him from Shuka…the image of that girl filled up his mind; her terrified eyes, soft lips, delicate white robe. The Kazekage's eyes focussed on the face behind the hand. Was it her? How could it be? Those eyes were not terrified, they were strong, full of confidence, beckoning him into her. She stood in dark silk, the kind a lady of a manor would wear; gold bands around her wrists like an aristocrat. But still, her face was so familiar. Pushing aside her hand, Gaara moved close to her.

"I know these eyes." He whispered softly, bringing his face closed to her as though to inspect her. "I know these lips." He put a hand to her forehead and brushed a scar beneath her hairline, watching as her eyes gloss over, filling with tears. "This mark is mine." he muttered and smoothed his fingertips over her scar, underneath her veil, up to her hair, there, he tugged a little. "This hair, is mine," she gasped as he pulled her hair and the Kazekage, his opal eyes narrowing on her lips, had a sudden wave of recollection. "Each breath you take is mine to give." Their eyes met. "Ai?" A tear fell from her eyelashes.

"Have you so easily forgotten me?" Hearing her voice, Gaara's face fell as he realised he had been in her presence this evening and had not taken notice of who she really was. He pulled her into fierce embrace.

"Ai!" They pulled apart as he kissed her forehead, her veil falling from her head.

"Gaara." She smiled gently. He moved down to kiss her but Ai caught that sickly sweet smell of alcohol and turned her face away from him. Gaara, ashamed of himself, released her from his grip.

"Am I that repulsive?" He asked.

"Only your habits." She moved away from him as he went to sit at his desk again. Ai moved to be in front of his desk so they could talk properly. They could not have a relationship like before; they could not be so close for fear of censure if anyone found them. Their relationship had to remain distant and hidden.

"Where have you been, Ai?" He asked as she took a seat in front of his desk as though she were a politician, ready to discuss the goings on of the village.

"In a Hachinosu that neighbours the Village of Rain." She answered. Gaara, who was experiencing more of the world and the people in it of late, knew what this meant. But he took in her clothes, her make up, her gold jewellery and raised an eyebrow.

"You don't dress like a House girl." He commented.

"I stay there." Ai whispered to the floor for the two were trying to make as little eye contact as possible; to look at each other was painful. "I work as a private tutor in a Kingdom not far from here." Gaara smiled; that was a good life for a girl like her. Safe, steady, it would keep her out of anyone's eye.

"A tutor?" He asked, his smile broadening as Ai nodded with a small laugh; both could not quite believe where she had ended up. "Where they call you Madam and serve you tea?" Ai grinned.

"Yes."

"You've moved up in the world." Gaara reached over his desk to take her hand but Ai simply shot his a look; what good would holding hands do now? Gaara noticed her stare and withdrew his hand. "Do you like it?" Ai sighed.

"What's not to like? This life is a different life. Big palaces of which I am an esteemed member, I do not hide, I do not fear, grand lectures, great debates-"

"Lectures and debates?" Gaara stood and walked around his desk. "You don't sound like the village girl who danced for a living." Ai nodded.

"Because I am no longer her." Ai's smile faded as Gaara leant down to her; her heart began to beat a little faster. His eyes were looking at her so intently, studying her, the same look he would give her when he would beg her to be the first to give in. That devilish smirk played on his face again.

"I see the pain in your eyes, beautiful one." He whispered to her, "I see the cracks of your heart along your collarbone." He watched as those deep rose-red lips parted to speak, "I see your want of me. You are exactly the girl who left here." Standing straight, he leant against the desk next to her and smiled as she looked indignant.

"You do not-!"

"See?" He grinned at her teasingly as she raised her voice; "always eager to argue with me." They laughed as they realised they had somehow fallen into the same pattern of bickering they had when they were together months ago. As Ai's smile faded, her face became serious, she put a hand on Gaara's thigh.

"Give up alcohol, Gaara." He looked down at her; those big blue eyes full of sadness. Standing, he pushed away her hand and walked away.

"No." Ai stood too and followed him to the middle of the room. A cold breeze flew in past the drapes and sweet up around them as the lamplights flickered.

"Give it up," Ai encouraged him, "for my sake." He turned to her.

"I will, " he nodded. "On one condition."

"Yes?"

"Elope with me." Ai turned away suddenly.

"What are you saying?" She whispered, not wanting to hear it. Gaara stepped in front of her and held out his hand.

"Take my hand and run away with me!"

"Have you lost your mind-?" But Gaara was relentless, he did not care for the tears rolling down her face.

"Take my hand!" He urged her but Ai put a hand to his face as her lips trembled, shaking her head.

"I only want to see you safe, Gaara! I only want to help!"

"MARRY ME!" She turned away from him and fell to her knees.

"Only you could be this cruel!" With her face in her hands, Ai began to cry. With a shake of his head, wondering how he let his emotions get the better of him, Gaara knelt beside her.

"Cruel?" Ai moved her hands from her face and looked at him. His wonderful face, full of naivety and incomprehension, softened as he looked at her.

"I am a fallen woman." She said, "I am a traitor, a whore, the servant to a teenage girl! I am no longer allowed the luxury of dreams. Why put them in my head?" Her lips trembled as she asked him and watched him bow his head in shame. "I only worship you. I only breathe for the chance I may live to catch a glimpse of your shadow, Gaara. Why do you insist on making my life more unbearable than it already is? Why do you ask for the impossible?" Putting an arm around her, Gaara brought her into embrace and kissed her head.

"I know it is impossible." He said, feeling her figure tremble beneath him. "I know we cannot be together. I'm sorry." Ai pulled away from him and looked up at him in earnest.

"Give up alcohol." She instructed. Gaara sighed as he looked down at her.

"Those eyes, " he whispered, "they can make me do anything.

"Then?

"I will give it up. For your sake." Leaning forwards, Gaara kissed the scar on her forehead.

"For the sake of the village." She reminded him as he pulled away from her. "We all have parts to play, Gaara. You have yours as Kazekage, I have mine." Gaara put his arms around her and, slowly, raised her to her feet, watching as she closed her eyes and breathed in. She was breathing in his scent, her head was filled with it, with the feel of his skin brushing hers, the strength of his grip on her shoulder, the feel of his breath against her cheek. "I must go." She whispered.

"So soon?" He asked. But he could tell from how she refused to open her eyes, refused to look at him, that she was fighting that familiar ache they both had been feeling for months.

"Yes." She opened her eyes and looked to the wall opposite them. There, a full length mirror was hung, she could see his hungry, loving stare in the darkness behind her.

"Stay a while."

"I mustn't."

"I wish to speak with you."

"About what?"

"Since your departure I have found myself lost amidst a thousand questions." He said, pulling her veil from her shoulder, revealing bare skin. The candles flickered around the room, the scent of sandalwood and rose lifting up around them.

"Questions?" She breathed, feeling his heroic figure against the fabric of her dress.

"Does moonlight bend?" Gaara asked, bringing his hand around her and stoking her collarbone slowly. Her head turned to him so his lips were brushing her ear. "Does it break? And what would become of me if I tried to discover its secrets?" He whispered, watching her intently as her breath deepened, her skin began to blush pink. "Would it use me up until I am nothingness? Would it beg for me?" Ai pushed away his hand.

"Gaara, stop this." She said, taking a step away but Gaara was too fast; he turned her around and pulled her in by the shoulders.

"You once said you belong to me," he growled. "Can I not take what is mine?" Ai did not want to look at him; his handsome face, those beautiful features she fell in love with, it would draw her back in to the darkness with him.

"Stop." She breathed.

"Doesn't it make you curious, Ai," he whispered to her, "our love? How is it you are body and I am soul?" She winced, hating herself for the shivers that ran along her spine as Gaara's delicate touch ran from her face to her waist. "How is it with just a glance from you I am suddenly near heaven? My Ai," he smiled softly, "how is it our love will never fade?" Finally, that girl with the moonlike fare looked up at him Gaara was shocked to see anger, lust, love, recklessness, hope, all twinkling in her gaze.

"Don't do this." She begged him but Gaara simply smiled that roguish smile.

"Stop me." He dared her.

But Ai could not longer hold on to her senses; she could feel her body unfurling for him, her skin beginning to burn for his touch. So she allowed Gaara to remove her veil and unwrap it from her body, revealing the black dress beneath. She was dressed in the fashion of koto; the cropped blouse and long skirt. At the sight of her bare torso, Gaara smiled and ran his hand along her skin. She fought so hard to deny what was happening, bit her lip to cause herself pain as though that would make the pleasure of him obsolete. Tried not to look at him, to picture something else but it was so hard once those opal eyes locked onto hers, to see anything but him. In the golden light of the room, Gaara led her to his bed.

She sat down gently as Gaara put a hand to her face, his thumb brushing her bottom lip, his mouth already watering at the sight of her. "We never had a last night together," he whispered, leaning down to her, watching her close her eyes, waiting for his kiss.

"I hate you for making me want you like this." She whispered. He smiled softly.

"Isn't that the way of blood-love? Enemies from lovers, lovers from enemies?" He lowered himself onto her lips and the two lovers gasped as a spark of electricity passed between them. As though savouring the taste of each other, the two opened their mouths gently, caressing with their tongues, pushing harder with their lips, growing restless, wanting more. Gaara pulled away suddenly. "Pain," his hand moved from her face to her hair which he pulled on gently, making her gasp as her fingers found their way to the buttons of his cloak, "from pleasure?" Gaara placed a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth.

Ai could feel the heat rising in her soul and, like an order from the divine, she was inexplicably draw to Gaara suddenly. The urge to be close to him, to feel him again, to have him love and fuck her was turning into a hunger. She removed his cloak and trousers through frenzied kisses and pulled him onto the bed beside him. Gaara, taken by surprise at Ai's sudden change in character, fell onto the bed beside her and barely had time to recover before she hoisted one leg over him to straddle him.

The Kazekage was not a vain man, he had often been complimented on his looks by many but took no heed of it. He never walked with arrogance or ill-placed confidence. But in that moment, as he lay naked under Ai, watching her eyes glide over his body, feeling her finger tips trace the outline of his abdomen, he had to smirk in vanity.

"Ah," The Kazekage gasped as she gave a delicate, tiny movement of her hips to grind against his dick which was throbbing, aching for the feel of her. Just lying there, looking at him, was increasing the heat in the room; Ai's cheeks were flushing pink, there was a moonlight-like stroke glittering above her cheekbones, her lips were pouting, wet and warm. She began to unbutton her dress, the smile on Gaara's face fading as he took in the sight of her curves; how did he let this goddess go? She removed her blouse and bra, revealing her breasts; Gaara's smirk faded completely. He went from being propped up on his elbows, to sat upright. His hand travelled around from Ai's hips, up her curves to her back where he pulled her in. Placing gentle kisses on her breasts he smiled as he heard her sigh with satisfaction; the feel of his skin on hers, the wet warmth of his kisses against her bare breasts was unbelievably good. His tongue darted down and began to explore her again, like he used to; biting and tasting and wanting to know every inch of her.

While he was busy, Ai lifted her skirt, felt for his dick underneath her and grabbed a hold of it. Gasping at its magnificent stature, Gaara took the opportunity while her mouth was open to reclaim it; pushing his tongue a little further inside of her than usual. Both groaned into each other's mouths as Ai stroked his dick and Gaara forced his tongue inside of her in such a filthy, raw manner that Ai could contain herself no longer. She lifted herself up and slid down on his dick slowly.

Ai moaned in pleasure as she felt him filling her up, hitting that spot only Gaara could ever hit; the spot that saw pain mixed with intense pleasure. He shuddered as she took all of him inside of her. His hands went back to her hips, helping her move, he watched her with those opal eyes, his red hair ruffling in the breeze as Ai began to lose her senses all because of the feel of him. He tried to watch her, to not become distracted by the pleasure and instead focus on her beautiful face screwing up in lust and pleasure. But she was moving so slowly, her hips were grinding gently against him, the pleasure of these tiny movements was unbearable. The thought that she was using him for her own pleasure stirred something primal inside of him; if she wanted it that badly, he could give it to her. Gaara could fuck her in the way he had been dreaming about; hold her down and make her scream his name. But he didn't want to just yet; he wanted her to enjoy herself. So, in an attempt to kill the desire, he placed his head against her breasts and concentrated on thoughts that did not focus on dominating her.

Placing a hand under her skirt, he felt for that sweet spot on her womanhood that usually made Ai gasp and shudder in pleasure. When he found it, he felt Ai's hips buckle and lose their gentle pace. She held onto his shoulders, her eyes shut, panting his name, begging for him. Against the curls of crimson hair around his dick, Ai felt herself being caressed by him. Her hips moved faster, her panting became deeper until finally she called out his name, her hips crashing down against him, shuddering in ecstasy. Lovers sat together, heads against each other's, feeling the heat of the other's body against them. They kissed passionately, not wanting to let the other go. Eventually they broke apart and looked sincerely into each other's eyes.

"I love you," Ai whispered and kissed Gaara's cheek affectionately. "Ah!" Ai gasped and giggled as Gaara stood suddenly, the feel of the cold desert breeze on her bare back sending shivers down her spine. In this moment, stood against each other, looking at one another in only the way that lovers do, Ai and Gaara shared a look of complete trust.

"I love you." Gaara whispered as he lay her down on the bed and removed her skirt. At the sight of her naked body, that familiar blood-lust returned. Gaara climbed on top of her, parted her legs and entered her more forcefully than Ai had anticipated.

"Ah!" She gasped at the pain of his violent movement. He stayed there a moment, his thick col filling her up, ready to fuck her, to own her. The girl was wincing from him as he put on hand on the bed to steady himself and the other reached up to hold her hand. Her toes curled up against his back, anticipating the love only Gaara could give her. He pulled out a little, grasping her hand tightly, before pushing back inside of her. The feel of him was like anything Ai ever thought a human was capable of feeling; the first time they had slept together she had likened the moment to a divine experience. Now, amidst the love, lost in the heat, she felt it again; that moment of complete ecstasy, of being as close to the one she loved as possible. She was not sure where her body ended and his began. She could not recall her name, nor his. For all they were, was love.

As the Kazekage's movements became faster, his gasps turned to grunts showing the effort he was taking to restrain himself. His hand moved from hers which was outstretched above her, down to her hair which he tugged at, his kisses turned to bites which hurt her to the point she had to move her lips away from him and reveal her neck. Gaara's actions became wilder, his hips thrusting in and out of her, sweat began to plaster hair to his forehead, somehow he thought he could feel every inch of her at once. The bounce of her breasts as her body took his movement, her long hair that caressed her back as it peeled away from the bed when she writhed in ecstasy, the taste of her mouth, the soft warmth of her body welcoming him home.

"Ah!" Eventually Gaara climaxed inside of her, gripping onto whatever part of her he could find, biting her supple flesh, turning it red and hot with pain. He kissed her once more and withdrew, falling to his knees by the bed, exhausted from unleashing his lust on her. The two looked at each other, Ai sat on the bed, Gaara kneeling before her, knowing she should go, knowing the seconds spent here were increasing the risk of her being found. But as their eyes met, Gaara simply smirked, stood and went to kiss her again.


Ai woke and dressed quickly. the dawn was steadily approaching the horizon and her carriage would be waiting for her. Wrapping her scarf around her, she found she could not look back at him as he dressed, preparing for the working day. The sun was lighting up the room; the heat of the desert was reflecting off the mirrors int he room, sparkling, filling the room with warmth. She could hear the pots banging in the kitchen as servants prepared breakfast for the guards. She went to leave the room but found her veil was held taught behind her.

"Gaara!" She giggled and turned back to him. "Let me free." But her smile faded as she saw Gaara's serious look, the pain in his eyes.

"I thought last night was a dream." He said, pulling her by her veil towards him. "You're really here, aren't you?" The Kazekage pulled his first love into embrace.

"I must leave soon." Ai reminded him.

"I know." He kissed her forehead.

"I won't return again."

"Don't say that." Upon hearing him say this, Ai sighed and looked him straight in the eye.

"You know we cannot go on in secret." She kissed his cheek softly and took a step away from him.

"I know." He nodded at her. "I love you." Ai smiled at him.

"I-" the courtesan was cut off as Gaara suddenly pushed her away from him, his sand erupted from it's gourd by his desk, coming between them. Ai stumbled and regained her footing, shocked by what had happened, she looked up to Gaara who was half covered by sand.

"What was that!?" Her eyes focussed on the sand to see an arrow was caught by it; someone had fired an arrow through Gaara's window! They were under attack! "Gaar-"

"Did I even come close!?" A felt her heart stop as she heard the Kazekage's bedroom door open behind her and a familiar voice call out to them. No. It couldn't be. As though in a daze, with glassy eyes, Ai turned around, "Gaara did you see me coming…?" A face Ai knew well, grey eyes and wispy blonde hair greeted Ai from the doorway. Taki blinked a few times and looked between Gaara and Ai. "Ai-sama, w-what are you doing here?"


I'm thinking about taking out the lemons to this story. I don't really receive as much positive feedback as other lemon-containing fics. Do you guys really like them? Let me know so I can decide.

 

Chapter Text

Parting

Ai felt the weight of her heart sink to the pit of her stomach as she looked straight into the eyes of her student and friend. The girl with the face of a goddess tried to open her mouth and speak but nothing would come to her. The thought kept repeating itself in her head: Taki is a princess from a Kingdom that has no business with Suna, there is only one reason she could be there. A cold breeze fluttered in on morning sunshine which was lighting up the room, it chilled Ai to the bone.

From the doorway, Taki blinked uncomprehendingly. She held a bow in her hand, a wooden quiver, engraved with her kingdom's crest, slung over her shoulder, keeping safe her arrows. Unaware and innocent to the tears forming in her teacher's eyes, Taki looked from Ai to Gaara. The Kazekage stood behind Ai, his hair an untidy mop of red waves, his skin glowing as though he had spent time in the sun, even the buttons of his shirt were done up in a rough, half-focussed manner with the red material bunching up beside the button. Taki gulped, wondering what this strange feeling was that seemed to tingle at her fingertips.

"Ai used to work here at the palace," Gaara informed Taki who noticed Ai drop her gaze to the floor as he spoke, "wait for me at breakfast, Taki." Hearing Gaara's commanding and serious voice did not put the princess at ease; she shifted uncomfortably before nodding and shutting the door to let Ai and Gaara speak in private. The dancer stood with her back to him, wrapped up in her dark shawl, her brow furrowed. Barely breathing, wondering if she were even existent in the room, she found herself unable to speak, unable to turn to him. They stood in silence. Birdsong drifted in through the open window, they could hear the gushing of water from a fountain in the palace gardens.

"Your council has asked you to marry." As she spoke, hearing it aloud, made her voice break. Moving forwards, the young Kazekage reached out a hand and put it on her shoulder.

"Ai-" he faltered as Ai shrugged him off her shoulder; she had never been so cold with him before. As her back was still to him, Gaara walked around and ached a little inside when he saw her face. Tears streamed relentlessly from her eyes, her bottom lip trembled. Gently, Gaara took her face in his hands and brought her head up to look at him. He smiled at her softly, sincerely.

"My heart forever belongs to you. My soul is kept safe by only your hands," he whispered to her. "My council has asked me to meet with," he search for the right word, "suitable girls that I could possibly have a future with." Gaara let go of her beautiful face and wiped her tears dry with the end of her veil. "I have gone to bed with no one," he assured his love, "and I do not plan to marry for a long time; these meetings are merely events of diplomatic significance. You will always remain as the-" Gaara stopped short, shocked, as Ai began to smile. He took a step away from her as she shook her head with a sick, almost disbelieving smirk.

"Do you really think I take issue with you marrying, Kazekage?" Ai asked scathingly. "You are a Kage, a man of power. One with a dishonourable past. I know what your council wants from you; restore the honour lost, bring peace to our village and a neighbouring kingdom. You will be married within a year or two." Gaara was about to retaliate, tell her he was not planning on such a thing but Ai would not let him speak. "And you have not slept with any of them?"Gaara nodded eagerly, unsure of why Ai spoke with such malice. "That is not the point."

"Is it because I did not tell Taki who you are? It was to protect your identity!" Ai shut her eyes tightly, hot tears escaping from under her eyelashes. Gaara stood, a panic was rising inside of him, desperate to correct whatever had gone wrong but feeling entirely lost as to what the problem was.

"That is not the point." She repeated

"Then what is!?" Gaara cried, desperate to know.

"The point is that you seduced me, the girl you are so desperately in love with, knowing that we cannot be together. Knowing that tomorrow you may meet with your future wife. Whilst I am left, discarded, thrown out!" She yelled.

"Ai-"

"You treated me like no more than a whore!" Ai spat at him but Gaara could not understand it; he thought he had done the right thing! She was everything, there was no one else! It was the world that was cheated, not her!

"I am in love with you!" He reminded her but Ai simply laughed at the injustice.

"Love does not cause you to treat someone with such disrespect," she said. "You used me last night-"

"Please don't do this," the Kazekage begged her, unable to bear the thought of losing her like this.

"In the end, you are the only person who valued me less than a courtesan." The insult of her comment made a fire flicker inside of Gaara.

"And the prince did not?"

"No," Ai retaliated, "he told me my place from the beginning, he told me I was his courtesan and treated me accordingly. You made me give up my heart, resign myself to a life I never asked for in order to protect you. You took advantage of my love for you by seducing me, playing into my feelings, knowing you are being found a wife!" Ai went for the door but Gaara was quicker, as she walked past him he moved a hand to cause sand to erupt from his gourd and follow her.

The sand shot over to the girl but, unexplainably, she turned suddenly and the sand cloud came to a halt. The Kazekage jolted in surprise and willed the sand to move but it would not obey. It glittered, motionless, around the girl as her blue eyes narrowed on him, a look of fury on her face, her skin almost glowing. "No longer will I spend nights lost in thoughts of you, Gaara. I swear, I will never dream of you again."

"I'm warning you, Ai," Gaara began coldly, his eyes narrowing on her with that dark, controlling look he had mastered. What was he doing? What was he saying? Gaara was desperate, angry, terrified to be without her. He just wanted to understand, the young Kazekage could not see what he had done wrong. But he, who had been lost without love for so long, found that he could not articulate his worries in this moment. The thought of her leaving him was overbearing, he could not be with out her and so Gaara, in the only way he understood, attempted to reconcile by coercion. His violent and primal nature took over, the only thing he was thinking was of ways to get her to physically stay in the room. If she just listened to him for a moment she would understand but Ai refused to give him a chance!

The dancer knew very well part of his naivety fed into his anger but she could not continue to care for it. Her heart was shattered into too many pieces for Ai to continue to pick them up. She was tired; she had given up everything for him and in the end he treated her like no more than a common whore. A single tear ran down her cheek. "You said it yourself: enemies from lovers." She reminded him.

"I am not your enemy, Ai." Gaara breathed, his hand still raised, his will still trying to push the sand around her.

"What do you call the one who humiliates you? Uses you? Tortures you?" She asked him but the Kazekage merely shook his head.

"This is the curse of blood-love!"

"Blood-love?" Ai laughed, "if only it were so easy to blame our shortcomings on some prophecy! This red, defected, flawed, remorseful, enmity of love! Whatever you wish to call it!" The fire inside of her trailed away. She looked over to Gaara, a mixture of anger and grief struck across his face. They were so similar; both orphans, both with terrible tempers, both trying to figure out their place in the world. "We deserve more, don't we?" Ai asked softly and turned away again to face the door. As she did, she caught sight of the glass lantern she had lit for him, still burning away on the mantlepiece. She put a hand on the doorknob and took a breath.

"Leave this room and this is the last time we speak." She heard him say clearly but Ai shook her head.

"The flame I lit for you now sets fire to both our worlds," and with that, she left his room.

Outside, Taki was standing against the wall opposite, in a dress the colour of healthy, green grass. It made her grey eyes sparkle as they looked over, worried, as her teacher left the Kazekage's bedroom hurriedly. Ai stopped to look at her, unsure of what to say, aware that her broken heart was obvious to anyone who looked at her. To Ai's surprise, it was the princess who broke the nervous silence.

"In It is in the sweet night breezes I hear her voice, in the unfurling of rosebuds I see her face," Taki recited perfectly, earning a confused look from Ai. "For what else is there but the girl from Suna?" Ai lowered her gaze as Taki changed this line in the poem; so the princess had figured it out. "It's you, isn't it?" The princess mumbled bashfully, colour, without her consent, rising to her cheeks. "You're the one the Kazekage fell in love with?" She asked sweetly and Ai, with a small smile of regret, shook her head and walked towards the innocent princess.

"No. I was the girl foolish enough to believe it." Ai leant down, her crystal blue eyes locking on to Taki's, her face suddenly serious, "I can no longer tutor you, princess. If I were to give one last lesson, I would make it this: fools are those who love in vain, but greater are the fools who love to the destruction of themselves." The courtesan kissed her student's forehead and walked away.

On the walk to her carriage, Ai held her head high as many ran out of their rooms to catch a glimpse of a dark and thundering moon as she glided through the palace. Whispers, shouts of her name, proclamations of worship came her way as the divided Suna cheered for the return of Love, or called for her demise. Guards even ran up to her, under orders that upon seeing her in the village she should be arrested. But at her angered glance they stopped as if paralysed. Ai scoffed at all of it; Suna had no idea of the goings on behind closed doors. They did not know the heart break, the heart ache, the love, the loss, the pain of being in love with Gaara. Ai was alone with it all, stuck in a life she did not choose, all for the one they worshipped. As she was about to exit the palace through the main doors, someone called her name.

"Ai!" Turning to the corridor, Ai felt her heart skip a beat as Temari approached her quickly, looking worried.

"Temari-sama," Ai spoke softly and embraced her.

"What are you doing here?" The blonde shinobi asked as they broke apart. But Ai did not answer her, she watched as Kankuro walked uneasily towards her. He took in the sight of Ai's tear-stained face and gulped.

"What happened?" But Ai could not find the heart to speak; she had no idea how to address the Kazekage's family any more. She did not know her place in the world.

"I'm sorry," she breathed before turning on her heel and running from the palace. They watched her go, wrapped up in dark clouds of silk, her gold jewellery shimmering in the morning light.


Jiraiya stood from his seat in a comfortable drawing room in Koto, as he saw Ai's carriage pull up outside the House. But there was something in the rainclouds that followed her from Suna, that made his smile fade. He felt Ruby stand beside him and look out of the window with equal apprehension. Both watched as Ai emerged from the carriage, an hour later than expected, her veil no longer on her head but wrapped around her. Her dark, shimmering waves of hair had lost their shape and lustre. Her sweet face not illuminated with the usual glow, her red lips merely stained as though someone had wiped lipstick from them. Jiraiya knew what this all meant, he had seen betrayal before. He had even been a known perpetrator in his youth.

Ai entered Koto and spoke a word to no one, she walked swiftly through the House, ignoring the calls from her friends, barely noticing the stares she received. Her breathing became quicker, she felt her heart falling to pieces, she could not bear to feel this way and before she knew it she had picked up her feet and was running to her room.

"Ai!" She heard Ruby shout her name from somewhere inside the House but paid her no heed. Her feet were pounding hard against the stone floor, her veil had unwrapped itself from around her and was dragging on the floor. The weight of the gold thread was threatening to pull her back down to reality but the blue eyed beauty refused to go there, refused to face the life she had been settled with. So she threw off her veil as she pushed open the door to her room.

"Renai, wait!" She heard her teacher's voice, commanding, alarmed, could behind her as she shut and locked the door on him. She turned to see the outline of Jiraiya and Ruby's figures as they approached her room, through the misted glass of the door. Their voices were distant, mere echoes to Ai who could only hear her own breathing, could only hear the tinkle of her jewellery as she walked away from the door, shaking her head. Every time she thought of Gaara she winced with regret; the pain of parting with him was unbearable, the hurt of how he had made her feel was too much. "Ai, open the door." Of course, Jiraiya could break down the door easily, Ai knew she could not waste time.

Running to her cupboard, Ai opened it and began to rummage through her belongings for the shroud that Megumi had given her when she left the palace. She looked for a grey, funeral shroud-like veil that she had first worn to Koto. Wrapped inside was the shard of a broken diamond. She found it nestled at the back of her cupboard, forgotten and cold. As the girl dragged it out along her shelf, a packet fell to the ground by her feet. Peering down at it for less than a second, Ai saw the anklets her father left for her but she could barely make them out; her view was foggy, eyes red and painful as she walked from her cupboard to a sink in her room. Pouring herself a glass of water, Ai unraveled the diamond from the shroud and took it in her hand.

Glittering in her palm, the diamond shone as if to speak to her. Amidst the sound of the pitter patter of rain outside, the banging on her door of Jiraiya and Ruby, Ai looked clearly at the shard in her hand. The hardest substance known to man, swallowing this tiny rock would cut through her. How else would the pain leave her? How else could she remain without him? Looking up into the mirror she caught a glimpse of her face. Puffy and exhausted, her crystal eyes shone bright in the grey light of the room. Is this the life Renai wanted? Is this the true curse of blood-love? She had become misery because of it. Looking at her reflection she pitied herself; her skin grey and dull, her lips dry, mouth thirsting for the water. She could end her suffering now if she wanted to.

"Ai please!" She jumped as she heard Jiraiya call for her again. Looking to the door quickly she realised she did not have much time. She brought the diamond up to her lips and closed her eyes. A hot, round tear rolled down her cheek as she parted her lips.

And stopped. Ai opened her eyes. She could hear, yet again, that harp-like instrument playing a familiar tune amidst the the sound of the raindrops against the glass of her balcony doors. Turning to them, Ai put down the diamond and water before pushing against the glass to open the doors. The rain was light, but enough to make her blink against the raindrops. She felt the water cooling her skin and took a breath of the dewy air as though it might clear her head.

She could hear the instrument from the gardens below and ran to the edge of the balcony. There, amidst the green grass, sat the boy with grey hair, idly strumming his harp. She looked around for some way to get down to him and cursed that there were no stairs. But the boy was likely to leave soon, he never stayed in one place it seemed. Ai was beginning to question if he was real, to question her own sanity. Without even consciously making a decision, Ai hoisted herself over the balcony and began to climb down into the gardens. It was laborious and exhausting work, getting her footing right, holding up her own strength, trying not to step on her skirt. Eventually she was able to jump down onto the sparkling grass.

The boy sat, apparently undisturbed by the rain, playing his instrument. He was at least ten feet from Ai and there was an odd manner he had, his lack of acknowledgment of her, that made the girl keep her distance.

"You!" Ai called out, taking tentative steps towards him. He immediately stopped playing and looked up at her, a mischievous glint in his eye. The look was unnerving, Ai felt as though he could see straight through her. "How do you know these words?" She asked him and jumped as he raised a hand to point at something above and behind her. "Ah!" Ai gasped as, inexplicably, the boy began to fade. His figure turned a blueish, greenish hue as he smiled at her and faded away as though from a dream. Ai turned around to see what he had been pointing to.

She took a step back. There, atop the roof of Koto stood a man. Menacing and powerful, he stood eerily quiet, watching her. A black cloak with red clouds billowing in the rainy winds. Dark, long hair tied up at the base of his neck. His eyes were red and menacing. Ai would even call them evil. She recognised them instantly and attempted to look away but it was too late. The girl was taken over by the power of the Sharingan.


Part of me feels that so many of you are so keen for them to reunite that I should just end the story early and give it a happy ending. But the truth is, as seen here, Gaara and Ai are not mature enough. And wouldn't it be so much better if they reconciled after some true character-building experiences? That after becoming adults they could look at one another and say 'it was true, you were always the one'? I dunno, I feel like I'm breaking hearts here. I'm sorry!

Also, the lemons win, I'm keeping them in, thank you for your wonderful reviews for the last chapter! (Although you know if you reviewed more concisely I wouldn't end up with these writing-crises every few weeks hahaha).

Also, I checked, swallowing diamonds cannot kill you but when I was a kid I was told princesses committed suicide by swallowing the stones in their rings. I know, what kind of mother do I have that she found this appropriate to tell her child? She's an adorable nutcase. 

Kudos and Comments appreciated :)

Chapter Text

Ai felt like she were experiencing her life at five-times the speed and simultaneously being thrown out of existence; she was not aware that she had fallen to her knees, on the hard stone floor of the garden behind Koto. She was trying to breathe, trying to remember the feel of the breeze against her skin, the trickle of a raindrop down the back of her neck but she could no longer feel the world as she once knew it.

In her mind, she was stood amidst a swirl of colours and noise and memories. One moment she was back in Gaara's arms, suddenly being pulled away from him, the next she was a weeping child running after Kai as he left her on the doorstep of the Tea House. Her consciousness was being torn apart, scenes were being stripped down around her and rebuilt within seconds, her heart being ripped to shreds by the overwhelming waterfall of grief-stricken experiences she was being forced to relive. Somewhere, deep down in the depths of her mind she could still feel the hard stone of the courtyard beneath her fingertips, but every time she tried to brush a finger against the floor in an attempt to remain in control, she found that, from whatever memory she was in, she was swept off her feet and into another one.

"You were in love with me from the moment we met," Ai turned at the sound of Gaara's voice. There he stood, calm, a small smirk on his face, unaffected by the swirling chaos of colours and noises around them. Ai stumbled as someone pushed past her; a version of herself, carefree and smiling, walked past her swiftly and threw her arms around Gaara's neck. He smiled at her sweetly, catching her eyes with his, holding her there in a moment the girl would remember forever.

"And you were in love with me in all your lives before this one," she teased him. Ai closed her eyes tightly to shut out the image of one of her happiest moments, she put her hands on her ears to stop herself from hearing her own giggles as Gaara began to kiss her.

"Ah!" She winced at the sound of herself gasping in delight at the touch of Gaara's hand; there was no escape.

"Ai," she opened her eyes and turned to see Kai looking at her grimly.

"I have to leave-"

"Not again, not again! You promised you would take me with you!" Ai fell to her knees. Tears streamed down her face as a version of her, barely seven years old, stood crying beside her. The sound of the little girl's wails echoed in Ai's head. On her knees, Ai took in the small pink ribbon that tied the girl's hair in a ponytail, the smart, bright eyes that shone with tears. The older girl raised a shaking hand and placed it against the child's face. With a start, the little girl turned to her as though just realising she was there.

"You are not alone," the courtesan whispered.

"We are always alone!" The child protested, making Ai's blue eyes widen in shock. "They always leave," the little girl said grimly, "they take what they want and they leave. And you let them!" Ai gasped as the child's face contorted with grief and anger.

"No," Ai dropped her hand from the girl's face and stood suddenly, shaking her head. "That's not true."

"Of course it is," Prince Nobutara emerged from behind the little girl and put a hand on her head affectionately. "You are no more than a courtesan after all; what use is there for you after the nighttime ends?" He smiled maliciously, sneering at her, his dark blue eyes shining with disdain.

"I was someone's daughter," Ai protested weakly, trying to give her existence some value.

"And I did not care for you." She jumped as Kai emerged from the darkness to join ranks with Nobutara. "Of course it was easy to leave you; leaving you behind was the best thing I ever did."

"You don't mean that," the girl gasped, "I was someone important."

"Was?" The prince asked her quietly.

"I was the girl who taught Sabaku no Gaara to love-"

"Do you really believe that?" Ai stopped, stock still as she heard Gaara speak from behind her. She turned to him, her black skirt scraping the floor as she did so. The Kazekage stood in his red cloak, gourd strapped to his back, with his arms folded. His face was serene as though he did not care for the tears that rolled down her cheeks. Ai found she could not answer him; her heart, heavy and fit to burst, had seized up in her throat. Instead, she walked up to him and put her hands on his shoulders, feeling the fabric of his cloak, gripping onto the muscle beneath the material. She smoothed her hands up to his face and placed them gently either side of his face. Her eyes softened as she took in the sight of him, a small smile of grief cracked across her lips, as though she were sure he was going to start laughing, to tell her he was joking. But he did not laugh, he barely even glanced at her. Ai cleared her throat.

"Our love is a thing of legend." Gaara scoffed as she said this.

"Legends are for those keen on living in fantasies." He replied.

"You were everything to me," she gasped as he jerked his face away from her hands and walked to join the others. "You were my world," Ai said quietly as she turned to look at the small group before her.

"And you were a distraction from work," Gaara retorted as Ai shook her head, wanting to hear no more. "I meant what I said: women of sit are not fit to wander the same halls as Kage." Ai closed her eyes, praying for this torture to end. Her prayers were answered as she opened her eyes and saw the group begin to fade away to darkness. Her eyes did not leave his face; handsome, glowing, the only thing she ever truly wanted. Did he really think those things? Did he somehow hate her?

The world around her changed, the scenery around her lit up and gave her the familiar view of the courtyard. Sound returned to normal, she could hear the rain, she could smell the mossy grass on the rocks. For a few moments she thought she had been released from the curse of the sharingan but slowly she realised she could not actually feel the rain against her skin. As though the raindrops had been told to dodge her, she stood completely dry and unaffected by the gentle storm.

"Ah!" She gasped and took a step back as she found she was looking down at herself, lying on the stone floor, gasping for air, unable to move, unable to speak. The raindrops were falling into her eyes but Ai appeared to be paralysed; she lay, shaking against the cold stone. "Ah!" Ai gasped again as a figure emerged beside her. It was the man on the roof; he had dark, unforgiving eyes, long dark hair and an eerily still gaze. His presence chilled Ai, made her unable to move without the use of his ocular powers.

"Do not fear me, utsukushii (pretty one). I am your servant." He bowed to her, the ends of his cloak becoming wet as they licked the floor. But Ai was held in fear; like the figure of herself lying on the floor, she found she could not move. The man looked up at her again and Ai took in his face properly; she knew who he was, she had studied his clan before. The blue eyed girl gulped as she realised what he was capable of. "Goddess," it shocked Ai, the delicate, pleading tone he used, "I've looked for you in every star. I searched beneath clouds of ocean and between the moonbeams. I have lived life between the shadows of the two I have loved; chasing after you and being chased by him." The girl had no idea what he was talking about, she shook her head, trying to get her body to move, to say something, anything! "You are truly as lovely as is written," he smiled softly at her but Ai finally found her voice.

"What is it you are after, stranger?" She asked in the most commanding voice she could find.

"Tell me you know me, beautiful one?" He pleaded. Ai nodded slowly.

"Uchiha Itachi," she responded, "the fallen ninja."

"Fallen," as he smiled a little, Ai found her eyes were caught on the curve of his lips. "For you." Ai did not want to respond to him, to ask him what he meant.

"What is it you are after, Uchiha?" She repeated.

"Tell me," Ai gasped as he fell to his knees and took her hands in his, "tell me I'm forgiven," he begged her. "Even though we will meet at the gates within before the day ends, I had to ask you in this world, the one I have often forsaken. Am I forgiven, Renai?" Ai could not tear her eyes away from him, she could barely blink. The man with long dark hair looked at her as though she were the answer to every question in the universe, even those left unuttered.

"I- I don't know what forgiveness it is you seek!" Ai tried to speak but stumbled over her worlds; who was she to possibly forgive this man for his sins? "I do not know you, stranger." Again, that small smile he gave her that sent a shiver up her spine.

"Of course you do not know me in this life," he whispered. "All will become clear in the future, beautiful one. When the others come looking for you." He released her hands and stood once more.

"Others?"

"Akatsuki. Shinobi. Men of this world," but as he spoke, Ai's brow furrowed; what on Earth would the Akatsuki want with her?

"Why?" She asked him.

"You will see."

"What if I do not care for the-?" Before Ai had a chance to finish, the Uchiha was suddenly in her face, his eyes red and menacing, a look of anger etched in his features.

"I started a war for you, Renai!" He shouted at her but Ai took a step back and shook her head, almost pleading with him to help her understand.

"I do not understand!" She shouted back with equal frustration but this seemed endearing to the man who smiled at her softly, his eyes returned to their dark hue. He put a finger beneath her chin and tilted her face towards him. The dancer's eyes widened in surprise as he placed a delicate kiss on her forehead.

"I wait for you at the gates." He whispered to her. "I am truly sorry." Ai frowned, what was he sorry about? But, as his eyes turned red once more, the girl suddenly understood what he was going to do.

"No, no, please," she begged him, grabbing his hand as he lowered it from her face. "Please do not put me back there." Genuine regret crossed the man's face as he merely tugged his arm from her grasp.

"It is for your own good," he informed her before turning away. "You will be safer with him." The stranger began to walk back towards Koto, the vision of the garden began to fade and give way to that familiar and foreboding chaos of colour.

"With who?" Ai shouted after him as the Uhciha's figure began to fade away too. "Please-!" But the girl suddenly found herself swept back into that world of harsh and cold memories, of bitter and evil characters. Her screams were heard with blood-curdling shock by all those in the House.


The Kazekage had only spoken of marriage once in his life and it was with the girl he thought he may one day choose to spend the rest of his days with. A month following his revival and return as Kazekage to his village, he had been studying in the middle of the night, for he was still unaccustomed to sleep. That evening he was working on a trade issue; the water supply in his village would run low over the driest seasons and he had to ensure adequate water levels were maintained throughout the village. However, when the issue had been brought to his attention earlier that day, it had been done so by a girl who was newly married and worried that she would not have enough water for her household.

The conversation with this girl stuck out clearly in Gaara's head for she kept using words he had never used before. The word 'husband' was one of them. What did it mean to be someone's 'husband'? She clearly cared a great deal for her partner for he seemed to be the motivation of all her actions. She was only asking for water in order to quench his thirst, to see his clothes were washed, to be able to boil vegetables for his dinner. Was a husband the most important thing to a girl? What was that relationship like? How is it different to his ties with Ai? And the girl was someone's wife. What did she mean to her partner? How was she any different to the girl the Kazekage was in love with?

It started with marriage, he assumed. If he understood what marriage was, then surely the roles and the relationship between a husband and a wife would become clearer. But what did it mean to be married? The young and naive Kazekage, new to love, new to relationships, found this a most distressing question.

As he pondered over it, by candlelight at the desk in his room, his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone approaching. Ai woke up in the middle of every night to see him; at 4AM exactly she would find him sat at his desk, reading through a report and would offer him company. Nights before this ritual had been lonely for Gaara; with only Shukaku for company, he had started to hate his cursed, sleepless life. But, since returning, he always looked forward to Ai greeting him with that sweet smile in the middle of the night.

In the glow of the candlelight she emerged, in her white robe, her hair still an unruly mess of waves following their love making that evening. She smiled at him broadly as she approached the Kazekage, sat in his blue robe and dark trousers. His robe was open giving a view of his well defined physique. The girl pushed a lock of black hair behind her ear as she came around his desk and leant down to kiss him. As she pushed her lips, soft and plump, up to his, both smiled. She pulled away from him and sat, leaning against his desk, eyeing up the report he was reading. Ai often offered council and solutions to whatever village problem was being discussed. She was trained, after all, in politics and economics; she knew better than Gaara how to handle the village.

"What is it tonight?" She asked, tilting her head to read the report.

"Water supplies to the Western sector." He said softly but there were other thoughts in his head; while Ai stared down at his desk, he stared up at her. "What do you think of marriage?" He asked suddenly, causing Ai to look at him in surprise. She shrugged and walked around his desk so she could take a seat opposite him.

"Marriage?" She smiled softly, "it's a curse word in my world. Such that if it applies to you you are cursed!" The girl laughed a little. In the courtesan world, girls were raised with the idea of marriage being a bad thing, a restrictive, troublesome measure. It acted as a safeguard to prevent the girls from wanting to marry and leaving their profession, more than that, it helped them justify or even feel proud of their work that they were not tied to the convention of marriage. As Ai and Gaara sat opposite each other, either side of the Kazekage's desk, both in their night robes, they realised that there was one subject in which neither of them was versed. Gaara raised an eyebrow at her; to him Ai was a sweet, gentle person who he thought would be able to shed light on the idea of marriage, but it seemed she was averse to the subject.

"Why?" He asked, trying to hide his surprise when Ai shrugged.

"It means a lack of freedom, it means heartache."

"Why?" He asked again and it seemed that there was something in his tone that caught her attention. At first Gaara had asked out of curiosity, this time there was a little fire behind his questioning as though he were annoyed by her answers. The courtesan sat a little straighter, pushed her hair to one side of her neck and appraised him properly.

"Because you are tied to another by law-"

"But you are tied to another when in love," Gaara reminded her, "heartbreak lies in love also."

"True," she said before he barely finished his sentence. "But love is the thing in the soul that ties you, marriage is the thing that ties men's little fingers to their wives blouses. It is what keeps faithful women in heartache while their partners ogle at us in the nighttime."

"Kai writes that marriage is your announcement to the world that you are in love," the Kazekage said sternly, glancing into the big blue eyes of his first love, trying to see if she was really against or simply naive of marriage. "Renai and Senso married as soon as they were able-"

"In secret-" Ai corrected him.

"So that no one could contest their union." Gaara concluded what had turned into a small spat by just the way he spoke. The Kazekage oozed authority, it was in his blood, something charismatic and overpowering that had even been there when he was a child. He could silence anyone with his tone alone.

Ai, hearing that he was offended or upset by her response, softened her stare. Gaara was asking after something he knew little of, but she was equally inexperienced. It may have been somewhere in her fate, to fall in love, many courtesans do, but it was never in her mind to marry. She smiled at him sweetly; the fool, he knew absolutely nothing of the world! She stood and walked over to him, the glow of her white silk robe giving her a silvery aura. The Kazekage pushed back his chair and welcomed her into his embrace. Placing a leg either side of his figure to straddle him, Ai fell into his lap and kissed him gently.

"Kazekage," she said softly, "what are you so lost in?" Her eyes skimmed his face, trying to read the frown, the biting of his lip, the worry in his stare. "Why all this sudden talk of marriage?"

"I want to understand it." He replied as she sighed in response.

"You are asking the wrong girl." For some reason, this reply from Ai irritated Gaara. She was supposed to be his guide. She was supposed to love him, surely marriage, something some consider the final stage of a relationship, should be of value to her?

"Yes," Gaara said sternly. "It seems that way." The Kazekage looked away from her, his red hair falling into his eyes as he refused to look at her. Ai was offended by his snappy response.

"So then," she said, standing once more and walking away, "should I play matchmaker and find you a bride that understands what is means to be a wife?" Upon reaching his bookshelf she turned back to him. "What kind of bride would you like, Prince?" Ai asked, folding her arms. Seeing her face, Gaara shook hair from his eyes and sighed; he did not think the conversation would go this way.

"One like you," he replied.

"So a beauty?"

"No, I said one like you," he smirked.

"Ah!" Ai gasped in exaggerated offence before crossing her arms and turning away from him in a huff, causing Gaara to rise from his desk and walk up to her.

"She must be exactly this vain," he said from behind her, "to gasp at the insult of being considered unattractive. But with pride adequate in measure so that," he put a finger beneath her chin and pulled a little to make Ai face him, "when I turn her head to me to apologise," he watched her intently until she eventually smiled at him, "she smiles just like that." Her eyes found his; those opal eyes were so full of love for her.

"What else do you want of a wife like me?" She asked, pushing his hand away from her chin affectionately.

"She must be sweet and seductive, have the charm to pull off both traits at the same time using only her eyes." Gaara answered as Ai smirked.

"You will never find anyone as talented as I."

"Then, I suppose, it has to be you," he whispered as he placed a soft kiss on her bottom lip. In the candlelight of the Kazekage's bedroom, he, stood in a robe of royal blue and she, stood in a thin white silk, smiled at one another in the way young lovers do. Ai fluttered her eyelashes up at him and pouted.

"Is this a proposal?" She asked.

"If it was, what would your answer be?" Gaara asked seriously.

"That depends," the girl smirked and walked away from him.

"On what?"

"On what you will be like as a husband." She grinned teasingly at him.

"What is it you are after?" The man asked as Ai sat on his desk and considered him for a moment.

"Loyalty, respect, honesty," she began with a smirk, "fierceness, fidelity, friendship," her smirk became a sincere smile until, suddenly, it vanished. "A promise that you would never abandon me," she said quickly. Gaara walked up to her and pulled her by her waist to the edge of the desk.

"Abandon you?" He shook his head, "Love, I waited for you my whole life; I would never leave your side," they smiled. "So, Ai, would you marry me?" She had smirked at him in a manner that stirred the bloodlust. He never received an answer from her for only moments after that he had her writhing for mercy on his desk.

Thinking about it now, as he sat at the Kazekage's dining table, awaiting the Princess, the Kazekage realised he had truly no idea what Ai's answer would have been. Would she have married him? Even if years passed with no notion of union mentioned? Would she eventually have said yes? Would she have been the woman to give him children? Why was she so hard to read when it came to the future? It was as though, all along, she knew she was waiting for another fate, for something more to happen. Perhaps it was not in their destiny to be together, perhaps it was in their destiny to meet other people?

"Kazekage?" The man was brought out of his reverie as the Princess spoke his name out into the silence of the dining room. He stood immediately and gestured to the seat next to him.

"Please," he said as he looked up at her, "sit, Taki." The girl, her blonde girls shining in the sunlight, had the lost look of someone who had been given bad news. She bit her pale pink lips and proceeded to sit beside Gaara who lowered himself into his chair at the head of the table. Taki had refused to meet the Kazekage for breakfast, she had gone to speak with her guardian at the Palace of Sunagakure and she had advised the princess not to cast off any relationship with the Kazekage on a whim. It was better to speak about these things. So, gathering courage, Taki finally looked Gaara in the eye, ready to say something. "Forgive my deception, your highness," he said in a diplomatic tone, "I am not the most competent at handling other people's emotions." Taki had her head bowed but kept her light eyes on him.

Gaara was more handsome than she was beautiful, he was more charismatic, had greater presence, held an audience captive better than the princess ever could. He was like Ai. That girl was beautiful, people were drawn to her, she was a leader without being told she was. Taki was not like either of them. But, she was besotted with the Kazekage. She could not help the childish, schoolgirl crush she had developed on the man; she would blush when he said her name and attempt to conceal smiles whenever he looked at her.

"I understand you must have questions," the Kazekage said gently, noticing her stony silence. "What is it you want, Princess?" The girl frowned before looking at him directly.

"Honesty." She said bluntly. Gaara liked this part of Taki's personality; she herself was very honest. She did not speak in riddles and, as much as he loved Ai's poetry, it was better to have someone who was direct around him. He learnt from Taki to be bolder in what he asked for, so hearing her command him like that, gave him a small smile.

"Honestly," Gaara responded, calling with a hand the servant to pour tea, "I know nothing of relationships, any kind of relationship be it between a man and a woman, siblings, friends, I am a fool in all of it. I tread cautiously with everyone I know; I never get too close, never tell them the truth. But," he looked at her and found the fear in her grey eyes, the smell of jasmine tea began to fill their heads, "I admire your ability to be honest, I respect all that I have come to know of you. So I want to tell you the truth, with absolutely no idea of how it will affect our relationship-"

"That's okay," the princess said, causing Gaara to look at her in surprise. Her green dress made her eyes seem even lighter, even more innocent than they were before. "I want to know the truth," she said softly. Gaara found he could not look at her, not at someone so innocent whose heart he could break. He looked away.

"The truth is that I am broken, a shell of a man, hopelessly in love with the wrong woman," Taki tried very hard to swallow the lump that began to form in her throat. "I know your elders and my elders wish our relationship to flourish and end in a union. But you would forever be in Ai's shadow," while Gaara's eyes were averted, Taki blinked furiously to rid the tears in her eyes. "I feel as though I will forever be in love with her. That lamp," he gestured to the fireplace in the room where Taki saw an oil lantern burning, "will remain lit as a symbol of our love." Taki nodded slowly, trying to be understanding, trying to remember that he was naive in this area; he did not know how to break things to her gently. "I may grow to love you," the princess looked up in surprise, "fall completely, madly in love with you, marry you. But I will forever wonder what happened to that moonbeam?" The two looked at each other, the longing in the princess' eyes was evident, "That is the truth. If you wish to see me again then I would be grateful, you are a wonderful person and a good friend," Gaara's opal eyes lightened as he smiled at her, making her blush, "far better than an idiot like me deserves." Taki seemed to think for a moment before she smiled and looked up at him with a grin.

"I would like to be your friend, Kazekage."


There was a cold cup of jasmine tea sitting on an antique table by Ai's bed. The cup was made of clay, painted green with small pink flowers, a crack had formed at the bottom of the cup; a result of boiling water being poured into it every day. Jiraiya glanced at it grimly as Ruby walked passed him and picked up the cup, replacing it with a hot cup of tea. Jiraiya looked past her to see Ai lying in her bed, her blanket brought up over her chest which was rising and falling rapidly as though she were having difficulty breathing. Her brow was furrowed, she was muttering something under her breath, occasionally she screamed and Jiraiya had to soothe her as best he could while Ruby whispered a prayer in the corner.

It had been two days. Two days and Ai was still caught in a genjutsu; the cursed Sharingan had taken a hols of the young courtesan and was refusing to let her go. Even Jiraiya, with his expansive knowledge of ninjutsu, could do nothing to bring her out of the technique. They simply had to wait for it's hold to loosen on her. She had been visited by Uchiha Itachi, there was no doubt; her screams, the curse, it was all tell-tale signs of a powerful Uchiha. Jiraiya's hand clenched without him even being conscious of it; that damned Akatsuki was after two of his students. He had protected Naruto from them before but he had failed to protect Ai. How could he take pride as the guardian of a goddess when he could not even look after her?

"Ah!" Jiraiya jumped as Ai opened her eyes with a soft gasp. Her big blue eyes widened in shock before shutting suddenly at the influx of light for the first time in two days.

"Ai?" Jiraiya said softly, "Ruby!" He called the woman back into the room for she had taken the cold tea away. She ran back in immediately, dressed in a royal purple shade, to see Jiraiya stood by Ai's bed, looking at the girl with concern.

"Did she wake?" Ruby asked urgently.

"Y-" before Jiraiya could respond, Ai sat bolt upright, turned away from Jiraiya and threw up on the floor on the other side of the bed. Her stomach had been empty for two days, there was nothing to throw up so instead she retched violently as Ruby sat on the bed beside her and held her hair away from her face. Eventually, the girl was still and she lay back down on the bed gently. Her eyes, tired and stained red, took in the room as though she had never seen it before. Her eyes lingered on Ruby and Jiraiya.

"You were attacked," her teacher said softly. She nodded and attempted to sit up in order to talk, Ruby grabbed her arm to help her up and plumped her pillows up behind her. Ai sunk into the fluffy pillows gratefully as though she were physically exhausted.

"The Akatsuki," Ai said softly.

"Uchiha, Itachi," Jiraiya closed his eyes in frustration as Ai looked at him and nodded. "I'm sorry," he said suddenly, "I should have been there," he muttered and felt even worse when Ai smiled weakly.

"I think it is an indication that I need to learn to protect myself," Ai replied. A moment's silence passed. "He said someone would come looking for me," Jiraiya looked up suddenly as she said this.

"We knew they would."

"Yes," Ai nodded. "I did not realise it would be quite so soon," as she spoke, Ai had a million thoughts running through her head: "I do not know if it is best to hide or meet them without fear."

"Stay hidden until I return," Jiraiya had barely stood from Ai's bedside before the girl reached over with viper-like speed and grabbed a hold of his arm.

"Where are you going? Do not leave me!" She begged him. "I'm so frightened," she whispered as her big blue eyes filled with tears. Jiraiya took her arm away from his before bringing her into embrace.

"I was on my way to the Village of Rain to gather information on the Akatsuki. I only dropped in to see you-"

"Do not go, please!" Ai pleaded again.

"I cannot risk your or Naruto's safety any longer," Jiraiya informed her, looking down into her deep blue eyes. "Something must be done about this damned Akatsuki," he said swiftly before letting Ai lie back down. He picked up his bag and kissed Ruby goodbye. Ai tried not to look surprised as the two embraced like lovers; she had no idea that there was a romantic side to their relationship. They broke apart and Jiraiya walked to the door, once there he turned back to Ai. "Stay hidden until my return."

"What if you do not return?" Ai asked. At the door, Jiraiya looked over his shoulder to her, a broad, boyish grin painting his face.

"I promise to."


Oh dear. We all know what happens. 

Comment if you think I'll let it happen! What if it does? Any inkling of what's going on?

Chapter Text

Dinner at the palace of Sungakure was a sight not many would have believed ten years ago. If you had told them Gaara would be sat at the head of the table as Kazekage or described the way a young princess sat beside him, looking at him as though infatuated, holding on to his every word, dying for his attention, they would have had you scolded for mendacity. No, not many could believe that Gaara had come so far, not many would believe that he could smile at a girl and not have her tremble with fear. The fact that his brother and sister sat at the table too, laughing, joking, telling the princess embarrassing tales from Gaara's youth, was as bizarre to Gaara as it was to anyone else.

That evening the four were sat eating in the Kazekage's dining room. The room was ornate and grand; gold backed chairs with deep red, velvet cushions and an oval dinging table. A large chandelier hung in the middle of the room, illuminating the delicate china plates, glass goblets of plum wine; it filled the room with a golden glow. This was where the Kazekage's family would entertain special guests and, in Temari's opinion, this guest was very special indeed.

Princess Taki sat in a pink dress, her cheeks flushed from the wine Kankuro had poured her. She had giggled like a young girl when the puppet master had poured her more than she dared drink. Temari eyed the princess with great affection for she liked the girl a great deal. She was simple and sweet, not overtly charming or alluring like Ai was. Taki kept quiet most of the time, gave Gaara a second to think where as Ai had come in swirling and twirling and throwing everything into chaos. If someone had told Temari and Kankuro to create the perfect match for Gaara, they would have created this princess. She never raised her voice, she soothed all ill-tempers; like her namesake, she came with the calming effect of a waterfall. And it seemed the princess had grown quite fond of their brother. She had stayed in the palace for a week now, that was longer than anyone was anticipating! Things were going well between the princess and the Kazekage.

Gaara had shown great strength, maturity and dignity in this last week; he had stopped drinking to excess, he had not fallen apart when Ai had left. Gaara had taken charge of things, grasped a hold of Taki's hand and valued her friendship. Temari was glad for it; Gaara seemed to really be finding his feet. Tonight, however, things felt a little different. It was in the way the Kazekage barely ate, it was in the way he barely spoke, barely drank, barely was there at all! His existence had faded to the background this evening and Temari knew there was only one thing that affected his mood so drastically.

"I hear preparations for the festival are going well, Temari-sama." Taki spoke in the princess-tone she had been trained to have since childhood. Temari looked over at the girl and smiled politely.

"Yes, your highness," Temari said, swallowing hurriedly, "all running smoothly," she smiled before frowning in remembrance. "Oh, that reminds me, Gaara, have you scheduled any missions for that evening?" Temari, Kankuro and Taki looked to the head of the table to find Gaara, his plate still full of food, his wine untouched, looking out of the window. A frown of concern etched on his handsome face. His eyes only flitted back to the table when he felt the weight of Taki's hand upon his own.

"It seems the Kazekage is distracted." He looked at her as she spoke softly, her grey eyes glittering as they caught a hold of him.

"I-," Gaara began to speak to her but suddenly turned his attention to his sister: "does it seem colder to you than usual?" Temari, who made a mental note to tell Gaara not to ignore his guests, frowned.

"Colder?" She asked, placing her chopsticks on the table to rest neatly on their holder.

"Yes," Gaara said abruptly "there's a breeze from the North." Gaara jumped a little as he felt Taki's thumb glide over his skin to stroke his hand. He looked over to her, unsure of where this sudden affection was coming from.

"Suddenly meteorology is more interesting than dinner with me, Kazekage?" She asked, her cheeks flushed pink. Gaara stole a glance at the chalice on the table in front of her and tried to hide a look of annoyance; the girl had had a little too much to drink.

"No," Gaara stated, staring down at their hands on the table, eyeing the way her fingers intertwined with his, the way her thumb dragged across his skin, "it's just-"

"Kazekage?" He was interrupted as his teacher burst through the doors and ran into the dining room. He approached the table, panting, waving a piece of paper in the air, cutting short the relaxing ambience created by the chandelier and smell of wine.

"Baki?" Kankuro spoke the shinobi's name so he would hurry with his message.

"A letter has arrived for you," Baki gasped.

"At this hour?" Temari muttered, glancing out of a window to see the darkening sky.

"It's from Koto," all three sand siblings seated at the table froze as Baki said this. Taki was the only one to have no reaction, she simply looked between Gaara and the older man uncomprehendingly. Temari was the first to recover. She stood from the table and held a hand out for the letter, Baki move towards her.

"Thank you, Ba-Gaara!" Temari shouted her bother's name as sand sped towards her and snatched the letter from their teacher's hand.

Sat cooly at the table, the only one not to look perturbed by what was happening, Gaara had loosened his hand from Taki's grip to move his sand and snatch the letter mid-air. His sand moved eerily through the room to bring the letter to him. As he opened it, he tried to hide any emotion that might have crossed his face.

But he could not prevent his heart from stopping. There, scribbled upon the parchment, was the familiar curve and style of Ai's penmanship. Suddenly, from being immobilised, his body was shocked into overdrive. His heart was beating faster in his chest, he was looking down at the letter but could barely understand the words in front of him. So many thoughts were running through his mind: why send a letter this late? Why state that it was of utmost importance so to disturb the Kazekage's family at this odd hour? Why write at all after swearing never to think of him again?Was she in trouble? Did she hate him? Did she still love him?

"Gaara?" Temari's voiced cleared Gaara's head so he could read what few lines his mind, now filled with adrenaline, could slow down to read:

Forgive the lateness of this letter, Kazekage….

"It's from Ai." He said, trying to stretch out the time he had with the letter so he could get his brain to work normally again.

Four days ago, Uchiha Itachi of the Akatsuki found me in Koto…

"Why would she write?" Kankuro asked.

I fear for the safety of the shinobi world….

"She was attacked by the Akatsuki." Gaara recited and, realising his hands were shaking, rested them against the table, pretending he was smoothing the letter down against the table to read it in better light.

I trust this information is best left in your hands, Kazekage…

"When?" Temari asked in alarm.

"Four days ago."

Yours,

Ariwara no Ai.

Gaara peered down at the word just above Ai's name. 'Yours". Did it mean anything to her anymore? Did she still belong to him at all? Turning the paper over in the hope that there would be more, Gaara was disappointed to find nothing.

So that was it. No declaration of affection, no mention of their night together. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, their relationship was nothing. They had agreed to end it that night. But now, Ai was in trouble. Her life was at risk. Could Gaara really put aside his feelings of lust and frustration and focus on the Akatsuki?

Dammit, Ai, the Kazekage thought, his hand clenching into a fist atop the dining table, his eyes trying desperately to skim the letter again. Every time I rid myself of you, you find some way to tumble back into my life and throw it all into chaos again.

Gaara knew he was taking too long with the letter; something needed to happen, he had to take action. This was trickier said than done; only Baki and his siblings knew of Ai's innocence so no one else would trust a letter from her. Gaara had to make a move, not only to save his first love but to protect his village; if Ai was right and it was the Akatsuki then the shinobi world had to move quickly. But if his council knew the reason he was acting so rashly was because of Ai, no one would believe him, he would lose standing and respect as the leader of his village.

"Gaara?" His elder brother asked uncertainly. The Kazekage looked back up at his siblings and stood suddenly.

"Baki, gather the elders, councilmen and high ranking shinobi in the council room," he ordered, Baki nodded and ran out of the room. The sand siblings fell in line and went to follow their teacher out of the dining room.

"Must this be tended to now?" All three turned back uncertainly to look at their forgotten dinner guest. Taki sat, looking at them with innocent eyes, her cheeks still pinched pink from the wine. Gaara was surprised that even he understood the look in her eye; she was fearful Gaara was so swift to move because it was Ai. After a week of being in the palace and choosing to stay even though Ai and Gaara's relationship was revealed to her, Taki's heart broke a little every time she saw Gaara's eyes light up at the sound of Ai's name. Taki needed to know she was important to him and, in truth, Gaara felt a little sorry for her. She pined after him, waited every day for his meetings to be done, called to him from the gardens whenever he stepped onto his balcony.

Gaara sighed and walked back towards Taki who bit her lip with apprehension; what would he possibly say to make her feel better? The Kazekage bent down to her and let his blue eyes lock with hers. Taki's face was so innocent, so pure, unlike anything Gaara was himself. Seeing the look in her eye, the look of longing and hurt, Gaara was struck with a sudden idea. There was one way to convince everyone that he wasn't acting to protect Ai. But could he do it? Could he manipulate someone like that?

"This is not about Ai, this is about the Akatsuki." He said softly to the princess who's bottom lip quivered. She didn't believe him, who would? Gaara took a breath. No, he was no longer a monster, he could no longer hurt those close to him just because it was in his nature…but the thought of living in a world where he could have protected Ai and failed to do so, was too distressing of a thought. So he made up his mind. He had to return to being a monster, just one more time, just one more lie. He leant forwards and kissed the princess softly.

"Ah!" A small gasp escaped someone in the room; all three were shocked by Gaara's actions.

"I will be with you for tea later." The Kazekage said, pulling away from the princess. Taki remained motionless, staring at Gaara as though his kiss had immobilised her.

Outside the room, Temari and Kankuro shared a knowing look behind Gaara who was strapping on his gourd, preparing for battle.

"Gaara," Kankuro spoke his brother's name uncertainly, "what was that about?" The puppet master jumped as Gaara turned to stare at him.

"What do you mean?" The Kazekage asked cooly.

"I mean Ai was out of your bedroom a week ago and now you're all over the princess?" His sister spoke bluntly but Gaara was giving nothing away.

"Yes," he said sternly, "is that unacceptable?" For the briefest of moments, Temari and Kankuro were struck by the menacing look in Gaara's eye. The pair stopped breathing for they realised they were in the presence of thirteen year old Gaara; that silent, blood-thirsty, vengeful, manipulative boy who could kill and smile at the same time. "Temari?" And just like that, the boy was gone. The Kazekage stood with innocent eyes, calling for his sister's kind words. But Temari was speechless; what had happened just a moment ago? Kankuro held his hands up in surrender.

"No, no," the man forced a smile, "it's," he looked for the right word, "surprising is all." Gaara nodded before his face became serious. He walked away from his siblings.

"We don't have time for this."


Hours later, the Kazekage was hunched over his desk, scribbling notes to teams of jounin, sending orders via hawks. It had been a testing evening for all in the village of Sand and was accompanied by another catastrophic event that shook the shinobi world at large. The news of the destruction of Konoha by a member of the Akatsuki, followed only minutes after Ai's letter. It seemed the band of fallen shinobi was moving quickly and in multiple teams, all eager to lay waste to what the Five Nations stood for.

Konoha was beyond repair, what little remained was spared due to Naruto's strength. Gaara pondered over this thought for a moment; both Naruto and Ai were targets, just as Gaara had been. And Gaara had lost his life in his encounter with the Akatsuki. Why had they spared Ai? Why did they approach her in the first place? Was it to get to Gaara? But they had Shukaku…what need was there to get close to the Kazekage? So many thoughts, so many worries, were tumbling around in the troubled man's mind.

"Damn," Gaara muttered as the lead of the pencil he was using snapped. He reached out and grabbed another to keep going. He was writing so quickly, so desperate to get to Naruto and Ai that he was rushing his work. Everything needed to be structured, Suna needed a clear plan of action but his mind was elsewhere. His council had been giving orders, asking for his guidance, waiting for his approval but Gaara could not appease them. He wanted to go to Ai, more than anything else he wanted to speak to her, to protect her, to beg her forgiveness for ever letting her leave his side. But he couldn't give so much of his intention away or else all she sacrificed would be in vain; if anyone knew Gaara was acting selfishly to save Ai then all missions to protect her would be called off and the focus would shift to Konoha completely.

"Ah!" He gasped as his wrist ached when he lowered his pencil to his desk. He turned to his window where hawks were waiting to carry messages for him. Usually a servant would be there to do this for him but the entire palace was in chaos as the village prepared to defend against any attacks, sent out troops to Konoha and assembled a special team to find Ai.

Once all the hawks had the messages tied to their legs, they flew away from the window. Gaara watched them all become dots floating above the horizon, hovering above the glittering lights of the village. He took a moment to breathe, a night breeze fluttered in through the window, ruffling his hair. Just as he closed his eyes, he heard the flutter of wings beside him. Opening his eyes, he saw one last hawk, dark feathers and menacing eyes, staring back at him, awaiting the final letter.

There was one last letter that needed sending. He needed to write to Ai, to inform her of the plans to rescue her. Turning back to his desk he stared at the blank sheet of paper placed there, waiting for him to assemble a jumble of words that would somehow make sense at the end of it all. Hunching over his desk once more he picked up the pencil and stopped.

Suddenly, without warning, as though floodgates had opened, a rush of emotion filled the Kazekage. Such a strange mix of anguish, helplessness, devotion and love filled his heart, seeped into his chest and ran through his veins. He sat in his chair and blinked furiously to rid himself of tears. All that was coming to him was the vision of Ai, the first time he had seen her.

All those months ago, almost a year in fact, she had entered the mirrored room in the Tea House dressed in a blush pink dress. Rubies and diamonds glittering around her, the sound of falling stars at her feet and before she even noticed him, Gaara was entranced by her. And that moment she finally did look at him, her big blue eyes lifted up to see him and she smiled as though she knew exactly what she was doing to him.

Love. Between the dark waves of her hair, her face shone like the moon in the night's sky. She had a cold, distant look about her, as though she were not from this world. It was a look that Gaara recognised and as soon as their eyes had locked he saw, reflected in her face, that same loneliness. He had wondered if she, this beautiful girl, had wandered through life, lonely like him, desperate for the feel of someone else. The boy, the forgotten monster asleep inside of him, felt a new side to this empty feeling; was it so empty if someone could share it with you?

He wanted to keep safe her dreams and hold her in his arms the moment he saw her. But Gaara, so stung from a childhood of neglect and adolescence of violence, could not articulate his feelings to this girl and pushed her away. But Ai was relentless. Thinking about it now, how she dared defy convention, the Palace, her own Tea House and of course, Gaara himself…it made him smile a little. Love was rebellious and charming, exactly how he dreamed of her.

Now, his smile faded at the thought of it, look where their love story had brought them. Either side of the Nation of Fire, the two longed for one another and bickered in their last meeting. They were both fools in love; one too naive and the other too stubborn…or was it the other way around? They were so similar; if one were the Earth, the other were the sky. If one were the moon, the other was the moonlight. Inseparable, indispensable and unthinkable without the other.

Finally, Gaara was able to voice his worries, his heart ache, his love. So he put pen to paper and wrote to Ai all the things he wished he could have said that night but did not know how. He wrote of how he hoped they would see one another again and talk about that night properly, with no bitterness, with no malice. At the end, he gave the girl instruction of when and where his team of highly trained shinobi would meet her and collect her from; somewhere on the outskirts of the Rain Village they would find her and bring her back to the palace. Bring her home.

When he was finished, the Kazekage turned back to the bird at the window and tied the letter to it's leg. The animal waited patiently, gracious almost, at the Kazekage's gentle handling of it's claws. Gaara was finishing attaching the letter when he jumped as his office door opened and his sand shot up behind him to shield him from something. Turning back to the door, ready for combat, Gaara almost shouted before he realised who had attacked him.

The sand had prevented an arrow from getting anywhere near him and, in his doorway stood the princess. What on Earth was she thinking?

"I missed again?" Gaara stared at her disbelievingly; the princess was a talented archer and often attacked the Kazekage when he was unawares in order to beat his ultimate defence. It was, of course, useless but Taki had taken a liking to at least making Gaara jump. The Kazekage stood straight, shaking off his combat pose before appraising the princess.

"Taki, the palace is in a state of emergency, I am extremely busy-"

"It's the middle of the night!"

"Then why are you awake!?" Taki was silenced instantly, the smirk wiped off her face, as the Kazekage raised his voice. Her bow hung limp in her hand as her eyes filled with tears; she clearly did not expect to be spoken to in such a manner. Gaara noticed the fire inside of her go out and he sighed before putting on a consoling smile. "Taki," he said, walking up to her slowly and, to her surprise, embracing her. "I am thinking of your safety. Please go to your room and stay with your guard." He spoke softly and, as they broke apart, leant down to kiss her. He placed a soft kiss on her bottom lip and watched as the colour in her cheeks rose and her eyes misted over.

"Okay," she said dreamily.

"I have to go, there is much to tend to at this hour," Gaara said abruptly, letting go of the princess and dropping her back to reality. She watched the sway of his red cloak as he walked back to the window.

"What's that?" She asked.

"A letter to Ai," Gaara said absentmindedly before making sure the letter was secure and letting the bird out of the window. It took flight.

"Kazekage!" Someone called for Gaara from somewhere in the palace.

"I must go, goodnight princess." Gaara said before exiting the office swiftly, barely looking at her.

"Goodni…" But Taki could barely finish the word; Gaara had already vanished from sight.

So much had changed in the space of a few hours; she had gone from pining after this boy and receiving nothing in return, to suddenly having him kiss her twice in a matter of hours! She began to walk to the window and let out a long sigh. The princess was naive, she was innocent to matters of the heart and to the ways of men's minds, but it did not make her a fool. She could feel his lust for someone else whenever she touched him. In his kiss, he held something back, as though he was not ready to give all of himself up to her. She reached the window. There, above the village, the hawk was swerving clouds and stars to find its way to Ai.

The princess opened the window, removed an arrow from her quiver, eyeing the bird on the horizon. She remembered the last words her teacher left her with:

Fools are those who love in vain, but greater are the fools who love to the destruction of themselves.

The princess took aim.


"It's been four days, Ai," Ruby said as she sat on the courtesan's bed. Lena sat beside her, both dressed in yellow as was tradition the day before the festival. They both watched Ai as she paced in front of her balcony, awaiting a message, a sign, anything from the Kazekage!

"He will write!" She said impatiently, eyeing Ruby with a mixture of distaste and embarrassment.

"It has been a week since Jiraiya left," Lena reminded her, causing Ai to take a deep breath in in exasperation.

"Do you two not have work to do for the festival? Must you sit here and voice my worries?" The blue eyed beauty brushed hair away from her face and caught a glimpse of their faces; both women looked skeptical. "The Kazekage will write!" Ai reinforced although she did not sound confident; it was unlike Gaara to ignore an urgent message that contained information regarding the safety of the shinobi world…then why had he let four days pass with no word to her? "And Jiraiya," Ai began, trying to rid herself of thoughts of Gaara, "Jiraiya will return. He promised."

"How do you know the Kazekage will write?" Lena asked, swinging her legs absentmindedly, twiddling a blonde curl between her fingers.

"Because," Ai turned to her, her yellow dress dragging along the floor, the bell sleeves falling to the floor with the look of angel wings, "because he loves me."

"But you said you fought the last time you met, cursed each other and vowed silence?" Ruby reminded her.

"I know but none of that matters!" Lena and Ruby exchanged a look; Ai was particularly out of character today. She was nervous, shaking, barely eating; the girl was anxious to the point of paranoia. Ai walked to the window and looked out onto the courtyards. For some reason the rain always soothed Ai; it's gentle pitter-patter, the coldness, the fact that it washed away the dirt and revealed what might have been forgotten underneath. Staring at the raindrops that caught the window pane and drizzled down to the stones beneath gave Ai a moment of sincere contemplation. "Each raindrop has our names encapsulated," she whispered. "If you took dirt from beneath a temple you would find our names written there too. In the stars, in the air, we exist just the two of us. If you called my name from atop a mountain, his name would echo back. Can't you understand?" She turned back to the two on her bed. "The universe is filled with our love. He will write," her voice broke and suddenly Ai was kneeling on the floor by the window. Lena ran over and dried her eyes as unwelcome tears escaped them.

"Ai, please don't cry. The medical ninja said not to exert yourself emotionally!" Lena tried to console her but the reality of the situation was making Ai's world crumble down around her. The dark haired girl looked at her friend.

"Why hasn't he written?" She asked Lena who was speechless, unable to appease her.

"Ai," Ruby came down to kneel on the floor beside her, "men are all fools." Lena and Ai looked at the owner of Koto as though she were about to go on and say more. "No, that's it," she informed them, earning a snort of laughter from Lena and a weak smile from Ai.

"Ruby-sama!" All three women, holding each other in awkward embrace on the floor, looked up as a boy ran in to Ai's room. Ruby stood, her smile fading as she caught the look on the boy's face. The room fell silent.

"Say it," Ruby said sternly. Ai, having no idea what Ruby was talking about, stood to get a better glimpse of the boy. It was a messenger from the centre of town.

"Is it from the Kaze-?" But Ai was stopped short as the boy held up a red waistcoat, tattered and torn, barely there. "Ah!" Ai gasped and put a hand to her mouth, she knew who it belonged to.

"See?" Ruby said to her softly, "they are all fools." Ruby walked shakily to the door and took the waistcoat from the boy. A book fell out of the folds of the material and the boy's reflexes were fast enough; he grabbed the book as it tumbled to the floor before he held it out to Ai.

Not feeling as though her body were her own, Ai walked towards him and took the book. She looked down at the cover but could barely read it; her vision was swimming, her eyes were hot and red. She could just about see the title:

The Sky and the Moon

Jiraiya

"Ai?" Lena called her name but it seemed far away. "What is it?"

"Jiraiya is dead," Ai could barely believe the words coming out of her mouth. Upon hearing her statement, Ruby left the room, wiping her eyes on Jiraiya's waistcoat.

"Ai?" Lena called again but the girl was not listening. "What are you doing?" Lena asked as her fellow dancer let the book fall from her hands to the floor. Ai picked up her dress and walked to her cupboard, from there she removed a small white packet.

"He said stay hidden until I return," Ai quoted, removing from the packet two silver anklets, diamonds glittering and twinkling, eager to be warn. "Well now he won't return and Gaara is silent. So I will no longer stay hidden."

"What will you do?" As Lena asked this, Ai sat on the marble floor and placed the anklets on her feet. Upon standing Ai gasped, a shockwave seemed to pass through her, through the Earth when she took her first step with these anklets on. She felt lighter, freer, happier even.

"I will dance at the festival tomorrow night."


That night, the shockwave was not felt by Ai alone. Deep in the forests lining Konoha, a group of cloaked and hooded figures came to a stop when one of them signalled. Turning away from the group this figure removed her hood and glanced in the direction of Koto which stood amongst the dreary stone and cold rain, hundreds of miles away. The girl pushed her glasses further up her nose and pushed a straying strand of red hair from her face.

"Karin?" A man called her name, "what is it?" But the girl's eyes misted over as though she had never quite seen anything like it. She opened her mouth but could only whisper her thoughts:

"Made of pure light."


Kudos and comments appreciated!

Chapter Text

We've had an influx of new readers. I suddenly feel the need to re-introduce myself to all the newbies.

Hello, my name is Valentine. I love Gaara because don't we all love the good-looking, damaged, emotionally unstable, psychopathic types?

A lot of readers ask how I came into writing around this relatively niche subject (courtesan culture of India, 15th Century, to be exact) and that is because I trained to be one. Just out of interest, not to actually become a courtesan. As in I learnt to dance and read old hindi literature and write poetry. Not to be good in bed. I didn't need no schoolin' in that hahahaha.

So, if you are new here, enjoy getting into the RTK world. If you really want to submerge yourself there is a tumblr which, I swear, will be updated more regularly. I post costume/song/setting inspirations up there.

The song inspiration for this chapter is: Pinga from the movie Baijrao Mastaani or the song Dola Re from the movie Devdas. 

Just to make it a little clearer: Lena's singing is italicised, Ai's is not.

Enjoy this chapter!


Tsuki no Matsuri: Festival of the Moon

The story of Renai is known by all who reside in the world. From shinobi to carpenters, courtesans to nurses, everyone is told the childhood fairytale by their grandmothers: there was once a goddess who shook heaven so fiercely, with unashamedly salacious charm, that she was cast out of that world and tied to the moon. In a celestial imprisonment she waited for someone to set her free. The story, of course, depends on the story teller; some choose to say that Senso heard her singing from the gates of heaven and went to find her, others say she threw a star in his direction and waited for him to discover the source of the stardust. There is one fact, as factual as a fairytale can be, that remains undeniable to all who tell it: to free Renai from her prison in the sky, Senso cut the chain around her ankle and the sheer force of his blade obliterated the moon.

Renai is worshipped as the embodiment of love, hope and lust. Senso is heralded as the great warrior God who destroyed the moon in order to save the one he cared most about. But the goddess holds a special place in a courtesan House; out of respect for her reckless charm each woman wears anklets. Bells are placed on the chains to tinkle softly and call out for their saviour in the hopes someone could free them from their ties to the courtesan world.

Tsuki no Matsuri, the Festival of the Moon, celebrates Senso's destruction of the heavenly body and Renai's return to Tengoku (heaven). Throughout this holy month, believers are called upon to reflect on the divine and magical effects of love, devotion and worship. Usually, the Great Houses send gifts to the rulers of the land, Kage and Kings, while putting on a performance and elaborate prayer ceremony for common folk to attend. It is a night in which no one is defined by their role in society and instead valued for the person that they are. It is a night where courtesan can be valued in the community for the keepers of religious traditions and legends, not just for their trade.

Koto had been preparing for their ceremony and performance since the beginning of the month. Being a small House on the outskirts of a village, they had not been expecting a diverse or large audience, nor had they been expecting Renai herself to be included in the ceremony. But nothing seemed to be going as normal of late. Ever since Ai had become more involved in Koto, with customer's spying her as she spied on performances from the balconies above the stage, there was demand for her presence by mayors and feudal lords and the like. It's not that Ai was outstandingly beautiful, although she was beautiful, it's more the look she could shoot at a person. That look of longing and curiosity and lust; it enchanted men and women. If you saw her stood on a balcony, gently singing along to the performance, her sweet face adorned with a look of melancholy, not a single person could walk by without asking her what it is she was looking for and if they could be the one to provide it.

Jiraiya had looked at her and seen someone as lost as he had been in his youth. Someone who spent their days dreaming and nights lost in revelry. He wanted to guide her, to be the one to show Love where she fit in in this vast world. Naruto had seen someone with a similar loneliness and charm; his appreciation of their similarity manifested itself in a need to protect this girl he barely knew.

There was only one man who looked back at her with the same lonesome look of longing she had.

Gaara had not written to Ai, not even to acknowledge the news of the attack she had suffered through. The girl knew there was no other choice than to wear the anklets her father had left for her and wait for…well, she had no idea exactly who she was to wait for. She had no idea what the future held but she was sure of one thing; there would no longer be heartbreak, she would no longer be dependent on anyone for her safety or happiness. The courtesan firmly decided to take charge of her own destiny and rush to meet it without fear. So she put on the anklets and marvelled at how light each step felt; it was as though she was not making contact with the Earth but levitating an inch from the ground, walking on the air. The world felt entirely different; it was almost as though she could sense all movement at all time, all emotion, all desires.

Ruby had slipped into a state similar to Ai's when she first arrived in Koto; she did not want to believe Jiraiya had passed away and no girl in the House was aware of her relationship with the man so they found it difficult to console her. When Ruby retired to her room that day the House was thrown into complete chaos, in need of a leader, in need of guidance. At least, it was that way for a minute.

Out of her room stepped Ai, head to toe in fine silk and rose gold jewellery, her face serene. No one dared question her as she took Ruby's deep red, velvet shawl and placed it on her shoulders and walked the halls of Koto, giving instruction, taking on the role of the head of the House. Girls followed her word, did their chores and were rewarded with knowing they were doing the best for Ruby. Ai spent hours with the musicians, working on music, writing songs for the evening. She helped to choose decorations, gave instructions on correct prayer etiquette and even helped design menus for the evening.

The courtesan walked with such power and unquestionable authority that when vendors showed up at the doors of Koto with decorations and food, they did not even ask the name of this girl they had never seen before. They merely referred to her as "Chisana Ruby" (little Ruby) and continued their work with her. Lena acted as her second in command and, when Ai told her she would be leaving Koto soon but would lead the House for the festival, the blonde haired dancer smiled and knew exactly what was needed.

She cut and dyed Ai's hair; now, her long dark locks were a few shades lighter so her skin appeared warmer in tone. Instead of falling past her hips, her hair now stopped just above her waist. At first, Ai had looked at herself in the mirror and Lena could see a tiny tremble run through her lips as though Ai were about to say she didn't like it. But instead she turned to Lena and embraced her with a big grin, thanking her for her hard work and apologising for not letting her near her hair sooner.

The morning of the festival, Lena had talked Ruby into meeting with the jeweller who was providing the House with new diamond sets for the performers. Ai had spoken to him in the morning and requested he stop by to show her the final product. Ruby was guided to the room by Lena on shaky, unsteady legs. She wore black as to signify the loss of a loved one, a trim of delicate silver foliage was hand stitched onto the skirt, sleeves and veil of her outfit. The woman felt entirely unsure of herself as she walked out into the gaze of girls who were going about their chores and dance practices. She did not have her ruby-red shawl that signified her as the owner of the House and felt almost undressed without it. She had been shocked to hear Ai was wearing it and acting as interim mistress of Koto.

The room Lena guided Ruby to was where clients, vendors, jewellers, tailors all came to haggle with her. With a high ceiling, pink crystal chandelier and low cream chaises, the place was bright and full of shimmering gold antiques. It was Ruby's favourite room in Koto; it was here she took tea with other House owners and they all complained about their girls and clients.

Today tea was served by the house girls in a hurry for they needed to get back to work immediately; amidst four low, cream-cushioned benches arranged in a square, on a oak coffee table, a iron teapot sat proudly, its steam rising out of it's spout as though calling out with its fragrance. Lena and Ruby sat on one bench, the jeweller and his apprentice sat on another. The jeweller was a tall and gruff man with surprisingly delicate fingers; they aided him in his work for he needed to be able to handle tiny stones and metal chains. He greeted Ruby with a smile and a brief exchange of a condolence as he noticed her attire.

"As you can see, madam," he began in his gruff voice, "we have made twenty new gold necklaces set with diamonds and-"

"What is the cost of all of this?" Ruby asked suddenly, looking down as the apprentice began to unpack several red velvet boxes, all of which contained elaborate sets of jewellery. They were unlike anything Ruby had ever seen; in this part of the world, gold was light and delicate, this work was thick strokes of rose-gold metal encapsulating formidably sized diamonds. They jeweller smiled innocently and nudged his apprentice to continue unpacking the jewellery.

"No need to discuss cost just yet-"

"Not until you've charmed us with the beauty of your craftsmanship, Hachiro-sama?" Ruby, Lena and the two men turned to the doors that lead into the main part of the house to find, walking towards them, was a girl that could have been mistaken for a sculpture of Renai herself. Ai walked with such intent and purpose that Ruby had to blink twice to make sure she was not imagining it. The girl's hair was lighter, her skin flushed peach, her bright eyes lined with a slick flick of black. With all the confidence and grace of a queen she walked towards them in a nude coloured dress which had tiny details of pink and blue flowers. Her midriff was obscured by Ruby's red shawl which, while it did not match her outfit, was striking against the muted colours of her dress. Her jewellery glittered in the morning sun as she walked straight past Lena and Ruby to sit on the bench at the head of the group.

"We are the ones who are charmed, beautiful one!" The jeweller suddenly changed his tone; from a slightly sly, cunning grin, he smiled innocently before gesturing to the jewellery on the table. "Are they to your liking?" He asked slowly, watching intently as Ai picked up the sets and inspected them carefully. A few minutes passed. Ruby and Lena watched as the jeweller broke into a sweat, nervous of what Ai would tell him.

"These sets will not do," eventually, Ai put down the last velvet box and indicated six sets which needed adjustments. "Have them re-done and sent here immediately. We will need them by 4 pm this afternoon. The rest are satisfactory." The jeweller nodded.

"And, payment, Ai-sama?" He asked uncertainly and all at the meeting watched in confusion as Ai began to fiddle with her earring. A large diamond, the size of a stone sitting on Ruby's hand, set in rose gold. Ai took off her earring and threw it in the air for the jeweller to catch.

"Here," she said nonchalantly, "this will suffice." The man caught the earring and inspected it before his eyes widened in shock upon realising the value of such an object.

"Thank you!" He said gleefully before he and his apprentice gathered their work and left.

"There was no need to throw away an earring as precious as that one, Ai." Ruby said seriously, casting a strange look over to the girl. Who was this woman now sat in front of her? It was not the scared nor timid Ai that she once knew.

"One can only trade a precious thing for another," Ai answered.

"These sets are hardly invaluable!" Ruby gestured to the jewellery the man had left on the table. Ai stood with a small smile.

"They are not what I was trading for."

"Then?" Ruby asked, watching as Ai walked over to her with a swagger, a pride the likes the woman had never seen. "What were you after?" She asked and almost jumped as Ai removed the ruby-red shawl with a whoosh and placed it around Ruby's shoulders.

"Your happiness," Ai smiled, kneeling down in front of her and taking her hands. "How are you?" Ruby, who had been surprised by Ai's character, suddenly had the feeling of despair rush back into her blood as she was asked this question. Her eyes filled with tears and her bottom lip trembled. Ai smiled softly, "I know the feeling all too well, Ruby-sama," she said quietly. "Do not love to the destruction of yourself. Let your dreams define you, not your ties to a man who did not give all of himself to you." Ruby looked deep into the girl's eyes to see a light, a glimmer she had never seen before.

"Did you wake as a different woman this morning, Ai?" As she asked, Ai smiled and stood, looking out of the window at the horizon.

"Something is in the air," she whispered, "sancing around the festival, calling out my name." Ruby and Lena watched as Ai walked to the window and put a hand against the glass. "Destiny has taken shape of a figure in the distance. Someone is coming to see me."


There was no news from Ai even though Gaara had sent the letter to her over eight hours ago. He was trying to concentrate on his work but there was a feeling of unease, guilt and fear nestled in the depths of his stomach. Everyone was playing on his mind; Ai being silent, his kiss with Taki, his sibling's worrying about him. He sensed the village and the higher ups watching him closer than ever before. He had to move carefully, with more control and intelligence than anyone would suspect him of. Right now, he had to keep his cool regarding Ai's return to Suna or else all attempts to save her might be called off.

He took a deep breath and tried to relax. He was sat at his desk, Kazekage hat hanging on the back of his chair. Tonight was supposed to be a joyous night of celebrating but he felt too tense to even think about takin the evening off. The door to his office opened.

"Gaara?" His sister called to him, earning a sigh from the Kazekage.

"Ugh," the sound issued from him before he had time to stop it. It's not that he did not want to speak with his sister; the sigh was simply a knee-jerk reaction to being forced to interact with someone when he wanted to be left alone. He shot her an apologetic look.

"It's nice to see you too," Temari responded to the sigh. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," he said quickly, adjusting the collar of his Kazekage robe, "just tired. How is preparation for the festival going?" He asked, trying to steer the conversation away from how he was feeling. He could feel the stress bubbling under the surface of his skin, he was not ready to discuss anything with Temari even though that was, of course, inevitable.

"Well," Temari said proudly before the small smile left her face. "What news from Ai?" Again, Gaara had to attempt to stop a sigh.

"She did not write," he said to his sister's surprise.

"No response? That was our fastest flying hawk!" The blonde shinobi said in disbelief.

"Perhaps she does not want my help?" Gaara mumbled as he rubbed his eyes.

"Then she is a fool," as Temari spoke, her younger brother looked up at her with innocent, naive eyes. What could she possibly say to him? They stared at each other for a moment longer. "The elders have requested that the princess hold a special place in the court tonight." Temari had been wondering about Taki and Gaara's relationship all night; he had kissed her but it had not even been a week since he had seen Ai. What game was he playing? Why had he previously shown no interest in the princess? She watched as he slowly realised what she had said.

"A special place?"

"As your partner," she informed him quickly with the same sort of reasoning behind ripping off a plaster as quickly as possible; perhaps it would be less painful. Gaara had no reaction, he merely stared back at her. "Throughout the prayers, throughout the dinner, throughout the celebrations." She said slowly, trying to get through to the Kazekage but his mind was solely fixed on one thing:

"And what have they said regarding Ai's rescue?"

"What does it matter?" Temari asked impatiently; Ai had to come second now. Gaara could not afford to focus on her and hearing him mention her time and time again was infuriating; all Temari ever tried to do was help him get over that girl but he was so stubborn he refused to budge. She could see in his eye that determined glint and she sighed. "They will go and wait for her as per your instruction."

"What if she does not return to the village?" He asked.

"Then she will be considered a true traitor of Suna."

"How so?"

"To feed information to the Kazekage and not engage further is considered highly suspect." Gaara nodded slowly as his sister said this, taking it in, trying to figure out the rest of his life. Temari turned to walk out of the room; clearly Gaara was in no mood to talk.

"And what if Ai does return to Suna?" Temari stopped in her tracks. It was her turn to sigh.

"What do you want me to say, Gaara?" She asked, turning back to him. "We'll all welcome her home with open arms? That she can reside in the palace? That she can be yours again-?"

"I'd marry her." The single sentence caused Temari to seize up for a moment.

"You are so young, you don't know what that means-"

"The elders are asking me to marry!"

"To marry a princess, noblewoman, even a butcher's daughter would be a better match for you!"

"Why!?" The Kazekage shouted.

"Because Ai was a whore!" Temari shouted back, "and you are a Kage, son of the Kazekage, descendant of one of the oldest ruling families in Suna! That girl is nothing but reckless, rebellious, entirely unfitting for a man of your standing!" But Gaara refused to hear it.

"Am I a monster?" He asked heatedly.

"Of course not."

"Why not? They called me that for so long. I even played out that role, relished it, revelled in it. Killed for that title. Why is it no longer an apt name for me?" His sister rubbed the bridge of her nose between her finger and thumb, wincing a little as though in pain.

"Because you redeemed yourself." Gaara scoffed.

"Ai had no need to redeem herself. She was innocent in all of this. She did not choose to be a courtesan." He turned his chair away from his sister when she had no answer for him.

"The Princess will be down to see you at six," he heard her say as she left the room.


Koto was coming alive; lanterns lined every wall and walkway, the smoke of incense was rising up to meet a starry sky, chimes were tinkling in the breeze, attempting to talk the nightingale out of its slumber. The walls had shadows dancing on them, even the water running in the fountains seemed to flow faster, jumping out of the spout at the top as though ready to explode. The House was breathing, awake, celebrating.

Girls in every colour ran through the House, out into the courtyard where festivities were to take place. A great courtyard, the size of a small square park, was made from grey stone and was lined with a walkway for an audience to stand and observe the festivities. There were chairs in special places for important guests such as the mayor and his family. Everyone was smiling, everyone was rejoicing; courtesans put smiles on the faces of all with their charm and grace. Children were running through the House, being told off by their mothers who warned them not to go too far. Food was served inside but somehow wine always made it's way into glasses of those seated for performance. The gentle hum of monks praying could be heard in the distance, accompanied by the chiming of monastery bells. It truly felt festive at Koto, with everyone talking loudly, calling out to Ruby to thank her for her kindness.

There was one group that stood out a little against the celebratory background. Four young adults, stood in dark cloaks with serious, slightly confused faces. They kept close to one another and looked around the place as though they'd never seen anything quite like it. Three boys and a girl, different shapes, faces and hair colours but all of them with the same look of intent; they had come in search of something. They moved through the crowd like a dark cloud against the colour, following a tall boy with dark hair. His face was handsome, handsome enough to gain the attention of strangers. Much to the dislike of a girl that stood behind his right shoulder.

The girl pushed her glasses further up her nose and squinted in distaste to see House girls twirling in their brightly coloured skirts, showing off their clothes to their friends. She inwardly scoffed; it was a world away from anything she knew or wanted to know. Beside her, a boy with icy-white hair walked with a small grin, itching to say something to the boy in front of them. The group was almost eclipsed by the shadow of the tall boy with orange hair who stood behind them, face serene, undisturbed by the loudness and colourfulness that the rest of them had not been expecting.

The group was named Taka and had been assigned a mission to inaugurate them into the criminal organisation known as the Akatsuki. When being told that this mission was of utmost importance, the group had hesitated, unsure of what Koto or a girl who was residing there, could do for them. The boy at the head of the group was Uchiha Sasuke and had resisted the mission at first until his team mate, Karin, had fallen to her knees out of sheer fear of what Koto was hiding. She had whispered about a bright light, a kind of chakra she had never encountered before. Upon hearing this and being promised a great deal by the man who sent them here, Sasuke ordered his group to march to Koto immediately.

What had he been promised exactly? He was beginning to forget the answer. All around him was a mess of colours and musical chimes; there was no indication of anyone powerful here. But Karin had told him the whole building was covered in a silvery light, as though the moon itself had nestled into the walls and was shining from between the cracks of the grey stone. She could see it and feel it now, everywhere, pouring out of the earth and sky as though another dimension was trying to tear apart the world and take it over with its brilliant white light. The outline of everything in this building did not seem solid; like a flame, the lines of bricks and tables and chairs looked as though you could blow them away. Even Karin herself felt her own chakra beginning to bend and make way for whatever this unknown light was.

"What is you are after, handsome one?" The group came to a halt, Karin almost bumping into Sasuke, as a girl in an orange dress looked over at Sasuke with soft, glittering eyes. The boy answered in a single word:

"Love." The girl giggled as he answered.

"That is all around us." The girl replied with a sickly sweet smile, her soft blonde curls falling off her shoulders. Sasuke let the briefest frowns of annoyance cross his face; he had been sent to a whore house to locate a girl called Love. Was this a joke? He'd be damned if it was.

"Where is she?" He asked aggressively, wiping the smile from the girl's face.

"You know where the moon sits?" She asked softly. Each member of Taka raised an eyebrow; what an odd thing to ask. Suigetsu, the boy with white hair, answered slowly:

"In the sky…?" He blushed as the girl winked at him.

"Then look to the sky," she pointed upwards.

"Ah!" Karin closed her eyes tightly as she looked up and suddenly discovered the source of the light. Gently, she opened her eyes again.

There, stood on a balcony that looked down on the courtyard, was a girl Karin recognised from story books. Or was she from art? She had the face of a woman that had been drawn before; with round, alluring eyes, soft lips like the petals of a lotus flower and a curvaceous figure, the girl looked so familiar.

Even Sasuke seemed to stop and stare at the girl who's dark hair fell over the balcony as she leant on the railing casually, looking down at the festivities below, chatting with a woman twice her age, both smiling slightly. She wore a red cropped blouse and matching red skirt, both with small flowers made of gold and pink thread. A deep red veil was placed on her head and tied to her hip, it crossed her body like a sash so her stomach was half-hidden. There were other girls on the balcony but Sasuke was sure it must be her. It was hard to tear your eyes away from her.

"It feels warm," Jugo whispered from the back.

"Like Spring," Suigetsu commented under his breath.

All four members of Taka jumped as a horn sounded from the roof of Koto, signalling performance. Sasuke glanced down for a second to see the courtyard clearing before looking up to see where the girl in red had gone but she was nowhere in sight. Had he missed his chance to speak with her?

"Sasuke," he turned as he felt Suigetsu tugging on the sleeve of his cloak, "look!" He followed with his eyes to see where the boy was pointing but it turned out Sasuke did not need a helping hand to find her. The courtyard had cleared and the audience, including Taka, was stood on the outskirts in the walkway. The girl in red stood beside the girl in orange that had spoken to Sasuke only a few moments ago. They were wearing the same dress in different colours, both looking like flowers of the nighttime.

Ai and Lena exchanged small smirks at one another before getting into their starting positions. A group of around thirty girls, dressed in yellow, stood in a circle around them. Musicians, seated on a balcony above them, struck the drums to signal the beginning of performance. The percussion continued, providing the beat of the song, the string instruments struck their first note. Ai raised her gaze to the audience, twisted her hands delicately and sang into the night:

"Lonely one, dark one, if you are tired of your travels sit and talk to me a while." She smiled seductively at the audience and twirled away from Lena who mirrored her actions.

"Come, Let me enchant you with my beautiful words," the blonde sang.

"I too travel through this life alone, I know the pain of solitude," the girl in red walked out towards the audience where she caught a glimpse of a dark haired boy. She twirled towards the walkway. "Come," a few feet from him, she glanced up at made direct eye contact with him, her blue eyes locking onto his dark ones, "let us be alone together." Karin felt Suigetsu begin to laugh as the dancer winked in their direction.

"Cruel one, your dark eyes are what give you away." Sasuke heard the other girl singing but remained locked in silent talks, words exchanged by a glance, with the blue eyed dancer. He took in her face; those lined eyes, a bright red scar in the middle of her hairline, plump velvety red lips. Eventually, she tore her gaze away from his. Ai had been distracted by the look the boy had given her; a look that shook her for a moment before she remembered where she was and began to twirl again.

"Why do you sit silent, unmoving, desperate to come close to me? Come close to me!"

"This world affords us little pleasure. Let us live in dreams for as long as you dwell here. In this world, taking love from someone can be torturous, but so is giving love." The girls in yellow were twirling in a circle around Ai and Lena who's movements became faster as the song built to a crescendo. Ai spun with Lena but tried to look back at the boy in the audience.

"Let us stay in that torturous delight together. Let every moment be laced with our affection, come close to me." The drums hit the final note, the music stopped, a flutter of confetti showered down on the dancers, shouts of jubilation echoed through out the courtyard. As the space cleared, Sasuke tried to find the girl but it seemed she had disappeared.


High up in her room in Koto, Ai stood, tending to a lantern on her dressing table. The whole room was in darkness except for this light. She could feel the warmth of the flame on her fingertips as they traced the glass delicately. She was waiting for the unknown, for that boy she knew was looking for her. And almost as though she could predict it, the balcony doors of her room opened and she looked up, into the reflection of the mirror on her dressing table, to see that boy stood on her balcony, three other figures behind him. He entered the room along with the moonlight.

Ai sighed and began to remove her necklace. The boy stared, unsure of her, why would someone act so casually when strangers showed up on her balcony? It's almost as if she was expecting him. It's almost as if she knew who he was.

"He told me someone would come looking for me," she spoke suddenly, grabbing Sasuke's attention, "but I did not even come close to imagining it would be his brother." Her necklace fell onto the glass dressing table with a resounding clang as the heaviness of the metal met the glass. Sasuke stirred in the reflection of the mirror, there was only one person she could be talking about.

"You spoke with Itachi?" He asked and Ai nodded slowly before swallowing hard.

"Is he dead?" The two stared at one another via the mirror. Sasuke tried to read her, to make sense of her, to understand how it was she seemed to know what was happening.

"Yes," he finally responded.

"I had a feeling." Karin and Suigetsu exchanged a look behind Sasuke; did these two know each other? Or, at the very least, how did this girl know Sasuke's older brother? A strange kind of tension was building in the room; the girl did not feel threatened but clearly had no way of defending herself against Sasuke who, it seemed, she knew. So surely she knew he was powerful? Karin shook her head, wanting to speak, to ask what was going on but the girl did not give her a chance. "You only come and ask for forgiveness near the end, I suppose," as she spoke, Sasuke's eyes widened.

"He asked you for forgiveness?"

"Yes."

"Why?" Sasuke raised his voice, "who are you?" Suigetsu raised an eyebrow and Karin frowned; so they did not know one another? The girl sighed and turned slowly.

"If only I could answer that-" The girl in red stopped short as Sasuke removed his blade from its sheath and raised it as though ready to attack.

"Sasuke!" Karin jumped as a new voice joined the fray, surprised that the night could become even more surprising. a man in a mask had jumped up onto the balcony, leapt passed her and put his hand on top of Sasuke's, forcing the boy's blade to the floor. "Lower your weapon!" For a moment Sasuke resisted but he saw the look of fear that crossed the girl's face as she took in the sight of Madara; he stood in his Akatsuki cloak and orange mask. Clearly seeing a figure and not even being allowed a glimpse of their skin was unnerving. This look of innocence gave Sasuke the indication that the girl was not a threat.

"Why?" The boy asked as he placed his sword back in its sheath.

"Forgive us, Renai," Madara bowed as he addressed her.

"Everyone seems to be after this girl's forgiveness" Karin heard Suigetsu whisper, "perhaps now is the time to repent all our sins, eh, Jugo?" He snorted.

"Who are you?" The girl asked, the dancing glow of the lantern behind her causing the man's shadow to contort on the wall behind him. He was powerful and menacing, more than Ai had been expecting.

"Uchiha, Madara," she gasped upon hearing his name. "Your servant." Ai seemed to relax a little.

"You know that name of mine?" She asked; how did he know she was Renai?

"I have been looking for you for some time."

"How did you come to know of me?" She asked loudly.

"It is not often a goddess is born into the world of mortals," Taka, stood behind the man, looked at him as though he were mad before looking back at the girl. Somehow that fantastical idea explained this strange feeling, the light, the warmth, the sense of familiarity they had with her. "Word spreads fast in certain circles."

"A goddess?" Karin whispered in disbelief.

"And what circle would that be? Criminals?" Ai asked, taking notice of the red clouds on his cloak.

"Do not be fooled by what you hear, beautiful one. We are only criminals because we go after what we desire with forces condemned by those who do not know any better."

"And what is it you desire?"

"The same thing you do. The same thing your father did." Ai gasped in shock.

"What-"

"A world of peace," he informed her. "Utopia."

"Utopia?" With this single word, everything Ai knew to be right and good, was thrown into question. Glancing at her bookshelf, she saw Kai's book, red bound leather and a gold embossed title, shining in the corner. Madara was offering her exactly what her father said they would. Salvation, freedom, peace. Could it be? Was this destiny?

"Come with us, Renai," Madara seemed to read her thoughts, "we can achieve it together." Ai looked at him with round, unsure eyes.

"I know nothing of war," she whispered, desperately trying to talk herself out of the thoughts running through her head.

"I am not asking you to fight."

"Then what use will I be?"

"You have skills no one else in the world has, all of which I will show you. You will help us build the new world." Taka looked from Madara to Ai as they continued their stand off.

"And what will I receive in return?" The girl whispered.

"A perfect world is not enough for you?" She could hear in the way his voice changed pitch slightly that beneath he orange swirl of a mask, the man was smiling. "A world in which you and the Kazekage can be united with no fear of censure? No pain. No wanting. Only happiness." Ai closed her eyes at this thought. Could it possibly become a reality?

"The Kazekage and a courtesan?" Karin whispered to herself.

"Isn't the Kazekage Sabaku no Gaara?" Suigetsu responded. Jugo nodded.

"Yes."

"You really find the idea of that guy and a whore odd?" The white haired boy asked Karin who frowned.

"He's a Kage," she stated as though that explained her feelings.

"He's a psychopath." Madara seemed to sigh in exasperation as Suigetsu's whisper was heard loudly throughout the room.

"If they displease you," Madara informed the girl in front of him, "I will kill them."

"Sasuke!" Karin gasped in offence, hoping the leader of the group might stand up to this man they barely knew.

"I have a palace waiting for you," Madara took a few steps towards Ai. "The courtyards are full of flowers and birds you yourself have never seen the colours of. Bring whoever you trust to live with you but lend me your strength," he grabbed hold of her hands, his motionless, expressionless mask giving nothing away.

"Sasuke," Karin continued in an urgent whisper, "we have no idea why we're here in the first place-!"

"Be quiet, Karin," Sasuke silenced her with a single sentence.

"Renai," Madara whispered to Ai gently, "join us."


Comments and kudos appreciated!

Did you all see Gaara and Ai's picture on  tumblr? Isn't it gorgeous!!??

Also reader SAKU- I'm sorry I deleted the chapter you commented on so I could not reply to your comment. Thank you so much for your support with this story, it is very much appreciated. I'm so glad people are enjoying this fic!

 

Chapter Text

"A world without pain?"

"A world where no one is alone, no one goes hungry, no one is fearful. A world of no compromises."

"And how is such a world achieved?"

"Through a dream."

"Genjutsu? You dragged me away from Koto to cast a spell on humanity?"

"You came willingly at the thought of being reunited with the Kazekage."

"Reunited by his own desire, not the fabrication of a dream- A lotus reflected in water is only half as beautiful and utterly intangible!"

"You must think beyond the physical, Renai. Everything you ever wanted will be yours; Gaara, your father, a home, love, lust, friendship, I will give you everything! I know what is written in the crease of your furrowed brow; I know what heartache looks like. Wouldn't it feel better to let all that go? Think of Gaara; he could make peace with his parents, with his siblings, with you. Perfection is where the river breaks into the waterfall. Tumble with me into those deep and welcoming waters, Renai."


Three months later

Freedom is a luxury unaffordable to a courtesan; you are bound to someone always, whether that be a customer for less than an hour, or a House Mistress for the rest of your life. You are always shackled, always tethered too close to the Earth with your hand outstretched, beckoning the stars towards you. Older courtesans, from dynasties pre-dating the founding of the shinobi villages, write that freedom is gifted to them through performance and the writing of poetry.

There was one young courtesan who had always suspected that this was not true freedom and now sat in a palace built just for her, she scoffed at the archaic thoughts of long-forgotten courtesans. Of course, poetry and performance were undeniably invigorating, but to do as one wanted, to feel the water beneath your feet whenever you cared to walk in the ocean, to sing without being called upon- that is true freedom! No ribbons tying your wrists to the cliffs, preventing you from jumping off. You were free to jump and find that you can fly.

One thing was still denied to her; she was not free to love who she wanted to. To love in the way she wanted to. But who was that and how was it to love like she had never loved before? Was she destined to be with Gaara? Was he the one waiting in the promised 'dream world'? The girl did not know. But that in itself was a wonderful freedom; uncertainty about the future and being content with that notion, brought such peace to her soul. Who knew where the adventure would go when she finally stepped foot out of the Marble Palace?

It had been three months since Madara had escorted her to the Marble Palace; a gift for her, rumoured to be where Renai and Senso met on Earth in secret. It stood impressively between the trees of the Urin (rainforest) that divided Kawa no Kuni (the Land of Rivers). It was a country that bordered the Land of Wind and was closer to Suna than Koto had been; there was less rain here, hotter, more humid days gave birth to the rainforest. The Palace was, unsurprisingly, made of white marble; it glittered in the hot sun and cooled all those who sought sanctuary in its shade. The walls outside had never faded or crumbled; they stood strong against the vibrant green vines that grew up the side of the Palace, each plant stretching out to catch the sunbeams and raindrops. The garden was full life; plants, blossoms of every colour, birds serenading one another and koi fish danced between the lily pads the were floating atop the gentle waters of a steam.

Hidden between the rose bushes and low hanging branches of palm trees, eerily quiet and astoundingly beautiful, stood red-stone statues of gods. They towered in the tall grass, that red clay, famous in this part of the world, was burning to an orange in the tropical sun. Carved faces were hidden between low branches and the figures of curvaceous goddesses were draped with overgrown wisteria. The silent figures gave a hint of what the Palace was originally created for. With marble domes and large prayer rooms, the building was originally intended to be a shrine to smaller deities and Renai; lotus flowers, a sign of good luck, were carved into the marble alongside scripture.

Upon entering the grounds and hearing a peacock call out to the inhabitants of the garden, warning them that someone was trespassing, Ai had stood still in awe. The group had waited behind her as she inspected the Palace from a distance; her blue eyes glittered in the garden as they caught the sunlight and shone with delight. It was a strange feeling of homecoming and freedom that Ai had never felt before. She ran through the garden to the front doors of the palace and pushed them open with all her might. Love entered that place in a state of sheer liberation and had not looked back since.

Now, Ai sat on a swinging bench that was chained to the ceiling above the veranda. If she swung out far enough, her feet could skim the top of the water of the stream that flowed in the garden beside the palace. But for now she sat quietly in a peach dress, reading her father's work, idly curling a strand of her hair around her index finger. She breathed in deeply the scent of jasmine flowers that grew in thick bunches beside the stream. In the stillness of midday, Ai could hear the peacocks calling to one another, the distant chatter of her friends around her and the familiar sound of footsteps approaching.

"Renai," as a deep and commanding voice called out to her, Ai stood from her bench and looked over to the main path in the garden that led to the front doors of the palace. As she stood, Lena walked over to her and handed her a deep blue shawl which she took with a smile and wrapped it around herself, before walking to find who had called her. Lena followed, beckoning girls from behind her.

Ai had been allowed to bring six girls to this hideout and she had been grateful for it; Ai was a social creature, even when she wanted to be left alone she was happy to sit silently in the company of friends. The good thing about courtesans is that they were all orphans; these girls had ties to no one and so when Ai asked them to follow her, they did so without hesitation. The seven girls, all dressed in beautiful colours, blending in with the tropical rainforest flowers, approached the stairs to the palace and smiled as a man in a mask approached them.

"Sensei (teacher)," Ai said with a smile, "what work is there to do?" That eerily unreadable mask gave nothing away. Just a quick bow to her, the blink of an eye and his hand raising to hand her and envelope was the only indication he had heard her. There was no emotion, no heartbeat behind that mask. Behind him, Ai spied Taka, with Sasuke stood, looking way from her and Suigetsu eyeing up Lena unashamedly.

"Translate this so I can read it and then correct any mistakes," Madara informed her. Ai tore open the envelope delicately, handed the discarded paper to Lena and proceeded to read the kanji scribbled on the parchment.

"This is indecipherable," Ai tutted; it looked as though someone with a broken hand had written this, "I cannot read this."

"His hand was broken," Madara replied and when Ai opened her mouth to ask why he added: "I broke it. Think nothing of it, dear one." Realising she was going to get no answer as Madara entered the palace to take refuge in the hottest hours of the day, she sighed.

Her role in the Akatsuki was not fully disclosed to anyone, Ai herself had no idea how many members of the Akatsuki were still alive; all she knew was Madara and Taka. She was confined to the Marble Palace with Lena and the girls most days. Madara would often visit in the morning and discuss her task for that day. Taka would visit with him sometimes although Ai never discussed much with them. Her work involved the writing of scripture; old, outdated stuff she had to learn about. Her knowledge of the dead language was one of the best in the country but even she, when forced to read the scriptures Madara or Sasuke brought for her, had to re-consider her skills. The work they gave her was ancient! It was written with words and grammar the likes of which she had never seen. Even some kanji were unrecognisable. Nevertheless, it seemed a intriguing puzzle and there was not much else to do during the day so Ai took great care with her work.

For a few moments, Taka and the group of dancers stood, almost as though they were marking their territory; the girls were scattered on the veranda, protecting the palace, looking like rose petals that had wafted away from the rose bush. Taka stood, eerily silent as though weighing up the best way to get past the girls and storm the palace. Of course, they were all allies but there was a tension between their leaders that no one could quite comprehend. It seemed Ai and Sasuke were also at odds with how they were to address each other, who they were to one another, what they meant in the world of the Akatsuki.

"What country is this from?" Ai finally looked up from the note and addressed Sasuke, assuming he and Madara had discussed the note already. The Uchiha finally turned to her; it was funny, even though Sasuke did not wear a mask, his face was as unreadable as Madara's was. It was worse than that though; Sasuke had taken a disliking to Ai. He ignored her most of the time and if they ever did speak Sasuke would give one word answers or eventually stop responding. Of course, if one asked Karin she would say Sasuke acted like that with her, but even she had to admit there was a coldness in the way he appraised the courtesan. It seemed as though today the coin he tossed told him to ignore her, so he did just that and ascended the stairs to walk past her. "Sasuke, I asked you a question."

"And who are you to ask me a question?" Sasuke asked with his back turned to her. The girl's eyes widened, the other girls gasped in offence. "So you can read and write a dead language," Sasuke continued in a bored voice, "why should I be at your beck and call? Because you're a goddess?" He turned back to her and scowled, "I see no proof of that."

"Sasuke," Suigetsu, who was stood with Taka at the bottom of the stairs, called his name with a slight laugh, trying to ease the tension, "Karin herself said this girl's chakra-"

"What does that prove?" Sasuke demanded an answer. "Nothing," he concluded when no one could give a substantial reply. He went to walk into the Palace.

"I do not believe it either," Ai spoke suddenly and the whole garden fell silent as though even the trees wanted to hear her. Sasuke turned back once more to see her looking at the floor, "what proof has been offered to me? None. I only have what I have been told: I heard Gaara speak as he was dying, I spoke with Shukaku, I called to Naruto somehow when I was imprisoned, Itachi called me Renai, Jiraiya and Madara did so too," she shrugged to show all that was meaningless. "I have no proof so I cannot answer when you ask me who I am. We could at least help one another," Ai suggested kindly, "learn from one another-"

"And what could I possibly learn from a whore?" As the Uchiha spoke, an icy breeze rippled through the courtyard, freezing everyone in their place as they looked between Sasuke and Ai.

"You're right," Ai gave a small smile of apology and turned away. "What could I possibly learn from a virgin?" As she asked, her entourage of girls giggled, the group of shinobi tried to stop their eyes from widening in surprise, not knowing where to look. Sasuke was left, staring after her, unsure of what to make of the beautiful girl who defied him.

As Ai made her way back to her bench and sat down, she turned to catch a glimpse of Sasuke walking into the palace with a gleeful-looking Suigetsu at his heel. The blue eyed beauty sighed as she clutched not to he scripture Madara had handed her. The tropical breeze fluttered around her, butterflies the size of her hand were dancing above the flowers, but the girl felt restless.

In truth, Ai was lonely. The girls here gave her company in the day time, but in the night, when she was desperate to come alive, there was no one to share her time with. It was as though she were the remnants of a fire, burning embers flickering in the coal, dying to be fanned, to be doused in kerosene and ignite one more. She was aching to burn, restless without the challenge of flirtation, without a glance from another broken soul. The dark haired boy was lost, troublesome and handsome. He had that same lonely look in his eye that Ai had shared with one other person before. That look of longing and distrust. It was so familiar to her. it felt almost like home, when Sasuke looked at her.

"Do you think today we can finally rejoice as Sasuke proclaims to the world his undying love for you?" Ai jumped as Lena spoke sarcastically, elbowed her sharply in the ribs and gave her a wink. Rubbing her rib, Ai watched as Lena went to sit with the other girls, all giggling and teasing her about Sasuke. Ai turned back to watch a pink petal drift down to the garden and cause a small ripple in the stream as it landed gently onto of the water.


There are many ways for people to look at one another; with loathing, with passion, with distrust. Very rarely is it a complicated mix of emotions and it is more unlikely that someone could notice exactly what those emotions were. Could you tell, for example, if someone equally distrusted but admired you? Or if someone loathed but sympathised with you? Often, humans are capable of hiding one emotion and showing another so you can never tell, or they confuse the emotions and no one wins. Truly, the way you look at someone gives away a lot about how you feel.

There was an odd way in which Sasuke looked at Ai; it was a look that Karin could not understand. As an extension of this, Karin could not grasp how Sasuke felt about the courtesan. Karin had been thinking about this ever since they had met Love in her room in Koto. As a child, Karin was told countless stories about the goddess Renai; the enchantress, the lover, the stealer of hearts. Many suspected that, as a physical manifestation of love, Renai was a chameleon; whatever your ideas of love were, they impacted on your relationship with the goddess.

The red-haired kunoichi had thought about this a lot over the past few months as she had been researching Ai. The girl had been in a relationship with Sabaku no Gaara, a man who had a tortuous relationship with love all his life; he fought for it, killed for it, longed for it and so, according to legend, that is how he looked at her. Although this was a special case, supposedly, it was blood-love, the divine phenomenon. Therefore the Kazekage and Ai were caught in an eternally unchanging paradox, one that Karin could not begin to understand. Uzumaki Naruto, who Karin had never met but heard was responsible for Ai's rescue from imprisonment, always saw love as something worth protecting. According to the rumours she heard about the hero from Konoha, Naruto's actions would indicate that that is why he chose to protect Ai- because she is Love itself!

What was Sasuke's relationship with love like? He hated his brother but, after recent events, had returned to loving him, she suspected. His family, his clan, were all taken from him so he went without love for years and put him in misery, making him swear revenge. Therefore it seems logical that the boy should long for love, just as Gaara did! Then why did he take such a disliking to Ai?

The first time they had met at the Palace, Ai asked Sasuke to respect the sanctity of the place and not let the blood on his footsteps darken the marble of the temple. Quick to anger with her metaphors and poetry, Sasuke walked into the palace, entirely oblivious to the fact that Ai had not been speaking in metaphor; he tracked blood in on the soles of his shoes. It was at that moment, when Ai gasped in indignation and the Uchiha regarded her with no remorse, that the two were on either end of a silent war.

Madara insisted Sasuke train Ai in shinobi skills; taijutsu, ninjutsu and the like. It turned out the courtesan was hopeless, utterly useless at anything that was not dance, poetry, singing or literature. She had no apt for battle, no desire to kill, no interest in weapons and absolutely no talent in any of it. It frustrated the both of them; Sasuke was not going to teach a girl who could barely hold a kunai and Ai was not going to learn from a boy who had no patience.

There battle was spoken through skilful looks, teasing comments by the courtesan and the cold, unnerving silences Sasuke would greet her with….was that Sasuke's relationship with love in a nutshell? Love didn't want to know him and he didn't want to know her? It couldn't be!

Maybe it wasn't true at all, this theory about treating Renai like love itself….or maybe, Karin just did not know Sasuke well enough to answer the question. There was one way to find out.

Taka were sat in a room of the Marble Palace that evening, waiting out here before heading to make arrangements for the Kage summit. They were lounging in a room of sandy marble, a creamy-beige coloured stone that seemed to warm up when hit with candlelight. Sasuke was leaning against a wall, flicking through a notebook Madara had given him.

Suddenly, Karin stood and stared directly at the wall behind Sasuke, pushing her glasses up her nose as though she needed to sniff something out.

"Karin?" Suigetsu asked, sitting up straighter and staring at her. "What is it?" Raising a shaking hand to the wall behind Sasuke, Karin breathed in fear:

"There's someone in Ai's bathroom," the girl had barely finished her sentence when Sasuke began running.

"Sasuke!" Suigetsu called after him.

"Stay here!" They heard him shout back.

Even Jugo noticed the way Karin's hand fell limp by his side, the way she bowed her head as Sasuke left the room.

"Karin…" Jugo began but the girl simply turned away from him in silence. Suigetsu looked between the two of them, trying to figure out what had upset Karin this time.


The girl called Love was stood in her bathroom, a large rectangular room with an oval pool in it. She had just bathed and bid her friends goodnight as they retired to their rooms after helping her into her night robe. She stood before a wall of hanging mirrors; various shapes, sizes, frames and angles, they all hung from chains shaped like vines with flowers. They gave the girl reflections of herself from every angle and reflected the dim candlelight, giving the room a golden glow. Steam was still rising up through the room, catching onto the scent from the oil Ai had been burning. It had a soft, floral fragrance like frangipani.

In her white robe which pinned between her breasts and falling off her shoulders, Ai stood brushing her hair. Her hair fell in soft, wet waves on her left shoulder and a small tapping sound accompanied the girl's movements as water dripped from her comb and onto the marble floor.

"Come on to me, Tempest," Ai sang absent-mindedly as she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. "Rain over me, stain me with your colour," she smirked at herself as she watched a water droplet cling to her bottom lip, "if cruelty be your skill then teach me, I am your undoubting follower…" Ai picked up a perfume bottle; glass vial which looked as though it were twisted and painted with pearl. Opening the bottle, she tipped a little perfume onto her index finger and wiped it across her collarbone. "Teach me, you heartless storm, how it is to- ah!" Ai gasped as a gust of wind entered the room; she dropped the bottle out of surprise and wrapped her arms around herself in order to shield herself from the cold. The mirrors in front of her swung and clattered against each other and the wall as the wicked breeze pushed them, echoing the sound of the glass vial shattering on the marble floor. Eventually all was still and the mirrors fell back into place. Ai looked up into the mirrors, waited a moment for them to be still before she spied, standing behind her, his figure shaking in the mirrors as they rattled, was "Sasuke?" The girl with blue eyes caught a glimpse of the man with a look she would never forget; breathing heavy, alert, frustrated and confused, he stood at the entrance to her bathroom. Slowly she turned to him. What was that look on his face? He was practically panting, trying to catch his breath! His skin was glowing pink, his mouth dry for he had to swallow hard. Why had he run into her bathroom so late in the night? "Sasuke, what's the matter?"

The man took in the sight of her; those diamond-like, shimmering eyes, the dark hair, fair skin and dangerously-thin white robe. Her hair was wet, her skin dewy like the morning. How could he answer her question when he was unsure himself.

"I-" What was there to say? How could he articulate what was going on in his head? The Uchiha took a breath and tried to control the swirling hurricane of emotions that was overwhelming his head.

When Karin had said there was an intruder, it alerted something inside of him. Something that did not want to see Ai hurt. The thought of being in a world without her was unbearable to him. It felt as though someone wanted to suffocate him; he had to break free of their control and swallow the air just to be able to breathe again. He glanced up at Ai once more and, seeing that look of concern, the heartbreaking way she hurt because he looked troubled, suddenly put all emotion into perspective; could not lose Love again.

That very girl walked to meet him and stopped in front of him. He could barely look at her; his eyes were darting from her figure, to the floor, to her lips, to the floor again. Ai tilted her head, her nightdress falling off her shoulder as she did so, spying him under her eyelashes. He was shaking! His skin was paler yet somehow flushed pink. Was Sasuke…scared? Was he anxious?

"Hey," Ai said soothingly, catching his attention, finally making him look at her. She made a point of showing him her hands, bringing them up between them, her slender fingers wiggled a little in front of his face. "I'm here," Ai whispered and put her hands on either side of his face. "Don't be scared," she reassured him, "I'm here." The two stared at each other for a few moments and Ai shuddered with remembrance; that feeling of looking at someone as seeing they were just as lonely and lost and as desperate for love as you were.

It is a rare thing, to look at someone and understand everything about them in a moment. To know why they ache, why they are fearful, why they want so desperately for you to feel the same way. In this moment, the two of them did feel the same way; utterly perplexed and in awe of each other. Amazed by their beauty, confused by their attraction and torn by their desire. But all who know Love well, know she is reckless. Ai went up on her tiptoes and kissed Sasuke gently.

The courtesan could feel his inhibitions trembling in his kiss; he was dying to give in, dying to see what she tasted like, but the pucker in his lips showed his nervous and the firm way in which they remained closed indicated his inexperience. She retreated a little to see his reaction but Sasuke had closed his eyes, a weird mix of lust and apprehension played on his face.

"You do not fear making love to me because I am a whore," Sasuke's eyes opened as Ai said something he was not expecting to hear. She was looking up at him, her big blue eyes heavy-lidded with lust. "What you fear is that you'll like it," the girl giggled, shot him a well-rehearsed come-hither glance and walked away from him.

For a few moments Sasuke stood, staring after her, dumbstruck that one moment she was twisting her way around him and the next she was gone. "Wait, Ai!" He called after her and followed her into her bedroom.

"Yes?" Sasuke stopped short as he entered her bedroom, feeling his fingertips going numb, his heart beating hard in his chest at just the sight of her. Ai's room was made of glass and cream-coloured cotton; beige marble floors with specks of gold and bedsheets of white silk and gold embellishments all glittered in the room, giving the impression that you were walking inside a diamond. Her bed was placed on top of a platform, you had to walk up a few shallow steps to get to it. She stood impressively tall for a petite girl, curvaceous as her white robe clung to her, delicate with her soft waves of hair and terribly, sinfully alluring with her red lips. The white drapes of her bed fell in lustrous waves behind her, the glow of the candlelight shimmered on her cheekbones.

"Well?" She urged him and Sasuke, who had only ever felt this way a few times before, cleared his throat.

"Teach me." They looked at one another for a few moments longer; they were caught up in the floral scent, the room was heady with heat, the two were just desperate to be tangled up together. Ai had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach; a nervous sense of guilt was squirming in her insides. But, at the same time, her skin was beginning to burn, she was beginning to feel the way she used to feel- she was coming alive again! Sasuke watched as though he were waiting to be attacked; with one foot slightly in front of the other, he watched her and waited.

The courtesan unclipped her robe and let it fall to the floor. The white silk slipped off her curves like water leaving the shore; it clung to her shape for less than a second before being pulled away from her by gravity. Ai stood, naked in the candlelight, watching with a slight smile, for the changes Sasuke's body was going to go through.

His skin flushed pink, he swallowed hard, barely daring to breathe. It was as though the girl was a delicate dove that had fluttered to stand next to him and any small movement would scare her away. He found himself immovable by the sight of her.

Ai beckoned him with a finger and went to pick up a wide, red silk ribbon that was lying abandoned by Lena on her bedside table. The girls had been deciding on which colour ribbon to tie to one of Ai's dresses but the courtesan decided on a better use for the material. She turned to find Sasuke stood next to her and she watched him for a moment as he as he took in the sight of her. The man could feel his member harden at the sight of her soft, pink skin, the curve of her lips, the smell of he perfume.

"If you really want to learn you must disable your most powerful weapon-" Before Ai could explain, Sasuke freed his katana from its holder and threw it across the room. The two did not break eye contact as the weapon clattered on the marble floor by Ai's door. "You and I both know that is not your most powerful weapon, Uchiha." It was the slight emphasis on his name, the manner in which Ai twirled the red ribbon around her fingers that gave Sasuke the clue. "Your vision," Ai confirmed, "you must go without it-"

"Why?"

"Trust me." Sasuke did not like this answer, and he did not want to tie the ribbon in front of his eyes. But the promise of what Ai had to offer was too enticing so he bent a little and let Ai tie the ribbon around his eyes. "Lay down next to me," Ai guided him onto the bed until he was lying, comically stiff, beside her. "Face me," Ai ordered and Sasuke moved to lie on his side so they were face to face. The girl took his hand and put it on the side of her face.

"What is the point of this?" The man asked impatiently causing Ai to turn her face and bite his wrist. "Ah!" Sasuke gasped in surprise as a pain shot through his wrist; had she bitten him? Ai leant in close, his hair falling onto her face, her nipples gliding over the fabric of his shirt.

"I want you to listen closely to what you do to me. Learn from the noises I make and force me to make more." She kissed the corner of his lips and smiled as she could see a frown of incomprehension crease his brow. So, to help him, Ai lay down, took his hand and placed it on her breast.

"Ah!" Feeling the soft flesh in his palms, instinct made Sasuke cup and squeeze and pinch suddenly. Ai could feel her toes curling up against her bedsheets as Sasuke got up onto his knees and used both hands to feel the outline of her curves. He bent down to find her face and Ai, smiling a little at the fact that she had to move to catch his lips, obliged him with a kiss. She opened her mouth and gasped into his as Sasuke's primal nature kicked in and he owned her mouth by placing one hand behind her head, the other on her neck and forcing his tongue deep into her. The moan that issued from Ai was enough to tell Sasuke that he was a fast leaner.

So his exploration of the courtesan continued; his hands roughly grabbed and tugged at her and moved her body to feel different parts of her. He moved between the girl's legs and began to kiss her neck. Ai began to writhe and gasp in a way she never though she would again; suddenly she was desperate for the feel of his skin. She could feel how heavy, how strong his physique was and wanted, so badly, to watch his body as it flexed and worked above her. So Ai sat up and helped Sasuke remove his clothes which, while difficult given the fact that Sasuke was blind, he was also eager to do.

"Enough," Sasuke removed his blindfold and pushed Ai to lie down, "I want to see you," he demanded, earning a small smile from the girl. As Sasuke was sat up and went back to enjoying Ai's neck, the girl caught sight of his dick and licked her lips; she knew it was coming, that sense of liberty, of feeling truly human.

Eventually, Ai's heartbeat slowed, her blood cooled and Ai found she was staring at the ceiling, a horrible sense of guilt and remorse was coming over her. There was only one person she should allow this close to her, wasn't there? But he wanted nothing to do with her, didn't he?

Gaara. What have we done to each other?

The shinobi on top of Ai seemed to notice her lack of response after a while and, as he was tasting her inner thigh which was wet with her warm juices, he stopped and looked up to her. He could not see Ai's face for she was facing the ceiling. With almost, out-of-character tenderness, Sasuke lifted himself up so he could surround her.

"Ah!" Ai jumped as a shadow fell across her vision and it turned out to be Sasuke positioning himself on top of her.

"Are you alright?" The man asked in a tired voice; he was ready to be inside of her, he could feel his dick was rigid, pulsing, dying to feel what was waiting for him. Ai looked him in the eye; suddenly the tables had turned and she was the one fearful. What was there to be fearful of? She wondered as she looked into his dark eyes. This is the life she had chosen, she should commit to every decision and not look back. She nodded vigorously.

"Yes," she said convincingly. "Come," Ai whispered softly and parted her legs properly, beckoning him into her. Sasuke adjusted slightly, his dark hair falling into her eyes as he lowered himself on top of her.

"Ah!" Their bodies moved as one, Ai's figure arched as Sasuke pushed up inside of her. The Uchiha opened his eyes to take in the sight of Love, her face showing ecstasy because of him, her figure trembling with pleasure. He went slow, savouring every second of it; pulling out, he saw Ai relax a little before he pushed back inside of her.

"Ah!" The noises she made was unlike anything Sasuke had dreamt of; they were delicate and full of sinful lust and sounded as though she was begging him to go a little deeper, to go a little faster. "More," Ai spoke as though she had read his mind. Ai wanted to feel him all at once, to make his abs tense up as he clenched his stomach, to scrape her nails against his rear as it tightened when he moved his hips. She wanted him to fuck her after months of dying to be fucked. "More!" Ai demanded.

Both were panting, both were grabbing on to any part of each other they could find. One moment their tongues were in each other's throats, the next they were licking the sweat from each other's necks. Ai was swearing under her breath, giving him such delicious, sultry moans and encouragement to own her, to defile her, that Sasuke found it hard to control himself. She felt like everything he ever wanted, sex felt like everything he had thought he was missing. He grabbed her hair with one hand and her waist with the other and fucked her hard until he reached climax.


The next morning Ai awoke to the sound of birds singing in the gardens; she was unsurprised to find that Sasuke had already left her bed. At what point had he left? The girl was sure that had fallen asleep in embrace. She sat up, wrapped her bedsheets around her, bit her lip and looked up to the mosaic ceiling. She felt slightly odd. A strange mix of the glow after sex, the rush of endorphins, with extreme guilt and betrayal were all wrestling around inside of her stomach. She half wanted to punch the air and tell the world she had finally gotten over the immature, egotistical Kazekage…and she half wanted to cry in his arms. She needed to talk to Lena.

Half an hour later, Ai was fully dressed, her hair and face immaculate, as she walked to breakfast. There was, oddly, no signs of life within the palace; Taka seemed to have gone with Madara and the girls were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they had gone to the market? Ai frowned as she thought about it; why would they go without telling her? She had not woken late at all! The courtesan pushed open the doors to the dinging area with a feeling of dread.

The girl stopped dead. Perhaps it had been the sound, the spark of electricity, the chatter of excited birds. Or perhaps it was the way the cold light came out of the darkness unexpectedly that had given Ai that anguish yet to come.

The courtesan fell to her knees, trying her hardest to breathe and hold on but her vision was blurring. Out of the darkness, came the vision Sasuke stood above her, his hand through her chest as small silver sparks illuminated his handsome face. Her blood was splatted across his chest and she watched, as she slipped away into unconsciousness, her hand against his skin, dragging the blood down his body as she fell to the floor.


 

Comments and Kudos appreciated!

Chapter Text

Before the creation of the world, a whisper of malcontent rippled through the universe: an evil spirit was said to have wandered into the lower planes of Tengoku (heaven) and threatened to uproot a divine tree to harness the power of its fruit. In the hands of the depraved only destruction and death could follow such an act. And so, the call to war echoed through the galaxies like a cosmic hurricane.

Renai and Senso were called upon to enter battle on behalf of Tengoku in order to save paradise from sure-destruction. Gods of all creeds and powers were enlisted into the forces that would fight in worlds unknown and uncharted. There was a threat to their divine and magical way of life, a threat that, if not extinguished, would see an end to Renai and Sesno's world. But before any formal inauguration into the armed forces could be instigated, Senso forbade Renai from participating in battle.

Naturally, neither wanted the other to go for fear of losing them. But Senso, a grounded and rational warrior, warned Renai that if existence were to lose Love then there would be no hope, no care, no peace in the world. The goddess agreed and watched with anxious tears and a heavy heart as her beloved left paradise for war.

When the war ended Renai travelled to the gates of heaven, far from her home at the centre of paradise, in order to catch a glimpse of her lover as he returned home. With a bright smile and a garland of jasmine flowers hung on her wrist, waiting to be strung around the hero's neck, Renai went to the gates and waited for her beloved to return.

But Senso did not return. Centuries passed. All the while, Renai waited.

She watched from the gates and looked down into the universe to see new worlds created from the laughter of gods, from the sprinkle of stardust that fell from angels' eyelashes. She even witnessed the creation of the world we know and looked on in curiosity as these strange, inspiring creatures relished and loved and killed and cried and smiled through their mortality.

So bound to her belief that Senso would return, so curious about these creatures on Earth, Renai soon forgot her home in Paradise and she took up permanent residence by the gates of heaven. Her soul was permanently caught in one of two states: she would spend her days waiting in loneliness for her beloved to return or she would laugh at the foolish antics of the mortals in the world below.

She happened to be staring into a silvery star one evening, when the Creator stumbled upon her new hiding place. Amidst the tranquility of the space that the gates of heaven occupied, the power of the Creator rippled through the entire dimension, bending time and space, making Renai's entire being seize up for a moment in fear of what he would do when he found her hidden.

Needless to say the Creator did not take kindly to Renai's new found role; to sit idle, to not participate in the world of the gods was shameful. Especially since the Creator had granted her a position amongst the other kami (gods) following her being rescued from imprisonment. There was nothing that seemed to satisfy Love! One moment she would curse her beloved for all his temper led him to say and the next she would beg for his safe return. What a cursed love they shared! And now that Senso was lost to heaven, Renai refused to return to the centre paradise and instead awaited his return. The Creator cursed, screamed, fought, argued, pleaded, begged, dragged Renai to follow him back to their home. But she refused to leave the gates.

Upon seeing how stubborn she was, the Creator made a deal with her:

Do you know what lies between these gates? Life and death. Mortals pass through here when they wish to enter heaven. Souls leave this place when they are about to be born. I will relieve the guards of their work here and, if you are to remain here, you instead shall judge what passes through. From Love existence shall be granted and from Love existence shall be taken. Do you understand? 

And so, Love was given a new task; to judge who entered and left this world. To speak to the dead and let them pass through the gates, to guard heaven, guide souls and welcome the lost. Content with her new role, Renai waited in solemn silence for the day her lover would return.

That was until the day she heard the thoughts of a poet as they drifted up to meet her between the stars….

He who walks in the shadow of love, will surely have heaven beneath his feet…


"When one enters this plane, they enter in peak physical condition. For example, although your sensei, Jiraiya, died at the age of 55, he entered this place aged 35. No cuts, no bruises, no scars. Itachi, though in death his eyes were damaged beyond repair, came here aged 22 with perfect vision. All wounds are healed, all breaks are mended."

Ai could feel herself lying on her back against a hard surface, wincing as her body found it difficult to adjust to this new environment. She could hear someone with a beautiful, melodic voice, speaking to her as though singing. Slowly, she opened her eyes.

"Ah!" And shut them tightly for all she saw as she looked up was a blinding whiteness. Breathing heavy, trying to slow her heart beat, Ai opened her eyes again, slower this time. The overwhelming feeling of emptiness engulfed her as she looked up into that whiteness. The tips of her fingers were tingling as though she were trying to come to life; as though she had been waiting centuries to move them. Turning onto her side, Ai propped herself up with her elbow and squinted into the distant whiteness. On the horizon, she could see the outline of a figure moving towards her.

Her mind was fuzzy as though she could not remember her own existence; her body felt heavy and weak, unable to move. Something had frightened her…what was it? It was as though she had been walking alone in the dark to have someone leap out and scare her and just as she had jumped back in surprise, she had jumped back into this world. But where was she? Who was she?

A vision of red and ocean green, the colours of love were floating around in her brain and it was almost painful to remember, but harder to forget, the man she left behind-

"There was only one man who came to me with a scar that even death could not remove." The dancer looked up as the figure walked into her line of sight.

Ai's heart stopped. Her entire being froze. Part of her wanted to scream, another part wanted to get up and run. But she was immovable by the sight of what was in front of her:

Red lips, blue eyes, hair in dark ringlets; in ivory silk and a gold tiara made for an empress, stood…Ai. She was looking at herself! As she lay on the floor of this horribly empty place, another version of her stood, watching her with a look of melancholy.

"Your name, our name, I suppose, since we are the same being. It remained cut into him so deep, it had became such an integral part of that boy that the rules of death were, for the first time in eternity, broken." The courtesan watched, entirely speechless, as this other version of herself fiddled with a gold bangle on her wrist. Looking more closely, Ai could see that this version of her was older, there were lines around her eyes, a more mature structure to her face. In fact, the more Ai looked, the more she looked less like the dancer and more like a woman Ai had seen in paintings.

The courtesan winced as memories came quenching back into her brain; you have become poetry…when we returned to the temple a year later, the child we found nestled amidst the lotus blossoms, floating in the temple, was you….your name took my last breath….the words of mortals she knew dearly were jumbled up inside her head, screaming, fighting to be heard, to remind her who she was, where she was supposed to be.

"And now you turn up with that," the woman gestured to Ai, catching the girl's attention, "scar," she shuddered slightly as though she hated the fact that Ai's beautiful face had been harmed."And you are just," the woman with the face of an empress sighed, "…just so ready and young and hopeful to deny the rules of death again. You and he are both so alike." Ai knew that laugh, that smile, that face. It was not hers but it was so familiar. It felt as though memories belonging to the goddess were somehow mixing with Ai's; she could see her father sat in the firelight, frightened at the image of Renai appearing on the page of his notebook. The sculptures of Renai in the gardens of the Marble Palace all seemed to come to life in her mind as though they were made of a life-giving clay. She could feel the loss of Senso, the heartbreak of his rumoured death.

Renai let out an airy laugh. Finally, the younger girl seemed to find her voice and sat up, pointing directly at the goddess.

"Y-you!" Renai frowned as Ai said this; suddenly the girl's age was apparent. She was scared and confused, utterly out of her depth and entirely lost. He mortality was showing in all its vulnerability.

"You?" Renai folded her arms; seeing as this girl was a part of her, she had expected more of an introduction. "Don't you mean me?" The goddess asked teasingly.

"I-I-" but Ai had no idea what to say, she simply babbled a few words, still unable to articulate what it was like to suddenly come face-to-face with the person you are supposed to be.

"Oh come now, Ai, you're more articulate than this!" The goddess encouraged her kindly; she took in that innocent face, the young, youthful glow and knew that Ai, although a part of her, was entirely different to her. Renai grew up among the stars, matured in the beautiful gardens of heaven. This girl had been raised to be a whore, had seen some of the evil the world of the humans had to offer. Her shock, her naivety, were mere reminders of a lonely existence Renai and her father had given her. "Your father was a poet, for goodness sake!" Renai smiled, her red, velvet lips curving perfectly, "you are Love incarnate sent to Earth to serve a purpose. Surely you can rattle off something a little more original?" But the girl was still speechless; she was looking around, trying to make sense of her situation. "No?" Ai's attention snapped over to Renai as the goddess spoke with a loud, commanding voice. "Too perplexed by the madness of your own existence?" Renai laughed as the dancer simply blinked up at her. "Very well. Answer me," Renai watched with slowly diminishing patience as Ai marvelled at the fact that she was somehow wearing very similar clothes to Renai. While the goddess was wearing a gold and ivory silk, Ai was in a simple ivory dress with a gold border. "Why did your scar not fade?" Ai looked up at Renai as the goddess asked the question, her voice suddenly becoming serious, "why did Gaara's not disappear at death?" Ai sat more comfortably, placing her hands together in her lap, unsure of what was happening or where she was. "Answer me, Ai," the goddess commanded again, earning a sweet frown from the girl.

"Because they are a part of us," Ai responded, finding the sound of her own voice odd.

"What is a part of you?"

"Our scars."

"Be more specific; what do the scars represent?" The two, human and goddess, mortal and immortal, two halves of the same person, one made of starlight, the other of poetry, looked at each other with sincere respect.

"Blood-love," Ai answered. The goddess nodded, a dark curl falling beside her face as she did so.

"The mark of the blood-love cannot be erased even in death; your love is who you are. Do you realise Gaara was the only one to ever state your origins to you without being aware of the truth?" The blue eyed dancer frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"The poem Love, I know how it ends. With you." Ai could hear Gaara's voice saying those words to her all those months ago on the rooftop of the palace in Suna. "In the end, what else is there? You are poetry. You exist beyond death…He said all of this to you months before you even came to know of it yourself."

"Why are you telling me this?" Ai watched as Renai's eyes misted over with tears and nostalgia. To Renai, it really was like looking at a younger version of herself; the one that fell in love, the one that experienced heartbreak.

"Because I saw the moment you realised you were not living until you met this person," the goddess gasped as a tear escaped her eye. She almost laughed, unable to remember the last time she had shed a tear. "I saw you, the moment your existence became explainable only by him. I watched the two of you fall so deeply, so quickly, in love with one another. Your story is truly heart breaking." Ai looked away; did the goddess not know the rest? Did Renai not know Gaara and Ai were now either side of a war? "Do you know why I wanted to live a life on Earth, dear one?" Renai asked, wiping her tear away with a finger. The girl knew the answer to this; Jiraiya had told her when he came to explain her origins.

"To know love as the humans do."

"Yes," Renai nodded again, smiling sweetly as though Ai had said something amusing. "I used to play tricks on those strange creatures; make them fall for one another by blinking my eyes. But I began to realise that there were those falling in love without my help. Those who could not live without one another for reasons I could not be the cause of. Do humans really know of a love the same way we gods do? I put myself in the care of the world to be able to understand the way humans think, the way they care for one another. I, as you, dwelt there for twenty years. So can you answer the question, Ai: what is love?" Ai jumped at being asked; she had not been expecting to have the kind of lesson Kai would give her! Was the goddess asking for a line of poetry like Kai usually did? An analogy from the Great Philosophers? No…that much was evident in the sincere tears in her eyes. So, Ai thought, what is love?

Ai thought of Gaara; how had she loved him? They had filled each other so full of love all the emptiness of being alone was suddenly gone. Was that it? No…there was so much more to it but in a way Ai could not articulate. She looked up at the immortal, older version of herself and shook her head.

"I cannot answer you, Renai."

"Then your work on Earth is not complete," Ai stood on shaking legs as Renai turned her back to her.

"What-what are you doing?" Ai asked and tried to follow as Renai took a step away from her, but Ai's body was still too weak, her limbs felt far too heavy to be able to walk in this world.

"Well, you know me, Ai," Renai called over her shoulder, "I am terribly mischievous. Awfully rebellious-"

"What are you doing?" Ai called out to her again.

"Your work on Earth is not complete. I cannot let you pass through the gates," Renai replied, her voice getting quieter the further away she walked.

"Why?" Ai tried to call out but her vision was blurring, Renai was fading away, the dancer's head was spinning, her mind was being torn from her body and out into the nothingness. Falling to her knees and closing her eyes tightly, Ai felt as though her whole being were breaking and tearing in two-

The spinning stopped. Ai felt a rush of blood coarse through her entire body as though she was just brought into existence: her skin suddenly felt everything all at once; the fabric of her dress against her shoulders, her own weight against the bed beneath her, the movement of someone beside her.

"Ai you're awake," she stirred upon hearing Karin's voice. "Here, you are weak," Ai felt the kunoichi put her wrist over Ai's mouth, waiting for her flesh to be bitten. "You must maintain adequate levels of chakr- hey!" Karin jumped back as Ai opened her eyes and jumped out of her bed.

Her body was still weak, she could feel the bandages around her chest and the wound begin to sting. She practically had to drag herself past Lena and the other girls who had no idea what was happening, before she reached her desk, pulled out some of her old notes and walked to the door of her bedroom.

"Lena!" Ai called to her and the blonde came running to support her.

Madara, Sasuke, Suigetsu and Jugo had all heard the commotion from another room and were walking towards Ai's bedroom. They saw her at the door to her room, holding on to a sheaf of papers. Her hands were shaking terribly, her skin was pale, blood was seeping through the bandages on her chest which could be seen as the ribbon holding the front of her blouse together was undone. The courtesan hurriedly separated a small piece of paper from the bunch and let the rest of the papers fall from her hand; they were caught on a breeze and swirled around the hall and out into the gardens. The blue eyed beauty swiped her thumb across her chest to take up some of her blood.

"Ah!" Ai fell to her knees as the group of men were fast approaching, Lena held her by putting an arm around her waist. On her knees, Ai swiped her thumb across the parchment in her hands and held it up against the wall beside her. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu (summoning jutsu)," Ai whispered. Suddenly, from beneath her hand, kanji, unreadable to those who did not know the dead language, began to unfurl onto the wall. As they spread out like a rosette against the marble, they became bigger and more animated as though they were going to jump off the marble and attack the men racing towards the door.

"Stop!" Madara held out an arm to stop the group in their tracks; they watched as the kanji spread out across the ceilings and walls, encasing the palace in a dark web. Madara's eyes narrowed on notes and scrolls Ai left littered around the palace and watched in shock as the kanji moving on the walls seemed to swallow up these notes and more kanji exploded from them. All of the walls, the ceiling, the candle holders, the floor, became engulfed in the dark ink of the old language. The Uhciha's mind was racing; what he had taken for Ai being a little untidy was actually him being naive to her intelligence. The girl had not left these notes lying around out of laziness; they were strategically placed so that this very jutsu could unfold; Ai had taken care to put a security measure in place.

"Keep all Uhciha's the hell away from me!" Ai shouted from her doorway, catching Madara's attention.

"Renai," Madara bellowed in the hall, "what are you doing?" Lena helped the girl to her feet.

"Every time I meet one of you damned Uhciha's," Ai shouted back, "I end up near dead! You are not to enter this part of the palace again!" Eventually, the kanji on the walls grew still and ended at Madara's feet. A thin film of chakra, invisible to the naked eye, acted like a wall only an inch away from Madara's face. It was a shield he could not pass though.

"You fortified the palace?" He whispered in disbelief, "without telling me?"

"I thought this girl knew nothing of ninjutsu?" Suigetsu whispered from behind Sasuke.

"Step into it, Madara," Ai hissed. "That's a dare."

"Ai," Sasuke spoke suddenly, "stop this." There was a moment were Ai and Sasuke stared at one another with confused and angry faces; neither knowing what the other was thinking. Ai leant against her friend for support before turning away to walk back into her bedroom.

"Ai!" Madara called to her, "who did you meet? Did you see yourself!?" Upon hearing this, Ai stopped. How did he know? What was happening here? Had it been real? It wasn't genjutsu?

But Ai knew it had been real; genjutsu cannot generate completely new memories, it can only tamper with them. But she had some of Renai's memories, thoughts, dreams, with her now. It was real.

The Uchiha seemed to know he hit a nerve; he waited for the girl to turn back to him, he asked: "did you meet Renai?"

"Yes," the girl said grimly. "That's what you wanted, isn't it? Proof," Ai laughed a sick, exhausted laugh, "well, now you have it," she said in defeat. "At the expense of my trust and health." Bowing her head, Ai had to finally come to terms with it and admit it to herself. "I am Renai." No one could see the small smile that cracked in the face beneath the mask.

"Aren't you happy?" The man asked softly, "your entire being has been explained to you!" He exclaimed as though this was something that should be rejoiced. Ai sighed and looked up at Sasuke.

"You almost killed me." The girl, the goddess, walked away.


 

Kudos and comments appreciated!

Chapter Text

"Have you seen the Kazekage?" The older sister to the Kazekage was growing weary of what was becoming her weekly task; it seemed her youngest brother had taken a liking to playing hide-and-seek with palace officials. The blonde kunoichi walked into the gardens and addressed a group of gardeners. Holding onto their sun hats, faces red with fatigue, fingernails black with earth, the men and women all looked around at each other and shook their heads.

"No, Temari-sama," they recited in unison. Temari tried to not let her brow furrow or her lip twitch in a nervous frustration; she had been looking for twenty minutes and there were no signs of Gaara anywhere! Walking back into the shade of the palace, the woman entered the library. Staff and students looked up when she entered as loudly as possible in a bid to catch their attention. From the dark wooden desks and bookshelves, they peered over to her anxiously.

"Have you seen the Kazekage?" Temari asked the room at large.

"No, Temari-sama," came the expected reply. Leaving the library, Temari could think of no other place Gaara would venture…unless he had gone to the kitchens? Why on Earth would he do that? While she was pondering over her brother's whereabouts, her other brother, the middle sibling, approached her. Temari, hands on hips, utterly fed-up with Gaara's antics, waited for Kankuro to reach her before she asked:

"Have you seen-!?"

"Have you seen-!?" Both were cut short as they asked each other the same question. Kankuro, usually so calm and patient, had his face painted; the purple line around his lips seemed grey and flat as he stared at his sister with discontent. "Where has he gone to now!?" The puppet master exclaimed only to have Temari sigh in exasperation.

"The Kazekage?" Both sand siblings looked over as a student of Gaara's, Sari, spoke as she was about to enter the library. Temari nodded at her. "He's in the palace temple; I saw him walking to it around ten minutes ago," the girl answered hurriedly as she noted the frustrated air around the Kazekage's brother and sister. Once the sand sibling's heard their answer, they turned on their heels and walked swiftly towards the temple. Neither said it, but both thought it: of all the places Gaara could be, they never would have thought it would be the temple.


Months ago, this palace temple had been brimming with life. Like a lake at dusk; you could never see what was stirring beneath the water but you could feel its presence. If you concentrated you could sense the vibrations in the cool, cold waters and see the ripples on the surface caused by what slept in the deep. At least, this is how Gaara felt about the palace temple when the women of the Tea House had been staying at the palace.

Before he met Ai, the Kazekage was familiar with both the temple and the Tea House as places other people went to. It was odd to him that these places, made for such opposing purposes, could leave him with the same impression; the temple and the Tea House were strange, guilt-inducing paces where he felt like he did not belong. He would pass the Tea House when leaving Suna and from his carriage would feel the whole building moving, as though it were breathing; he could hear and feel signs of life from within those glass walls. When he had first entered there, he felt utterly at odds with the place; he was not the kind of man to sit in dark corners, drinking with women vying for his attention and watching revelry unfold.

And the temple, once a place he never ventured to, was in between his living quarters and his office so he would pass it often. He only ever entered the temple on his birthday when the rituals for the anniversary of his mother's death were underway and even then he had only been attending those ceremonies for the last couple of years. He had never had the courage, nor the strength of heart, to face Temari as she wept for a mother he did not know. Gaara did not understand the wince in Kankuro's face or the way the puppet master would put his arm around their sister. No, the palace temple was not a place for Gaara.

When the women of the Tea House arrived, however, there was always golden light seeping up into the sky from the windows, the fragrance of dessert flowers would waft out from under the door and the sound of singing could be heard throughout the palace day and night. Gaara had felt a source of comfort when the temple was so lively; he and his siblings would sit in on prayers more often, Temari even requested specific prayers to be carried out on behalf of the family. Kankuro would sit contemplatively, averting his eyes from the women of the Tea House for fear of Temari's disapproving look and their youngest brother would sit quietly at the back and refuse the invitation from Megumi to sit at the head of the prayers with her or the priest. On the odd occasion when the public or royal guests were visiting the palace and joined the household's prayers, the Kazekage would sit at the front of the prayer ceremony as was custom and feel entirely lost.

Even when Ai had been living with him at the palace, he did not sit with her. The two maintained an almost diplomatic public relationship; Ai addressed him by his title, would only sit beside him when Temari instructed her to, would barely look at him in a prayer ceremony. Because when she did look at him, it would be far too distracting, make him clumsy, make her forget the words to her prayers. Ai was well behaved in front of others and took on the role of unofficial partner to the Kazekage with ease. The courtesan was raised to be in the company of royalty so she possessed the sahō (manners, etiquette) and josei-sei (femininity) that was expected of the Kazekage's wife.

But to Gaara, sahō was easily forgotten behind closed doors and josei-sei was either a ruse or breakable. It was always fun to see Ai forced onto her knees before himto see her drop the courtesan and diplomatic tones for more seductive, flirtatious notes. There was one such incident that would often play on the Kazekage's mind. A few months ago, he had come looking for Ai and spied the dancer by herself in front of Raijin's shrine.

"What is it you're praying for, beautiful one?" Gaara asked softly and smiled as Ai jumped in surprise.

"Ah!" The girl, sat in gold, lifted her head and put on a voice of fake-surprise. "Who speaks?"

"The one you worship," the Kazekage said cooly, earning a small smirk from his first love. "What is it you are praying for, Ai?" The girl sighed as though beside herself with grief.

"I pray for the Kazekage," she said in a forlorn voice before picking up a tray of rose petals and showering the statue and other deities with them. "I pray that he is severely punished for all his shamelessness," Ai said wickedly.

"Shamelessness?" As Gaara spoke, Ai turned to him and threw the remaining rose petals up in the air to shower them both. With a mischievous smile she approached him.

"He spies on women during morning prayers! Leaves his councilmen at lunch for idle talks with a courtesan. Abandons post to go for rooftop tea in the afternoon," Ai tutted before her smirk left her to be replaced with a familiar glint in her eye. "Tortures me in the nighttime," she whispered, watching Gaara smirk and avert his eyes. Ai walked up to the Kazekage and spoke in the old language: "Loves me, shamelessly, always."

"Speak in a suitable dialect-"

"No." The pair smiled at one another; both were always so keen to upset the other because it was always so much fun to make it up to each other. "Why are you out of your office?" Ai asked seriously.

"I came to find you," Gaara informed her as the girl in gold turned away and began to tidy the room for the next group of worshippers to come in.

"Do you require my assistance on village matters, Kazekage?" The girl asked in her sing-song voice although the tone of boredom did not go unnoticed by the Kazekage. He watched her keenly.

"Yes."

"Well, I do not wish to speak on such topics."

"Why?" Ai turned to him and watched him fold his arms. She inwardly groaned; Gaara only ever folded his arms when he was politely annoyed.

"They bore me," Ai said with an adorable smile. Realising her smile was not working on him, she approached the red headed man and put her hands on either side of his face. She was glittering in the midday sun, smelling like jasmine that was placed around the temple, her lips were shimmering in a rose-toned colour but still, Gaara did not unfold his arms. "Speak to me about beautiful things, Gaara," she pleaded only to have the Kazekage looked down at her with a bored expression.

"Beautiful things?"

"Things that stir the soul, things that speak without mouths!" Ai exclaimed, "poetry and literature." Gaara was as stubborn as she was; he did not say a word. "Did you finish The Sky and the Moon?" The girl said happily, letting her hands fall from his face and walking to the door of the temple. "The poems from the moon are a thing of magic, are they not-?"

"Ai," the girl stopped short of the temple door and shuddered; whenever Gaara spoke her name in this voice, the 'Kazeakge' tone, it had a power over her as though she were a child about to get into trouble. She turned to him slowly, looking bashful. "You are avoiding important talks," the Kazekage, arms firmly folded, addressed her, "it worries me."

"Why should it worry you?" Ai tried to be as nonchalant as possible but Gaara was not in the mood to give in.

"Because you are supposed to be my partner," he scolded her. "You are supposed to advise me," but Ai was equally fiery in temper and did not take kindly to being told what to do.

"According to who?" The girl protested.

"Tradition."

"You have councilmen and teachers, even intelligent students from all over the country to guide you-"

"But none do so out of love," as Gaara spoke, Ai smiled to herself and said in a quiet voice:

"Well, I would question the motives of some of your students-"

"Ai." Again, that horrible Kazekage-voice! Ai huffed and folded her arms, looking away from him in frustration. Gaara saw on her face some anguish, some hidden frustration. He had been learning from his sister to pick up on these cues faster and more often; Gaara would sometimes miss important moments with others because he could not tell when they were after something but were not verbalising it. In a way, he was glad Ai was melodramatic, it led for a much easier exercise in understanding body language. Gaara softened his gaze, unfolded his arms and walked up to her. 'What's the matter, uta (poem)?" He asked kindly, putting his hands on her waist.

"You are pushing the role of the Kazekage's partner onto me," Ai said quietly.

"You do not wish to have that role?"

"Of course I do," Ai said, unfolding her arms and soothing down the fabric of Gaara's jacket, leaving her hands to rest on his chest. "But no one has formally accepted our union. No one gives my presence any importance, no one expects me to have a voice from beside you. I am not expected to attend dinners or have an opinion on village matters at all!" Gaara nodded; he certainly understood where Ai was coming from but would have though she was prepared for this.

"Courtesans often advise and are in the presence rulers," the man reminded her, pulling her into embrace.

"Not in such open air, not where we are vulnerable to attack." Whenever Ai and Gaara stood close to one another in embrace, it was easy to see that they were devoted to one another entirely. The way she would brush the fabric of his jacket with her fingertips implied a great affection and desire to care for him. The way he would look down at her and, with his gaze, beg her to look up at him, implied that he had eyes for no one else. The love between them was undeniable to all who saw them together. But even Gaara had to admit, there was a group of elders who were still not ready to accept Ai into the Palace.

"I will protect you," Gaara reassured her.

"I know you are a wise and fair man," Ai said softly, "I know you are trying to get the higher-ups to accept me. You are trying to involve me and that is truly," she searched for the right word, "kind of you. But no one is ready to accept me in this palace," the girl breathed.

"Ai." There are many ways in which Gaara said her name and each way indicated how he was feeling, what he wanted, how he should respond. In that moment of the dancer being completely vulnerable, Gaara wanted to love her and show her she was loved. It was the same way he said her name before they would go to bed together, the same way he would say it when she was upset and needed him. Slowly, she let her gaze travel up to meet his. Their eyes softened, their grip on each other increased just a little as Gaara leant in to her-

"Oh!" Ai and Gaara bumped heads as someone opened the door to the temple, "I'm so sorry, Kazekage-sama!" A priest exclaimed in surprise and shut the door immediately. Gaara expected Ai to laugh but he looked down at her to find the girl was frowning.

"See?" She said softly, almost to herself, "didn't even look at me! And he excused himself because he thinks…" Her voice trailed away and she pushed herself out of Gaara's grip.

"What?"

"He thinks we are sharing an intimate moment- because that is all I am made for!" Ai grimaced, "the world doesn't see me as anything other than a whore." The young Kazekage could not stand to hear Ai talk about herself that way; he had suffered for years believing everyone who told him he was a monster, he was not going to let the woman he loved feel the same way.

"Suna looked to you during my absence," Gaara said seriously, "you may not be the symbol of a firm hand at the head of this palace, but you are a symbol of hope for the entire village. Regardless of what the higher-ups say, you have one the hearts of the civilians and that counts. We just need time…"

But, of course, the two young lovers were denied that by the elder Endo Yori. He had sealed up Ai's fate by twisting words and events to suit his own story of the girl. In the end, Gaara could never have been sure if the higher-ups would have warmed to Ai or if their union would have been contested. Was he being too young? Too naive? Should he have out his foot down? Back then, he was too new to being Kazekage to truly understand his role; he was constantly looking to others for advise and following, sometimes, blindly. Everything he did, he did for his people. All he wanted was to be the sort of Kazekage this village needed.

Now he was stood in that same temple room he and Ai were stood in all those months ago. The candles were unlit. no incense was burning, no smell of flowers clung to the air. The temple felt like the ruins of an old stone palace. Everything was antique, here since the founders of the village built the palace. Everything except for one item. Something was new, it is what captured Gaara's attention and drawn him in to the temple in the first place.

He was stood a foot away from a statue. One carved out of the famous red clay of Suna. It was the bust of a goddess. He had been staring at it for some time now in the darkness, watching the way her lips were curved and pouting, the way her hair fell in familiar ringlets.

The door to the temple room opened and the Kazekage heard two people enter behind him.

"This wasn't here yesterday," Gaara said softly without turning to face his siblings, "why is she here?

"Who is it?" Kankuro said, squinting past Gaara to see the statue. He caught Temari's disapproving eye and shrugged, "what?" Kankuro asked with a smile, "there are so many deities, I can't keep count of all-"

"It's Renai." Kankuro and Temari looked over in surprise as their brother spoke. Gaara was not generally considered to be a very spiritual or religious man; it shocked both his siblings that he knew this goddess.

"She is a gift from Taki's parents," Temari explained, folding her arms. eyeing up the beautiful statue. She knew why the three of them stood their quietly for it was all she could think about as she took in those big eyes, the waves of hair. Gaara spoke their thoughts suddenly:

"She looks-"

"No, she doesn't," Temari cut him off but Kankuro did not understand his sister's intention. The puppet master, his painted face screwed up as though inspecting the statue with great care, nodded:

"Yes, she does," he said seriously. "It's uncanny. Is this some kind of sick joke-?"

"No," Gaara confirmed, "Renai really does look like Ai." Temari stirred behind him.

"How would you know, Gaara?"

"Because I have met her."

"Where?"

"At the gates of heaven," the Kazekage's voice faltered as he held out his hand and put it against the statues face. He took a breath as a spark seemed to pass between him and the stone, "I was beginning to forget what Ai looked like," he whispered. "Wait," he suddenly turned around to face his siblings who jumped at his action, "you sad this was a gift. A gift for what?" Temari tried to force a smile.

"Taki's family have sent a proposal. "

"Oh." Gaara turned back to Renai, "I see."

"What should we do?" Kankuro asked. Gaara was grateful for this question. For Kankuro to ask such a serious question was unusual and it demonstrated to Gaara that he was in no way alone. Usually Temari dealt with this odd political matters but for all three of them to be stood, wondering the same thing, was a great comfort to the trouble-ridden Kazekage.

"Suna was in the dark for so long," Gaara mused, "we were lost to the shinobi world, our reputation marred in father's ill-fated plans for control and power. Suna deserves better. The people of this village deserve a leader who will guide them through the darkness, a stable and noble family to act as head of the village." Temari smiled in relief; so the strange and unfamiliar sphere of politics was becoming less elusive to her younger brother. "A Kazekage who falls in love with a courtesan doesn't exactly fit that description, does he?" Kankuro and Temari looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes; they were supportive of Gaara's relationship with Ai and made sure he knew they valued it. However, they were also supportive of him moving on from her so whenever she was discuss, both siblings moved as slowly and pushed as gently as they dared. It turned out Gaara was not actually asking their opinion, however, as he continued to speak: "a Kazekage who, on the other hand, marries a beautiful princess, brings together two nations and presents to his village a kind, wonderful, gentle wife…" Gaara's voice trailed away as he thought about it. "That is the kind of man this village deserves, wouldn't you say so?"

"Yes, Gaara."


Lena and the girls had returned to Koto for the day in order to see their old friends and spend time with Ruby who, having raised them, was the closest thing they had to a mother. This left Ai on her own in the large, empty Marble Palace. Feeling throughly lethargic and almost with a headache out of sheer boredom, Ai decided to head to the market in the nearest town.

She had not seen Sasuke or Madara for weeks; they had taken leave shortly after Sasuke attacked her and, whilst Ai was grateful to be out of their company, she was beginning to feel a little lost again. Every time Ai figured her life out, something would happen to through it all into uncertainty again; Kai, Gaara, Jiraiya and now Sasuke had given her hope that her future could be worthwhile, that she could do something important with her time and eventually be happy. For what felt like the millionth time in her life, Ai was abandoned, living without a goal, brimming with ambition to do something, anything, but completely unsure of what was out there.

Picking up her grey, raincloud-coloured shawl, Ai wrapped it around herself and exited the palace's main doors. The day was overcast; the sky was the same colour as her dress and it looked like it could rain any moment. Ai did not mind; she had grown to love the rain as much as she loved the dry earth of the desert. There was a homeliness, a warmth to both of those aspects of nature so Ai welcomed the rain. She stood on the steps of the palace and took a deep breath of that cool, tropical air; the air was always thinner before it rained. It was soothing and calming to her restless soul.

Ai took a step into the gardens and turned sharply at the sound of falling leaves beside her. With great speed, Ai held out a summoning tag as her weapon and, without being aware she was doing it, put her other hand protectively in front of her chest. Beneath the grey georgette, the white ribbons wrapping around her injury were visibly. She appraised Sasuke as he stood, eerily silent as usual, next to her.

"What are you doing?" Ai asked after a moment.

"I am to accompany you-"

"Stay away from me." Sasuke stopped moving as he attempted to walk to her side. But the dancer did not budge, she held out the parchment she had written on in thick black ink, adamant that she would use it if he came next to her.

"I am here for your protection," Sasuke informed her.

"Protection from the man who slept with me and attempted to kill me a mere six hours later?" Ai asked sarcastically.

"Ai," Sasuke took a step towards her and knew that his cool, calm demeanour would soothe this frightened dove. "There are bigger things than us right now."

"Yes," Ai returned the parchment to her pocket and shot Sasuke a pointed look, "much bigger things." When Sasuke had no reaction, Ai moved off. "Keep a five foot distance from me at all times." The shinobi respected her request and waited for her to walk away before continuing behind the courtesan.

"Where are you going?" He asked loudly.

"To the market," Ai called over her shoulder. "I need wax to seal parchment."


The market town of Nikko resided within the kingdom Princess Taki was from and it was by far one of Ai's favourite places she had ever visited. It was always bustling with villagers calling to one another, stalls were cracking under the weight of beautiful or tasty items, the smell of a busy town hung in the air. It was a remarkable place, world-famous for its variety of sweets and fabrics. There was no end to the smells you could smell and the sights you could see; one moment you were holding your nose against the smell of fresh fish and the next your mouth as watering for some of the sweet mango juice. Jewels glittered from the stalls, women of all creeds came to try them in their hair, around their necks; all the while the market sellers would issue false compliments and order servants to bring out tea for the customers.

Ai had come here often since staying in the Marble Palace, she and Lena had found some of the finest mulberry silk they had ever seen and taken it to a tailor in the town to be made into dresses. It was an odd glimpse into normality for the trouble-ridden courtesan. How she longed sometimes to be one of the women behind the stall, smiling at customers, shouting at street children and enjoying a cup of hot sakē at the day's end.

"Looks good!" Ai commented to herself as she and Sasuke wandered through the section of the market where street food was sold. "Must you wear your hood?" Ai turned to ask Sasuke who lifted his dark hood up over his head.

"I think you should put your veil up," Sasuke hissed, "you are attracting attention." Ai looked around to find that many people were looking her way but for no reason other than it was clear she was not from this town. In Suna, Ai would fit in like any other village girl, although her clothes would be considered far too expensive for the average villager. Here, however, her light eyes and dark hair, the princess-like way in which she held herself and the menacing figure beside her, gave all the impression that an outsider was among them.

"I'll be fine," Ai hissed back at Sasuke who tried to stop himself from yanking her veil and putting it up himself. Ai forever lived to do everything contrary to him; she was stubborn and irrational. It pained the man to be beside her. "Wait, that smell-!" And yet, Sasuke thought as he watched her go up onto her tiptoes, close her eyes and take a deep breath of the sweet smell again, there was something addictive about her. Wouldn't it be wonderful just to hear her moan under you? Didn't she have the perfect hair to cover the silk sheets of your bed with? There was something intoxicating about Love. "I know that smell!" Ai commented and was suddenly hurrying through the crowds, her feet pounding agsint the grey cobbled stones to find the source. "It's from Suna!" She exclaimed with a broad smile, "I know it so well!" Sasuke was having trouble keeping up with her as she dodged market goers and children. "Jinyinhua (Japanese honeysuckle)!" The girl almost fell over in excitement as she reached the stall which was hastily crafted in front of a small green house.

The flowers in the stall reached tall heights; stacked up in baskets hanging from the frame of the stall, the whole place smelled like home to the girl who was so desperate to go back there. All the flowers at the stall, from honeysuckle, to jasmine, to camellia, to rose, were all the kinds found in the palace of Sunagakure! They were being bound together in bouquets by workers with messy hands. Colours of white, pink, the slight silver of the jasmine, the gold of the honeysuckle, were all sparkling before Ai as her eyes shimmered with delight.

"You ran here for flowers?" Sasuke asked, confused by why Ai was so excited.

"These are the flowers of my home," Ai smiled fondly at the roses, her fingertips brushing the soft petals gently. "Don't you ever miss things from Konoha?" She turned to Sasuke and asked with a small smile. He frowned; what was there to miss? He supposed once in his travels he had smelt the soupy, meaty smell of ramen being made and was reminded of Ichiraku's ramen shop. Once he had even stopped as the smell of cherry tree blossoms reminded him of Sakura; her hair used to smell just like them. But did he miss those things?

"I wonder why this stall has only flowers from Suna…?" Ai asked herself, interrupting Sasuke's thoughts. The girl's blue eyes flicked up to someone who was standing inside the market stall, at the back. It was a short, round man and Ai, hearing his shrill voice, had a sudden wave of recognition come over her. "Oh no!" She exclaimed and ran around the stall to hide at the side of the house so the man could not see her. Sasuke followed, hand already on his katana, ready to strike.

"What? What is it?" He asked Ai as he came to stand in front of her. She had pulled her veil over her head and was leaning against the wall of the house, trying not to be seen. Over her shoulder, she spotted the small man, bossing some of the workers around.

"That is a gardener from Suna!" As Ai spoke, Sasuke's hand dropped from his weapon.

"A…gardener?" He said in disbelief, looking over at the man with a weary look. Small drops of water began to fall against the roof of the stall; Sasuke could hear the pitter patter of raindrops.

"I once stole birds from his greenhouse," Ai explained quickly but Sasuke still could not understand. "No one from Suna can see me- I am supposedly a traitor to the Kazekage!" She informed him but Sasuke was suddenly watching the way she held her veil against her mouth. Her fingertips were smudging against the rose colour she had painted on her lips. Full and plump, her lips were pouting as she parted them slightly and bit her finger in worry. "What would he be doing in Nikko?" Ai asked and, almost too perfectly, overheard her answer:

"The Palace of Sunagakure ordered these a week ago! How are they not ready!?" The small gardener shrieked at a worker in his shrill voice, face becoming red with frustration. "They are for the Kazekage's engagement to your princess…" The rest Ai could not hear; the rain was getting heavier, distorting her hearing.

Her body stopped working properly; her heart was beating hard and loud in her ears, she could not breathe but did not care to, her eyes were misting over with deep, dark remorse. The Uchiha put his arm up against the wall beside her to shield her from view of the marketplace. Before she knew it, she was slumped against Sasuke, holding on the his cloak, crying against his shoulder. Sasuke stared down at her, unsure of what to say or do, he let her body shake against him as the rain thundered down around them.


 

Kudos and comments appreciated!

Chapter Text

The sun shone brightly in the sky, the morning of the Kazekage's engagement party. Birds chirped as though to cheer on the decorators that hoisted banners high into the air; the symbol of Suna and colours of the princess' kingdom lined the streets proudly. The smell of milk sweetened with rose ad honey, drifted out of the palace kitchens and made the children of the village grin with greedy delight. Musicians were tuning their instruments; the sharp twang of the strings resounding in the village square. There was a bustle, a busy-ness in Suna that the inhabitants had not seen in months! A festive feeling was filling the sand with glitter and gold. Indeed, it was the perfect day for a royal party.

At least, the untrained eye, focussing on the lavish and the superficial, would think so. If you looked a little closer, you could feel the vibrations in the earth; the deep rumble of something disturbed and untoward was festering in the hearts of Suna's people. There was a chatter that fled from doorway to doorway, a whisper that vanished when in earshot of palace officials, a sigh of grief that echoed in the desert plains as the inhabitants of Suna all wondered the same, unified thought; where had Love gone? That mischievous sparkle that had once made a home in all their hearts…where had she wondered to? Was she really what the palace said she was? Why was she lost? Who could guide her home? And what was in the Kazekage's head or heart or soul to make him take to a princess so suddenly, so fearlessly? Something, the villagers suspected, was swirling uneasily in the young Kazekage's mind.

Deep in the maze of the palace's winding corridors, that very man was avoiding all questions as he walked in line with his siblings. The stone floors of the palace of Sunagakure were swept clean until they shone with the same brilliance they had when the palace was first built. As a result, gold, dusty air that looked like glittering sunshine, was sitting inside the palace, swaying with the same gentle rhythm of a stream. It was so beautiful, in fact, that the Kazekage seemed distracted by it. As he walked through the halls of the palace, with his siblings either side of him, he watched as the particles of dust glittered and danced in golden light. His mind was empty, the tips of his fingers numb, his heart felt like a weight clinging onto his chest, threatening to fall into his stomach.

His outfit for the special occasion was that same deep red as his usual cloak, almost floor length with a high collar. It was heavier than his usual attire; made of a thick velvet, with gold buttons and a hideous, in his opinion, emerald brooch. Temari wore a blush pink kimono and Kankuro a smart black jacket with a high collar in a similar style to Gaara's. When they had been getting ready, Temari had come into Gaara's room and fussed and grew impatient with his unruly hair before her eyes softened and she spoke kind, soothing words to her younger brother. Kankuro had entered the room with cheer in abundance; teary eyed with pride, teary eyes for a girl they once knew, he had embraced his little brother and whispered to him words of great affection.

Gaara wished that he had listened to them in those moments, wished that his mind had not been elsewhere so perhaps he could have taken some comfort in their words but his thoughts kept running away from him. He was easily distracted by the colours and light all around him, by the jubilant hubbub the rest of the palace seemed to feel. But he could not feel it, he could not hear them. He was shut up within himself, trying, so desperately, not to think about-

"Gaara?" The Kazekage stopped as his elder brother called his name uncertainly from behind him. He turned slowly as though in a confused daze to find that Temari, Kankuro and the entirety of his council, village elders and teachers stood as an equally confused mass of people behind him. The Kazekage tried to smile at them all, realising he had completely ignored and walked past them when they were waiting for him to enter the room and greet Taki's family.

Temari's face fell, her teal coloured eyes lost their sparkle and became matte as she looked to the floor in sadness; Gaara was not himself today. They had all moved on from the curse of the blood-love that had gifted their brother this fate…but painful reminders of his first love still lingered in these hallways, still clutched onto the fragrance of the garden flowers. She was here, in this hall; Ai had spoken with almost everyone gathered here, at some point, as they wondered down this corridor and she delighted them with her whimsical and magical talent for conversation. In the same manner in which the sand sibling's mother and father still had a presence in their home, so did Ai. And today, it seemed they were bumping in to the ghost of her everywhere. Even in Gaara's Ai's she existed as that soft and delicate glow he had only acquired in his gaze in the last year or so.

"Taki's family waits in here, Gaara-kun," Hana-sama spoke kindly to the man who blushed at her motherly affection. Taking a few embarrassed steps forward, Gaara eventually joined ranks with his siblings once more. His face blank, his heart heavy, Gaara entered the room with his family, friends and advisors behind him.


Seven black figures stood in the rain that thundered down around the Marble Palace. On her balcony, Love stood wrapped up in the colour of death, feeling the warm, tropical rain beating down on her skin as her heart fluttered in anxiety, like a baby bird unable to fly, flapping its wings uncertainly against the wires of its cage. Her companions in the Palace stood behind her in their usual positions as ladies-in-waiting. Only Lena stood close to her, unsure of whether or not she should put her hand on Ai's shoulder and draw her into embrace. She could see the girl's shoulders shaking, the tremble in her veil as her head shook slightly in disbelief. What could Lena possibly say to Ai? Courtesans only know an imitation of love, they never know the real thing. What did it mean to lose the man you love to another?

The girl who was now empress at the Marble Palace looked up into the dark grey clouds, letting the raindrops mingle with tears on her face, letting her veil fall from her head and onto the floor. Her hair was in a long plait behind her, clinging to her blouse as it became wet, turning the black colour a dark, inky blue. The rain was heavy and warm, giant droplets splashed on the marble at her feet. Bringing her head back to look out beyond the palace gardens, Ai looked on in the direction of her homeland. She could almost hear the bells of the temple ringing, the shouts of excitement from the villagers. She turned away from her balcony to find the girls all stood behind her as though in mourning; their heads bowed, all stood in shades of grey, black and dark blue.

But they were surprised as Ai rung out her veil to rid the cloth of rainwater, before walking past them all with a smile. For only she could see, as she had been stood out farthest on the balcony, that there was a storm moving swiftly towards them from the horizon. A storm that would rain down upon the world, cleanse the soil, make it fertile, ready to give birth to a new age. And, in the end, sunshine would break through a bleak sky.

Ai knew her place in the world now; she was the storm, the sunshine and all things on the Earth. She was a goddess, the reason for love, the will through which all destruction is allowed and the miracle through which all is created.

"Renai?" The girl had entered the room where Madara stayed in the palace; a dark place filled only with candlelight. He sat upon a throne-like chair with his dark Akatsuki cloak licking the marble floor. His face, as always, was covered, giving nothing away. He took in the sight of the young girl, but it was not her wet clothes or cold, fair skin that caught his attention. It was the look of determination, a look of pure ambition; her eyes narrowed on him, her fists clenched as her beautiful face glowed in the candlelight.

"What work is left in preparation for the Kage summit?," the girl asked, her crystal clear voice filling the room. Madara sat a little straighter, watching the girl's confident gait barely flinch as his eye focussed on her. The sharingan was an unnerving and eerie weapon to her; the user could see more of you than you could of them. And in the case of Madara, with his masked face and long cloak, the feeling of being assessed and unable to read him, was felt ten-fold by Ai. But not today it seemed, Madara mused as he watched her intently.

"You will help our cause?" He asked her.

"Yes." Another moment passed of the two locking vision, sharing the same desires.

"Very well," the man announced to the room, calling Taka to slink out of the darkness and stand in line with Ai. Sasuke watched her with great intent as he came to stand beside her; the girl he once assumed was different to him suddenly looked recognisable. She too, was hurt by a loved one, forced to take on the role of the wicked by those in control of her destiny. "Lena is our native speaker (A/N: in chapter 29 Lena tells Ai that her mother-tongue is from the land of the samurai. I'm just reminding y'all because that was ages ago and I don't want it to seem like I'm just dropping this in now. This is a well thought-out story, I promise!), she will act as translator and ensure Ai's entry into the Tetsunokinko (Iron Vault)." Madara looked around slowly at the group of gathered shinobi before his eyes lingered on the courtesan. What a strange girl; a year ago she had never laid eyes on Sabaku no Gaara, now, she was going to war with him. The blue eyed beauty was once just a village girl, barely knew anything outside of her books or poetry or performance. And now, she was part-goddess, ready to change the fate of the world. "Ai will then ensure our entry into the heart of the summit. All are clear on our entry route?"

"Yes," the gathered group said in unison.

"Ai?" He asked her and her alone. The girl's electric blue eyes flicked up to him confidently.

"All is ready. We leave at dawn."


"I was once made of sunlight until I flittered into your room.

At your touch, I turned to smoke.

My heart, now a biwa (Japanese lute), waits for the moments you strike at its cords

but you refuse to play a melody.

I can no longer taste the sweet of honey, nor the salt of rice wine

Without wincing at the taste of your cruelty.

How is it you are in my veins, vain one?

How is it you are dancing in my dreams-?" Princess Taki's recitation was interrupted as the door to the Kazekage's bedroom opened. She was sat in a yellow dress of more Western tradition; a long-sleeved white shirt under a yellow pinafore-like dress. She did not meet the gaze of the person who entered the room.

"That is a little more colourful than the work you usually recite, princess." The Kazekage said, forcing a smile; usually the girl read about the Spring, blossoming flowers, works the depicted beautiful landscapes and the changing of the seasons. The poem she had just read was much more sensual than anything Gaara thought he would hear from her. He began to walk towards his desk where the princess was sat.

"Ai wrote it." Gaara stopped in surprise and had no idea where to look. Colour was rising to his cheeks with no regard to his consent; Ai had written that about him. About their love. It was, quite unashamedly, about their sex. He suddenly remembered a sheet of paper she had left teasingly on his bed one day for him to find, to keep her in his mind all day. He had hidden it, hadn't he? In his desk drawer?

"Oh," Gaara began once he realised he had been silent for too long. He spied the princess looking down at the paper, her left hand outstretched, holding onto a corner of the paper. A diamond ring on her finger glittered in the sunlight. "She often left her work lying around," Gaara said cooly, desperately thinking of some way to stop the blood from forcing its way to his cheeks. "I never had much of a head for poetry." The princess slowly let her gaze travel along the desk and up tot eh Kazekage's face. He stood, serene, barely flinching under her gaze. Eventually, she smiled.

"Me either," they both let out anxious, relieved laughs. "When do you leave?"

"In a few hours." As Gaara spoke, Taki stood and walked around his desk. She had picked up the paper with Ai's writing and Gaara could swear, as the paper swayed in her grip, that he could hear the tinkling of anklets, the beat of the song that had first seduced him. He tried not to let any trace of emotion pass on his face as Taki let the paper fall into the bin by his desk.

She approached him with a sweet, loving smile. One which made a little of Gaara's ache fade away. Like Ai, Taki soothed him, took him away from work with her child-like love of nature, introduced him to the world outdoors and made him grin whenever she challenged his sand to see if her arrows were faster. She had a similar but innocent mischief to her; the way she threw stones at his window or would jump off the balcony so his sand could catch her. The girl's laughter was infectious, her love of the world admirable and her dedication to the Kazekage…something he had not been able to offer in return.

There was one way in which she was different to Ai. It was a way that Gaara missed terribly. The seduction, the game, the chase, the flirtation! How is it Ai made him feel like it was the first time, every time? The courtesan was skilled, trained, she became his teacher in love. And he taught her to take a little pain, to smile at a little torture.

Gaara doubted Taki could be taught such a thing. She was too mild-mannered, too high-spirited, too gentle of a person. But that is exactly what he needed; someone who could cool the blood-lust, not excite it. The princess was innocent. And that, in a sense, was alluring but the Kazekage could never be sure without asking first and asking itself may frighten that deer-like girl. Doe-eyed, enchanted with nature, a spirit born out of the woodland; the princess was charming in her own way and Gaara knew he had grown fond of her.

"Were you looking for something, Gaara?" The princess asked kindly.

"Yes," he said with a small smile, "you."

"Oh?" She giggled.

"I wanted to walk through the gardens with you one last time before I leave," he explained and took the smile on the princess' face to be one of agreement. "Go down to the gardens," he instructed her and gestured towards the door. Going up onto her tiptoes, the princess planted a soft kiss on the corner of Gaara's mouth.

"See you down there," she said as they exchanged smiles.

Once the door shut behind the princess, Gaara walked over to his desk and looked into his bin which was empty bar one item; the parchment on which Ai had written was creamy and soft, it curved to match the shape of the bin, the ink was so black it was clearly visibly on both sides of the parchment.

He stared at it a little while. What good would it do to put it back in his desk drawer? Would he ever read it again? Should he ever read it again? Taki was the key to letting go of Ai but the Kazekage insisted on keeping these reminders of his first love around. Even the lantern Ai had lit remained next to the statue of Renai in the palace temple.

Deep down, he knew it was time to move on. The last time he had spoken to Ai she had stormed out of his bedroom, cursing him all the while. What was he doing holding on to these small items of nostalgia? He was a Kage- he should be focussing on anything and everything outside of his relationships with women.

The Kazekage left his bedroom, the parchment of poetry left, abandoned in the bin by his desk. What use was it to wonder about a girl he would never see again?


Little did the Kazekage know that that very girl was on her way to see him at that very moment. In a caravan consisting of her own horse-drawn carriage, carts of luggage, others with seats for dancers and musicians, Ai sat in a procession that was headed to the Land of Iron. Musicians played music, dancers swirled in their open-top carriages, singers sung words to songs Ai had written. Lights on the carriages were still lit at dawn so the procession looked like a train of stars on the horizon with the moon stat, hidden amongst them.

But the girl called Love was oblivious to it all. Her head bowed, contemplating the future, Love was on a journey that would define the story of the blood-love on Earth.

The Kazekage set foot into the unknown mere hours after the sun rose, mere hours after Ai left the Marble Palace. His siblings at his side, both apprehensive, protective and proud, Temari and Kankuro guided their little brother through the wilderness that led them to the Kage summit. The three talked of the future, of their hopes and dreams for the village, of their students and advisors. They laughed as the weather became colder with temperatures dropping to figures the siblings had never felt. The two elder children offered their brother council for they were worried the other Kage would take advantage of his inexperience. But the two were pleased to find that Gaara was unfazed by such worries.

All the while both Ai and Gaara were unaware and unaffected by the fact that in centuries to come, scholars, poets, dreamers would recognise this day as one of the most important in the tale of Gaara and his first love.

This was the day the destiny of the blood-love was spun into motion and resonated throughout the universe. For it was the day that Gaara and Ai would finally see each other as enemies.


Please review.

I'm not too happy with this chapter but OMG THE NEXT FEW CHAPTERS ARE GOING TO BE AMAZING. There are no words to describe how excited I am to write THE NEXT THREE chapters!

Chapter Text

This is absolutely shameful and I can't believe I am in a position to admit something like this, given at how often I praise this story for being detailed BUT….I forgot Zetzu exists. He is just not in this story at all. Ugh. What to do? What to do? I'll bring him in later. Oh the shame.

The song for this chapter is Deewani Mastani from the movie Bajirao Mastaani.

As a trained dancer of classical Indian style I feel the need to point out that the actress is not a fantastic dancer, so please don't think that's the height of Indian dancing talent. It's just that the song suits this chapter sooo much!


The Kage Summit

Anyone alive today would tell you that the Land of Iron was home to a pragmatic and simple people. Guided by a strong, courageous military, the country was, ironically, devoted to a peaceful way of life. The history of this land is not relevant to shinobi culture and therefore not integral to the stories of the seventh Hokage, of Gaara and Ai, of the founding of the Hyuuga clan or other stories which are often deemed as the most interesting in all of shinobi history. However, a very interesting part of the country's history is the creation of The Iron Vault for it is key to understanding current affairs in the land of the Samurai.

Almost a thousand years ago, the land was ruled by a vicious and unjust King; he was as greedy as he was cunning, and he had cunning laced in his veins. It was rumoured that he was the reason for the snow in this part of the world; his cold soul turned water to ice. He taxed his people far more than they could afford, he gained new wives by the day and consumed the mineral-rich, fertile soil for his own profits. He had three sons, affectionately known by their people as 'The Three Wolves', a name taken from the three mountains that surround the Land of Iron. The youngest son, Kumo, was assigned position as General of the country's army.

Tired of seeing his mother, his people, his home mistreated, the soldier led a military coup to overthrow his own father and eventually began a seven year-long war. He even went as far as to destroy the palace in a fiery blaze that tore down the old to give way to the new. In his rampage against the King, the Prince seized hold of all precious artefacts that were housed in the palace. The King's throne, for example and the Queen's crown, other artefacts from around the country that played a part in the monarchy were transported to the palace shortly after the war. Gold statues, gem-encrusted chairs from the Summer Palace, iron wreaths for the Prince's head, were all taken to the palace which now lay in ashes.

And so, to house these artefacts and to act as the headquarters for the new military power, the Prince built the Iron Vault. An impressive pyramid-pagoda, the tallest building in the country, was built by supporters of the Prince. Soon after its completion, the man renounced his title and continued to rule as General of the Samurai army. He was succeeded by his son after death, a bittersweet irony that the Land of Iron overlooked; their rulers from then on were fair and just, so further combative action seemed unwise. The Iron vault does not rust, it houses treasures and power, precious things and secrets. This evening, it was playing host to the Five Kage.

"Hokage, Kazekage, Raikage, Tsuchikage, Mizukage, welcome to the Land of Iron." Gaara glanced around Temari and Kankuro quickly. His guards were stood either side of him but he managed to catch a glimpse of the other Kage as they all stood, waiting to be addressed by the General of the Samurai. He felt Kankuro shift uncomfortably beside him as both boys caught the eye of the Hokage; Danzō Shimura was an unnerving and eerie character. He was a known elder in Konoha, an advisor to the Hokage and founder of Root, a subdivision of Konoha's Anbu. The elder man had often been in meetings Gaara had with the fifth Hokage, Senju Tsunade and, when he would leave the meetings, it often felt as though he left his shadow in the room behind him. He was a suspicious man and a notorious shinobi, skilled in both politics and war. The other Kage Gaara knew very little about but he also knew that looks can be deceiving. Temari had been right when they had left Suna; Gaara should be wary of all of their comments and attentive to their actions.

Currently, the five Kage and their ten guards were stood in the entrance hall to the Iron Vault. The building gave a perfect impression of what it was like on the inside; from the outside it was cold, brittle and dark looking. Now they were all pretending not to shiver and not to squint in the dingy darkness of the place.

"I am Mifune, General to the Land of Iron and representative of the neutral nations. I am sure, at this late hour, it would be a good idea to eat and rest," the General, an older man with a long grey beard and matching hair, his skin sagging in the candlelight, spoke in a serious manner. "At the request of the diplomats that dictate our international relations," Kankuro started to snigger as the man was talking; he sounded simultaneously bored and angry, "dinner shall mark the beginning of the Kage summit, our gift to you."

"Perhaps that will break the ice," the Mizukage said in her sweet, melodic voice before turning to the group and narrowing her eyes on the largest of the people gathered. "I can feel your eyes boring into my skull, Raikage."

"Ice is not the only thing that needs to be broken, Mizukage." Almost as wide as he was tall, the dark skinned Raikage towered above them all and lifted a hand to point at the only female Kage in the group. "Try and convince me the Akatsuki was not founded in your village!" His deep voice rumbled in the back of his throat and echoed out into the hall. Gaara watched closely as a vein in his temple as though fit to burst. a large, golden vambrace was fastened to his wrist, glittering in the candlelight.

"Please," Mifune began, the exasperation in his voice clear for everyone to hear, "let us save the accusations for the formal meeting," he ordered. "Mizukage, Raikage," the two turned from each other and looked at the old samurai, "you have both traveled the furthest, the Land of Iron is honoured to have you as our guests. Do not sour the welcome." Temari raised an eyebrow; this old man spoke with such authority, a hint of venom and a pinch of wisdom; how would the two Kage take to those sharp words? To her surprise, the Raikage stepped back in line with the others and waited for Mifune to guide them to dinner.

As they walked down the dark corridor, something, or rather, someone, caught Kankuro's eye. Angled green eyes sparkled as he walked past, from behind dark blonde curls, a smile shone in the darkness. A girl was stood in a grey dress, looking plain and maid-like, at a door on one side of the hallway. It was not so much her attire that was strange, but her actions; she looked like a chamber maid but was stood outside a door that led to the Iron Vault's archives. More than that, she did not look as though she were working at all, she had the sly look of someone trying not to be seen as she fiddled with a piece of paper in her hands. In the split second that they were side-by-side, Kankuro raised an eyebrow as he had the faintest feeling that he recognised her. But as they passed her, Mifune seemed to pay her no attention so Kankuro shrugged off the strange feeling and continued to escort his brother.

Of course, Kankuro should have recognised her. Months ago, he had gone Koto on a mission to convince Ai to speak with Gaara. When he had first entered the building, this green-eyed beauty had been making tea in the kitchens. She had caught his eye then with her beautiful face and sultry, come-hither stare; it was not easy to forget a girl like Lena.

Her task tonight was something different to her usual errands at Koto or at the Marble Palace. Tonight, she helped the Akatsuki to infiltrate of the Iron Vault. She had been given parchment with Ai's scribbles of the dead language and was charged with placing them strategically around the building. She had been acting as a maid to the General's children and, when no one was looking, placed Ai's scribbles in corners and spaces hidden in plain sight. This was the last piece to Ai's puzzle and Lena smiled to herself as she placed it gently on the floor. The dancer did not agree with Madara's plans but she trusted Ai, the woman was a born leader, a presence, a goddess. She knew what was right. The girl tucked a curl of hair behind her ear and walked away hurriedly; the performance was set to begin in five minutes time.


Made of gold ribbon and star dust, the room the Kage entered stunned them to silence with its beauty. Even the Raikage stopped in awe and looked up to the domed ceiling in fascination; every inch of the room was made of glass and marble, both materials twisting and winding around each other to produce geometric art. As warm light from crystal chandeliers caught the glass in the marble, it glittered like gold, sparkled in the distance, catching your attention, making you wonder if you just glimpsed a shooting star. There was the sound of tinkling chimes as a teasing breeze fluttered through the room and swayed the chandeliers which hung low from the ceiling. The smell of rose and a sweet, warm wood, floated through on the air. Hidden in arched alcoves, behind beige linen curtains were tied back with gem-encrusted ribbons, were low seats and tables lining the side furthest from the doors through which the group had entered. It reminded Gaara of the room Ai had first danced in at the Tea House; circular and impressive, it rivalled any palace the man had stepped into.

Gaara was set apart from the other Kage not only by his age but his upbringing. Kage are men of action and war, usually their lineage is that of great warriors and, while there may be a familial link to the seat of power, it is not guaranteed. This is because villages were formed very recently in the history of the world and were done so without the formation of a leading or royal family even though many shinobi have aristocratical ancestry. Suna, however, existed before the founding of the Hidden Villages and was ruled by a great family of which Gaara, Temari and Kankuro are descendants. The Palace of Sunagakure is testament to the royal blood that used to rule over the village and, whilst there is no familial claim to the title of Kazekage, it just so happened that this family produced some of the best shinobi over the last century. So Gaara grew up inside the beautiful walls of a palace, his sister had the upbringing of a warrior princess and his brother enjoyed the spoils and riches of a king.

But even the Kazekage and his guards looked around the room in awe; even the Tea House, which was world-famous for its stolen architecture, was not this beautiful! The marble shone so brightly you could see your reflection in the ceiling and the floor. The symmetrical pattern of glass flowers was climbing up the walls towards a starry-studded dome. It truly was spectacular.

"So this is where all the spoils of the war are kept?" Ōnoki, the Tsuchikage chuckled to himself as he looked around the room.

"This is the pride of The Land of Iron," Mifune informed him and moved forward, beckoning them all to join him. The group moved forwards slowly, taking in the heady scent and the smooth feel of the marble beneath their feet. "It has been almost 900 years since the war and these artefacts," as he gestured to the walls, the group could see treasures kept safe on display behind glass, "are reminders of an older time." Approaching the arched alcoves, the group was guided to sit together on cushions.

"Sure you can manage, old man?" A young girl from Iwagakure, asked the Tsuchikage teasingly as the Kage gritted his teeth and took a seat. Hanging on the wall behind them were banners embellished with each village's crest. The groups of three took a table each and sat in the cosy alcoves. Silence ebbed away gently as each group began to murmur to themselves, not in the usual suspicious way Temari had been expecting, but in a pleasant, casual manner. The blonde haired shinobi felt her back arch a little as she relaxed; Mifune was a smart man, getting them all to drink sakē before the actually discussions were to begin! The woman almost smiled to herself as girls in white dresses came out to serve hot sake. The sand siblings even shared smirks as the Raikage exclaimed his relief to be served something hot after the cold they had to endure to get here; the group from Suna had never experienced such cold in all their lives!

"Ah!" The Mizukage gasped as a large drum was struck, signalling the beginning of performance. The chatter died down immediately as the doors through which they had entered, opened once more.

Even Temari, who was often found in a state of moral discomfort when it came to the subject of Geisha, had to stop, place her cup down on the table and stare in awe at the spectacle that entered the room. A procession in white entered, men carrying lanterns, women throwing deep pink rose petals into the air, accompanied by the quiet chanting of a poem, a beat provided by anklets tinkling as they all walked in unison. Girls hoisted banners with the village's symbols painted on them. People on balconies high up were cheering and chanting, throwing down confetti, putting the procession in a whirlwind of colour and sound. As a breeze lifted up the banner with Suna's symbol, the material curled away to reveal what was behind it, in the middle of the procession. It was at that moment that Gaara's heart stopped.

A girl in a mask. His eye was drawn to her not for her elaborate costume of white pearl and antique-gold ribbon, not for the moonstone mask she wore over her eyes, nor the curve of her bare waist clearly visible through her veil which wrapped around her. No. He was drawn to the way she walked; the swing of her hips, the smirk in her pout, the delicate dangle of the bangle on her wrists. It was so…familiar. It seemed Kankuro noticed the same thing:

"Gaara, do you think-?"

"No," the Kazekage whispered to his brother slowly, "this girl's hair is brown, not black. It's shorter. And Ai did not dress in that fashion-"

"That's traditional attire for hacinosu (A/N: honeycomb, this is the kind of House that Koto was) girls outside of Suna," Temari whispered to them both. As the procession came to a halt in a beautiful semi-circle before the gathered Kage and their guards, the sand siblings relaxed a little. It was not Ai. It could not be. "Even if it is," Temari continued in a low whisper, "it has no bearing on our presence here. She is a court dancer, this is merely performance." Gaara nodded, Temari was right; if it was, for some unfathomable reason, Ai, then their relationship would be entirely professional. A slight pang twanged in Gaara's stomach as he remembered Ai's profession. He stole sideways glances at the men in the room before looking to the cup in his hands. His grip on the clay mug was increasing as he considered the men's lustful stares, nervous smiles. How dare she dance for others? How could she be reduced to this? But Gaara had to shake his head; it was not her. It could not be Ai.

The girl lifted her hands into the air, twisted them into position and awaited the drum beat. "A caged songbird, I sang to you, beloved. What was it you heard, what was it that called you to me?" Gaara looked up again as she sang; that voice! He tried to squint in her direction to make out the colour of her eyes but behind the mask, but it was difficult to discern anything confidently. "Like a hunter's arrow, your gaze found its mark. Your beautiful eyes showed me you too were waiting in darkness for a love unknown."

The girl was twirling, women were dancing with her, the men were swinging the lanterns, throwing the confetti. The entire hall was a mess of colour and music and jubilance. Even Temari was smiling as the confetti reflected in the marble, sending the room spinning in a frenzy of pretty colours and glitter.

"Like a flower chain, we became tied to one another," Gaara was trying desperately to see the eyes behind the mask. Were they that shade of azure blue he knew so well? The girl began to walk towards him, swaying her hips in the manner that made his mouth dry, that made him more aware of the lustful stares of the audience. "Like the night to the sky: inseparable," she sang to him as she approached and just as she came close enough for Gaara to see a familiar shape to her lips, a curve to her smile, the girl twirled away. "My very being began to twirl, you began to spin. Our souls melded in heat."

Kankuro jumped a little as the beat in the song changed. From the previously happy, relaxed melody, something sinister sounded in the bass, something foreboding echoed in the plucked strings of the Koto. The main dancer, the layers of her dress which were once twirling like delicate ruffles of white smoke, suddenly stood still. The Layers of her dress becoming motionless. "But a whisper in the distance told you: what we have created cannot remain." The hands of the koto player spun something magic from his fingertips, something that sounded enchanting, mesmerising, hollow, hurt and beautiful. "I am no longer in my own keeping but you, you belong to someone else."

Gaara looked away. His eyes were stinging, there was a lump in his throat. He wanted to drown his sorrows in the cup in his hand but he knew he shouldn't. The young Kazekage wanted, so desperately, to clamp his hands to his ears and be rid of her beautiful voice forever. But the eyes of the other Kage were everywhere, all around him. He had to remain strong.

"In a universe of unhappy endings, you and I made our bond. In a world of treacherous stories, you and I became a thing of legend. And in a moment, you chose another." The Mizukage, an older woman with a beautiful face, shook her head in sympathy for the dancer. Even Temari shifted uncomfortably; it seemed this girl was getting closer and closer to the vision of Ai that they knew. "Those dreams in which you promised me your love, tell me their meaning. The sunlight is fading on me, beloved, tell me before nighttime falls." The beat was building, threatening with an almighty crescendo, the women were spinning out into the room, their feet thumping hard against the floor with the sound of anklets shattering against the marble. T"hose moments in which you threw the world away for me, tell me its worth!" The dancers hands were moving faster, keeping up with her feet as they followed the rhythm of the drum. "Rain over me. Stain me with your colour." Like a dark wave, realisation crashed all around the Kazekage as he looked up to face the dancer once more. "I am your undoubting follower," the drum beat stopped. The dancer bowed to him. The dancers all ceased their movement. "Teach me, you heartless storm, how it is she loves you!" The girl removed her mask.

The vision of red lips, blue eyes, dark hair and an unreadable look of grief and defiance shocked the group of gathered Kage and their guards into silence. They were so shocked by her sudden appearance that they did not even register what happened next. On the inside of the Ai's mask were the scribbles of a language unknown to any of them. In less than a heartbeat, the courtesan bit her thumb, swiped the blood across the mask and held it to the floor.

It was like everything slowed down for Gaara, but he was immobilised, unable to move at all, unable to barely breathe. He watched as, in slow motion, a dark, inky spider's web, erupted from the mask as the writing expanded on the floor. The usual summoning circle the shiobi were accustomed to emerged but the scale in which it did so was incomprehensible to the Kage; the ink spread out across the floor as fast as water over ice. The dancers around Ai all shouted out in fear and scrambled towards the doors as the girl stood there, utterly defiant of the fact that the five strongest shinobi were stood before her. The woman looked completely irreproachable in her rebellion, as she stared down the Kazekage with a daring smirk.

Everything seemed sluggish, like the world slowed down to make these few seconds last a lifetime. The Kage were just rising to their feet with shouts to Mifune for better security measures as the old samurai attempted to call for the rescue or capture of the performers. Kankuro had to pull Gaara by the elbow to get him to stand up but his legs seemed weak with shock, his hands numb with disbelief. He had to shake it, get it out of his system.

He caught sight of Ai's smirk and suddenly a fire blazed inside of him; what was she thinking!? The fool! The reckless, beautiful, savage, thoughtless, rogue of a woman! Without his consent, sand erupted from his gourd and sped towards Ai with unprecedented velocity.

By now, only a few moments had passed since Ai had performed the summoning technique. As Gaara's sand sped towards her, it was met by a puff of dark smoke from the summoning circle. In the confusion of sand and smoke, no one could see quite how it happened, but once the darkness ebbed away, once the sound of the scrambling performers left the room as everyone escaped, the sand moved away from the figure in the centre of the room and Ai was no more. Instead, a tall man in an akatsuki cloak and an orange mask appraised them all with a sinister snigger.


So, change in plan- chapter 42 is now the chapter that I am excited to write hahahaha. I just could not figure out a decent point for this chapter to end on. Well, y'all should look forward to every single chapter anyway haha.

Please review!

What are you more excited are you to see:

Gaara to talk to Sasuke

Gaara to talk to Ai

The Kage to find out about AixGaara

Or Gaara to talk to Naruto about all this? Because that would be adorable. I'm not going to write it but imagine how sweet that would be.

One last thing- I've had a few requests for people to draw Ai. Please- go ahead! I like the idea that Ai is a woman from a thousand year old legend so now all these different styles of drawing her/interpretations exist.

Chapter Text

"Forgive my rather dramatic entrance," Madara spoke gently to a stunned audience, "she thought it would be justified under poetic license: a courtesan's dance, swallowing whole the peace between men of power," he chuckled lightly to himself, his mask catching the light from the crystal chandeliers and gleaming menacingly. "I agree, it was" he searched for the right word "…fitting, wouldn't you say?" The group stared on in silence for a moment, each group of three and Mifune holding their breath. Eventually, the Mizukage came back to her senses and took a courageous step forward, her woody-red hair shimmering.

"What are you talking about?" She shouted, "Are you insane!?"

"I demand to know your identity!" The Tsuchikage piped up.

"Of course, Tsuchikage, formality is always so important to those who wish to sit and twiddle their thumbs." An eerie chill spread throughout the room; the gathered could feel the menacing and powerful nature of the man in front of them a chill which was all to justifiable when he said; "I am Uchiha Madara-"

"Uchiha Madara!?" A whisper of fear echoed through the hall.

"The very same."

"Why are you here?!" The Mizukage urged him.

"To ask for that which you can give freely or that which I will take at the cost of war."

"And what is that?" The eldest Kage jutted out his chin in defiance and asked coldly.

"The last Jinchuriki to add to my collection; I want the Gyuki and the Kyuubi-" Before anyone had time to react, electricity snapped sound their ankles, a strange buzz flooded the room as the Raikage puffed out his chest and bellowed:

"YOU BASTARDS TOOK MY BROTHER! NOW I SHALL OBLITERATE EVERY CELL IN YOUR BODY-"

"Pity," Madara silenced the man who, a moment before, had grown like a storm cloud to tower above them all and now seemed to shrink back into himself. "I had hoped we could avoid such unpleasantness." Gaara was growing tired of the game the enemy was playing; he was trying to scare them, but the young Kazekage was having none of it. Gaara had to get to the bottom of Ai's involvement in the performance; did she know Madara? Did she know the Akatsuki? It was too bizarre, to impossible…but that was precisely why it suited her.

"What is your goal, Uchiha?" Gaara spoke clearly. His voice was so clear and so soothing, in fact, that the buzz of electricity was stripped from the room in an instant and the creepy flow of energy that emanated from Madara vanished. Gaara stood his ground, planting his feet firmly on the ground, as Madara turned to face him.

"It seems the sharpest of all of you is the youngest- you all grow rust and turn matte with your senility," he turned his head and bowed it slightly to the oldest Kage sharply, "utmost respect, Tsuchikage. I want what you all want," he announced to the group: "peace. I am just not fearful of using force to achieve it." Gaara took a step forwards.

"War for peace is an unsustainable paradox; you have a better chance of separating the sun from the sky." There was a moment of silence in which Madara seemed to consider Gaara in earnest.

"My, my, my," he muttered just loud enough for all to hear, "she taught you to speak well, Gaara." At this sentence, something fell from Gaara's throat and into the pit of his stomach. No. It couldn't be. "But you and I both know, Love always was recklessly ambitious in her endeavours. She would tear up the sun and scorch her hands just to spite you." Blood erupted in Gaara's head, deafening him, it coursed with fierce aggression through him until his fingertips were numb and he felt himself swaying unsteadily on his feet.

The vision of that beautiful girl he had abandoned appeared in his mind as a watery and glistening image. Her soft eyes looked softer in his memory, her skin more perfect, her smile more heart-melting than he ever remembered.

Ai.

"What is he talking about, Kazekage?" Gaara was brought back into the world by the sound of the Mizukage's gentle voice. The buzzing of blood in his ears began to fade away but his voice would not issue from his throat.

"Oh, the Kazekage would be delighted to fill you in, I'm sure," Madara saved him from answering. "But all in good time. First, the Gyuki and the Kyuubi, hand them over to me-" Madara raised his hands to innocently gesture but the ripple effect of this was that each Kage's guard held up their weapons with such speed, you could hear what sounded like the crack of several whips through the air.

"Why do you want them!?" Someone from behind Gaara shouted

"To perform the Mugen Tsukuyomi Genjutsu and cast a spell of peace over the world…"

And so the Kage listened in fear and frustration to what this monster had in store for humanity. Everyone's hearts began to race, their ears picking up every sigh of the twisted maniac's demeanour; his boredom for them, his lust for war. All the while Gaara's thoughts were wondering back to that picture of Ai that was forever etched in his brain. He compared it to the girl he saw here; her eyes were harder, more determined, her smile no longer mischievous but full of maleficence and distrust.

The young Kazekage could not help but feel the burning and toxic heat of guilt nestle inside of his stomach; he should have sought her after she left his room that night. He should not have let someone so delicate out of his sight. But it seemed she was not the girl he once knew; her chakra was different, more subdued, as though trying not to give her away at all…why? What secret was she hiding? Gaara had once been saved from darkness, could he do the same for her?

Unknown to the Kage who were beginning to grow restless with anger over Madara's words, the delicate songbird they had just frightened away, was only in the corridor outside the hall. A cheap theatrical trick had bought Ai a few seconds to run out after the group of dancers who were now all caught up in a frenzy. Shouts were issuing from samurai, cries of terror echoed through out the corridor; Ai had to escape and find Karin. Karin would take her to Sasuke and he would escort her as he searched for the Hokage.

Running through the crowd, without her mask, Ai was uncatchable to those who were not used to performance; the samurai guards could not tell from her jewellery or her clothes that she were any more important than the women holding the lanterns. The courtesan dodged under the flags held by dancers, between the ribbons of clothing that were toiling around her, until she reached an empty corridor.

Dark and dingy, the corridor was barely lit and felt cold as though damp had crawled between the grey bricks of the walls and made a home there. The hallway was entirely empty bar one striking creature at the end, far from Ai. Peering through a door, her red hair looking a dark crimson in the dank environment stood-

"Karin?" Ai called from behind the kunoichi. Karin turned and Ai could see the shine of her glasses. The dancer sighed in relief; she thought she may end up lost in this maze of architecture. Ai turned to look over her shoulder and gasped in surprise as she heard the shouts and footsteps of samurai guards fast approaching. She picked up her feet and began to move hastily towards Karin.

But as she turned to face her comrade, Ai was shocked to see a thin, faint smirk on the girl's face. Like a child hiding sweets, or a traveller taking shade from the noontime sun, Karin had the look of selfish glee about her.

"Karin?" Ai called again in uncertainty, trying to keep her voice down for fear of further alerting the guards. The red headed girl opened the door a fraction and slipped through the crack. "KARIN!?" Ai shouted in disbelief as she witnessed the flash of the girl's cloak disappear behind the door. The blue eyed girl reached the door and tried to open it. "Ah!" Try as she might, the door would not budge. "No," Ai whispered in disbelief; had Karin really left her for dead? She pounded against the door, "Karin?" What was she going to do? She had no plan! She was not made for war! "Please! Open the-" Ai's voice was caught in her throat as something hot trickled down her forehead. Her vision became mixed with the red of her blood as she blinked in an attempt to stay awake. But it did not work; Ai was dragged into unconsciousness but before she fell to her knees she was swept up into the arms of a guard.


"Peace with no free will is an illusion; the moon reflected on water is only half as beautiful and utterly intangible!" Gaara protested. The Tsuchikage finally withdrew his focus from Madara and eyed up the formidable Kazekage; the boy was made of exceptional strong will, an enviable demeanour and, of course, immense strength. What amused the elder Kage the most is that this princely boy had been raised to speak like an old king.

"Have you never dreamt of touching the moon, Kazekage?" Gaara raised his head to bring him to his full height as Madara said this; there was a double entendre in his wording that only Gaara would know. "Sasuke tread on cobbled paths through dying, darkened forests his ancestors planted thousands of years ago. One dark night, he saw that very moon reflected on the water of a deep and calm ocean. Now, he has touched the moon itself and he found that moonlight only shines on the path of the Akatsuki…"

Behind the group of Kage, the aides to the Tsuchikage, his spritely and spirited granddaughter, Kurotsuchi, and a very large, friendly man named Akatsuchi, stood, looking desperately lost. Akatsuchi leant down and whispered to his comrade hastily:

"What the hell are they talking about?" At his question, the girl rolled her eyes.

"The moon is symbolic of free will and it's reflection in water is a metaphor for the illusion of free will," the Stone village ninja said in exasperation. "The dying forests is a metaphor for the dying shinobi way of life-"

"No, I get all that," Akatstuchi interrupted and scratched his head in thought.

"Then what's the problem?" Kurotsuchi asked in annoyance.

"Why's the Suna kid blushing?" As the large ninja said this, the girl looked past the Mizukage to catch a glimpse of Gaara, the handsome Kazekage she had heard about. Her eyes were first drawn to his; those deep oceanic pools of greeny-blue often left onlookers mesmerised. She then took in his face; Akatsuchi was right, the Kazekage's face was red! But then she looked at the whole of him and frowned; his fists were clenched, he was gritting his teeth, itching to kill the man in front of them. "What's there to be embarrassed about?" As her friend asked her this, Kurotsuchi frowned and said slowly:

"He's not blushing, he's-" The room was plunged into semi-darkness as sand erupted from the Kazekage's gourd and sped towards Madara.

"Where is Uchiha Sasuke!?" Gaara's voice bellowed with all its ferociousness through out the hall.

"-furious!" Kurotsuchi breathed the last word of her sentence in fear before being stunned to silence. Something happened to the Kazekage's sand- it seemed to be swallowed into nothingness like water down a plughole. Immediately the Kazekage withdrew his sand.

"I think that metaphor was working on levels we weren't aware of.," Akatsuchi said plainly, clearly unfazed by what just happened.

"Sasuke is the last of your worries, Kazekage," Madara said sharply before turning to the rest of the group. "Prepare for war." And in an instant, he was gone.

"WHERE IS THE UCHIHA!?" Kankuro jumped as the Raikage swelled up like a giant raincloud and shrieked the question, making the hairs on the back of the puppeteer's neck stand up in fear. The Mizukage's aid spoke swiftly;

"One floor below us, 55 metres West of here," Kankuro frowned in unease as he watched the man's Byakugan pulse in the veins around his eye.

"LET'S MOVE OUT." Without warning, with no desire to make a plan or discuss recent events, the Raikage smashed through a stone wall and left the room. One of his aides smiled apologetically at them all.

"Haha," he laughed weakly, "sorry about the wall!" He exclaimed before he and his team mate leapt after their Raikage, leaving the other Kage to look after them in confusion. Kankuro turned back to the group and his eyes fell on an empty space; the Hokage had left. The Tsuchikage seemed to notice this too and tutted in disapproval before turning and sneering at the Suna team.

"I feel Suna is withholding information at this crucial junction in events-"

"There is no junction, Tsuchikage" Gaara folded his arms and turned to the man. "War is coming- the path does not divide, there is only one side for us all to take." At his words, the Mizukage nodded:

"Here, here. Well said, Kazekage." She said confidently, earning a look of cynicism from the Tsuchikage who decided to take control of the situation:

"Konoha has abandoned us; let this not be a reflection of the village as a whole but as an incident that puts to rest suspicions against the current Hokage-"

"That Danzo guy always creeped me out," Kankruo muttered behind Gaara.

"Suna will handle Uchiha Sasuke," Gaara informed the room, "as the closest allies to the Leaf Village, it is the only correct course of action to take." From behind Gaara, Temari and Kankuro shared a look; Ai was somehow involved in the Akatsuki now, they both hoped Gaara was not acting with her in mind. They had to appear as impartial and even consider denying Ai's identity if need be.

"The Raikage will not agree," the Mizukage warned them. Temari stepped into he light.

"Was he not listening? He thought his brother was already taken by Sasuke, but Madara told us words to the contrary. His brother is most likely in hiding."

"That man is ruled by his temper…" Temari heard the Mizukage muttered as the group decided their next steps.

The blonde Suna kunoichi pondered this thought presented by the Mizukage; the Raikage was ruled by his temper. He seemed to embody exactly what his village stood for: clouds. But more than that, he was the Raikage (Lighting shadow); it was almost as though he tried to embody a fierce and unforgiving rainstorm. With a temper sharp as lightning and a voices as booming as thunder, he was frightening as a storm. Temari thought of the Tsuchikage; she could sense he still help formidable power and strength as though age did not define him. Like the earth beneath your feet; steady, ready to be made into building blocks for a village, sturdy and reliable. The Mizukage was as delicate and terrifying as a thick, sweet smelling mist…

Indeed, each Kage seemed somewhat similar to the meaning of their title and the name of their village. As the suna siblings made their way through the dark halls of the Iron Vault in order to find Sasuke, Temari looked at her brother's side profile. How was Gaara like the wind or sand? Harsh, like a mountain breeze, chilling like the winds over a frozen lake? Coarse, like the sand between rocks or smooth and golden like the sand of their village? So much of him he was yet to discover for himself. He was so young and unaware and his siblings were constantly worried for his reputation as the Kazekage and, whilst they had of course seen him handle obstacles with grace and humility, they were also aware that Ai could turn those golden grains of sand coarse in all but a whisper.

With trepidation and in silence, the siblings entered the hall in which they could sense the Raikage's chakra emanating from him like the solar flares of a dying sun. The room was equally as dark as everywhere else but, what little light there was, gave view to a purplish stone that formed archways and mosaic flooring. Samurai were kneeling at the sides of the hall, clutching wounds and cradling limbs. Rubble lay strewn in messy piles, indicating the intensity with which the battles had been fought. Lanterns flickered in the presence of all those in the room and the Kazekage spotted the Raikage looking around himself with impatience, to discover the whereabouts of the intruder.

"Uchiha Sasuke?" Gaara spoke loudly and clearly into the hall. A shadow on the far wall twisted and contorted into unrecognisable, demonic shapes before footsteps were heard clearer from the other side of the room. From behind a pillar, covered in the blood of others, barely flinching at the immense chakra flowing throughout the room, walked Sasuke. But it was not the vision of him alone; there, tucked beside his hips, her waist held by his left hand, was someone Gaara knew well. Her fingers, dipped in blood, were brushing stones, leaving a trail of blood behind Sasuke. She was unconscious; her eyes shut, a trickle of blood between them, her white and gold dress flowing all around her as her hair dragged on the floor. She looked angelic, her face made those in the room stop and question why she was the enemy.

Had Sasuke captured her and taken her hostage? Had he used his sharingan to cast a genjutsu of unending slavery on the girl?

Deep down, Gaara knew what the truth was, he could almost write out what had happened following Ai leaving him. She met a man that told her he could give her all she truly deserved and she believed him. Love! Why did she always have to be so reckless? So attracted to chaos and confusion?

"What are you doing with her?" Kankuro came to stand in line with Gaara and spoke to Sasuke directly. The anger in his voice did not go unnoticed by Temari.

"Easy, Kankuro," she whispered to him; they could not give their position away!

"What does it matter to any of you?" Sasuke called with a snide smirk.

"Release her," Gaara spoke as softly as he dared. He watched the familiar way Sasuke gripped the girl's waist, the way he looked down on her with a look of total unimportance. No, it's not because she was unimportant but that she was so necessary to him, she became a part of him. Something flared inside of Gaara. "Immediately." Sasuke threw his head back and laughed.

"I take orders from no one, Sabaku no Gaara," the Uchiha sniggered.

"Gaara," Temari whispered, "tread carefully now. All eyes are on us," his sister said urgently. Gaara folded his arms and try as he might, he could not prevent the rebellious, uncontrollable anger that bubbled inside of him. "Gaara!" He heard Temari shout as sand erupted from all around them and the Kazekage encased a third of the room in sand, essentially creating a sealed wall between him and Sasuke, and the rest of the group.

Finally, the Uchiha looked intrigued; he let Ai tumble onto he floor and stood in a combat position. Gaara walked towards him slowly.

"Take the fact the you are still living as a mercy by my kindness." The Kazekage stopped a good twenty metres from the Uchiha, just enough so Gaara could make out the anger behind his eyes. "Make no mistake, Sasuke, if I see Ai in your arms again I will remove your limbs from you with all the clemency of a hurricane." Gaara gave no consideration for what this information may provide the enemy with. His mind was no longer working as a diplomat. He felt more alive than he had in years; he could feel a mixture of anger and aggression coursing through his veins, igniting in the way Shukaku used to control. Sasuke shot the unconscious girl a quick look.

"So it's true?" He murmured to himself. "Well, well, well," he addressed Gaara, "it seems the serene Kazekage is all an act?" Sasuke watched as Gaara's eyes darted to the courtesan on the floor. "Are you really still in love with her?" Sasuke asked in a bored voice. "Are you so benevolent, oh great Kazekage, that you would forgive her after all she's done to humiliate you?" At these words, Gaara's fears were confirmed. He shook his head in pity at the Uchiha.

"The darkness in your eyes, I once thought was so familiar but now I can see clearly; you are plagued with childish and selfish misery. You hold on to nothing other than making others feel how you feel; alone!" Gaara almost laughed, "I pitied you for so long. I encouraged Naruto for all his hope in you when you seemed as lost as I was. But that is not true. You are nothing like me. Even Love must pity you-" in less than the blink of an eye, Sasuke was racing towards Gaara, Katana outstretched, ready to strike.

"You know nothing of how I feel!" The Uchiha screamed and was immediately faced with a waterfall of sandy spikes he had to dodge, preventing him from even getting close to the Kazekage.

"Angry at everyone who was supposed to do what was right?" Gaara shouted back. "Hurt by those who should have protected you? Insanely terrified of her?" The question seemed to stump Sasuke as Gaara gestured to Ai. "Yes. Yes, of course you are. Just as I was. How is it someone so gentle could lay a hand against the face of evil and not even flinch? How is it she can melt that which took years to harden?" The red headed shinobi let out a defeated, dejected laugh. "I know the kinds of spells she casts. In the darkness of your eyes lies the moon; you are laced with the seduction of her enchantment." The look on Sasuke's face was one of confusion and hurt; he was so muddled and mixed up by the whirlwind of recent emotions. "But be warned, Sasuke," the Kazekage's serious tone caught his attention. "Ai cannot save you," Gaara warned him and looked the man dead in the eye, with no fear of the formidable sharingan. "Because she will never love you like she loved me." A heartbeat of silence.

"As if I lust after the love of a whore!" Sasuke screamed and inhaled deeply, before placing his hands in front of his mouth and breathing fire at the words of the Kazekage.

"Then why not leave her for dead?" Gaara asked calmly as sand shielded him from he fire. "Why protect her? You did not protect your other comrades." The Uchiha stopped for another moment and looked around to Ai; Gaara was easily manipulating the troubled man's emotions. "You see, while you have squandered your time in battle, I have learnt alternative methods of inciting fear into the hearts of my enemies." The man stated calmly, earning a smirk from Sasuke.

"I'm sure your father is proud-"

"As, I'm sure, is yours," Gaara would not let him try the same tactic. "We are so similar, I can see why she laid her eyes on you in the first place," the Kazekage sighed in exasperation. "Love adores chaos. And what are you and I, other than chaos?" Sasuke's eyes were darting manically, he only had the instinct to get Gaara away from him, to stop him from swirling the already tumbling twister of emotions that were twirling inside of Sasuke.

"You are truly a pathetic excuse for a Kage," Sasuke exclaimed, "lift up your weapon, Gaara, and face me!"

"You and I both know I could destroy you in an instant-"

"Then why haven't you?"

"I have come to bargain," Gaara folded his arms; "I will not kill you, in return for Ai." Sasuke turned to Ai and picked her up.

"I have a better idea-"

"No!" Gaara held out a hand in fear, his sand hovered above him, waiting to strike, as Sasuke placed the blade of his katana against the flesh of Ai's neck.

"Let me go and in return I will not kill her," Sasuke said.

"I told you if you touched her again I would tear you limb from limb!" Gaara gulped in fear as he watched the blade of the katana begin to graze Ai's neck. Sasuke pulled Ai in his grip and her head flopped forward; she was out cold. As Sasuke adjusted her, Gaara could see the katana getting dangerously close to her veins. "Ai!" The Kazekage called to her as, in a jerked motion, Sasuke hoisted her higher in his arms.

"Do you really think I would not do it?" Sasuke snarled, "grant me safe passage out of here." Gaara looked at him in defeat.

"Head underground," the Kazekage instructed.


An hour later, Mifune had re-gathered the Kage, with the exception of the Hokage, and their aides in the golden hall where Ai had performed. The group all turned to the Kazekage suddenly.

"Who was that girl?" the Mizukage asked kindly. She had seen the way Gaara had reacted at every step of the evening, the only time he lost his cool and calm demeanour is when the blue eyed dancer was involved. Temari and Kankuro bowed their heads as Gaara went with the truth. He stepped forwards into the light and appraised the room with the confidence of a king.

"Her name is Ariwara no Ai," he said calmly.

"Ariwara," the Mizukage thought for a moment, "like the poet?"

"She is his daughter and was a native of Suna until her banishment late last year," Gaara said.

"Why was she banished?" The Tsuchikage asked.

"It's a little complicated-"

"I will rest easy with a brief synopsis," came the impatient response of the Raikage.

"She was framed for assisting in my assassination by higher ups who did not approve of our relationship," Gaara admitted with evident hardship.

"Relationship?" The Tsuchikage's granddaughter spoke suddenly before her eyes widened in shock at her own outspoken nature.

"Ai was my first love," Gaara murmured much to the surprise of the gathered group.

"How tragic." The group turned their heads in surprise to the Tsuchikage who had spoken with such sincerity that they thought an imposter was among them. "What?" He asked indignantly, "I have a heart." His aides the friendly giant-like man, turned to the Kazekage.

"Why did they-"

"Akatsuchi," Kurotsuchi hit her comrade on the belly, "you can't ask that!"

"She's a House girl, isn't she?" Again, everyone was surprised to hear the Tsuchikage speak up. "Someone with such a lovely face, with he deportment of a queen and talents of a geisha can only be one of two things: royalty or slave," he nodded his head sagely as Gaara nodded in confirmation of his allegation. "So the beautiful courtesan falls in love with the young Kazekage much to the displeasure of the elders. They frame her and you cannot, as much as you desire to, convince them of her innocence so she is banished. In doing so, her anger towards them turns to you. And, I hear, you are recently engaged. A young woman's heart is a fickle and fiery thing, Kazekage." Gaara, who had been disturbed by the cold and hard manner of the elder Kage, was suddenly warming to his pragmatic and sensible approach.

"Indeed, Tsuchikage," he smiled softly.

"But why would they enlist this girl?" The Raikage asked, "just for the performance today?" Kankuro spoke up:

"Ai has talents many Shinobi do not have. She can read and write Jodāi Nohingo (Old Japanese) with ease; none of us could read her summoning circle tonight- we had no chance to fight it."

"She can also communicate with tailed beasts." Temari added.

"What a unique woman," the Raikage puffed out his chest in admiration. "You should have enlisted her in your special forces before they did."

"If Madara was not enough trouble, it seems this girl could aid him in ways we cannot comprehend," the Mizukage said. A defeated silence crept into the room and the group looked lost for a second. That was until the courageous and kind Kazekage took a step forwards and addressed them all in earnest.

"I will talk to her."


I'm awfully sorry this took so long to get up! I was seriously lacking inspiration and have just come back from Nepal. Should be updating more regularly…but you know what'd really encourage me?

Please submit a REVIEW!

Chapter Text

奇跡 /Wonder

Velvet waves of an inky sky held captive the moon and the stars, as the young and brave Kazekage walked towards the Marble Palace. Home, it was rumoured, of Love herself. The man walked tall and steady through the long grass, feeling the dew that lingered on petals as his fingertips brushed gently by them. The air was thick with warmth and humidity; the tropical climate this part of the world inherited from its borders with Suna and Ame gave birth to the jungle. Great vines twisted and crept along tree trunks and red clay. Giant, fantastical flowers opened and closed as though the entire jungle were alive and breathing as it watched this handsome stranger, his eyes a colour unknown to these tropics, wander towards the Palace.

His gentle and austere demeanour could not cloud the rumble beneath his soft sighs, nor the darkness in his furrowed brow. It seemed the sky was mirroring his temperament; a storm was moving close, threatening to hover above the Palace in a matter of minutes. The calm before the storm entered with Gaara in the dead of night; a gentle breeze, a teasing wind- it made the low branches of the willow trees sway as though nature was bowing to the shinobi's power. The crackle of electricity hummed in the air, waiting to snap, waiting for the handsome warrior to give the signal of war.

It had been three days since the incident at The Iron Vault. Kankuro's efforts with Suna's reconnaissance teams had been running especially smoothly for the past few months and they were able to locate Ai's whereabouts within hours. The other Kage had briefed Gaara with his mission that morning: find out Ai's use and plans with the Akatsuki and try to win her back to our side.

As Gaara strode confidently towards the doors of the marble palace he thought for a moment about the girl called Love. Win her back? He could barely contain his disappointed laughter; Ai was as stubborn as she was smart, as full of emotion as she was beautiful and as ill-fated as the Kazekage himself. There was a dismally slim chance that Gaara could get his first love to change her mind. Whenever he needed to in the past he would simply grab her by the skin and touch her until she gave in. Just a twist of her arm, a bite of her neck, a well-placed fingertip, could make Ai do exactly as he said. But, as he had discovered at the Summit, it seemed someone else had taken on that role.

Gaara glanced up at the Palace; the building seemed to heave and huff, like the great head of a mythical beast, He could hear the heartbeat in its walls and the inviting, warm breath from the windows. There was a power that he had come to test; he could feel the will of the enemy lurking in the darkened corners like a serpent beneath a still lake. The Palace was coming closer as the Kazekage's feet pounded on the soft, fertile soil of the gardens. The whole world seemed to hold its breath as the man of power arrived to greet his equally-ferocious enemy. The moment of meeting would soon be underway.

The crash of thunder alerted the Kazekage to the giant wooden doors that were creaking open, inviting him in to a warm and shimmering light. Like a beacon warning ships of the rocky shore, the light form inside the Palace seemed to entrance and worry him; eerily quiet, beautifully structured, enchanting in its form…the place was every inch of her.

Ai's sweet and innocent face came into his mind once more; those beautiful blue eyes, deliciously plump lips, small, fragile, breakable waist…Would it still be there? The spark, the flame, the excitement? The hate, the love, the lust? What made Gaara and Ai themselves, the perfectly imperfect pairing of beauty and beast- would it still exist in all it's aching beauty?

The Kazekage ascended the steps into the Marble Palace.

不忠 /Betrayal

The lanterns guided his way to a beautiful room of gold and metallic spun silk. He entered where red velvet curtains parted at an archway to find a room full of treasures and precious things; a library, a courtyard, a bedroom a garden…it was hard to give an exact name to this room's function. A large round room lined with archways, contained under a glass dome ceiling, littered with bookshelves and floristry…it was Ai. This entire place was a breathing ecosystem entirely devoted to that girl.

The smell of jasmine flowers floated on the surface of the water that bubbled and swished from a beautiful marble fountain that stood impressively in the middle of the room on a platform with steps leading to it. The sound of trickling water echoed in the archways, its calming sound eerily soothing in this mystical room. Velvet drapes were accompanied by beautiful silk dresses piled high to the ceiling; their metallic thread glittering in the candlelight, the entire pile swaying, threatening to fall. Parchment with scribbles of the dead language, desks with sheafs of papers, ink bottles and writing tools were littered about the place. Poetry books, writing on economics, politics, war and ninjutsu were lying open. The room was so large and so full of clearly unending activity that it seemed as though a hundred scholars, tailors, dancers, politicians, shinobi, birds, flowers and women could enter the room every day. But, of course, it was only Ai.

"So they have sent the Kazekage to appease me when the sun sets?" Her beautiful voice, accompanied with the crashing of thunder, made Gaara tear gaze was torn from the pile of clothes as he was alerted by movement near the fountain. He was surprised to find his heart skipped a beat; for in a moment, there she was. Hidden amongst the silk and glass; the courtesan had been lying on the fountain's ledge on the side he could not see. She stood and walked around the fountain, coming into full view.

She was accompanied by the glittery, shimmering sound of her jewellery as it moved with her. Gold, rich and solid, thick bands, delicate chains, shining gemstones, hung on her effortlessly. The metal was twisted into a wreath on her head, small crystal flowers hung in her hair. Beneath the crown, her scar sat proudly at her hairline. In a royal blue dress with a dangerously low neckline, wrapped in a darker-than-blood-red shawl and white veil on her head that dragged along the floor behind her gave her an ethereal, angel-like look. Ai looked like the goddess she was meant to be. That slick flick of black lining her eyes, the shimmer of moonlight on her cheekbones, deep-red lips…she was no longer the innocent and flirtatious songbird Gaara had once known. Even the way she held herself, the way she walked, was arrogant, full of swagger and vanity. She was the beautiful and haunted manifestation of Renai.

The two appraised each other for a moment before she spoke again:

"Tell me," Gaara shivered; that flirtatious, courtesan tone he used to know so well! She lifted her chin at him defiantly. "How much is a night with the Kazekage worth?" The young warrior took a step forwards and folded his arms.

"An end to war." Ai closed her eyes and laughed a sweet laugh.

"Hahahaha," she bit her lip at him, "I think you and I both know that would be a gross overpayment."

The Kazekage stood so defiantly in the manner she remembered; his oceanic eyes giving nothing away but their beauty. Her defiant demeanour faltered for a second because she smiled…he had grown his hair until lustrous strands of crimson swept across his eyes. She had always known he would become even more handsome than when they first met. His build was even more heroic than she remembered as he stood, stiff, unmoving as a mountain. Even the furrow in his brow had a few more lines to it than she remembered. Wrapped up in that dark red, the lines around his eyes thinner but still striking against his light eyes…No, he was not the boy she had fallen in love with. He had become everything he had trained to be, everything that was expected of him, the man stood before her was not Sabaku no Gaara. This man was the Godaime Kazekage (A/N: Fifth Kazekage). A warrior, a hero, a leader. They took in the sight of one another without giving away their thoughts.

"Do not start this, Ai." The Kazekage warned as the girl stretched and yawned with ill-manner before sitting on the fountain's ledge, picking up a hairbrush in one hand, a mirror in the other and appraising her reflection with a soft smile as she began brushing the ends of her hair. She turned and looked at him with bored eyes.

"Did we ever have a choice, Gaara?" She asked softly, her big blue eyes shimmering with the reflection of the fountain water. The Kazekage took a step forwards and looked to her ankles; something was subduing her chakra. Just like him, there was a power behind her that was mighty and great. She could not control it, Gaara knew that but it did not stop him from being wary of her; this girl had gained the reputation of an enchantress…she could speak to creatures Gaara knew very well. Both were hiding the power that lay within them. Both were threatening to break.

"Ai!" The girl smiled as he spoke her name in that commanding tone he had mastered. "Do not go so far into darkness that I cannot reach out and drag you back to me!"

"Back to you?!" Ai stood, throwing her hair brush into a pile of messy papers and candles. The woman let the mirror slip from her grasp and into the waters of the fountain. She picked up her skirt and took a step down from the fountain. "How would your fiancé feel about you doing that?" There was hurt in her voice and the glisten of a tear in her eyes, she almost cried out when he simply stared back and said nothing. "Utterly, unashamedly, heartless!" She shouted at him in fury, her beautiful face screwing up into a snarl.

Ai's anger lifted her veil of superiority and power until, for the briefest of seconds, Gaara saw that lonely girl he had met on the beach all those nights ago. Her dark hair shimmering in the candlelight suddenly made her look younger, her look of utter loss stirred his primal instinct to protect her. Her vulnerability made him falter for a moment; this was that girl, wasn't it? What they had had was real!

Those few months ago, he had written to her, hadn't he? She had ignored him, hadn't she?

The woman's face softened as the icy feeling of betrayal nestled itself inside her stomach and the embarrassment of losing her temper settled in her chest. This handsome fool was as much of a fool as he ever was! Still…as she looked to him she could see his naivety behind those unyielding eyes. Those few months ago, why had he not written to her? Why had he not come to her rescue as he had once promised to? They caught each other's eye.

"Why did you-?"

"Why did you not-?"

They stopped short in frustration as they interrupted each other and scowled. How dare she shout at the Kazekage? How dare he demand anything from her? She's the one who had been acting a fool and fallen into the arms of another man so easily! And he was the one who abandoned her as soon as a princess gave him a look!

"So typical of you to try and lead a peace agreement-"

"So typical of you to be led!" Ai retorted within a second; lighting striking behind her in the gardens, a harsh wind blowing through the room, rocking the piles of clothes, threatening to blow out the candles.

Love and Gaara could not escape the paradox of the blood-love for it is all they were; enemies and lovers simultaneously. Wanting, so desperately to hear the other moan beneath them but equally desperate to make the other scream in frustration. The two exchanged glances of annoyance as a grandfather clock struck midnight.

原点 /Origin

"What exactly do you think you can achieve by joining with the Akatsuki?" The Kazekage demanded, watching as Ai tucked her hair behind her ear and folded her arms, pulling her shawl tighter around her as she did so.

"A world of peace," she replied.

"Peace without free will is an illusion."

"Free will?" Ai barely let him finish his sentence. She smiled as though reminiscing, her whole face lighting up in that familiar. "Tell me, Kazekage, have your tutors given you as an advanced of an education as I ever did? Do you really wish to take up such a taxing debate in these twilight hours with me?" Ai smirked at him in such a delicious manner that the Kazekage could feel a slight pang in his chest, a numbness in his fingertips. He shook his head at her, his crimson waves of hair swaying as he did so.

"You cannot deny free will to mankind-"

"You have my mark on your forehead, I have yours on mine." Ai interrupted as though Gaara had not spoken at all, as though she was speaking to herself. She sat back down on the fountain ledge and peered over into the crystal-clear water at her reflection. Stark and stunning, her scar always looked fresh as though ready to ooze blood, as though waiting for Gaara's hands. "We have often forsaken kismet for this tragic end to our love," she spoke softly, "how can fate co-exist with free will? It is one or the other." The girl with the faces of a goddess turned to him sharply, her jewellery shining so brightly it almost looked like she were covered in fairy lights. "Tell me, Sabaku no Gaara, was it your choice to hurt in love as we have done? Or was the hurt thrust upon you by forces unknown?"

"Ai-"

"I am the key to happiness