Sand Trails Ch 23: New Bonds

“Sakura?” Her mother poked her head into the room and smiled. “Oh, hello, Gaara-kun! I didn’t know you were over.”

Gaara nodded. “Hello, Haruno-san.”

Naiyuri beamed and looked at Sakura again. “Your father’s on the phone. He has a surprise for you.”

“Dad?” Sakura jumped up from the floor and scrambled for the phone. “Thanks Mom!” She grabbed the red cordless on the desk and hit the pale green button. “Dad! What’s up?”

There was a soft laugh. “Hey there, Cupcake,” Haruno Yuzuki rumbled. “How’s the desert?”

She grinned and flopped down on her bed, ignoring the snort from her study mate. “Dry and hot,” she said rolling her eyes, still smiling. “Just like a desert is supposed to be. The people are nice though.”

There was an annoyed huff that emanated from the other redhead in the room.

Looking over at him, Sakura lifted an eyebrow at him. Okay, so not everyone liked everyone here. Gaara certainly didn’t think much of most of the population in Suna.

Yuzuki’s smile was audible. “Oh, yeah? That’s good to hear. I heard you have a boyfriend?”

“Yep!” She rolled back to look up at the rose canopy above. Smirking, Sakura thought imagined Itachi walking into her now utterly pink bedroom. Knowing him, he would twitch once and walk out. Sasuke on other hand may have an aneurysm. Naruto would yell and refuse to come in at all. “He’s great. Do you remember Sasuke-kun? He’s his older brother. He has a Camaro!”

What model? Year?” Yuzuki asked, interest piqued.

Sakura grinned. “Oh that’s the best part—he remade it almost from scratch. The only thing original is the frame, everything else he had to find. Dad, it’s gorgeous! And it’s silver. He calls her Shiori. I don’t have the heart to tell Itachi that the name makes her so adorable!”

Yuzuki laughed. “Seems you know how to pick your guys as well as your cars, Cupcake,” he said. “After all, I’m your favorite daddy, right?”

“You’re also my only dad, Dad,” she drawled, rolling her eyes.

Oh, that’s right. I somehow keep forgetting that,” he joked. “Anyway, so I have a surprise for you.”

“Yeah?” Sakura sat up in bed, eyebrows raised. “Are you coming over?!” she squeaked. Gaara looked over and snorted. She stuck her tongue out at him.

He laughed. “Slow down the thought processes, Cupcake. No, I’m not. I want you to come visit me for the weekend. There’s someone I want you to meet. Someone very special,” he explained. “Will you come? Please?”

“Oooooooo!” Sakura hunched over the phone, fingers of her free hand curled over her mouth and the receiver. “Do you have a girlfriend?” she stage whispered, then continued on in a normal tone. “Cuz if that’s the case, then I’m definitely coming over! What’s she like? Can I take her shopping? What’s her favourite car?”

Her father laughed. “Her name is Saya. She’s very sweet, I think. Not so much into cars, but she’s soft on me… Other than that, I want you to judge for yourself. You see, Cupcake, I want to ask her to marry me… But I want to make sure you like her first. I want your approval.”

“Omigosh… Hey Dad—I’m gonna put the phone down for just a second okay? Just one moment,” Sakura poured out the words, while waving at Gaara. “Just one second!”

She put down the phone and met Gaara’s unimpressed stare. “You may want to cover your ears for a moment,” she advised him. “Or get out of the room entirely.”

Gaara frowned but obligingly stepped out the door and closed it behind him.

As soon as her class mate was out the door, Sakura grinned and let out a high-pitched squeal. She danced around on the rug and after hopping around on few times, she yelled out, “Okay Gaara! I’m done!” Grabbing the phone off the bed, and she grinned at her door. Which wasn’t opening.

“Okay, when can I come over?” It was time to plan!

Your mom has the information for the plane ticket. It leaves tonight at eight. I know it’s only Thursday, but… It should be fine, right?” Yuzuki asked.

“Holy—” Sakura yelped, head swinging towards the door. Gaara still hadn’t come through yet. “Eight, huh? Okay, I gotta pack. How long am I staying for?”

“Till Sunday night. Your mom made me, otherwise I would keep you till Wednesday,” he said mournfully. “You go pack. Oh, and Cupcake?”

Pausing from where she was half inside her closet, Sakura tilted her head. “Yeah Dad?”

“I love you with chocolate sprinkles on top,” he said.

Giggling, she shook her head. “I love you too, Dad. Old radiators and all.” Sakura grinned. “See you in a few hours!”

See you, Cupcake.” The line went dead.

Still smiling, Sakura tossed the phone back to the bed and dragged out a small luggage bag from under a pile of coats. Her dad was getting married! And she was meeting Saya for the first time, which meant good jeans, several nice tops, and she needed to dig out those warmer shoes from the back…

The door opened and Gaara returned with a plate of cookies and a big glass of milk. “So?” he prompted, sitting on the bed and setting both down on the bedside table.

It was good thing he had, because Sakura launched herself at him giggling madly.

“My Dad might be getting married!” she squealed (again) as she wrapped both arms around his neck and giggled. “I’m gonna go meet his sweet heart—and oh, he’s so cute, because he wanted to know what I thought of her before he made it official—and now I gotta pack because I’m leaving in a few hours and well, I’m going to be gone from now until Sunday night, so I’ll be there at school on Monday, but if you can, could you tell Temari and Kankuro?”

He blinked, brain stalling for a beat. “You’re leaving?” he asked, sounding slightly lost.

Sakura shifted back, smiling. “Yep! And I’ve got…” She glanced at the clock, “… just about two and a half hours. Think you can survive without my pink hair for a weekend?” she teased.

He shook his head. “No,” he replied. “When are you coming back? What about that picnic you were talking about?”

“No, you can’t live without me or no, that’s not what you meant?” Sakura blinked at him, stepping back and frowning. “I’ll be back Sunday night, but that’s all I know. Mom has the tickets, so I’ll have to ask her.” She tilted her head and pouted, picking the phone up again. “As to the picnic… I guess I’ll have to tell Naruto that we’ll have to postpone. I feel bad, but Dad already bought the tickets.”

Gaara thought that sounded a bit presumptuous, but Sakura would hit him if he said so out loud. He sighed. “Okay. I’ll help you pack.”

Startled, Sakura hit the wrong button on the phone and rushed to hang up. “Gaara? Did you just—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—but did you just offer to help me pack?” Swinging around, she looked straight at him. “I’m going to Kirigakure, not out into the desert.”

He blinked. “Okay? What does that have to do with it? I figured your dad didn’t live in the desert.”

“Yeah…” Saukra approached him cautiously, one hand reaching for his forehead, “but since when do you ever offer to help?”

He knocked her hand away, looking annoyed. “If you don’t want my help, fine. I’ll just go,” he snapped and stalked toward the door.

“Whoa!” she protested. “Yes! Okay, yes, I want your help!” She grabbed the bag and flipped it open. “Don’t just go already… please?” Thou shalt not step on Gaara’s good intentions. As random and as blue moonish as they were.

He stopped and looked at her with a frown, but was mollified. “Fine.” He walked back over to her. Women were weird.

xXx

Her red-haired father was awaiting her at the airport, holding a sign that read, “Cupcakes not for sale, get your own” and grinning widely. He was roughly the same height as Itachi, with sleep-mussed, unbrushed hair that was cut very short and dark green eyes. The man wore jeans and a green polo. He was alone.

Sakura laughed as she saw him, pulling off her floppy grey hat to throw at him. “You are so lucky we’re in public or I’d have to hurt you,” she joked as she jumped up to hug him tight. “So when do I get to meet Saya?!”

He grinned and hugged her back. “Tomorrow at noon. We’re meeting her for lunch at a cafe.” He grabbed her suitcase, leaving her to handle the carry on. “Until then, you’re stuck with just me. Think that’s okay, Cupcake?” he asked.

“Peachy keen,” she assured him. “So have you redecorated since last time? I hope you don’t still have those posters taped up in the living room!”

“Always,” he teased. “Saya’s favorite is the christmas one of you and Naruto-kun when you guys were eight.” He grinned. “By the way… I brought Arachne.”

“Augh!” Pause. “I love you, but—and Arachne too—but, seriously?

He chuckled and jerked his head to indicate that she should follow him. “So tell me about this boy of your’s. What’s he like?” he asked as they walked.

“Hmm, well, his name is Itachi. He’s more on the quiet side. Sneaky too. Loves his brother, idolizes his mother,” she tilted her head in thought, following her father through the crowd, “get a long with his dad, though honestly, I don’t see them interact all that much. His dad isn’t around much. Uhm…”

Sakura laughed. “He makes people nervous, I think. You never really know what he’s thinking, and a lot of the times he picks up on things that no one thinks of. It’s really hard to keep secrets from him. Oh yeah, and he’s a bloody perfectionist,” she ended, making a face, distinctly remembering one time Itachi had seen her homework and made her re-write the whole thing because she had used a pencil instead of a pen. The lead had smudged in places.

Yuzuki laughed at the look on her face. “Sounds like you like him,” he commented casually.

“Of course,” she replied, smiling. “So! Saya!” Sakura reached out and snagged his arm. “Spill!”

He shook his head as he pushed open the doors. They were hit by a gust of moist wind. All around the airport were various postboards advertising water resorts, natural waterfalls and cold water springs. Nothing new there. “I told you, Cupcake. I want your impression. Your honest impression. Meaning I’m not gonna bias you, alright?”

“Pfft.” Sakura waved him off. “I did say I was dating Sasuke-kun’s older brother right? Sasuke really didn’t like his brother these past few years, and everyone knew it. I finally meet Itachi and we get along just fine.” She lifted a brow at him. “Can’t you tell me how you two met at least? How long you’ve been seeing each other? Whether she has kids of her own? Anything?”

“She doesn’t have kids. We’ve been dating for a year. We met at a gas station. I helped her retrieve her earring out from under an atm machine.” He shrugged. “Say hello!” He gestured at his Alpha Romeo Spider, Arachne, a gorgeous crimson car that he’d bought a year previously.

Grudgingly, Sakura let herself be distracted, her eyes appreciating the lines of the automobile in front of her. She walked from the hood to the trunk, fingers tracing over the surface.

“Hi Arachne,” she chirped, then leaned forward, pretending to “listen” to the car. “What’s that? I shouldn’t bug Dad about Saya? Hmm, I supposed you’re right. I should stop talking about Itachi then,” Sakura glanced over to her father mischievously, “don’t want to bias him!”

He smirked. “Hmmmm… In that case, maybe I should go find Itachi-kun and introduce myself…” he said, stroking his goatee.

Flashing a grin his way, Sakura straightened and tapped the gleaming red finish. “Sounds like a fantastic idea, Dad. Mom’s met him. When should we expect you over?”

He grinned. She got most of her personality from him, and it was like looking at a female version of himself. “How ’bout I just invite him over for dinner on Sunday? He can go home with you on your plane.”

Sakura stuck her tongue out at him. “Open the trunk, Dad. And like hell you’re getting Itachi-time before me! I haven’t seen him for two weeks!” She slipped pink hair out of her eyes. “Though, I’m sure when you and Saya get married, Itachi and I will be more than happy to show up at the wedding.”

“You’d better!” he said, shaking a fist, before opening the driver’s door and popping the trunk. “And bring that Naruto. … And his dad,” he said, all shifty like.

Sakura was already lifting the metal lid when her father’s words sank in. She dropped the bag in the trunk and yanked herself to the side to glare at him. Did he just?“Aaaauuugghh!” She pointed at him accusingly. “Pervert!”

“Shhhhhh!” he hissed, looking around frantically. “You idiot! I have to live in this town!” He quickly got into the car and hid, sulking.

Sakura sniffed and sauntered her way over to the driver’s door. She tapped on the glass.

He jerked his thumb pointedly at the passenger’s side door, glowering.

Lifting her nose in the air, Sakura picked up the luggage bag that he had forgotten on the asphalt and lugged it over to the trunk, tossing it in. Then only did she close the lid and sashay to the other side.

She smirked at him as she slid inside. “Right, like hiding in the bright red Spider is gonna help you. Pervert.”

He smirked. “Luckily for you that Jiraiya-sama is well known in my neighborhood.” He started the car and pulled out of the parking spot.

“I’m sure,” Sakura drawled. “And his very reputation is why you were hiding in the first place.”

He gave her a look. “Keep it up, Cupcake, and I might just decide to send your boy embarrassing childhood videos,” he mock threatened. “Like the string bean episode…”

Sakura gave him a skeptical look of her own. “Dad, please. Last time Naruto’s dad was over, the two of you were found, stinking of sake, passed out under the benches of the girl’s change room at the swimming pool.” She scowled at him.

“Oh, and that mural you made when you were crushing on Sasuke-kun… Yes, I’ve still got it.” He smirked.

“Ugh.” She grimaced. “Well, I guess the candy hearts wouldn’t ever rot,” she muttered. “I’m surprised it hasn’t already eaten by you and Jiraya during one of your munchy episodes. You stole my chocolates! When I was twelve!”

“That was in retribution for you hiding the sake.” He chuckled. “Of course, then we found out it was Tsunade that did it…”

“And you got me liquor-filled chocolates as replacements.”

“We were helping you blossom,” he replied, straight-faced.

“Twelve!”

He snorted. “Cupcake, you went to Tsunade, remember? And what did she do to us, mm? I have no sympathy.” He smirked.

“Actually,” Sakura turned baleful green eyes his way, “I’ve forgotten. What did Tsunade do to you two?”

He frowned, pressing the gas. “Legs, Cupcake. Legs.”

It clicked with something Sakura had heard, and she grinned at him gleefully. “She waxed you!”

He grimaced. “I still have nightmares….”

“Hmm,” she slid her gaze forward to the passing scenery. “Truce? I tell Jiraya you want him to visit, and you with-hold the childhood nightmares. I just don’t want to be in town at the same time as Jiraya.”

“Deal. Hungry?” he asked, turning into a Sonic.

“Definitely. Grilled chicken please!”

xXx

“We chatted for a bit. Made small talk. Ugh, I hate small talk. But I think she’s okay. I mean, I’m not going to tell my dad, ‘No, you can’t marry this woman because I said so.’ That would be…” Sakura wrinkled her nose as she tossed her laundry into the hamper, “… presumptuous.”

Her plane had landed two hours ago and she had disembarked dishevelled, dehydrated, and far more exhausted than she thought she would be. Gaara had been waiting by the luggage area, his red hair the only sign she needed.

Earlier, when she had called ahead to confirm that she was leaving and her arrival time, Gaara had been there at her house. The sneaky bastard had probably been waiting for her. For some reason, her mom had suggested that he pick Sakura up from the airport. The normally reticent teen had almost literally pounced on the idea.

A plane flight and several hours later, he was helping her unpack. It was unreal.

She still wasn’t sure how to view a helpful Gaara, but she wasn’t going to poke at it. When he asked her flatly which bag he could unpack, Sakura had blinked and pointed at the carry on. It was still so weird. Shrugging, she felt that a phone call to Itachi was long overdue.

“I assume he will be asking her to marry him soon then?” Itachi’s voice was like a balm. Soothing and warm.

Sakura nodded habitually, switching the phone from one ear to the other. “Yeah. He said he was. He also threatened to invite us both to the wedding. Beware. He’s Jiraiya’s right hand man,” she babbled tiredly.

“Hnn, as long as I am not required to attend the bachelors party, I believe I will survive,” Itachi responded dryly. “You do realize that Mother will insist on taking you shopping for the event?”

Sakura chuckled. “I figured. Oh geez, shopping with Mikoto-san is a scary thought.”

There was a snort from Itachi. “Mother has excellent taste,” he sniffed, ever his mother’s son. “On the other hand, she may ask to finally meet your mother. That is a frightening thought.”

“Okay, are you trying to give me nightmares?” she demanded.

“Just giving you perspective on the situation,'” he deadpanned.

She shuddered and cast Gaara a smile. He frowned and went back to carefully arranging her belongings on her bed. “Yeah, sure. Anyway, so about that rain check. This weekend?”

There was a rustling noise as Itachi got up from his bed to check his emails. “Yes, Sasuke confirmed it.” He paused, his voice suddenly going flat, “Your father has upset quite a few plans.”

“Tough,” she replied. “You guys will live. I’ll bring some dango for everyone.” She rubbed her shoulder absently. “So what’s the news on everyone? I need to catch up. Is Ino still hopelessly in like with Sai? How are your guys? And Pein-kun’s group? I miss everyone something awful.”

“I miss you,” Itachi said instantly, softly. “And Kisame is forever telling me to stop sulking,” he admitted. Still speaking softly, he sketched out the past few weeks for Sakura, ending with a comment that she would see them all at the picnic on Saturday.

She smiled a little. “I wanted to invite a friend of mine from here. Do you mind?” she asked, giving Gaara a tiny smile. He blinked and eyed her, as if unsure how to feel about that. Did she mean him?

“Your friend may feel abandoned,” Itachi warned her. “Everyone from Konoha will be vying for your attention and I plan to be victorious for the most part.”

She giggled at that. “Is that so? I dunno, I’m pretty fond of Naruto, you know.”

He had you in his life for years,” he reminded her, “I, in contrast, have only had you for perhaps a handful of months.”

“I know,” she murmured, regret creeping into her voice. “Somehow, it feels like I’ve known you forever.”

Itachi made an amused sound. “I’m sure you’ve known of me for years, courtesy of my younger brother no doubt, but that is beside the point. I will not say that others will not make an effort to welcome your friend, however, you will be otherwise occupied.”

She quirked a brow, then nodded with a sigh. “Well, if he doesn’t want to go, he can just say no,” she replied, reaching up to rub her shoulder again. “Anyway, I’m sorry to chat and run, but I’m soooo tired. And I have to finish putting my stuff away before I can go to bed, but I will definitely call you after school tomorrow, okay?”

Aa,” he murmured. “Sleep well, and good night Sakura.

She smiled, nodding. “I will… I love you.” It was still sometimes strange to say, but theyhad said it before. Just not often.

And I love you.” Itachi’s smile was audible. “Now go sleep.

She smiled, said goodbye and reluctantly hung up. Gods, she missed him. It really sucked that they’d had to move. But at least she’d made new friends. Speaking of… Sakura quirked a brow at Gaara, who was staring at her oddly. “What?”

“Nothing.” He waved at the items on the bed instead. “Where do these go?”

She pursed her lips and eyed him. That was another thing. Gaara. Half the time, she wasn’t sure what to think about him. He’d been nice enough… Sort of. Or at least he hadn’t been needlessly cruel. Er, to her. He was a jackass to pretty much everyone else. She wondered if there was any particular reason he was nice to her, or if it was just because she was nice to him, or… Well, damn. She just wasn’t sure.

Shaking her head, she redirected her attention. “Um, I’ll put up the clothes, but the knick knacks can be arranged on my dresser over there and the books need to be put in the bookcase in the hall. Oh! But not the vampire one,” she hurriedly corrected, walking over to it and picking it up. “I’m reading it right now.” She smiled at him. “Okay? Thanks a lot for all the help, by the way.”

Gaara’s eyes glanced over the cover of the book briefly, then away. What she chose to read was her own business. Gathering the other paperbacks, he straightened and blinked at her waiting expression. “Don’t mention it,” he muttered finally, and took the books away.

She grinned, shook her head and went to her closet for hangers. Ten minutes later, he was just finishing up and she was hanging the last of the clothing (she’d stashed the underwear when he was out of the room). She sighed and swung the closet door closed. “Wanna snack?” she offered, wondering if he’d had dinner. According to her mom, he’d been around long before Sakura got off the plane, nearly three hours ago, and it was approaching ten thirty now.

Across the room, the red-head paused, brow puckering. He was hungry. Placing the last two souvenirs on the wood dresser, he turned around and scowled. No, a snack wouldn’t deal with his stomach. Something more substantial was needed. Asking for that though, was presumptuous. It was likely that Sakura had already eaten before the flight and she had already told Itachi-san that she was tired.

Gaara’s expression darkened.

She bit the inside of her cheek to suppress her grin. “That’s a yes, isn’t it? Well, that’s okay, so am I. Famished, actually. I feel like cooking something. What do you want to eat?” she asked.

“Whatever you feel like,” he replied instantly. Perhaps this is what Kankuro meant by a gift horse.

She quirked a brow but shrugged. “Hmmmmm, what about….” She turned toward the door, walking out slowly as she thought. “Uh… Rice and… Fried chicken? Or do you prefer breaded?”

Gaara shook his head as he followed her out of the room. “No, fried is fine.”

She eyed him, then nodded. “Hmmmm, but what sort of vegetables…?”

“Steamed?” he suggested shrugging.

She nodded. “Mixed? Or do you want anything specific? We have carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, um… I think that’s it…”

Gaara blinked at her as they stood in the kitchen. “Woman–” He stopped as his stomach growled and he flushed pink. He eyed her, daring her to laugh, as he growled, “Mixed.”

Sakura smiled. “Mixed it is!” she said sweetly, and practically skipped across the room to start cooking. “Help yourself to a drink from the fridge,” she said over her shoulder as she got the fry pan out from under the sink.

Grumbling, he grabbed the pitcher of juice out of the fridge, then looked around for the cups. It took a couple of cupboards until he found the glasses, but he was faintly proud of himself for not having to ask.

He poured a glass and then paused. “Do you want any?” he asked abruptly.

“Yes, please,” she replied, shoulders deep in the fridge. She withdrew several items and carried them over to the counter where she was working. “Oh, can you put some ice in mine? Please.” She bit her lip to quell her smile. Was Sasuke this funny? No. He wasn’t. He was too arrogant. Gaara was like a lost puppy.

The boy just nodded, and took out another glass. A moment later, Sakura’s juice, with ice, was on the counter by the stove. Meanwhile, Gaara had retreated to the far edge of the linoleum. Hovering there, he tried to decide whether it was safe or if she would drag him into another awkward conversation.

Silence fell for a beat, before, as she poured the measured rice into the special rice bowl of measured water, Sakura started to hum to herself. She had cooked for Naruto and Sasuke so many times in the past that she barely noticed the lack of conversation. Sure, she liked to talk, but she wasn’t nearly as bad as Ino…

She set the bowl in the rice cooker, closed the lid and turned it on before turning to the fry pan and putting butter in. She glanced over at Gaara, standing there looking forlorn in the corner of the kitchen, and blinked. “Gaara?” She quirked a brow. “you can sit down, you know.” She nodded pointedly at the table sitting just ten feet away from him.

In return, Gaara scowled and hunched further against the door frame. “I’m fine,” he muttered. It felt strange to be in a kitchen not his own, late at night, while someone other than his siblings cooked. It made him feel edgy. Sitting in a chair, waiting for his meal made him feel even more at odds. At home, he would have, but not here. It felt… intimate.

Sakura raised a brow. Hmmmm… “Okay,” she said flippantly, bemused. “Can I ask you something.” It wasn’t quite a question.

And because it wasn’t a question, Gaara didn’t bother to give a verbal answer. He just stared at her and waited.

She turned on the stove top to melt the butter before crouching down to get a larger pot and a metal strainer out from the pots and pans cupboard. “Who is your best friend?”

Gaara blinked. “What?”

She turned to the handful of vegetables that she had chopped up, putting them in the metal strainer. “Your best friend. A friend of your’s that is better in your eyes than everyone else,” she said, putting the strainer in the pot. She tucked that beneath the faucet, letting water pool into the pot through the vegetables.

Eyes narrowed in thought, he frowned. “Kankuro.” His brother was less annoying than his sister.

She blinked. “Your brother?”

He repeated his reasoning out loud to her, ending with, “It’s easier to talk to him. She asks too many questions.”

Sakura couldn’t help the giggle, and wondered if that had been a veiled barb. “Girls do that. In our defense, it’s because boys are never specific.” Except Itachi, but Sakura blamed his mother’s influence for that one.

Gaara shrugged slightly. “Maybe girls concentrate too much on details,” he replied before he could stop himself. He blinked and then scowled at the floor. Why was he talking so much?

She hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe, but the details are just as important as the outcome, you know.”

Gaara huffed, but didn’t offer anything else. If there was a point to this, he wasn’t going to guess at it. This was her conversation anyway.

“Gaara, I think you try too hard,” she said after a beat, as she started to steam the vegetables and slid the chicken into the butter.

“‘Try too hard’?” he repeated, voice lilting. What did she mean by that?

Sakura nodded. “At not getting involved. I’ve seen you do it like five or six times since we met. But you know what?” She turned and smiled at him. “Oh well! Want to come to a picnic this Saturday? You can thank Naruto for that sand.”

Frowning slightly, Gaara stared at her. Did she want him to respond to that first statement? What was the point in him being involved with her? It was clear that she didn’t belong in Suna. She was too… cheerful. Eventually, she would go back to Konoha. Back to Itachi and all her other friends.

Temari had thrown her hands up in the air when he had told her that. She kept pushing him to make friends. When it was clear he tolerated Sakura, and no more than that, his sister had insisted that he get to know the girl more. Have an actual friend! Temari had exclaimed.

A friend? Why bother? It wasn’t like she would be here for long. So, why?

She sighed. Losing your temper is bad, Sak, Inner Sakura commented. “Why not?” she asked aloud.

Gaara blinked. He had said something? Apparently, just the ‘why’. Thinking about it, he had to admit, just to himself, he did want her to be a friend. It was nice being around her. She was interesting at least, and respected his wishes. Usually.

Sakura was watching him with that same expectant expression and he gave in with a sigh. They could be friends until she left. It seemed to be happening anyway, despite his efforts.

Still, that didn’t mean he was going into this picnic blind.

“Will there be a lot of people?” he asked before taking a sip of orange juice.

She blinked. “Hmmm… Well, if Itachi brings all of his friends, and Naruto drags his lunch group along, then yeah, probably. You don’t have to go, if you don’t want, but… I would likeyou to.”

Meaning, everyone there would be for Sakura. That he could handle. He would just stay on the fringes and do what Temari termed ‘people watch’. “Fine.”

She beamed brightly. “Great!” she chirped, and the rice timer went off with a sharp ding!

xXx

Chapter 22 | Table of Contents | Chapter 24

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