This is kind of a sequel to Blooming Rain and yet more of an adaptation. BR was set in an AU, but with this story, I’ve brought it back to canon setting. Though, it’s still my version of canon. >.>
You will probably want to read BR before you crack open this one as I’m still referring to the events of BR.
Warning: Spoilers about the Uchiha massacre. Even if the story is non-massacre. And a bit about Gaara’s history. If you don’t know his history by now, you need to get caught up.
Walking into work should never feel this good. Nor this fulfilling. Sakura grinned and waved at the familiar faces anyway as she strode through the main sliding doors and nearly skipped on her way to her office. Her wonderful, tidy, small, standard office of white walls, plain binders, and utilitarian floor tiles.
Oh man, I’ve missed normal boring unappreciated work.
Those two weeks with the Uchiha clan had stretched out into three months. It had been exhausting. Everyday was an enquiry in varying degrees of subtlety about her interest in one Uchiha Itachi. From innocent open visages of small children to the sharp gazes of the clan elders.
It was bad enough that for the first two contracted weeks, Sakura was a regular visitor to the head family’s home. No, what was worst was that even though it was all his fault, Itachi-san refused to settle the rumours that spread like ink in water. It was obvious to them both that neither of them had an interest in the other. It was obvious to his family. Hell, it was so obvious even Sasuke-kun had laughed about it. In his quiet snickering way.
Inside the home was one thing. Outside in the street, however, was something completely different.
Thank Kami, I will never have to put up with clan politics. Ever, Sakura thought as she traded greetings with a few nurses during the elevator ride up to the third floor.
Both Uchiha brothers wore a stoic mask out in public that made the pinkette twitch. Each time the two of them met her for lunch outside at a cafe, Sakura had had to consciously tamp down on a very strong urge. One that demanded she say or do something loud and irresponsible enough to shock them into displaying an emotion. Any emotion.
She had even given in a few times. Though in those cases, the brothers had acted in eerie coordination. One proceeded to distract the bystanders while the other hustled her away to a somewhat private corner to explain the rules of conduct one more time, even if there was an amused smirk skirting the edges of his lips.
It was maddening and confusing and sad and sickening.
Because Itachi had a personality. Sasuke was capable of laughter. Fugaku was a genius when presented with acrylic paints and Makoto had the wickedest sense of humour that would have even Tsunade blushing. The family was so full of life and passion for each other, their clan, their heritage, and their ambitions. An outsider would never know though. Would never guess.
For several reasons, their family, who represented the whole of the Uchiha clan, was not able to be themselves in public. They had standards. There were traditions and appearances to keep. Land votes and public offices, political connections with elders and nobles within the other clans or other countries.
Mood spoiled now, the pink-haired doctor slipped into her office and locked the door behind her. Colourful picture frames with smiling faces beamed at her from a desk piled high with paperwork.
Dropping a hand into her bag, Sakura brought out a new picture, the frame made of dark red mahogany wood. Itachi’s family smiled up at her, the captured sunshine competing with the bright souls in a sheltered courtyard.
“I don’t care about politicians or their idiotic opinions!” Sakura had protested one night at the Uchiha’s table. It had only been a week into her new assignment at the compound.
What she had gotten was a mixture of silence, wry smiles, and a shrug from Fugaku of all people.
“Then count yourself lucky that you are not part of any prominent clan,” the patriarch had replied and, with a pointed glance at Itachi, added, “and keep it that way.”
“No danger there,” she had sniffed and Sasuke had snickered while the older brother just smiled ruefully.
Her time with the Uchihas had lengthened only because the elders had pulled strings. Fugaku and Itachi had been the ones to tell her that her ‘vacation’ would be extended.
“On the positive side, this means I won’t be expected to court any other woman for the duration of your stay,” Itachi had said with a completely straight face.
She promised him death by glare as his father had huffed a quiet laugh. “Your pay will be increased, Sakura,” Fugaku reminded her, cuffing his eldest for her. “And despite all appearances, the sanity of my household is important to me.”
Sanity and well-being, and the sheer allowance to be alive and healthy. Sakura wasn’t stupid. The reason for Tsunade agreeing to lengthen her loan to the Uchihas was directly related to the clan itself chewing at the bit again. There had been an ugly kind of calculation behind each pointed probe into her private life by the elders and other Uchiha adults that had Sakura tense up each time. They were still ambitious, the Uchihas. Still proud to be a strong clan. One that believed that they should have a turn at ‘ruling’ Konoha.
Try telling Tsunade that she “rules” the village. Her mentor would just as likely grab the metaphorical key to Konoha and present it to the first sane individual with a head for economics. It wasn’t like that. A city governed by ninja, all who had their own special abilities and were trained at an early age to strive to be the best. Iruka-sensei got to a lot of the kids as they were growing up, showing them that it was alright to care and to cherish their individuality, but many that he missed were told to blindly follow orders to the death when necessary. Duty to the Clan, then only duty to the Village.
To hear the Godaime describe making decisions, it was like steering a big heavy ship in a storm. Every little movement counted for something and you didn’t know things were going wrong until someone raised an alarm. By that time, it was more damage control than it was prevention. Safety procedures were only good as long as everyone followed them or else the whole ship went down.
The Uchihas nearly had a taste of the Sandaime’s damage control. Some quick talking on Itachi’s part with the old Hokage and a few dozen private sessions with Fugaku had diverted the complete annihilation of the clan, but only just. The elders had been outraged the head family had apparently turned traitor to the clan; however, time in a closed room with Ibiki-san and Yamanaka-san had adjusted their views. Ambition was fine within the rules, step outside of those boundaries though, and the reprimand would not be friendly.
A politically sanctioned massacre. A whole clan wiped out. Just because some old fogeys couldn’t keep their plotting to a minimum. It made Sakura nauseous.
Itachi and Sasuke were a pain for sure. But like Naruto, they had turned into brothers that she hadn’t been born with. To never know them… I would never have known they had even existed.
And that was a whole world of wrong.
So she had played at courting Itachi. Tsunade’s apprentice spending time with the heir of the Uchiha clan. Flirting without intent and within publicly accepted terms was a headache and a half. At least Itachi made a point of learning all her favourite foods.
A picture of Ino, Shika and Chou was shifted to the side to make room for the Uchiha family as she knew them. Tucked in next to her best friends and the picture of Naruto and her mother mid-ramen-slurp. Between friends and family.
Giving herself a thorough shake, Sakura grinned at the Sasuke in the photograph. Moments after the picture was taken, the youngest Uchiha brother had brought up a handful of shaved ice—Who knew where he had that hidden!—and tucked it neatly down Itachi’s shirt. The resulting tussle had the women gasping with laughter as Fugaku ended the fight. With the garden hose.
There were more pictures of course, Makoto had made sure to procure memories of her boys lying shocked and sodden in the grass as her husband stood triumphant over his offspring. Another picture after that had Fugaku being threatened with mud-balls. For those images, Sakura would have to visit Makoto to view; they would never be allowed out of the house.
Sakura blinked. In a way, her vacation really had been one. The medical cases she had taken on while in the compound had been light and easy. Itachi had been a complete gentleman. The family had made her feel welcome and appreciated. The only drawback had been all the other Uchihas. Well, the adult ones anyway. The kids were cute. If snotty. And obnoxious. And… Okay, they were like Sasuke when he was their age. Which he still reverts to sometimes within the house.
Snickering, Sakura hummed and turned to regard the haphazard pile of chaos on her desk with a wary eye. But, I’m back at work. Where things make sense. Which meant those papers needed to be looked at pronto.
“Eek,” she muttered, then decided, “Coffee first.”
Bag on the door, grab the coat, unlock the door. Uh oh, better water that cactus… A nostalgic buzz sounded from the bottom of her dusty mug as she poured stale water into the dry dirt. Already?
Something in the back of her mind sat up and waved frantic arms. The last time the pager had sounded before she had coffee was before she left for the Uchiha compound.
“Back to work,” she reminded herself, quickly walking over to snag the pager. The screen on the device thankfully showed a room number other than 301. I reverting to superstition, she thought rolling her eyes. 286. That’s a floor down.
Tsunade had mentioned something about her work being spread out and covering more areas. The third floor was reserved for physical trauma: broken bones, tissue damage, concussions. The second was for the less obvious issues: diseases, illnesses and poisons in particular.
The upper 200s meant that the patient wasn’t contagious, safe for a casual walk-in. The fact that the room was between 80 and 99 though inferred that some caution was advised.
This had better not be Itachi with a psychotic breakdown. Did her hospital even have a mental trauma unit?
There was a fidgeting nurse standing outside the room as Sakura approached. The door was shut and a bright green paper was on the window. Hm, visitor from out-of-town.
“Sakura-san!” Wide brown-eyes blinked at her. “I didn’t know you were back today.”
The pink-haired girl shrugged. “Surprise,” she said smiling, there went any hope of getting paperwork done tonight. “Kaomoji-san right? You paged?”
“Um, yes.” The older woman hesitated, clearly puzzled. “Tsunade-san said that you should take over this file. Something about being able to handle difficult cases?”
That didn’t sound good at all. Best get a few things cleared first. “Is it an Uchiha?”
“No.” Kaomoji-san blinked again. “It’s Sabaku no Gaara.”
Sakura blinked back. “Sabaku? Why is he here?”
Grimacing, the other woman tapped her own sternum. “Pulmonary tuberculosis. He was in Konoha on a mission, his whole team came down with it.”
“Yikes.” Gaara was in a team? She had heard a while back that Naruto had calmed him down. Maybe the rumours were true.
Or maybe not, judging from the way Kaomoji was obviously worried. “Will you be alright?” the nurse asked.
“Who was taking care of him?” Perhaps that would give her an idea of how risky this assignment was.
That was no help what-so-ever. Still, if shiso said she could handle it… “I’ll be fine.”
It was then the door to 286 creaked open and a young man peered out. “Hello? You know we can hear everything right?”
“Who are… Sabaku Kankuro?” The face paint was different, the hood was even cut differently, but she was sure it was Gaara’s older brother. What other puppeteer would be in the Sand ninja’s room?
“Yep.” He flashed her a grin even as behind him there was a loud groan.
“Stop flirting with the nurses.”
Kankuro’s smile didn’t budge. “No Tsunade today?” he asked instead, opening the door wider.
Sakura smiled briefly at the older woman before turning back to the puppeteer. “No, Tsunade has re-assigned your brother’s case to me.” Behind her, she could hear Kaomoji retreating quietly down the hall.
He tilted his head, grin sharpening. “Why?”
After you had just said you could hear everything. Sakura rolled her eyes. “Is he being difficult?”
“Maybe,” the ninja in front of her smirked, relaxing minutely.
“No,” the patient growled from the bed.
“Right,” Sakura responded. “I’m here because Tsunade likes to share out all the work she can.” And was probably laughing about this. “Also, I just returned from vacation, so I’m bound to have re-assignments.”
One of his eyebrows rose. “And?” Kankuro prompted.
“And yes, I am able to deal with difficult cases.” She arched a pink brow in return. “Any other questions, Sabaku-san?” Since you’re proving to be more difficult than the patient himself at the moment.
The older brother chuckled and backed away, turning to hold out an arm in invitation. “Nope, that’s it.”
“Good.” The doctor swept past him into the room and finally got a visual of her patient. “Good evening, Sabaku-san. My name is Haruno Sakura, I’ll be taking care of you from now on.”
Sharp green eyes narrowed as she walked up to the bed and picked up the clipboard. “I remember you. You’re a friend of Naruto’s.”
Yes, and the girl you attacked during the chuunin exam so long ago. Nearly six years now. “That’s right.” She stood still, passively watching his body language and ignoring the way Kankuro shifted behind her.
The redhead on the bed took a breath to speak, but he wasn’t careful enough, and he began to cough. Sakura was instantly at his side, one hand touching down on his shoulder, the other reaching out for the glass of water on the nearby table. It took her a moment to realize what she had done, but by then Gaara had felt her touch.
It didn’t stop his coughing though. “You’re tensing up too much, try to relax,” she murmured, holding the water just within reach.
There was a polite tap on her shoulder, and when she turned, Kankuro gave her a tight smile. “How about I do that and you look over his chart, yeah?”
“Oh, sure.” Sometimes, Sakura forgot certain ninjas didn’t like to be touched. She removed her hand and passed over the glass, retreating back a few feet to self-consciously follow Kankuro’s suggestion. Awkward…
According to the notes, despite the current bout of coughing, Gaara was on the mend. It sounded much worse than it was, mostly because of the amount of phlegm still left in his lungs that needed to come out. His weight was still lower than it should be, but that could be for a number of reasons. He had contracted PT simply through someone who already had the sickness. The mission had involved sitting around in close quarters for three weeks. Probably information gathering. Would you look at that, he is human.
Eventually, Gaara brought his coughing to a stop, though he had to take a few moments to compose himself. No matter what the papers said, he still looked like hell-warmed over. If he says he’s fine… I’ll feed this chart to him.
“I’m—” Green eyes blinked at her. Maybe her previous thoughts were scrawled across her face. It was entirely possible. She was directing the icy-glare-of-death™* at him.
Off to the side, the older brother was laughing a little strangely. “Don’t finish that,” Kankuro choked out.
Gaara scowled. “It’s a cold.”
“It’s pulmonary tuberculosis,” Sakura corrected.
He shrugged. “Send me home. It’s too cold here.”
Déjà vu was kicking Sakura in the head right about then, complete with Lee’s weights. Oh Kami, it’s going to be Itachi all over again. “Home is a week’s travel away, Sabaku-san. You’d have to go through three ‘cold’ nights to even reach the border.”
“It’s three days to get home,” he countered.
“That’s if you push yourself,” Sakura retorted. “Something which you should not do while you are recovering from a lung infection.”
Dark red brows rose. “You’re telling me what to do?”
“I’m your medic,” she reminded him. “Assigned to you by the Godaime herself. With a warning that you would be “difficult”.”
“Put me in a hotel then if I’m too troublesome.”
“What’s wrong with my hospital?”
“The people in it obviously.”
“Oh?” Sakura smiled at him sweetly. They were going there were they? “Is that the only problem?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kankuro leaning against an armrest, open amusement dancing in his eyes as he watched the two of them banter.
The patient paused, closing his mouth to think.
Which was a good time for Sakura’s brain to catch up to her mouth and fully comprehend that she had just pulled rank on one of the most dangerous ninja of their generation. And he didn’t intimidate her. Probably because of the drowned rat appearance.
“Yes,” the redhead answered finally. Must be nice to be that confident in life, Sakura mused.
“So you prefer sycophants to trained professionals when it comes to your health?” One pink brow arched. Forgive me, Ino; I’m sure your part-time job at the hotel is completely honourable.
Eyes several shades paler than her own blinked once before narrowing. “Of course not.”
“Then we don’t have a problem,” she declared. “Please take your medication as prescribed. I will be checking in on you in three hours. Have a good night.” She nodded once to a grinning Kankuro and exited the room with her chin held high. Hah!
As the door snicked closed at her back, Sakura had to bite down a snicker that started up as the older sand sibling began to chuckle. Those two really weren’t so bad. She could handle them. It would just be challenging as opposed to frustrating. She hoped.
Smiling brightly at the nurses in the hall, the young doctor headed off towards her office for coffee, paperwork, and what little productive time she had left. Eee… So much catching up to do!
The hearty laughter stuttered to a halt as Kankuro fought for breath before responding. “Yeah?”
“… That was a first.”
His brother snickered. “Naruto picks good people,” he commented, slouching back in the chair and rubbing his cheeks. The paint smeared in messy streaks.
“Hm, you’ll have to reapply your paint.” Small victories.
Lessened further by the wide grin he received in turn. “Definitely worth it.”
Worth it… “She wasn’t scared of me.”
“Like I said, he picks good people.” Kankuro shrugged.
The doctor’s words drifted through his head again. “I don’t, do I?” He surrounded himself with only capable nin. Incompetence was something he could not tolerate.
Puzzled brown eyes blinked at him. “Don’t what?”
Gaara frowned down at his lap, winding a handful of sand back and forth between his fingers. “What she said about preferring sycophants.”
There was a snort and a bottle of pills was tossed into his lap. “You’re sicker than I thought,” Kankuro said, then rolled his eyes at Gaara’s expression. “No, you don’t. Typically, you trample them. In fact, you seem to prefer people who stand up to you not the other way around.”
The other sand nin nodded. “Exactly.”
Never mind that he hadn’t even considered his siblings worth his notice until Naruto had shown him that there was more than just the sand to connect to. That interaction with others was possibly better than just killing them and keeping the blood later.
Could he say that it was a slow recovery from there if he had never been mentally healthy to begin with? But he had been happy before. He had interacted with someone before. And hadn’t that ended so well…
Looking back on his life, Gaara could safely say that it had been… confusing.
A glass of water made itself known by appearing under his nose. Startled, he glanced up.
“Medicine,” Kankuro reminded him, tapping out the pills into Gaara’s cupped palm. “Don’t want to get that lady angry.”
“Which lady?” the redhead retorted, though he smiled as he took the glass. “The one who called me difficult,” he swallowed down the required dosage, “or the one who believes that I am difficult?”
His older brother’s grin was all teeth. “Either. Both,” the puppeteer answered. “I hear that Pinky can punch just as hard as the blonde.”
“Something in the hospital food?” Gaara scoffed. It certainly wasn’t gourmet grade.
“No,” drawled his brother with the smirk that made even Baki cringe. “Tsunade trained under the Sandaime remember? Haruno trained under Tsunade.”
He blinked. “So that—”
“—was the Godaime’s apprentice.”
Who he had just offended. Oh no.
Insulting Tsunade was fine, the two of them traded verbal barbs like age-old sparring partners by now. She was fine with his attitude towards others, going as far as agreeing with a few of the scathing observations he had made. How the Hokage felt about him insulting her student outright however…
Gaara closed his eyes and slumped against the pillows at his back, feeling slightly betrayed. “I thought I could trust you to warn me of these things.” Social niceties are not my strong point.
There was a shuffling noise as Kankuro settled back into his chair. “Hey, some things you gotta learn on your own, bro.”
The soft ball of sand landed with a dry ploff in the middle of his sibling’s face. As the puppeteer sputtered, scrubbing at the directed sand, Subaku no Gaara took vindictive glee in making sure every single grain ended up wedged in uncomfortable places.
Sometime through her third cup of coffee and within the second dozenth case file, there was a knock on Sakura’s door.
“Mmf!” Gah… She yanked the pen out of her mouth. “Come in!”
The smooth baritone she had gotten to know so well in the past two months was laced with amusement. “That is a filthy habit you have, Haruno-san.”
Grinning, she threw the chewed upon evidence at him. He caught it of course. “Shut up.”
“Not happening,” Itachi replied smoothly as he closed the door behind him, quite literally on the end of Tsunade’s nose.
Undeterred, her shisho made herself heard through the door. “No sex in the office, Sakura! But for anything else, I want pictures!”
There was a muffled thump as Sakura let her forehead land in the convenient stack of papers in front of her. “Oh. My. Kami,” she moaned.
The Uchiha nuisance chuckled. “She isn’t any worse than Mother.”
“Yes, she is,” the doctor insisted, still face down in medical notes. “Because that was loud enough to carry down the hall.”
“Worse than the rumours that circulated when you followed me home?”
There were plenty of ways to respond to that. Sakura chose the one finger salute. Seemed appropriate.
Only a whisper of sound was heard as Itachi moved, but moments later two warm hands landed on her shoulders. And promptly reduced her to a puddle of happy goo. Her intruder was instantly forgiven for any past offences. If he ever opens up a business as a masseur… Murr…
It was several minutes before her guest ruffled her hair and let her surface to reality.
“Better?” he asked softly as he sat down on the other side of the desk.
Humming appreciatively, Sakura blinked at him. “Much. Thanks.”
Itachi smiled before leaning forward and dropping a hefty bag down in the middle of the files.
Rolling his eyes, the Uchiha heir smirked. “Okaa-san is not impressed with the hospital food.”
“No one ever is,” Sakura said laughing and reached for the bag. “Is that?”
“That” turned out to be a large double helping of beef teryaki don with both umeboshi and anmitsu in separate side dishes.
“I love your mother,” she breathed reverently. “Hey!”
Chewing his stolen bit of meat, the other nin quirked a brow at her.
Itachi swallowed. “Is mine as well,” he announced as he reached for another slice.
The quick fight that ensued over the teryaki involved chopsticks, various pens, and some creative uses of scotch tape. They also broke one of her least favourite staplers and two rulers.
Tsunade effectively ended the skirmish. “Pictures, Sakura!” she sang through the door after testing the lock.
Though her face was bright red, Sakura jabbed a lone chopstick at Itachi’s eye. “Fine! You get half the beef, but the sweets are mine,” she hissed.
The grin on the Uchiha’s lips barely twitched. Instead, he reached down and brought up a second smaller bag.
“What’s that?” she demanded.
* Icy-glare-of-death™ — Named thus by Uchiha Itachi
A/N: There, I started a sequel. Happy now? I know I am! XD
And no, Gaara is not the Kazekage.