How I Met Your Father

Chapter Nine: If You Ask Me


How I'm doing, I would say I'm doing just fine…


Gaara didn't move back as I had intended. Either he was getting wise to me, or he was prepared to take one for the team and let me kiss him. Either or.

My eyes fluttered down to stare at the deep maroon of his clothes. My grin wrestled with my lips until it won out. I laughed finally, pulling away from him. Cocking my head to the left, I stared at him. "You surprise me a little more every day, Gaara."

The heat in his sea foam gaze had yet to be extinguished. Those eyes were ice-fire, burning through me like a hot iron. If he was anyone else, I would…

Scratch that thought.

He blinked finally, destroying the magic with his gravelly voice. "Why is that?"

I gave us some distance and started drumming my fingers on the bench between us. "You didn't run away from me."

"Did you want me to?" He asked.

"No, but it's what you usually do." I said, with a wild flip of my hand. I then reach over to give his nose a little boop! With my finger. "You're starting to play the game."

He shrugged rather easily, "I think I'm just becoming used to your pattern."

My smile faltered for only a second. In the next second, it instinctively righted itself. "…pattern? What pattern?"

Gaara's eyes scoured my face, focusing in on my eyes, the tightness in the corner of my lips. I know, because I had to immediately correct those features into something brighter, something more Rinmaru-esque. "You're offended." That wasn't a question. I forget sometimes when I see Gaara fumbling around that he's a shinobi, better even than me—something I would never tell him of course.

Still, it was strange. That was the tone he usually took when the two of us were on even playing fields or when he was moving forward, trying to unleash his inner Kazekage to make me back down. I swear I could even see him straighten a little, draw himself up a bit. He's such a dork.

I felt a wild flicker of want flash like lightning in my very core. Honestly, it was a struggle trying to remind myself I couldn't touch him—couldn't have him. My very nature wanted me to act! And, as you know, it's hard for me to deny myself. But, I do manage it with some difficulty.

Gaara should count himself lucky he wasn't made aware of my inner struggle. The ideas he would see there would really make him run. I smiled.

"Offended? No. Curious? Yes." I further relax just to prove my point and further challenge my restraint. My eyes dart for the door, automatically looking for an exit. Because if he keeps talking like that… "Care to explain?"

Count to ten, Rinmaru. Bring the conversation back to what you just discussed.

I giggled inwardly, what were we talking about?

He was quiet a moment before he stood to his feet. "Forget I said anything." He crossed his arms, "The last thing I want to do is argue—"

I followed him, standing as well. "Why? Because you're afraid I'll win?"

With a turn, he began walking to the exit, "No. Because I'm afraid you won't."

Silence.

That ladies and gentlemen…is how you do it. That's how you put on a show. That has to be one of the hottest things he has ever said to me, which makes me think…he has been learning, hasn't he? Has he been channeling his inner shinobi and picking me apart?

Was I impressed or irritated? I couldn't be completely sure. I couldn't always tell with me.

I let him put a few more steps between us, for his safety, before I started clapping.

He turned immediately to the noise, his eyes lit with the weird Gaara smile I know so well.

I gave him a dramatic bow, "You really are a quick study. Today, you've proven everyone you've ever known wrong. You are not, in fact, a giant loser. You are indeed worthy of your title and all that comes with it."

Grinning, I saunter toward him to stand on his right.

He sighs, "Why do I feel like you're making fun of me?"

"Because I am." I said poking him in the cheek with my pointer finger. "But, also, I'm telling the truth. You did well with me today. You read the room and said the appropriate words. Let's see how you do with Miharu the next time you're alone and she puts you in an awkward position."

His face is pink when I pull away.

"Now, let's get some breakfast." I said, "I'm starving."

He offered me a chuckle as he opened the door for me. "You're always hungry."

"Because you drain me and starve me of sustenance."

"I'd say it was the opposite."

"You'd be wrong."

"You would say that."

"I know," I said, "I just said it."

"Sure."

"Gaara, stop being a child, you are not getting the last word."

"Hhm."

"Gaara, I won already. 'Hhm' isn't a word."

"Fine."

"Fine."

"Good."

I just threw my hands up, watching him give me his weird chuckle. What a dork.

/

"Nanao!"

"Lady Rinmaru!"

I shake my head at the shop owner, "Please, we've talked about this."

With a great sigh and a purse of her painted lips, Nanao puts her hands on her hips and relents. "It's always wonderful to see you, Rinmaru."

I smile, gracing her cheek with a kiss. "See? Was that so hard?"

"You're too much, my lady." She replied, her flush telling me she was quite pleased.

I give her my innocent eyes, "But you've missed me?"

"Oh, of course, of course!" she waved her fan at me. "What's been keeping you from me?"

"You know, the usual," I replied with a wicked grin, glancing behind me to see Temari trying on another lavender scarf. I wished she'd just buy the damn thing. The girl looked lovely in everything. "Our dear Temari has been keeping me busy."

"Keeping you out of trouble, more like." Nanao judged with a plump finger, guiding me through her store. The two of us smiled and greeted the customers present. She like to show me off when she had me, speaking a little louder than she normally would just so the customers knew we were friends. I didn't mind. You know I loved the attention.

"Well…she does try." I linked our arms as made our rounds, pointing out various wonders that amused me. "But those children of mine make it quite difficult. They're doing so well I have to reward them. My little Asa especially. Which, of course, brought me here—the finest shop in the world."

Nanao blushed deeply, swatting away my compliment. "You tease me…" she then winked at me, "But it's worked—what can I do for you?"

I unlinked our arms and started leading her around her own shop, walking backwards and holding her soft hands in mine, her rings cold to the touch. If I were a thief, I could slip the rings off and she wouldn't even blink. "I realize you don't normally design clothes for young boys, but you are just so fashionable and talented that I couldn't imagine choosing someone less than the best—"

She cut me off, "Say no more! Give me their sizes and a week and it will be done!"

I gave her fingers a squeeze, bringing us back to where we'd begun. Temari still fussed with those scarves. "Excellent! I can't wait. Just so you know, you should be receiving a rather large request soon. I told my dear grandfather about your talent with thread and he has decided to have several kimonos commissioned as gifts."

Her eyes grew large as the moon.

"He'll have only the best, my grandfather." I winked at her. "He knows I'm only friends with the best."

She was at a loss of words, tears building up. "M-my lady—"

I turned away from her, "I'll have none of that Nanao. Don't you go crying. I'll have to take my gift back—"

Turning me around, she gave me a deep hug, smelling like jasmine. Despite my words, she was crying. "Thank you."

I pursed my lips, but only rubbed her head soothingly. Sue me. The woman had gotten to me. Besides, I couldn't keep getting free stuff if I didn't break down and bring in business every now and then, could I? I think not. "You're welcome, my dear."

Nanao, remembering something, scooted off to the back room. I returned to Temari. "I wish you'd just buy it, already."

Temari rolled her eyes, "I don't need it."

I pulled the material from her fingers and draped it around her, turning her face to the nearest mirror. "No…but it needs you."

Temari knowing very well how good she looked, tilted her head, "You may be right. Besides, how can I turn down a scarf in need?"

"You can't." I remove the garment quickly and fold it neatly, "Here. Let me buy it for you before you change your mind."

"Whatever you want." She said. That's what I loved about Temari, she wasn't one to turn down a gift. "I appreciate it."

"Your love is all the thanks I need," I wrap my arms around her shoulders, nuzzling my face against hers.

"You like to say that."

"It's true." I gasped. "Why would I say something I don't mean?"

"Because you're Rinmaru." Temari lowered her voice. "And you like to jump between not caring what people think of you and still making them love you."

She had me there. "Harsh, but accurate."

"So," She began fishing through the racks with me on her right, "Where did you and Gaara go this morning?"

"Believe it or not, he forced me to go on a walk…to look at his dumb cacti collection." I shivered. "The poor boy is in love with the things."

Her hand lingered on a blue dress. "He took you to his green house?"

"Yeah," I rolled my eyes. "It was like I was meeting his kids for the first time."

"He loves that place." She said in an odd tone, "It's his favorite place in the village."

I could tell. He kept going on and on about it. "That's what he said."

"What did you talk about?"

"Oh, just this and that. You know I was trying to help him with Miharu or whatever. I thought he was pretty hopeless until he surprised me today."

Temari pushed the dress aside, now not even pretending to notice it. "Surprised how?"

"Well, it's hard to explain. He was able to sense our interaction derailing and put it back on track like that—" I snapped my fingers. "I just hope he can recreate it with his Princess. But, the girl should be rather easy for him. She's no me."

I frowned, "Honestly, I think the only reason he messed up the first time was because he was given some pretty bad advice."

Temari turned on me now, eyebrow raised, "Bad advice?"

I smiled, noticing the tension in her shoulders slip away, "Someone told him to treat her like she's you."

Temari gave me a sheepish look, "Are you talking about me?"

"Don't get me wrong, Temari, you're lovely but…you should leave the matchmaking to me. This is where I excel after all," I gesture with my hands, "I promise you. I'll have him hitched within a year."

She snorted, "He's already betrothed."

"That's true, but these things fall through. I will make sure he's happily married if it kills him." I declared with a flourish, "I owe him that much."

"How sweet of you." Temari's words dripped with sarcasm.

"I'm nothing if not sweet, Temari. You know this!"

She laughed. "You know for a second there I thought that he may have a crush on you."

"Who?" I asked, puzzled.

"Gaara." She said plainly, eyes ever watchful. Did she think that I…?

No. That wouldn't make sense. She had to know better than that, but to be fair, she didn't know me nearly as well as I knew her.

It was my turn to laugh, "We both know that would be the worst decision he's ever made."

The look faded and her eyes were back to normal. Still, there was something I couldn't quite dismiss. Temari the brash, the straightforward kunoichi shouldn't be able to hide things from me. But I knew enough about people to see layers, I knew enough to know when I should stop looking.

/

Gaara had very few days to himself lately, which wasn't nearly as horrible as it sounded. He loved spending time with his siblings. Kankuro and Temari were both rather chatty, but that was amplified ten-fold every time Rinmaru was present. She fit in rather well with his family, something Miharu was clearly struggling with.

Miharu kept mostly to herself unless prompted, and neither of Gaara's siblings had been interested in any prompting. And if Gaara did the prompting, Rinmaru would dominate the room until she grew bored and left. But, of course, when she left both Kankuro and Temari would follow. Temari would leave because she couldn't stand Miharu and Kankuro because he would feel like the third wheel if he didn't. Which was never true. Gaara was sure to let his brother do most of the talking when the two of them were alone with Miharu. In a way, they were alienating her, but she didn't even seem concerned. He supposed it was a good thing though, he couldn't be sure he'd know how to handle someone with attention issues.

"What do you want to do today?" Temari asked lounging in a chair, she directed this question to Rinmaru who had decided to sit upside down with her back against the seat and her legs resting against the sofa. Her hair fell in a pool to the floor.

"Kankuro?" Rinmaru turned her head to Kankuro who had sat beside her, no makeup. "Ideas?"

Kankuro scratched his head, "I guess we could wander around the village—visit the shops?"

"Rinmaru and I shopped yesterday," Temari said, and then paused, "And the day before that."

"What? And you didn't invite me?" Kankuro asked with a slight whine in his voice.

"You said you were busy," Temari tapped her knee, giving Gaara a smile as she noticed him in the doorway. "Hey, Gaara."

"Gaara," Kankuro gave his younger brother an impressed look, "You look good. What's the occasion?"

"Thank you." Gaara had taken his sister's advice, and allowed Rinmaru to choose some clothes for him. He still wore maroon, but his coat and pants were a bit more elegant and clearly more expensive with gold buttons and a smaller gourd attached at his waist. He wouldn't even go on a date without his gourd.

Rinmaru barked with laughter, kicking her feet into the air. "I bet I know."

Gaara allowed himself a smirk, striding into the room and taking the seat next to Temari. "I don't doubt it. It was your idea."

Kankuro looked from his brother to the Mist Kunoichi (who still deemed it appropriate to laugh). "What idea?"

Struggling to hold back a smile, Rinmaru spoke to Kankuro, "Our dear Kazekage is going on another date with his Princess."

Temari's clenched jaw and her rolling eyes were hard for Gaara to ignore, but he didn't address it. "I only asked her to take a walk."

"Walk-shmalk," Rinmaru said dismissively, winking at him. "Gaara's going to put the moves on her."

Kankuro threw his head back with a laugh, even Temari found it funny, wiping her sour look away. "Really, Gaara?" his sister asked, "Is that what your plan is?"

Gaara's face was suddenly quite warm. "She doesn't know what she's talking about."

"Don't be shy, Gaara." Kankuro teased, "we've all been there."

"Some of us more than others," Rinmaru commented, making Kankuro reach over to flick hard in the shoulder. "Hey! Keep your hands to yourself."

"Anyway, I'm assuming this is what you and Rinmaru have been working on for the past few days?" Temari smirked, "perfecting your moves?"

Gaara covered his face with his hand, unable to stop himself from laughing as well. "This is mortifying."

"No wonder Matsuri told me she saw you and Rinmaru at that restaurant," Kankuro crossed his arms, "You've been practicing on Rinmaru first." He sounded astounded.

Rinmaru snapped her fingers, "Bingo. What else would we be doing, Kankuro?"

"Hey! I didn't think you were hiding or anything," Kankuro said quickly, "I just thought you guys had a lead or something. I didn't think it was some kind of date. That would be weird."

Gaara's eyes flickered over to his brother, a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach

"Why would that be weird, Kankuro?" Temari asked in this familiar icy tone. Oddly enough, Gaara found it rather comforting as he too wanted the answer to the question. "They're two attractive people. What would be wrong if they like each other?"

Gaara's face was a mask of indifference as he watched his siblings go back and forth. He couldn't be sure, but…he thought Rinmaru was looking at him. He didn't quite have the courage to see. It was odd to think that he'd be disappointed if she wasn't.

"Nothing!" Kankuro quickly back tracked, throwing his hands up in defense. "It's just—"

"Just what." Temari said snappishly. "No, Kankuro, please say it."

"Well," He looked around for help, "Gaara—Rinmaru—help me out here. You know I didn't mean anything by it. I love the both you, but you know Rinmaru—"

"Oh?" Temari asked, "What am I supposed to know about her?"

Kankuro was starting to sweat, Gaara almost felt bad for him. Kankuro swallowed thickly, "She's a player. She plays guys. It's what she does for fun! She'll tell you herself. Rinmaru am I wrong?"

"Oh, don't bring me into this." Rinmaru said with a wave. "Just pretend I'm not here."

Kankuro turned his attention to Gaara now, who he finally seemed to notice wasn't speaking. "Gaara isn't a player. He's thoughtful and genuine—"

"AND SHE'S NOT?" Temari snapped to her feet which forced Kankuro to actually retreat behind his seat. "I'd personally much rather Gaara like Rinmaru than that little girl that pretends to be this sweet, innocent noblewoman while she's actually this vapid, treacherous little snake who hides up in her room because she thinks she's too good to even look at us."

From there, Temari marched toward Kankuro and started to berate him for even daring to think it. Gaara should have interrupted already, perhaps even defended Miharu, but he remained quiet, eyes blank.

Rinmaru laughed and decided to finally speak. "As entertaining as it is to have you defend my honor, Temari, let's cut poor Kankuro a break. He's, at least, half right. I am a player and I love it. I'm the best to ever do it. If it was a sporting event, I'd have all the medals—gold, mind you. I chew up men and I spit them out. Kankuro is only showing concern for his naïve, inexperienced little brother. Personally, I am not offended by the statement. Are you, Gaara?"

Practically breathing fire, Temari turned her furious gaze on her younger brother. The look almost scared Gaara too. He cleared his throat, watching as each of them faced him for an answer. In truth, he didn't really want to answer because he was offended and the more he thought about it, the more it grew inside him.

Rinmaru clapped her hands together and flipped forward off the couch. She landed on her feet, and darted over to grab Temari by the hands, "Speaking of naïve, inexperienced Gaara, did I tell you what this boy of yours did on our practice date?"

Temari blinked rapidly, seeming to realize what was happening, "Uh…no."

"The great Kazekage of the Sand Village," Rinmaru began with a flourish, pushing Temari down into her chair and taking up residence on the arm, "Emptied two glasses into my lap—mind you—these were glasses were not full of water."

Rinmaru giggled as Temari threw Gaara a smile, "No, you didn't, Gaara?"

Gaara only sighed, watching Rinmaru deepen her smile. "I didn't do it on purpose."

/

Although it was mid-day, the weather was perfect for a walk. Gaara had planned ahead, mapping out a route that would lead them into almost no traffic. No distractions. The distance would be short, and he made sure Miharu wore the appropriate shoes. Her small collection of guards would follow at a distance and he would keep his pace slow for her sake.

Gaara thought that, at some point, he'd start to feel at least a bit jittery. He expected to feel the familiar thump of his heart loud in his ears. He didn't. Gaara didn't feel anything, which was probably a good thing. If he was nervous, he would probably say something ridiculous or not speak at all.

It was strange though, even with Miharu chatting away on his right, sneaking glances at him, he didn't feel the pressure. It was even more strange because on his walk with Rinmaru he had actually forgotten to breathe a few times when Rinmaru got it in her mind to touch him.

Gaara laughed at that thought, and Miharu laughed too. She must have just told a joke. He didn't hear it.

"This is perfect weather, don't you think, Lord Gaara?"

The weather question. That he was prepared for. He chuckled, "I prefer the sandstorms to this."

Miharu gasped, but the fascination in her eyes was unmistakable. Her fingers made a grab for his sleeve, but she seemed to remember herself and pulled her hands in with a slight blush.

Rinmaru…was right.

Encouraged, Gaara continued dryly, "As long as you're not caught in them, they're nice to look at."

Her eyebrows shot up her small face. "I see." She then turned her head, "Do you really mean that?"

Gaara set his eyes on her, "No."

After a moment, she giggled lightly, a girlish laugh. She covered her mouth with her hand, his joke seeming to be funnier than he thought it was.

Gaara laughed a little too. Maybe…this wasn't so bad. Maybe he could do this.

She did seem to be happier than before, even going so far as to try to touch him.

This was good. Everything was good.

So, why wasn't he part of it? He was. He was there at least, but everything felt so staged, like he was watching a movie from the farthest seat in the theater. He didn't feel present in the moment, but it would have to do.

For the Sand Village, it would have to do.

/

"I hope Gaara's alright." Kankuro commented, folding his arms against his chest.

Temari snorted.

Kankuro sighed, "Will you let it go, Temari? I already apologized to Rinmaru—"

Temari gave him an aggravated sigh, "You're clueless."

Kankuro threw his hands up, "I wouldn't be if you would just explain instead of biting my head off."

"I wasn't mad about what you said about Rinmaru. She doesn't take things you say personally, she thinks too highly of herself."

"Then why did you—"

"Because I didn't want to bring attention to Gaara…obviously."

Kankuro paused, "Wait…what?"

Temari took a deep breath, "You didn't see his face, Kankuro. You hurt him."

Kankuro still wasn't getting it.

"You know why Rinmaru changed the subject when we were in there? She knew Gaara was uncomfortable—more than that. He looked devastated."

"I think that's a little dramatic."

"You just don't pay attention."

"So what are you saying? Huh, you think Gaara's into Rinmaru?" Kankuro just laughed. "Our Gaara?"

"It's true," Temari offered, "His eyes follow her wherever she goes. He laughs way more when she's in the room. If she's not with us…he asks about her. When she touches him, he can't function. Come on, Kankuro. It's obvious."

"She's an attractive girl! Gaara's not blind, of course he's going to notice her. And she's fun to be around—she's like part of the family, of course he's going to ask about her. And, hell, she used to make me nervous too."

"It's deeper than that, Kankuro. Gaara's not shallow." Temari pursed her lips, "They've been spending more time together than apart. He's so comfortable around her."

Kankuro just shrugged and pulled at his hair, "If he liked her, he'd say something. I'd know."

"I don't think he would," Temari reasoned, chewing on her lip. "He's probably confused. He doesn't know what he's doing, plus he can't be sure of Rinmaru. We can't be sure of Rinmaru. It's a lot for one person to handle."

Kankuro sunk to the floor, "Even if that were true, what could we do? What should we do? Get him to call things off with Miharu? What would that solve?"

"I want to, but he'd never agree." Temari began to pace, "He's too noble."

"Hhm. So, what now?"

"We support him and we don't throw stones as the idea of him and Rinmaru." Temari reached over to punch him in the arm, "Because you know she's great…she just has different priorities."

"Yeah. It would be kinda nice though."

"What?"

"Gaara and Rinmaru."

She laughed, "You think so?"

He shrugged, "You've seen him. She makes him happy. We like her. She can make the elders like her. She'd fit right in…she's a little ruthless though. She smiles and laughs during torture." He shivered.

"Oh…" Temari laughed, "sounds like her."

Kankuro laughed too, "Yeah. It's a shame she doesn't like him."

"What makes you think that?"

Kankuro just looked at her, "What makes you think otherwise?"

Temari just shook her head at her brother.

"What? It's Rinmaru we're talking about, she's not subtle. If she liked him, she'd say so by being all over him, right? She doesn't even bring him up unless someone else does."

"Exactly."

Kankuro gave her a weird look. "I'm sorry?"

"That's why it's so obvious. She's trying to show us and herself that she doesn't when its very clear that she does—"

"Yo!"

The siblings started, turning to the left.

"Who are you guys talking about?" Rinmaru asked, standing with one hand on her hip at the top of the stairs

There was a pause, "Do you actually care?" Temari asked, knowing how Rinmaru would approach this question.

Rinmaru seemed to consider this, descending slow. "Fine. Don't tell me, I'll figure it out eventually. You guys ready?"

Kankuro clambered to his feet with a laugh. "Yeah. Where are we going again?"

"Asa." Rinmaru said, "She said she misses me."

"Didn't you see her yesterday?" Temari asked.

"You know how it is, Temari." Rinmaru said with a wave, her voice seeped in her usual silky arrogance. "once is never good enough when it comes to me."

/

It was late in the evening when Asa had gotten back from her walk with Rinmaru, Kankuro and Temari. The three of them had dropped her off, and Rinmaru had given her some more clothes and jewelry for her hair. She accepted them with a big smile, throwing herself into her Big Sister's arms. They'd help her even into the hotel room she and her father were staying in. Rinmaru had taken it upon herself to lounge on the girl's bed while Asa and Temari packed away her new items.

"This bed is so soft, Asa-Dear!" Rinmaru exclaimed stretching out. "I should come over more often."

Asa stamped her foot and launched herself on top of the kunoichi, who's hands had immediately caught her and held her up as if she were a small doll.

Asa didn't fret, she expected as much. "I'll get you one day—when you least expect it."

"By that time, my dear, I will be most happily married." Rinmaru responded, kissing Asa's forehead. The young noble turned pink, and didn't protest when Rinmaru tucked her into her arms. Asa snuggled closer, loving the scent of her perfume. "I've heard the most tragic thing today, Asa."

Asa frowned, her heart sinking and then—recognizing her big sister's tone, quickly placed her hands on Rinmaru's cheeks as Temari continued to put the girl's clothes away. "What is it?"

Rinmaru shot a look over to Temari and Kankuro shuffling through the closet, "Kankuro and Temari were talking about me today and they're pretending they weren't."

Asa stilled, her voice taking on a dangerous tone. "Is that so?"

Temari put her hands on her hips, knowing what came next. "Rinmaru—"

Before Temari could finish, Asa had grabbed a pillow and launched it at her face. She let out a squeal of surprise before knocking it easily away, "What the—hey! Not you too, Rinmaru!"

Rinmaru was on her knees now, feeding Asa pillows to throw at the two siblings. "You almost got her that time, Dear-One. Don't stop until she succumbs. That's my motto at least."

Kankuro sputters, managing to grab a pillow and swatting Rinmaru with it before Asa managed to retaliate. Temari clambered onto the bed where she and little Asa could whack each other with two large pillows. Without further complaint, Kankuro followed suit and the foursome didn't stop until the room was covered with white feathers and they collapsed from the fun.

They sat in the mess until they heard the sound of footsteps in the other room. Rinmaru had drawn Asa into her arms, kissing the top of her forehead. Asa swallowed hard, her fingers knotting into the Mist Kunoichi's clothes. She knew what was happening—she was saying goodbye…again.

"We should get going, Little One." Rinmaru spoke against her hair, though muffled, Rinmaru's voice always sounded sweet to her. And Little One, that was a new nickname too. She didn't point it out, she knew better, but she collected those names like gold. Asa snuggled closer for a final moment.

Asa was afraid that if she hung on any longer, Rinmaru might take it upon herself to pull away. "Okay, fine. But you owe me for the mess! Before you leave be sure to send for more pillows."

Rinmaru threw her head back when she laughed, she always did when the laugh was deep enough. Asa, out of all the children, was the only one to make her laugh like that. She was the only who strived to make her laugh like that. If she didn't do it at least once, she knew she had failed for the day. "So demanding," Rinmaru responded, as Asa forced herself to pry Rinmaru away. "But anything you want, Asa-Dear."

Asa-Dear.

Little One.

She couldn't remember a single nickname her mother had called her, if she had called her any that is.

Asa's whole face was on fire, but she slipped from the bed as the shinobi looked around guiltily. "Yes, yes. Now, please leave if you're leaving. I have business to attend to." Asa said, crossing her arms and turning her head away.

Rinmaru cocked her head to the side and kneeled down before her, pulling Asa toward her. "Business? Is this business you won't be telling me about?"

Asa swallowed, biting down on her lip, she spoke in a quiet voice. "I'll tell you later…when we don't have an audience."

"Sheesh," Kankuro complained. "Thanks a lot, Lady Asa."

Temari bonked him on the head, "Give it a rest, Kankuro. We'll see you soon, Lady."

"Of course," Asa said stiffly, missing the smile on Temari's lips as she ushered her brother from the room.

Rinmaru gave Asa's elbows a squeeze, and stood up to kiss her forehead, "Later, Little One."

Asa had to suppress the urge to follow them out when they finally left. She did manage to run to her window and watch as the three of them joked and spun around in the street, laughing. Rinmaru seemed to have sensed her watching because as they turned the corner, the Mist Kunoichi blew a kiss to the air. Asa smiled, catching the kiss and holding it to her chest.

Not thirty minutes later, Asa grabbed a book Rinmaru had bought her and tucked herself into a cushiony seat. She was just getting in through to the climax when she heard a growl of frustration. Asa's father stormed through the open sitting area, a single piece of parchment, littering the ground behind him. Asa looked up from her book to see that the parchment bore an opened seal.

It was from her mother. Asa didn't need to read the note to know what it said. She was at it again, spewing her venomous hatred. There was no doubt in Asa's mind that her mother brought her up in this letter, otherwise her father wouldn't be so upset. She probably cursed her, complained about how unhappy she had been after she had given birth. It made Asa angry, but it sent her father into hysterics.

Chewing on the inside of her cheek, she discarded the book, hopped from her seat and snatched the letter up.

Through the window, she could see it was near dark, but her father was outside. That's where she should be too.

She may have wanted to follow Rinmaru, but her father needed her. He'd always need her as long as her mother was bent on tormenting him.

She threw the letter in the trash, and followed him. She exited the hotel at a run—knowing full well that the Anbu trailed her every move. Asa, even with her new skills, didn't dare travel alone. She ran downstairs and out into the great lobby, running straight for the doors. She threw herself out into the night, following what she assumed to be the sound of his shoes. She took a left, running until she came upon an alleyway. "Father!" she called. She could see someone at the very end of the street, huddled in a corner. It was so like him. Steadying her breaths, she approached him. "Father."

Close enough to touch, she kneeled beside him, placing her hand against his back.

Quick as lightning, a hand clamped down over her mouth as she stared at the face before her. She faced a dark eyed man, much too young and too ugly to even come close to her father. Asa kicked out at him, nailing him in the face with her foot. She hit the ground and rolled to the side, scrambling back to her feet. She bolted toward the exit and screamed, "HELP! HELP!"

But it was too late. She felt something smack into the back of her head and she fell into darkness.

/

"Good morning," I announced myself as I walked in on the Sand Siblings talking in rather aggressive whispers. Didn't they look funny? "I trust you all slept well, that's why you guys have the energy to whisper about me like this."

Temari turned to me first, the boys taking their time to face me. It didn't take a shinobi to notice the tension in the room. "Rinmaru." Temari's voice shook slightly when she spoke my name.

I wagged my eyebrow at her, stepping closer as I watched her struggle for words. "Yes, Dear?"

She fixed me with so much emotion just then I had to turn my attention away, I couldn't bear it. "Kankuro—Gaara—what's wrong?" I walked toward her and placed my hands on her cheeks, "What's wrong with my Temari?"

Even Kankuro looked uneasy, and only torture seemed to do that to him. "There's something you should know. We're just…we're having a hard time telling you."

I felt the energy in the room. Thick as a frozen lake in the dead of winter. It was almost my duty to break the ice. Slipping my hands from Temari's face, I grabbed one of her hands and carted her over to the boys who were watching me with very different expressions. Kankuro's was truly anxious, spastic and full of beads of sweat. Gaara's was calm mixed with a hint of dry melancholy, his brow drawn together. I cracked my neck. I hated scenes like this, I shouldn't have to tell you why. To watch some of the strongest people I know reduced to this? It was beyond disturbing, it actually made my stomach turn. "Can I make it easy for it you? Whatever it is you tell me…I promise I won't lose my head. I will be as calm as a gentle river—seeing as you three live in a sea of sand—I must assure you that that is very calm."

Not even a smile from these people!

"This must be serious," I released Temari who was still shooting me looks, "Alright then…go on. Break my heart. It's never happened before, so it may prove rather difficult."

Temari glared over to the boys, seeming to be the default speaker here. "It's about the Divide."

I paused, looked around, then said, "Go on."

Kankuro spoke through his teeth, I read anger there, and hate, so much hate. "They kidnapped Asa."

I moved to speak, but, funnily enough, found I couldn't. My eyebrows though? I felt them shoot up my face.

The moments dragged on, but I couldn't force myself to even picture the room around me. My thoughts? They were taking their time coming together, traffic probably holding them up.

My silence, apparently, pushed them to speak.

Gaara was the first to break it, "The anbu that were guarding her were all killed. Fortunately, the girl's father was not harmed."

"I see." I said lightly, "Did they take any more of my children?"

"No," Gaara said, keeping to the facts. I appreciated it. "It seems that only the nobles were targeted."

I nodded. They watched me in absolute silence. I don't know what they expected from me. They should have known better.

After allowing their anxious hearts to settle, I spoke sweetly, "Now, was that so hard?"

Temari started, her eyes frightening me again with their strange intensity. "I can imagine how you must feel, Rinmaru."

Weird. Strange, for her to be talking about my feelings. I probably had the straightest face out of the bunch. It starting to piss me off honestly. Like really piss me. I almost smiled, people, that's how undeniably angry I was. Why were they acting like this? Why were they acting like a bunch of FUCKING—calm down, Rinmaru.

Be fair.

They don't know you as well as you know them. They don't know you'd rather they'd kept their GODDAMN HANDS OFF—stop.

Breathe.

Breathe. You're good now. Ignore her, ignore your sweet Temari, she knows not what she does.

She's waiting for you to speak, I told myself. Keep your voice low, light, keep eye contact but don't focus on her face—the redness in her cheeks. It will only make you angry. You may break something, and we can't have that.

That would be embarrassing.

"Oh, I know." I took a step away from her, away from her grasping hands. She was trying to soothe me, of all people! I wish she wasn't making it so obvious. I knew my face well enough to know I didn't look like I was about to go crazy. But, by the looks of them, they were choosing to ignore my facial expressions. Touché. I was attempting the same thing, but the three of them were making it especially difficult.

Kankuro cut in, "We get it—we know you want to rush in, but we have to go at this with a clear head, alright? We get it." Kankuro appeared to be holding his breath, his irises retreating into his head.

"I agree." I said, Kankuro looked more destroyed than he should, his teeth clenched in frustration.

"Rinmaru," Gaara said my name with a deep richness that distracted me for a moment. It was an anchor that I instinctively reached for.

I turned to him, because I couldn't face the other two without feeling something I didn't want to feel. If they kept feeling sorry for me, I'd have to leave and never return. I'd have no choice.

"We'll get them back. Once you contact the Mizukage, we'll assemble our shinobi and make an assault on their hideout." He stepped toward me, seeming oddly tall. He raised his hand, and I watch as he rested it on my shoulder, squeezing slightly. "I won't fail you."

Maybe I wasn't as good as avoiding things as I thought. Maybe Ichigo's letter unconsciously did something to me. Who knows? But, it goes without saying that my conflicted feelings couldn't quite pair up to the rage that was boiling inside me. It was so strong that I laughed. I did! I could no longer fight it. It wasn't soft either, I threw my head back as I laughed. It was hot and burning, I could feel it fight its way from my stomach and up into my throat. They all watched me until it subsided, falling over into silence.

They didn't speak, but I soon felt each of the Sand siblings touch me. Temari took the most liberty, wrapping me in her arms. And, I admit, the comfort they gave me was shocking but expected. I allowed myself to be held-reassured. I no longer knew why I was fighting this. If Ichigo could let go, I suppose I could too, couldn't I? Besides, it was just the three of them, the three of them and my children, and Nanao, and Baki and—and that would be fine. That was fine. "I know."


Author's Note: What's UP? So, I needed to cut this off here. The plan was to put the assault on the hideout along with this chapter, but I knew I needed to get this out. It's been too long. This is supposed to be a fun, light story, and I hate that I've gone and dampened the mood here a bit, but bear with me. We'll get where we need to go. Not going to lie, the next chapter may be a bit more dramatic than usual, but we need it to be to move on. See you guys next time on, Yu Yu Hakusho!

JK, But seriously though. Catch you guys later😊