4/7/08

Disclaimer: the characters in this fic such as Gaara, Matsuri, etc. don't belong to me, although if they did, then Matsuri would personally take care of Gaara after his revival, make sure that he sleeps enough every night. By her side.

Dedication: God, my parents, my fans, Masashi Kishimoto for creating the Naruto series and giving us these colorful characters, and especially to my beloved friends, especially Zero-Nightmare, Musashi Sanada, Francisco, Ariescelestial, Kzdatgurl, T. A. Raskelt, Ashley-san, emocloud, Caitlin, Nymyrra, and all of you other wonderful readers!

Special dedication to: Nymyrra, for her wonderful Gaara x Matsuri story that seriously made me squeal in delight; I'd love to see a romance fic of them from you now!

Naruto: Unnecessary Apologies

By Tiger5913

There were many preparations that needed to be conducted to strengthen the village's defenses following the intruder's departure, and so a week of bustling activity passed before the young Kazekage realized that he had not seen his student in the last few days. This surprised him because she was one of the people most concerned about his state due to his recent death and revival, and yet she was not constantly in his presence, as he almost expected her to be fawning over him for a short while. In fact, he had not even assigned the Chunin girl any long-term missions since a fortnight before the attack on Suna, so he knew that she was still in the village, albeit she remained somewhere else during this whole time, away from his proximity. Prior to his kidnapping, the two were in the process of mapping out a training plan for her, as Gaara was preparing the bole-haired kunoichi for the Jonin level, but then the rogue ninja's unexpected invasion into the Sand Village had put their plans on hold temporarily.

But now he had returned and was already willing to swiftly delve back into work, having refused the offer of taking time off to recover from the effects of the arduous three-day extraction process, despite the fervent protests of his older siblings. His death and subsequent revival certainly impacted him a great deal, and yet, he felt far more strongly attached to his duties, determined to continue serving Suna to the best of his abilities rather than sit around reflecting on the recent dark, unpleasant events. In fact, staying busy and focusing his time and efforts on his responsibilities as the Kazekage allowed Gaara to keep his thoughts away from the incident; pondering on it too much would only invoke negative emotions, and he had no desire to have a mindset of hopeless despair once again. Nevertheless, regret was the last sentiment he would associate with the fatal instance, because if he had to die for just one reason, then he could not think of any better purpose than having the desire to defend his village to his very last breath.

After reviewing documents for several hours, the redhead was ready for a break, and soon found his thoughts wandering over to his erstwhile student, so he glanced idly at the clock, wondering if this was a good time to summon her to his office. In a way, Gaara felt somewhat responsible for not communicating with her recently – his avoidance of her presence was intentional on certain instances, and he still remembered the look on her face when he canceled their previously-scheduled training session. Her behavior as of late was rather strange to him, and even a bit unwelcome to a certain extent; she had been acting like one of the many girls that frequently lingered around the outside area of his office, practically mobbing the young Kazekage whenever he left the building. Their overwhelming worship caused Gaara to feel uncomfortable, as he was unused to receiving this type of attention, and he began to suspect that his own student had inherited the same infatuation as his other admirers, when he initially presumed she was different from them.

But regardless of his own discomfort, if she had indeed been training on her own during the period of their separation, then he earnestly wanted to check up on her progress – he was still technically her sensei, after all, and acknowledged his obligations to her.

She should be around. Gaara mused silently to himself, and deciding not to waste any time, he briskly gave the command to one of the people working in his building, and while awaiting her arrival, he calmly stood up to walk over and stand by one of the many windows in his office, enjoying the view of the vast village. To think that he alone was responsible for all of Suna… despite having seen them with his own eyes, he still found it hard to believe that so many of the villagers had come to the field and surrounded him when he was being brought back from the realm of death. Elder Chiyo had restored his existence at the cost of her own life, and for that, Gaara would be forever indebted to her; she occupied his thoughts frequently, and he made sure to visit her gravesite at least once a day during the past week since his revival. Although he had recently become aware of the fact that she was the very person whom infused the sand spirit into his body, at the orders of the previous Kazekage, her sacrifice far outweighed that act, and the redhead harbored absolutely no resentment toward her for it.

Just then, his train of thought was derailed when a quiet knock echoed into the spacious vicinity, along with the soft call, "Um, Lord Kazekage? It's Matsuri…"

Immediately recognizing the voice, he cast a brief glance at the door with mild interest flickering over his expression before he returned his gaze to the sights of the early afternoon activity in Suna, inviting her in using his customary cool and composed manner, "Come in."

When he heard Matsuri stepping into his office and closing the tall wooden structure behind her, the redhead turned to face his student, just in time to catch her bowing to him politely as greeting, and then she spoke up softly, "You wanted to see me, Lord Kazekage?"

"Yes." He replied with a slight nod to acknowledge her presence, and then without preamble, he launched into the discussion of his interest. "Matsuri. I had intended to meet with you sooner to ask this, but I've been occupied lately. I don't want you to think I'd forgotten about your progress, though. Have you been training in preparation for the Jonin exam?"

She dipped her head to avoid looking him in the eyes, answering with timid hesitation underlying her words, "A little, sensei… but I need to practice more. I've, um, spent most of my time helping the other Sand shinobi with the repairs on the village."

Gaara was pleased rather than upset at hearing her honest response, and really, her desire to assist Suna appealed to him greatly, but he also understood the importance of working on her advancement, and so after a brief mental shuffle of his schedule for the rest of the afternoon, he suggested, "If you are available today, we can have a training session this evening."

"Well, I don't have any plans, but… are you really sure you want us to train together tonight?" The girl asked in return to his invitation with an unexpected sliver of reluctance and apprehension hidden within the recesses of her sweet and melodic voice.

Bewildered by her strange reaction, he wondered what was perturbing his student, and his mind quickly jumped to the worst-case scenario: perhaps she did not wish to train with him any longer? And if so, was it because of something he had done? Had he wronged her in some way? "What is it, Matsuri? I know something is troubling you."

Still avoiding his gaze, Matsuri stayed unusually quiet for a rather long period of time, almost causing him to shift in unease, and when she finally looked up to meet his eyes, he was surprised to see blatant remorse on her expression as she uttered softly, "I'm so sorry, Lord Kazekage…"

Concern swiftly overrode his discomfort at seeing clear evidence of her distressed state, and Gaara briskly dismissed her formal address with a hasty wave of his hand as he countered in a baffled tone, "What are you apologizing for?"

"Because I… I didn't do anything to stop the rogue ninja from taking you away," she lamented softly, and at that moment, the redhead saw the shame and guilt dwelling within her dark ebony orbs, which immediately triggered an edge of familiarity in him.

Aside from countless people asking him how he was feeling – which he had already anticipated would occur – Gaara had also been overwhelmed by the number of apologies he received since his return to the Hidden Sand Village. Temari was the first one to apologize for not being in Suna during the attack, then Kankuro admitted to feeling angry with himself because he was unable to stop the two Akatsuki shinobi, and even Baki had said he was deeply sorry for not having built a strong enough team of defense guards at the entrance of the village. While Gaara understood their concerns and felt their sincerity, he was beginning to feel rather exasperated at hearing practically everyone apologizing to him, from various random villagers to a couple of members from the council elders. He was fully aware of the dangers associated with the position from the very first day he decided to become the Kazekage of Suna, but regardless of that, he had willingly decided to devote his efforts and powers to protecting his people.

He was here right now because of his own choice, and he certainly had no intentions of backing down, especially not after he had made the silent vow to serve the entire village and create the path of his life by his decisions, as he stood on the cliff side and watch the sunset with renewed hope.

But not everyone knew about his intentions, or the intensity of his desire for reform, which he hardly felt like broadcasting to everyone out in the open, and so the redhead sighed mildly, deciding to give her his stock answer, "There's no need to apologize, Matsuri. What happened wasn't your fault."

"No, sensei… I should've been there to protect you," Matsuri insisted with passionate resolve even as her voice trembled a bit from the magnitude of the emotions that she carried in her words. "You're our Kazekage, and the whole village respects and supports you. Everyone needs you. I… I'm supposed to defend you from our enemies, and I failed… not only as a shinobi of the Sand, but also as your student…"

Refusing to let his student to carry the burden of guilt that she was truly undeserving of, Gaara shook his head and stated firmly, "Matsuri. You did nothing wrong. The rogue ninja from the Akatsuki was a formidable foe. I knew this, and I confronted him myself because I didn't want to risk any unnecessary casualties of our own shinobi forces. Even after I was taken away, I'm aware that our military defenses wouldn't allow any of you to leave the village in pursuit of the enemy without forming a strategy first. I agree with their decision. Had Kankuro obeyed the order, he wouldn't have encountered the Akatsuki ninja that almost took his life with the powerful poison. What has happened is done, and there's no point in berating yourself over something that was beyond your control. We must move on now. However, I want you to know that as the Kazekage of the Hidden Sand Village, it is my duty to protect all of you, not the other way around. It's my responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of each and every one of my villagers."

The girl had lowered her gaze to the ground while he was speaking, and did not raise it up to look at him; despite the solidity of his tone and his assurance, she still appeared to feel ashamed of herself, judging by that simple action alone.

A faint twinge of frustration prickled his nerves as Gaara tried to think up the right words that he could say in order to convince her that she was not at fault in the least bit; needless to say, he was severely lacking in the area of comforting others. But because it felt rather strange and unpleasant to see his student with such a somber demeanor, he wanted to attempt bringing her out of that melancholic state, and fortunately, he had a slight advantage in this particular case, due to the amount of time the two were acquainted with each other. And if Matsuri truly thought that he could care less about her perspective on the issue, because of the way he had treated her lately, then it was his fault, for he was the one that decisively kept his distance when he was unable to deal with her strange new behavior. In spite of the way she had changed recently, the fact still remained that the bole-haired girl was the very first person from Suna to have ever accepted him, and Gaara was not so readily willing to sever their bond, acknowledging the great value of the close ties they shared with each other.

Keeping this thought in mind, the redhead struggled to express himself well enough for her to realize that she was important not only to him, but that the village needed her just as much, and she had no reason to think otherwise, even if she could not prevent every catastrophe from taking place. "Don't blame yourself for anything. I'm well aware of your intentions, Matsuri. I wouldn't want you to have pursued the enemy as my brother had, and then ended up in a similar predicament. You have not failed me in any way. As I recall, you were the first person that spoke to me when I awoke at the field. I will remember that. If you truly feel that your skills are inadequate, Matsuri, then instead of reflecting on what has already passed, you should focus your time and energy on improving your strength for the future. If a similar situation should ever arise again, you will be better prepared to deal with the adversary. It's pointless to waste time feeling regretful about circumstances beyond your control."

Though some of his words were somewhat abrasive, Gaara seemed to have gotten through to her this time, because while he was doling out the advice, Matsuri slowly lifted her head and fixed her gaze on him, a clear indication that she was listening very intently.

Pleased with her visible response, the young Kazekage turned away to glance out the window again, stern determination flickering in his light eyes as he suddenly felt the need to assure her further by telling the girl in a low tone, "I must admit that I need to become stronger myself."

"You are very strong already, but if you don't think so, then I'll be happy to help you… Gaara-sensei," she immediately offered, wisely avoiding any mention of his possible lost affinity with the sand, due to the extraction of the demon spirit from his body.

He nodded slightly, not wanting to dwell on the subject for too long at the present time; usually, he preferred to keep all mentions of his own weaknesses to himself, and yet he seemed willing to be just a little bit more open around his student on occasion. "Mmm. We will start tonight, then. I can make it to training grounds by seven at the earliest."

"All right," the brunette replied without hesitation, confirming in a solid tone, "I'll see you there. Let's get stronger together, Gaara-sensei."

A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips in contrast to his mild answer, "Yes."

"Well… I guess I'd better go get ready," Matsuri remarked lightheartedly, and it seemed she was returning to her normal cheerful self, while he inwardly wondered just how much of his sand abilities had been retained, even in spite of the sand spirit being removed, though he would find out soon enough when they trained.

Gaara pivoted back around to catch his student bowing once again as she bid him a warm farewell, and then after receiving his assurance that he would definitely meet her later at the training grounds, she left his office with her usual joyous flare, her smile lingering in his mind. Matsuri…

When she was gone from sight, the reserved redhead casually glanced at the clock to realize the current time, and suppressed a sigh upon discovering how early it was; unfortunately, there were still several hours to go before seven would arrive. Deciding his break was long over, he dutifully returned to his desk and sat down in the large, comfortable chair, silently hoping that reading, reviewing, and signing the pile of documents stacked next to his position would make the time pass by quickly. Though truthfully, if given the choice, Gaara would have preferred to leave with her to begin their training right away, but regardless of his personal desires, he was resolutely devoted to his responsibilities and intended to serve the village to the full extent of his capabilities. That included regaining his strength and bringing his powers of manipulating the sand back up to their former level, if not even higher than before, as it was apparent he needed to prove he could still protect Suna in spite of the fact that he no longer possessed the one-tailed beast in him.

Deep down inside, a small, well-concealed part of him was looking forward to the planned training session that evening for another reason as well, aside from the obvious… for reasons he did not yet fully understand, he wanted to be around his student. The young Kazekage had not realized how much her absence affected him until he was deprived of her presence, and he hoped that if there were any additional issues bothering her, she would address the matter instead of avoiding a possibly tense discussion. In addition to their cordial student-teacher relationship, Matsuri was also his friend, and he supposed it should not have surprised him that she would feel so guilty about his abduction, and it seemed as though the incident sobered her up quite a bit. Hopefully, her behavior would no longer resemble that of the girls who were tirelessly infatuated with him, and if not, then Gaara planned to talk to his student and remind her that she had to be serious about improving herself, should she truly intend to continue on as a shinobi.

Not that her attention toward him was entirely unwanted, however…

Shaking his head free of that distracting thought, Gaara suppressed the urge to smile and focused his attention on the papers in front of him, trying not to think of the strange way he had felt when looking at Matsuri and catching her expression of cheery, delightful joy.

The End

Author's Note: Oh no, it's certainly been a while, huh? My apologies for making you readers wait so long – school has absolutely killed my brain with all the tests and quizzes and projects that are coming up lately. Not to mention there is also this wonderful role-playing community that's been eating up my time as well, hehehe. But I still have ideas for more Gaara x Matsuri stories (big surprise, I know), which I'll be working on slowly, here and there. Don't think that I've forgotten about them, though. I seriously doubt that my obsession with this couple will end anytime soon…

Anyway, to all you lovely readers out there, as always, I'd be delighted to hear your feedback on this story, so please leave a review and let me know what you think!

With love for my fans,

Tiger5913