The Akatsuki's Daughter

Chapter 16

The shopping had gone well. All four of us girls finding outfits while Salem had found a sword booth to spend his time at almost as soon as we walked into the market. Leaving poor Gaara alone with four girls that were looking at clothes. He truthfully hadn't seemed to mind as long as I was beside him. Which I had tried to make sure was the entire time. He really hadn't had to agree to bring my friends to the market and he had been such a good sport, even as the other three girls had talked about what colors would look better with what color hair or eyes.

Misa at one point had disappeared for a good ten minutes before having come back with a small paper sack clutched in her hands. Mona had asked what was in it and Misa grinned while replying that it was a secret.

We had spent the rest of the day just looking at random things. Salem had rejoined us after about 20 minutes and was carrying a sword, causing me to look at him disapprovingly.

"Why do you need another sword? You have at least thirty littering your room, the living room, and even the kitchen."

He smiled and shrugged.

"I don't know. But this one was cool and it was a good price. You never know when a good sword will come in handy. Maybe I'll just start my own sword stand."

I had huffed and rolled my eyes, knowing that he would never get rid of any of his 'prized' swords.

"Whatever. But I'm not finding a place for you to put it. I helped with the last one, but you are on your own from now on."

He had shrugged and nodded, seeming unconcerned with my promise for the moment, instead, having shown Toru his new toy and causing her to smile at his enthusiasm.

Gaara hadn't said more than three words since we had left and it had worried me a bit. I had kept looking sideways at him and he was always either looking at me, up at the sky, or glaring slightly at the people that were passing us by, none of which seemed to realize that he was there. All of them being in too big of a rush to get everything prepared for the evening.

When we were walking back to the hotel I had asked him quietly if anything was wrong. He had shaken his head before answering.

"Not really. I'm just not a shopping person. It kind of annoys me actually."

I had huffed and turned towards him, my hands on my hips and a glare on my face.

"Then why did you suggest going?"

He had looked at me sheepishly.

"Because I figured that you would be going shopping anyways and I wanted to spend time with you."

I had smiled, unable and unwilling to stay upset with his silliness.

"I'm glad that you went with me. Though if you hadn't been there, I wouldn't have stayed as long."

He had nodded and shrugged.

"You were finished quicker than the other girls."

I had smirked and nodded.

"I knew what I was looking for. I'm pretty quick at shopping when I have what I need planned out in my head before I even go to buy the things."

Gaara had returned my smirk, having shot a glance towards my friends that who had been a few feet ahead of us..

"I don't think that I'll go shopping with your friends anymore. They took forever."

I had smiled and shaken my head in amusement.

"They have to look at everything to make sure that they get what they want."

His face had twisted into a frown and his tone was dry when he answered.

"Apparently. Otherwise we wouldn't have spent as much time looking at literally every booth."

I had laughed and glanced at where we were, finding that we were in sight of the hotel before having turned a look towards Gaara.

"Are you going to come in again?"

He had shaken his head and sighed.

"As much as I would like to, I need to make sure that Temari and Kankuro are getting ready. Plus the Leaf ninjas should be at my house by now. I need to go greet them and make sure that they are settled...politics."

I had laughed and nodded.

"That'll make Mona happy. She's been wanting to see Sai since she heard that he would be here yesterday."

He had nodded and shrugged.

"Kankuro's been the same way about Misa. He may be up in the room right now waiting on her."

He had given a glare towards where I thought my balcony was and I had smiled.

"I think that will be okay. At least with her. As long as she's ready by the time we leave."

I had stopped on the steps of the hotel and had turned to be eye level with Gaara, seeing him smirk before he had leaned in to kiss me. I had pulled away first, pressing my hands to his chest when he had tried to follow my retreat.

"Gaara, you need to go remember?"

He had smiled and leaned in again until I had stopped him with a hand over his mouth.

"Nope. No making out in the street."

I had smiled as he had grumbled, his breath warm against the palm of my hand.

"You'll see me tonight and I have to get ready."

He had nodded and I had let my hand fall from his face and to my side, seeing him step back a few paces.

"Fine. I guess I have to leave you then."

I had smiled at him and nodded.

''Yap. I'll see you in a few hours.''

He had nodded and looked at me a little longer before disappearing, the sand swirling around where he had been a moment before, causing me to roll my eyes.

Jeez, ninjas and their disappearing acts

I walked into the living room now, finding Salem sitting on the couch and plopped down beside him with a sigh, seeing him look at me with his lopsided smile.

"Hi. Did you get rid of your Lover Boy?"

I rolled my eyes and huffed.

''Sure. Where did you hide the other girls while I was outside?"

He smirked and a teasing look came into his eyes, his voice mocking.

"Oh, you know, I threw Mona out of the window, locked Misa in her room to keep her from rushing to the cops, and gave Toru some heavy medicine so that she would sleep through the whole fiasco."

I laughed and rolled my eyes.

''Sounds like something that you would do.''

Salem nodded and huffed, fiddling with a stray string on his shirt.

"Yap. And if that was true, I wouldn't have to go to this stupid party tonight."

I nodded and replied with a small laugh.

"That's true. We'd have to sneak you out of Suna and rush you back to Aubry's. Especially with Sai wanting to see Mona tonight. He may want revenge and try to kill you."

I paused and then shot a glare towards the wall.

"Death by paint."

Salem laughed, pushing his hair back from his face as he turned to look at me fully.

"Is that what you would put on my tomb stone, Little Sister? Here lies Salem, killed by a pervert with a paint brush."

I laughed and nodded, finding it more funny when he said it.

"Of course. Future generations should be aware to not play with paint...that made no sense."

He laughed with me and tugged at the end of my hair suddenly before seeming to find something irritating and frowning, his fingers suddenly trying to pull through my hair and making me wince.

He sighed and gave me a scolding look.

"And when exactly was the last time that you had your hair brushed?"

I reached up and touched the tangled ponytail, giving him a sheepish look and he groaned, rubbing at his face. It had been almost a week and I knew that the knots would be pretty bad...but neither of us had really had time to just sit down and deal with the mess!

"Go get me your brush."

I bit my lip, not sure if I had even remembered to pack it and he sighed a moment before standing up.

He hesitated a moment before knocking on Mona's door, the girl peeking out with a glare. Salem spoke to her for a moment before she left briefly, a hairbrush suddenly sailing through the air to hit him in the chest before the door was slammed in his face.

Salem turned back to me with a glare, the brush held tightly in his hand as he situated himself on the couch again, turning my back to him as he spoke.

"Did I ever mention that I don't like her?"

I smiled and nodded, clenching my hands in my lap in preparation for the pain that was about to come.

"Only a few thousands times. Why did you go to Mona anyways?"

He hummed and began to untangle my ponytail, the hair matted around the stretchy cloth.

''Toru is actually taking a nap and I didn't want to wake her, while Misa has also apparently forgotten her brush. Mona was a last choice...Good grief, Ria! Your hair is so tangled that I might have to cut the hair thing out."

I ground my teeth together as he yanked at the tangled mass and, as always, regretted letting my hair get to the state that it was now in.

Five minutes later and he had given up and just cut the ponytail holder, now separating my hair into sections. He sighed as he tried to pull the brush through the first section, the bristles getting caught in the many tangles and jerking my head backwards each time.

"I'm going to cut your hair one of these days. This is horrible. I'm not Die, I can't create magic with hair. I think I'm going to have to cut some of these knots out."

My eyes widened at the thought of giving Salem a pair of scissors and letting him anywhere near my hair...Die would have a coronary when he saw it.

It took over an hour to get the brush through all of my hair and Salem sat back into the cushions with a sigh, his voice tired.

"Alright, Little Sister. You're finished. It looks better, considering the mess it was before."

I turned back to him and flinched as I saw all the hair in the brushes bristles. One of these days I was going to go bald...maybe. I stood up and looked at the clock. I barely had an hour to get ready. I turned and leaned down to hug my adopted brother.

"Thanks, Salem. My hair would be a rats nest without you."

He smiled and patted my back.

"Yeah you better appreciate me. That's hard work let me tell you. Can we please try not to let it get that bad again?"

I laughed and nodded, making my way to my room to get dressed.

As soon as the door to my room was shut, I threw off the clothes that I had worn out to shop and began to pull on the outfit that I had bought. We had all decided to wear yukatas to the festival. Misa and Mona both buying one with a mask for an accessory, while mine and Toru's had come with shoes. Which, of course, I couldn't find at the moment.

I soon found that dressing myself without anyone to help had been easier said than done. After I had finally gotten the outfit to fit right, I had trouble moving, not being used to anything that restricted my movements, or that draped below my shins when I walked. I sighed as I shifted uncomfortably before tearing through whatever was left in the shopping bag, looking for my shoes and hoping that I wouldn't step on the hem and tear the fabric during one of my more clumsy moments.

A few minutes later I was still looking for the missing shoes, starting to become frustrated and threw a glare as someone knocked on my door, Misa and Mona not waiting for a response before they stepped inside. I pushed back my irritation and forced a smile. It wasn't their fault that I had the worst luck with shoes disappearing and I didn't need to take out my anger on them.

"Hey girls. What's up?"

Misa smiled before answering, making me slightly jealous at the way that she seemed to be comfortable in her Yukata.

"We actually have a question to ask you."

I nodded and fiddled with the bow of my own outfit, knowing that it was slightly crooked.

"Okay? Ask away."

Mona then took over, also fiddling with her outfit and making me feel less self-conscious at her obvious dislike for the long fabric.

"Have you thought about Toru maybe coming to work at Aubry's?"

I paused before shrugging, careful to not move too much in hopes of not wrinkling the delicate fabric.

"Yeah. Briefly."

Mona nodded encouragingly, a conspiratory smile on her face.

"Well, Misa and I were talking about it while we were getting dressed, and we thought that all of us could talk to Aubry about it. With all three of us insisting on it, he won't say no."

I frowned as I thought about the soft spoken girl and shook my head.

"Don't you think that she's a little to shy?"

Mona grinned evilly, rubbing her hands together.

"We'll just have to force her out of that."

I scoffed before explaining my thoughts slowly.

"Truthfully, it's not just Toru that I'm worried about having an issue. I think that she could grow to handle Aubry's if taught how...well, working the downstairs. But Salem would have to agree to her working, and I don't think that he will."

Misa frowned in confusion, her mouth jutting out in a pout.

"Why not?"

I sighed and answered her question with one of my own.

"Misa, how many times has a guy pulled you into his lap?"

Misa paused and then shrugged, unconcerned.

"I've lost count."

I nodded and continued to explain.

"Exactly. And Salem is the type of guy that is extremely protective about the people that he cares about. And Toru happens to be one of those people.

Salem is a person that Aubry thinks pretty highly of, and would put his opinion about Toru working above ours, even with the three of us banding together. Pretty much, if Salem doesn't like it, then Aubry wont hire her."

Mona blew a raspberry and huffed, her eyes narrowing in a glare.

"Stupid, protective guys. They need to learn that us girls can take care of ourselves."

I sighed and shook my head.

"I don't think that Toru would ever be able to handle the upstairs."

Mona glared at me, her voice heated as she argued with me.

"We could teach her. It wouldn't be that hard."

I shrugged dismissively.

"We can try. You know that I'm always up for a challenge. But we would have to convince Salem first. I'm not going to waste my time on teaching her how to knock someone onto his butt if she isn't able to even put it to use."

They both laughed for a moment, Mona nodding in agreement while Misa seemed to think of something, her forehead crinkled in a frown.

"Ria? Is Gaara one of those guys that wont let you work at Aubry's if you two get really serious?"

I shook my head thoughtfully, truthfully never having thought about him asking me to quit.

"I don't think so. He doesn't like to force me in to, or out, of things that I really want."

Misa nodded and Mona snorted, her grin knowing as I looked at her in confusion.

"So he wont cross or ignore the limits you put up? Pushing you into something that you told him no about?"

I felt my face turning red, recognizing Gaara's words from earlier that morning and stuttered.

" did you hear that?"

She laughed and shrugged, explaining through her giggles.

"I'm right next door, Ria. After that loud bang earlier this morning, that woke me up, there really wasn't anything else to do but listen to you two talk. It was a pretty amusing past time."

She continued to laugh and Misa looked between us in confusion, a small pout on her face .

Once Mona calmed down slightly, she explained what had happened to our out of the loop friend as I blushed hotly.

"Ria and Gaara had a bit time earlier this morning where Gaara seemed to gain a bit more confidence than he's had since being with Ria. I just happened to overhear it since the walls are so thin and my room is connected."

I smiled sheepishly and nodded, fighting off the urge to hide my flushed face behind my hands.

"I guess we weren't really being very quiet. Though we were just talking...mostly. I'm sorry for waking you up."

I looked at Misa hopefully.

"Did you hear anything?"

She grinned and instantly shook her head.

"Nope! I'm next door to Mona, and I sleep like a rock anyways. I'm actually still a bit confused about what happened. Why was there a...bang?"

I smiled and was preparing to explain Gaara's tumble from the bed when a harsh knock on the door caused me to jump, Salem's irritated voice following soon after.

"If you girls are finished with your chick talk, we need to get going. The others are probably already waiting for us. If we don't hurry then we'll be late!"

I rolled my eyes at his typical punctuality, but Mona turned angry eyes towards the wood as she yelled.

"We're girls. We're always fashionably late, stupid!"

Salem jerked the door open, his own eyes heated and he stomped over to Mona his glare causing me to wince. He stopped with his body a few inches from her, invading her personal space and leaned down to put his face close to hers, his voice a low, warning snarl.

"I don't do late. Whether it's fashionable or not. We're leaving now. "

He stood up to his full height, turning his glare towards me.

"Ria, get your shoes. They're sitting on your bed."

I looked over my shoulder and raised an eyebrow as I saw my shoes, the pair sitting nicely beside the rumpled clothes and exactly had I missed those?

I slipped the shoes on quickly, still hearing the threat in Salem's voice when he turned to Misa suddenly, though he was trying to calm some.

"Do you have everything that you need?"

I saw Mona cross her arms as I turned around and winced when she spoke for Misa, seeing the tick that started in Salem's jaw.

"We're not telling you if we do or if we don't. It takes time to look nice and I refuse to leave without looking perfect. Those other people can just wait on us to finish getting ready. And there's nothing that you can do about that.''

Salem's smirk was not pleasant as he replied.

"Watch me."

Mona screeched as he suddenly grabbed her around the waist and threw her over his shoulder, ignoring her as she began to beat against his back, screaming at him to let her go.

Salem simply walked out of the room, his voice rising to be heard over Mona's constant threats as he walked towards the outside door.

"Ria, Misa, grab the things that you need and meet us outside. Toru come on, were leaving!"

Toru came out of her room, pausing with wide eyes at the sight of Mona over Salem's shoulder before she seemed to catch herself and, after a quick shake of her head, followed him outside.

I quickly grabbed the bag that tied onto my dress and looked at Misa who had grabbed both hers and Mona's bags, her eyes wide as I rushed her out of the rooms to follow after our self-appointed leader.

He was already walking down the street, not caring that he was causing a scene as Mona continued to screech and beat at him.

Though I could understand slightly why he was in such a rush. When we reached the entrance into the market, it was obvious that the festival had already started.

The ninjas that I had expected to speak to, excluding Gaara, Sai, and Kankuro, had already started walking around the town, looking at all of the booths.

The three waiting ninja's looked on with wide eyes as Salem swung Mona down, her knees almost collapsing under her before he pushed her into Sai's arms. The paint ninja had no trouble catching and holding her up when she would have fallen to the sand, but he seemed to have a bit of trouble as she turned with blazing eyes, almost hissing at Salem.

"If you ever do something like that to me again, I swear that I'll..."

Salem cut her off by laughing harshly, his eyes still hard.

"Believe me. I have no intention of carrying you anywhere ever again. You're heavy."

I gave him a scolding look that he ignored and knew that she would have jumped at Salem if Sai hadn't held her back.

Misa had been strangely quiet through the entire exchange but quickly jumped forwards, now standing between the angry Salem and Mona, always trying to be the peacemaker.

"No more fighting! We're hear to have fun, remember? Sooo, let's go have fun!"

She grabbed both Mona's and Kankuro's hands tightly and quickly dragged them under the festival lights, Sai following behind them closely, still seeming to be unsure about what had just happened.

Salem made an annoyed noise and didn't speak before grabbing Toru's hand and tugging her in the opposite direction that the others had gone, leaving me alone with Gaara...and Butterball, who I had just noticed was perched on the boy's shoulder, a small bow tie around his fluffy neck.

I gave him an ironic smile, seeing that his eyes were wider than normal.

"See? We didn't have to ditch anyone. they ditched us."

He nodded and took my hand, leading me through the lights and into the crowd of people, causing me to step closer to him and avoid the throng, leaning even closer when he began to speak, his voice just barely carrying over the noise.

"So why was Salem carrying Mona over his shoulder?"

I huffed and frowned.

"They just don't like each other. She was being irritating and he took the bait and showed her that he was in charge basically."

Gaara smiled, seeming to find the entire situation funny now that he had time to think about it, his voice holding some amusement.

"She didn't seem too happy when he put her down."

I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

"No, she was embarrassed. She'd been waiting to see Sai for a while and had probably been planning her entrance, and then Salem ruins it by being...well Salem. If I had been in her situation, I don't think that I would have been happy either."

Gaara shook his head, a small frown coming to his face.

"I don't get why she would want to impress him when it's already obvious that he likes her. But I'm new at all of this, so that's probably not surprising."

I smiled at him impishly and squeezed his hand gently.

"You know enough. And what you don't know you seem to learn really quick."

He glanced sideways at me, a small smirk on his face.

"I'm a ninja. We have to learn fast, no matter what the situation is."

I blew a raspberry at him before falling into silence and letting the sounds and smells of the festival surround us, smiling and tugging at Gaara towards certain things that I found interesting...or out of the path of people.

I was enjoying walking with Gaara when I heard my name being yelled, the crowd parting before I was almost knocked to the ground, a certain blonde tackling me in a bear hug.

The only thing that kept me from falling to the dirt was Gaara's sudden support of my body as he glared at the overly hyper ninja that had backed off as suddenly as he had appeared, now holding on to the hand of a blushing girl, his goofy grin causing me to smile.

"Hi, Ruru."

His grin widened.

"Hi, Ri! How'd you like my entrance?"

I laughed and felt Gaara tighten his arms around me slightly, giving him a calming look before I answered.

"One of your most dramatic yet."

He laughed and nodded.


He stopped for a minute, his smile gentling as he glanced down at the girl at his side before tugging her forwards slightly, which just caused her blush to deepen as he introduced her.

"Ri, this is Hinata. I've told you about her.''

I smiled at her, glad to finally put a face with the name and Hinata ducked her head, stuttering shyly.

"'s nice to meet you."

I decided quickly that she was far more adorable than Naruto had said that she was.

"It's nice to meet you too, Hinata."

She smiled shyly up at me and Naruto grinned, putting his arm around her waist so he could pull her out of the way of a passing couple, and I hoped suddenly that the girl wouldn't faint from overheating. I hadn't thought that someone could blush that color, but Hinata could probably light up the festival without the help of the surrounding lanterns.

She seemed happy though. So I suppose that she just needed to get used to the overactive blond's affection before her blushes calmed.

The happy couple had seemed to forget about us and I turned a grin towards Gaara, expecting for him to have found the situation amusing, but finding that he was still glaring slightly, his arms having released me except to hold my hand against his side, now that the risk of me falling was over.

I frowned at him, catching his attention and he turned his face to mine, lowering his head to speak to me softly, Naruto having found something interesting and was describing it loudly, though I was ignoring him, concentrating on Gaara's lower voice.

"Naruto is a good friend, but sometimes he doesn't think. He could have hurt you if he had knocked you over...and gotten your new outfit dirty."

I laughed softly and shook my head.

"I'm a bit tougher than I look, Gaara. I've been knocked down several times by overactive kids, and I don't mind a little dirt. I can always wash the outfit. There's no reason for you to worry about me so much. Though I am glad that you stopped me from falling. Thank you.''

Gaara gave me a small smile and nodded, Naruto's loud voice catching my attention again and causing me to smile as he seemed to have fallen into a descriptive story, waving his hands around as he over dramatized everything, Hinata listening avidly.

Gaara's voice at my ear caused me to shiver slightly, not having felt him lean so close so suddenly.

"Why don't we sneak away while he's distracted? In this crowd I'm sure that we could lose him pretty quickly. And I did say that I wanted you to myself...''

He trailed off and I laughed, turning my head and answering with a soft voice.

"We can't because you are the Kazekage, and you have to be diplomatic. Otherwise we could. With how attentive Hinata is, I'm not sure he would even mind much. But it would still be rude."

He scoffed and grumbled before standing to his full height and continued to glare slightly as Naruto finally looked back at us, including us into the conversation that I was sure he was unaware that we hadn't heard.

"So which ramen place did you two want to try first? I heard that Ichiraku was even setting up a booth tonight."

I felt Gaara tense next to me at the thought of us having to spend more time with people and I smiled gently, quickly declining.

"Actually, Ruru, I think that we're just going to wander around some more. We're not really that hungry yet. Why don't you two go on ahead and maybe we'll catch up with you again later on in the night."

Naruto frowned for a moment before he shrugged and grinned widely.

''Alright. We'll see you later then!''

I nodded and Hinata smiled shyly as she muttered a small goodbye before Naruto dragged her into the mass of people.

I waited until they had disappeared from sight before looking up at Gaara and frowned when I found him looking around frantically. I was about to ask him what he was searching for when he turned back to me with a smirk and was suddenly tugging me away from the growing crowds and towards a tall building.

I frowned at him when he stopped close to one of the clay walls, not understanding what he was doing, even when he handed Butterball to me and swung me into his arms, causing me to squeak in surprise. He jumped suddenly and I felt the familiar feel of my stomach dropping at the sudden movements before we landed on the roof with a small thud.

I swallowed down the feel of sickness as I clutched the pliant panda to me, the fluffball not seeming to have any issues with the change of location and I stared up at Gaara expectantly, waiting to be placed down. Instead, he sat on the hard stone of the roof and held me in his lap, causing me to look at him in surprise.

He smiled down at me shyly and I returned it before leaning in to him and letting Butterball out of my still constrictive arms, the panda instantly wandering off to explore. I watched him for a moment, making sure that he wouldn't go too close to the edge, before looking back at Gaara as he spoke.

"You don't mind missing the festival do you?"

I smiled and snuggled more into his chest, fiddling with his robes slightly.

"No, I don't mind. I'm happy right here...I was tired of being around all of those people anyways."

I wrinkled my nose and Gaara grinned, his eyes sparkling.

"You haven't even met Sasuke or Shikamaru yet. Or some of the other ninjas."

I smirked and nodded.

"Yap, and I don't mind keeping it that way for the rest of the night. Besides, if I saw Sasuke, I might just decide to punch him in the face for being so stupid and causing so much trouble."

I felt Gaara's body shake suddenly and wondered what that was for a moment before grinning as I realized that it was his way of laughing. He didn't make a sound, but the silent shaking of his chest and shoulders seemed to match him well and I instantly wanted to cause that to happen more often. Knowing that he probably didn't laugh much.

Gaara's voice shook slightly with his amusement as he spoke.

"Well I don't blame you for that. Though I imagine that Naruto has punched Sasuke quite a bit since he's seen him again."

I nodded, feeling a bit more generous towards the guy since the image of me punching him in the face had caused Gaara to laugh, but still not exactly happy with him.

We fell into a comfortable silence after that, watching the people below us scurrying around as they looked at booths or talked to each other, neither of us really wanting to rejoin the now packed festival.

Though a few minutes later, a whiff of some food filtered up to where we were sitting and startled us both by causing my empty stomach to growl unexpectedly. I had missed lunch after all, and that bowl of cereal had disappeared a long time before. I had just forgotten that I was hungry.

I grimaced at the noise and Gaara grinned down at me, his eyes laughing at me.

"I guess we have to get something to eat, huh?"

I groaned and leaned more of my weight against his supporting chest.

"Yeah, I guess so. Back into the throng of people we go."

He shook his head, his amusement seeming to grow, though he agreed with me.

"We can come back here to eat. I don't want to be seen anyways. So we'll go get our food, and then make our escape."

I nodded quickly, agreeing to anything that would keep me from being in the crowds for too long.

"That sounds good to me."

I stood up slowly and stretched, wincing as my legs tingled, having gone numb from sitting in one position for so long. I looked at Gaara, who was having no apparent trouble as he moved around trying to catch Butterball, and I frowned at him. He sensed me watching him and looked at me questioningly from where he had knelt to pick up the panda.

"Is something wrong?"

I shook my head, realizing that I must have been frowning at him in my jealously.

"No. I was just wondering how your legs aren't stiff. Mine fell asleep, and I didn't have a person sitting on them. I'm slightly jealous."

He smiled and walked towards me, the panda held tightly in his arms to stop his wriggling.

"When we're children we're taught endurance techniques by a multitude of different exercises. Sitting in one place and being completely still is one of the exercises. It's hard for a few months, but you get used to it."

I grinned at him suddenly.

"But I bet that neither you or the other children had that training with someone sitting on your lap before."

He smirked and rolled his eyes, placing Butterball on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around my waist, tugging me closer as the panda settled down now that he was in his favorite spot.

"That's true. But I can tell you that I enjoy having you in my lap much more than any ninja training."

I smiled up at him brightly and saw his eyes soften as he leaned towards me. His lips were barely a breath away when my stomach gave the loudest grumble it had ever made. I blushed hotly and giggled nervously, pressing my red face into his chest.

It amazed me that it could even make a sound with all the butterflies inside it. Much less that loud of one.

Even had I not been pressed against his chest and felt the amused shaking there, I would have heard the laugh in his voice.

"Right. No kissing before food. I'll have to remember that."

I looked up at him sheepishly and saw that his eyes were sparkling happily, causing me to smile back at him before he stepped back and handed Butterball to me, picking me up and taking us from the roof. Since I was prepared for it this time, my stomach didn't flop anxiously and instead stayed were it was, grumbling insistently

Once safely on the ground, Gaara took Butterball from me again and grabbed my hand, his eyes still amused.

"Now, let's find you something to eat so that your stomach will stop yelling at me."

I laughed, unwilling to feel embarrassed by something that I couldn't help and let him lead me through the throng of people.

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