The Akatsuki's Daughter

Chapter 22

Salem's yelling woke me from my deep sleep, causing me to groan and curl tighter against the warm body holding me.

"Misa, get Mona up. Ria! Get your butt out of that bed or I'll come in there and jump on you. Toru, sweetling, I need you to put on some real clothes now. We need to get going."

I sighed and felt Gaara's arms pulling away from me slightly.

"Don't you think that you need to get up? Or do you want Salem to jump on you?"

I shook my head and rolled my eyes, my voice droggy.

"He won't do it. He's just threatening. Besides, I want to lay with you a little bit longer before I have to leave."

He tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace as the movement tugged at the scab on his lip.

"Why do cuts on your mouth always hurt worse after you just wake up?"

I shrugged.

"Because you've gone so long without moving your lips that they're stiff and have to get used to moving again."

He rolled his eyes, a small smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"That was a rhetorical question, Love."

I giggled sheepishly.

"Oops. Sorry."

He opened his mouth to reply but didn't get a chance, Salem's loud voice echoing through the rooms again.

"Ria, I'm serious! Get up! Gaara, if you have to, push her out of that bed! Misa, have you gotten Mona up yet?"

I didn't hear her reply through the wall, but it was an apparently a 'no' because a few seconds later I heard Mona's door crash into the wall and her scream and angry voice echoed around us, Gaara flinching next to me at the unexpected noise.

"Get out you jerk! I'm busy."

I heard a growl and listened harder as Salem began to speak, his voice threatening.

"I can see that. Come on, Perv, she's got to get dressed. If you want to see her before she leaves, then be at the gate at nine. If you're a minute late then we're leaving without you getting a goodbye."

I heard hurried footsteps before a door closed, this one sounding pretty far away and I figured that Sai had left quickly. Apparently not wanting to cause any more issues between Salem and Mona than there already was.

When Mona spoke again, her voice was furious.

"You had no right to do that! You have no right to tell me when I get up or not. To leave or not. You have no say so in my life! You may control Ria's, and now Toru's, schedule but you can not tell me when I can do something. I'll go and do whatever I want, when I want!"

I heard a small menacing sound and felt a familiar cold chill run up my spine at Salem's next words, his voice far too quiet for my liking.

''You can do what you want when you're not with me. But for right now, you're going to get up, and get dressed. I will not be late for a stupid girl like you.

If I have to, then I will end that life you speak of and just leave the corpse here in Suna to rot in the heat. At least I won't have a problem getting back to Aubry's on time then.

I doubt anyone will even miss you."

I jumped up as Salem's threat hit my ears and ran to Mona's room, seeing him standing over her as she sat on her bed, his arms crossed as shadows that shouldn't be there shifted across his face and danced in the corners of the room. His eyes almost glowed out of the darkness, a cruel intent resting in his gaze that I hadn't seen in over a year.

Mona seemed to understand what was happening, her eyes darting to the shadows that were creeping across her walls fearfully and I didn't give her time to speak and make him any angrier, running to his side and grabbing his arm roughly.

"Salem that's enough! You've scared poor Mona enough for one morning. She has to get dressed before we leave and she can't do that if you're in here. C'mon."

I tugged on his arm, trying to get him away from the shaking girl and after a slight resistance, he allowed me to pull him out the door, closing the wood tightly behind us before I turned a small glare at him, my voice reproachful.

"Well that was close to being a disaster. Salem you know better than to let your temper get out of control like that. Especially when Aubry isn't around to help you."

He nodded and sighed, running a hand through his hair.

"Yeah, I know. I didn't mean for it to go that far...She just makes me angry."

I sighed and gave him a slightly pleading look.

"I know. But can you try to avoid her today? Please? You're already irritated with her and we don't need you going through with your threat if she decides to push you anymore today."

He shook his head and closed his eyes as he spoke.

"I'll try, Little Sister. But knowing her, she's going to seek me out and try to start a fight and I'm not going to turn tail and retreat from her like some coward if that happens. If I kill her on the way home, it's going to be her own fault."

I sighed and after a brief nod and pat to Salem's arm, went back to my room, leaning against the door with a heavy breath as my eyes wandered around the room, searching for a certain Kazekage.

I had expected for Gaara to be on the balcony or still lying on the bed waiting for me, but it seemed like he had taken my absence to disappear. The balcony doors were open again and I sighed, figuring that he must have had an emergency and had to leave.

I just hoped that he would get back in time for me to tell him goodbye.

I sighed again and after looking at the clock, decided that I had time for a shower before we left. It didn't matter to me that I would just get dirt again while walking, I needed the time locked under the warm water to clear my head. Especially if I was going to have to keep Salem from killing Mona and disposing of the body on our way home.


I pulled my wet hair into a ponytail and winced as my fingers caught in the tangles.

I really needed to learn how to brush my hair. It was going to be horrendous by the time Salem got a brush to it again...and I wasn't sure that he wouldn't follow through with his threats this time and take scissors to it. Maybe I would just make a visit to Die and have him brush out the rats nest. He would probably want to see me when I got home to talk about Gaara anyways.

I shrugged and looked at the lite pink marks covering my neck. They weren't noticeable unless someone looked extremely hard and I was glad that I wouldn't have to wear a collared shirt to hide them. Salem was already on edge and I wasn't sure if seeing his 'Little Sister' with obvious kiss marks wouldn't send him into a small frenzy.

I took one last quick look over my reflection before making my way into my bedroom and sighed in resignation as I found that the room was still empty, deciding that whatever had taken Gaara away would probably not allow him to see me before I left.

Which would mean that I would need to go pick up Butterball from Temari by myself...If I could find their house. I hadn't exactly walked the streets to get there the last time. Had I known before coming back to the hotel the night before that I would be leaving in the morning, I would have just brought Butterball back with me.

I flopped onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling accusingly. Why did everything have to be so complicated?

I closed my eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath as I prepared myself to get up and go in search of Gaara's house, ignoring the curtains rustling in the wind. I hadn't closed the balcony doors and the wind had picked up in the last few minutes.

I felt a small tugging at my ponytail and frowned as I reached up to tighten it, gasping in alarm as I felt fingers tangled in my hair, my eyes shooting open to find an amused Gaara standing beside the bed, Butterball snuggled against his chest.

I smiled up at him, happy at having him back to see me and that I wouldn't have to find his house alone.

"I was afraid that you wouldn't get here before I left."

He placed Butterball on the floor and laid next to me, his hand grasping mine, his thumb running across the knuckles softly as he sighed.

"I'm sorry. I tried to get back to you as soon as possible but I wasn't expecting Temari to cry for twenty minutes when I went to get Butterball. She was already upset since Shikamaru left and taking the panda seemed to just set her off."

I smiled sympathetically and nodded, understanding more than I was willing to admit.

"It's fine. I actually figured that you had Kazekage things to do and I know that's more important than saying goodbye to me."

Gaara sat up quickly, his hands pulling me up to sit with him, his gaze locking with mine seriously as he placed his hands on my cheeks to keep my face still.

"Do you honestly think that Kazekage matters could keep me away from you, Ria?"

I nodded, frowning at him in confusion over his question. I had thought the answer was obvious.

"Well...Yeah. I mean that stuff concerns an entire village. I'm just one person, and not a citizen of Suna. So I know that I'm not as important,"

Gaara's eyes narrowed into a glare suddenly and his hands flexed against my face as if he wanted to clench his hands into fists but was restraining himself. His voice was not happy when he spoke again.

"Ria, you listen to me. You are the most important thing to me. Not being the Kazekage, and if I had to choose between the two, then I would pick you without a second thought. You're right in saying that you're not as important to me, you're more important. Do you understand that?"

I nodded slowly, feeling slightly stunned as I tried to process what he had just told me and he sighed, releasing my face so that he could wrap his arms around me and pull me into him tightly.

I was more important than an entire village? He would give up being Kazekage for me? That would solve this distance problem but... I frowned suddenly, my hands clenching in his robes.

"You are never allowed to give up on being Kazekage."

He pulled away, blinking at me in shock.


I shook my head, my face twisted up determinedly

"I refuse to let you give up on being Kazekage. These people need you.

You're the best Kazekage that they've ever had and I mean it, even if it is a choice between me and being Kazekage, you choose being the Kazekage. You can't leave this village on it's own."

He shook his head in denial.

"I'm not the best Kazekage."

I raised an eyebrow and huffed.

"Really, cause that's not what I heard. When we were in the market the other day I heard an old man tell his friend that you were the best thing to happen to Suna. That you had given up your life to protect the village and that the people loved you. They need you, Gaara."

He bit his lip and gave me a pleading look.

"But I need you. I don't feel as if I could continue if you weren't around. They may need me, Ria, but I need you."

I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment. This wasn't going to solve anything. I gave him a small smile, knowing that it seemed a bit forced.

"Let's just not worry about it right now, okay? We're together now and no one is making you choose. So for now, let's just enjoy being together."

He nodded and pulled me back to him, neither of us really seeming to be able to forget the conversation. There was a strained silence around us and I didn't know how to get rid of it. I didn't want my time with Gaara to be sad, but I also didn't know of any way for it not to be.

I was leaving, and we most likely wouldn't see each other again for some time. We could write letters to each other of course, but there weren't any mail birds at Aubry's and people walking to Suna were always unreliable or untrustworthy. So, excluding the rare occasion, there wouldn't be a way for him to get my letters.

I sighed and closed my eyes harshly.

This was one of the reasons that relationships didn't work. No communication. I still hadn't figured out any good idea when there was a hesitant knock on my door, Salem peeking his head in and sighing when he saw us, giving Gaara an apologetic look.

"I'd let you keep her, but she would be extremely unhappy in a hotel room."

Gaara nodded, the both of us sitting up as Salem walked into the room and picked up the sleeping panda from the floor, giving me a knowing smile.

"I'll take Butterball. When you get done saying your goodbyes, Little Sister, come downstairs. We'll be waiting for you."

I nodded and Salem turned to Gaara, sticking his hand out and shaking Gaara's briskly before he took a step back.

"Take care of yourself, man. I'll plan on seeing you again pretty soon. Thanks for inviting us. It was fun and the girls needed a break from Aubry's"

Gaara nodded, looking slightly confused at the other boys brief goodbye but stayed silent as Salem walked out with Butterball under his arm.

I waited until the door was closed before I threw myself into Gaara, his arms wrapping around me tightly as I buried my face in his chest, my voice muffled against his robes.

"I don't want to leave you. But Salem's right, I wouldn't be happy in a hotel room. And I don't really know what I would do here."

Gaara began to ran a hand across my back and he nodded.

"I know that, Love. We'll just have to make frequent visits to each other."

He smiled at me sadly and I nodded, agreeing quickly.

"Very frequent visits."

I stared at him a moment, debating my actions before pressing my lips to his gently, trying to be careful of his hurt mouth and I huffed as he tangled his hands in my hair, pressing his mouth harder to mine when I tried to pull away.

I knew that he was going to hurt himself again so I pushed on his chest, forcing him into letting me pull away and I placed a hand on his cheek, smiling sadly when he covered my hand with his own, rubbing my knuckles softly as I spoke.

"I need to go now. They'll be waiting on me."

He nodded and turned his head to kiss the palm of my hand.

"Alright, Love."

He helped me off of the bed and walked me to the front door, the both of us pausing for another kiss before I pulled away, trying to smile up at him and not really succeeding.

"I'll plan on seeing you soon?"

He nodded and I had to blink to see him clearly, tears that I refused to let fall clouding my vision. It was ridiculous to be so sad when I was positive that I would see him again soon. I cleared my throat and forced back my tears before hugging him tightly and feeling his arms wrap around me just as tightly as I spoke.

"I love you, Gaara."

He kissed the top of my head and his voice sounded strained when he replied.

"I love you too, Ria. So so much."

I closed my eyes against the insistent tears and ignored the small tone of pain in his voice before pushing away completely and turning away from him, grabbing my bag that was resting by the door and running out of the hotel. If I had turned to look back at him, I wasn't sure that I would be able to leave. Whether that left me miserable later on or not.

I ran out into the street, blinking harshly in the sunlight before seeing Salem waiting for me, his expression anxious as he held his arms out to me and I walked into them, accepting the comfort, sighing harshly when he began to rub my back gently, his voice comforting.

"I know that it's hard, Sister. Saying goodbye to the people that we care about is one of the most difficult things to do. But you'll see him soon."

I nodded and he held me at arms length, looking over me critically.

"No tears?"

I shook my head and he grinned, pinching my cheek gently.

"That's my strong girl."

He wrapped his arm around my shoulders, leading me through the crowds and I pressed into his side, avoiding the masses. It was harder to deal with them when I was already so worn out.

When we finally reached the Suna gates I saw a group of familiar people huddled in a large pattern, obviously saying their goodbyes.

I frowned when my eyes focused on a ninja, remembering the messenger that I had brought us to Suna, turning to Salem with a frown on my face.

"Please tell me that guy isn't leading us back."

He grinned evilly and shrugged.

"Unless we ditch him."

I nodded and tried to return the impish look, knowing that I didn't succeed.

"We may have to. With the way that I feel right now, I might hit him."

Salem chuckled and nodded.

"I'm sure that he would deserve it."

My smile came easier this time and I squealed as a hyperactive ninja suddenly jumped on me, his voice loud in my ear.

"Ri, I'll miss you! You'll have to visit Konoha the next time that you get a break. I didn't get to see you at all!"

I smiled good-naturedly and hugged Naruto back tightly.

"I'll try, Ruru. Though I really don't think that Aubry is going to let me off work again any time soon. He doesn't really believe in vacations."

Naruto huffed and released me a moment before I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned, not prepared for Kankuro to pick me up in a bone crushing hug, grinning at my surprised face as he sat me back down.

"You're practically family now, Ria. Just get used to it."

I smiled unsuredly and nodded, even more surprised when Temari hugged me as well, the girl holding on to me longer than Kankuro had, her voice soft as she spoke.

"I'm glad that Gaara found a girl like you. I was worried when he said that he liked you...but you're good for him. I've never seen him as happy as he is when he's with you."

I nodded seriously and hugged her back.

"Thank you, Temari."

She pulled back and smiled at me, her eyes slightly damp before she went to stand by her brother. I sighed as I turned towards my traveling companions, looking over them curiously.

"Misa was crying harshly, an upset Mona hugging her comfortingly while Salem and Toru stood off to the side, looking ready to leave and I frowned at them, knowing that I shouldn't blame them for being happy on going home. It wasn't their fault that everyone else was depressed.

I was about to coax my friends into moving when I felt eyes on me, a shiver going up my spine as I followed the feel, finding a figure standing on a tall building close to the gates. His arms were crossed as he watched the scene below him and I smiled as the familiar hair ruffled in the wind.

Gaara saw me staring and I saw the sad smile that he gave me, his arm raised slightly in a still wave and I sighed as I blew a kiss to him before turning away and walking out of the Suna gates. Not turning back even as the remaining ninjas called their final goodbyes at us.

I kept my eyes straight ahead of us long after the voices had faded and the gates had disappeared in the swirling sand. Feeling slightly glad that I wasn't the only one miserable.


We were almost home before Misa finally stopped crying. Her eyes puffy and bloodshot as Mona walked along beside her, her feet dragging slightly and her shoulders slumped.

Toru and Salem were the only ones that really spoke, though the both of them had understood the somber mood and kept their voices quiet, only certain words making their way over to me on the wind.

The only person that seemed to not care about the mood was the ninja that was having no qualms about informing us about how unhappy he was to be escorting us again. He was muttering to himself about babysitting and I had the brief thought that if he napped a bit on one of our breaks that I would show him just how childish I could be, but sighed soon after that, knowing that we wouldn't stop long enough for me to cause any mischief.

I had gotten too lost in my thinking and had stopped in the middle of walking, causing Misa to ran into my back. She staggered back slightly and looked at me curiously.

"Is there a reason why you stopped so suddenly? Are you hurt?"

I shook my head and smiled sheepishly.

"No, just thinking. Sorry. Are you okay?"

She smiled sadly and nodded.

" Yeah, aside from already missing Kankuro, I'm fine."

I nodded and smile sympathetically, refusing to touch on the subject of missing people.

"Well, it's nice to know that our collision didn't hurt you."

Her smile widened slightly, though it kept a sad tinge as she hurried around me to catch up with Mona. The other girl having gotten lost in her own thoughts and not noticed that we had fallen behind a bit. I sighed as I watched them for a moment before starting forwards again myself, giving Salem a small smile when I caught him shooting worried glances at me from over his shoulder. He grinned back, seeming to be satisfied that I wasn't about to break down into a crying heap on the sand, and turned back to his conversation with Toru, his voice louder than it had been for the past hours.

As we continued to walk I realized that I was being pretty selfish, wallowing in my pity party. I had felt some sort of consolation in knowing that Misa and Mona were missing their guys as well, which wasn't exactly the friendliest thing for me to do. But beyond that, I hadn't even really thought about what Gaara would really feel like with my leaving.

I had people around me that understood what I was going through, or would comfort me anyways if they didn't. I had family and friends that would let me vent any frustrations to them, even if they didn't understand...Things that Gaara didn't really have.

He had his siblings of course. And Kankuro would be missing Misa as well. But...I wasn't sure that any of that would be any help to him. Gaara had such trouble expressing his feelings or wants that even if he worked up the nerve to speak to Kankuro about something that he would typically not talk about, I wasn't sure that the elder brother would even be of any help. Simply turning the direction of the talk to how he was missing Misa...which would leave Gaara as the comforter instead of getting the support that he had wanted in the first place.

I sighed heavily and shook my head. Most likely, the young Kazekage would just keep all of his thoughts to himself, not wanting to admit to what he was feeling. Which at the moment, could very well be a sense of abandonment. Because of his terrible relationships with people he cared for in the past, it wouldn't surprise me if my leaving would bring up all of those buried feelings of resentment and hurt. I didn't like to think that way...but it was the truth.

As much trouble as I had had with leaving, and the pain that I was feeling at having to do so, it was probably nothing compared to what Gaara was feeling at the moment, and I was slightly ashamed at myself at not having thought about that before I had left him, talking to him about such a thing and calming any fears he might have had before leaving.

I rolled my eyes and huffed out a harsh breath. There wasn't any way for me to go back and change that. I just hoped that we could find a way to talk to the other regularly. At least that way I could calm him of whatever issues might be swirling around in his head.

I shrugged to myself and nodded harshly, happy with my decision. I would see Gaara as much as I was able to...and maybe train a damned bird to take letters back and forth. And when I visited, I would simply spend as much time with him as I could, even if that meant staying up with him every night and sleeping a bit less than I normally would.

I squared my shoulders and ran to catch up with my group that had gotten further ahead of me while I was lost in thought and felt a bit lighter after my inner scolding and decisions, even letting myself be drawn into one of Salem's silly stories that he was telling Toru, laughing and giving my own input when his facts would be too over-exaggerated.


A few hours after I had picked myself out of my depressed funk, I had noticed Misa beginning to stumble over the sand.

Mona was holding her up and I quickly walked closer to them, looking over Misa's face with a harsh frown. The normally glowing skin was a sickly white, her eyelids drooping over the dull eyes and I laid a hand to her forehead, pulling back quickly at how clammy her skin felt.

''What's wrong, Misa?"

She shook her head and leaned more onto Mona, the other girl stumbling a bit under the added weight before she caught herself and answered for the sick girl.

"We don't know. A few minutes ago she just started to feel dizzy and complaining that her stomach and head hurt. She didn't start stumbling until a few seconds ago."

I frowned and nodded, the symptoms sounding familiar.

"Okay. I'm going to go see if we can take a break."

Mona nodded, still struggling to hold up the other girl and I quickly ran to catch up to our escort, stopping beside him.

"Hey, do you think that we can pull this caravan over for a few minutes? Some of us need a rest."

He glared sideways at me, his pace not slowing even when he spoke.

"No, we can't take a break. I want to be back to my village before midnight, and I can't do that if you weaklings have to take a break every ten minutes."

I bit my tongue and took a deep breath, trying to keep my temper under control.

"Look. We've been walking for hours and haven't taken a break yet. I think that we all deserve one. Most of us aren't used to such intense activity."

I forced what I hoped was a cheerful smile and hoped that he would take my last sentence as a type of complement and agree.

"Then maybe you should do some endurance training."

No such luck, and now I was through being civil.

I blocked his path, my feet planted and my hands on my hips as I glared up at him, snarling slightly.

"Look buddy, if you don't let us take a break rigth now, I'll show you how much your training helped you. Or didn't.

I've asked you nicely. So sit your butt on the sand!"

I had leaned into his personal space, yelling into his face and he stumbled backwards in surprise at the sudden volume, landing in a seated position on the sand, his face lifted towards me, his eyes wide.

I smiled down at him with fake sweetness and nodded, my voice calm again.

"Good. We'll leave in an hour."

He frowned and crossed his arms, not pleased with the situation and I shrugged, walking away when I heard his mumbling, his words causing me to freeze as they drifted to me.

"Stupid slutt. Thinks that because she's the Kazekage's whore and screwing around with him that she can tell me what to do. She's not even that pretty."

I was turning, about to tell him where he could shove that assumption, but didn't get the chance, a tall figure suddenly passing by me and picking the ninja up and holding him off of the ground by the throat.

I blinked at my adopted brother in surprise, my brain not processing what was happening for a moment.

Salem isn't typically violent towards others, finding most things amusing or not worth his energy. But the darkness that he controls makes him slightly unstable and his love for certain people makes him far too overprotective. So when someone insults or hurts someone he cares about, he becomes one crazy person to deal with.

He was shaking the man like a rag doll now, his voice menacing when he spoke.

"What the hell did you just say?"

He didn't give the man any way to answer, his hand turning white as he squeezed harder, the ninja's face an alarming shade of purple as Salem continued.

"Do you have any idea how much I want to rip your throat out right now? I could do it too. Trust me. If I just squeezed a little harder...but I won't. Although I doubt that anyone would miss you, I can't take away your life. Even if it is a lousy one."

He smiled evilly, seeming to remember something before he continued.

"Though I am tempted to tell your Kazekage what you said about his girlfriend. I would love to see the fear in your eyes right before he crushed you to death with his sand."

He suddenly dropped the man, letting the ninja gasp in the sand, his voice raspy as he pleaded in a choked whisper.

"Please. Please don't. I didn't really mean it. I..."

Salem's scoff cut the man off and he sneered down at him.

"You didn't mean it? You wouldn't have said it if you didn't mean it.

But I'm not going to say anything, it's not my place. You didn't insult me. But Ria should. I'm sure he would just love to hear just how 'well-behaved' his ninja was.''

The man swallowed around his bruised throat and turned pleading eyes towards me.

"Please don't tell him."

I shrugged, not liking that Salem had used Gaara as a means to scare the ninja, though I wasn't about to scold him for it with the rude man still sitting on the ground by my feet.

"I won't."

The man sighed, his shoulders dropping as he relaxed.

"Thank you."

I scoffed and glared down at him.

"It's not for you. I could care less one way or the other what happens to you. I just don't want to be the cause of Gaara being upset."

I looked over at Misa who was lying on the sand and frowned before turning my face back to the ninja, raising an eyebrow as I spoke smugly.

"Though if Kankuro ever finds out just how sick Misa was and that you weren't going to stop to let her recover a bit...well, I don't think that it would be Gaara that you would need to worry about."

I saw the fear that entered the ninja's eye and shrugged before feeling Salem wrap his arms around my shoulders, leading me away from the man on the sand and I turned a fond smile towards him.

"You are one scary guy, Big Brother. Did you know that?"

He chuckled and nodded, squeezing my shoulder gently.

"I have to be. If I wasn't then my threats wouldn't be as....threatening. Except for maybe that one about Gaara. I think that would have worked whether I was scary or not. You seem to have a knack for collecting threatening guys, Little Sister."

I giggled and nodded.

"I know. It's just something that I'm good at."

He smiled and I pulled out from under his arm to kneel beside Misa, finding her lying in the sand, her hand clutching at her stomach as she peeked up at me, groaning before she spoke.

"My stomach hurts. And my head is pounding."

I frowned and sighed gently.

"How much water have you drank since we've been walking? Or even since we've been in Suna?"

She frowned and shrugged.

"I don't know. A couple mouth fulls since we've been walking...I wasn't keeping track while we were in Suna...Maybe a couple glasses a day?"

I sighed and nodded, rolling my eyes.

"That's what's wrong then. You're dehydrated. You aren't used to this weather anyways and the heat drains even the villagers. You should have been drinking a lot more than you have."

I pulled my water bottle from my bag and helped her sit up, pressing the bottle into her hand.

"I want most of that gone before we start moving again. Don't drink it too fast though, or you'll be sicker than you are now."

She nodded and took a small sip, groaning slightly as the liquid hit her upset stomach .

I nodded and stood up, turning to find the ninja still on the sand, his wide eyes staring at us and I sighed before walking over to him, his eyes darting between me and Misa. He winced when he spoke, his voice raspy.

"Is she going to be alright?"

I shrugged and crossed my arms.

"She'll be fine. She's just dehydrated. She hasn't drank any water since we left."

He nodded and looked up at me, his eyes apologetic.

"I am sorry for what I said before. It was both untrue and insulting.

If you wish to tell Kazekage-sama then I will understand. He asked me personally to escort you and your fiends back home safely and I agreed. There was no reason for me to behave so badly towards you and your friends. I have insulted you and that alone would be punishable had this been an actual mission and not just a request from my Kazekage."

I nodded and shrugged.

"I appreciate the apology, but I have no intention of telling Gaara.

Everything you said was directed towards me personally and there's no reason for me to involve the Kazekage. Like you said, this was just a request and not a mission. So it shouldn't really be made his problem. That would only cause more trouble than it's worth. And I think that Salem scared you enough for you to rethink your words next time you're escorting someone."

He nodded and ducked his head.

"Thank you for that."

I scoffed and rolled my eyes.

"Don't. Trust me, if it was my choice, I would have beaten you myself. But you're Gaara's responsibility and I wouldn't put him through the hassle of you not returning quickly."

He nodded without looking at me and I left him to return to my companions, finding that Mona was sitting beside Misa, scolding her gently while keeping an eye on Salem, expecting the boy to attack her. Apparently she hadn't forgotten his episode from earlier in Suna.

"You shouldn't have cried so much, Misa. That probably just caused you to be even more dehydrated."

Misa sniffled and nodded pathetically.

"I know that. But I'm just going to miss Kankuro so much. I don't like that I won't get to see him again for a long time...It makes me wanna cry all over again just thinking about it."

Mona hit her arm, making the teary eyed girl jump as she almost yelled at her.

"Don't start that again, Misa! It'll just delay us longer. Besides, at least you're only a couple hours walk from Kankuro. Sai lives in Konoha and that's three days run from Suna."

Mona sighed before continuing a bit softer.

"And since I didn't get to tell him goodbye the way that I wanted."

She threw a small glare in Salem's direction.

"I'm pretty depressed myself."

She looked at me suddenly, her face twisted in a frown.

"What about you, Ria? Your love life is worse than Misa's or mine. Since Gaara can't just leave like Sai and Kankuro can. I mean...You'll probably see Gaara less than we'll see our boyfriends. How are you two going to keep that relationship going?"

I scowled at her before sighing. Leave it to Mona to bluntly state the obvious.

"We'll work something out. I mean, I'll miss him. But I don't see why we can't work out the little kinks."

She nodded and I was glad that I could provide her with an explanation that she was happy enough with that she didn't question me anymore.

She nodded for a moment before her look became mischievous

"At least if you stick with him you'll get the benefit of doing whatever you want and not having any repercussions. I mean he makes the rules, so what's the point of dating him if you're not allowed to bend them a little."

I gaped at her horrified.

"I would never do that. I'm not going to abuse Gaara, or his power. That's cruel. Is that the reason why you think that I'm dating him?"

She scoffed and shook her head in disgust.

"No. I know that's not why you're with him. I was just stating the fact that if you did do something wrong that he could just bend the rules a little bit so you wouldn't get into trouble. If I had that luxury I would be using it all the time."

I was still too scandalized to comment about how awful she was, but Salem didn't seem to be as tongue tied. Snorting from his place beside Toru and clapping his hands to gain our attention.

"Alright. You girls are not allowed to follow Mona's examples. She's a bad influence. Using people for their power is not a good thing to do."

Mona sent a glare his way, a breath hissing out through her clenched teeth.

"You're one to talk. You threatened to kill me this morning. I don't think that I'm the bad influence."

A smile curved his lips even though it didn't reach his darkened eyes.

"And that threat that I gave you still stands. Until we get home, I would watch what you say to me."

He turned away from her when she refused to speak again and gave a small smile to Misa.

"Are you feeling any better now? You've drank almost that whole water bottle."

She smiled and nodded.

"Much better. My headache is gone and my stomach has settled down. I think that I'm ready to leave whenever you guys are."

Salem nodded and picked up Butterball, who had been playing with Toru since we had stopped, helping the girl up as well.

"Well...shall we all go home?"

We all nodded and turned to find the still shaken ninja waiting for us a few feet away, Salem giving me a smug look as the ninja politely asked if we were ready to start moving again.

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