“Here are the last results of Mr. Hatake’s eye surgery, Dr. Fukumoto.” Matsuri nodded as she took the manila folder from the nurse. “Thank you, Emiko. I believe your shift is over, is that right?”
Emiko nodded enthusiastically with a bright smile. “Today’s the anniversary of me and my boyfriend being together for five years! I can’t wait to get home,” she squealed while she hugged herself out of glee. “Then hurry up and go see him,” Matsuri shooed teasingly with a gentle smile, “wouldn’t want to keep him waiting.” The nurse laughed wholeheartedly and put on her jacket. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow! Good night, Dr. Fukumoto.” Emiko waved and disappeared through the swinging doors.
It was eleven o’clock in the evening, and the number of visitors at the Suna hospital has thinned out. There were no more surgeries planned for the day; the only thing Matsuri still needed to do was to check the statuses of a few patients who had recent surgeries. Since the last surgery was a few hours ago, most of the people lying on this department were devoid of anaesthetics, though the majority of the patients were asleep due to the late hour.
As the brunette wandered down the empty halls, glancing at the sleeping figures through the glass doors, a shrill peep resonated from the pocket of her lab coat. Matsuri frowned. It was unusual that someone would contact her pager around this time. Curious of whom it would be, she retrieved the small device. The message only caused her frown to deepen.
“There’s someone at the reception to see you. It’s quite urgent, he doesn’t seem too well.” <Noriko, receptionist>
A bunch of questions swam through her head as she rushed to the first floor. Who is “he”? If he is ill, why isn’t he sent to the ER? Why does he want to see me? Still lost in thoughts, she burst through the doors to the reception.
“Noriko, you said there was some-,” Matsuri began, but she stopped dead in her tracks as soon as she saw the blood red hair and pale skin. At the sound of her entrance, said person slowly turned around to face her. Green, piercing eyes found her chocolate brown ones, and for a minute she was speechless. They just stood there for an eternity, just staring at each other, until Matsuri finally found her voice and whispered, “Gaara.” His stoic face did not stir at the name, but the doctor was sure of it. “You’re back.”
Gaara did not react to the statement, but his eyes revealed the tiniest bit of relief even though it disappeared as soon as she blinked. The brunette felt her heart fill with joy: her childhood friend was finally back! But after inspecting him somewhat longer, Matsuri realised that something was wrong. As a doctor, she had made it a habit to give a visual check-up to create a hypothesis on why the person would visit the doctor, and what she saw was worrying.
The dark rings under his eyes due to his insomnia were even darker than they normally were, giving Gaara a haunted look. His usually pale skin had a dull tint, like he hasn’t been out to see the sun since he left Suna twelve years ago. What shocked Matsuri the most however, was his meagre figure. Gaara’s clothes – which would have fit so well in the past – sagged around his body, his sleeves hardly hiding the bony wrists and hands hanging by his side. His cheekbones were far too prominent and his eyes were deeper in the sockets than they should be. Overall, he looked…
Tired of this world, tired of living, tired of existing. In other words, he looked like he was ready to give up his life.
‘But that couldn’t be, right?’ Matsuri thought. She had to admit, Gaara hadn’t been the happiest person on this planet – rather far from it – but he has never been the type to just surrender. Especially after he met that sunny boy from Konoha; that boy taught him a lot, even if it was unknowingly. What had happened in the twelve years he was away?
Letting the professional side of her take over, Matsuri smiled as she concealed the turmoil in her head. “I think we have a lot of catching up to do. Why don’t you come to my office?” she extended her hand towards the redhead, who hesitantly took it with his own. Noriko gave her a relieved nod of gratitude as she returned to her work at hand.
The brunette led Gaara back to her office where she was just a couple minutes ago. During the entire walk, they didn’t say a word. Matsuri herself was too busy ordering the information she had gotten from that quick check-up. She still hadn’t figured out why Gaara would visit her, and not a psychiatrist or psychologist; it obviously didn’t seem like a surprise visit from an old friend by his looks. Gaara on the other hand was too busy fidgeting with everything he got his hand on, showing all the symptoms of nervousness. ‘Well, that is highly unusual,’ Matsuri frowned. Gaara has never shown his emotion. He was the one person that was capable of remaining a block ice the entire time. To see him like this only made her worry more than she already did.
“Here we are.” They had arrived at the end of the hallway, where the office was located. “Would you like something to drink?” the brunette asked while she unlocked the door. Gaara looked up briefly and nodded slightly. “Tea is fine.”
Matsuri’s eyes widened. That was the first sentence he said since he was here. His voice was deeper, but the stoicness and the coldness had faltered. Not that it had warmed up; it had just made place for something... alarming. “O- Okay, please take a seat.” She gave a brief grin and rushed out of the office.
Her brain didn’t begin to think rationally until she reached the coffee machine. After she selected their drinks, the doctor stumbled to a seat and relieved her wobbly legs. Then, she started to analyse.
Since Matsuri was one year older than Gaara was, he must be 27 of age. For as far as she knew, he left Suna voluntarily – to be honest, he was stoic as ever, but he didn’t glare once when the subject was discussed – and completed his high school there in “Jinchuuriki privilege school”. He himself did not look ill or wounded; deriving from his body language, the damage was more emotional.
What about family? As a close childhood friend, she knew quite much about his family situation. His mother died when he was born due to an internal bleeding. Even though Matsuri has visited Gaara’s home quite a lot of times when they were young, she has never truly seen his father. He had always locked himself up in his office, working day and night. Instead, Kankurou and Temari – brother and sister, respectively – acted as Gaara’s parents. Albeit they had their childish times themselves, they had taken all of the responsibility over Gaara, giving all the love they possessed. If either of them got injured or sick, Gaara would be torn.
And then there was the sunshine kid, Naruto. Gaara had told her before leaving that Naruto was also admitted to “Jinchuuriki privilege school”. At the time, Matsuri felt relieved; Naruto had brought out the “human” Gaara, and she truly believed that Naruto could make this “human” Gaara everlasting.
So why was Gaara here? If anyone could help him, it would be that carefree blond. Suna – being the remote place it was – was located 300 miles away from Konoha, where they moved to. It was not logical or convenient to travel that distance when you have a close person next door.
The ping of the coffee machine startled Matsuri out of her thoughts and she quickly took out their tea. While she put the cups in holders, the brunette took a deep breath. Imagining possible situations is pointless, she decided. If she created false hypotheses, she might do something stupid.
With that in her mind, Matsuri walked back to her office with the tea as calm as she could. As she stopped in front of the door, she took another deep breath, and entered the room. Gaara had chosen the chair across from hers, his head bowed down with his hair in front of his face. It seemed like he didn’t notice her coming in, but as soon as she put the tea in front of him and sat down, he talked.
“I need your help.” Matsuri almost snorted. “I’m neither dumb nor oblivious Gaara, I thought you knew that. Fire away.” The redhead relaxed slightly, hearing the familiarity of a close friend, and lifted his head to look Matsuri straight in the eye. “Perform a heart transplantation on me.”
It remained silent for a few seconds, and then: “...What.” Another ten seconds of silence. “You know that you can’t just demand a heart transplantation right? You have to go through inspections and tests first on urgency, and the-”
“I want to donate mine.”
Matsuri merely stared at him, dumbfounded. Gaara stared back, awaiting her reaction. They just sat there – for how long? Seconds, minutes, hours? – until she was finally able to speak again.
“For whom? For whom are you ready to undergo a surgery with a death sente-”
“For someone who gave me a reason to live.”
“Nobody has done this before, you know that? With a good reason that is.”
“Then I will be the first.”
The brunette continued to stare into two sea green pools, but then broke eye contact to watch her hands clench into fists in her lap. She took a soft, shuddering breath as the new information slowly sank in.
“So you want me to take your heart, to end your life?” she whispered. “Don’t you think that is a lot to ask from me, a childhood friend?”
“Matsuri, I’ve come to you because you are my friend. You are the only one who I trust enough...” The nervous tone in his voice was back. “I know that I will go back to my ‘old self’ if he... dies. I just... I just can’t let him die.”
Him. The brunette’s head flew up. “N- Naruto? How did he get himself a heart disease?” she stammered out of shock. ‘Wasn’t he the same age as Gaara himself?’ she thought. ‘At such a young age are sudden heart failures quite unlikely unless he uses drugs, and Naruto is not a person who would use those.’
“Genetic disorder. His heart muscle is too weak to support his body.” Gaara’s hand went through his hair in frustration and desperation. “Heart transplants are scarce. His chance on surviving is...” He gritted his teeth.
“Lower than ten percent.” Matsuri mumbled. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a very rare defect of the heart muscle, and the only way to truly cure it is to get another heart. And the list of people who need heart transplants is – indeed – long.
“Please Matsuri,” Gaara begged in a whisper. “He has a doctorate, a wife, a future; I could save him, you could save hi-”
“No. I couldn’t.” She shook her head and gave him a disheartened look. “Even if your heart was suited for Naruto’s body, and even if I was ready to... to kill you” – Gaara flinched lightly – “law would have prohibited it. This process is not one that can go unnoticed. Once the government – or the hospitals for that matter – find out, I would be in jail, and your heart would be nowhere near Naruto’s chest.” Matsuri sighed. “There is no way I could help you with this.”
Gaara’s eyes widened as soon as she said it, and for a few moments, he just stared at her. She bowed her head slightly in apology and guilt. “I’m so sorry Gaara, but I can’t do this to you.” It remained quiet for a moment, until he stood abruptly and broke the calmness in the eye of the storm:
“Then I’ll go with plan B.”
A glint of metal caught Matsuri’s eye, and even before she realised what was going on, her reflexes acted on their own. Just as Gaara lifted the scalpel to his own neck, she tackled him to the ground while simultaneously pushing the arm away with enough force that the weapon flew out of his hand. They landed with a heavy thud on the floor, Matsuri still keeping his arms in a death grip while she straddled his waist.
“What the hell do you think you are doing?!” she shouted frantically in his impassive face.
“If law prohibits doctors to take organs from a living person, I will become a dead one.”
Her eyes narrowed down to slits out of anger. “...What did you just say?” she hissed.
Gaara lifted his chin with defiance. “I said, I would kill myself if that would mean that Naruto will li-”
“Don’t you dare to even think about committing suicide.” Matsuri ignored the stinging in her right hand as she looked down on his stunned face, slightly turned to the left due to the hit. “Wake up Gaara. There isn’t even a guarantee that you can save Naruto if you give him your heart. Hell, the chance that he actually lives is so small that the doctors wouldn’t even perform a transplantation on him.” Her face softened. “And besides, why would you throw away the life that he has given to you?”
A lone tear escaped from Gaara’s eyes, slowly falling to the ground. A small sniff racked his body and gradually, more tears followed. Matsuri relaxed her hold on Gaara’s arms when she deemed it safe and let go. She lifted herself up from her straddling position and sat down next to Gaara, pulling him into a hug. They just sat like that for a while, with only the sound of Gaara’s sobs filling the air. When he calmed a bit, Matsuri spoke again.
“Naruto doesn’t deserve death – we both know that – but we can’t fight something that is out of our reach.” Matsuri patted and rubbed his back as his tears soaked her scrubs, and slowly the heaves reduced to small sniffs again. “You don’t deserve death either. And you know that Naruto would not be able to live with the knowledge that your heart is beating in his chest.”
No sound from Gaara was heard, except for the occasional sniff, but then Matsuri felt a small nod. She smiled relieved, holding back her own tears, and tightened the hug.
“Sometimes it is better to just let go.”
Naruto died six days later of a heart attack at 4:57 A.M in Konoha Hospital with a content smile on his face, one hand holding Hinata’s, his girlfriend, and the other holding Gaara’s.