Chapter 1: Before I Forget
"Are you sure you want to do this, Kazekage sama?" Kakashi Hatake, the six Hokage asked him for the umpteenth time.
They had been talking the issue to death for the last twelve hours, deciding when and where to seal the free tailed beasts. The eight-tailed jinchuriki and Tsunade Senju would spend the next year sealing bijuu for the Allied Shinobi Forces.
"Yes, I am absolutely certain," Gaara monotoned.
"Let's say if this procedure were to actually work? What safeholds will the Allied Shinobi Force put in place to protect the citizens of Sunagakure if Kazekage sama were to lose control of the Ichibi?" Goza, a councilor of Suna asked.
Gaara grit his teeth, he had gained control of Shikaku once, sure it had taken a dozen or so years but he had done it and been a faithful protector of Suna ever since. Did they still think so little of him.
Gaara looked around at the gathered Kages and their councils and other various important individuals in each village.
No one spoke for awhile and it grew awkward.
Kakashi Hatake sighed and looked to Gaara and his council, "Konohagakure, as an ally of Sunagakure will station to shinobi as protection for the duraiton of year while your Kazekage relearns to control the Ichibi should he survive the sealing. Should the Ichibi attack your village, our shinobi will protect Sunagakure as a symbol of our growing alliance. Is this acceptable?"
Gaara nodded immediately but his council chattered for a moment behind him before concuring.
Goza spoke up once more, "We graciously accept the kind offer put forth by our generous allies from Konohagakure and humbly ask that one such protector be the Kyuubi vessel, should Kazakage sama survive."
Gaara froze, Hatake would have to accept but Gaara knew that Naruto Uzumaki was still recovering from her battle with the last Uchiha, adjusting to her new arm, her health may not be up to task. There was also the problem of leaving Konohagakure without their Jinchuriki protector, but Konoha did seem to have a superfluous amount of powerful ninjas, Konoha would be in good hands.
It would be easy to accept knowing Gaara's slim chances at survival. Still, the thought excited Gaara, though they didn't have much contact, he considered the Kyuubi vessel his greatest of friends. It would be a good year.
Gaara screams as the ink of the seal begins to dry, it burns and twists, he can feel Shikaku enter him once more, his poweful energy burning his way through his chakra channels once more.
Why did he think this would be easy?
He had heen confident before but as the pain pulsated through him, doubt began to find it's way in through the pain the Shikaku carved through him.
Had it hurt this much as a fetus? Is that why they sealed these monsters inside of infants? So they wouldn't remember the pain? Who were the real monsters here?
Red began to taint his vision, like a drop of ink into water, slowly spreading through him. The bloodlust began to return.
Gaara began to seize as he fought the impulse, someone shoved something into his mouth as he fought not to swallow his tongue.
They had said that the chance of an adult surviving a sealing was 0.01 percent but being a previous container of said bijuu, Tsunade Senju had been generous with a five percent surivival rate.
He could do this. If Gaara hadn't volunteered, if he died again, a poor infant from his home would be subject to this terrible fate. Likely a relation would be chosen, the only candidate would be his sister's baby, Temari was only six months pregnant, living in Konoha with her husband but the Allied Shinobi Force would likely force her to move to Suna once more.
Gaara could survive, he had too, he told himself as his tremors grew stronger, his screams unrecognizeable to his ears, animalistic.
The last thing he saw before losing consciousness were bright blue eyes
Chapter 2: The Red
My headcanon: Since Kurama is always sealed in an Uzumaki, in my head Shukaku stays in Gaara's, especially since the role of Kazekage does as well
Why was no one helping her?
Gaara watched, beaten and defeated as Naruto was overtaken by Pein, as Konoha was destroyed and their Suna reinforcements were as beaten and broken as the Leaf nin.
WHY WAS NO ONE HELPING HER?!
Gaara couldn't move.
Her Sage chakra depleted, her old toad master skewered.
Naruto herself was being skewered by the leader.
Still she didn't break.
Gaara watched as a dark-haired kunoichi jumped to her defense, elated but he knew the pale-eyed female wouldn't be enough. Gaara commended her strength, her courage, and her loyalty to Naruto, surely she would die protecting her friend.
Gaara shook with rage as the female was cut down, if Shukaku was still sealed within him, he would have broken by now, boiled over, Shukaku would have joined in on the devastation by now.
"Oh no," Gaara whispered as he watched Naruto's vision go red, not once had he seen the happy-go-lucky kunoichi lose herself before, not when she had defeated him years ago, not when she had chased the traitor as he fled to Otogakure. She was better than that. She was so better than that.
Gaara watched as her body turned black and red, pure volatile energy, tails and teeth burst forth, the Kyuubi keening for blood.
He could hear the crunching of her bones as she transformed into the beast.
The feeling of the chakra chilled him to the bone. How could a girl full of such light, be overflowing with such darkness?
Sparks flew as tail after tail formed, boney claws as sharp as knives and skeleture twisted and formed over her dark chakra, the only tangible parts of her left.
Earth and stone crumbled as the beast charged, overtaking Pein with ease. Explosions wracked the destroyed village as the nine tails attacked Pein.
The man who had easily decimated both Konoha and Suna's forces, looked like an untrained genin compared to the monster attacking him.
Green light burst from her/it's chest, attempting to overcome the darkness spewing forth but the beast shattered it with one claw.
Dropping a mountain on her/it did nothing. It crawled out of the detritus even larger, the chakra even more darkly potent.
The beast bayed for blood, unrelentless in it's attack.
Goosebumps formed all over Gaara's body, the parts he could still feel after his defeat.
He had thought them the same but he had been utterly wrong.
The monster in her was far stronger than his had ever been. How had she contained this evil so long, fought it's consumption?
Erase anything that causes you pain.
Give me your soul, your spirit, your vital essence.
Give it to me.
And in exchange, I will rescue you from your pain.
Blackness was all he knew.
Floating through eternal darkness, numb, escaped from the eternal pain. But then red began to creep it, like grains of sand being blown by the wind, so slowly did the red creep into him. Everything was dark until scenes ebbed in and out of existence before his eyes, burning into his head, Gaara punched at his temples, straining, forcing it away. But to no avail, the vision came to life.
Blood raining down on him as he crushed a corpse with his sand. The sweet, deliciously sweet sound of crushing bone that once-and now again- sent shivers down his spine in pleasure. The scent of iron and salt a familiar friend, like coming home, enveloping him in a warm hug.
It disappeared and blackness consumed him once more.
The next thing he saw intermittent with the darkness was his pale hands stained crimson, the feel of running them over his face.
Darkness consumed him again.
Gaara could hear happy humming. Next to him. All around him. His senses were a raw nerve and the sound grated on him, battered on his sensitive ears.
Who dared to happily hum over his dead body? His corpse wasn't even cold yet and they dared to laugh?
He lashed out, swiping his hand at the voice and heard a scream.
Full consciousness came to him like a punch to the stomach, violently and without mercy.
Two people tackled him and held him down in a flash of orange and green. His vision returned in a blur, slowly clearing until he saw Naruto and Lee holding him down.
Gaara heard crying across the room, his pregnant sister shaking in her husband's arms, her face was bruised and the swelling seemed to only get worse. A medic nin, Naruto's teammate with the pink hair that had saved his brother's life had her hand over his sister's swelling belly, cooling green chakra probing at his nephew.
Dread settled into Gaara, please please please kami no.
They all stayed still, Lee and Naruto holding him down, after a few agonizing moments the medic nin, Sakura, her name came to him, smiled.
"He's doing great! The jump in your heart rate has him excited, he's moving around happily right now," Sakura smiled, "If you want I can help ease that swelling."
Temari nodded and her eyes flickered back to Gaara, he could practically taste her fear, the scent of it was so pungent in the confined space they were in.
His heightened senses were back. They had to be in Konoha's hospital, the smell of antiseptic and sickness in the air, seeping under the door of his room, was making him nauseous.
Gaara caught Temari's gaze and she flinched at the eye contact, his heart sank, his voice was hoarse, his throat felt like he had swallowed sand and perhaps he had, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
She gave him that look she used to give him, before Naruto had come into his life, that look of unconditioal love mixed with fear and pity. The I'll-love-you-know-matter-what-even-if-you're-a-monster look. He wanted her old look back, the look of warmth and pride.
"Please, don't be afraid," Gaara called out as Sakura opened the door for Temari and Shikamaru, leading them away, "I'm sorry, please don't hate me again."
Temari looked back, "It's okay, I'm okay, I'll see you soon, okay?"
Naruto and Lee helped him off of the floor for his limbs didn't seem to want to work right.
"I guess I can't sleep again," Gaara flopped onto the hospital bed, realizing he was terribly hot but didn't have a shirt on, he looked down at his stomach to see a black seal.
Lee turned to the bedside table where a plastic pitcher and cup sat and poured a glass before turning back to hand it to Gaara. Gaara clenched the glass and took a small, nervous sip.
The icy water cooled him a bit but only made the nausea worse.
With his free hand he traced the black seal, flinching under his touch, the skin was tender like a bandaged wound.
"It's similar to mine, you didn't have seal before did you?" Naruto's cheerful voice brought him out of his reverie and he turned his head to look at her, holding her shirt up to just at the start of her rib cage with her new right arm, the hand was still bandaged, it had been a year since she had lost her limb but Gaara wasn't sure when Tsunade Senju had created her new one. Gaara's eyes drifted to her stomach, despite her tan, the seal was impossibly dark, though similar hers had sword and seemed more complex than his.
Gaara hadn't had a seal before, Shukaku had been sealed into him while he was still inside of his mother, he nodded at Naruto, "It feels strange."
"It always will, especially when your stomach is empty," She smiled at him, whiskers stretching on her cheeks, "Never let your stomach go empty."
Lee clapped a hand to his back and Gaara flinched, he had forgotten how affectionate the taijutsu expert was, "Let's get you something to eat."
Gaara nodded, looking from Lee to Naruto, "Did-Did I hurt anyone else?"
Naruto and Lee both flinched, Gaara felt panic set in, he grabbed Naruto's wrist, the one she hadn't lost and squeezed, he needed honesty, not spared feelings, "Did I? Tell me."
Naruto's blue eyes were full of compassion, "Yes, a medic shinobi that was monitoring your vitals during the sealing."
Gaara looked down at this hands, they had washed them clean but there was still dry blood hiding in his nail beds, Gaara looked down.
Lee patted his shoulder, "He knew was he was volunteering for, it was an accident, please don't beat yourself over this, my friend."
"How can I not? Everything I've worked for gone in an instant," Gaara seethed, ashamed and angry.
"You're a hero Gaara," Naruto sat on the hospital bed, using a finger to tilt his chin back up, she looked into his eyes, "You survived against the odds, saved your nephew from becoming the next Ichibi host. One accident doesn't define you, you're still in control."
"I'm still control, I'm still in control," Gaara chanted, doubting it.
Chapter 3: Coming Undone
Blood ran down Gaara's face, a lover's caress. As close as he would ever get to human contact, better than it, of that he was sure.
Sand swirled around him in finger-like ways, dancing to his enemy's dying screams.
They wanted a monster and they made one, it wasn't his fault, Shukaku whispered, they deserved it.
Shukaku was the only one who spoke to him, cared for him, soothed his sadness.
He wasn't along as long as Shukaku was with him
Gaara was happy to oblige.
Gaara shook as laughter joined their screams. Was it him or Shukaku.
Seven days had passed, Gaara later found out, and it was time for the final meeting of the first annual Allied Shinobi Forces summit.
A week ago, before Shukaku was sealed inside of him, at the Allied Shinobi Force meeting, his council had sat behind him, less than a foot away from him.
Now, they sat in another part of the room. In fact, the entire surrounding benches were vacant, people crowding the rest of the room. Fear tinged the air and Gaara glanced at Naruto twitching her nose in annoyance.
Naruto and Lee seemed to be the only ones who believed in him, even his council didn't trust him anymore. Temari had not come back to see him, the thoughts of hurting his pregnant sister weighed heavily on his heart, even in his darkest days, she and Kankuro stood by him. The thought of almost hurting his unborn nephew made him sick.
If he trusted himself to sleep, surely he still wouldn't be able too. Stale hospital coffee had kept him going the night before, it would be hell readjusting to his old schedule.
Gaara stared blankly at the tightly pinched faces around him.
His reputation preceded him, Gaara felt like his father's rabid dog all over again.
Naruto and Lee flanked him on either side, Lee apparently volunteered to be his other helper/jailer. It didn't surprise him, the strange but caring man considered Gaara a friend. Though perplexing, Gaara hoped to earn that loyalty that had so easily been given, he couldn't let Lee or Naruto down. He could do this.
"We will leave on the morrow for the Sand, the Jishaku family will pay the Tanaka family restitution and cover the costs of both funeral and cremation," Councilor Joseki informed the ASF, voice dripping with false sympathy, Joseki had never liked him nor his father save for his father's ability to manipulate gold dust, Joseki was only concerned in profit for the village and didn't care for the ninja that made him money. Joseki had been on the council for a long time and Gaara had a strong memory of being a child and overhearing the man telling his father to put him out of his misery.
Were they back to this? Mistrust once more.
Used as a symbol for Sunagakure's power. A figurehead leader. He wouldn't be manipulated into the background again, he had earned his role.
"I would like to apologize to the Tanaka family, if they will see me," Gaara spoke up, asking Kakashi Hatake, interrupting Joseki.
"I don't thi-" Joseki began but Gaara held up a hand.
"Silence," Gaara monotoned, turning his eyes to meet Joseki's knowing it unsettled the man, almost everyone really.
Kakashi Hatake chuckled, "I will ask, no promises."
The Hokage turned his focus to Naruto and Lee.
"Rock Lee and Naruto-chan, you've had your briefing and your orders, should these orders divert from the Sunagakure council, you are to follow the ASF orders and contact us immediately should anything go awry. At predetermined dates and times to remain priveleged, Lady Tsunade Senju will check on the health of Kazekage Gaara Jishaku."
A, the Raikage, spoke from Kakashi Hatake's side, "Furthermore, B, the Eight Tails Jinchuriki, at random intervals through the year, will check the integrity of the seal and provide insight on controlling the Ichibi."
"Thank you, Sunagakure gladly and humbly accepts the aid of Konohagakure and Kumogakure," Gaara answered.
"And what happens if Sunagakure decides to turn it's new weapon on another village hmm?" Onoki the Tsuchikage chimed in.
Without missing a beat A answered, "Kumo will dispatch the Eight Tails to any attacked country's aid."
Naruto gasped beside him.
Kakashi Hatake's eyes narrowed, perhaps frowning or thinking of his response.
"Though I hope it won't come to this, Konoha would dispatch the Nine Tails to any attacked country's aid," Kakashi finally answered, looking at Naruto.
Gaara heard Naruto's knuckles crack beside him, anger was rolling off of her in waves, her chakra flared angrily.
"If we're finished here, this meeting of the Allied Shinobi Forces is adjourned, good luck to all parties and until the next gathering," A finished and people funneled out of the room until it was only Gaara, Lee, Kakashi and Naruto.
"So you will dispatch the Nine Tails huh?" Naruto yelled at the Hokage, angrily waving her arms around.
"What was I supposed to do? To maintain the peace amongst our countries, I have to give in to these asanine things. You will have to once you become Hokage," Kakashi chided Naruto attempting to ruffle her hair but Naruto dodged and glared.
"Am I still just the Nine Tails? Some weapon to be dispatched? I thought we were all past that," Naruto growled, "Seriously, sensei, you couldn't even say you would send me, Naruto Uzumaki, to help Gaara. Not dispatch the Nine Tails? I'm more than that, Kurama is more than that."
"Naruto, this is silly thinking, I just-" Kakashi stopped himself, obviously unsure what to say, "I know you're more than just a Jinchuriki, that both you, B and Gaara-san are more. For what's it's worth I'm sorry."
"That's right," Naruto smiled, her temper gone as quickly as it came, "So how about we go get something to eat?"
"The barbeque place would be great! Protein is very important for the body of an active duty nin," Lee smiled, sounding like he was reciting a lesson from something but Gaara couldn't place it.
"Actually, I believe, the rest of your friends are throwing you a farewell party, if the Kazekage is up to it?" Kakashi looked to Gaara.
Gaara could handle a dinner surrounded by Leaf nin, how bad could it be?
It was far worse than Gaara thought.
On top of the rowdy and obnoxious group of ninja present, there were also three very pregnant and miserable kunoichi as well as the traitor silently watching him.
Gaara was relieved to see his sister, she had even given him a small smile but hadn't spoken to him. True to her word, the medic Sakura had greatly reduced the swelling in his sister's face, even the discoloration had toned down quite a bit overnight or perhaps it was a henge or even makeup.
Either way his sister looked a bit better and even fought the other two pregnant kunoichi for the medic nin approved pregnant meal. Sakura the medic clucked over them like a mother hen, checking on Temari, the pale blonde kunoichi and the mahogany-skinned redhead frequently.
Lee seemed to be the only one besides Gaara and the pregnant women who wasn't drinking, instead engaging Gaara in friendly conversation that Gaara tried his best at.
Still, Gaara's eyes drifted to Naruto, probably the rowdiest of them all, except maybe for the brown-haired man with red triangles on his tanned cheeks.
Naruto and a heavier set shinobi had started an eating contest that Sakura and the pregnant pale blonde had quickly nipped in the bud, Gaara was realizing that these two women were quite bossy and obviously in charge.
It seemed odd that Naruto wasn't in charge with her power level and all but it made Gaara realize he didn't really know her in social situations. He only really knew her on missions and in combat. Gaara was observant, often excluded in social situations over the years and it made him an excellent observer. Naruto was definitely not the bossiest of her group but she was the life of the party and the instigator of any troublemaking it seemed.
It was strange to see a jinchuriki surrounded by so many friends, the focus of attention and not even in the negative way he was used to.
The traitor was watching her too, Gaara noticed, despite arriving hand-in-hand with the pink haired kunoichi, he hadn't once looked at or spoken to his date and instead remained focused Naruto.
The last Uchiha didn't join the large group, the group shunning him. Gaara knew that feeling but adamantly refused to sympathize with the traitor.
Dinner soon passed and a series of obnoxious drinking games followed suit. Gaara watched the festivities with Lee, quickly learning that Lee was a master of the drunken fist and couldn't be trusted to drink. He also learned that Naruto couldn't get drunk, that the Nine Tails filtered out the toxicity of her system just like it would poison or sadly anesthesia, Naruto proudly displayed her new arm, showing off the scar where they had stitched it onto her remaining nub without any sort of pain reliever. She even called the traitor a sissy for taking meds at which the Uchiha glared but said nothing back, making Naruto laugh and clapping the tall, dark-haired man on the back in jest.
Lee, Gaara found out, had a deep, unrequited love for the bossy medic nin and despite her obvious attachment to the Uchiha, he still relentlessly pursued her and spent most of the night trying to bring her into their conversation.
Poor Lee, Gaara thought, though friendly, the female seemed to only have eyes for the traitor.
It was completely stupid what the Uchiha seemed to get away with and still remain in the lives of his female teammates. What had he done to garner such loyalty?
Nothing, Gaara answered himself with bitterness.
There seemed to be a lot of this emotional drama going around the room and Gaara wondered how Naruto dealt with the shear annoyance of it all.
Gaara looked back to her to find her dancing on a table singing a song with the rest of the group. She mainly danced with the kunoichi, mainly two, one brunette with buns on the crown of her head and the same raven-haired kunoichi from Pein's attack but it wasn't just kunoichis it was all her friends except him and the traitor. The two odd ones out.
His heart pounded hard in his chest and his stomach felt sour watching her get twirled around by the shinobi Gaara recognized as the Third Hokage's grandson. Lee had left his side and was dancing with his friends too, twirling both the brunette kunoichi with the hair buns and Sakura.
With each twirl and peal laughter that escaped Naruto, the knots in his stomach twisted more and more. The seal itched on his stomach like hell.
It took him awhile to identify the feeling.
Gaara was jealous.
Part of Gaara yearned to enjoy himself by her side, how did she keep such an upbeat attitude through such diversity, how was she so utterly perfect? He wanted to be half as happy, he wanted to have the same light within him, we wanted absorb her happiness.
Why did the thought of dancing and being happy make him want to destroy something?
Why did seeing her dance with others fill him with rage?
For the first time in his life Gaara was confused, he had emulated the orange clad ninja, wanted to be like her, not be with her. The thought was startling to him, he had enough to deal with.
Gaara looked back at the Uchiha, still seated like Gaara, he was watching Naruto too.
The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach grew worse.
His glass broke in his hand and the tangy smell of his blood filled his nostrils.
The entire party stopped to look and Gaara didn't know what to say.
He brought his bleeding hand to his mouth and swallowed the rich red liquid.
It seemed to calm his adrenaline a bit but he could still feel Shukaku twirling for release, wanting to come out to play.
He couldn't help but feel he was losing this battle, Shukaku hadn't garnered the strength to speak in his mind like he used to but Gaara knew it was only a matter of time.
Gaara knew he had done the right thing though, taking Shukaku instead of his nephew or some poor child of his homeland. He only hoped that if he lost control, Naruto could kill him.
Gaara lost himself in his thoughts and didn't notice Naruto and Lee surround him once more whispering encouraging words. So lost in his personal fight, he didn't notice Sakura come over to heal his hand.
But he did know he ended the party.
Lee and Naruto hadn't been able to sleep long, Gaara would say about three hours but Gaara wasn't sure, he had spent the night exercising, trying to keep his mind off of his new demonic roommate and other things he refused to have come alive in the form of words, even in his head.
Usually-before, when he had been Bijuu free, three hours was more than enough rest for him but others, normal people, slept longer. Lee popped up before Naruto, full of energy, the enthusiastic man immediately began his day by performing a thousand one handed pushups, a thousand each hand!
Gaara joined in, if he were to be following Naruto's diet to keep his cursed seal from agitating him, he would be needing the exercise.
Lee had been terribly happy about Gaara joining him and Gaara couldn't help but feel elated that he had finally seemed to do something right.
About thirty minutes later, Naruto had rolled out of bed, groaning for breakfast and the two male ninja finally gave into her begging for ramen one last time before leaving Konohagakure for a year.
Gaara tried not to notice her adorably askew bed head, the sleepy way she rubbed her eyes or the exaggerated cat-like stretches she did. It was sensory overload for him and he wasn't sure what to make of it.
It didn't take her long to get ready, returning from the bathroom wearing her shapeless orange and black tracksuit, hair pulled into lazy pigtails. Lee ran a comb through his hair and Gaara did the same.
It was still dark when they left Gaara's guest suite, the tiniest hints of light beginning to stream from behind the Hokage monument. The streets were quiet save for vendors beginning to prepare their shops and stalls for a busy day. Smells of food bombarded Gaara's nose and he realized how ravenous he was.
They finally reached the ramen stand and Naruto practically bounced between the curtains and to the counter, hopping in her usual seat.
"Naruto-chan!" The old man behind the counter greeted, nodding his head in welcome to Gaara and Lee as they sat next to her.
"Old man Teuchi! I'm going to miss you!" Naruto crooned, he didn't bother asking her what she wanted and set a bowl of pork ramen in front of her.
Gaara ordered chicken ramen and Lee ordered a vegetable ramen.
They ate in relative silence and after Naruto hugging the ramen stand owner and his daughter they departed to the Konoha gate.
Their luggage had been picked up the night before so they would be free to travel unencumbered. The trip would take three days and Gaara was happy for it. Weary from travel, Shukaku wouldn't have the energy to emerge.
But the thought of being back into the conniving nest of vipers he called home and away from Naruto's encouraging group of friends wasn't pleasant.
The thought haunted them as they reached the gate. All of Lee and Naruto's friends had gathered for goodbyes. They found that Gaara's council had gone on ahead and he figured it would be for the best, he didn't want to lose it and kill one of the council members.
The thought made him smile though and he gave into the mental image. He smiled and watched as Lee and Naruto made their goodbyes, hugging all of their friends.
Temari came over to Gaara, waddling, she smiled at him and reached out.
Gaara took her hand as gently as possible, he had never seen his sister so fragile but neither had he seen her so beautiful. He couldn't wait to meet his nephew and desperately hoped he was still alive by then, that he could hold it together until then.
She seemed to know his train of thoughts and gave his hand a tight squeeze, "You've done this before, you can do this again."
Temari smiled and Gaara tried to return it. Only when she walked back to her husband, did he answer, under his breath he whispered, "I don't think I can."