When she first found the old photos, she had no idea the impact they would have on not just her own life, but the lives of countless others as well.
Let us start at the beginning, shall we?
There were two sisters that were born in a village made up of a special sort of fighter. They called themselves shinobi. This village was called Sunagakure, or the Village Hidden in the Sand.
One sister would go on to marry the future Kazekage, and give birth to three children. Temari, Kankuro and Gaara. She would die due to the complications of her youngest son's birth, and because of the monster they would force him to carry.
The other sister would leave the village entirely to pursue the world outside the Elemental nations, and eventually settle in a country called Japan. There, she would meet a man and give birth to a single daughter, Nozomi.
For ten long years, Nozomi had no idea of her cousins, much less the fact her mother had come from a land outside Japan.
Shortly before her eleventh summer, that would change. And with it, the fate of many.
When Nozomi found the photos, she had been mildly interested. When she found the letters though, a stirring of hope filled her.
It was only when she figured out where the letters were sent and how to get there that an idea began to form.
"Do you have everything you want to take with you, sweetie?" asked Nana.
"I think so, Mama," said Nozomi.
"Remember what I told you about my old village, right?"
"Don't talk to anyone with a scratched out headband, don't leave the village itself, and be sure to only use ryo while I'm there because the yen has to be converted at the banks first," repeated Nozomi. "Also, I have to deliver the letter first to the leader to prove who I am."
Nana beamed at her.
"I'm so proud of you! I hope you enjoy your visit to my old home," said Nana.
"Are you sure you don't want to come, Mama?"
"That's sweet of you dear, but I think it would be good for you to have a little adventure of your own. Normally I would hesitate sending you off to another country, but the hidden villages are fairly safe for civilians to visit on their own. Besides, it's less than a day's trip between the veil."
"Mama, what's the veil?"
"The Veil is a massive illusion that keeps the Elemental countries more or less a secret. While normal people can pass through it, it keeps the world governments from becoming too foolish when it comes to the inhabitants. Sunagakure is very close to the borders of Kyoto, less than a day's travel. Of course there are a few areas which does regular trade within the veil."
Fortunately there was a boat willing to travel from Namimori to Suna, even if it would take an extra day to get there.
Nozomi shouldered her bag, and took the ticket her mother had purchased for her. She had a special visa to enter the village, one that her aunt had sent her mother a long time ago. She also had the bank card that belonged to her mother's old accounts, one that was occasionally added to whenever her mother sent a letter to her old home.
This was her first time outside Namimori. She was almost excited, and at the same time terrified.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped onto the boat.
The Kazekage was more than mildly terrifying. If anything he actually doubted her claim until she produced a photo that had previously been lost. Seeing as how there was only one other copy, it was hard to dismiss her tale.
Particularly since he knew perfectly well he had a sister-in-law who had left the village over a decade ago. It didn't hurt that the girl looked quite a bit like her mother.
"You will have the same general access as any other civilian in the village. If we catch you in the restricted areas, you will be arrested," he said flatly. "Temari and Kankuro just got off a mission and will be restricted to the village for the next week. Seek them out at your leisure."
It wouldn't be later that Nozomi realized he made no mention of Gaara.
Suna was hot, dry and very confusing. As for Temari and Kankuro, they seemed to stick to a restricted training ground, which meant Nozomi would have to wait in order to meet them properly. Gaara, on the other hand, seemed to be taboo among everyone. Even mentioning him got her dark looks and hushed whispers.
She was baffled as to why.
Nozomi was almost fed up with the attitude. It was ridiculous! It wasn't like Gaara was as terrifying as Hibari-sempai, right?
Spotting a red head with a gourd and a headband tied to the sash, she tried one last time. If he gave her the same cryptic answers about her cousins, she was just going to give up and hope one of the shinobi passed along that she wanted to meet with them.
"Excuse me, do you know where I can find Gaara, Kankuro or Temari?" she asked patiently.
The red head with almost dull looking green eyes looked at her oddly.
"What do you want with Gaara?" he asked. There was a strange tone in his voice and a sense of impending violence.
"I want to meet my cousin, but every time I try to ask where I can find them I just get weird looks and hushed whispers, especially if I mention him. And from what I was told, the other two are in a restricted training ground which means I can't look for them directly," she said irritably.
"I am Gaara."
Nozomi blinked, before she beamed at him. There was a slightly startled look at the 'sunshine and sparkles' that came off her smile.
"Hello Gaara. I'm your cousin Nozomi through your mother. Mama was rather happy that I wanted to see her old village," she said brightly.
"You... wanted to meet me?" he said confused.
"Why wouldn't I want to meet you? We are family, after all," said Nozomi, tilting her head.
Gaara stared at her, as if she was some alien life form.
Nozomi then took notice of the hushed whispers around them. They were fearful, disbelieving and far more sinister than any she heard about Hibari-sempai.
As sensing her confusion, she then saw an odd gold glint slowly pouring out of the gourd on his back. It took her a moment to realize what it was.
"Is that...sand? How is it doing that? Floating about I mean?" she asked with open curiosity.
"I control it," he said. More of it poured out, and to her utter fascination it formed different shapes.
"That's amazing! How are you doing that?" she said, openly impressed and with her full attention on what he was doing, even if everyone around her shirked back in fear.
Gaara didn't know what to think of his cousin. This was the first time anyone had shown a positive reaction to his ability to use sand, let alone talked to him this civilly without any hint of fear.
He almost jerked back when Nozomi reached out and actually touched the sand voluntarily, without showing disgust.
"This feels a bit different from the sand I've seen so far. What's it made out of?" she asked with open curiosity.
"Sand and blood," he said, to see how she would react.
There wasn't much disgust in her expression, but there was open confusion.
"But it's not that red. And I don't smell any copper or anything. And wouldn't blood make it stick together?" she asked baffled.
"How do you know so much about the consistency of blood?" asked Gaara.
"It's basic knowledge about blood. I know it tends to get tacky when it starts to dry until it turns brown," said Nozomi.
In reality she had so much trouble with bullying and having to learn how to bandage herself up that she learned a few things about how it worked. But she wasn't about to say as much to her cousin.
Gaara had a strange feeling in his chest, one he didn't really recognize.
Turning, he found his 'siblings' practically running to him looking openly alarmed and worried, along with his 'sensei'.
Nozomi turned to face them without an ounce of fear towards the fact she was well within his kill range if he used his sand. Almost as if she didn't regard him as a threat to begin with.
"Are you Temari and Kankuro? I've been looking all over the village for you, but all the shinobi would tell me was that you were in a training ground and not to be disturbed."
Temari had to blink at the sunshine and sparkles that came off Nozomi's smile. She had a rather strained one of her own...mostly because of the girl's close proximity towards Gaara.
She also didn't mention the fact that the only reason they rushed here was because she heard a girl fitting their cousin's description was talking to Gaara and was well within his range of death.
Nozomi turned to Gaara.
Dinner was a heavily tense affair, mainly because Nozomi wanted to talk a bit more with Gaara. The redhead seemed very confused by this, which made Temari's heart hurt. She was all too aware how rare it was for anyone to interact with Gaara as easily as Nozomi did.
Nozomi was a civilian, almost painfully so for the shinobi. And yet for some bizarre reason she had more balls than most of the shinobi forces.
Temari could state that with absolute honesty, because Nozomi showed zero fear around Gaara, even when he was in a murderous mood.
Nozomi walked up to Gaara, who's eyes glinted with death and madness. His sand rose in anticipation of the future bloodshed.
She touched his arm, and frowned.
"Why does your arm feel like sandpaper?"
Gaara blinked, his bloodlust temporary averted by his confusion... mostly because she was touching him.
"It's my sand armor."
"Wait... you have an undetectable armor?" she said with open interest. "How do you create something like that?"
Gaara's attention was now more focused on her, rather than the poor fool who caught his deadly gaze.
"I...don't know?" he said confused.
"I'd love to have sand armor like that...so would a lot of other people in Namimori, come to think of it. It would certainly frustrate Hibari-sempai I would bet."
Temari latched onto that name, trying to stave off the oncoming headache.
"He's the demon prefect of Namimori. He likes to fight people a lot, but he never goes after anyone he knows are weaker than him," said Nozomi, matter of fact. "Considering your village is full of fighters, he'd probably love it here and challenge all the top ranking ones in a heartbeat if he ever visited. Not even the yakuza dare to step out of line because he'd bite them to death."
Temari stared at her.
"You have demons outside the veil?"
"It's more of a nickname. Though he certainly fights like one. Fortunately the worst I've had to suffer was a few bruises for being late to school," said Nozomi.
It took Temari a few moments to register the fact Gaara had gone from a murderous state to a positively relaxed one. As in he wasn't about to go on another rampage filled with casualties and maiming, not around Nozomi at least.
He seemed more interested in hearing about life outside the veil, a fact Temari latched onto like a lifeline.
Or perhaps he had developed an interest in their cousin.
So Temari changed the subject, trying to find out more about this 'Namimori' where Nozomi and their aunt lived. If only to keep Gaara diverted from killing anyone who could potentially irritate him.
She had no idea of the potential heart attack waiting to happen later that night.
A few hours later...
Nozomi had dismissed it at first, but now that she actually looking at him she was puzzled about something.
"Aren't you sleepy? Bags under the eyes like that can't be normal."
"I can't sleep."
Nozomi winced with sympathy.
"More like the guards won't let me sleep," clarified Gaara.
Gaara paused, wondering if he should share this with her. He didn't want her to run away like the rest.
"I've learned to adjust to it," he said finally. He didn't want her to know about Shukaku. Not yet anyway.
Nozomi carefully got onto the roof, and sat down next to Gaara. Strangely, he barely registered the fact she was inside his personal space. It felt rather comforting.
She looked up at the night sky, which was so much clearer without the exhaust fumes and other annoyances that tended to muck up the skyline.
"Do you know any of the stars?" she asked, curious.
Gaara looked up. He had always observed the night sky, but outside of being able to navigate by them he didn't really know much about them.
He pointed out a constellation.
"Following that one would lead to Earth country," he said finally.
Nozomi smiled at him, and he relaxed.
"What about that one?" she asked, pointing to a different set of stars.
"Following those for five nights without stopping and at a shinobi's pace would lead you to Lightning country," he said.
Nozomi pointed out a new one.
"Four days travel to the Land of Fire, and to Konohagakure," he replied.
It was about that time he realized he was leaning against her, and it felt very nice. Not in a romantic sense, but more of a familiar way. Like the old bear he had lost so long ago. It felt like home, in a way he never thought it could.
Besides, he was well aware that first cousins shouldn't marry. The chances of genetic defects would skyrocket if they did, because the bloodlines were too close.
Nozomi's voice was soothing, almost distracting in a way. He didn't even realize when he feel asleep, just that he felt safe in a way that was almost long forgotten.
Two roofs away
When the girl went onto the roof, they had ignored it. Nozomi Sawada had proven to be a strange creature capable of getting past Gaara's defenses and somehow calming him from going on a snit again.
They heard the snore, and dismissed it for a few seconds thinking she had fallen asleep next to the demon brat.
That dismissal turned into alarm and shock when they realized it was Gaara snoring on Nozomi's lap...and Shukaku was nowhere to be seen.
Gaara was almost sound asleep, and Shukaku wasn't out.
"What the fuck?!" said Lizard in shocked disbelief.
"Someone go report this to the Kazekage, now," said Wolf.
The third guard bolted, shaken by the fact Gaara was currently sleeping.
He would rather face the Kazekage's ire about letting that happen than be anywhere near the area when the demon finally made an appearance!
To say the Kazekage was both pissed (that Gaara had been allowed to fall asleep in the first place) and not believing a word that the messenger had said (because Shukaku wasn't out if that was the case) was an understatement.
Except when he got there, he saw the truth for himself.
Gaara was sleeping peacefully on an amused Nozomi's lap and there wasn't a single sign of the demon being out. A guard threw a senbon in the general vicinity of the two, and while Nozomi barely registered it, Gaara's defense reacted.
Though it was a bit more sluggish than normal. Almost lazy in fact.
The Kazekage looked to his men, baffled.
"We don't know sir. She's able to get past his defenses and even calm the brat down without any trouble at all. We can't explain it."
He knew it wasn't anything to do with Nana. If that were the case then there was a high chance her sister would have had it, or their children. So it had to do with the man Nana had married. Perhaps he had a hidden kekkei genkai, one more effective than the Sharingan?
On the other roof, Gaara slept on, mostly oblivious to his father's scheming while Nozomi stroked his hair. It was ridiculously fluffy.