Chapter Four

          Panpora laughed at Gaara and formed a seal with one hand. "You are the one who will never leave this place. Now," he said, staring into Gaara's pale blue eyes. "Die."

          Gaara's body jerked involuntarily. He clutched his head and felt his gorge rise. 'Stop it!' he thought, unable to speak and fell to his knees.

          "Gaara!" Temari shouted from her hiding place, drawing Panpora's attention. "Close your eyes, Gaara!"

          Panpora grinned wide. "Gaara…" he smiled. "This is great! You're Sabakuno Gaara?!" He laughed maniacally. "Maybe I'll let one of you live so that the world will know I killed the famous Gaara of the Desert!"

          Gaara twitched, trying hard to repress the dementia that was slowly taking hold of his consciousness. Kankurou ordered the shinobi to flee to the outskirts of the oasis and charged towards the kid. Panpora sneered at him. "What's this?" he asked. "Are you a clown or something?"

          "You don't know what you're in for," Kankurou growled and hurled kunai at him. Panpora laughed and formed the hand seals again.

          "I guess you don't want to be the one that lives!" Much to his surprise, Kankurou kept attacking. Kunai hit Panpora's arm and shoulder. "What are you guys?!" he shouted. Panpora threw shuriken at his head and the façade cracked. Karasu's frightening, skull-like face seemed to smile out from underneath.

          Temari suddenly became Kankurou, manipulating Karasu from a safe distance. Panpora spun around and looked for Gaara. The real Temari had Gaara under her arm and was bounding away. "Damn it!" he cursed. The distraction worked two-fold. When he turned his attention back to Karasu, a rather sizable smoke bomb was waiting for him. "It's too late! My jutsu has already worked!" he shouted through the smoky haze as the siblings made their escape.

          On the other side of the oasis, Temari and Kankurou laid Gaara down on the sand. He was breathing heavily. His eyes darted about, unfocused and scared.

          "We have to get out of her, Nee-chan," Kankurou urged.

          Temari glared at him. "Would you leave me behind, Kankurou?"

          "Well, no but…"

          "But what? He's my brother. I won't abandon him." Temari reached out gingerly and took Gaara's hand. He didn't react to her touch.

          "If It wakes up and we're here we're dead," Kankurou took her other hand. "Gaara would tell you to go"

          Temari remembered how Gaara threw her aside when he started to lose control the last time. She had hit a tree so hard she coughed up blood, but her brother had only done so because he hadn't wanted her to be harmed. "Gaara…" she whispered.

          "So that's his name," Rouzu commented as she let her presence be known, striding up to them, picking a bit of palm trunk husk off of her robes. The siblings practically jumped. "Relax. I'm with him." She held her hand to Gaara's head to feel the growing fever. "That little Panpora bastard did the same thing to me the other day."

          They blinked at her. "You mean…" Kankurou stuttered. "You survived?"

          "No, I'm a zombie!" she shouted and wiggled her fingers at him. "I think I'm the only one so far. But I have a reason to live." She patted her stomach. "You guys should probably split. When that kid comes back he'll do you over." Rouzu made a series of seals with her hands. "I only have enough chakra to protect myself and to help him. Go now. We'll clean up here."

          Temari made to shout at the strange woman, but Kankurou grabbed her arm. "She's right, Temari. Let's back off and see." Reluctantly she followed him, looking over her shoulder till she couldn't see them anymore.

          "Ok, Chibi. You better be worth this. I need you to protect me. I'm counting on you." She removed his headdress and touched her fingers to the "ai" scar. "I didn't have a chance to perform this jutsu on myself when he attacked me. Let's hope it works for you." She closed her eyes. "Kokorogawari no Jutsu!" His body went stiff for a moment as his mind reeled. Rouzu slumped to the ground at his side.

          Gaara let out a long breath. He looked down at the sleeping woman and blinked a few times. "What the hell was that? Oi…" He nudged her with his foot. "Oi… Onna…" Rouzu's mouth opened and she snored lightly. "Che. You'll tell me what you did to me later. Don't die." He raised a hand and covered most of her body in sand to camouflage her.

          "All right, Scorpion-boy," he called. "Catch me if you can!" Gaara darted out of the oasis in the other direction his siblings had run and a shadow flew after him.

          On the border of the oasis, Gaara stood and squared his shoulders. He looked to the foliage and watched Panpora materialize from the shadows. "I don't know how you managed to break free of my Jutsu, but now that you've had a taste of what I'm capable of I'll really have to give this battle my all."

          "You won't get a second chance," Gaara muttered. He could feel the hot-cold swirling sensation of Rouzu's healing Jutsu flowing through his veins. 'I've got another five minutes until this runs out. After that I will fall into his trap again.' His plan was set. Gaara formed a Suna Bunshin and sent it racing at the younger boy. Panpora smirked and vanished. He reappeared in front of Gaara, his black eyes shining, but to his surprise, they had no effect. He threw a punch and met a blast of protective sand. Panpora lingered just long enough for the bunshin to make it back and throw sand shuriken at him. Several of them met their mark. He growled and leapt away to form another plan.

          "What did you learn from me that you are unaffected by my Genjutsu?!"

          "Wouldn't you like to know," Gaara bluffed. The time was running out, but his plan was coming together. Gaara's back was to the oasis and Panpora had the vastness of the desert behind him. The sand in front of him wavered like water as if more bunshin were about to emerge. Panpora tried his Jutsu again and Gaara felt his chakra return to normal. 'That's it,' he thought. 'It's time.'

          "So this is the power of the great Sabakuno Gaara? You play like a child in a sandbox?!" Panpora shouted. "You might have killed hundreds of assassins but I've killed thousands of people with my skill and never lifted a finger!"

          Gaara smirked and raised his hand. He held two fingers up. "Sandbox?" he asked. "You should have respected Her."


          "The Desert," Gaara said with a sneer. A rumbling behind him drew Panpora's attention. He turned and his face fell. The desert looked like an ocean. A tsunami of sand crashed down on the both of them. Panpora screamed, but Gaara only smirked.

          When the sand was calm again Gaara resurfaced gracefully.

          The oasis was quiet. The birds and animals that had run for cover when the battle began slowly started to reemerge. Gaara went to the place where he left Rouzu and with a flick of his wrist called the sand away from her. "Daijoubu?" he asked.

          She looked out with one eye, noticed the coast was clear and awkwardly sat up. "Who would have thought I'd been saved by Sabakuno Gaara!" she declared and dusted herself off. "Mysterious ways, ne?"

          "Che," Gaara scoffed. He stood and waited for her.

          "So, Chibi. I'm thinking I can catch up with my own family in the port town of Azbar. Your trip got you headed to the coast?"

          Gaara nodded.

          "Shall we?"

          "I don't think he's going to hurt her…" From a few hundred feet away Temari squirmed as Kankurou held her back. "But I want to see what happens!" she hissed.

          "Temari," Kankurou made his sister face him. "I think he'll do just fine on his own."

          She pouted but relaxed and watched them go.

          Gaara breathed a sigh and shrugged. He grabbed his bag and Rouzu followed him out of the oasis, humming a Bedouin tune as she went.

          Another three days journey brought them to an expanse of rocky terrain that was both hard and hot on the feet. But all the while Rouzu never complained.

          "This way," she said and pointed to the south east. "The coastal trade-route is just over this hill."  They had hardly exchanged words on their trip from the oasis aside from the occasional rude camel joke from Rouzu. Gaara still wasn't sure if this was because she now knew his true identity. She could have been keeping silent out of fear, but then she wouldn't have slept in his presence or given him some of her provisions or… Gaara was deep in thought as the sun was rising and they were walking and Rouzu was telling another one of her gross jokes.

          "So Amhed raises his head up, spits and says, 'Hey…'"

          Gaara walked for another few feet before he realized she wasn't following. He sighed melodramatically. "Wha'd Amhed say, Onna?" When she didn't answer he turned and saw a very strange look on her face. "Can't be… Panpora again?"

          "Unfortunately not," she groaned and held her stomach. "I was hoping I could make it to Azbar, but no such luck."

          Gaara's face went whiter than ever before. "What…?" He noticed the woman's loose-fitting pants were damp. His head throbbed. "No. This can't be happening…"

          "Well it IS, Chibi! Welcome to life. Come on, I can make it to the beach if we hurry…" Rouzu stared into his pale blue eyes and waited for a response, but she could see the panic rising. "Come on, Chibi. I need your help now more than ever. I've been midwife for enough of these things that I know what to do. I'll tell you as you go, just don't lose it on me now, ok?"

          "My… My muh… My mother, she…" Gaara stuttered.

          "Gaara," Rouzu put her hands on his shoulders and stared down at him. "Please. Help me."

          In a daze the boy took her arm and tried to help shoulder her weight as they crossed over the rocky terrain to the beach.

          Over the hill the ocean and its cool breeze was a sufficient wake-up call. His jaw was set and his body was covered in cold sweat as he helped Rouzu sit down on the sand. His mind raced, trying to think of what to do. He could just bury her alive right now under the sand and no one would ever know. Well, Temari and Kankurou would probably figure it out. He looked up as Rouzu tried to suppress a groan. She needed his help. He was the only one who could.

          Soon, there wasn't time to think. It all happened so fast Gaara hardly knew what was going on, but when the baby came out, all odd-colored and slimy and screaming, time stopped. He watched her take the baby from him and do the cleanup herself with one hand, the other cradling her child. She was saying something, but Gaara was staring, open mouthed at the wailing infant.

          Rouzu laughed lightly, washed the baby off with her canteen and wrapped it in one of her shawls. "Hello?" she asked the boy. "Is Gaara at home?"

          "Are you ok?"

          "Fine, fine," she scoffed and stood up. "I think I'm going to name him Raaga. Is that ok?"

          Gaara looked slowly up at her, the late-day sun silhouetting her. "It's a boy?"

          Rouzu laughed again. "You made a pretty good mid-wife, you did!" Gaara bit his lip. "Something wrong, Chibi?"

          "Are you sure you're ok?"

          "Yeah, yeah! We desert women are made of pretty strong stuff."

          "My mother died when I was born."

          The ocean breeze whipped their clothes around and the baby boy called Raaga cried. "I'm sorry."

          "So am I," he whispered.

          To break the tension, Rouzu picked up her pack and cleared her throat. "Well, it's just another couple of hours to Azbar! Let's get a move on!"

          "I'm not going to Azbar," Gaara said and put on his own pack.

          "What?! But I thought that's where you were headed?"

          "I just wanted to see the ocean," he said, turned, looked out at the waves, turned back and started up the dunes. Rouzu's jaw dropped. She watched him climb for a few moments before calling out to him.

          "Don't worry! I won't go ruining your rep, Chibi! Thank you from the bottom of my heart! If you're ever roaming the seven deserts again, look me… no! Look us up!" she shouted and held Raaga up in the air. She waved and waved until finally, just at the top of the dune, Gaara turned and looked at her. She smiled and waved harder and she swore she saw him crack a smile before he disappeared over the horizon.