The world was a blur of colors and sound. Buildings in bright, cheery hues flashed by in a pinwheel and the loudest sound in his ears was that of his own labored breathing. He cleared the jump quickly to the tower in front of him and tried to ignore the panicked shouts of people behind him as more and more began to notice his presence.

Everything was in a perpetual state of vertigo, all sunlit and lined in the wallpaper of motion. It gave Gaara the overall feeling of running in one place on a giant wheel, where everything was moving but him. He was moving though - the only hint being that the ashen craggy bluff was steadily becoming larger in his vision.

The first shuriken whistled by Gaara's ear, alerting him of the presence of several shinobi who had begun the pursuit. Gaara put up his guard as much as he could without letting up speed while also checking his balance. The water within the gourd weighed a good amount less than the sand that had been its predecessor; he had to watch the way he ran more. He'd had much more time to get used to the sand than the water, so it was a great deal harder for him to concentrate. Gaara knew that his only hope lay in not getting caught by the leaf nin. Without his sand, he could handle two or three chuunin, but by the amount of pounding feet behind him, he knew that there were many more than that, and the numbers probably included jounin as well.

A piercing, acute pain on his left arm announced a hit from one of the massive amounts of throwing missiles that he had so far been able to dodge. Gaara didn't even look to assess the damage done and the weapon that had been used. It would only slow him down, and he couldn't afford that.

The sun suddenly winked out of sight behind the shadow of the behemothic mass of granite that was now directly in front of him. Seeing no alternative, Gaara began to scale the cliff barehanded.

His deft fingers continuously swept the fractured stone for handholds that would bring him higher, and he found himself moving upwards at a steady pace. A few shuriken ricocheted off of the rock next to his head, reminding him that he was not alone. Having used the precious few minutes to get used to the feeling of rock-climbing, Gaara had begun to move faster. His rate was not one of panic, though, because Gaara wasn't really capable of that emotion. He didn't stop, not even when his hands started to bleed from receiving constant contact with barbed granite and from the friction of rubbing them against rock.

Gaara risked a glance downward and saw that a mass of shinobi had followed him, all gripping the rock and moving at a quick pace towards him. Gaara gritted his teeth and ignored the demon inside him, which had suddenly aroused with a bloodlust to match its constant anger. It wanted to go back and kill them. It wanted to rip them to shreds, and it wanted to make them pay for the last time, when it had been miserably defeated. It wanted . . .

A wet, sloshing sound brought him out of his reverie, and Gaara resumed his climb. The sound of water was somehow soothing, a gentle reminder of the task he had yet to complete. He was almost over the Third Hokage's nose, and he still had much more rock to climb before he could do what he needed to do. The small scraping, plodding sounds of his pursuers were growing closer, and Gaara knew it wouldn't be much longer before they caught him. And if they caught him. . .

Gaara stopped his thoughts there. He knew how Hidden Sand Village had treated invading ninjas, and it wasn't a pleasant memory. This spurred him on - he resumed a hurried pace on the rock face.

A hand caught a loose end of the ragged clothing he wore, and Gaara looked down and saw a ninja who had gotten ahead of the others. It wasn't one he recognized from the Chuunin Exam. A self preservation instinct kicked in and Gaara shoved his foot into the man's face. It was nothing personal, just a job he had to do. The shinobi didn't fall, but he did stop long enough for Gaara to manage an escape. Gaara gritted his teeth. There was only a little more to climb, he could see the top only a few feet away from him.

A hand suddenly appeared from the top of the cliff and snatched a handful of clothing, yanking Gaara up to the top. Gaara found himself faced with the white-haired jounin he recognized as Naruto's sensei. Kakashi's single visible eye stared disinterestedly at Gaara, who was currently several feet above ground in his formidable one-handed grasp.

"Mind telling me what this is all about?" Kakashi asked in a lazy tone. He figured he had all day, or at least until the rest of the leaf nin caught up.

Gaara was silent for a few seconds before ripping the clothing off in one clean motion and propelling himself away from Kakashi.

"Where's that sand you're so famous for?" Kakashi questioned, turning towards the position that the Sand genin now held. Gaara had taken up a fighting stance, and a determined look had appeared in his eyes. Kakashi sighed.

"You want to fight me now? Don't all of your attacks involve sand?"

Gaara didn't reply, but the demon surged inside of him, raging to be let out and promising to kill the jounin before them. Gaara didn't have his sand, but the demon could easily do the job.

Gaara's hands began to move in a rapid succession of seals, and Kakashi reached for his forehead protector, single eye narrowed and ready for whatever Gaara was planning to do.

But despite the tense stance he had taken, Kakashi wasn't ready for what Gaara was about to do. Neither were the ninja that had appeared over the edge of the Hokage Monument, ready to fight.

"CHAKRA RELEASE!" Gaara commanded, and the gourd on his back exploded, pushing water into the sky with all the force of both his and the demon's chakra that swirled around it in a tangible white.

Kakashi removed his hand from the cloth that covered his face and stared slack-jawed at the sky, where boiling onyx clouds had begun to quickly condense in a storm of proportions no one had ever seen before.

Clouds lined up past the horizon, rumbling as if readying for a battle that had yet to be fought. They swirled and rolled and raced at each other, occasionally letting off an evanescent shock of brilliant electricity into the ground. Cumulonimbus clouds formed an unbreakable wall between earth and sky and crushed every opportunity the sun had to come through like the leviathan beasts they were.

Then the black bellies of the clouds gave birth to the first veritable rain in ages. It was a monsoon with the godlike presence that could only have come from the water of a rain dragon and the chakra of a demon. Rain was slow at first, but hurriedly rose to a steady thrumming upon the land that beat harder than a thousand drums, drowning out all conversation and creating its own brand of silence - a deafening roar that could be halted by no man. A thundering, beating sound that was under the control of mother nature and no one else.

It was a rain that cured the thirst of the grass and trees and people and was brimming with fresh life to be brought to the earth. It was the purest kind of rain that had ever come from the onyx wool of clouds, brought by a redeemed soul's selflessness. It was a hearkening rain that spoke of renaissance.

The hordes of people that had been chasing Gaara had left, astonished at what the red-haired demon had done but willing to get under cover in the tempest. Now only four people stood on the battlements of the Hokage Monument, frozen in place and time.

Team 7 were the only ones left.

Sasuke was staring wide-eyed at the prone body of Gaara as he tried to peer through the curtain of rain that obscured him from clear view. It had to be him - there was the phoenix fire hair, the obsidian lining surrounding sightless twin pools that reflected the ash-cerulean of the storm overhead, the red kanji of ai that glowed in an ethereal way on his pale brow. But there was something on Gaara's calm features that Sasuke would never have expected to see, even in death.

Naruto pawed at his tear-stained face with a wet tangerine sleeve and turned to Sasuke, the words already forming on his lips.

"That's the first time I've ever seen Gaara really smile."

.:fin:.