Pure speculation. Minor spoilers relating to Gaara's past up to near the end of the Chuunin arc. (Complete)

My sister was nice enough to draw me some wonderfully creepy-yet-cute fanart for this story, the link for which can be found under my bio. Even should you read no further, this pic is well worth a look.

The nurse will live, if barely, the medic tells them on their way. Tells the Kazekage's back, to be accurate, but judging by the speed of the medic's voice the lack of a response might actually be a relief at the moment. She won't have use of that arm again - the medic's voice tones out, almost mechanical and a little too high - even if they do avoid amputation; and there'll be scars where her skin was sandblasted away; but it is, overall, not life threatening. The guard will not be that lucky.

From his own position another respectful pace behind, Yashamaru tries to imagine having dreamt of any scenario like this two years - even one year ago.

The last time the Kazekage visited the house on the outskirts of the village it was barely completed, plans being thrown together too fast, rewritten at every step. Yashamaru didn't see much of the construction and remembers less - loss and horror and the Kazekage ordering people around wearing an expression less lifelike than the final one used by the last man who tried to assassinate him. Yashamaru has been here since though - more often than their illustrious leader anyway; and if that's not the least appreciated privilege of rank he's hardly thinking clearly enough that it matters. Today the Kazekage's posture is no more readable than it ever was. To all appearances his entire focus is on the simple business of motion, quick-march as fast as they can go without rushing in the desert heat.

From the outside, the isolated building might bring to mind the image of a lighthouse in a storm, under assault from a sea of sand. Not that there's anyone present poetic enough to draw that parallel in the middle of this desert. The sand gets into everything in this village, crunches under foot and sticks in eyes and ears, sneaks through cracks and builds up against walls when the wind blows; but for this building not even the leeward side has been spared. Here it is piled up to window height on every side, hardened into crazy shapes and clinging around every crack and ledge. You don't need any poetry to tell that it's searching for a way in.

How much longer will the windows hold? Yashamaru wonders. Glass is a type of sand, isn't it? How long before it learns that, before they become arsenal instead of hindrance?

The medic swallows visibly before reaching for the door handle.

Better if the windows are removed before then. They won't let much light in anyway, once the sand builds up much higher. If today is any indication, it won't take long at all.

The door opens on the impersonally bare space which serves as a buffer between the outside and inner room; walls floor and ceiling carved from matching smooth-sanded yellow stone. The interior is methodically swept clean of every shred of dust and dirt twice daily; has been every day like clockwork for the past six months. Up until this morning. Today that usually spotless floor is littered with debris. Sand mixes unevenly here and there with shreds of torn paper and ink that stir up into the air with the breeze from doorway. There are footprints preserved faintly through the grit, leading in and out; rushed and run over each other. Messy splatters of drying red stand out in sharp contrast against yellow-brown and white. Those - years of ninja experience inform him without prompting - form a drying trail leading outwards only.

Altogether, there's a lot less sand than he probably should have expected, just enough for a layer a few millimetres thick tracing path from outside in. There's probably more behind the other door, though it's also horribly possible this much was all it took. There's a taste of it in the air even, sharp tang that scrapes at your throat and makes you painfully aware of every breath you take. In. Out. In. Out.

Or maybe that's just him.

Something flaps in the breeze in the corner of his vision, lone fragment of paper anchored by one end over the door, and something in his head clicks. Paper mixed with the sand on the floor - walls that seemed a little too bare. This is one last surviving piece left in mocking reminder of what used to be powerful sealing jutsus, inked on to parchment and wound over every suitable surface the entry room provided. All gone.

Silence lasts for three breaths, time for them to take in the scene. Then the Kazekage is forming hand seals, slow and deliberate. Doubtless he could perform this jutsu in under a second, so either that look of concentration means something or he's giving them the chance to recognise the sequence and get out of the way. Either way they don't waste the opportunity.

When the wind dies down, five breaths later, the place has been cleared of sand, but that tang in the air is still there. Maybe it was just him.

The Kazekage does not look even slightly ruffled.

(Two breaths.)

The lock on the outer door is quite thoroughly broken, but it still closes to seal the entry without the slightest crack.


The medic isn't shivering, and the only possible reason for that is because all of their best medics are and were ninjas first; have if anything seen worse than most of them and learnt long ago that everything new is, eventually, just another mission.

(Four. Five.)

Yashamaru is the one who turns the door knob on the inner door and lets it swing inwards.


When thirty seconds have passed and they have not been attacked by a hurricane or a monster made of sand, Yashamaru starts breathing again.


The room inside is better lit than he expected. It must be the most horrible mockery of a nursery ever built by man.

He has been here before. Probably not for longer than an hour or two in total, but long enough to be familiar with this room as it would normally look, so what registers first is what has changed. The hospital/prison feel to the place has suffered only in losing some of its starkness; but the clinical order is all gone. There is more sand here, if still not the piles he half imagined. Identifiable shapes in the debris include pieces of broken furniture, a blanket and part of someone's sleeve. On one side of the room, he can see where the fine filter installed over the air vent has been torn away, which probably answers some of those questions if he was thinking clearly enough to remember what the questions are. It's a miracle that the naked electric bulb suspended from the ceiling is still intact. There's blood too. A lot of blood. But you don't get to twenty in the Village of Wind without seeing that, and he'd known he'd see that; objectively speaking.

There is a teddy bear in one corner. At least, that's probably what it used to be.

Sand on the floor moves in faint directionless trails, swirling upwards through the region a few inches above before falling again. It's almost hypnotic.

They are also being watched.

The crib is the only obvious surviving feature which betrays the room's intended purpose. It hasn't gone undamaged. The baby lying inside has lost its pillow and blankets and is sprawled at an uncomfortable angle, but otherwise the creature is eerily calm. Despite recent events, the dark rings around his eyes have become more pronounced since Yashamaru saw him last. He's probably tired himself out.

For the moment at least, which is the only stroke of luck they've had all day. Yashamaru doesn't have children of his own, but he's seen enough of Temari and Kankuro's early years to know what constitutes normal behaviour for one that's been left alone for a few hours - awake and without supervision, and there's a way in which that; even more than the sand or the wreckage or this asylum of a nursery, is very, very wrong. Babies sleep and babies cry and babies spend long hours flexing fingers and testing muscles to find out what does what, and they can't let this one do any of that without twelve inch walls between himself and the desert sand.

It's definitely not safe they should… something, every instinct from his last twenty years is screaming at him; what's in there is not just a baby in any useful sense of the word. But then he's hearing his name said impatiently in reminder that he's blocking the door, and it's on the tip of his tongue to object to this before he remembers a) who he's talking to, and b) just how many plausible 'something' type options there are in a situation like this one; and next thing he knows he's moving out of the way.

Eleven breaths, and they're inside. The Kazekage's boots crunch defiantly through gravity defying sand.

On a couple of previous occasions, Yashamaru has accompanied their strategists in examining sites where elite sand shinobi were killed on supposedly routine missions. It's an important business - they need to know who their enemies are. They need to know what their enemies can do and what they need to do to stay one step ahead. They need to know where the mistake was made and how to make sure it isn't made again. The practicalities, however, are no fun process.

Inasmuch as there is a 'norm' such situations, this one differs from it for a dozen excellent reasons. Not least of which that they know exactly what caused this and most of the how; that the cause is right there in front of them - that its father is the one studying the debris like it might hold the secret succession techniques of a rival clan. But it's still oddly fascinating to see their leader slip instantly into that mold from the moment they enter. There's an unguarded moment where the Kazekage looks at the crib like he's seeing anything but what's actually there, but it passes without incident. He's infinitely more interested in the damage than its source.

Which leaves that up to his attendants, and tense as Yashamaru is now, it's possible he's only imagining those irregular movements in the sand have been getting faster since the door opened, that the baby is responding to their presence at all, that the distance between them and the illusory safety of outdoors isn't too large to be crossed in a hurry if he needs to…

Every step of the journey inwards is monitored by the gaze of those wide, green eyes. There's blood on the crib, he can make out now he's getting closer, and he notices with a detached fascination that someone really needs to give the baby a bath.

And responsive or not, it really is watching them; and there's no way he's imagining the way its face has started to screw up now that the awareness is sinking in that there are finally people here but it's still not getting any attention; and the sand really is getting faster, isn't anyone else noticing?

If finding himself standing over the crib was unexpected, it's more than matched by the surprise of seeing himself reach down into the crib, lift the infant into his arms and cradle it gently. Rock gently back and forth. Coo softly the way people do to reassure normal babies that everything is all right.

The effect is subtle but definite. The sand calms down. The baby relaxes - though, crucially, not too much. Yashamaru feels himself exhale. Breath in again. Realise he doesn't know what number that was; he stopped counting, probably some time ago.

The monster stares up at him, wide eyed and uncomprehending. Past visits to this place brought him barely past the doorway - this is as close as he's ever been to it. The most striking thing is that this is the same impossibly innocent look all babies have at this age. It doesn't say "I killed a man and crippled a woman". It doesn't have any concept of what it has done at all.

He wonders if anyone will ever love this thing.

There has never been any doubt in his mind that his sister had known. She'd been very much aware of everything this child would be. The image that will never properly leave him is of her in her final days; lying in half-darkness, whispering the name she would give it and giggling as hard as she still had the strength for, tears on her cheeks. This is what she saw.

This is her dying curse on the village that killed her.

He could have a kunai in his hand in a second, it could all be over in two; and it's faintly disconcerting that it's far more the thought of the sand swirling around his ankles than the morality of the situation that rules that impulse out.

When he looks up, for a moment he's seeing the monster's face as it will look twenty years and god knows how many casualties from now. The Kazekage is holding the remains of the filter in one hand and in the other, part of a broken baby bottle. It takes him exactly one sentence to sum up in one sentence how every precaution taken here came to nothing.

"We didn't allow for the possibility they would let him fall asleep."

He is talking about a six. Month. Old. Baby. A six month old baby that never goes to sleep. A baby that to the best guess anyone can make was born with the innate knowledge of just what sleep would mean for it - knowledge that the medical team who had tried to use a sleep-jutsu to calm him down within hours of birth had been sadly lacking. To their credit they'd been fast learners, and they'd learned there was a good reason why Gaara kept himself awake.

Usually, anyway.

Disaster was, if not averted then at least minimised that first time. This time, they hadn't been that lucky. This time, they'd been lucky it hadn't been a lot worse.

None of those things warrant any ranking in the Kazekage's present concerns. "How much do we know?"

The medic who only swallowed at the door and kept it together in the face of very real danger is visibly startled at the address. The answer has too many words in it to convey anything clearly - first signs of trouble, names of the people who discovered the two bodies that made it to the doorway, estimates of time to return to consciousness, summery of the nurse's babbling and what events they could piece together. Estimates of time elapsed before they managed to wake it up again By now, there isn't much left to tell that they haven't heard twice over already today, the question is more of a formality and the answer is being stammered out too fast to convey any new information coherently - but the gist is: not much.

The message is: enough.

The Kazekage remains silent until the medic comes to a complete stop, and nods. Yashamaru feels tiny hands closing on the fabric of his shirt and looks back down as their leader breathes in slowly and delivers the verdict.

"The facility will need to redesigned." The voice begins. "The basic structure is still intact, but the seals have been proven insufficient. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure this cannot happen again. We'll need new custodians as well."

There is a pause there and he might be finished, but even facing down, Yashamaru can feel or hear a change in the speaker's focus.

"Yashamaru, I'm leaving you in charge."

He hadn't been ready for that.

"Kazekage-sama? Why…?"

"Do you understand?" Yashamaru does - only too well - though he never saw it coming. Attention now torn away from the creature, the look on the Kazekage's face when he turns to remind his underling that he still hasn't answered makes the answer to 'why' suddenly irrelevant.

"Yes, sir."

Apparently satisfied, the Kazekage turns to go.

You want to be pleased with this, don't you? A voice whispers in Yashamaru's head, trailing down his spine. You want this to be a sign of just how much power you're going to have at your command, but it isn't, because you haven't any idea how to control it. Not yet, perhaps never.

He definitely doesn't see anything of her in it, but it's hardly certain whether that would make any difference anymore. If he's honest, Yashamaru can't entirely blame him. He lost a lot that day, but he's salvaging all he can.

It's becoming very obvious he won't be able to put the baby back down again. In a little while, someone will come in to help sweep out the rest of the sand. Start making whatever arrangements need to be made.

If there's anything she left behind in this thing, anything human at all, it will be up to him to find out what it is; but his gut tells him it's been far too late already for a very long time.