This is going to be a fairly long story, taking place during the time jump in the manga (right after Sasuke leaves, and Naruto goes to train). The manga doesn't give any details on what happened to the characters during this time, particularly in regards to the young man who became the Kazekage.
This story follows Gaara as he sets out on a journey of self discovery (good grief that sounds so cliché), and allows us to watch as he begins to find in himself the desire to protect others (as we see after the time jump).
I am going to try and keep everything in this story within cannon, so that by the end, I hope that we can all look at this and pretend that this is what really happened during those missing years.
Please note that I had no proofreader, so this chapter is probably okay at best. It will get much better as the story goes on, so don't give up on me here!
Letter Left at Home – First Steps
Temari and Kankurou,
Since the Chuunin exams in Konoha, I have realized that I have been mistaken in how I see things. Though I do not fully understand, I know where I must start in order to change myself.
When I was younger, I read many stories with Yashamaru. One of these was about a man who thought he knew everything and that his strength made him right. However, he had a realization that he had been wrong for all that time. He went on a journey to find himself, and after many years returned to his home as a much better man.
I have thought about this for several weeks, and have realized that I, myself, am incomplete. I have loved only myself for so long that I do not remember any other way. Knowing this, I have resolved to take my own journey across this world. I do not know what I will find, but I know that I must do this to find the me that does not love only himself.
I have not been a good brother. I understand if you do not wish to remain as my siblings. However, I ask that you give me one more chance when I return. A chance to be the brother that I was not.
Do not search for me. I will return when I am the me that I wish for.
As the sun set over the craggy hills on the edge of the desert, Gaara continued to make his way down the road. He felt no urge to hurry along, knowing full well that he had all the time in the world. The red haired boy simply observed his surroundings as he walked eastward, toward the border of the Country of Wind.
The moon was near the horizon in front of him, a white sphere hanging in the sky. As the orange and red of the sun faded behind him, everything began to take on a pale glow. The small plants and flowers that he was unused to seeing seemed to have an ethereal radiance to them. These were things that he had seen many times before as a ninja, but for some reason that he couldn't quite define, it all seemed fresh and new.
Even the smells of the grasses and the fragrance of the flowers on the gentle breeze were somehow affecting him, making him feel the kind of pleasure that he used to experience when remembering the person he had killed earlier that day. No, he thought, it is not. There is no underlying excitement. I feel alive, but it is not the same. He knew that there was a difference between what he felt about killing and the strange sensation that he was now experiencing.
This dilemma continued to work itself out in his mind over the next hour. Still unable to classify the feeling, his mulling was interrupted by a scream in the distance to his right.
He had, without realizing it, come into a farmland, and the voice had come from deep within one of these fields. Normally Gaara would have barely given it a second thought, and he almost took his next step forward when a memory struck him. A memory of when he had lost control of his emotions as a child and almost killed some other kids that were afraid of him. Yashamaru had stepped in the way and took the hit to save a girl that he didn't know.
The same Yashamaru who later tried to kill me, came an angry thought, He never loved me! Why would it matter that he saved that girl? A part of Gaara agreed. It didn't matter if the person who screamed needed help. It was doubtful that whoever it was that screamed would help Gaara if he had ever needed it. No one ever had.
"To protect the people of this village…So that one day, they will acknowledge me…"
Uzumaki Naruto. What would you do?
Unsure why he was doing it and what he would do when he got there, the form of Gaara blurred for a moment, then seemed to disappear. He reappeared again when he discovered the source of the sound, some distance away.
A girl, perhaps seven or eight years of age, sat huddled next to a few rocks and a dead tree. Several wolves circled her, growling and nipping at her. She was shaking and whimpering, just loud enough for him to hear. His sense of urgency gave way to curiosity. Could she really be so weak that she cannot drive away these creatures?
He moved closer to get a better look, a move that the skinny creatures took note of. Their instinct told them that this human was not one to be trifled with, and they backed away quietly as he approached. Watching him with feral eyes, they growled angrily as they faded into the darkness and silently padded away.
Wondering at the sudden absence of growls, the girl looked up. She had dark, stringy hair, with smudges of dirt on her face. The path of her tears down her cheeks were obvious, even in the moonlight. Her too small clothes were ragged and torn, though Gaara suspected that many of the holes and stains were from excessive wear. The look that spread across her face was one that the young boy had never seen directed at him, and one that he was only vaguely familiar with.
Leaping forward, arms outstretched, she cried out with relief in her eyes. She was almost within arms reach of the surprised Gaara when there was a dark flash from above and a thud, accompanied by a feminine 'oof'. Blinking at the sight before him, he realized that the sand in the gourd on his back had interpreted her movements as offensive, neutralizing the attack with enough force that she was knocked face first into the dirt at his feet.
Blinking again, he bent forward slightly, "Are you injured?"
No reply came from the unmoving girl.
Hmmm, he thought to himself, this has never happened before. The young shinobi didn't know what the girl had been intending to do exactly, but he was fairly certain she wasn't trying to hurt him. If he had realized that sooner, perhaps the sand would not have reacted the way it did.
Staring at the girl for a few more moments, he knelt down beside her and began cautiously poking at her with his finger. "I know you are alive," he stated simply, "Stand up."
The girl stirred a bit and swatted his finger away. He watched for a moment as she rolled over and began to rub her face, moaning from the pain. She sat up facing away from him and began to look around, obviously in a daze. Trying to get up, she wobbled a little and quickly settled herself back down on the ground.
Still not noticing Gaara's presence, and him not doing anything to let her know he had been less than a foot behind her the whole time, she shook her head and tried again. When she began to wobble again, the boy reached out and grabbed her arm to steady her.
Her sudden scream, with fists balled up and eyes squeezed shut, triggered a kill reflex in Gaara that required some effort to stop. When he had regained control, there were four spikes of sand within inches of the screaming girl, who was now on the ground again. Quickly recovering, the sand had just vanished back into the gourd when she opened her eyes and saw her 'assailant'.
An apprehensive Gaara watched as the frightened girl eyed him, and he wondered what she was going to do next that might get her accidentally killed. After a moment, she simply started sniffling, which flowed into crying, which left the red haired boy at a complete loss.
Searching his brain, he tried to think of something that normal people did at a time like this. Finally hitting on something, he slowly reached his right hand out and lightly tapped her on her shoulder. "There. There," he spoke with all the emotion of a cactus.
Looking up at him through her tears, she fell forward into his chest, wrapping her arms around him. Gaara, for his part, froze. His eyes wide, his arms spread outward, and tiny beads of sweat forming on his forehead despite the cool evening air, her tears soaked the sash that he wore across his chest.
They stayed like that for several minutes while she let her fears out and he wondered how he had wound up like this.
Half an hour later, Gaara found himself walking between fields with the girl, whose name, he discovered, was Chika. She had used some strange form of logic that he hadn't quite followed to state that it was his duty to protect her as she walked back to her home. He didn't understand, but it seemed to be an opportunity (for what, he didn't know), so he went along with it.
She asked some questions about himself to which he gave, at best, evasive answers. He had no interest in speaking about his past. This voyage was about his future, and besides that, she would likely run and hide if she knew the truth. Just like everyone else who knew.
"Um, Gaara?" she asked. He gave no response, but she was starting to take that to mean he was listening, "When you saved me from those wolves, I started to run towards you, and then everything went black for a while. What happened?"
The shinobi felt as if he were moving a little more stiffly than normal. "Ah, that," he spoke with little enthusiasm, "You fell."
Chika looked at him expectantly, which made him feel slightly uncomfortable. Just a few months ago he would have just killed her and been done with it. Her eyes narrowed as she made a suspicious sound, "I fell? Is that it?"
He glanced sideways at her, "You fell."
"You didn't do anything ungentlemanly did you?"
Ungentlemanly? Gaara thought to himself, What is she talking about? "I don't understand what you mean," he said, genuinely at a loss.
Her shoulders slumped, "I don't understand either. I heard my big sister say it to a guy once and he got all embarrassed. I asked her, but she wouldn't tell me what it means exactly and kept saying I was too young to understand. I think it's something perverted though."
Gaara glanced at her again. She appeared deep in thought. Perverted? I don't like where this is going. Under his stoic expression, his mind frantically searched for a way to change the subject. He immediately said the first thing that came to his mind, "What do you feel when you smell flowers?"
Chika looked at him blankly for a minute, apparently unsure what she had just heard him ask. "What do I feel when I smell flowers?" she repeated, receiving a nod of confirmation from him, "Do you mean something like flowers in a field, or in a garden?"
There's a difference? "Field," he responded, thinking about the one that he had walked past earlier that night, the one that had triggered the mystery feeling that he couldn't identify.
She gave him a smile and giggle that made him feel like he needed to loosen his collar. Believing that there might be something wrong with his health, he decided that health could wait until he had his answer.
"Well," she began, "They just make me feel good. Happy."
He furrowed his brow, not really following her. "But how is it different from the pleasure you feel when, er, doing something that you enjoy?" He had almost said pleasure when you kill someone.
She seemed to be thinking hard again before she spoke, "Well, when you are doing something, you are happy because you are doing something. But when you smell the flowers in the field, you are happy because you are surrounded by beautiful things, and life."
He looked at her, seeing the happiness that lit her dirt smudged face as she spoke. It was something that he was unused to, seeing happiness so closely. Looking at the blank expression on his face, she blushed a little, "Heh, I guess that didn't make much sense, did it?"
"No," he responded, "it didn't." She seemed a little crestfallen at that, but he paid no heed. "I believe that I may understand one day. Perhaps the day that I discover the truth of what you have told me will be the day that my journey ends and I return home."
His words struck a romantic chord within Chika's heart, and she looked at him with eyes that seemed to sparkle. Anyone else (except possibly Naruto) would have realized from that look that she had developed a crush on her red headed protector. Gaara, having exactly zero experience in that sort of thing, wondered if she was about to be sick.
After a few more minutes of discomfort, Gaara breathed a small sigh of relief as she pointed out her village just ahead of them. He could see some people gathered near the edge of the village as they drew closer, and he wondered if perhaps they were coming to look for Chika.
"Oh, no," she moaned when she saw them, "My father has half the village out to come look for me. I'm going to be in so much trouble."
Sure enough, as they drew closer one of the men called out, "Chika! Where have you been? Do you have any idea how late it is?"
Gaara came to a stop well short of the group as Chika continued forward to meet her father. "Sorry, Papa," she said in a meek voice, "I got chased by some wolves, but this nice boy rescued me!" She pointed to him, though Gaara still remained at the edge of their lights.
"Wolves, huh?" the man said disbelievingly, "I'll bet. So who is this nice boy who rescued you?"
She smiled excitedly, "You're really going to like him, Papa. Come over here so you can meet everyone, Gaara!"
The eyes of half the men in the crowd grew wide as saucers when she said his name. Stepping forward, the situation suddenly felt very familiar to him.
"Gaara," Chika's father said, his mouth scrunched up as if the word tasted foul, "The gourd on your back, the rings around your eyes. You're Gaara of the Desert!" Gaara said nothing as the man pulled his daughter behind him. "We don't want a monster like you here. Please leave us in peace."
"Papa, what are you doing?" Chika asked, looking very worried, "Why are you talking like that?"
"Chika," he said over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off the red haired shinobi before him, "This boy is a monster, one who has murdered many people. He is dangerous and you should stay away from him!"
Tears were forming in the eight year old girl's eyes, "No, you're wrong, Papa! Gaara, tell him he's wrong! You aren't a murderer!"
Gaara closed his eyes to calm himself. It was happening again, just like it always did. People would find out that he was a monster, and they wouldn't care if he wanted to be friends. They would simply hate him.
"I am not a monster," he spoke, "but I have killed many people."
"Even if aren't a real monster, you are still a murderer!" her father snarled, "We won't let you harm anyone in our village! We'll do whatever it takes to stop you!"
Gaara chuckled at this, and he felt pleased at the anxious looks that appeared on all their faces when he did so, "You should stop challenging me. I have killed many powerful shinobi without a scratch to myself, you fools would provide no challenge at all." He laughed again at the intense look of fear on many of their faces.
Yes, the dark voice spoke to him, They are begging to fight. You can kill them. I want to see their blood! Kill them, Gaara! He could sense the sand beginning to stir in his gourd, eager to go forth and soak in the blood of these fools. His excitement built as he looked at the fearful eyes of one man, and then the next. Kill them all, and let their crops drink their blood!
His thoughts abruptly stopped when his eyes settled on Chika.
She was shaking, her eyes full of tears. The girl's voice cracked as she croaked out, "You lied to me."
His insides went cold as all the excitement vanished like a puff of smoke. Kill her, the voice said, once she is gone, you can kill all you want! She is what is keeping you from feeling alive!
"No!" he yelled. Gaara realized that he was doubled over, his hands on his head. He could feel the cold sweat on his skin. He glanced around to see the villagers, still fearfully watching him. She was watching too, but with an expression that he couldn't identify. He could see that she was in pain, however. And he knew that he was the reason.
Taking a deep breath, the Sand ninja stood upright and spoke. "I will leave."
He took little interest in the surprised looks on the faces of the villagers. The only one that seemed to be of consequence was Chika, and for some reason, he didn't want to look at her.
Slowly walking forward, his eyes on the ground before him, the men of the village parted to either side. As he passed the spot that he knew she was standing, he offered a quiet, "I'm sorry." He surprised himself a bit at the slight tightness in his throat, but he didn't dwell on it for very long.
History had repeated itself. As soon as it was known that he was a monster, everyone turned on him. The feeling of loneliness was filling his heart like ice water as he looked at the dimly lit path before him. This is going to be a long journey.
Lost in his own thoughts, he was brought back to reality by the surprising sound of his name, "Gaara, wait!"
He stopped, turning slowly to the sounds of the villagers yelling, "Chika, no! He's a monster, don't go near him!" and other such things. He barely heard them, though. Since they were all too afraid to move any closer to him, he was more concerned with the mess of dark, slightly tangled hair and ragged clothes running toward him. Turning around to meet her, and having no idea what to expect, Gaara waited for the girl.
She stopped in front of him, panting and wiping the tears from her eyes. After a moment, she finally called out, "Take me with you!"
Her father yelled from behind her, "What!"
"What?" Gaara said almost simultaneously, taken completely off guard, "Take you…? You mean," he hesitated a moment before continuing to voice his surprise, "You mean you aren't afraid of me?"
"I don't know what you used to be," she said, still wiping her face dry, "but you aren't a bad person, I can tell!" The shinobi simply stood there with his mouth open slightly, unable to respond. She continued a little more softly, "I saw the look on your face just now. You're really lonely, right?"
He hesitated for a moment, then spoke the truth, "Yes."
"My Papa and Mama have my sister and my brother," she said, "but you're by yourself, aren't you? If I go with you, you won't have to be lonely."
Gaara looked at her, then sighed before responding, "My father hated me, casting me aside as a failure. I had no one that would have been sad if my existence had vanished from this world. You have a family that cares about what happens to you. You can have the happy life that I did not have. I will not take you away from that."
She looked down, knowing that he was right. Putting on a brave smile, she looked back up at him, "Will I see you again?"
"When my journey is over, I will return to the Hidden Village of Sand. Perhaps then-" he said before she interrupted.
"Then I'll find you there one day." Her words were definite, and they gave Gaara a feeling that he didn't know very well, a feeling that came from the knowledge that this girl cared about him, that she had offered to give up so much for someone she hardly knew. He didn't know why she did, or how much, but he knew that she cared, and it made him smile.
"I'll be expecting you," he said to her as he turned, "Until then."
Gaara continued to smile as he left the village near the edge of the Country of Sand, whose name he never learned. That same smile followed him well into the night as the moon arched ever higher in the sky.
Maybe this journey won't be so bad after all.
Got a little cheesy in there, didn't it? Heh, well, I guess I like a little cheese now and then. I wish I could have done better, but I'm impatient and got tired of revising.
This story is going to be a mix of just about everything: action, comedy, tragedy, and even a little bit of romance thrown in (though whether the romance involves Gaara or not, we'll just have to wait and see!). I'm even planning on having some cameos from some of the other Naruto cast members (Sakura, Rock Lee, Shikamaru and the like), though Naruto himself will not appear except during flashbacks.
Like I said, I am going to try everything I can to ensure this story fits within cannon, and I'll try to keep everyone as in character as I can. This poses a problem for me with Gaara, since he has so many demons haunting him. Plus, this story is going to be in a time of change for Gaara, following him as he changes from recently reformed sociopath to the young man who is made Kazekage of the Hidden Sand. I'm going to be taking a lot of liberties with how I think he got from point A to point B, and I hope all of you can follow my logic.
Anyway, please review. I will try and respond to you in the next chapter!