Well, this'll only be my second story and my first shot at a Naruto fic. The show's popularity seems to be going down a bit, so I'm really not expecting much, if any, feedback on this. But it still doesn't hurt to say, please read and review!

No Longer Alone

The sand wended its way slowly around the young redheaded boy's feet, a long beige snake of rough, arid earth. Pale eyes followed its progress, subconsciously in command of its twisted dance. The sand. A shield of protection between him and harm. A constant reminder of the malevolent beast enclosed within him. Good and evil. A blessing and a curse.

Gaara sighed heavily as he returned the sand to the gourd propped up against the wall of his room. A lone candle flickered weakly in the wake of its passing. Gaara watched for a moment the disrupted shadow play the agitated flame cast around the room before flopping back on his bed, arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Midnight had long since passed but, as it had for the last thirteen years, sleep eluded him. This morning, Gaara didn't mind, however. He was glad to be able to welcome in this new day. It was a very special day—to Gaara, at least. Today was the anniversary of the day, exactly one year previous, that the Village's of Sand and Sound had attacked Konoha. But to the young shinobi, it was more than that. It had also been the day of his full transformation into the Shukaka. The day he had fought, and lost too, Naruto Uzumaki. The day he had been given the chance of beginning a new life.

A rare smiled flickered across the boy's face. Life had been better since then. Difficult, but better. He was still hated by a few, mistrusted by many, and feared by all. But the acceptance from his village wouldn't come any faster than his gradual development into a different person. And he could wait. After all, he had people that he cared for now.

With a frown, Gaara rolled over onto his stomach and glared accusingly as the full moon looming large and round through his window. Where had that come from? the still bitter part of him wondered. Care, compassion,…love. He had lived for years without these emotions. He couldn't…

A cool night breeze eddied in through the open window, bringing with it hazy memories of the past. In the distance, Gaara could hear the laughter of children at play. It was shortly followed by shouts of frustration as the ball they had been throwing got lodged on a high outcropping of rock. Then came the soft scrape of sand on stone as the ball was lifted down, the frightened gasps and shouts of the children, the pattering of escaping feet. And then that one plaintive cry, an outburst of emotion born out of desperate loneliness—"I don't want to be alone anymore!"

"Dang it," Gaara hissed as he swept the unwanted remembrance from his mind. Why did that memory always have to worm its way into his thoughts? And following that would be his conversation with Yashamaru, the refusal of the ointments he offered to the boy he had almost injured, and the agonizing betrayal of the one person in the world he had thought truly loved him. A painful parade of rejections and deceptions. His life's story, more or less. But that one memory was the one that haunted him the most, constantly clinging to his mind like the persistent stick of a spider's gossamer web.

But not so much anymore. Gaara sat up slowly and cocked his head in reflection. Now that he thought about it, even that dreadful event that used to constantly plague him was fading away in the mist of his old life. The pain and sickness he had felt were beginning to lose the sharpness he had always relived in his reflections. The pain…Carefully, almost disbelievingly, Gaara raised a hand to his heart. The beat was soft and comforting under his pale fingers.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. Hand still covering his chest, he walked to the door and stepped out into the dark hallway beyond. He stood still for a moment, listening to the sleepy silence of the house. Then with a soft rustle of clothing he turned and set off down the hall.

The house was cool, the heat of day quickly forced out by the cold desert night. Gaara shivered slightly and wrapped his robe tighter around him. But it took only a few seconds for him to reach his destination.

Gaara felt guilty for disturbing his older brother at such a late hour. Or early, depending on how you wanted to look at it. He almost returned to his room to wait until a more decent time. But a sense of curiosity and a need to have his question answered drove him to enter Kankuro's room. He closed the door quietly behind him and moved catlike towards the bed faintly outlined in the moonlight against the far wall. He was so intent on getting to his destination that he tripped over Karasu who had been laid rather carelessly across the floor. The resulting clamor awakened Kankuro immediately.

"What the…" the older boy sat up and looked down in confusion at his younger brother trying to wrestle out of the puppet's grip. "Gaara, what are you doing?"

He quickly got down off the bed and scooped Karasu away from Gaara. The other boy sat on the floor for another moment, his heart beating fast. He hadn't recognized the Crow at first and it was rather frightening in the dark.

When Gaara didn't say anything at first, Kankuro reached down and shook his shoulder. "You OK?"

"Uh, yeah," Gaara said, climbing to his feet, remembering why he was there in the first place. "Can…can I talk to you?"

"Gaara, it's the middle of the night. Can't it wait…"

"Just for a few minutes. I just had something I wanted to ask."

Kankuro raised an eyebrow. That was a first. "Well, OK, then." He sat back on his bed and patted the spot next to him. After a second's hesitation, Gaara joined him. "What can I help you with?"

Gaara ran a hand through his flaming hair, unsure of where to begin. "It's just…I was thinking about the night that Yashamaru died. You know what happened that day, with the kids and the ball and everything?" Kankuro nodded yes. "It's actually what Yashamaru told me afterwards that I wanted to talk about." Gaara looked down at his clasped hands, struggling to find the right words. He had never spoken of that conversation to anyone before. "I asked him what pain was like. He couldn't really give a clear answer, but it basically boiled down to being in a state of discomfort and unpleasantness. He also said that pain could be emotional as well as physical." Gaara glanced over at Kankuro, who was listening silently, and then away again. "All my life I've been suffering from that emotional pain. Back then, before I really understood it, I just put my hand over my heart and told Yashamaru how much that part hurt. He explained that the only way that kind of pain can be healed is by love."

There was a long pause before Gaara continued as he once again relived that painful past. Images of his two-faced uncle ran through his mind. He had been so comforting, which had made his betrayal all the harder. Gaara turned to look at Kankuro again. His older brother was watching him intently, but compassionately. Gaara prayed this time wouldn't be the same as the last. "I thought he loved me, but I guess I was wrong. So the pain didn't go away. But just a few minutes ago I realized that now it has. This," he raised his hand once again to his chest, "doesn't hurt anymore." The boy looked at Kankuro searchingly. "So does that mean I'm receiving love?"

Kankuro looked away from his brother, trying to hide a smile. It was amazing how much the youth had changed over the last few months. He was no longer the bloodthirsty killing machine their father had tried to make him. For twelve years the puppeteer had feared and at times hated his brother. But he had recently begun to realize that Gaara was only a victim of a cruel twist of fate. It wasn't as if he'd asked to have a demon imbued in him.

Outside, some desert animal gave a loud cry. A jackal, Kankuro guessed. He listened to the leaping crescendo of the howl as he silently pondered how to answer his brother's question. The answer was obvious enough to him. Apparently it wasn't so to Gaara.

Kankuro pursed his lips momentarily, then turned to look the boy full in the face. "Gaara, you have always been loved. Maybe not by Yashamaru or Father. But me and Temari, we've always been there for you. Let's face it, most of your life you've been a stone-cold, murderous beast. Do you really thing we would have stuck with you this long if we didn't have some feelings for you? It killed us to see our little brother like that." He gave Gaara a reassuring grin. "I don't mean to sound harsh. But seeing how you were then and how you are now… I'm proud of you. And yes, Gaara, you are very much loved."

"Oh," Gaara said. After a moment he grinned. "And I think now I can say that I love you guys, too." His smiled wider at the somewhat surprised look on Kankuro's face. Then he did something that surprised even himself; he leaned forward and gave his brother and awkward hug. He stiffened in shock at first, but returned it a second later.

"Thanks, Kankuro," Gaara said as he pulled away.

"Hey, don't mention it. That's what I'm here for."

Gaara got up to leave. "Goodnight, Onii-chan."

"G'night."

Kankuro watched quietly as the boy left the room. Now this was a Gaara that he could get used to.

Out in the hall, Gaara was walking lighter than he had before, small smile still planted on his usually emotionless features. In his head he heard, once again, that soulful cry. "I don't want to be alone anymore!"

Except now, he no longer was.

Huh. Definitely not my best work, I think. I hope it wasn't really OOC or anything. I'm still pretty new to Naruto. Kind of an overused plot, but I just had to write it. Anyway, any constructive criticism is welcome. But flame me, and I'll send my back of ninja hounds after you! R and R!