Ai no Tsubasa
Chapter 1: One Week, Four Days
It is hard to let go of habits that have been prominent since birth. Some people bite their nails without even thinking about it. Some people have a set routine for each morning that messing it up would ruin their whole day. For some, these old habits really die hard. In Gaara's case, he doesn't sleep.
Naruto sealed his demon. Shukaku won't emerge if he ever closes his eyes again. He trusts the work that Naruto did. Gaara has no doubts. Yet, he just can't allow himself to close his eyes.
First of all, Gaara didn't even own a bed. Since he never slept, he didn't need anything to sleep on. After he got back to Sunagakure, one thing led to another and he never found the time to buy a simple bed. In fact, his days were so busy that not sleeping actually worked in his favor.
Secondly, he wanted to be awake if or when news of Naruto's location became available. Gaara supposed that the excuse of not having a bed was just that, an excuse. He could just as easily fall asleep on the couch in his office. However, it wasn't as though he was forcing himself to stay awake. It was an old habit. And for a certain red-haired jinchuuriki, his old habits really died hard.
It was very early in the morning and Gaara was sitting on top of the Kazekage's office building. He looked very much like a stone statue staring off into the distance. In the still of darkness, Gaara's sensitive ears could hear the ANBU posted around the village fidgeting in their places. They knew that the sun would soon be rising and they could go back to their sand huts to sleep. The mornings in Suna were always signaled by noisy ANBU, tired from an overnight shift, leaving their posts and breaking the silence by returning to the Kazekage to be dismissed for the day. If the residents were sleeping, they'd never even know. However, Gaara has only really slept once in the past 10 years, and that was with Naruto.
The sun broke the horizon.
In a single instant the 10 ANBU that were stationed around Suna surrounded Gaara. The red-head broke his statue pose and nodded once to the masked figures standing around him. The elite ninja went to their private changing room and slowly left the Kazekage's office complex and inconspicuously, and most importantly, individually.
Sunagakure used to be very short on ANBU for most of Gaara's memories. The past ANBU had been sent by his father to assassinate him and Gaara slaughtered them instead. After a dozen had added their blood to Gaara's sand, it was very hard to get anyone to join the elite group other than those who were full of themselves and decided that in joining they would prove themselves to be the best. They too added their blood to the sand that Gaara carried with him in a gourd.
When Gaara returned to Sunagakure with Shukaku sealed, 27 ANBU were hired. It was a number equal to the number that Gaara had killed over the years. A total of 35 ANBU were now employed in Sunagakure. 10 for each shift, and 5 for missions. The village once again found itself well protected.
Overall, everyone thought the new Kazekage was doing a wonderful job in his position. Gaara was quite honored to earn that much respect from the people of the ninja village hidden in the sand.
Gaara stood. His silhouette against the dawn lacking the menacing aura of Shukaku and the usual gourd removed from his back.
He was required to be in his office from dawn to dusk to take care of village matters. He hopped off the roof and onto a ledge. In the Kazekage's office, changes had already taken place. The screen that hid his father from guests was removed. Gaara found it impolite. It was replaced with a low table and cushions for himself and visitors to sit on. In the corner of the room leaned a gourd full of sand, proof that Gaara had taken over. It was there for as much as a threat to those who would act against him and also a symbol of his power to protect the people that he served.
Kankuro was first pick for Kazekage and it was offered to him the second they arrived back at their village. The Village Hidden in the Sand was shocked when the puppeteer refused the position. Everyone believed that Kankuro would be a perfect leader. The elders quickly made their way to other candidates for Kazekage. To the elder's surprise and frustration, they all refused claiming that they were not the strongest in the village and were not suited for the position as leader. By law, the strongest ninja in the village, of any rank, should hold the title.
The villagers were in dismay at not having a Kazekage and started to take it out on the elders for not yet getting a new leader for Suna. They were finally forced to ask the true strongest ninja in Sunagakure. The elder's couldn't believe it when Gaara politely accepted the new status and promised that he would do the best that he could.
Shukaku's vessel started by corresponding with the other Kages for advice. He the implemented a rule that all the ninja who passed up the title of Kazekage were extremely relieved to hear. In his first week in office, Gaara made it illegal to experiment on human beings, whether it be turning them into puppets (something Kankuro agreed with) or inserting demons into people (which everyone agreed with), or anything of the sort. It was illegal.
His next action was hiring ANBU. Replacing those who were lost. Replenishing Sunagakure's elite defenses. No one could argue against that, nor did anyone not agree with the move.
The third was the best. Because Gaara didn't sleep, he was able to reformat the education system in the training academy in just one and a half days. It was the best academy in all the hidden villages. To top that, all the Kage agreed that it really was the perfect way to teach the young and old, as genin, chuunin, and jounin were also required to return to the academy to learn even more. Tsunade, the Godaime Hokage herself, had called the idea "brilliant."
In less than his first week as Kazekage, Gaara had done more for Sunagakure than his father ever had.
Now, Gaara was handing out missions to the ninjas of the village. It was the same thing that he had been doing each morning. Those who showed up after the missions were gone were required to spend the day in the academy doing research on a topic that would be assigned by one of the teacher there. Those research topics would be studied by multiple ninja of the same level at different times and all the results published for the whole community to read.
None had been published yet, but the results of one topic in particular that was in the laboratory testing phase were much anticipated. The topic being weather control, or how to get water in the village in the dry season and prevent floods in the rainy season. The jounin working on it hoped to earn special recognition that might nominate them to get a genin team or make them eligible to become ANBU.
Kankuro and Temari were both working on a genin project between jobs that focused on sending short messages with a jutsu over a given distance. They believed they could make it silent and nearly motionless. Whether their experiment fails or succeeds, the completion of it gains them entrance into the next chuunin exams. Gaara decided that even though he is Kazekage, he would still enter as he is also just a genin.
Gaara's method of continued learning will lead to smarter, more powerful, and better experienced ninja who can think their way out of life threatening situations instead of fight their way out. Lives should not be wasted, says the new Kazekage. That is the message Gaara wants to send as the new leader of Sunagakure to his people and to the rest of the Hidden Villages.
The respect that Gaara earned would suffocate a normal person. Yet, he kept working hard for the village and those who lived there, who worked there, and who fought for Sunagakure.
However, even with all the work that he was constantly doing, Gaara still had time to lose himself in thoughts of Naruto.
Naruto, who saved him in so many way. Gaara used to be selfish and sadistic. He trusted no one but himself. He can vividly remember the days of nothing but bloodshed.
Naruto had changed him so much. Even though he didn't really trust people yet, Naruto taught him that pain led to self betterment. Letting people in wasn't a bad thing. Caring for others actually made a person stronger than if that person were just fighting for himself. He had to allow himself to feel the bad things if he ever really wanted to feel alive and have something to look forward to in life. Naruto gave him emotions.
Now, Gaara finds out that Naruto has left the hidden village of Konoha to go training with that frog hermit. He was proud that Naruto could get trained by on the legendary three. However, Gaara didn't trust Jiraiya. The Fifth Hokage had returned Gaara's letter saying that Naruto had left the same day that he had. Naruto had promised to visit him as soon as he could. Perhaps, Gaara thought, Naruto was on his way now to see him. However, it has been nearly two weeks and the scouts had not sent word of anyone from Fire Country crossing the border into Wind Country at all.
Because of this, Gaara did something that he had never done before.
Baki noticed this right away. Gaara's eyes trailed away from assigning missions with worry. Even though he wasn't really the red-head's jounin-sensei any longer, he still tried to guide Gaara when his direction was lost. Old habits die hard, and all that rot.
Baki laughed silently watching Gaara mentally pace his office before opening his mouth to speak.
"Kazekage-sama," he interrupted Gaara's thoughts. "What is it that is troubling you?"
Gaara was actually startled, "Baki-sensei…"
"Out with it. Why are you acting this way?"
"Nothing really," Gaara lied. "Just worried about today's academy graduation. I wonder how many new genin will emerge only knowing the old ways of Suna's teachings and none of my new ideas."
"None," Baki laughed.
"What do you mean?"
"That's what Tatsuna Seiki just came and told us, but you were lost in other thoughts. No student that was eligible to take the examinations today came to the academy. We won't get a new batch of genin this time, but I suppose that this is good news. The students and their families want to learn in your style, Kazekage-sama," Baki smiled while handing out a scroll to a jounin-sensei and his three genin.
Gaara nearly smiled.
Gaara found himself out of missions to hand out to genins. He searched his table for more scrolls but found none. All the missions left were two A class missions that could be sent to the ANBU if no one else wanted to claim them. As if sensing that the genin missions were gone, a familiar pair traipsed into Gaara's office.
"Kazekage-sama," the girl shrilled with fake sweetness.
"We're here for a mission, Kazekage-sama," said the older boy with phony charm.
In an instant, the cork popped off of Gaara's gourd and sand came rushing into the air. The girl and boy and Baki all tensed up. Gaara stood. The sand formed two hands that rushed towards the pair of mischievous genin. Then they swooped down on them, and whacked them across their heads.
"Ow-owowow!" The boy cried. "Bad Kazekage-sama. I'm not giving you puppet shows anymore."
"That was mean, little-brother-Kazekage-sama," The girl swore.
"Stop being annoying," Gaara muttered. "You're late on purpose. Go to the academy like you want. And stop calling me that. It sounds ridiculous coming from your mouths, not to mention it reminds me of Father when the two of you say it.
Temari's and Kankuro's eyes widened. The air in the room stood still. There was a hushed silence that no one dared to break. Baki sat back down in disbelief, knowing what would come next as they were his team.
"You mean we still get to work on our project." Temari and Kankuro shouted simultaneously.
With a hoot, they left the room. Baki and Gaara hung their heads.
Just as he was about to get up and send the remaining scrolls off to the elite team upstairs, Gaara was stopped in his tracks by a masked ANBU appearing in front of the door to his office. In his hands he carried a scroll that had talons poked into it. The cat-masked ninja said nothing and held the scroll up. It was obvious that it was an important message sent by bird to get to Gaara.
It was addressed to Gaara, not the Kazekage, in chicken scratch that he recognized as Naruto's handwriting. It took all he had in him to not uncharacteristically squeal like a lovesick little girl out of joy. He did the best he could to keep his smile and happiness inside and didn't even crack a smile. However, Baki could see in his former student's eyes just how excited and relieved Gaara was to receive that letter.
Gaara excused himself out the window and rode an elevator of sand up to the roof of his office to read the letter in private.
Alone, Gaara let himself smile as he opened the scroll and read the contents.