Disclaimer: I don't own the official Naruto. But my ideas are mine.


Chapter 10

Gaara

As for Shizune, she was prepared to tackle the Shoujou family case – perhaps overly so. But then, this was her nature. In fact, her over-preparation may have been the only thing to keep the Shoujou family alive long enough to make an object of study, much less a medical miracle. The residents of Sunagakure had, in an act of infinite charity and caring; decided to care only for themselves, and exile the Shoujou family off into the desert where they could keep their disease to themselves. Currently, the wealthy, noble, and politically significant family was living in a portable shelter which Shizune had brought with her for the flimsy sake of… well, actually no one truly knew why she had brought a portable shelter with her, but she had. Regardless, she now spent all her time there, buried in research and field-testing, and having her mentor drop by every now and as a means of evaluation only. Tsunade would give no tips on this task and Shizune would never, ever ask. It was time to stand on her own as a medic-nin.

x-wind country: desert: shizune's portable shelter-x

"Th-Thank you… Thank you so much," Tsumane Shoujou expressed from her position atop her one-person cot, "we don't have any… accessible funds at the moment, however I swear that…"

Shizune, by the ill woman's cot and in the process of changing her bandage wraps, sought to ease her patient's conscience. "It's alright," she placated. "And don't strain yourself; you're still recovering."

"Yes, but you managed to stop it. I'm so happy," the woman continued, smiling through the bandages covering the majority of the right side of her face. "If it had taken my hands from me, I don't know what I would do…"

"No! Please don't thank me," Shizune pleaded. "If only I had been faster, then you would not look so terrible. And you were so beautiful. Ah!" The medic-nin apprentice gasped. "I'm sorry, Tsuname-san, you're still quite beautiful."

"Thank you, but it is all right. Even if I lose all semblance of beauty, it is all right. You see…" the woman sighed, "only my husband is worth anything in this family."

"Wh-What did you say? Tsuname-san…"

IIII

x-sunagakure: streets-x

The streets of Sunagakure had very low traffic, as usual. As every day was a very sunny and hot day, most adults found they would rather stay inside when they weren't out shopping or on business. Children, of course, were a typically different case. The streets of Sunagakure were also an oddity in themselves. The wind in Sunagakure was no where near as harsh as it was outside the village walls, but was always present to at least some degree. Small sand patches or mounds could be found across any street, but for the most part, all the sand would be blown until it rested against the wall of some building or other. This created large sand-hills attached to buildings that, in one or two places, were so large, you could attempt to scale them and reach a rooftop that way.

"So it's your mother's secret technique?" Temari queried, it hadn't taken long for her to start feeling odd about spying on her friend. After coming clean to him, the pair of children had been busy finding useless but important sounding information to feed her father. "You and your kaa-chan have freakish physical strength, and then you concentrate a ridiculous amount of chakra in the fist and then release it from a singular point in the instant your hit connects… This is the general form of it, right?" Temari asked, for conformation's sake. The pair had just left the house and was currently on the hunt for a Taiyaki stand, as per Naruto's demands. "But you know, I'm going to need a name for it."

The medic-nin in training's face screwed up in thought. "This is going to sound strange, but she never actually named it. It's got a few nicknames though. Lot's of high-ranked people know that it exists and the rumour-mill starts up from there… let's see: it's been called 'Golden Fist', 'Iron hand', and 'Magic finger-fick' …"

Temari was simply aghast at that last one. "What?"

Naruto sported a bemused smile. "Yeah, as to how that one would become popular: perhaps it's revenge from all the guards that have asked for proof of ID from Kaa-chan over the last few years" he theorized. "But there's one that's really good, if I'd have to give it a name, I'd call it that."

"Yeah? And?" Temari pressed. This was perfect: it was a 'secret technique' but lots of people knew about it, and it was un-copyable to-boot.

"Kaa-chan doesn't talk about it, but according to the story I keep hearing: back when she was teamed up with the other Sannin, she used it to K.O. a huge, berserk snake summon somewhere."

"W-Wow"

"Yeah. They started calling it God-Hand"

IIII

A lonely, tired boy watched the two blondes walk off.

"They're outside again" the afore mentioned lonely boy mumbled to himself. "Outside… are they going to play?" his voice was raspy from underuse. If he hadn't started talking to himself, if he hadn't kept talking to his dead kaa-chan, then maybe he wouldn't have any voice left at all. "I know how to play" he stated, hoping that counted for something. He flinched, grasping his head in pain. "Yes I know all their games. I've been watching… N-No, I don't want to kill them, mother. I-I want to play. I want to try…"

For the complete, entirety of his life, he had been shunned by all whom he had tried to befriend. What incredible property of humanity asserted itself so that he would still be trying after all this time? Perhaps it was the spirit of the gambler that resided within this boy. Maybe: with the next try I will win, maybe with just one more try I may win the jackpot. Oh, wouldn't it be glorious... to have just one friend.

The tired, lonely boy took a chance, for he had little to lose and a dream as his prize. And with this, he stepped forwards, silenced the demon he thought was his mother, and cast the die for all he was worth on this last, desperate gambit.

IIII

x-wind country: desert: Shizune's portable shelter-x

"Yes, you see? I am only a Shoujou by marriage; really I'm just a peasant girl from the slums of the capital…" Tsuname smiled. "Back then, my husband was a very popular bachelor. I will admit he was not that handsome but he was wealthy and dependable: beautiful noble women were dogging him day and night. Oh, but I'm rambling"

"N-No, please continue!" Shizune demanded, perhaps a bit too eagerly. Oh, she loved these kinds of romance stories! It was her secret hobby, though she suspected her mentor and Otoutou knew about it already… "It's very interesting, but please don't strain yourself" Shizune insisted, finished removing the bandages from her patients face. It took years of experience with ugly injuries and diseases for Shizune not to recoil from the sight. In the after-effects of a devastating new strand of flesh-eating disease, Shoujou Tsuname's right face was an unsettling and twisted mess. Her nose and right ear seemed to almost have melted into themselves. The chasms: gaps of space where pieces of her face aught to rightly be, looked little more than a bastardization of nature and one would wonder how such a deformation would still leave all the necessary bits intact for a person to remain alive. As if to eternally mock her, the left side of Tsuname's face was pristinely untouched by deformity. If she could have seen her reflection, she would have surely cried. Or vomited. Actually, probably both. "You're tired, aren't you? Go to sleep. I've sent word to the village that your situation is no longer a threat, staff will be coming by later today to help look after you, and we'll be moving your family back to the village in the morning."

"Oh, you must be glad" Tsuname mused. Smiling, she added, "you'll also be able to head back and see your brother, won't you? The one you always talk about"

With the way that smile made her face look, a lesser experienced Shizune would have lost her lunch. As it was, she showed no visible signs of disgust in any form. "Yes, I was thinking of going ahead once the helpers get here."

"You sound quite concerned…"

"Well," Shizune began, embarrassed, "it's just that he can get into such trouble, sometimes…"

IIII

"By the way," Naruto began; ready to switch into his lecturing-pose, "you shouldn't ever try it. Try to copy God-Hand, and you'll just blow your arm off."

"Is it really as simple as you made it sound earlier?" Temari asked dubiously. "I mean, no matter what you say… if it isn't limited by bloodline, then it should be copyable in theory right?"

"What? No… Are you really listening to me?" Naruto demanded. "You're not are you! I already told you: you can't copy it!"

"Oh, come on" Temari persisted, ignoring her friend's foul mouth. "The books say that gathering that much chakra into just a point that small is suicide, but if you do it, then it must be possible and so logically-!"

"'Logic this', 'logic that'," Naruto mocked, "everything's 'logic' with you Temari-chan!" The boy scowled. "You sound like a damn parrot!"

Now that riled her. "What did you say?!" The blond girl demanded. "Do you have some problem with logic?! And you call yourself a medic-nin? Heh! I don't ever want to be on your illogical operating table!"

"Okay, you know what?" Naruto demanded, frustrated. "Hell, fine, try it! Just try the damn thing!" he dared. Flatly, he continued. "I'll be the first kid in history to try healing an exploded arm"

Temari grimaced. "I get the picture. No thanks. I guess you can't really try to figure it out if your arms explode" she bluntly theorized. She didn't really care, anyways. It was Naruto's business, she'd just been curious. "Anyways, the Taiyaki stand is…" her proposition was cut short as she watched the proceeding events with shock.

Temari, who had secretly harboured doubts that a medic-nin in training could be half as combat-worthy as Naruto claimed to be, had her doubts erased. It had happened in a blur of movement: one second, the boy was stumbling forwards; the next he second he had pivoted on his heel, spun a full 180 degrees, and had his fist a mere two inches from the face of their shadow.

"What?" Naruto narrowed his eyes, confused. That killing intent had been insane, like a red-hot javelin of hate being thrust into his consciousness; so abrupt and sharp and focussed that it had even caused him to stumble. An assassin, surely?

"I-I just w-want to play" The red-head whispered, eyes so wide and fearful like some deer staring down the barrel of a revolver. Like a child staring down death from two inches distance.

"G-" the ever calm Temari stuttered, "Gaara!" she stumbled backwards, away from the monster. She… she should escape! No, running would only trigger the animal instinct. She had seen it before: It (her brother) would hunt her down and crush her underneath the malevolent sand. It would slay her for sport, if nothing else. From her spot behind her blond friend, Temari caught sight of the sand shifting at his feet: encircling the area where he stood.

Her fear re-doubled.

The blond medic-nin in training had yet to lower his arm. She knows him? He didn't take his eyes off the newcomer. "Temari-chan," he said, sounding calmer than he felt. "Who is this guy; and why the hell is he leaking killing intent?"

"N-Naruto-kun," A monster, a predator, and a murderer. He'll kill us. He'll really kill us! "H-He…"

"I just want to play," the boy repeated. The fist in front of him seemed to be radiating force; the feel of it was raising the hair on the back of his neck. Would he be hurt? Would he die? … Did it really, truly matter? "I… I just…" he begged; begged like a broken record – begged like a broken child. "I just… want to play"

"You…" Naruto looked over this red-haired youth, noting the black circles around his eyes. Face paint? No: signs of insomnia. Really, really advanced signs of insomnia. Leaking killing intent but not wanting to hurt him… perhaps a case of split personalities? Would that even work?

Naruto's mind still could not reconcile the situation properly: something was off. Some vital point was bothering him at the back of his mind.

Finally, the fist smoothly lowered and the stored charka within dissipated back into the boy's system. "So you aren't here to hurt me? Or Temari-chan?" the blond demanded.

"No" YES! "N-No,I…" KILL them! CRUSH them! BATHE in their GLORIOUS blood! No, stop it kaa-chan. Please…The BLOOD! Don't you want to see? That coppery, wonderful liquid spilling between your fingers… making you ALIVE! NO! I just…"I-Ijust… I just want to play!"

"…" silence stretched out for eternity. One could only guess at what weighing system was used within Naruto's mind to determine the threat level of such a strange newcomer, but finally:

"You're pretty weird, but it's not like I'm normal or anything…" The boy trailed off, scratching his chin in thought. "Well, all right" he proclaimed decisively, grinning at last "but try anything funny, and I'll really kick your ass. My name's Houou Naruto."

Really? Truly? Disbelief reverberated within Gaara's mind. He'd been accepted. Insolent child, the shrill words of a demon echoed, what are you doing? Not now, mother came the immediate reply, I'm going… to play now the words were tinted with reverence. NO! I hunger for death! Stop wasting time!

"Na-Naruto!"

Eh? The boy looked back. What was Temari-chan doing on the floor? "What's up, Temari-chan?"

"Na-Naruto-kun, he…" But Temari's eyes found Gaara's, and the madness that lurked therein. "I – I have to go!"

"Huh?" Naruto had absolutely no idea what to make of his friend's behaviour, as she sprinted away like hell was on her heals. And she called -him- weird. He'd just gotten a new playmate, but lost the other one. Jeez, still couldn't do any three-player games… "Anyway, my name's Houou Naruto. Let's be friends!" he introduced once more when he noted that he still didn't know this guy's name. He held out his hand. "But damnit, I still want my Taiyaki, so we're absolutely going to find that first!"

"…" Gaara stared at the proffered hand, then back to the smiling, honest face of Houou Naruto. A-A friend? Really? Truly?!

"What?" the blond Taiyaki-deprived boy deadpanned. "They don't have handshakes in Sunagakure?"

"S-Sakyuu Gaara," the boy's raspy voice grated out, his hand imitating the blonde's in an attempt at a handshake, for he knew not even this. "A-And… arigato"

As the insomniac made to shake his hand, Naruto felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Something was wrong. So wrong. There was, of course, the palable aura of hatred leaking from this newcomer. It was dull, but it didn't really feel like it was coming from Gaara, himself. No, that wasn't the problem. That killing intent was dull and steady.

So where the hell did that focused spear of killing intent come from earlier?

"Shit" there it was again, focused, clear as day, and coming right from Gaara. "Damnit!" Naruto immediately turned his handshake into a violently strong grip and pulled.

Thunk!

"W-Well, this is new…" Naruto muttered, standing above his new playmate, whom he had only just thrown to the floor. "It seems that I'm not even the target this time." The kunai had been heading for Gaara's back, but had found its home in Naruto's stomach instead. Roughly, he pulled out this instrument of death. Good, the wound was not very deep. He'd close it up momentarily. Quickly, the wounded boy searched the rooftop for some black-cloaked figure, but none was found. Seems I was right. The second killing intent didn't really come from Gaara, but rather some spot behind him. Damnit, you bastard assassin, where are you!

Gaara lay on the sand which had caught him in his fall, stunned and looking up at the back of the one that had helped him. "F-For me… you…"

Naruto looked at the downed boy over his shoulder, seeing a similar but different shock to the one he'd seen on a pink haired friends face those years ago. He shot the boy a reassuring smile. "You'd better explain this shit later, Gaa…" Naruto's words trailed off in surprise: what the hell, he was under a genjitsu? No… the kunai?! "Kai!"

The genjitsu disappeared. A yellow slip of paper revealed itself to be connected to the bloodied kunai still held in Naruto's right hand, covered in intricate patterns and fluttering in the ever-present wind of Sunagakure. With all haste, Naruto tried to get the kunai and its electrocution note the hell away from himself.

It was half terrifying and half mesmerising for Gaara as he watched Houou Naruto scream in pain, blue electricity dancing around his form in a prolonged torture session, visibly arcing from spot to spot on his body. Body still standing, but wracked with spasms as a volts of energy sparked and raced across his body. "N-Naruto!"

It lasted but a few pained seconds, but the voltage of the electrocution note left Naruto panting on his side upon the ground, his inhuman strength all but useless. His body was yet having difficulties responding. Breathing made erratic from the painful experience, he looked at Gaara, who had risen to stand above him, and back to the kunai in his hand. "Shit," he groaned. "That wasn't a normal electrocution note. If I hadn't removed it from my stomach before it activated then I might even be…" The boy raised eyes back to the red-head he'd saved. From his prone position on the ground, he managed to ask the most vital question. "Just who the hell is after you?" And why… why the hell are you looking at me as if I'm horrifying?

Blood… "Kaa-chan, no…" Gaara's horrified whisper matched his horrified face. He could feel it: the ghostly clawing of his mother had begun to scratch at his mind. Look at the blood! The shrill voice insisted, growing louder by the word."He-He helped me, he didn't know about your sand. He thought I would be hurt or killed."

He is strong! I can feel the energy within him. It floods his veins! KILL him, take his life and let it give meaning to your own! "H-He's accepted me, kaa-chan, we're going to be friends…" the boy winced, and clutched his head in both hands, "you can't hurt him!" Give it to me! The voice demanded, more senseless than ever. You will give me his blood! "No kaa-chan, I don't want to kill!"

"What the hell?" was all Naruto managed to whispered in response to the sight above him.

BLOOD!

The ground below Naruto outright exploded in a shower of death.

IIII

"Wh-What's going on?" Temari whispered, feeling the explosion of killing intent. "Th-This feeling: this will to slaughter anything that lives… Shukaku!"

Her legs felt weak, as they always did in the face of the pure maleficent intent that was Shukaku, the sand tanuki demon. "Gaara… Naruto!" She had left those two together. She turned towards the direction of the killing intent, but found she could not move. "Na-Naruto-kun…" tears brimmed in her eyes, "I-I'm sorry!" and she continued to run away.

IIII

"Sh-Shit…" Naruto cursed. The sand below him had exploded upwards and, forming what Naruto could only call a giant sentient stream, had slammed him into a nearby house wall with terrific force. He was pinned, limbs restrained as the mass of sand smothered them utterly. He felt the sand grains crawling up his skin, making their way to his throat. D-Damn Naruto thought, feeling the sand contract in an effort to squeeze the air and life from his body. He was terrified; his body was still recovering from the effects of the electrocution note and no matter how tough he was, no one could survive without oxygen. If I could move properly! Even an arm! But then what? Just how was he supposed to fight off sand? How could he break it? Shit, that's some gratitude you have there, Gaara!

"Kaa-chan! Stop it!" Gaara screamed, clutching his head. "You'll kill him! He's my friend!" Why, when he was given a chance? Why, just when the future looked so new and exiting? "Please! Please Kaa-chan!"

Oxygen…I need oxygen… Naruto thought dazedly. Blots of blackness were already beginning to obstruct his vision. I'll lose consciousness soon. If, if that happens then what will I… The boy's thoughts were interrupted by another boy's incessant pleas for his 'kaa-chan' to stop. Gaara: what the hell?

Sand made its way into his mouth, it made as if to pour down his thought and do who-knows-what to his insides. It was an unnatural, disgusting feeling that filled him with a frantic dread. But then, a miracle: Naruto could feel his right arm again. The boy scowled. Let's do this. Throwing his strength behind the movement, he pushed his right arm forwards, breaking free of the sand.

What is he doing! My sand cannot be stopped! The demon chortled in its host's mind before quickly, insanely, changing thought trains entirely. He's strong! Truly worth the Kill! Struggle and squirm before you die, my worm! My prey!

Houou Naruto isn't pinned so easily! he thought feircely, taking the arm he had broken free and slamming it backwards. Come on: God-Hand!

With an audible 'boom' and 'crack' the wall behind him blew open for a four foot diameter, and Naruto tumbled backwards into the room beyond.

The occupants of 102nd Roppou Street watched in horror as a sizeable portion of their wall literally imploded and a boy came spilling in, covered in sand. They clutched each other and shared tear-stained looks, knowing that with all the killing intent in the air, that sand surely belonged to Sunagakure's resident monstrosity.

Naruto choked violently even as he rolled to his feet, he needed to get that sand out of his system: he didn't trust it at all. The sand that had spilled into the room with him seemed to just be lying there. What was going on here? The medic-nin in training glanced to his right and saw a family clutching each other in absolute terror, looking at the sand – not him, the person that had fallen in – as if it were the devil itself.

Gaara panted, crouched on the floor. Had he regained control of the sand? His mother had suddenly stopped. "Kaa-chan?" he tried, tentatively.

Wonderful… the voice whispered in awe.

"Wh-" Gaara doubted he'd heard right. His kaa-chan seemed almost… calm "What?"

Truly wonderful! The voice regained its shrill insanity with startling ease. Such raw Power! I LOVE it! Come to me! Shukaku cried Come to me and die!

"Absolutely, completely, craptastic" Naruto declared. The sand had been lifeless for all of twelve seconds before re-animating. In an impressive display of skill for his age, he had just finished closing his stomach wound through Ijutsu. He looked back at the family whose home he had invaded. They still clutched each other in fright. He looked at the sand and noted that it was gathering into what would probably be another attempt to pin and crush him. "Well shit" he spun around and cocked back an arm. "Let's take this outside, you bastard! God-Hand!" Making an exit of the nearby wall, Naruto made his escape into the more manageable outside street.

Gaara watched as Naruto practically exploded back out of the house he had exploded into. His kaa-chan had never cried for blood so loud and it was making his head hurt with a pain that was almost crippling. She wanted control. Total control to pull forth her full power, but he fought her; he resisted. And that resistance was killing him. "He… he's my friend" the boy whimpered. Friend? Shukaku challenged. Friend! You have no friends! Friends are for killing! Look, look into the eyes of your 'friend'! And indeed, even through the pain Gaara could make out the icy cold glare Naruto had fixed on him as the blond made a wide circle of his position, dodging streams of sand all the while. He meant business. "N-No… that's just because you hurt him kaa-chan…" Gaara tried. But there was not much faith behind his own protests. He had been hurt too many times. He will kill you! Protect yourself! KILL him BACK! Shukaku cackled.

Naruto glared angrily at Gaara. Damnit, what was going on? Didn't that guy say he didn't want to hurt him just a while ago? He was clutching his head and talking to himself. No matter how you look at it, he didn't seem to be consciously controlling the sand. Was it really a case of split-personalities? One thing was for sure: Who or whatever was doing this was a real bastard that was going to get his ass kicked so hard. Another stream of sand of a seemingly endless supply came flying at him from the side. Throwing out another God-Hand punch, and scattering a good five metres of the sand column to the wind, Naruto knew that he wasn't doing anything more than buying time. This is ridiculous, why can't I even sense this sand! It doesn't have a chakra signature? No way! My chakra sense never fails me like this the thought sent a chill down his spine. His most trusted sense was useless, this had never really happened before what's going on? Is… damnit, is it –that– day again? The boy's eyes snapped wide, he hadn't watched his step. Shit, I stepped on a sand hill! With a startled yell, he was hoisted into the air by the ankle.

Chance!Shukaku chortled. Feel the wrath of hell!

Naruto, dangling upside-down by his right ankle stared as every particle of sand within a one-block radius formed into more than fifteen tendrils of death before him. The feat was truly mind-boggling. G-Give me a break! There's a limit to how ridiculously shitty a day can get! Naruto stared as the tendrils shot towards him. Damnit, I am not losing to some goddamn stupid, freaky sand! "I'm done messing around with you, Gaara!" the boy slammed his hands together "Karyuu…!"

Shukaku itself was dumbfounded. What is this little human doing with all that chakra?

"ENDAN!"

Just as Naruto's vision at that moment must have been clouded by masses of sand, Gaara's vision in the next moment was blanketed by an angry red. A roaring dragon head billowed forth of such size that it occupied the entire width of the street.

Gaara, literally, had no where to run.

"Aaaaaaa!" the red-haired boy screamed, throwing his arms up before his face in futile defence, eyes shutting tight.

IIII

"Huh?" Tsunade stiffened. Running on instinct, she spun to her direct left, only to face a two story tall Karyuu-Endan barrelling down the street towards her. With an almost insulting ease, she slapped held her palm onto the charging beast as it reached her, releasing an impact of chakra from her palm, dispelling the monstrosity instantly. Weak. Sure, it was big, but the chakra was so spread out that it was little more than a glorified heat wave. It must have come from quite a ways, though, as she couldn't see the source.

"Naru-chan?" she pondered, feeling the remnant chakra left behind. "It's not like him to practice different forms of Karyuu-Endan in the middle of the city..." Though, looking around, it seemed as if the residents of Sunagakure had holed themselves up. The street was deserted. Did the brat get this whole area's co-operation? I don't like this, it's suspicious. What does this village know… that I don't know. Frowning, she left for the direction the Karyuu-Endan had come from. Naru-chan's supposed to be safe here. Goddamn Kazekage, if that 'bodyguard' you promised me isn't looking out for my son, I won't stand still.

"Tsunade-sama!" a desperate, urgent voice hollered.

"What?!" startled, the slug summoner turned to face the source of such a panicked voice. What was it now? No! This person? "You? What are you doing here?!"

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune pleaded, panting in exhaustion. She'd sprinted most of the way here. "Please come with me right away! I need your help, something…" looking closely, Tsunade noted the tears brimming in her apprentice's eyes "something terrible happened!"

IIII

Gaara's breathing was quick. He… he was still alive. In fact, he hadn't been touched at all. It took a while for the boy to recall that, hey, his sand would have protected him from anything. It took one more second to recall that his mother had been mercilessly bent on his first friend's destruction, leaving him undefended for perhaps the first time of his life. "Wh-Why am I… still…"

Clever prey! Shukaku cooed. Sneaky prey! That fire was only meant to stop my sand, and cover your escape! You fooled me! The tanuki cheered in congratulations. You're so interesting, so interesting!

Hearing this, Gaara whipped his head around. It was true. In the few seconds he had had his eyes clamped shut: Naruto had disappeared. Suddenly, Gaara felt hunted – exposed here in the middle of the street. As the seconds ticked by at their painfully slow pace, his unease heightened. N-No, Naruto-san won't really kill me, will he? I… no, would that really be so bad? To die? I have tried to do so on my own, and kaa-chan's sand always stopped me. Would it be so bad? Should I die, or should the one that had been willing to give me a chance die? I-I don't want either. If, if the fight could just stop! If I could just have my chance back! And so, the minutes ticked by... until:

Oh, but you don't know what's going on, do you, prey? You're not fighting my host, you're fighting me! And I follow you by chakra-sense, did you know? The tanuki all but sang. And guess what? I–found–you!

The second-story window to Gaara's left broke open as Naruto dived through it, kunai drawn, icy glare set, and making a beeline for the demon-host-boy.

Too-baaad Shukaku sang, it had picked up the fool boy's position easily. It was fun, but now it's time to DIE!

A thin stream of sand shot up to meet the descending boy. This time, instead of trying to merely catch him, the chakra-laden sand pierced straight its target's stomach.

"N-No!" Gaara cried, "Kaa-chan, what did you–" but Gaara was cut short, rendered speechless as the mortally wounded Naruto disappeared in a small explosion of smoke. "Wh-What?"

Wh-WHAT!

"Kage-bunshin," a cool voice from behind explained.

Gaara spun around, shocked and terrified, only to have Naruto's closed, power-radiating fist inches from his face for the second time this day. He became almost paralyzed in fear.

Naruto locked eyes with Gaara. "I know. The chakra-signature is really realistic, isn't it?" Kage-Bunshin even fooled -my- chakra sense back when Ero-Uncle pulled that fake-assassin stunt… He continued to talk, noting that Shukaku, fortunately, seemed interested enough to put the fight on pause. "I heard all about it: how you sense out your surroundings, Shukaku-yarou. Temari-chan told me."

Hm? Who's this 'Temari'? Shukaku asked of her host, holding a list of priorities that was just irrational enough for the demon to neglect the veritable chakra-bomb hovering an inch before her host's nose.

"Gaara" the boy on the other end of that chakra-bomb began seriously, "can you get control back?" And on your face there, are those tears? You really didn't want to kill me, did you…

Control? Control, he said?! An almost musical chortling made itself known inside Gaara's mind. But the boy barely heard it. Naruto-san, you would look on a monster like me… with those kind eyes? For someone like me! As if this child could TAKE control from ME! "Stop it, kaa-chan," the boy whispered, voice shaken but resolute as steel, falling to his knees and discarding all care for himself, "just… just STOP IT!" WH-What is this? You've been fighting me all day! Insolent child, you cannot win!

There, mid-noon in a nameless Sunagakure street, a child waged war upon a demon with such ferocity within his poor, limited mind, that it brought blood to his eyes. "Stop it, stop it, stop it! SHUKAKU!" he cried, clutching his head in pain and raw determination. He couldn't feel his legs, they were not important, not something worth focussing on. Right now, Sakyuu Gaara's whole world was on the plane of wills. He didn't even notice… that for the first time, he had called the demon by its real identity.

IIII

x-sunagakure street: rooftops-x

"G-Gaara…" Temari whispered in horror. She could faintly make out the blood running from the boy's nose and eyes as he kneeled, head clutched violently in his hands as he screamed at Shukaku with all his soul. Naruto was now crouched by the Gaara's side, hand on the other boy's shoulder, shouting his support. "Is that really… Gaara?" she clutched tightly the fan in her hands. It-It was really working.

x-earlier-x

"Damn," Naruto panted before slumping down unto the rooftop - it was a good two houses away from where Gaara was. That Karyuu-Endan had taken a lot out of him, but he remained alert. "Who's there!" he demanded in a whisper. He really didn't want Gaara to find him out just yet.

"Naruto-kun," Temari whispered back, finishing climbing up her grappling-hook to the roof, "it's me".

"Temari-chan? What are you doing here?"

What, indeed, was she doing here? She had tried to run away from this, she really honestly had. But she must be a fool, because she just couldn't do it... "Sorry I'm late, Naruto-kun" she apologized with a slightly strained smile, "I had to go get my fan from my house. I'm no good without it. But you got away on your own, Naruto-kun!" she whispered excitedly. "Come on, let's get going before he finds us!"

"Temari…"

"Eh? Naruto-kun, what are you doing? We have to go! Move!"

"Temari-chan," Naruto spoke firmly "tell me about Gaara."

"Never mind that, let's go! I'll tell you later!" she insisted, crawling back to her grappling hook. They'd make there way down using this, then retreat to her house until Gaara calmed down… No, that wasn't enough: Gaara was far too exited, he'd chase her friend down forever. Naruto would have to leave Sunagakure immediately… so…

"Temari-chan, I'm not moving," the boy insisted, looking more serious than Temari had ever thought possible for him, "not until you tell me about Gaara"

"Wh-Wha...? You… you stubborn idiot!"

But she had told him, knowing no other option. She had told him in as concise form as her impressive intellect could muster, all the important points she knew about Gaara and his life.

"Naruto?" Temari asked, tentatively. At the end of these explanations, Naruto lay staring at some point beyond the clouds above. She had never seen the boy look so passive and distant. His expression seemed both pained and filled with distaste. But what stole Temari's voice the most... were the unshed tears in his eyes.

"I understand," Naruto muttered, smiling so sadly that it was almost painful to watch, "I-I understand, so well. He's seen those eyes every day? Those hateful but terrified eyes, walking down the street and being surrounded by them all of his life... Different. Yes, forever, fundamentally different. Forever strange, almost controlled mutation of humanity." The boy rose to his feet slowly, "everything makes sense now," he wiped his eyes on a tattered sleeve, "thanks Temari-chan."

"Naruto-kun!" she didn't like the new expression of determination on her friend's face. "Just stop, you can't beat Gaara! It's just…"

"Not Gaara…" Naruto glared down at his opponent below. "That damn Shukaku-bastard!"

"Naruto-kun, you're not listening to me! You just can't beat him!" Temari pleaded for reason

"You're right" Naruto nodded.

"R-Really? Great!" she enthused, hesitantly getting up as well. She hoped they wouldn't be spotted... "Let's go!"

"I can't take out that demon without taking out Gaara…" the boy grumbled, frowning in thought. He'd need to create an opening; he'd have to distract Shukaku…

The boy slammed his hands together in the 'shadow' seal. "Kage-Bunshin no jutsu! You know what to do? Good, make it loud and startling all right?"

Temari froze in shocked indignation as the Bunshin sprinted off over the rooftops. "Y-You! Are you giving weight to my opinion at all?" But wait, could he really beat Gaara? He'd lasted this long, maybe…? Quickly, she re-evaluated the situation. Running wouldn't solve the problem forever, nothing would. Gaara would be the terrifying promise of death forever. Unless… "Naruto-kun, listen…" Temari said, grimacing. She knew he wouldn't like what she had to say. "If Gaara were to… you know, pass away... then everything is solved, right?"

Overcome by shock, Naruto gripped Temari by her upper arms and fought hard not to yell obscenities even his mother rarely used, "What the hell are you saying!? He's your brother!"

"Naruto," Temari began solemnly, seriously - even despite the painful grip Naruto had on her, "I haven't called him… 'Otoutou' even once in my life. And he hasn't called me 'nee-chan' either. Do you understand? We're just a shell of a family." And the person that wants to kill Gaara the most is our father, our Kazekage himself.

"…fine" he didn't like it, but he could understand it… "but let me tell you something, Temari-chan," the boy annunciated his words with care, "since the start of this freaky fight, that shell of a brother of yours has never stopped fighting for my sake!" Screaming and clutching his head, he's been trying to reign in Shukaku this whole time!

"Gaara… has?" she could not believe, she could not reconcile. That monster she had feared all of its life…

"Temari-chan," Naruto began again, his solemn tone giving yet more weight to his words, "in my family, we believe something:" the boy paused, reciting an, until now, unspoken oath he kept close to his heart, "you are never to let your comrades die," the boy's fists clenched at his sides, "not without one hell of a fight"

And so saying, Naruto jumped backwards off of the four storey building.

"Naruto-kun!" Temari dived after him, but was only treated to the sight of his back as he ran vertically down the wall. "I-I shouldn't be surprised, I guess…" she proclaimed to herself.

x-present time-x

Temari stared, only able to guess the kind of war occurring in her younger brother's mind. "Never let your comrades die… is it…" unconsciously, she clenched her fan tighter in her hands. "Naruto-kun, be careful… I heard the seal used for Shukaku was cracked and imperfect..."

IIII

"Gaara, hang in there!" Naruto shouted to a mop of read-hair. Gaara's head was almost resting on the ground as he grunted in effort. You live for me, insolent child! Give me your body back! You fool, what are you doing!

"Listen to me, Gaara," not getting a response, Naruto grabbed Gaara by the shoulders and forced the boy's blood-stained eyes to meet his own, "damnit listen! You have to fight it! You didn't choose to have a demon sealed inside you, but all those people are scared right!? No one wants to try to know you, right!? I understand it very well… But are you just going to let that damn parasite rule your life?" He asked in a strained, almost pleading voice. "tand up for yourself, Gaara! Don't ignore your worth!"

"My… worth" Gaara echoed. Managing to say this much was an accomplishment when one felt as if they were playing tug-of-war with one's own soul.

You will live for me, you will die for ME!

No, NO! Shut up Shukaku!

If not for me, then who? Live for yourself then, kill all the others: that is fine too! Just bring me death!

No, not for you, and not just for myself!

Then what, you useless little killer, what will you live for?

I-I don't know…

Then give me your body! I WILL LIVE IN YOUR PLACE!

NO! "what is… my worth…" Gaara ground out, "I-I never found it. All this time… all this time. Na-Naruto, do you know how many people I've… killed?"

The question offset Naruto. "Wh-What? No…"

"Naruto-san… I-I tried to keep count," he pleaded, "t-tried to keep track, but I… I couldn't… too many… c-could you tell me… how many I killed? Wanted… to say… sorry to them… just once…"

"Gaara…"

"I'm… a monster. What is the worth… of this monster" Isn't it obvious, resilient but useless child! The worth of a monster is just how much it kills! We have this in common, stop fighting me!

A monster? "Gaara, you…. Damnit, come with me!" Naruto demanded, hoisting the other boy to his feet and all but dragging his limp body towards the nearest house. "I don't care if it's locked, we're coming in!"

IIII

The residents of 98th Roppou Street knew that locking the door would do little against the monstrosity that was Gaara. Really, when their door exploded inwards, they were not all that surprised. What they were, was paralyzed in fear.

"A mirror!" Naruto demanded of the residents. "Give me a mirror! NOW!"

Quicly spotting a plain, full-length mirror to the left, he dragged a staggering Gaara before it. "Look at yourself Gaara!" he demanded. "You tell me you're a monster as much as you want! I'll never believe you while your eyes look like that!"

"My… eyes?" Straining, Gaara looked and saw in his eyes only pain and blood.

"Yes! Those insomniac eyes!" Naruto declared, fiercely. "I haven't heard of such an advanced case in my life. Shukaku will come after your soul if you sleep, right? It'll tear at your defenceless mind, right?! Gaara, haven't you been fighting sleep all this time because you wanted to stay human!?" he challenged

"H-Human?"

"Go for it, Gaara!" Naruto encouraged, "it sucks, but life isn't fair sometimes. Sometimes, just to get the thing that everyone else already has, you'll have to fight like hell!" yes, even gaining an average level of chakra-control was hell, wasn't it… all those frustrations... always thinking I was so inferior... "I've been through such a fight Gaara! I'm telling you it can be won!" So saying, Naruto clutched the trembling boy's left hand with firm comradery. "And after all this shit is over…" he began, eyes and voice taking a softer tone, "let's go eat some Taiyaki together. It's a promise."

"h-human…" Gaara whispered with longing and awe, as if he had reached a great epiphany, "m-more than anything else, what I always wanted... was to stay human...! I- I just wanted to be normal! I just wanted to be liked! Friends! Family! I-If I could just have these things! If I could have them-! I- I would live for them!"

Im-Impossible! Where is your puny human mind getting this strength?! S-Stop it! STOP!

"YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Those present at this scene would later swear that, just for a moment, the entire world had seemed to tremble with the force of one boy's will

-

-

-


Omake

One day, Temari had coerced Naruto into playing an indoor game. To be precise, she coerced him into being her figurative punching bag in a game of chess.

"Er, so this piece goes like… that!" Naruto triumphantly declared, slamming the little wooden castle down with determination. "Hah, this isn't so hard: check!"

"Pft!" Temari tried to restrain her laughter – and failed, "You utterly fell for my trap!"

Crap. Naruto could merely watch hopelessly as his awesome castle was defeated by a mere horse.

"You always beat me in tag or hide-and-seek Naruto-kun, but in the world of tactical board games: I am invincible!" the blond girl declared boldly. "Regarding my 0 to 32 loss against you in hide-and-seek, this is my counterattack! You won't get a single match from me!"

"Is that so!" Naruto challenged. "We'll just see about that!" he taunted, slamming down a pawn. Slow and steady… he'd inch towards her defences and when she was least expecting it? Bam! Checkmate!

"Pft!" Temari resisted another short bout of laughter – and yet again failed. "Wow, you're really no good at this, Naruto-kun," Temari mused, knocking over the knight that had been previously protected by Naruto's pawn with her queen, "you weren't bad at Shogi so I thought you'd be okay at this. How come? Isn't chess more popular back in Fire Country?"

"Well," Naruto sighed, "there's a logical explanation for that but it's a bit stupid…"

That really caught Temari's interest. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"Ugh, you see…" the boy reluctantly began, "it's true that Chess is supposed to be popular back there… But you know, you won't find many people betting about Chess. Compared to that, in Fire Country people sometimes make small bets about Shogi…"

"S-So, you're saying that…"

"Yeah," Naruto admitted irritably, "kaa-chan only bought us Shogi and Mahjong sets"

"Pft! Aha! Aha ha ha ha ha!" Temari couldn't help herself. For that reason alone! What an incredible dedication to gambling! But she always lost! "Bwha ha ha ha! Oh! Oh, my sides hurt: I'm laughing too hard! Oh wow!" That was simply too much!

"Shut up! Nothing's wrong with Shogi!" Naruto protested. "And I'd toast you in Mahjong!"

"Aha ha ha!" Somehow, despite nearly incapacitating mirth, Temari managed to slide her queen over and take Naruto's bishop

"Laugh it up!" Naruto scoffed, irritably, "Hah! Look at this, you left your Queen right in the line of fire!" Triumphantly, he took Temari's Queen with his King. The Queen was the most powerful piece available in Chess.

Unfortunately, rather than sobering the laughing blond, Naruto's move served only to increase her terrible mirth. "Aha ha ha ha ha! Ch- Oho ho ho ho! Ch-Checkmate! Ah – Aha ha ha!"

"D-Damnit…"

It took a while before Temari finally stopped laughing.

"Wh-Whooo. Oh, my cheeks hurt, that was so funny," seeing her friend's blatantly unamused face, Temari brought herself under control, "sorry Naruto-kun, it was just way too funny. Hey, let's play again, but I should get some kind of handicap…"

"What? That's no fun…" Naruto protested, "Besides, I don't need your pity!"

"Oh, c'mon, Naruto-kun, think about it like this. I'm not even really trying right now," Temari lectured, "with a handicap, it'll let me face unusual, disadvantageous situations so I can get better. Help me train, alright?"

"Geez… fine," Naruto assented reluctantly.

"Right," Temari began her dictation, "I'll flip a coin whenever my turn comes, and if you call it right then we'll just skip my turn, alright? Ah, but you still have to end it with a Checkmate alright?"

"Flip a coin?" Naruto asked dubiously. "Are you sure about that?"

"Sure, the randomness will also make it interesting."

"Well…"

"Oh come on, Naruto-kun. You think I'll have a chance of loosing?" she asked, amused, "Pft! Aha ha ha ha!"

"Damnit, you're on!"

x-later-x

"Wh-What… how?" Temari sat, shell-shocked.

"That was surprisingly boring…" Naruto observed. "I told you it was a bad idea…"

"B-But…" Temari weekly argued, completely disorientated. "I lost? Y-You…"

Indeed, Temari had lost. And it had been a truly, utterly, one-sided loss of the greatest degree.

You see, she had not gotten to move a piece, not even once.

Suddenly, the girl snapped out of her daze and clear into rampant disbelief, slamming her hands onto the table. "You called it right for 50 times in a row!"

"Well, yeah," Naruto admitted, "I think it would have been better if I could have gotten one wrong though..." he theorized.

"Wh-What?! How is that even possible! Do you know what the chances are of calling it right 50 times in a row!" Temari demanded incredulously. "It-It's ridiculous! It's impossible!"

Naruto shrugged, "Apparently, my luck for this kind of thing is really good." Feeling a little bad and awkward for the apparently traumatizing experience he had just put his friend through, he added. "But anyways I'll admit that Temari-chan is really incredible at chess. You want to play something else now?" he offered. "…Mahjong?"

"S-Somehow, I don't think there'd be a point," Temari observed.

"Oh, so you experienced it, huh?" Tsunade asked, coming onto the scene. "Naru-chan's unreasonable luck, that is. Sometimes, I feel like the brat is stealing away all of mine" she groused.

"Yeah, right, kaa-chan!" Naruto defended righteously. "You lost all the time before you adopted me; and after you adopted me, you lost all the time!" He argued. "There's no change!"

"Shut up, brat! Are you trying to rub it in?!"

"It's the truth, kaa-chan! Grow up and accept it!"

Now, there was something about being told to 'grow up and accept it' by her child that really pissed Tsunade off. "That does it!" Quickly, she pulled Naruto into a tight headlock, yet that was merely the beginning.

Naruto knew that too. "W-Wait a second! What's that handseal! That's new!"

"Vengeful Mother's Ultimate Secret Technique: Burning Noogie of 1000 Retributions!"

"I can't believe you came up with a new handseal for this!" Naruto managed to cry in disbelief, before the wrath of the real-ultimate vengeful mother's technique descended upon him. "Just how much free time do you really have!"

End.


Yes, there were many unanswered questions left after this chapter. As with the last time I'd said this, it's because it had been my intent to resolve most of these questions within this chapter. However, this has already pushed past the 8000 word mark.

I thought I'd be less busy, actually, but it seems I overestimated my luck. That's partly why this chapter took so long. It's been a bothersome time. I'm starting to get a reign on things, though.

An epiphany is a moment when things suddenly become clear, or something. Like "Ah! I get it now" or "So that's how it was!"

Taiyaki is a Japanese snack. It's commonly baked with pancake or waffle batter with a red-bean-paste filling. Most amazingly: it's shaped like a fish! Even rough fin and scale detail exists. It's made using a mold for each side of the fish.

K.O. stands for Knock-Out

About the name God-Hand. Well, it's been used as a title in at least one anime (Initial D). Also, I think there was a game that was released named God-Hand? It's the name of the strongest knuckle for a character in the re-released Final Fantasy 3 (really FF6). But anyways, this isn't where inspiration for using this name came from. I once played a video game... what, one of the "Legend of Mana" series? There was a class called God-Hand there, it was a monk kind of thing, and it always struck me as a very impressive name. Henceforth, this shall be Naruto's favorite way to refer to his and his mother's 'chakra-impact technique'.

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder. It represents the inability to sleep or remain asleep for a reasonable period of time.

To be malnourished is to have lacked proper… nourishment. Visibly, it makes you kind of scrawny and thin.

A Tanuki is a member of the racoon-dog family and kind of looks like a racoon, but more chubby. Usually, they're brown. They're native to Japan.

There are 12 basic handseals. There are also special ones like the one Naruto uses in Kage-bunshin, which I believe is unnamed and as such is dubbed the "shadow" seal by me. Kage-bunshin means shadow-clone.

Shogi is that board game you'll see Shikamaru or old men play a lot in anime. It's a little similar to Chess, but certainly has its differences. For instance, the pieces are set up differently, can move differently, and can be changed into only one different type of piece through 'promotion'.

Mahjong is a game using tiles. It originated in China, but yes, spread to Japan. It is very much a gambling game. Luck is involved in a similar way as it is involved in Poker. There are a lot of variations, apparently.

Hmm... favorite sequence of lines in this chapter would be... hmm, it has to be: "h-human…" Gaara whispered with longing, "m-more than anything else I just wanted... to stay human! I just wanted to be normal! I just wanted to be liked! Friends! Family! I-If I could just have these things! If I could have them! I- I would live for them!"

But this part was pretty good too: "Yeah, right, kaa-chan!" Naruto defended righteously. "You lost all the time before you adopted me; and after you adopted me, you lost all the time!" He argued. "There's no change!"

As always, if I make mistakes: even just grammer or odd wording that you think is repetative or annoying go ahead and tell me. Advice is always good and I hate to say this but my BETA reader isn't perfect.

On that note, my BETA reader isn't that bad, either, so I say thanks to him.

Also, to the person who is sort of my pre-reader, I say thanks to him too.

Please Review