A/N: I'm not sure how far this will be going, but for now the plot bunny's got me by the horns. This first chapter may seem cute and fuzzy, and so will the one afterwards. But here's a warning: GORE. Not for those who can't stomach cannibalism, 'cuz Naruto's a little nutso. If you're the kind of person who laughed at a movie like The Hills Have Eyes, then this story will probably seem like a walk in a park of pink daisies. BTW, I'm that kind of person. Just a warning. But for now, enjoy the cuteness!
Disclaimer: Insert witticism about lack of ownership here.
Behind the Sun
: Arrival :
"That's good stuff. What is it, again?" Naruto munched.
Naruto nodded and ripped another bite off the strip o spicy meat with his teeth. "Is there more?"
Gaara nodded. "I figured you'd like it."
Coming to the end, Naruto stuffed the last portion into his mouth and chewed the tough meat. "Ne, ne, Gaara, where are we going?"
"Konohagakure," Gaara said, unearthing another individually-wrapped length of Benny's Best Heartstring Jerky from the gourd on his back. Contrary to popular belief, he carried more than just sand in that thing. "Do you remember Konoha?"
Naruto screwed up his eyes and bit his lip in contemplation as he held his hand out, waiting for the treat. "Konoha...? A hidden village?"
Gaara nodded and started stripping the plastic wrapping off the jerky. "Your village, Naruto."
The blonde blinked slowly, though it was easy to miss with his eyes already half closed. "Suna is not Naruto's village?"
Gaara sighed softly. "No, Konoha is where you were born."
"Was Gaara born in Konoha, too?" Naruto smiled happily when Gaara handed him the anticipated beef jerky.
"No, I'm from Suna, Naruto."
"Num, num." Naruto replied around a mouthful of meat.
"I can't understand you if you try to talk with your mouth full."
Naruto swallowed with an exaggerated gulp. "Yum, yum." he reiterated.
Gaara did not express his slight annoyance.
"Ne, ne, Gaara, is there lots to eat in Konoha?"
"There's Ichiraku's, your favorite ramen stand."
"Ramen?! Yay!" The hyperactive jinchuuriki danced circles around his redheaded partner. "Ramen! Ramen! Konoha must be good if it has ramen!"
A small smile jerked the corners of Gaara's mouth upward. Some things never changed.
"Ne, ne, are we there yet? How long?"
Gaara twitched, doing his best not to show his annoyance at being asked the same question for the umpteenth time in three days. "Not much longer, we should get there by sunset."
"Namen— mamen— mafffffeeeeen!" Naruto chanted as he stuffed the rest of his jerky into his mouth.
Gaara reached back for another. "Don't choke yourself."
"Ah, Kazekage-sama, I received your message." The Hokage greeted them, "I trust your journey went smoothly?"
"Of course, Hokage-sama," Gaara bowed respectfully.
Tsunade's eyes turned to the blonde behind the redhead, who was munching contentedly on a strip of smoked meat. "Naruto, you're back early. I heard you've been causing some trouble for our friends in Suna."
The blonde paused in his chewing to pout. "Nooooo, Naruto was good. Naruto ate what Gaara told him to."
Tsunade raised an eyebrow and looked at Gaara. "You weren't kidding in your letters."
The Kazekage nodded. "He talks in third person most of the time and his vocabulary seems to be deteriorated."
Tsunade's brow furrowed. "And his memory...?"
"Inconsistent, sometimes he can't remember thing that happened more than a couple days ago, and sometimes his recall is almost flawless. Or, as flawless as Naruto's memory can be."
The Hokage smiled slightly at that, but it quickly disappeared. Her eyes roamed to the blonde in question, who had settled on the floor with the jerky steadily disappearing as he rocked back and forth, bumping his shoulder against Gaara's leg.
"Was he like this when you found him?" Though Gaara had explained the situation entirely in his letters, Tsunade wanted to hear it from him directly.
"Not quite," Gaara paused. "The way you see him now is actually much better than then."
"How so?" Tsunade pressed.
"Ne, ne, Gaaa—rrraaaa!"
The Kazekage obligingly procured another beef jerky stick and stripped it of its wrapping.
"Thank yoooouuu!" Naruto chimed, satiated again with his new treat.
The Hokage watched this exchange with a raised eyebrow. "Here," she picked up the waste paper basket form the side of her desk and held it out to him.
Gaara tossed the wrapper into the bin. Then Tsunade watched bemusedly as a column of sand deposited another forty such wrappers into said bin before retracting back into its source inside the gourd.
The Hokage carefully placed the previously empty trash bin back in its place beside her desk; it was now overflowing. "Is that everything?" She raised an eyebrow at her fellow Kage when she had righted herself in her seat.
Gaara remained taciturn, his arms crossed as he watched the Hokage rest her elbows on her desk and her chin on her interlaced fingers.
"How was he when you found him?" Tsunade asked again.
The Kazekage's perpetual frown deepened. "Covered in blood, disoriented, and near-hysterical, his clothes were all torn up. I found him on the edge of the desert, near the Wind-Grass border."
Tsunade's brow furrowed. "Do you normally just stumble upon things like that that are so far away from Sunagakure? That's quite a walk."
Gaara understood her suspicion. "The wind is very steady in the desert. He happened to be upwind and I smelled the blood from miles away."
Tsunade frowned at the oblivious blonde, who was still munching happily on his spicy snack. "Whose blood was it?"
Gaara shrugged. "Hard to say. He appeared to have no injuries, but with his recovery rate that doesn't say much. Plus, it was old, all dry."
The Hokage nodded. "Describe to me in detail, if you please Kazekage-dono, his mental state at the time you found him and how he has progressed since."
"As I said before," Gaara shifted his weight onto his back leg, letting Naruto continue to thump against the other. It was very annoying when you were trying to stand still. "He was very disoriented. He didn't know where he was or why he was there when I found him. He appeared to be wandering aimlessly."
"Did he recognize you?"
Gaara turned his head to the side as if the shake it back and forth, but instead he stopped and held it there, his eyes never leaving the Hokage's. "Barely. He knew me, he knew my face; but I had to remind him of my name."
Gaara shifted again. Standing with all the weight of himself and the gourd on one leg made the joints of his hip, knee, and ankle start to ache. He discreetly expended a bit of chakra through his spine, lifting the sand and taking a little of the weight off his back.
Tsunade motioned for him to continue.
"When I first saw him, he seemed to be in a bit of a daze. When he first saw me he seemed to calm somewhat." Gaara didn't mention that Naruto and glomped him and licked his face in the manner of a dog. "He's followed me ever since."
"Neeeee—eee," Naruto whined around a mouthful of jerky. Gaara almost lost his balance when the boy gave his knee a particularly hard knock with his shoulder.
Tsunade's lips almost smiled against her will at the sight. It was rather amusing to watch the sharp-minded and equally sharp-tempered Sabaku no Gaara attempt to look badass with a fifteen-year-old in the mindset of a toddler practically humping his leg.
"When I brought him to Suna I had him examined by our top medic-nins. They couldn't find anything wrong with him other than the amnesia." continued Gaara, keeping himself from expressing the small offense he took from the amusement in the Hokage's eyes. Any violent expression that is, nothing stopped him from narrowing his eyes slightly to intensify his usual glare.
"I see." hummed Tsunade. Her eyes dance as Naruto started tugging on Gaara's pantleg. "So, you implied that his memory improved during his stay in Suna?"
The redhead tamped down the urge to swat at Naruto's hand; instead he ignored it and bristled inwardly at the mirth in the Hokage's face. "He seems to be recovering gradually. It appears that given the proper stimuli he starts to remember."
Tsunade nodded, growing serious again as she pressed her lips to her knuckles and thought over his words. "So, I'm guessing therein lies your reason to bring him to Konoha, leaving your duties as Kazekage."
"You shouldn't feel burdened, I can arrange for a private room for him—"
"No," Gaara said. "I'll be staying with him."
Tsunade raised an eyebrow. She had expected such, as the Kazekage had detailed in his letters tended to have a fit if left without someone familiar for a lengthened period of time. And familiarity was in short supply with the current state of the boy's memory. "Very well," Tsunade watched as Gaara pulled a canteen from inside the sand gourd. She started to wonder what else was in there, especially since neither Gaara nor Naruto appeared to carry any other luggage. "Will you be needing any accommodations?" The Hokage already knew what the answer would be.
Naruto gnawed on the canteen cap with his naturally sharp teeth until Gaara snatched it away from him.
"I understand Naruto has an apartment of his own, I'll be comfortable there."
Naruto received the waterproof container again, this time minus the cap.
Tsunade understood. The more familiar the surroundings, the more likely Naruto recovered his memory. "Thank you, Kazekage-sama."
Gaara bowed, as foreign dignitary should when addressing another of the same status in their homeland. "Thank you, Hokage-sama, if you don't mind..." He turned to leave.
"Ah, one more thing, Gaara-sama," Tsunade smiled when her addressee stopped at the door. "May I know how long you'll be staying in Konoha?"
Gaara didn't turn around. "I will be staying indefinitely."
The Hokage nodded and her eyes turned to Naruto, who had followed the Kazekage to the door and had taken to chewing on the now empty canteen. "So, you come back to Konoha for the first time in two years and you don't even remember me, brat?"
Naruto frowned at her around the waterproofed leather in his mouth. "Naruto remembers baa-chan." His hand brushed over the neck of the shawl around his shoulders that probably belonged to Gaara, his fingers implied what lie underneath it. "Baa-chan's necklace is Naruto's."
Tsunade's brow furrowed but she smiled all the same. "Good." Inwardly, she wondered uneasily if Naruto remembered more than just her equation to the necklace. She glanced at Gaara, "Why don't you take him around town once you get settled in? Seeing his friends again will probably do his head a world of good. I'll be coming by to see him when I get the time."
The redhead nodded curtly and shut the door behind him.
Tsunade sighed and frowned, pressing her lips against the knuckles of one fist as she pulled out a folder from a drawer of her desk. Shizune always ranted about how her desk was so disorderly and she'd probably have a fit if she ever discovered what Tsunade hid in the back of some of the drawers. But this particular bundle of documents was not simply a cover for her hidden treasures; she had genuine interest in this.
It was the personal record of Uzumaki Naruto, and she found it far from enlightening. The folder was packed full of past misdemeanors, pranks, mistakes, and complaints performed by, about, or having anything to do with Uzumaki Naruto. However, it was horribly lacking of any more useful information such as a medical history. There were of course the routine annual check-ups, but those were cursory and held no in-depth details. There were no records of Naruto ever being sick, or even injured before he became a student at the academy. The only insight given by the file was in a few personal entries by the Sandaime Hokage and later on one by Naruto's chuunin teacher Umino Iruka, but those were few and far between.
However, one detail of note she remembered from one of the previous Hokage's entrees caught her eyes again as she re-read it all. As a byproduct of a severe deficiency in social contact and interaction while very young, Naruto tended to speak in third person up until a few years before he joined Umino's class.