Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. Which is good, since I wouldn't want to take credit for some of the things he's been doing lately.
Notes: As I watched Gaara and Naruto slug it out, something really stuck out. Because of their differences, they had some trouble understanding each other initially. But it's because of their similarities that there even was a desire to understand each other. And this fic popped out of my head when I realized just how similar their lives were. Enjoy.
Summary: Exchanged to preserve peace between their villages, six year olds Naruto and Gaara get a second chance at life. Can Suna make Naruto into a living weapon? Can Konoha make Gaara into a human being?
The Nature of Love
A Naruto Fanfic by
Nate Grey (XMAN0123-at-aol-dot-com)
Chapter 1: Suffer the Children
On the night that the Yondaime Hokage gave his life, several important things happened.
The Kyuubi no Kitsune, feared everywhere that common sense prevailed, was defeated, and the Hidden Leaf Village was saved from certain destruction.
Uzumaki Naruto was born twice: first, as a normal human child, and then again, as a human sacrifice, to contain the immeasurable power of the Kyuubi.
Hatake Kakashi lost a teacher and friend, which would further shape the man he would become one day.
The Sandaime Hokage, as he began to mourn his successor, realized that he would have to give up his life for the village he loved so dearly a second time (although, he was unaware of how literal that expression would prove to be by the end of his second term).
And the Yondaime Kazekage, when he heard of what had transpired that night, would grow very displeased, though not for the expected reasons. But in the midst of his displeasure, an idea began to form in the Kazekage's head. It would be some time before he acted on that idea, but it is important to note that even as he set it aside for the moment, he couldn't help but marvel at what an incredible opportunity it would almost certainly turn out to be.
Because for all their differences, the Hidden Villages were remarkably similar, in that they all contained a common element: people. And people, unlike a single person, were more often prone to make rash decisions, fueled by fear, and a certain amount of misinformation. Ironically enough, those were two things that every good ninja, and certainly every good Kage, knew how to manipulate.
Kyuubi was not accustomed to playing the role of comforter, but he was playing it fairly well, and for good reason. It was either suck up his pride, for the moment, or end up dead.
The boy he was trapped inside of was weak and virtually useless, but for a while, Kyuubi had admired the boy's spirit. He'd fought back, even when he hadn't stood a chance against the angry mobs.
Now, though, he just let them come. Didn't even run as fast as he could have. The boy wanted to die, and Kyuubi couldn't allow that. Unfortunately, the boy knew that as well. So even if he couldn't take his own life without Kyuubi's permission, they both knew that even the fox's chakra had its limits, now that it had to contend with a human body.
The latest beating had left the boy with a broken arm, and when he retreated to the relative safety of his own mindscape, Kyuubi, for once, had not insulted him. Instead, he sat there and watched the boy cry. It was sickening, pathetic, and extremely uncomfortable. But Kyuubi didn't want to push him any further. The boy was nothing if not determined, and if he was pushed too far, eventually he would find a way to kill them both.
But in the end, he was still just a boy.
So when Kyuubi allowed his chakra to seep beneath the bars of his cage, carefully formed it into a warm, furry tail, and wrapped it around the boy, there was no struggle. The boy merely closed his eyes, buried his face in the fur, and quickly fell asleep.
Deep in the heart of Suna, a boy cried out in anguish, and a monster roared in triumph.
To anyone listening, there would have been no difference between the two. There was one person, however, who recognized the difference on a level that bordered on intimate.
She stood only inches behind him (and he only inches away from the still smoking crater that marked her younger brother's final resting place), but for all of his enhanced senses, Gaara could not detect her. Even if he had, he would have thought her nothing more than cruel joke, or a meaningless phantom from his memories.
And she had no one but herself to blame.
Certainly, the Kazekage was at fault, but only partially. She was the one who had made the boy what he was now: a lost and lonely creature, a perfect breeding ground for the horrors that Shukaku would make real, all in her name.
Karura had wanted revenge, and she had known that her son would suffer because of it. But she had never imagined that she would be around to actually witness it. Knowing Gaara would avenge her was one thing. But being used as Shukaku's tool to keep her son in line was quite another.
It was odd. She had felt nothing for Gaara, upon learning what he would become. Like the Kazekage, she wanted him to be a tool, an instrument to carry out her revenge. But now that she was dead, Karura's feelings had changed. Still she desired her vengeance, and still she wished that her son be the one to give it to her. But now, she wanted him to know inner peace, and be free of Shukaku's constant torture.
It was both her blessing and her curse that Gaara would take her with him everywhere he went. She would witness her revenge, but she would also witness every hardship that the demon put her son through.
Resigning herself to her fate with a heavy heart, Karura buried her face in her hands and wept for herself, and for her little boy.
Gaara gave no sign that he heard her, and yet somehow, he knew that someone else was suffering as he did, and the thought put him at ease. For the moment.
Hatake Kakashi, through no fault of his own, was very well connected.
His late father had been the legendary White Fang of Konoha.
Kakashi himself had skyrocketed through the ninja ranks, due to what he now thought of as one part pure genius, and one part having nothing even resembling a childhood, despite the best efforts of his teammates and sensei.
Along the way, he'd picked up a single Sharingan eye. That in itself was a rarity, and even more so after an extremely bad night for a certain clan.
Finally, Kakashi had been trained by the man that would become the Yondaime Hokage.
In short, Kakashi, despite having one of the least recognized faces in Konoha, was still perhaps the most famous ninja of his time.
It had not come as a great shock when the Sandaime Hokage's first act, upon returning to the Hokage Tower, had been to call Kakashi into his office, and effectively, unofficially, make the Copy Ninja his go-to guy.
Kakashi didn't mind that so much. The Sandaime was one of the few men who understood the value of little orange books, even if he was a bit more discrete about reading them. Aside from that, the old man had trained Jiraiya of the Sannin, who had in turn trained Kakashi's late sensei. And the money pouring in from all the high-rank missions didn't hurt, either.
What Kakashi DID mind was regularly getting placed on what the braver ninja referred to (behind firmly locked, not to mention jutsu-proof, closed doors) as "demon detail." Most people had better things to do than follow an extremely unlucky kid around Konoha.
That wasn't why Kakashi minded the duty, though. It was seeing the kid get thrashed day in and day out, to the point where it was necessary for someone of Kakashi's talents to step in and save the boy's life. That, and when the kid had that dazed look in his eyes after a particularly spirited beating, Kakashi could swear he was staring down at his sensei as a boy. It was stupid, but Kakashi froze every time it happened, and wondered if maybe, maybe, he was missing something.
It got to the point where the kid knew him on sight. Kakashi wasn't sure how he felt about that. Except that now he felt obligated to step in a little earlier than he normally would have. The kid could definitely take a punch, but more and more Kakashi found himself unwilling to let the first hit land.
That was probably what the Sandaime had had in mind, when he gave Kakashi the assignment. He was an old man to be sure, but he was a damn clever one, too.
So when even the old man was stumped, the night Naruto begged to die so he wouldn't be hurt anymore, Kakashi didn't feel quite as bad. At least, not about being slow on the uptake.
But he could understand the boy's point of view. The Hokage was the strongest person in the village, so who better to kill a boy that could recover from any wound? Aside from that, the Sandaime was the only one who might be interested in granting any of the boy's wishes. So Naruto had been understandably frustrated when the old man refused.
It had been an ugly scene, to say the least. Kakashi had stood there, motionless, as he watched the boy wail and scream and cry, beating on the Sandaime's chest with his little fists. The old man could do nothing more than let him, until the child finally passed out from exhaustion.
After putting Naruto to bed in his own chambers, the Sandaime had seemed even older than usual.
"Kakashi," he'd said quietly. "Go to the dango stand near Ichiraku's. You should find Anko and Asuma there."
"It's not really him, is it?" Kakashi asked at once.
The Sandaime blinked. "No. Don't tell me I've told you this before and merely forgotten?"
"No. It's just that Asuma, like most sane people, can only stand that girl in small doses."
The old man grunted. "Ask 'Asuma' if the offer is still good. No matter what his answer, make sure you see him to the border. It is important that his message not be intercepted before then. There should be an escort to accompany him beyond that point."
Kakashi eyed the old man for a few seconds. "The council will never go for this. If they can't kill the boy, they'll at least want him where they can keep an eye on him. And I can't believe that you have it in you to grant his wish."
"Then we'll just have to convince them that Naruto is very much dead," the Sandaime responded. "And if they're willing to believe the worst of an innocent boy, I shudder to think what their imaginations would do to one that was no so innocent."
A month later, there was an exchange.
The Yondaime Kazekage and the Sandaime Hokage met at a predetermined location, each bringing only two companions: a certain child, and a trusted jounin.
Neither child was particularly upset when they realized that they wouldn't be going back to their respective homes.
The blond child's home had been a rather unpleasant orphanage, and this was largely because the workers had gone out of their way to make it so, for him, at least. In fact, the boy had taken to spending most of his time out on the street, where it was even more unpleasant, but at least there, the mean people rarely hid their true nature behind fake smiles.
The redhead's home was, in his opinion, little more than a place where people, who were supposedly his family, did everything in their power to avoid him on a regular basis. When he did deal with people, his treatment was usually no better than the blond's, although neither had any way of knowing that.
And yet, on some level they both realized the same thing.
'If he's being traded for me, they must not care what happens to him, either.'
Before he let the blond child go, the old Hokage bent down and hugged the boy. "I am so sorry, Naruto-kun," was all he said. Naruto just nodded, and smiled a smile that was really nothing of the sort. The old man felt his heart break just a little more.
The Kazekage merely glared at the redhead, who got the message, and still would've gladly walked away even if he hadn't.
The boys said nothing as they passed each other, at least not verbally.
'Good luck. I hope they treat you better than they did me,' the blond thought, lowering his head.
'When I have killed this new village, I will come back for you. If your hate is weaker than mine, I will grant you a swift death. If not, perhaps we will destroy each other. A fitting end to what I am, and what you must be, to be traded for me.' The redhead was careful to memorize the blond's scent, even though he suspected the information would not prove useful for several years.
Without a word, Baki picked up Naruto, glanced at the Kazekage, and then all three were gone.
Hatake Kakashi took a good look at Sabaku no Gaara, as well as the gourd on his back, and never even once thought about picking him up, since he only invited death in certain situations, this not being one of them.
Thankfully, the Hokage made the first move. "Hello, Gaara. We are from the Hidden Leaf Village. I am the Sandaime Hokage, and this is my good friend, Hatake Kakashi. He will make sure that you have everything you need. Do you have any questions?"
There was a slight pause before Gaara spoke. "Is your village... strong?"
"Yes," Kakashi said without hesitation. For some reason, he didn't want Gaara to think they were weak.
"Good," was Gaara's response. He was not pleased because his new home would be secure, however. Instead, he was satisfied that his new home had plenty of strong people for him to kill, and therefore his mother would be very, very pleased with all the strong blood he was going to offer her.
Most things in Suna tended to be of an abrupt, and more often than not, brutal nature.
Temari had first taken that to heart the night she gained a second brother, and lost her mother. Said brother, after the mysterious death of their uncle, had begun to act less like a brother, and more like the demon-possessed creature that he actually was. Temari had assumed it was because Yashamaru had closely resembled their mother, both in manner and appearance, and had looked after Gaara when no one else would. Frankly, Temari had never really been comfortable around Yashamaru for the very same reasons that Gaara had adored him, but he had been the only relative other than Kankurou that she felt anything approaching love for. His death had been just another ache in her heart, which was quickly becoming accustomed to such losses.
She and Kankurou had been relieved, but not really surprised, when they were told of the exchange. Temari was more surprised that they were even being told, and given any time to prepare at all.
It was only when Temari had been assigned the task of packing for Gaara that she realized something: he didn't need anything, not from her, not from anyone. Even if she had packed something for him, he would've just stared at it, and then walked off without saying a word.
Baki gave them their orders just before he left late that night.
Temari was to be the official trainer of the new arrival. She would watch him every second, train him every day, and feed him at least once a day. Anything else was more or less at her discretion.
Kankurou was meant to keep him in line. Temari didn't think that was such a good idea. Her brother had plenty of frustration stored up from trying (and failing) to deal with Gaara, and this new kid would definitely be on the receiving end. She didn't feel too sorry for him, however. If he was anything like Gaara, Kankurou wouldn't be able to hurt him, anyway.
Things began to go wrong right from the start.
Baki returned shortly before dawn, and placed a child in front of Temari.
Not a monster, but a blond, blue-eyed child, who was wary, and perhaps a little confused, but not scared. He was small, slightly dirty, and obviously underfed, but otherwise seemed healthy enough. There were no dark circles around his eyes, no overwhelming killing intent, and nothing on him that might suddenly reveal itself to be a sentient weapon of destruction.
Temari stared at the child, and then at Baki, who was already shutting the door as he left. She nearly called him back, planning on asking if he was sure he'd gotten the right kid.
The little boy stared at her expectantly, not moving an inch.
Well, there was no sense in losing any more sleep, she figured.
"I'm Temari, the lump snoring upstairs is Kankurou. Since you're not hurt, you must have done what they told you. Keep that up here, and you'll have less problems. Now follow me, since you'll have to sleep in my room."
Even though she was already turning away, Temari didn't miss the hint of red that flooded the boy's cheeks. But there was no complaint, no nervous stammer about how that wouldn't be right, just quiet acceptance, as if he had no problem with it.
Or just wasn't used to being given a choice. At this point, Temari was uncertain which she would've been more comfortable with, though the latter would make her task much easier.
She noted with some confusion that he held his right arm close to his body as he walked. Almost as if the arm had been broken recently (she would later find out that only the memory was fresh, the injury having healed days previous), but the only person she'd seen with less unmarked skin was Gaara. She made a mental note to ask him about it if he was still favoring the arm tomorrow.
Thankfully, since Gaara's bed was virtually untouched, it had been a simple matter to have it moved into her room, alongside her own bed. The blond boy seemed immensely relieved when he spotted the second bed, and Temari just barely suppressed a smirk.
"Hope you fall asleep fast, because you'll only get a few hours tonight."
He glanced at her, but said nothing as he climbed into his bed and stared at the ceiling.
Temari got into her own bed, and did much the same.
Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. "What's your name?" she asked.
A slight pause, and then, "Naruto."
Another pause. "The rest doesn't matter. It didn't help me there, where it should have meant something, so I don't see how it can help me here."
Temari was forced to agree. "Fair enough. Sounds like you were happy to leave."
Naruto didn't respond immediately, and though Temari was getting used to that, she nearly turned over to see if he'd fallen asleep.
"Temari... are they going to kill me?" he whispered.
She stared at him, and the sight stole her breath.
Naruto was still looking at the ceiling. His gaze was steady, his eyes not the least bit damp. This was a child who had cried all his tears long ago. If she said yes, he would no doubt simply roll onto his side and try his best to get as much sleep as he could, while he still could. If she said no, his response would probably be no different.
"No, Naruto," she answered at last. "They brought you here to live."
Soon enough, Naruto's breathing slowed, and Temari closed her eyes, reevaluating everything she'd planned for the next day. She had been counting on an unfeeling pile of flesh that communicated in grunts, or not at all. But unless Baki and her father were crazy and blind, Naruto was more human than demon. This was no doubt why they'd been glad to exchange Gaara for him: this one could still be controlled.
But it really made Temari wonder about the state of things in Konoha. Why would anyone give up an innocent child like Naruto for a psychopath like Gaara?
Mitarashi Anko was having a very bad morning.
First, the Sandaime had called her into his office, claiming he had a mission suited to her area of expertise. Had she been thinking clearly at the time, Anko might have asked him just what he thought her area of expertise was, because they definitely had very different ideas about it. But she'd been too angry at the time, having just parted ways with a particularly annoying one night stand mere minutes before. So not only did she have to WORK while pissed, she had to pretend she wasn't pissed. Anko thought this was pointless, since the old man could clearly see she wasn't happy, but then he wouldn't be the Hokage (again) if he let her off easy every time she pouted and did her best to make him feel guilty.
Then, she'd actually found out what the assignment was: babysitting. And not just your run of the mill demon spawn, but LITERAL demon spawn, in the form of a redhead with the most serious case of 'what-the-hell-are-YOU-staring-at?' she'd ever seen. The only good thing about him was that he wielded killing intent like an old pro, which meant that Anko was really only expected to watch him, and possibly keep him from killing random people (a temptation she'd had to suppress herself every now and then, so at least it was familiar ground). So it wasn't really babysitting so much as glorified guard duty.
But the final nail in the coffin had come when the old man brought in Gaara's new trainer (who was over an hour late). Anko had already hated the idea of having to share her apartment with two people she would have no interest in sharing a bed with, ever. So she was less surprised and more outraged when her one night stand walked into the room, stopped short, and blinked slowly.
"Well, shit," said Hatake Kakashi intelligently, sounding no more concerned than he had when he'd walked out on her with little more than a wave. "I can't get rid of anyone today, can I?"
Next Chapter: Naruto gets a crash course on life in Suna, and then crashes and burns. Gaara gets a new seal, a new family, and his first friend.
From what I've seen, everyone always assumes that Gaara is just talking crazy when he talks about his mother. But considering his past, that's probably the LEAST crazy thing he does on a regular basis. So this story is loosely based on the idea Yashamaru's explanation of Karura's spirit being embedded in Gaara's sand is at least partially true. Besides, when you consider the lengths Shukaku goes to in order to mentally torture Gaara, I don't think physical torture would be out of the question, so why bother to give him a shield that protects him from any injury? It's far more likely that someone else is trying to protect Gaara.
Kakashi will be… slightly different. Same deal for Anko. But then they are two teenage ninjas living together, with Gaara, no less. Can you say tension?
Also, for the purposes of the story, I'm assuming that Yashamaru dies when Gaara is 6. Going by that, and assuming the exchange is made in early November, the main characters' ages are as follows:
Ayame: 11 (it'll matter later, trust me!)