How Deep is Your Ocean?
Disclaimer: Naruto and all of his zany, fun-loving friends, including Gaara, Matsuri, and Shukaku, belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
"I'm going to kill you."
The young brunette looked up, startled by the blunt statement. It wasn't his words that came as a surprise to her. Considering who the speaker was, why would they? Blood, carnage, and death seemed to be all he ever thought about. No, it was not what he said, but the way he said those five little words that sent a cold shiver through her body. He spoke in that careless, tranquil way most people used when they were simply commenting on the weather rather than threatening to disembowel someone. One would assume he'd put a little more relish in his statement. After all, was this not what he loved more than anything? What he craved most in the entire world? If he was going to kill her, she'd preferred that he sound more exhilarated rather than making her death seem like something insignificant.
She may be afraid, but she still had her dignity; and if she was going to die, then she certainly was going to die with it. But that didn't mean she was ready to give in just yet. Fighting was pointless; she would be dead in seconds. All she had now were her wits, and she was going to have to depend on them for survival.
Good thing that's where my real strengths lie anyway.
The brunette hugged her legs to her chest, resting her chin on her knees. Glancing to the clock on her left, she could barely read the time through the dim lighting. It was two in the morning; only ten minutes had passed since she found herself in this awkward situation, yet it felt more like hours. She had been sleeping peacefully, before she awoke to sounds of someone breaking into her home. She had relaxed slightly when she recognized the shadowed figure as her dear friend, Gaara, only to have old fears return as a pair of frighteningly familiar gold eyes caught hers, shining like beacons through the darkened apartment.
Eyes that she hoped to never see again.
Now here she sat, huddled on the couch, wearing only a pair of cotton pajamas bottoms and an old tee-shirt, with only the full moon to provide any light. She didn't dare move to turn the lights on, fearing that any sudden movements could provoke him to attack. The kunoichi hugged her legs closer as the cold desert air blew in through the open window, piercing her skin like thousands of tiny needles through the worn material of her clothes. Raising her dark eyes, she carefully resumed watching the figure seated in the chair from across the couch, his features highlighted by the silver glow of the moon.
Come on, Gaara. I know you still have some power, just keep fighting him, she thought desperately. The redhead was too strong, too stubborn to allow Shukaku to have control for long. In the meantime, she would just have to stall the demon somehow . . . After a long, unnerving silence, the brunette finally summoned the will to speak. Swallowing thickly, her voice came out soft but steady.
"Is that so? Well, you better get going then, it's not like you have all the time in the world, after all . . . But, first, if I may ask, what did I ever do to deserve your – ah- murderous intentions? I mean, you did come all the way here just for me."
Shukaku smirked, his eyes alight with amusement. He could tell she was just buying time until the boy gained consciousness again. Fine, he would play her little game. It would be amusing to see her gain hope, only for him to break it in the end. Even though he was currently involved in a mental competition of tug-of-war, he should still have enough time. The boy was stubborn, but so was the demon.
"Why, I'm hurt that you have forgotten already, Mattie," Shukaku responded smoothly, leaning back comfortably in the plush chair like he was a king sitting in his throne. Behind him, the large gourd Gaara carried was propped against the wall. The brunette shivered, disliking the nickname he bestowed upon her. It was just too . . . cute to be used by him. Plus, it was unnerving to see Gaara smirking at her like that. His usually calm, collected voice had taken a manic undertone that the young girl didn't like in the least.
Don't let it get to you; he's just trying to make you uneasy.
"I'm sorry to say I have," Matsuri responded wryly. "Would you be so kind as to remind me why you're going to kill me again?" Shukaku's smirk grew into a feral grin. Who knew the usually sweet girl could have such a sardonic sense of humor? He must say, it was a great improvement – too bad she would be dead by sunrise.
"Of course, dear," he replied, his tone matching hers. "It's quite simple actually: you're a threat. You nearly got me killed once, and I'm not going to let it happen again."
Matsuri's brow furrowed in confusion for a moment before her face lit up in comprehension. "The Shitenshounin . . . But, that was just one incident! Surely, you have greater faith in Gaara than that." A scathing laugh filled the apartment, echoing eerily off the walls. Matsuri felt another cold shiver run down her spine. Even though she knew it wasn't truly him, it was so frightening to hear Gaara laugh like that.
"Oh, Mattie, you're just so adorably naïve! This has nothing to do with a lack of faith in Gaara. I have much confidence in his abilities actually, but only when certain factors are not an issue."
"And I'm one of those factors?" Matsuri asked cautiously, watching through narrowed eyes as the demon stood up and wandered leisurely through the apartment, easily seeing through the faint lighting.
"You guessed it!" Shukaku exclaimed maniacally as he quickly turned to point a finger at her, greatly resembling a demented game-show host. His grin widened at seeing her jump from the sudden moment. She was just too much fun to harass. "Clever girl. It's nice to know that all those years of education haven't gone to waste."
Matsuri's glare returned, giving a pointed look for him to continue his explanation.
"Gaara has few weaknesses, Mattie, most of which I can protect him from, but you happen to be an exception. The boy is too willing to risk his life for your sake, and when he does, not only is he putting his life at stake, but mine as well. If he dies, so do I."
"So, you're just looking out for number one?"
"Guilty as charged," Shukaku smirked. "It's nothing personal, really. I'm just not quite ready to greet the afterlife."
"But why just me? There are others important to Gaara, but you have said nothing about them," Matsuri stated matter-of-factly, uncurling from her huddled position to sit on the couch's edge.
"You still don't get it, do you?" Shukaku inquired mockingly as he continued his examination of the living room, expecting various photos and other items. "This isn't about the others, darling Matsuri. It's all about you. You're the star of this scene."
"You still haven't answered my question," the brunette retorted brusquely.
"Oh, yes, I have," said Shukaku grinningly. "The real question is why, out of all the people Gaara knows, are you one of the very few he will so readily risk his life for? Why is the brat so particularly willing to make sure you're safe and happy?"
"Because we're friends," Matsuri answered heatedly, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I would do the same for him."
"I know you would," the demon said, his voice barely more than a whisper, "but I'm afraid that's only half correct." Before Matsuri could ask him the meaning behind his statement, the demon once again turned his back to her, studying a collection of photographs on a nearby table.
"Are these your parents?" He asked, picking up one of the frames to study it more closely. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the young kunoichi nod, looking somewhat apprehensive to reply. "You look just like your mother."
"I get that a lot," Matsuri replied quietly, slightly surprised by his straightforward statement.
"I never got along well with my parents . . . Guess that's no surprise though, considering I killed them."
And I thought his last comment caught me off guard, she thought, taken back by the demon's remark. There was certainly more to Shukaku that she had previously considered. It was then that Matsuri remembered he had once been human - and a citizen of Suna at that. "You were a priest once, weren't you? What the hell went wrong?"
The demon let out another eerie laugh, turning to face her once again, "I was never a holy man, Mattie. It seems I was born with a bloodlust that could not be satiated. My father prevented me from becoming a shinobi, despite my power. He thought making me a ninja would've been like throwing gasoline on a fire. So, in a vain attempt to make me see the light, I was sent to live at the temple in order to become a priest. But, I confess, the whole sobriety, chastity, enlightenment shit wasn't my thing – talk about boring!"
In spite of the situation, Matsuri found herself strangely fascinated by the demon's past. Shukaku had always been an enigma to her. He was an ever present entity throughout her relationship with Gaara, yet she knew hardly anything about him. While she may have held a strong disliking for the demon, the young kunoichi wanted to learn more. Plus, more importantly, it was another way to stall him, giving Gaara additional time to regain control. Matsuri felt a pain in her chest at the thought of the young man who had become so important to her. She wasn't afraid to admit her fear, but it was more for Gaara than her own wellbeing. If Shukaku did kill her tonight, she feared what the outcome would have on him. He was working so hard to gain some normality in his life, to have others think of him as someone the village could trust, and Shukaku's actions could put that all to waste.
Gaara, please hurry up.
"Do you have some beer, or sake, or any other beverage that creates that little buzzing sound in your head?" Shukaku asked, tearing Matsuri from her thoughts. His voice came from the kitchen and she could hear the sound of the refrigerator door opening.
"I'm thirteen," she answered, deadpanned.
"Fuck. It figures," he said bitterly. "That's the one thing I miss about being human. I haven't gotten wasted in years. Shit! I haven't even had so much as one drink! The brat's not helping either. Of all the humans, I had to get sealed in the most boring one ever. The little ingrate doesn't do anything, and he's even worse now! At least I got to have some fun when he was still a deranged psychopath. But, nowadays, all he does is bitch about wanting to gain acceptance and protecting others, blah, blah, blah . . . What a fucking waste. I'm telling you, he needs to loosen up. I don't care if he is only fourteen, he needs to get laid. It's too bad you aren't a slut or – Oooohhhh! Apple juice!" With that, Shukaku ceased his ranting, and, a moment later, he came out from the kitchen, drinking a pint-sized bottle of apple juice through a crazy straw he had found. Matsuri raised a brow at the odd site, somehow finding it strangely endearing.
With a pleased look across Gaara's face, Shukaku returned to his previous seat on the plush armchair, his golden eyes locked on Matsuri. The brunette shivered again, hating the way his gaze penetrated her like that. It was as if he could see right into her mind. It was discomforting to think that everything Gaara knew about her, which was a great deal, Shukaku must surely know as well - maybe even more. Shukaku seemed to have a gift for reading people. He already appeared to know something that neither Gaara nor Matsuri have noticed yet, judging by his earlier comments. The kunoichi just wished she had an idea as to what exactly that something was. How could someone with such a loud, flamboyant personality be so evasive and secretive at the same time?
"There's something I've wanted to ask you."
"Oh?" Matsuri raised a curious brow, studying him suspiciously. "What is it?"
The demon kept his gaze on her. Their eyes met for a short period of time before Shukaku spoke again, his voice quieter but just as manic. "Why?"
Matsuri paused, frowning slightly as she pondered the implications of the word. "Why what?"
Shukaku took a thoughtful sip, as if even he wasn't entirely sure of the meaning either. "Why . . . Why are you the way you are?"
Matsuri was silent as she thought about the question. Normally, one might explain about their past, significant events, beliefs and how it all influenced them into the person they were today. But this was Shukaku she was speaking to, and the kunoichi somehow knew the demon was asking a different question.
"You mean . . . as a shinobi?" She kept her voice soft and wary, still aware that she was on dangerous grounds. At any time, Shukaku could decide he was bored with their little chat and carry on with what he came here to do in the first place. Upon the demon's nod, Matsuri sighed and rubbed the back of her head tiredly, trying to think of the best way to word her answer.
"Well . . . I suppose it's mainly due to my parents. During the . . . attack, I felt so helpless. I couldn't do anything . . . I never wanted to be in that position again; I never wanted to be unable to protect those I care about. So, I decided to take after my parents and become a shinobi."
"I see," Shukaku smirked. "What a noble cause, Mattie. But, you sure as hell aren't like other shinobi. You're much too . . . kind." The demon frowned, spitting out the last word like it was a curse.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with being kind," Matsuri stated strongly. "I know as a shinobi it's not the proper . . . mindset . . . but I much prefer it to living without emotions and blindly following orders like some machine."
Shukaku laughed lightly, another infamous grin creeping along his lips. "Oh, Mattie, you amaze me. How can you honestly believe that these people deserve your kindness?"
"Your problem is that you see everything in black and white," Matsuri stated accusingly. "The world isn't that simple. We all have good and bad inside of us, but it's . . . It's our decisions that make us what we are. You're a great example of what our choices can turn us into."
"Oooohhh, really? That makes me feel so special," Shukaku said derisively, letting out another one of his high-pitched laughs. "Actually, my view of the world is but one color: a lovely shade of red. One day, I hope to make it so that everyone sees the world as I do . . . Starting with the people of this wretched little village."
"That dream is all it ever will be, Shukaku. A fantasy and nothing more," Matsuri said defiantly, her ebony-colored eyes narrowing at the demon.
"Well, at least I'll be able to share it with you," he replied darkly, returning her look as he studied her knowingly. "You know what your problem is? You believe there is a capacity of goodness in everyone. Well, it doesn't work that way, my dear. If it did, people as fucked up as me wouldn't exist."
"I don't believe that," Matsuri said passionately. "You're right; I do believe people are basically good, that we all have some level of light inside of us. But, I don't care how naïve it is . . . or if it is wrong, I would still hold onto it because that is something worth believing in."
"Is that what you told yourself when you chose Gaara as your teacher? Ironic how a girl terrified of weapons would pick someone like him, of all people," Shukaku scoffed, amusement heavy in his voice.
"I didn't have to," the brunette answered. "Gaara didn't give me a reason to think he was anything but a good person . . . and I never thought of him as some kind of weapon either."
"That's only because you don't know what he's done in the past," the demon hissed irritably.
"True, I don't know all the details, nor do I care to. What's done is done. Gaara is a different person now and that's what matters."
"So, it was pity then?" The demon raised a brow expectantly. Surely, there must be some pathetic, cliché reason why she had chosen his container as her sensei. Any sane, closed minded, normal person would've stayed clear of the boy, preferring one of his siblings instead, but not this strange little girl. Maybe she was crazy herself – she was definitely quirky – that would explain why the two got along so well.
"No, in order to feel pity for someone you have to think yourself superior to them, and I don't feel that way about Gaara."
"Well, then what was your reason?" Shukaku asked exasperatedly. Her answer wasn't one he predicted.
"Curiosity," Matsuri said simply with a slight shrug. "I felt he had something to say and I wanted to find out what that something was."
"Curiosity killed the cat, you know."
"Some things are worth the risk," she said quietly, but her tone was strong and assured. "Now, I have another question for you." The demon remained silent, but his eyes stayed locked on her as he gave the brunette a look that told her to continue.
"So, if you didn't like being a priest, then why did you go along with it?" She asked, trying to maintain her plan for giving Gaara more time. Shukaku saw right through her façade, however.
"I quickly learned it was easier to get away with my crimes as a man of the faith. No one ever suspects you. Rather ironic, huh?" Sipping up the last few drops of juice, Shukaku loudly emptied the bottle, before carelessly tossing it over his shoulder and out through the open window. Matsuri's jaw locked as she resisted the urge to reprimand him about littering – and how she'd preferred it if he had saved her favorite straw- deciding not to waste her breath. Taking in a deep, calming breath, she carried on with the conversation.
"How did you become a demon?"
"Anyone can become a demon when their soul has become as corrupted as mine. I don't remember exactly what happened . . . just that, one day, I woke to become more powerful than any of the fools in this village could imagine."
Matsuri didn't miss the feral grin or the sadistic glee that laced his voice. "You were happy about it?"
"Of course I was. Why wouldn't I? Out of all the Biju, I'm the only one that was once a human. The people of Suna were right to fear me. What I have accomplished proves that . . . Of course, I was amazed when they finally did catch me – only to lock me up in a teakettle. A fucking teakettle! Do you have any idea how humiliating that was?!"
"Oh, I can imagine," Matsuri replied derisively in mock sympathy. She immediately regretted it, however, when Shukaku cast a murderous glare, his eyes shining brightly in the dark. Don't piss him off, you idiot!
Despite his outward appearance, the demon was rather amused with the brunette's boldness. Even though she made sure to tread carefully, the girl still couldn't resist a snide comment or two. It was a refreshing change from the usual, pathetic groveling of his past victims. Shukaku had meant what he said about his intentions to kill Matsuri not being personal. Although he would never admit it, he respected the girl, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. Surely, she must be aware of how grim her chances of survival were. Yet, not only did she refuse to give in, she had not, even once, mentioned him sparing her life. The girl was a true shinobi. If she was going to die, then she was going with her honor.
You taught her well, Gaara. I can see why you like her so much; I'll certainly miss her when she's dead. But look on the bright side! When I kill her, her blood will merge with the sand, making her a part of you forever.
Within seconds, Shukaku realized that his little comment had been a mistake as he felt his container's anger grow. The brat pressed harder against the mental barriers of his mind, his strength gaining steadily. Shukaku grimaced in pain, clutching his head tightly as he strained to shove the boy back. Startled, Matsuri stepped back nervously but silently cheered Gaara on as she watched him struggle for control. In the back of her mind, a small, instinctive voice told her to run while she had the chance, but she fiercely pushed it away. No, I'll never abandon Gaara; I'm not going to run away from him.
Slowly, the demon forced himself upright, his hands balled into fists at his sides as he glared dangerously at Matsuri. "It's been fun, sweetheart, but I'm afraid we have to cut our little chat short."
Before the kunoichi had the chance to dodge, sand poured from the large gourd Gaara carried, quickly pinning her against the wall. Matsuri struggled violently against the course substance, but the sand simply tightened its hold on her. She clenched her teeth, holding back the cry of pain as she halted her useless efforts in order to avoid the sand crushing her even more.
Shukaku walked up to her, a broad smirk etched across Gaara's face as he leaned in and whispered into her ear. "It's unfortunate, really. I see so much potential in you . . . But, you're a threat to my existence, and I can't allow that to continue. You're a nice girl Mattie, but you were foolish enough to pick the wrong teacher."
"Your plan will never work, Shukaku," Matsuri snapped, glaring seethingly at the demon. "You think killing me will make all your problems disappear, that it can make you get control over Gaara again . . . But you're wrong! All it will do is make him even more determined to repress you because he'll know that it was you and not him. Even if the villagers believe otherwise, it won't matter because Gaara will know the truth!"
Shukaku snarled as he stepped away from her, his gold eyes narrowed into silts. "Like you said, some things are worth the risk . . . Don't worry, I'll make this quick." With those words, the demon stretched out his hand, palm facing her. More sand quickly flowed out from the gourd and wrapped around her body, constricting her so tightly she could barely breathe. But, as stubborn as ever, Matsuri painfully looked up, giving the demon a defiant glare.
"You can't . . . give up, Gaara!" She choked out. "I know you can hear me, so . . . don't you dare let this bastard take complete control . . . You're stronger than that – you're stronger than him . . . He doesn't control you, no one does . . . Don't let him ruin everything that you worked so hard for!"
"Stupid, little human, you're wasting your breath," Shukaku hissed. "You might as well - ." The demon broke off as another burst of pain coursed through his head. The demon could feel his control over the boy loosen as the mental barriers began to break, forcing him back into the recesses of his container's mind. The sand holding Matsuri fell to the floor in a dusty heap. The brunette collapsed into the pile, coughing violently as her body gasped for air. Using the last bit of his strength, Shukaku started determinedly towards the girl again. Dizzy from the lack of oxygen, Matsuri couldn't move away in time. Shutting her eyes, she could feel the sand beneath her squirm as she waited for the inevitable attack.
But as the sand fell motionless and several seconds of tense silence followed, Matsuri nervously opened her eyes and looked up . . .
. . . Meeting with a pair of wonderfully familiar blue ones.
"Gaara . . .," she breathed, a sense of overwhelming happiness washing over her. The redhead gave no response, looking tired and shaky. Noticing this, Matsuri was able to hurry to his side and catch him before he fell to the ground. The sudden movement caused her head to ache slightly, still lightheaded from Shukaku's attack. Ignoring the dull throb, Matsuri helped Gaara over to the couch, laying her friend down gently.
"You seem to be okay, but we should still go to the hospital just to be sure," Matsuri stated, giving a mental sigh of relief as she checked his pulse.
"Never mind that, I'm fine," Gaara said offhandedly, pulling his wrist out of her grasp. Forcing himself to sit up, he turned to face her, his eyes studying Matsuri worriedly. "Are you all right?"
"I think I may have a few bruises here and there, but nothing serious," she replied nonchalantly, giving him a reassuring smile. However, Gaara didn't seem comforted by her answer. His eyes widened for a second before narrowing angrily as he turned away, cursing under his breath.
"I'm sorry," he said so softly that Matsuri believed she imagined it at first.
"It isn't your fault. You're not the one that - ."
"Yes it was," Gaara interrupted, his voice carrying more strength. "Shukaku was able to take over because I wasn't strong enough to suppress him. But, I promise, it's going to be different from now on. I'm never going to allow it to happen again."
Matsuri nodded, remaining silent but there was a look in her eyes that told the redhead she believed him. Gaara sighed heavily, falling back wearily on the couch. "Can I stay here for the rest of the night?"
"Yeah, of course," Matsuri answered easily, taking a seat on the couch's opposite end.
"You don't have to stay out here with me."
"I know," she replied simply, "but I want to . . . It can be like a sleepover! Well, sort of . . . since you don't sleep and all, but you get what I mean."
"Are you always so cheerful after a near death encounter?" He asked dryly, smiling in amusement.
"Well, don't you think I'm entitled to be happy after escaping death? Personally, I think it's a cause for celebration," Matsuri retorted, giving him one of her shining smiles. Gaara gave her a look as if to say, 'Fair enough,' as he secretly admired how her face lit up when she smiled like that.
"Matsuri?" The brunette looked at him expectantly, telling him that she was listening. "Do you have any idea what Shukaku meant, about the two of us? He seems to know something, but he won't tell me."
Matsuri made a slight turn of her head from left to right, responding in the negative. "No, I didn't get it either."
"You're my closest friend, why wouldn't I try to protect you?" He wondered aloud, more to himself than her, staring at the ceiling. "Isn't that what friends do? I thought - ."
"Yes, that's what we do for each other," Matsuri intercepted before Gaara could grow even more perplexed about his still developing beliefs. "Don't let Shukaku try to confuse you. He doesn't know anything when it comes to these matters."
"Yeah, you're right. But he did seem to know something."
"Well, maybe we'll figure it out one day, whatever it is . . . But, right now . . ." Here, Matsuri leaned over and gave the young redhead a gentle hug, making sure to keep it quick as she knew of his general dislike for being touched.
"I'm glad to have you back."
A/N: I don't quite know what the hell I was thinking when I wrote this. The idea got stuck in my head and I just had to write it. Plus, I'm going through this Shukaku craze where I'm finding myself fascinated by the demon. He's so interesting. Furthermore, I wanted to write something that presented Shukaku in a different light. I didn't want to make him out to be a nice guy, because he obviously isn't, but I also wanted to portray him as something more than just a bloodthirsty demon. He may be insane but he's very smart. I love writing him! He's just so much fun. I am very tempted to write a fic about Shukaku from when he was a human, but considering how I am at updating, I don't want to start another multi-chapter story right now.
I know it wasn't very romantic, but I intended it to be more of a friendship fic that points to how the relationship between Gaara and Matsuri will develop into more in the future. Yes, they are both clueless, but that's to be expected from them I think.
Anyway, I hope you liked it! Please review!