Title: Dark Soul

Series: Story #2. Sequel to 'Sand Walker'

Fandom: Naruto / SG-1

Author: Shi-koi

Warnings: Gaara-centric, violence, blood. Normal Naruto-verse stuff. Alternate timeline – Gaara isn't the Kazekage yet. Note the 'yet'. The writing style changes from present to past tense in places, usually when Gaara has to interact directly to another person during a scene, so be prepared for that. Eventually it will have chunks from Naruto's perspective as well, but not for a long time.

Genre: Crossover, action/adventure, mild angst.

Pairings: None

Summary: (Crossover) (Naruto – SG-1) Sequel to 'Sand Walker'. Set after the fight at the Valley of the End, and before the beginning of Naruto Shippuuden. This is one vision of Gaara's journey to be human.

Feedback: Oh would you, please?

Notes: God, when I saw six-year-old Chibi-Gaara I just wanted to wrap him up in a great big tight hug and never let him go.

Writing Playlist: 'Crucify My Love', 'Kurenai', 'Dahlia'Forever Love', 'Tears', 'Longing Togireta Melody' and 'Longing Setsubou No Yoru' by X-Japan, 'Redefine' by Soil, 'Anywhere' by Avantasia, 'Le Ciel' and 'Beast of Blood' by Malice Mizer and 'Nine Spiral', 'Kimi no Tameni Dekiru Koto (7th Night)' and 'Hoshi no Suna (7th Night)' by Gackt. From the NARUTO Best Hit Collection – 'Wind' by Akeboshi, 'ALIVE' by Raiko, 'Ima Made Nandomo' by The Massmissile, 'Kanashimi wo Yasashisa ni' by little by little and 'Haruka Kanata' by Asian Kung-Fu Generation. 'Seishun Kyousoukyoku' by Sambomaster. By Captain Straydum there are 'Northern Flower', 'Mountain a Go Go Two' and 'Yarukiresu (Live at SHIBUYA-AX)'. There's also 'Never Forget' by Morning Musume. Lastly, 'Tobira no Mukou He' by YeLLOW Generation, from the Fullmetal Alchemist soundtrack.

I don't think I'd ever have been able to write any of this series without this music to listen to. Three kids tend to have a knack of disturbing the mood. These songs made sure the mood and feel of the series was never lost to me.

Translations for certain terms are at the end of the story.

Other: I've seen Water translated as Wave, so the term 'Water Country' can also be read as 'Wave Country'. I'm staying with water, as the others (fire, wind, stone, lightning and sound) suit water best in my mind. Of course, if anyone has a better translation of the Naruto manga I'd appreciate it.


::insertpagebreakhere::
Dark Soul

By Shi-koi


::insertpagebreakhere::
Sunagakure (The Hidden Village of Sand)
It's barely ten in the morning and Gaara's covered in blood.

None of it is his.

Gaara's as happy as he can be right now, which means he's not currently murderous. Behind him his older brother Kankurou is dragging their middle sibling, Gaara's elder sister Temari. Both of them are cut and scraped and bleeding. The blood on them is theirs and their victims.

Unlike Gaara.

The guards at the gate of their village flinch when he walks past, but Gaara ignores them. He's used to fear. And hatred.

Kankurou takes his sister to the hospital while Gaara stares silently at their backs. He might have cared for them. He might not. Kankurou isn't quite sure. Gaara hasn't killed them yet, so Kankurou is leaning towards indifferent.

Which isn't a bad thing.

When they're out of sight Gaara starts walking. He knows Temari will have to stay in a few nights extra, she was wounded almost to the point of death, and Kankurou would be by her side until she recovered. Gaara doesn't know how to show he cares with words, so he goes to take care of the mission reports for them both.

Gaara knows they still probably wouldn't understand.

The Kazekage sees him instantly, despite the backlog of work he has to oversee, But then, no-one in their right mind would dare tell Gaara of the Desert to wait. Elite shinobi are no exception.

Gaara's been in the hall many times. His father was the previous Kazekage, and before his murder Gaara had been a useful tool to him – never mind the fact that he would constantly send out agents to kill his own son, and had been doing so since Gaara was only six.

This Kazekage is different. He's smart enough not to rile Gaara up.

So, Gaara gives a verbal report, and quietly comments on being displeased should his siblings be disturbed. The Kazekage blanches along with his ANBU guards, and a messenger is dispatched as soon as Gaara is out of sight with instructions that Gaara's siblings be told they don't need to report until they are both healed and well.

Gaara wonders for a moment if Kankurou or Temari will understand this gesture. Then decides it doesn't really matter.


::insertpagebreakhere::
Gaara doesn't often take missions. He doesn't need the money. He'll accept only the 'S' class mission offered to him simply because nothing else challenges him enough for him to enjoy himself.

'S' class missions are rarer than gold dust. There are few people or situations which would need that rating. Three out of every ten shinobi on an 'S' class mission will die.

Gaara's completed over seventy 'S' class missions in the past three years. He's never failed. He's never been injured.

Gaara's only sixteen.


::insertpagebreakhere::
Gaara has a demon inside him.

His father wanted an unstoppable weapon. He created Gaara.

All Gaara has ever known is fear. Fear of him. Fear of his abilities. Fear of his demon.

Gaara called the demon 'Mother'.


::insertpagebreakhere::
When Gaara goes to the Kazekage and requests time off he gets an unrestricted pass to anywhere he wants to go. The Kazekage knows Gaara would have gone anyway.

Gaara fills his bag up with a few scrolls, full of useful summons like food and blankets and a tent. He probably won't use them, but he likes having them there. His gourd is strapped on his back as usual, his clothes clean of blood – even though the bitter scent still lingers, and his hitae-ate – his forehead protector engraved with the symbol proclaiming him to be a Sand shinobi is tied around the widest strap of the leather holding the gourd, just beside his waist.

If Gaara's hair wasn't quite as blood a red, or his skin as milk pale he could have passed as a desert-dweller, Until you saw his emotionless, empty, aqua-green eyes, rimmed a thick black, as though lined with Kohl. Even though that's natural.

He dressed like one, acted like one and knew the laws of the desert as well as any of them on any world.

Gaara hasn't slept. Ever. The demon Shukaku makes him stay awake, or fear losing himself completely.

On one of his last trips, Gaara followed a caravan across a desert, he doesn't know which one by name, only by how it feels, by how it calls itself. The people were swarthy, dark, large.

Gaara doesn't act like them. Gaara doesn't look like them.

But Gaara likes watching them.

Gaara listens, and he hears the travelers tell stories around their campfires, stories about a strange boy-child and he knows he should feel affronted. It's not his fault he's so small. But he also tastes the fear in their words as they speak of the wraith who sometimes appears out of the sands themselves, there one moment – gone the next.

They fear him.

Some tell of him as though he's a God, some speak of him as a demon.

Gaara wonders idly how many of them guess correctly.

A sandstorm is building as Gaara leaves Sunagakure, but it doesn't touch him. There's a bubble of air around him which the sand won't enter.

Gaara just keeps walking.

He can feel the change around him, the song of the sands shifting note to a deeper, thicker sound, and Gaara knows, he's not on his world any longer.

The caravan is long gone, but Gaara knows the way now by himself, and he walks through the day, and through the night without pause. He reaches the large sprawling city by mid-morning and he stops on the rise of a sand dune.

The language is different, new, and Gaara takes a moment to allow his mind to adjust to the language.

People have started to notice him.

A few individuals shriek. Stories of the strange boy-child have reached the city for months, but none believed them.

Gaara doesn't care.

The air is dry and hot. Sunlight glints off many wares spread out on massive sheet-type rugs on the ground, drawing the eyes. Delicious scents float on the heavy air, tantalising, teasing.

Gaara decides he likes them, although nothing shows on his face.

When Gaara walks into the bustling town, people part before him, none daring to touch him or invade his personal space. They flinch when he meets their gazes.

Gaara knows why. There's an aura of death that surrounds him.

Sharp green eyes take in the sights, ignoring the people. Everything is calm until someone comes running around a corner, obviously not seeing him. People close enough to guess at the collision wince, or gasp, or freeze.

The man trips and falls towards Gaara.

Gaara doesn't react. Not even when the sand lifts itself from the earth and forms a shield.

Someone screams.

Gaara ignores the sound. He's seen something that interests him. There's pandemonium behind him, and the stall-keeper in front of him is too terrified to move.

There's a frog, or toad, Gaara's not too sure which, about twice the size of his fists. It's black and orange and red and blue and coated with a clear enamel. It's got claws, which is unusual, but the sight of the strange scroll between them is not. Gaara likes scrolls. To someone unable to sleep, boredom is a vindictive enemy.

The frog-toad thing reminds him of Naruto, and Gaara is in two minds about the object. Uzumaki Naruto isn't a friend. But he also isn't an enemy.

Gaara decides to buy it anyway. Maybe he'll use it, maybe not, but at least the option will be there.

The man behind the stall is shaking, although he calms down a bit when Gaara asks in his flat tone of voice how much the object costs. The man stutters, but answers. He flinches a bit when a small handful of sand swirls up into the air, even though it doesn't go near him. Gaara opens his hand and a mismatched selection of precious and semi-precious gems tumble out of the sand into his waiting palm.

Gaara chooses one, a small one, and the man's eyes light up. He accepts Gaara's offer and throws in a few other smaller objects that caught Gaara's eye.

When Gaara turns around the streets are mostly empty down the center. The stalls are still there, but the buyers are peering around them. They seem to relax when no harm comes to the vendor Gaara buys his goods from and the streets start to fill again. Most of the people are still staring though, some with awe. More with fear.

Gaara's bag still feels half empty, and Gaara is still curious.

He tries the food, then goes and buys a necklace for Temari with some strange engravings on it. It's gold and has inlays of lapis lazuli in it. Temari doesn't often get to act like a girl, and Gaara knows she wouldn't buy something like this for herself. But she is getting to an age where she could find something like this nice. But because she's also a shinobi he buys her a few of their specially designed fans, one or two of which are bladed as an ornamentation. They probably wouldn't be of any use in a fight, but her room is pretty bare. She could put them on her walls.

He buys Kankurou a handful of carefully crafted dolls. Most of them are part animal, either their heads or their bodies. Only two are fully human. Gaara can appreciate the craftsmanship in them and he knows Kankurou would like them simply because dolls like this are rare. Kankurou is a Puppet Master, just as Temari is a Wind Master, so he's certain that these curiosities will please them.

He pushes aside the thought that it would be worth it just to see the shock on their faces when he gives them their gifts.

By the time Gaara has done two complete circuits of the enormous market he has gathered quite a large following. They stay far enough back not to bother him, but they watch his every move avidly.

When Gaara has everything he wants, dusk has long since fallen. He gazes up at the night sky and decides to go home. He wants to put his treasures away. He knows he has a long time ahead of him free, but he honestly doesn't want the day to end. Gaara rarely has any fun, and three years ago he would never have dreamt of simply going on an outing like he has done today.

But then, three years ago he was trying to eliminate every living creature off the face of the planet...one by one.

He wonders if Naruto ever understood just how much he changed Gaara from the inside.

Someone makes the mistake of getting too close to Gaara and the sand rises again in warning. Some of the crowd runs away, others take pictures, others gasp or 'Ooooh' or 'Aaaahhh' at the unintentional display.

The stars twinkle above him and the lanterns glow gently around him. Gaara realises that he's happy.

Gaara then realises he's happy without having killed or shed any blood.

This scares him.

Gaara turns away and starts to walk out of the center of the market. Still surrounded by his audience, Gaara's sand rises into the air around him in a twisting, terrifyingly tall whirlwind of gritty sand and dust, then falls to the barren earth.

Gaara's gone.


::insertpagebreakhere::
Gaara hides his gifts in his underground treasure room – it's over a month until Kankurou's birthday and a little over six until Temari's.

No-one dares to ask where Gaara went to, nor do they comment when he eats, washes himself and his clothes and then leaves.

It's a two week walk for most people to get to Konohagakure, the Hidden Village of the Leaf, a good shinobi can get there after a week of constant, relentless travel. At full speed it would still take a shinobi three days. Gaara gets there in four days. He only walks.

His pass provided by the Kazekage gets him in with no delays or problems, although he is asked to meet with the Hokage the next day, if he decides to stay.

Not much has changed in the two years since he was last in Konoha. Everything is just as the name implies. The Leaf. Houses are mismatched and built in odd shapes, like trees growing closely together.

Massive natural trees, older than Konoha itself are all over the place, some with buildings built into them. Electrical wires streak through the spaces between the many structures, and at odd points there are balconies, signs and even on some, seemingly inaccessible roofs, tables.

It's easy to tell this is a shinobi village. Not many places have parks or picnic spots in places where you have to be capable of walking up walls, or balancing perfectly across long streams of wires in order to access them.

Gaara finds the place refreshing, if not a bit hectic.

There's almost no sign that Konoha is recovering from a major invasion, one that occurred less than four years ago. One in which Gaara himself attacked from the opposing side.

Sunagakure and Konohagakure are allies now, formed out of a combined need. The Sand were tricked into their alliance with Konoha's enemy, and Konoha didn't have the resources at the time to attack the Sand.

But it's an alliance that seems to have served both parties well.

Gaara walks through the streets, ignoring the mutters of the few people who knew who he was. They didn't matter. More people have no idea of who he is see the Sand hitae-ate and look on in curiosity, but that he doesn't mind. When evening starts to fall Gaara finds a place to rest. The hotel is used to catering to visiting shinobi and is on the outskirts of one of the quieter neighborhoods. They offer privacy and a whole host of relaxing amenities, including a private bath with each room.

Konoha lights up in the early night. There are lamps, lanterns in pretty shapes and candles glowing softly in the open windows of the restaurants and small scattered yattai style bars/eating areas. Gaara understands why so many people like Konoha, it feels warm, cozy, welcoming.

Gaara really doesn't know why he came here.

There isn't much for Gaara to do here. He doesn't like games, or dancing, or drinking, and much of Konoha's evening life is socially-orientated.

Gaara wonders, unsure of what motivated him to return here, until he spots a familiar blonde head.

The younger members of the crowd mostly ignore the blonde, although quite a few of the older people, those around sixteen years ago mutter obscenities at him and glare viciously. Gaara has good hearing, and it feels strange not to have those insults hurled at himself.

A few of the braver folks throw things, or try to trip the small blonde up, but he ignores them and simply smiles widely, warmly, as though he believes that none of the hatred is aimed at him.

When he gets closer Gaara can make out the tanned skin, a deceptively slender frame under an atrociously loud orange outfit and then, when the blonde gets closer still, the hauntingly blue eyes that Gaara still can't forget.

Gaara would never admit it, but Uzumaki Naruto is stronger than him.

Naruto doesn't take advantage of his strength.

Gaara wants to understand why.

He can still remember Naruto's aura, his normally blue chakra a deep terrifying crimson, burning around him in a living flame, his previously blue eyes slitted and a dark ruby red. The whiskers on his cheeks were blackish gouges scarring his face and his entire countenance seemed more animalistic than human, just as it always was when Naruto called forth the chakra of the Kyuubi sealed inside of him. The nine-tailed fox demon was one of the most powerful beings in creation and it is impossible to kill him. Konoha's fourth Hokage, their precious Yondaime was killed just to seal it inside Naruto.

Gaara can't help but feel...glad...knowing that he's not alone, that he's not the only monster in the world.

Naruto stops a few feet away from Gaara and tilts his head to one side in curiosity. His face is open and shows every emotion. There's excitement, confusion, joy, and a fierce, deep hunger in his eyes.

Gaara recognises it. The desire to fight against a worthy opponent.

Gaara wonders why though, why Naruto is so quiet. He knows the blonde is the self-proclaimed loudest ninja of the Leaf, a claim that everyone he knew agreed with, hell, even by reputation Uzumaki Naruto was known as the number one most annoying, loud and unpredictable ninja of the Leaf.

He was also unspoken of as one of the most dangerous. Not because he could fight better, or had more training, but because he was the demon-child of Konohagakure.

The demon-child who could destroy the world in a bath of fire and lava.

They didn't understand. Gaara did, and he barely knew Naruto. He'd made a point of finding out everything he could about Naruto, trying to find out why Naruto could live the way he did, how he could live without mindless slaughter, how he could befriend people and care for them...if Gaara himself could do the same.

Naruto cared too much for everyone. Even those that hated him, reviled him, abused him unmercifully. Where Gaara killed those who dared to hurt him, Naruto simply accepted it as his burden.

It was beyond Gaara's ken.

But Gaara wanted to understand.

So, when Naruto started walking, and threw a look over one shoulder as though to ask why Gaara wasn't following, Gaara followed. Naruto led them both a long way into the surrounding woods before stopping in a large meadow. He took off his bright orange jacket and took a fighting stance.

Gaara smiled. This he understood.


::insertpagebreakhere::
Gaara crossed his arms as his took in his opponent. It had been a long, long time – too long in fact, since he'd felt this sense of anticipation. Of all the enemies and allies he'd ever fought, only four people had drawn blood, and only one person in existence had managed to ever defeat him. Not even Orochimaru's subordinate had managed that, nor the Uchiha prodigy.

But the outcast demon-boy who loved with all his being, who fought with every last fragment of himself, Uzumaki Naruto, had managed to completely wipe him out, even though Gaara had freely allowed Shukaku complete control of his true form for their battle.

Now Naruto stood across from him in his garish bright orange trousers rolled up at the hem - something Gaara knew only too well since they were both the same height, although he'd learnt to slice off the excess fabric with a sharp kunai before binding his lower half of his legs with bandages – a black short-sleeved t-shirt and his hitae-ate tied to his head with black fabric.

If it weren't for the bandage lined weapons pouches and forehead protector he could have passed for a normal civilian.

Naruto grinned at him and dashed forward, his hands flashing in seals too fast for any ordinary person to see and suddenly there were nearly fifty extra Naruto shadow clones on the field, charging from every direction.

Gaara felt like smiling. This at least was predictable.

The sand whipped to and fro, dispatching the clones with ease. Gaara knew that this was Naruto's way of testing Gaara's growth over the past few years, but Gaara didn't mind, his blood was singing in his veins and he could feel Shukaku's excitement.

A flicker of red caught Gaara's eye and he turned just in time to prevent a chakra-lined fist from landing, swiveling on one heel to avoid the sudden kick that was behind Naruto's feint.

The sand swept up, but Naruto was gone again, lost in the sea of look-a-likes.

Gaara kept his eyes on those clones closest to him, each one wearing the same cheeky smirk-slash-smile-slash-grin on their whisker-marked faces. Ten rushed in suddenly, each pulling out a weapon. Tiny shuriken, larger sharp kunai and even a few glitteringly pointed senbon flew towards Gaara's position.

Gaara's sand came up again to block the projectiles. Gaara turned away to scan the field when a handful of the shuriken disappeared with a puff of smoke and another clone took it's place, throwing another weapon. Two clones came in low from the other side and Gaara caught sight of Naruto, a massive 'You're done for now!' look on him and a huge scroll in his hands.

Gaara's eyes widened. He brought the sand up in an impenetrable sphere around himself just as Naruto slashed open his palm and swept his bloodied hand over the center of the scroll. He couldn't see what happened next, but the heat that suddenly surrounded him made him choke on the air inside the sand...which was slowly turning a murky opaque colour, as though it was melting!

Gaara used his transportation technique to get out of the sphere, his eyes opening wide in disbelief as he watched from the safety of one of the trees lining the meadow as a dark black fire slowly consumes his sand sphere transforming it into a solid bubble of lightly opalescent glass.

Naruto sat off to one side, looking exhausted which was exactly how Gaara felt after losing so much chakra-infused sand, but with a smile on his face as he felt Gaara's chakra move from inside the sphere to safely.

Naruto gave him a short wave before he disappeared in a swirl of wind and leaves, only to appear next to Gaara.

His smile said it all.

Gaara didn't know what to think. That move could have killed him if he'd stayed inside his sand, and now that he didn't have his shield he was vulnerable to any physical attack Naruto could throw at him.

When Naruto didn't attack him, Gaara relaxed.

When Naruto spoke, Gaara didn't know if he wanted to run, or smack the blonde.


::insertpagebreakhere::
Naruto's apartment is small and more of a bedsit than anything else. Every available space is taken up with little houseplants and a few sparse items which speak volumes of Naruto's personality. There's a huge poster of the Leaf insignia over Naruto's bed, and a calender opposite his table, the only decorations covering the bare walls.

The only furniture in the place beside the kitchenette is a bed, a bedside table, a small dresser, a small wardrobe and a table big enough for two people with two wooden chairs – and many erratically placed whimsical little shelves dotting the bare walls.

Gaara would have wondered about where Naruto entertained guests if he'd been anyone else – or if his eyes hadn't caught the numerous scrubbed ink stains on the open area of the floor. Naruto obviously studied and worked harder than most people thought. His own sources stated that Naruto trained extensively in the outside fields, but lacked any note-worthy book or scroll instruction.

Gaara tries not to think about what else isn't known about Naruto. How many more secrets he holds.

A small doll rests on the windowsill beside Naruto's bed, a doll that looks very familiar. Gaara frowns when he stares at it, wondering why the man who taught Uchiha Sasuke to counter Gaara's moves would be represented in a cute, obviously hand-made plushie doll. If the man had been Naruto's Team instructor, Naruto would have been training with him and the Uchiha prodigy.

When Gaara finds the pictures beside Naruto's bed he understands.

Naruto was betrayed twice. Where the renowned Uchiha prodigy had personal tutoring by their supposed instructor, Naruto found his own way to become strong. Naruto defeated the infamous Sabaku no Gaara, where not even the Uchiha could do more than annoy and wound insignificantly.

Naruto is dangerous, and obviously determined as well as strong. Gaara is pleased.

When Gaara has taken in all of the small apartment, he joins Naruto in the kitchen area and watches as Naruto makes a tray of green tea. He finds it funny when Naruto scowls angrily at the water when it burns him, then at the powdered tea when he drops a bit too much and it spills, then as he accidentally knocks the cups and the tray almost overturns.

It's hard to reconcile the terrifyingly powerful shinobi with the clumsy boy in the kitchen trying to make tea. Gaara can tell Naruto doesn't get many guests.

When the tea is done, Naruto carries it to the open space on the floor and places it down carefully, motioning for Gaara to stay where he was. When Naruto reaches under his bed and pulls out two comfy-looking floor cushions and places them at opposite sides of the tray, Gaara stares. Both of them are made from mismatched pieces of fabric, and should have looked terrible with all the bright oranges, yellows and reds, but somehow they looked...inviting. In the center of each cushion, in a slightly darker coloured red, lined with multi-coloured blue thread, was a single spiral, obviously sewn in carefully, the same spiral that Naruto added to all of his clothes.

Gaara doesn't know if it would be rude to ask, but he wonders then if Naruto made his own clothes too. He certainly hasn't ever seen anywhere sell clothes quite like the ones Naruto wears. The t-shirts and regular ninja sandals are normal enough though, and Gaara decides not to ask. He doesn't like it when people try to pry into his life, so he won't do it to someone he wants as a friend.

Naruto pours out the tea and they sit in silence as they both drink it, Gaara watching Naruto as he sits there, staring into the pale green liquid as though contemplating the universe.

A strange look of consternation comes over Gaara's face after an hour and a half of complete silence. As nice as it is to not feel pressured into having to speak, this quiet didn't suit the usually loud-mouthed ninja.

Gaara spoke first. "Uzumaki Naruto." He watched as Naruto flinched.

When Naruto looked up his blue eyes were wide and guileless and as welcoming as the summer sky.

Three years ago Gaara would have been fooled.

Three years ago Gaara wouldn't have cared.

This wasn't three years ago.

"That look doesn't suit you." Gaara said quietly.

Naruto's face seemed to fall, then he became pensive. "Most people wouldn't have seen it."

Gaara doesn't need to ask. He knows what Naruto means. He can't help but feel vindicated.

"You've changed, Gaara." Naruto says after a few more minutes of quiet.

Gaara inclined his head. "I have precious people now." Gaara states, as though that explains everything. To Naruto, it does.

Naruto smiles. This time it's real and Gaara feels dwarfed by it's brilliance. He wants to be able to smile like that.

"Precious people?" Naruto asks, then answers himself. "Your brother and sister. Right?"

Gaara nods.

"Good."

Gaara can feel a question on the tip of his tongue. Where are your precious people, Naruto? But he can't bring himself to ask. Something made Naruto change, but somehow he gets the feeling that Naruto has managed to hide the changes from everyone.

He wonders if he should feel this...pleased, that Naruto is letting him see behind his smiles.

"So. Why did you come here?" Naruto asks, after taking another sip of his now cool tea.

Gaara shrugs. "I like to travel." He pauses, uncertain about something. Naruto just waits patiently and Gaara doesn't know if he feels pleased by his patience, or un-nerved by his unusual behaviour.

Naruto looks wistful. "I like to travel too."

"Why can't you?" Gaara asks. Naruto is a good ninja, and loyal to Konoha. All shinobi get periods of time off, and Naruto, as a Chuunin, should have had a good amount of free time in-between missions.

Naruto just shrugs his shoulders then lets them drop, refusing to meet Gaara's eyes.

"Naruto." Gaara's tone is dark. He knows he's missing something.

Naruto lifts his head, but refuses to meet Gaara's sharply assessing eyes. "I'm not allowed out of the village without an escort of Chuunin or higher including, but not excepting all team missions." Naruto states flatly. "It's for my own safety, since the Akatsuki are still after me."

Gaara snorts. "Bullshit."

Naruto's head flashes back so fast Gaara thinks Naruto may have concussed himself. "What?!" He chokes out in a strangled voice.

Gaara smiles. Naruto looks like he ate a particularly sour lemon.

"The Akatsuki can get you any time, any place, and not even a team of elite ANBU would be able to stop them." Gaara says, his voice brooking no arguments. He doesn't like it when Naruto seems to curl into himself, as though this isn't new to him.

"What's the real reason?" Gaara asks.

"The Council are getting pissy." Naruto finally replies, seemingly undisturbed at sharing private news with a shinobi not from his village.

"Why?"

Naruto studies Gaara for a while, staring at him as though looking for something. He sighs eventually, then strips off the top half of his clothes.

There's a red glow coming from Naruto's navel, and Gaara realises this is the seal the Kyuubi is behind. The skin around Naruto's stomach seems paler against the warm light constantly being emitted. The seal itself is a good five inches across, it spreads out two and a half inches from his navel in a circle and is made from a spiral covered with an intricate interwoven pattern. It looks extremely complex and was obviously designed by a master.

"The Kyuubi?"

Naruto nods. "Yeah. The Council are insisting that the fox is going to break out at any time. I think they want me close so they can assassinate me. Tsunade-baa-chan is the only thing stopping them."

"The Hokage?"

"Yeah. She's sort of adopted me as a little brother, but even she can't rescind the rules the Council laid down." Naruto looks angry for a moment, then just...sad. "I can't keep going like this. Pretty soon I'm not going to be able to make enough money to afford to keep myself. I'm lucky that old man Sandaime paid for the apartment for me...but I still have to eat."

When Naruto laughs this time it's brittle and fed up. "I think they're planning on killing me slowly."

"What about your friends?" Gaara knows Naruto has a tendency of making friends easily, and usually surprisingly loyal ones. Gaara includes himself in them.

"I'm not going to beg for help." Naruto's face reddens, out of embarrassment, not anger.

"Aa." Gaara knows when Naruto says it. He would just quietly expire rather than burden his friends.

"You're stupid." Gaara states.

"What?" Naruto pales, then goes almost purple.

Gaara pours himself some tea, heating it with his chakra. "You're stupid," he says again, taking a sip of the now hot tea.

"I – you – wha..." Naruto deflates and runs a hand tiredly through his blonde spikes. "I give up. There's no making any heads or tails with you, is there?"

Gaara sits back on the cushion a bit further. He props his arm up on one raised knee and stares at Naruto with narrowed eyes. "I used to be jealous of you," he says finally.

Naruto blinks at him, his forehead scrunching up at the sudden change in topic. "Eh?"

"I thought I was unbeatable. You defeated me. At first I was angry, but you said that you fought for your precious people." Gaara paused, weighing his words. "I lived only for myself. Loved only myself. I thought that was the only way to stay strong." Gaara frowned, gazing into his cup. "You shattered everything I thought I knew."

"I'm...sorry?" Naruto looked confused.

Gaara shook his head. "That's not what I mean. You've had a past as bad as I, and yet you went out and tried to make it better. You made friends, comrades and allies. I made enemies. I couldn't figure you out. I still can't. You're the only person I feel like I can talk too...even my siblings don't stay around me long enough to carry on a conversation...and there's always the scent of fear around them."

Gaara looked up, pinning Naruto with his cool green gaze. "You don't fear me."

"I don't?" Naruto thought about this. "I guess...after our fight, you just didn't seem so terrible."

"Yet every time we met before that battle you were so terrified you couldn't move." Gaara said slowly. "Even during our battle, you were unable to do anything but shake until I hurt your friends."

"Then..."

"You were not afraid as long as you were fighting for another. You didn't care about yourself. That's why you aren't scared now. You know you can fight me, and probably win. You have no one around that I can hurt to make you back off, and even if I did, you would only fight harder to save them."

Naruto snorted then looked away, crossing his arms. "You make it sound like I don't give a shit about myself."

Gaara sent a piercingly even look at him. "Do you?"

Naruto stood up so fast he knocked over his cold cup of tea. He retreated back to his small kitchenette and paced back and forth, muttering quiet obscenities.

Gaara just sipped his own drink again, ignoring the burn of Naruto's eyes on him.

"I don't know what the hell your problem is Gaara, but I sure as hell don't need you preaching to me about caring for yourself, or have you forgotten how you lived, eh?"

"At least I made the effort to change. You're just giving up, aren't you?" Gaara raised his head and slanted a condescending flicker and then dismissal with his eyes towards Naruto. "Uzumaki Naruto, the most determined shinobi of the Leaf...a quitter," Gaara scoffed.

"Fuck you." Naruto ground out, the words sticking in his throat. "I should rip your fucking entrails out of your body and dance on them."

Gaara snorted loudly. "Oh? Are you planning on taking my place? Planning on becoming a true monster?"

Naruto ground his jaw and clenched his hands so hard the skin of his palms split under his suddenly sharpening nails. The wounds healed seconds after they formed, leaving only the few drops of blood that escaped a testament to his anger. "I am not a monster."

"Tell me, Naruto, just how accurate are the Council? Is the Kyuubi influencing your actions? How much of it's rage are you experiencing? How much of it's lust, it's thirst for destruction, for blood? How long have you been trying to suppress it's instincts?"

"I have no idea what you mean." Naruto said flatly. "Not that it's any of your business. I don't owe you anything."

"No, you don't, do you?" Gaara mused.

"Dammit Gaara! What the hell do you want from me? What do you want me to say? Do you want me to tell you how fucked up I am? I already know it! I know I go around shouting about friendship and loving people and wanting to help everyone...but that I can't accept help for myself! I already know this!"

Naruto looked away, his hands coming up to slowly stroke the Leaf hitae-ate on his forehead. Naruto untied it slowly, bringing it down and staring at the slightly knocked metal.

Naruto's voice lowered, a note of sorrow threading through it. "I know I'm quick to offer help, but never one to accept it. I never had much of a choice, Gaara. If I dared ask for help when I was younger it always made things worse. The villagers, they – they could smell weakness, they knew without saying anything to each other how they could hurt me. If I dared ask for help...every time...I always lived to regret it. Old habits die hard."

"That was then, Naruto. You were young. Weak. Alone. Are you still that child?" Gaara asked quietly.

"No. Not that it matters. I'll make my way on my own strength. I'll help myself and not go scrounging from other people. I have to be strong, Gaara! Admitting that I can't make enough money to eat, admitting that I'm less than human...I can't do that Gaara. My friends, they're the only ones who haven't looked at me with cold eyes, eyes that scream out with hatred and fear. I can't give them up. I can't!"

"You are an absolute fool, Naruto! You have what I'd give my right arm for! You have people who would worry about you if you'd let them, you have people who care for you, people who would love to be a part of your life – if you would let them in!"

"I can't!"

"You're scared!" Gaara shouted, his voice becoming shrill. "You're terrified and you're stupid and you're going to end up dead and alone from something idiotic! You're not worthy of becoming Hokage Naruto. You don't fucking deserve it!"

"You're a fucking bastard, you know that?" Naruto snarled, his back to Gaara, his fists clenched so hard his nails started to pierce the skin.

Gaara's eyes darkened. "YOU made me this way, Uzumaki Naruto. Because of you I had to find out who and what I was all over again. Because of you I have no peace. Because of you! I can't talk to anyone because they are terrified of me, and I never used to care about that, but you had to fucking damn well shred me apart!"

Small grains of sand began to form in the air, circling Gaara, who stood slowly, his tea placed gently on the floor.

Naruto backed up a step, a blue glow interspersed with red flickering around him.

"Why did you come here then if you hate me so much?" Naruto ground out, his every muscle tensed from Gaara's unintentional display. Even without his gourd, Gaara was dangerous.

"I thought you could understand me. I thought you could help me." Gaara said, still standing on the other side of the room.

"How?" This time, when he spoke, Naruto seemed lost. The glow around him intensified, slowly turning a soothing violet – if you ignored the restrained violence it represented. "I can't even help myself."

"Naruto. Where are your precious people?"


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Tbc...

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