Title: Dark Soul
Series: Story #2. Sequel to 'Sand Walker'
Fandom: Naruto / SG-1
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.
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.
Notes 01: This fic is now completely AU, please don't complain. I planned this storyline out when I first read the manga as it was coming out, and I am not changing the plot regardless of canon, okay? So, everything in this story is Alternate Universe (tm) material.
Notes 02: If you see any mistakes, (because I rewrote this chapter four or five...or was it six...times now, so I may have missed something) please let me know.
Naruto was almost annoyingly cheerful as he walked beside Gaara, much to Gaara's consternation. It was as if the thought that his life may be in danger from his own village meant nothing to him.
Just how deep did Naruto's mask go?
The house Gaara shared with his siblings was large enough for a family and their extended relations to live in comfortably. For a family of three, it was ridiculously huge. Each of them had their own suite of rooms, although they shared the kitchen, dining room and main living room.
Naruto gazed about the place with wide eyes, poking his head into all the different rooms and opening doors as he came across them.
"Gaara, this place is terrific!"
Gaara fought the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose as he sighed. Snagging the blonde by his collar as he bounded past again, Gaara said very softly, if not slightly harshly, "Naruto...if you do not calm down this instant, I will make you sleep outside."
"Eh...heh...heh..." Naruto gave him a sloppy salute. "Gotcha."
Gaara dropped Naruto, who sat there on the wooden flooring, rubbing at the place he landed.
"You didn't need to drop me!" Naruto protested.
"You're a ninja. You should have anticipated the act, even if you hadn't, you should have been physically prepared for anything." Gaara stated flatly.
Naruto groaned. "Oh man, what have I let myself in for?"
Living with Naruto is not as stressful as he would have imagined. Naruto knew how to work hard, be quiet, and stay out of sight, which meant that there was a much needed air of serenity in Gaara's daily life. When they were in the training grounds or around the other two Konohagakure bred shinobi the old Naruto personality exploded into being with violently extreme ferocity, and Naruto himself became quicksilver in his movements. His lightning-fast tongue, as well as a sudden increase in the volume of his voice assured any nearby that the vivacious blonde remained unchanged.
During those times, Gaara found himself watching Naruto, cataloging the few flashes in his eyes which could have betrayed him. Loathing, self-contempt and in a few cases, a deep-seated anger would briefly ignite, only to be quickly and effectively smothered by a few well-placed arrogant and provocative boasts.
Gaara knows he has no intentions of emulating Naruto directly, but he finds the idea of using him as a comparison for his own ideals and behaviour somewhat comforting. It's easier somehow when you have a yardstick to measure your own growth by.
Gaara wonders how Naruto would react if Gaara offered to bring him on one of his 'trips'.
The first mission comes through for them six days after Gaara's return. Things are strange between him and his siblings, and Kankurou has been giving him odd sidelong glances when he believes his younger brother is unaware of his scrutiny.
Gaara still can't stop smirking at the recollection of the look of intense shock on Kankurou's face when he found Gaara's presents.
Maybe there was something to be said about this family thing.
Kankurou and Temari aren't coming on this mission, but Naruto is. Naruto is the personification of stubborn determination in regards to his wholehearted involvement with Gaara's mission, and Gaara's given up trying to persuade the Leaf chuunin otherwise.
He isn't going to let Naruto die though.
This mission is a combination of both an assassination and a retrieval of an important scroll which was thought to be lost many years ago in a fire during a raid while Sand was at war many years earlier. It's classed as an 'S' class mission because word has reached the Kazekage that there are certainly missing-nin after the scroll as well, not to mention the fact that the scroll is with the target (currently a guest of the Raikage), who happens to be a high-ranking member of the Council of the Hidden Rock Village in Stone Country, as well as a personal friend of the Tsuchikage, and a relation of the Cloud's Raikage, of Lightning Country. The scroll was gifted from Cloud, and the Cloud are long-time enemies of the Leaf, who are allied with Sand.
The only thing which could make this mission even worse is if the scroll contains information the Snake Sannin Orochimaru may decide he wants. Hopefully, this mission will be too low ranking serious involvement from other shinobi, and the scroll will not hold anything the Sound will want.
It will take a few weeks for them to get to Hidden Cloud Village, which is where their target is staying, and that will give them enough time for Naruto to burn through some of the drug he was given. Even with his heightened healing capabilities the drug was proving to be remarkably insidious and long-lasting. Perhaps it was just that Naruto's body didn't view it as something which caused direct damage and thus was not considered to be a viable target for his body to heal or eradicate.
Whatever the reason for it, Gaara was just glad that if things went his way, Naruto would be able to fight on an even playing field soon.
Both shinobi pack light, neither of them needing to bring any more than basic bandages, (and in Naruto's case a rolled sleeping mat and thin heat-conserving blanket). Gaara's food pills and soldier pills are more than adequate for their needs, and both of them have every intention of hunting to fill their stomachs. Gaara's summoning scroll for his tent and bedding is useful, but since Gaara doesn't sleep, and Naruto's healing capabilities are so far above normal, neither of them need much rest at night, so the summon will most likely be saved unless it rains.
The journey to Cloud could be taken by traveling directly across Fire Country, which is where the Leaf is, but both shinobi decide to take the slightly longer route and travel through the long expanse of neutral territory which spans the continent to Lightning Country.
To be exact, the expanse is not completely neutral, in that there are hidden nin-villages amongst them, however none of them are affiliated with the five great shinobi countries, Fire, Wind, Stone, Lightning and Water, and are thus free from political loyalties.
Although to be technical, with Orochimaru creating Otogakure, the Hidden Village of Sound, there should be six of them. Sound wasn't big, but it rivaled all five of the larger shinobi states when it came to terms of power and ruthlessness.
Gaara's relieved that as they travel, Naruto settles down into a sort of calm, halfway between his normal boisterous personality, and the deadly quiescence that all shinobi need to complete their missions. It's a bit odd nonetheless, seeing Naruto like this, even though his behavior is welcomed.
Both shinobi are dressed for the weather, and Naruto has left his bright orange outfit behind, opting for skintight clothes in a mix of dark greys and black under the olive green chuunin vest he wears. During a battle, anything can be used as a weapon, even your own clothes. Naruto's made sure there's nothing for the enemy to hold onto to use against him.
Gaara's wearing his favourite dark reddish-brown leather outfit, although he's deigned to leave the white swathe of material behind, swapping it for a black, thick length of cloth, which is bound around his gourd and his body. With the amount of blood he usually ends up covered in, this is probably for the best. The stains won't show so well.
The sand becomes rocky ground, which becomes sparsely grassed patches of land as they reach the end of the Wind Country territory. The Fire Country is an immensely large stretch of greenery, ranging from meadows to forests and the few rocky hills and mountains are full of hardy trees and grass. Even skirting by the Fire Country border they can see much of the same sort of terrain that they would have found in Naruto's native territory.
Gaara can tell that Naruto is starting to feel more at home in these surroundings. Gaara doesn't. He prefers the stark beauty of his own arid land.
The drug Naruto has binding his chakra is still coursing through his body, but he seems to take it as a challenge, training himself as he travels, persuading Gaara to use his sand as weights around Naruto's wrists, ankles, waist and neck.
When asked, Gaara just sighs and complies, eventually copying Naruto and his insane training method.
They set up camp quickly that night, and neither of them bother to hunt, both of them are feeling the strain of Naruto's new training method.
"Ne...Gaara?" Naruto asks finally, staring into the flames of the small campfire.
Gaara looked up, taking his eyes off the oddly relaxing dance of the red-orange flames. "Aa?"
"When we get there...to the target...I don't want you to coddle me. 'Kay?" Naruto sounds...hesitant, to Gaara.
Gaara snorted. "Coddle you? Me?"
Naruto rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. Protect me, with your sand." Naruto paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "I don't want you left without your defense, and I have more experience with taking physical blows, and Kyuubi heals me fast...so...don't. I don't want you getting hurt for me."
Gaara finds himself feeling somewhat...lost. He doesn't know what to say, or what he's supposed to be feeling. There's anger alright, and concern...but, nope, mostly just anger. Anger at Naruto, and because he doesn't actually understand what Naruto means.
Eventually he ops for silence.
Naruto seems to take it as an agreement, because he leans back and stares at the night sky with a relieved sigh.
Gaara frowns. "I didn't agree," he says, knowing his voice sounds petulant, and not really caring.
Naruto turns his head and just smiles than damnable bright vapid smile he usually bestows on unsuspecting strangers. Gaara doesn't like it. When he scowls, Naruto's face lightens up in a real smile, which makes his eyes gleam in the firelight with something akin to satisfied amusement.
"I'm not letting you die." Gaara says suddenly, after a good handful of empty minutes. "If you do die, it'll be me that kills you, in a battle."
"Aa." Naruto agrees with a nod or two, Gaara can't really tell, since Naruto tilts his head to the side to stare at the flames again. "I'd prefer you to kill me...much more than Sasuke-bastard, or his crazy brother."
Gaara glances at Naruto, then lets out a breath he didn't even realise he'd been holding. "You didn't need to agree so fast," he finds himself complaining playfully, and he's surprised to find himself acting his age for once.
Naruto just shrugs. "If I can survive the next ten years, I'll probably be immortal. So will you."
Gaara knows what Naruto means. Once their bodies finish maturing, the demons inside them will have given enough chakra to permanently change their physical structure. Gaara knew that within the next five years he'd heal even faster than Naruto does now, and within seven years he won't ever feel tired. After ten years he'll never age another moment without his body 'healing' the damage caused by the disease known as 'age'.
"If we live that long," Gaara says quietly. He's not really talking about himself. He'll survive no matter what, as long as Naruto isn't going to try to kill him, but Naruto...that's a different matter altogether. Unless Naruto pulls himself together fast, Gaara knows he's not going to survive.
"Aa. If we live that long," Naruto agrees softly.
There isn't really anything else Gaara wants to say right now.
Both of them are up and ready before dawn breaks the next morning, fortified with one of Gaara's food pills. Their breaths are white puffs of air, but neither one shows any acknowledgment of the bitterly cold early morning air.
They run with the wind, twin streaks of muted colour through the grassy fields and small clusters of trees. They're almost halfway there, and the terrain is slowly changing. Lightning Country is balanced between grassy plains and rocky slopes, much like it's neighbour, however there are also hundreds of rivers, lakes and even fields of water. The greenery is darker, hardier and not as forgiving.
It's nearing Harvest time and many people are out by the time Gaara and Naruto hit the border. From there they follow the long roads of compacted dirt made from many years of constant use. They pass the occasional open-topped wagon, and even rarer, a few people on horseback. Most people walk, or simply don't travel. Goods are usually mule-laden, or pulled upstream to the busy prosperous towns by horses and long boats.
Bandits are also out full force. It's prime time for them to make a profit, either from purse-carrying merchants, or minor Lords and Ladies traveling to see the sights bearing a veritable treasury on their persons.
Those who can afford to pay for a shinobi escort, although the quality of that escort is limited by their funds. Many people who couldn't take the harsh ninja life sometimes rent themselves out to people. Shinobi villages are called 'Hidden' for a reason, and the general populace is generally unaware of what a good shinobi can do.
Copy-cats eager to make some easy money usually puff up their own skills, and unfortunately if they look tough, people think they are tough.
Genin are the weakest of shinobi. Most ninja become genin around the age of twelve, some are younger, some are older, but twelve is the average. A genin can take the Chuunin Exam and become a chuunin as soon as a certain number of missions are completed, and there are usually two chuunin examinations a year, although they change village each time.
For a chuunin to become a Jounin another exam must take place, but this one is shrouded in secrecy, and only another Jounin knows what the exam entails.
From Jounin, a ninja can become an ANBU member, which is a specialised military squad who only answers directly to their villages 'Kage', be it Hokage, Kazekage, Mizukage, Raikage, Tsuchikage or Otokage.
Of all the Kage, the Hokage is usually the strongest, only rivaled now by the recently inducted Otokage.
However, to the ordinary person, a ninja was a ninja was a ninja, and there were no distinctions between rank, which was unfortunate for those who thought their strength could rival those who trained pitilessly for their abilities.
Both Gaara and Naruto had power in spades, and a decent amount of skill. Unless they came across someone who had power, but more skill and experienced, they were pretty much guaranteed an easy victory, so neither of them saw any need to hide and travel by night.
Unfortunately, that drug was still very much in Naruto's system.
A few more days of travel and they're nearing their goal. By mutual consent they decide to travel by night for the last stretch, traveling under the cover of darkness to prevent them being spotted. Gaara's aqua-green eyes seem luminescent in the darkness, and Naruto's have become glowing red slits, both of them drawing on their other source of chakra to enhance their already preternatural senses.
They stop a day out from where the village is, carefully concealing themselves from all senses. They both eat and drink, Gaara feeding his sand from the small animals which roam freely in the local area. They take a soldier pill and a food pill as a general precaution and then use the day to scout.
Gaara's 'Third Eye' jutsu is extremely handy for this, as they can find out where the entrances and exits of the Raikage's home are located without having to go in themselves. They also keep track of the shifts the ANBU use, making sure they are well out of detection range.
They wait for the cover of darkness again before making their move, Gaara's sand eager to transport them into the heart of the Hidden Cloud. A few grains seem to linger on Naruto, and Gaara frowns as he calls it back.
Naruto takes point, sniffing the air warily and baring his fangs when he scents an enemy shinobi. Gaara's sand creeps along the floor to Naruto's position and they wait for the guard to walk past. When he does, Naruto springs into action, snapping his neck, even as the sand pins his hands to prevent him from using any seals or weapons to protect himself.
It's not until they retrieve the scroll and make their way to their second objective that all hell breaks loose. Explosions rock the tower they're currently in, and a massive fireball slams into the wall of the outer building.
Gaara and Naruto exchange a glance and nod. Right now it's more important to stay out of sight. If they're lucky and plan things right, they should be able to take advantage of the chaos to complete their second objective.,
Cloud shinobi are pouring out of everywhere, making their way to the source of the fire, leaving the way clear for Gaara and Naruto, who stops after he sniffs the air again, his head cocking to one side as he tastes the air carefully. His eyes go wide and his hisses lowly.
Sasuke-bastard, Naruto signs quickly, and he's not alone. There's a snake freak with him for sure.
Gaara narrows his eyes and glances back at the flames lighting up the night with their ferocity. Orochimaru?
Naruto shakes his head. No. Not him, but the scent of the snakes is strong.
Gaara thinks for a moment, noting the tension thrumming through Naruto's frame, his hands twitching and his face flushing with blood. Gaara's senses are not as animalistic or as pronounced as Naruto's, but even he can smell the mixed anticipation, excitement and fear radiating off Naruto.
Retreat. Gaara signs. We'll come back later, when things have died down. The Raikage will be well guarded, and his guests won't be left alone.
Naruto nods and steps close enough to Gaara for him to teleport out...or at least, he would have done.
Just as the sand starts to rise and move them, a large blade comes out of nowhere and drives through Naruto's chuunin vest, slashing through the sand as it disappears and forcing Naruto to hit the far wall, pinned by the blade through his chest, his back slamming against the wall, just as the jutsu takes effect and transports Gaara away from the room.
It takes a few moments for him to regroup and teleport back into the room, the darkness lit up by orange flares and flashes of white. It's enough for him to see though, and where Naruto was pinned is a streak of fresh blood, a few drops of which are still drying and smeared all the way to the windowsill.
Outside the room there's no sign of the blonde, and even his scent is overshadowed by other fresh blood, smoke and the acrid scent of a snake's burning flesh.
There's nothing Gaara can do.
Oh shit. Naruto felt himself impact against the wall, the long blade easily slicing through skin and muscle, just missing his ribs and neatly pinning him like a butterfly to a board against the wall. His breath is driven from his body, and for an instant the world turns white.
The Kyuubi starts healing him even before he knows he's hurt, and Naruto has to grip the blade and pull it out of his body, tearing the flesh and re-opening his wound in order to slide the blade from out of his lungs. Blood bubbles from his lips and he throws his head back against the wall with a swallowed scream as the blade finally rips free.
He knows Gaara's gone, and that he'll be back. Something's changed between them, but he can't quite name it. Maybe it's because he's filling the hole Sasuke's betrayal left in him. Maybe not. Maybe it's more. Naruto once told Sasuke he'd though of him as a brother, just before Sasuke thrust his chidori-laced fist through his heart and killed him for the first time.
So, maybe they're becoming friends, maybe they're more like brothers. Whatever it is, Naruto has no intention of dying before he can find out.
He's never had a family before.
Fire flashes from outside the window, and lightning crackles close by.
Naruto finds himself sliding down the wall, the blade – some sort of sword – dropping with a clang to his feet.
Naruto looks up in time to see the small arcs that he thought was lightning, just before the fist they covered impacted against his face. The last thing he sees are Sasuke's blood-tinged eyes staring at him, the Sharingan whirling wildly in the centre of his pupils.
There's screaming and madness in the Hidden Cloud, and Gaara has no problem assassinating the target. He has the scroll safely tucked away in his pouch and covered with seals, preventing it from being stolen. All objectives have been met.
All he has to do now is find Naruto.
Naruto has no idea how long he's been out. When he wakes he's in an unfamiliar room, his hands and feet bound and covered with seals. There's a chain and a collar of sorts around his neck, keeping him against the wall, and there's no natural light anywhere. A few torches light the room with a dim glow, just enough for Naruto to make out the door at the far end, a long row of bars before it.
The floor is cold and damp where he is sitting, the slight moisture seeping through his thin trousers and settling in his bones. His chuunin vest is gone, as are his bandages, pouch, holster and sandals. He still has his netting beneath his black top, but even his belt has been taken. A quick if awkward search reveals that he still has his garotte wires, hidden as they were in the seams of his sleeves, masked under the stitching.
His lock pocks are gone from the inside of his waistline, as are the small folded seals which were in a secret pocket in the ankles of his trousers.
One bit of good news to him is when he realises that the hitae-ate that Iruka-sensei gave him is still tied to his forehead. Everything else could be replaced, but not that.
Naruto carefully listens for footsteps, heartbeats, breathing, anything which could give away an enemy shinobi, or the presence of his once-rival. His bright blue eyes slit slightly, but stay blue. He only needs to be able to see directly in front of him.
When he's sure it's safe, Naruto gently unpicks the stitching and tugs out a thin sliver of garotte wire, wrapping it around one fist and over the seals covering his hands. He holds the other end in his mouth, gripping the razor-sharp wire carefully with his teeth.
It takes a few minutes of careful grinding and tugging, slicing and snapping before the top seal comes undone, disappearing in a flare of black flame and disintegrating into dust. The second one is easier, and simply falls neatly in two pieces to the floor. The third one doesn't budge, no matter how hard Naruto tugs and pulls and slices.
A faint whirring sound makes him pause and tuck the wire underneath the seals in one of his palms.
He's just in time. The door swings open, crashing loudly against the far wall as it swings noisily on rusted hinges. The backdrop of light silhouettes a familiar figure, although Naruto can't quite make out his eyes from this distance and with the light behind him.
Then he comes striding forward, looking impossibly smug and arrogant, a smirk painting his lips and his eyes dipped in red. He's taller than Naruto remembered, although it shouldn't come as much of a surprise, after all he's had a good few growing years. His frame is muscled, but slenderly so, no overwhelming bulges of flesh, just smooth sleek perfection.
He stops in front of the row of bars and looks down at Naruto.
Naruto narrows his eyes and growls, which elicits a small laugh from him. "Sasuke-bastard," Naruto snarls.
Sasuke just cocks his head to one side and studies him intently. Naruto wonders what he sees. He knows he's dirty, covered in dried blood, soot and flakes of dead snake skin. He's not stocky like he was three years ago, he's grown a good three inches, but still only reaches five foot three inches, hardly a respectable height for a sixteen year old shinobi. He's slim and lithe, since he hasn't gained any weight, and his lack of good food has meant that his body has become adept at savaging itself for reserves.
Eventually Naruto finds himself looking away, staring resolutely at the grey stone of the cell wall, pointedly ignoring Sasuke's penetrating stare.
After a few more minutes which drag out longer than Naruto wanted them to, Sasuke leaves, although he doesn't close the outer door.
"Bastard," Naruto whispers, although it's half-hearted at the most. Some part of him still misses the boy who'd been his best friend and rival three and a half years ago.
With a long drawn out sigh, Naruto places his head back against the wall and wonders how long it's going to take Gaara to find him. He's not overly worried, if they'd wanted him dead, they – meaning Orochimaru or whomever Sasuke was working for now – would have killed him already, which meant he still had time to figure out an escape.
The wire is cautiously untucked and stretched out through the seals again, and Naruto tries desperately to slice through the bindings. When the seals still don't give way, Naruto tries the bindings around his ankles instead, gratified and a little bit relieved when more than a few give way and dissolve in a flare of cold green flames.
Faint echoing footsteps make him hide the wire again, and he brushed the cut seal which didn't dissolve from his wrists further under his wrist seals, hoping that whomever chose to come for him wouldn't notice the difference.
The tall figure that steps through the door is familiar to Naruto, from the long silver-grey hair, to the piercing black eyes that he knows are hidden behind the glasses on the man's sneering face. His clothes are a nondescript grey, covered with a long black-blue tunic and belted with a thick swath of grey fabric. The Sound hitae-ate on his forehead gleams in the low torchlight.
"It's been a long time, Naruto-kun." Yakushi Kabuto greets, staring down at the blonde, derision and contempt easily visible on his face.
Naruto narrows his eyes. "Traitor."
Kabuto just snorts. "Still upset about our last battle?" His eyes narrow and he bares his teeth angrily. "I still owe you for that one."
"Looks like you're the one with issues," Naruto goads with a smirk on his face. Even at a disadvantage like this he doesn't give up. "What's the matter, sore that you lost to a mere twelve year old genin dropout?"
The blow that crashes across his jaw is so fast that Naruto misses it completely. His head slams against the wall and he coughs out a mouthful of blood. "Fucker," Naruto grinds out after spitting out excess blood.
"You little shit!" Kabuto is fairly vibrating with anger. "You have no idea just who you're messing with. You're just lucky the Akatsuki have something Orochimaru-sama is after, or you wouldn't be alive right now."
"And doesn't that just piss you off?" Naruto smiles darkly, not at all like his usual smile. "I'm like a splinter you get during training that you can't dislodge no matter what you try, aren't I? Insignificant to you, but you can't forget about me. I'm always popping up, always needling when you least expect me or want me to." Naruto snorted and turned away. "Yeah, some big bad ninja you are."
"I wish I could be there when they tear you apart." Kabuto stands up and steps back, pushing his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. "I would give a lot to hear your screams, Naruto-kun. I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were you, you'll be dead by the end of the week."
The door slams shut with a deafening clang and a thud, leaving the room even darker than it was before. As soon as he's sure the coast is clear, Naruto begins again on the seals.