This is the evolution of an idea, inspired by my lovely beta reader, Wash (thanks for putting up with me!), and a reviewer from my other Naruto story, mori3 (thank you!). I wanted to expand on that story with various pairings and back stories, but it always felt forced and not appropriate for that storyline.
So…here is a collection of two-shots revolving around a very important day, the day Tsunade abdicates her position to Naruto (huzzah!). Although these stories were inspired by 'Konohagakure Holiday' they have nothing to do with it and are AU only in the fact that the storylines themselves are (obviously) not canon (yet…tee-hee!). They will involve many different pairings, both romance and friendship. If you want to critique my writing, by all means do so; however don't flame me for the sole purpose of saying that you hate A paired with B. Thanks for reading!
For the record, I still don't own Naruto.
The Abdication of the Godaime.
A Far Off Place: Part One
Today was different.
Gaara sent out his thoughts in different directions. They writhed and buzzed, trickling through the cracks in his mind, beating themselves against the sides of his head.
It had begun like any other day; rising from his small straw pallet after another sleepless night, followed by a very early morning walk through Suna, inevitably followed by a meager breakfast, usually prepared by Temari to make certain that the Kazekage actually did eat, before reporting to his office.
His sister turned from her frying pan at his statement. The eggs crackled merrily in their oil, nearly drowning him out. Only she would have been able to hear the question in the commanding monotony of his voice. The chuunin exams, the battles with Lee and Naruto, even the Konoha nin rescue mission, had all combined to push Gaara towards the goal of becoming more human. Unfortunately, her brother had yet to grasp the art of conversation.
"Today is different."
Again, another question. Temari blushed and shrugged, hoping she hadn't made her excitement too obvious.
"Not really. Why do you ask?"
Gaara furrowed his brow, resting his chin in his hands, childishly. He attempted to call his thoughts back to his mind. It was the same. Another similar day to every day before it, yet different somehow.
He found himself feeling angry. Gaara suppress the urge to snake the sand around his sister and shake her into understanding. She had to feel the difference in the air. It was heavy, heavy with a tension that Gaara was unable to pinpoint. It felt humid. The sand armor clung to his skin with an added weight, as if someone had doused his entire body with water. Gaara held his fingers in front of his face, rubbing the sand particles between them. Temari shrugged again, turning back towards the eggs.
"Today we leave for Konoha, if that's what you mean."
She was trying desperately to keep the giddiness out of her voice. The eggs sizzled as she deftly flipped the sweet omelette onto a smooth china plate, presenting it to her younger brother with a flourish. Gaara poked at the eggs disinterestedly with his chopsticks.
"You're happy to see that shadow user again."
His voice did not accuse, only state, and he watched the patchy redness spread across Temari's cheeks, a rarity for his older sister.
"No! I'm just excited to see Naruto finally become Hokage."
"The 'bratty, hyperactive, kyuubi boy.'"
Again, there was no change in his voice as he quoted his sister. Only she, or possibly Kankuro, would be able to pick up on the subtly implied irony. Gaara's mouth stretched thinly across his face in the closest semblance of a smile that the Kazekage ever showed. She had to know that he would have found out eventually, even if he hadn't seen them together in the darkness.
It had been over a year ago, when the Nara boy had passed through Suna last. Gaara often stayed late at his office. Usually having completed the day's paperwork, he had become an avid reader and was slowly making his way through the extensive private library at his disposal.
Closing the book, he allowed the musty smell to drift over him. It was a cold night as he stepped outdoors to make his way back to his siblings' house. The desert hummed with a life that was rarely seen in the baking heat of the day. The noise weighed on Gaara, adding to the rustling sound of sand that was a permanent product of his thoughts.
As he rounded the corner, he discovered that one of these humming noises was his sister, backed against a nearby building by the Nara boy. Gaara called his sand quickly, waiting for the best opportunity to strike. He watched, muscles tightly wound, thoughts pouring into his mind like the sand. After waiting for several minutes, it slowly dawned on Gaara that Temari had both beaten this boy and saved his life. She would only be in this position if she wanted to be.
The whole incident had left Gaara confused. His sister had willingly been beaten into submission by an inferior sparring partner. Months later, it dawned on Gaara that maybe it had some other meaning than sparring; however the thought was still beyond his comprehension. He filed the incident in his mind, with the intention to bring it up with his sister later, after he had learned more about her situation.
"Oh, I haven't called Naruto that in ages!"
"It was last week, when I received the invitation."
Temari sniffed and glared at her older brother, something that she had only recently found the courage to do. It made Gaara strangely happy, and in a surprisingly benign way. He glared back.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot," she said, grabbing an envelope from the kitchen counter. "This came for you the other day."
Gaara studied the envelope for a moment, turning it over in his hands. It bore the Konoha wax seal on the back. Lacing his finger underneath the flap, he neatly tore the letter open, filing fine grains of sand into an edge sharper than a knife.
Sabaku no Gaara-sama, Fifth Kazekage of Sunagakure-
We were very pleased to hear your positive reply to our invitation. We expect to see you in Konohagakure in four days time. Although we are well aware of your accomplishments, we must follow standard village protocol. A highly esteemed jounin will meet you at the gates, and will act as your personal bodyguard throughout the ceremonies.
Gaara frowned and then shrugged. He was mildly insulted at the idea of having a bodyguard, but accepted that the protocol must be followed. As Kazekage, he had begun to accept these minor annoyances as part of a much larger routine. It was a routine that was neat and orderly. A routine that Gaara had learned to rely on, and take comfort from.
Quickly scanning the rest of the letter, identifying his reservations at a local inn and the schedule of events, his eyes fell on a hastily scribbled note at the bottom of the paper.
Sorry about all of the formalities. I'm still not used to it so I had granny Tsunade write most of this for me. Just wanted to let you know that I requested Bushy Brows to be your assigned bodyguard. I figured you'd want someone you already know. –Naruto
He turned the slightly crumpled letter over in his hands. The rushing of the sand was deafening in his ears. Slowly his eyes rose, resting upon the large letters 'A' and 'N.'
"A day similar, yet different."
Gaara's whisper dissipated into the far heavier Konoha air. Everything seemed to move that much slower in the forest. His body felt heavier from the humidity that his sand armor had absorbed. The cloying perfume of flowers deadened his nose.
He stared at the letters, marveling at how the difference of one letter could change the meaning of a word so easily. 'A' and 'N,' 'A' and 'I.' 'Hermitage' and 'Love.' They nearly meant the same thing. To retreat from the world, a demon who loves only himself. However, he wasn't that person anymore.
Konoha was the least restful place. Gaara clutched his hand over his forehead and fitfully tugged at his hair. He twitched, placing his other hand, that held the crumpled itinerary, over his chest. There was a tugging there, a pull. They had run from Suna because of this tug, almost immediately after Gaara had read the letter.
Temari felt her annoyance rapidly grow to anger. A vein twitched in her forehead. Her brother had stopped at the gates and was currently gazing up at them with a half-dazed expression. They could have been safely in the hidden village right now. She could, at this very moment her brother was staring off into space, be in front of an achingly familiar door waiting in anxious anticipation for the man who could be behind it.
"Oy! Gaara, hurry the hell up!"
Luckily Kankuro saved her the trouble of getting angry.
The often left-behind puppeteer was panting heavily. Sweat pooled on his brow, quickly falling in rivulets from his face where it slowly dripped onto the ground. Kankuro had stubbornly refused to remove his hood or his kabuki makeup the entire journey from Suna to Konoha.
"W'y dwy haa t'get there s'soo 'nee way?"
Kankuro spit out bits of bread as he spoke. Gaara blanched in disgust. He'd never appreciated messes of any kind.
"I think what our oh-so-sophisticated brother is trying to say," Temari began, shooting Kankuro a similar look of disgust. "Is that we've been traveling awfully fast. Was there something in that letter? Is someone in danger?"
Gaara narrowed his eyes. He still wasn't used to the prying, no, questioning, that came with having two older siblings. Unknowingly, he still enjoyed more privacy than many born to his birthright. He didn't see the need of explaining his actions to anyone. His brother and sister were not responsible for him anymore.
And yet, he now knew that they weren't questioning his ability to take care of himself, or checking up on him because they had been instructed to. It was the same thing that had made him pause at breakfast. Temari had glared openly at him without fear, like a sister should. He sighed.
Temari and Kankuro looked at each other for explanation before turning back to their brother. The air was still, but noisy, filled by the soft crackling of the campfire that Kankuro had insisted they light.
"Are you ready?"
It was not too long ago that Gaara had been able to quiet his siblings with a stare. Not so long, but it seemed like a lifetime. Their pupils would dart to the corners of their eyes. Their breath would quicken. Shukaku would quicken at their palpable fear.
Kankuro simply glared at him, annoyed, rubbing his feet.
"We made it here in three days. Three days. It was supposed to take four at least."
Gaara shrugged. He hadn't been able to put his thoughts into the right words to explain how he was feeling when Kankuro had asked him as they had rested the night before. It couldn't be explained now, as the question hung, laced in between the irritation in Kankuro's statement. A confusion, a pain. A 'heart pain,' as he had voiced to Yashamaru many years before. But it was stronger now, and not as sharp.
Checking her own anger, Temari quickly flashed their identities towards the two ANBU guards that stood, hidden on the top of the wall that wound itself lazily through the forest, encompassing the hidden village. As the gates slowly opened, Temari ushered her brothers through. Kankuro sighed in relief, continuing to rub his sore and blistered feet.
Gaara continued to stare at the gates. He involuntarily shuddered at the initial contact of his sister's hand pushing him forward, still unused to casual touching. Somehow, now that he was at his destination, he had to fight the urge to dig in his heels. Suddenly, he felt like turning around and running back to Suna. In one day, if that was possible.
A/N: On Gaara's little space-out: The hiragana on the outside of the doors to Konoha spells 'an,' which means hermitage, place of rest, retreat, etc. The kanji on Gaara's forehead means love, spelled phonetically in hiragana as 'ai.'
Sorry if this chapter was hard to follow. I wanted to make it a bit like Gaara, focused inwardly on thoughts and flashbacks, sometimes disjointed, sometimes insightful.
I've included a limited use of honorifics between the characters because it makes the stories ten times easier to write. You'll see it a lot more in the next chapter due to the main character's POV.
Why is Gaara suddenly so reluctant to go into Konoha? Where is Lee? Why is Kankuro so useless? These questions and more answered in the conclusion of 'A Far Away Place.' Thanks for reading! Please review!