Moon of Regrets
Gaara waited until he was sure that his team was asleep. He pushed off his blanket and gently laid it next to where he had been sleeping. His older sister, Temari, moved slightly in her sleep. He paused for a moment. His brother, sister, teacher, and all the other sand ninja that they were traveling with all were stretched out under blankets. Gaara adjusted the bandage on his shoulder where earlier in the day he had been hit by a lightening blade wielded by Uchiha Sasuke. Although his transformation into a state where he was half the sand demon Shukaku had partially healed it the wound was still tender. When they returned to Suna he intended to ask a medic to look at it. If he could convince some one to actually get that near the village monster, he thought wryly. Temari moved again. Gaara looked over at her again. She curled up. Her hair was no longer in the customary four ponytails that she usually wore it in. It was loose and made her look more relaxed. He stood up and picked up his blanket once more with his good arm. He lifted it over his sister and gently tucked it around her. She smiled in her sleep. He glanced over at Kankuro who was on Temari's other side. He was fast asleep. Gaara quietly stepped over Temari and walked toward the nearby small river. Although there were no buildings in the middle of the forest Gaara retained his love of heights. A tall tree near this river had attracted his attention when they had stopped for the night. He had decided to climb it and spend his sleepless night there. He sighed. He had always wondered what it would feel like to wake from a calm night of slumber. Never in his life had he been able to sleep at all. He rubbed his forehead. Shukaku certainly hasn't made my life very easy has it? He mused thoughtfully. He shook himself again. Life could be a lot worse for him. He still was able to hope that things would be easier for him, someday.
The tree loomed before him. It looked like it would be an easy climb. It was filled with low branches and knotholes where he could hold on. He had already decided that he wanted to climb it himself rather than using his sand to lift him to the top. He reached an arm up to grab the nearest branch. Minutes later he had climbed as high as he could into the old pine. He breathed harder then usual as he looked down at the river coursing through the forest. He broke a twig from a branch near him and flung it into the water. Ripples spread from around where it had landed.
How could I have been so blind? He wondered. I killed because my life had no meaning. But when I killed someone I ended someone else's life and destroyed their dreams. I hurt the people who they mattered to with out thinking. I suppose since I had been so small when I lost all hope for the future I found no way around being the monster that I was shunned for being. He plucked another twig from the branch. It spiraled down and landed with a slight splash. An image of himself when he was six entered his mind. He remembered how he had always asked his uncle what was wrong with him. He found that his anger toward Yashamaru that he always was able to fall back on was waning. He must have loved his sister, my mother. He must have been broken-hearted when she died having me. He must have fixated on the idea that I was responsible. And in a way I was. Quietly Gaara reflected on that for a few minutes. But I can change. He showed me that. He closed his eyes thoughtfully. Thank you, Naruto. He thought.
Back in Konoha other ninja were wakeful. Neji sat on the roof of the hospital and watched the stars above him. So far away and distant. Stars didn't have to think about what they believed, Neji reflected. They just, were. He looked down at his hands. Did I destroy his dreams? He thought, thinking of his teammate. Did I ruin his hopes; make him give up trying so hard? The idea was horrible to him. The thought of ruining an innocent life, solely because his life had been a living torture to him, made him cringe. I had no right to tell him to give up. I only hope he never listened to me. How could I live with myself if I knew I had made someone else's life painful like mine? That I believed in destiny like I said is no excuse. He was wiser, he believed in effort. He sighed and covered his face in his hands. On the occasional sleepless night he always felt like crying. He sincerely pitied anyone who suffered from insomnia; they must never know the restful oblivion of slumber. A small sound down in the courtyard made him scan around him. The stars twinkled brightly in the sky as if to say we are here, don't give up hope. Neji glanced around him again. A huddled figure under a tree caught his attention. That hadn't been there when he had climbed up to the roof, had it? Nimbly, he swung himself onto a small, lower part of the roof. It was someone in hospital garb but he couldn't see the face. The ladder he had used to climb up onto the roof allowed him to climb down to the courtyard. He was right. As he got closer he could tell for certain that it was someone who was dressed in hospital clothing. He paused and a small sound met his ears. He perceived a low, broken sobbing emanating from the figure. A crutch lay on the ground beside them. Softly, Neji walked across the courtyard until he was right beside the person. He knelt down beside them.
"Lee? What's wrong?" Lee, for he was the one crying, lifted his head. His eyes were wet with quiet tears.
"Neji? What are you doing here? Are you going to tell me that never being able to be a ninja again is my destiny?" Neji felt remorse well up inside him. This was what people saw him as. The person who tried to destroy their dreams because he had lost the capability for dreams himself.
"Don't be ridiculous. There is no absolute fate, no destiny." Lee cocked his head in amazement. His teammate was the one who fervently believed in destiny for reasons he couldn't understand. Neji had always told him that his destiny was to be a failure and had scoffed at him for denying its existence.
"What? You don't believe in fate anymore? Why?" Neji smiled slightly.
"Because there is no "destiny". Everyone chooses their own path. I learned that today." Silently he added. Thanks to Naruto. Lee looked startled.
"But how? Why did you suddenly realize that there is no fate?" Neji smiled a little more. Lee continued, "Why did you even believe in it in the first place?" Neji closed his eyes and pulled the piece of cloth that was lightly wrapped around his forehead in place of his headband off. In the faint light of the moon the curse seal showed faintly, more from the contrast with Neji's light skin than from the illumination of the mark. "What is that?" Lee asked curiously. "Is that why I've never seen you with your headband off before?" Neji nodded calmly. He wound the strip of fabric around his hand.
"This cursed mark is the reason I believed in fate. The way the Hyuuga family is set up it almost invites someone like me to believe in destiny. And I was four years old, an impressionable child." He spoke without bitterness. Lee was even more eager to understand. Neji had been so bitter for as long as he had known him that he expected the root cause to make him very bitter if he had to talk about it. But here he was, calmly explaining. "In the Hyuuga family the older child is preferred. When my father was born his twin brother had been born moments before. My father was put in the Branch Family. My uncle was put in the Main Family." Lee nodded. He did know that. Master Guy had told him and Tenten that Neji was from a lower family but had refused to go into detail. "My father, and I after him, had a curse seal engraved on his head. It happens when the Hyuuga heir turns three. The current heir by birth is my cousin, Hinata. When she was three I was four. My uncle put this mark on my forehead. It is supposed to represent a bird in a cage but, as I was told today, a wise bird never stops trying to open the door of its cage with its beak, never giving up its desire to fly free." Lee thought that Neji looked as if he wanted to fly himself. "Also when I was four my father sacrificed himself to protect his brother. I thought that since my uncle was a member of the Main Family my father had been substituted since he was less valued. My uncle told me today that that was wrong. I believed in destiny as an explanation of what had happened. I thought that since birth order is from birth that destiny must be also. The truth is different from that." Lee nodded in understanding but still looked slightly confused.
"But what does that thing do? I doubt its just decoration to show who is from what side of the family." Neji shook his head.
"You're right. It's more than just a symbol. The Main Family puts this seal on for control. It protects the byakugan. When a Branch Family member dies this seal prevents anyone looking at the body from discovering how to use the byakugan. After sealing the byakugan it fades." Lee cocked his head.
"But you said that it was used for control. Why would one side of the family have it and the other side not if it serves a purpose like that? That doesn't seem like a bad thing." Neji laughed softly but not bitterly.
"That's correct also. It doesn't just do that. It serves two more unpleasant purposes also. Whenever a Main Family ninja wants to they may activate this seal. One of two things could occur. The Branch Family member would either be tortured with out any way to stop it for however long the Main Family member wanted to." Lee drew in his breath and looked at his teammate. Neji seemed relaxed and not as afraid as Lee would have been. "Or option 2. If the supposed offence was serious this seal could be used to instantly crush the brain of the victim. It would be fatal, immediately." Lee's horror showed on his face. Neji saw it appear and noted it quietly.
"Do any of them activate it? Have you ever seen it active? Has someone done it to you?" Neji sighed. His face showed sorrow. Lee gasped. "You don't mean… some one did do that to you?" Neji shook his head.
"True, some of them do choose to activate these seals. I have seen one active. It was the worst thing I've ever seen. A strong ninja whose seal is activated can go from confident to rolling on the ground in agony, pleading for mercy. It changes people." Lee bit his lip in concern. Neji continued hastily. "No one has ever done that to me." Lee looked relieved.
"Than who did you see it happen to? Who did it? Why?" Neji closed his eyes.
"When I was four my father and I were watching Hinata-sama and her father training. My cousin was not doing well. Angrily, my uncle turned toward us." Lee knew where the story was headed. Neji opened his eyes and looked straight at Lee. "He activated my father's seal. My father was confident always in my memories except for that one time. I saw him rolling on the ground begging for mercy. I didn't know what was going on. My uncle let him writhe in torment for a little longer then deactivated it." Now there was a bit of bitterness in his voice. He must have had a hard childhood, thought Lee. Who ever suspected that Neji grew up so painfully? Neji pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes. He controlled his emotions.
"That's why you were bitter." Mused Lee, "because you saw that and you were so little." Neji nodded.
"True. But I need to get over those memories. It's been nine years; I know the truth about his death. I can let myself live for now. I've been living in the past and dredging up memories that I should have let fade." Lee smiled. Neji turned more toward him. "Did you ever listen to me? When I told you to believe in fate like I did. Please tell me that you didn't. How could I live with myself if I knew that I wrecked your dreams." Lee shook his head.
"I know that I'm supposed to listen to my team but I never did. When you and Tenten told me to give up I only trained harder." Neji smiled in gratitude.
"Thank you." He said, "I never would have forgiven myself if I had hurt someone else because my life was in ruins." Lee smiled more. This is Neji's nice side, he thought, this is the side of him that cares about other people. Out loud he said.
"You helped me too." Neji looked at him in surprise. "Just now. I was feeling like I was the only one who had to go through problems and suffer. But what happened to me is nothing. I never had anything like that happen to me."
"You are not alone. No one is perfect. No one had everything easy always. Compared to some other people's backgrounds mine was nothing." Lee looked skeptical.
"That many troubles and you think other people had things so much harder then you?" Neji nodded. Lee continued. "Name one." Neji closed his eyes to think.
"I can't think of anyone off the top of my head. Let me see." He opened his eyes and ticked off names on his fingers. "Me, no, you, no, Tenten, no, Hinata, not an easy past, Kiba, no, Shino, he doesn't talk so I don't know, Shikamaru, no, Ino, no, Choji, no, Sasuke, I think the Uchiha hasn't had life easy. Maybe his past is worse then mine. Actually, I believe it is. Remember, he is the last of the Uchiha. Continuing, Naruto, I really don't know. He's said things that only some one who has felt the pain of being alone would say. Who knows what goes on behind his blue eyes? Sakura, no."
"You should also include ninja from other villages."
"You have a point." Agreed Neji, "so, beginning with hidden sound. Who actually knows anything about them? I have to skip to hidden sand. That girl with the fan, Temari. She seemed to be afraid of something but I don't know what it is that terrified her. Apart from that she seemed really self-confidant. That boy with the puppet, Kankuro. He was afraid like his teammate. And Gaara. He must have had it rough to become like that. That much anger doesn't come from no where." A voice came from behind them.
"He didn't have life easy." Neji and Lee jumped slightly. Neither of them had heard the person approach. Naruto continued. "Life was hard for Gaara. He kept a lot inside that no one saw. He hid his pain and sorrow so that no one could hurt him with it like they would have if they had known. Even his family didn't know what was hurting him so much. Of course, some of what was wrong was because of his family. They never cared about him at all." Neji looked questioningly at Naruto.
"So what was wrong for Gaara?" Naruto's eyes were sad.
"What wasn't wrong? Everything that could go wrong did."
"But what exactly?" Neji queried. "What started it all?"
"I think Gaara should be allowed to keep his secrets. It would change the way you look at him, that's for certain. If you knew a quarter of what he's been through you would know that all the things that have happened to any of us were nothing. Neji, even the pain you've felt is nothing compared to what he suffered for his whole life." Neji was silent for a moment. Then he turned to Lee.
"I told you there were people out there who grew up hard. I was right, though I wish I wasn't. Things are never easy."
Lee shook his head. "They aren't." he stifled a yawn. Neji glanced over in time to see him cover his mouth to hide it.
"Lee, go to sleep. You're hurt, badly. Go back inside and rest." Lee tried to pull himself upright. He flinched. Neji stood up and half lifted him to his feet. "I'll help you inside." He carefully helped his teammate to his room. He carried Lee's crutch under one arm. Naruto watched him thoughtfully. Neji came back outside minutes later.
"You and Lee get along now?" asked Naruto. Neji nodded.
"It is a change. As soon as I stopped believing in destiny I realized what I had been doing to Lee. I started changing my views on life. Because of what you showed me." Naruto shook his head in disagreement.
"I can't change people, you changed yourself." Neji shrugged.
"And what about the others? Do you know what they hid? I want to know who else didn't grow up easily." Naruto paused for a moment before replying.
"I do know a lot about other kid's troubles. I've learned different ways but the results are roughly the same."
"Then tell me." Neji prodded. "Can you?" Naruto nodded.
"Alright, but I can't promise to give you specifics. People are entitled to their secrets." Neji nodded. "That list you mentioned. Going through that. Tenten, I don't actually know anything about her. Kiba, he was a slacker at the academy at the same time I was slacking off, I don't think he has problems. Shino, same reason you gave, I don't know anything about him. You could ask Hinata if you were curious." Neji shook his head.
"Not worth the trouble." He said.
"Shikamaru, I don't think he's had problems. Choji, same. Ino seems to have always been pretty happy. Sasuke, he's had troubles and hardship for years. Since we've been a team I've learned about him. His reason to live is to kill someone, but I can't tell you who. Sakura, she hasn't had problems. Me, I keep my own secrets." Neji rolled his eyes slightly.
"Like Lee said "and what about the other village's ninja?" do you know a lot about them also?" Naruto nodded.
"Actually I do. I've fought Gaara and I know that he's not an easy opponent. His anger makes him hard to defeat. He was in so much pain that he sealed himself off from love and kept himself apart. The way he grew up to fail means to die. That's why he was so strange when your teacher saved BushyBrows. And there is no appealing to his mercy. He has no mercy. I don't think he really knows the word. Had they caught him before he became useful again they would have had no mercy, and killed him with out even thinking that they had killed a person let alone a little child."
"Then tell me." Neji insisted. Naruto sighed.
"Alright. But this is in confidence. This goes no farther. Gaara is entitled to privacy." Neji agreed. "Gaara, from before he was born, was intended to be a weapon. His father sealed a demon inside him and his birth killed his mom. Gaara never knew her. But his older siblings did and I think they hated him for their mom's death. They're scared stiff of him so they won't do anything." Neji widened his eyes in shock.
"So that's where the unusual abilities come from. But he has a family? Family is not all that people say it is. Family can be so… cruel." His right hand strayed instinctively toward his forehead. Naruto nodded in answer.
"He does. All three of them have to work together a lot even though they can't stand each other. Yes, his teammates are his older siblings. Temari is the oldest then Kankuro is a year younger then her. Gaara is three years younger then Kankuro." Neji nodded slowly as he fit together all he had noticed.
"That explains it. They do look a bit alike. That's why Kankuro and Temari look so much older then him. That actually makes a lot of sense. I was wondering about that but I supposed that they organized teams differently in hidden sand."
"For the first six years of his life he was trained by his father. He said he was spoiled and left to himself. Every one else in his village thought of him as a demon. They all knew and called him "demon" and "monster" to his face. They always ran away from him with out even seeing him for what he was, a little, lonely child. I'm sure he watched everyone he ever loved run away from him, his older sister, his brother. But his power got out of control. Gaara mentioned that he had "emotional problems". It must have led to his power hurting people with out him wanting to. He was already unstable. The host to that particular demon can never sleep. He couldn't have slept at anytime his whole life. If they sleep the demon will consume them. His father sent assassin after assassin to try to kill him." Neji gasped.
"But you said…" he trailed off into silence, "I see. His father thought he was a threat." Naruto nodded sadly.
"That's it exactly. He was a threat. Since he was a danger for years they tried to kill him. They created a monster and then they tried to kill him for being what they created him to be. That sand shield you saw is automatic. It has always protected him "whether he liked it or not". That only served to make him more different and more isolated. He freaked out when Sasuke hit him in the shoulder with a technique called Chidori. There was a lot of blood. Because of what they put him through as a child words mean almost nothing to him. He's so used to being called a monster by the people he would have loved that words can't affect him. Finally, just recently his father decided to give him another chance. But it was too late. He was beyond caring whether his village needed him or not. By then, actually when he was six, he had found another reason to exist. To kill." Neji gasped again.
"I understand his thinking. He was never loved and he took out his anger and sorrow on others. It must have been the only way for him to deal with his fears and insecurities." Naruto nodded. "He was living in the shadow of death from his birth. If when you are alone when you're little you get desperate. You feel hopeless, like there's something wrong with you. He must have felt like that. And since he was six he came to the wrong conclusion. Do you know anything else about him and his past?"
"I knew you, at least, would be able to sympathize with him. I didn't want to tell Lee, I didn't think he would really understand. But you know what it feels like to be alone. I expected you to be able to feel pity for him. At least to see him as a human who had to struggle through life for his entire lifetime. I don't know if it's too late for him to change. I wish I could have done something but there was nothing I could do. I had to protect Sasuke and Sakura. I had to fight him." He sighed. "I couldn't help him. He might never be able to change. It was six years. The assassins must have made him not trust anyone. If I had met him when he was a child and he hadn't given up it would have been different. But Gaara won't let love into his heart. He's scared of being betrayed. He doesn't think anyone could love someone like him. I don't think he even really thinks of himself as human." Neji's eyes were full of pity.
"I do understand. Demon host or Branch Family, last of your clan or forgotten for not being strong enough. A believer in destiny or an avenger, some one who lived to kill or keeps constantly trying to be loved, the pain of being alone is the same for everyone." Naruto nodded sorrowfully.
"It is the same for everyone. More then you know." Neji looked curiously at him. Naruto shook his head. "Forget it." Neji shrugged. Naruto excused himself and walked out of the hospital courtyard. Neji thought sadly to himself as he watched the stars above him. This is really a moon of regrets.
The sun rose over the forest. The ninja sleeping below began to awake. Kankuro sat up and rubbed his eyes. Temari rolled over and opened her eyes. Gaara moved from his position in the tree. He had been sitting perfectly still all night. Temari pushed the two blankets off of her. She looked around to find who didn't have a blanket. Since he was stiff from the night up in the tree Gaara carefully used his sand to help himself climb down. The part he has been sitting in was significantly lower on twigs. Temari looked toward where Kankuro was now standing up. His blanket was shoved to the side. Then her eye traveled to the other side of her. Gaara's bedroll was unoccupied. His blanket was missing. She looked around nervously to try to spot him. She noticed him as he walked quietly back.
"Gaara?" she pointed to the blanket. He nodded.
Kankuro looked confusedly at his sister and brother. Gaara smiled slightly and Kankuro's jaw dropped. It was the first time he had seen his little brother smile without malice. Gaara recognized the expression and interpreted it correctly. This won't be the last time. He silently promised himself. I've changed.
Neji stayed on the roof and watched the sun come up. He saw people begin to move around down below. Naruto's words echoed in his head. The words about others and the pain they felt. Never again will I be the one who tries to wreck their dreams. He promised himself, unaware that Gaara was thinking similar things. I won't use this knowledge to hurt them, now that I know I can try to help them be happy. I won't believe in destiny anymore. I've changed.