A/N: I couldn't help it. This muse has drained almost all of my inspiration from College Quirks. One day, I whipped out my iTouch and started it. And one chapter became three, then seven… I've almost finished this story. It's my fave so far, especially seeing as it allows me to access my OTP again, GaaHina. Hope you like.
Disclaimer: Nope, don't own Naruto. Sorry to disappoint.
They bound him today.
The shackles are cold and rough against his skin, and far too small. They are the same that they have used to restrain him since he was fourteen, and he is older now, taller and broader. The metal digs into his skin— when the attack is over and they remove them, his wrists will be red raw and bruised.
He focuses on the discomfort of his bonds. It makes his fight against the monster inside of him a little easier when he doesn't concentrate wholly on it, which is usually impossible. The thing is loud, it screams until his skull feels like it'll shatter from the force of the sound trapped within it. When it is feeling particularly irritable, it acts on his body, teasing his organs and forcing his limbs to snap into unnatural contortions, sending searing pain into his head, his chest, his stomach. It demands his attention, and when he finally answers its challenges, the struggle for dominance is often violent. In the end he is left spent and battered, left to lie back and wait for the healers to slink inside and heal his body again.
Usually he counts the bricks in the walls around him, but he's long ago finished (there are 5,365, white-washed. Occasionally the monster tries to paint them crimson. By the next morning, someone has always washed it away, and the monster, upset that its creations have been destroyed, starts over, making new splash patterns that are only sad imitations of the old.)
The doctors ask him if he is feeling better. He stares blankly; they know the answer already. Pain is such a constant now that he no longer complains of it. The painkillers they give him are only physically numbing, and Shuukaku takes it's greatest pleasure in tormenting his mind.
Sometimes, he wishes that he had never given himself up. He hadn't wanted to kill anymore; he was sick of being feared, of being alone. Naruto had been like him, but he had friends and people who cared for him. He had wanted that too, desperately. It was he who had dragged himself to the hospital, he who had given up his gourd and allowed them to lock him in a room far from even a grain of sand. He who had pleaded, voice raspy ("Fix me, please, or kill me") to be healed. He had known how impossible his request sounded, had seen the doubt in the doctor's faces, but Naruto's optimism is contagious, and he truly believed they could help him.
Perhaps Kyuubi was a more benevolent beast. Naruto had never complained of his demon tormenting him, and he had assumed that it was because the boy was so strong, so unbreakable. But maybe Shuukaku is simply far crueler.
The door creaks open; it is shielded with chakra and cannot be touched from the inside. His doctor glides in, glasses set strictly on the bridge of his nose, eyebrows furrowed. His face is weathered and beaten, but free of scars- he's a civilian.
Gaara's body lurches forward instinctively, he drops to the floor, and Shuukaku shudders in excitement; it can smell live flesh and coursing blood and thinks it delicious.
"Sabaku-san," he says, looking with something between disgust and pity at the writhing figure at his feet. Gaara grits his teeth and groans— hasn't he warned them to stay out on days like these? It only makes it worse— and flashes the man a glare. For a moment, it's lethal, but a second later he's won the fight and lies still, panting wildly.
The doctor smiles, unaffected. "Are you ready to listen now, Sabaku-san?"
Gaara growls; the sound is faint and fades away before it has a chance to become threatening. Listening, waiting, fighting. For the past four years, that is all he has known.
"We have...tried many methods to extract Shuukaku now," the doctor says, tapping the eraser of his pencil steadily against his clipboard. "And, as you know, we have had very little success."
"You mean you've failed," Gaara croaks as Shuukaku clenches down on something somewhere near his liver. Bile stings the back of his throat.
"Yes," the doctor seems unperturbed by this confession, though his mouth tightens. "But... We have one last option."
Gaara pushes back the emotion that tries to rush up his throat- it's fruitless to believe, it will only hurt later if he allows himself to hope. Nevertheless, when he speaks again, there is an ounce of life in his gravelly, underused voice.
"What will you try this time?" No more new, untested jutsus, or shock treatments, or unfortunate therapists he'll almost devour in his little white room. No more cutting him open in an attempt to find a physical manifestation of Shuukaku hiding inside him...
The doctor clears his throat. "We will need you to learn to...control Shuukaku. Live with it."
He freezes. "L-live with Shuukaku?" His voice fades on the last word; Shuukaku is roaring triumphantly in his head, and his glee drowns him out.
Gaara can win individual battles. But the war? It is impossible. His opponent is age-old and backed by the powers of hell. He has broken down thousands of unfortunates before him. It is only a matter of time before Shuukaku destroys him as well.
He shakes violently, suddenly. Shuukaku is fighting again, fighting hard. Pale green eyes flash black and smooth white skin turns brown and pocked. Gaara is screaming, but from the beast's mouth it sounds like a roar. The doctor steps back in horror, he shouts "Hyuuga-sama!" before crumpling back against the wall as Shuukaku jerks forward, his razor claws barely inches from the doctor's trembling gut.
But he doesn't reach him. Instead, he feels his head snap back against the wall, and his half-transformed arms fall limp and useless against his sides. He howls aloud, his mouth opens wide and bears heavily into a fleshy shoulder, but that turns to smoke that is now dissipating through his teeth. It takes him a moment to realize that it was a clone.
His attacker—or savior, he supposes that the two can be congruous at times, steps into the room. It—she's a woman, he hasn't seen many of those in a while—offers a hand to the befallen medic. He accepts it shakily, his face still locked in terror, and lets her help him to his feet.
She whips shrewd eyes, pale as death, toward Gaara. There is no compassion in their depths.
"Does this happen often?" she asks coolly. The medic shakes his head wearily.
"This is only the third time this year," he murmurs.
The woman takes the clipboard gingerly from the doctor's sweating hands and flips idly through his medical record. She bites her lip once, but otherwise betrays no emotion. She reaches a blank page and finally looks directly at him.
"It should have worn off by now," she says flippantly. "Sabaku-san, do you think you can stand?"
Gaara looks up. The eyes he meets are cold and challenging and fearless. She tells him to stand and he feels compelled to obey; there is something authoritative and proud in her tone that makes her request sound like an order.
The chains drag up against the wall to allow him to stand. He rises to his feet slowly, staggering forward a step. She makes no move to help, just stares with those large eyes. Once he's up she settles into a crouch. One quick handsign and suddenly veins explode into view around her eyes. They pulse frighteningly, and this time, he feels like she's staring right through him.
Which, ironically, is precisely what she's doing.
For a moment, he stands, she stares, the medic shakes, and all three are silent. Shuukaku is grumpily murmuring, but his complaints are soft and nearly childish— it's rarely beaten down so quickly when it gains control, and the fact that two hits from a kunoichi have sent it back is a blow to it's ego.
"Lift your arms, Sabaku-san, yes, like that. Now hold."
She lifts the pencil and sketches something. It barely takes one minute, but soon she has produced what must be a diagram of what she sees. The veins recede, and she flashes the doctor a quick, reassuring smile. It comes out somehow demure, despite her rather commanding presence.
"I see you've installed chakra-depleting restraints." She says. Her voice, really, is childish; when she isn't giving orders, it is soft, unassuming, possibly even shy. The difference is alarming.
The doctor straightens his jacket and sniffs proudly. "The best quality we could find, Hyuuga-sama. It weakens him, so that when he goes into rages, he doesn't cause quite so much destruction."
The woman's eyes dart back to him again. She cocks her head down. "You can sit now," she says, and as though she's broken a spell, he drops down to his knees. The moment he's down, she gives her attention back to the doctor and pretends that he doesn't exist.
"You realize," she is saying now, pressing her eraser into her bottom lip, "That this is the absolute worst thing you can do to a Jinchuruki?"
It's amazing how her tone can be simultaneously gentle and acerbic. The doctor stiffens.
"What do you mean?"
"The chakra you're draining is his," she says simply. She points down to her picture. "His natural chakra. You're forcing him to tap into the demon's pool just to survive, and the more in touch he is with it's chakra, the more dependent he is on it to survive, the less control he has."
The doctor looks shocked by this revelation; the woman is calm, smiling, and Gaara, behind them, cannot stop that rush of hope from nearly making his head light.
"I suggest you find a way to access the demon's chakra, which will definitely be difficult, or use ordinary shackles instead."
The doctor is thinking; the effort makes him perspire. Sweat rolls in fat drops though the creases of his forehead.
Finally, he counters, "But he can break ordinary shackles."
The woman whips around and gives Gaara the same gentle smile with which she graced the doctor, and he can't help but wonder if his intelligence is about to be questioned as well.
It isn't. She looks him dead in the eye and asks, "You want to get better, don't you?"
He glares back for a moment, and then nods once.
"So, if we shackle you, you won't attempt to escape?"
He pauses again, this time because his throat is still raw and he has something to say.
"I...I don't want to hurt anyone."
Her smile becomes bright. "Ah. See? Order the shackles, please. Have them properly fitted. These ones must be cutting off his circulation."
"...But, Hyuuga-sama? He, erm, likes them tight."
Her eyes haven't left his. "That doesn't matter. He needs to learn to be strong."
She smiles again at the flash of anger on Gaara's face. Who does this woman think she is? She has never experienced this, can never empathize... Yet she acts as though she knows so much about his situation. It's confusing as hell.
"I will let you rest now, Sabaku-san," the woman says. "Expect me in three days. Your chakra should be repleted by then. We will begin your training then."
And then she leaves, the doctor trailing after her. The door shuts, and he is alone once more, in this white, silent room.
A/N: So. How'd you like it? Let me know. :D