Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, and I am not making any money form this page.

Author's Note: I chose to base the Fourth Kazekage's appearance on Gaara's flashback at the end of his fight with Lee rather than his appearance in the actual episodes. I liked his initial design better.

I guess this could be considered AU-ish, because Shukaku is not necessarily absent, and Gaara's father is still alive. And the timeline is sometime after Sai joins Team Seven, while Naruto and Gaara are still sixteen.

Review please!

The noise of monitors beeping was the only sound that broke the silence of the hospital room. The sharp scent of disinfectants and the bright lights made the room even less comfortable than it appeared. The walls and bedclothes were all snow white, causing Sabaku no Gaara's blood red hair to stand out in stark contrast. If not for this and the dark circles under his eyes, his pale complexion would've blended in with the sheets.

Uzimaki Naruto sat by the hospital bed, worriedly contemplating his friend's drawn face. For whatever reason, the shadows under Gaara's eyes appeared more prominent in his unconscious state, but his expression still remained blank.

Naruto sighed. This was dull, but he had only convinced Kankuro and Temari to go back to the Kazekage's mansion to get some much-needed rest by promising to remain with Gaara until one of them came back. Naruto knew that he should have been with Sakura, Sai, and Kakashi, who were wrapping up the details of the mission, but luckily, they understood his compulsion to stay with Gaara. Or at least, Kakashi understood, and Sakura was aware of his friendship with Gaara, but had never quite recognized the depths of their relationship. Sai . . . Sai had at first mistaken their relationship for that of lovers. So Naruto didn't really know if Sai understood that the closeness between him and Gaara was friendship.

And no matter how much Naruto wanted to leave, he never would in a million years. He didn't want Gaara to wake up alone in the Sunagakure hospital. Gaara had already spent too much of his sixteen years alone.

A blur of movement at the foot of Gaara's bed on the side opposite Naruto startled him into awareness. A figure stood there, a tall, lean man with spiky, dull purple hair, perhaps in his mid-thirties, his clothing completely black. He was imposing without seeming outright threatening, and fairly handsome. Something about the man's eyes, bright and intelligent, but unreadable, struck Naruto as oddly familiar.

If the man noticed Naruto, he didn't indicate it by his actions. He moved forward slightly, gazing at Gaara with a mixture of sadness and worry on his face.

"Hey!" Naruto said aggressively. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

The man glanced at Naruto for the first time, a faint frown creasing his forehead. His polite but aloof expression and his stance- standing straight with his arms folded across his chest- once again reminded Naruto of someone.

"I could ask you the same question," the man replied calmly.

Naruto stood. "I'm his best friend! I have every right to be here!"

The man didn't appear to grace Naruto's exclamation with his attention, instead moving closer to the bed, and lifted his hand, brushing Gaara's thick red locks out of the teen's eyes.

The gesture was so obviously paternal that Naruto realized with a jolt who the man was.

"You're Gaara's father." He said, his voice low.

The man looked directly at Naruto, his gaze even. "Yes," he replied. "Although I'm not used to being addressed that way upon first introduction."

"Well it's not like you ever did any actual parenting where it concerned Gaara, so I'm not surprised!" Naruto glared at the Yondaime.

The Kazekage's expression became unreadable, and he looked at the blonde with just the slightest hint of balefulness in his eyes; then it faded. "Do you think I wanted my relationship with my son to be this way?"

"Are you saying you care?" Naruto challenged.

The Kage held eye contact with Naruto. "Whether he lives or dies? If he is happy or in pain? Of course."

"Then I don't understand you." Naruto admitted.

The Yondaime looked at him directly. "I'm not asking you to."

Naruto shook his head. "How can you say you care about Gaara when you've tried to have him killed so many times?"

The Kazekage looked at him distastefully, and the image of a mouse trapped in the paws of a lion suddenly came to Naruto's mind. "Don't make the mistake of assuming I'm proud of all of my decisions. However, I must stand by them in order to lead my village. If I question necessary action or second guess myself, it makes Sunagakure appear weak and invites other villages to attack us."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Naruto demanded. "Military strategy has nothing to do with this! If you had just been there for Gaara- if you had loved him-"

"I do love Gaara."

Naruto was unnerved by the conviction of this statement, especially coming from the man it did.

The Kage sighed. "Gaara's purpose was always to be a weapon. Never a child. I knew this, and yet . . .I loved him. No matter what he did, no matter how many people he killed . . . he was my son."

"This sounds more like a testament to your own ego than it is to Gaara!" Naruto said. "Listen to yourself! He was your son, and that's why you loved him? Because he was a part of you? You make it sound like you just loved him because he was your flesh and your blood, and you wanted to preserve that! Tell me this: if you loved him so much, why did you have to kill him?"

The Yondaime's expression held such ill will that Naruto finally realized who it was he reminded him of: Gaara himself. "I see no reason to justify myself to a teenager, but I will tell you this because I want you to relay this to Gaara one day when I am long dead and gone." His gaze softened. "No matter how much I loved Gaara, the village had to come first. As a man, my family's safety was my first priority, but as Kazekage, the village came before anything else. Eventually, I had to put aside my personal feelings for Gaara. H e was too dangerous. He had to be eliminated."

"You make it sound as if Gaara was some pet you couldn't keep!" Naruto said angrily."When I become Hokage, I'm not sealing a demon in my kid, I can tell you that!"

"Oh?" The Kazekage eloquently raised an eyebrow. "Will you use someone else's child,. then? An orphan, perhaps? Damnation by lack of parentage? Then will you watch that child grow up in misery?"

Naruto just gaped at him.

"When you are a leader you must make sacrifices." The Kage said. "I had to sacrifice my wife and my child. When I first made the decision to kill Gaara I made a sacrifice. Time after time, when I ordered assassins after him, it haunted me. Then I had to sacrifice a good friend to assure Gaara's death. And when that failed, more people were sacrificed to sustain Gaara's lust for blood."

The more Naruto listened to the Kazekage, the more horror-struck he became. The man did not attempt to kill Gaara out of malice, but because he believed it was necessary. To a degree, the man was right. Sacrifices had to be made in order to lead a village. . . not that Naruto agreed with the sacrifices the Kazekage choose to make. The fact that a father was resigned to kill his son was just so wrong. A father was meant to protect and defend his children, not harm them.

The Kazekage turned to Naruto. "For six years I watched my son suffer, consumed by the demon within him. But you Uzimaki Naruto, managed to change that. Thank you. If you become Hokage, just remember how pertinent sacrifices are."

When he became the Hokage, Naruto knew, he would have to sacrifices. But sacrifices so drastic as these seemed almost surreal.

Before he left, the Kazekage reached out and ruffled Gaara's hair, ruining the careful arrangement he had created previously. Then he was gone in swirl of sand, leaving Naruto to ponder the conversation that had taken place.

Once out of the hospital, walking down the street in the twilight, the Fourth Kazekage smiled up at sky. "If only you could see your son now, Minato. You would be so proud."

Second Author's Note: In just about every fanfic I've read, AU or canon universe, Gaara's dad is written as a total jerk. I'm not saying he isn't, but he had to choose between having his son killed or endangering the people or his village. That's a pretty heavy decision to make, and remember, he was chosen to protect his village. This is just a sliver of insight to what The Fourth feels about his son, and the decisions he's made concerning him.