(Well, this is my latest work. I thought of this nearly a year ago but never bothered to post it. For now this is all I have. Depending on the response, this may be expanded. Unlike my other works this is written in the Third person, though it was originally going to be Kushina 1st person for a few chapters and then bounce between Gaara and Naruto. Yes, both Kankuro and Temari will be in this story, and as far as the other 'Konoha' characters they will show up, as will Jiraiya. This story is AU in the sense that Gaara was born a girl, and begins when they're both 6 years old. Enjoy!)

Naruto: Sand and Swirls

The night the Kyuubi attacked, I lost everything…

Her name is Kushina Uzumaki Namikaze, though only a few recognize her relationship to the late Fourth Hokage Minato Namikaze. The night her son was born, the Kyuubi No Kitsune, the 9 tailed demon fox which until that point had been sealed inside her body, was ripped from her and manipulated by a mysterious man. Her husband sacrificed himself to seal the demon into their newborn baby, Naruto. Kushina nearly died that night during childbirth, though thanks to efforts of the Sannin Tsunade, she miraculously was able to survive the loss of the Bijuu and managed to pull through.

Not that it matters to the village. That bastard Sarutobi wouldn't recognize our relationship to Minato, and any proof of my marriage to Minato was destroyed when the Kyuubi destroyed our home. All of Minato's scrolls, all of the jutsu he'd created destroyed. Fortunately Minato had a life insurance policy, and we hadn't yet had the time to change the beneficiary names, so the policies paid out to me Kushina Uzumaki, the only benefit of the village not recognizing my marriage to him. With that I was able to put the Leaf behind me. I left and returned to the Whirlpool, my former home to find it gone, wiped off the face of the map by an earthquake caused during the Kyuubi's rampage.

Fortunately, after she left the Leaf Tsunade and her assistant traveled with her for a time, helping her with Naruto until she could find a place to stay. Ultimately that place became the Village Hidden in the Sand, and she bought a residence there.

It's been six years since that terrible night…

She'd wept endless tears after the tragedy, and in spite of the situation Tsunade remained with her, consoling her when no one else would. It was during that time that she learned how the village had snubbed her and her son, how the Leaf had taken her husband from her and spit on her and her son, his legacy.

But I'll make them pay. I'll show them how big of a mistake they made that day. Naruto will become a powerful shinobi and Kami willing a Kazekage that will lead the Sand in a victorious war against the Leaf. I've dedicated myself to that goal, I will make Naruto strong. I'll make him worthy of the name Namikaze…

Of course, swearing to make Naruto into a powerful shinobi isn't the same as turning Naruto into a living weapon. As much as Kushina wants to prove to the Leaf the mistake they made, she doesn't want to do that by turning her son into a murdering machine.

So, at least once a week Naruto and I go to a public park. Both Naruto and I come here so Naruto can spend time with other kids. It's still 2 years before Naruto can join the Shinobi Academy, so I want him to socialize with other kids. It's been 5 and half years since Naruto and I came to this village, and the people of the village are just now starting to accept us.

The park Naruto and Kushina come to visit was built less than 10 years ago, and there are a variety of things children can play on and with. See-saws, jungle gyms, swings, slides, and even a carousel.

She's dressed in common clothing for residents of the Sand, since the village is in the middle of the desert there is very little in the way of fashion for villagers to buy that's practical for the environment, so she wears the standard clothing most villagers wear. The clothing is comfortable even in the high heat, and breathes well. Naruto wears a similar outfit, though his is naturally made for young boys. Her long red hair hangs down past shoulder blades hanging at her knees.

She is not the only parent watching their child play at the park. A group of parents, mostly mothers have grouped together and talk amongst themselves. Some of them sit on benches, while others stand. Kushina stands near them, but not a part of their group, she never has been. From the day she settled here the people of this village have looked at her as nothing but a foreigner. However, that stigma doesn't really apply to Naruto, and the parents didn't tell their children to avoid him because he wasn't born here. Naruto has been here since before he was 6 months old, and both Kushina and he are legal citizens of the village.

Thinking about that, Kushina remembers that night, that terrible, terrible night 6 years ago…

Scene Transition


Sitting in a hospital room, the antiseptic smell permeating her nostrils, Kushina is worried. She awoke after the Kyuubi has already been stopped, and she hasn't seen anyone since she woke up.

"You can't be serious!" Tsunade's roars from the hall.

She looks toward the door, watching it open and in walks not only Tsunade but the Third Hokage Sarutobi as well. The Third is dressed in his Hokage robes, while Tsunade wears her normal clothing.

"Tsunade…Sarutobi…" She mutters in greeting, her fatigue showing in her voice. "Where is Naruto, Minato?"

Both of them have somber expressions on their faces, and she can tell that the news isn't good…

Something happened. One or both of them is dead…

"Kushina…" Tsunade begins, casting a glare at Sarutobi, who remains silent. "Minato is gone. He died stopping the Kyuubi."

While the news is sad, it isn't shocking. The last time she saw Minato he said he might be able to stop the demon, but he'll die in the process. Knowing him, and how precious the Leaf was to him, she knew that there was no way she could talk him out of going. He was the Hokage, protector of the village and all of its people. He had to go.

"What about Naruto?" She asks with the panic rising in my voice. The thought of Naruto dying while Kushina survives making her want to vomit.

"Don't worry Kushina-san, he's fine. He's in another room under ANBU guard." Sarutobi finally speaks up.

ANBU guard?

"Why is he under ANBU guard?" Kushina asks; the panic returning to her voice.

The two of them look at one another.

"Kushina-san…Minato couldn't kill the Kyuubi." Sarutobi explains. "He had to seal it away in a newborn baby."

"You mean Naruto?" She asks in realization and Sarutobi nods.

"Unfortunately yes, Minato felt that it should be his child to contain the demon, and he wanted Naruto to be treated like a hero, for containing the demon every day of his life." Sarutobi explains with a solemn tone.

"But that isn't going to happen, is it?" Kushina knowingly asks, and Sarutobi sighs, looking away in shame as Tsunade glares angrily at him.

"I tried to convince the council of Naruto's connection to Minato, but they've declared that both you and Naruto aren't his family. Naruto's family name will be Uzumaki."

"What!" Kushina demands in surprise, sitting up in the hospital bed with sudden violence. "Minato and I were married! Naruto is his son and deserves to be a Namikaze!"

"I know that Kushina-san, but the council sees things differently." Sarutobi explains for her. "They feel that you were Minato's mistress, and Naruto is nothing but his bastard son."

"But that isn't true! We had a marriage certificate and we were legally married!" Kushina insists, but Sarutobi shakes his head, removing his Kage hat.

"Would you happen to have a copy of that certificate?" He asks, and Kushina nods.

"There was one in our house, it's there. As soon as I can walk I'll go get it myself!"

Sarutobi takes the new information in, shaking his head slowly before he puts his hat back on.

"Unfortunately your home has been leveled; one of the Kyuubi's tails crushed your home and burned everything. There's nothing there."

"What?" She asks with wide eyes and disbelief in her voice.

"I'm sorry Kushina-san, I really am." Sarutobi apologizes. "I'll leave you alone to grieve, the funeral will be held tomorrow, please try to attend."

Sarutobi leaves then, closing the door behind him, Tsunade silently remains. Looking at the blonde Sannin Kushina can feel the tears in her eyes, tears for the loss of her husband and the betrayal of his family by the people he died to protect.

They betrayed him… He sacrificed himself for them, and how do they remember him? They deny his son his rightful place and call him a bastard and me a mistress!

Kushina begins to cry, pressing her hands to her face she feels Tsunade embrace her, holding Kushina in her arms in a warm embrace.

"It's okay…" Tsunade says soothingly, stroking her hair. "Let it out Kushina, let it all out…"

She cries for hours, and the next day she doesn't attend the funeral. Instead she spends the next day collecting on the insurance policies on Minato's life and preparing to leave the village. Naturally Sarutobi doesn't want to let her leave, but there's nothing he can do to keep her in the Leaf. Neither Naruto nor she are shinobi of the Leaf and since her marriage to Minato isn't being recognized she has no link to village, and neither does Naruto.

Scene Transition

Present Time

The next thing she knows the wind gently blows across the sand and she's back in the park, the dry air of the Sand reminding her of where she is. Looking toward Naruto she quickly spots his blonde head amongst the other kids, he and the other children playing on the carousel. He's smiling, enjoying himself as he plays with the other children.

It's then that she notices a man and a girl approach the park. The man is around her age, his short dirty blonde hair ear length around his head, and he's dressed in normal civilian clothing. He has bandages wrapped around his forehead under his hair, and she can tell that something isn't quite right about him. The little girl he's leading is a little red haired girl. She's dressed in children's clothing, and her red hair is tied into two pig tails. She clutches a teddy bear to her chest, her green eyes rimmed with dark circles like she hasn't been sleeping. What's really odd about her is that a small amount of sand seems to follow her, shifting around her feet as she walks.

Is the sand following her? Could she have some sort of kekkei genkai that lets her control the sand?

She puts her thoughts on hold as the man walks toward the groups of parents while the little girl walks toward the swings. Seeing the little red head coming the children playing on the swings quickly vacate them leaving the little girl alone as she sits down on one of the swings. Clutching the bear to her chest and looking down at the ground, the girl's loneliness is written all over her.

Those kids, they ran from her like she's got a disease? What could be so bad about that innocent little girl that people would want to avoid her like that?

In a search for answers Kushina looks to the man who brought her, and she can see that the other parents in the park are keeping their distance from him. They whisper amongst themselves, looking at the young man with expressions of disdain and distrust.

Do the people in this village really despise people with bloodline limits that much? I'd heard that the Hidden Mist was like that, which is why I chose the Sand as a residence. With the Uzumaki kekkei genkai, will the people of this village treat Naruto and I like that when they learn about it?

Looking back at the kids, Kushina watches as Naruto jumps off the carousel. He talks to some of the other children, his eyes darting to the red head, and he blinks in surprise when he hears whatever the other children have to say about her. Naruto waves his hand dismissively, smiling he walks from the carousel over to the swings.

Glancing around Kushina can see all the other parents watching him with horror in their eyes as Naruto approaches the red haired girl.

Channeling just a little chakra into her ears, her hearing becomes sharper, and she's capable of hearing Naruto and the red haired girl's conversation.

"Hi! I'm Naruto Uzumaki!" Naruto says cheerfully in greeting. "What's your name?"

The little girl looks at him longingly a moment, and then looks away, her arms holding the bear tighter against her chest.

"My name's Gaara…" She answers, her voice squeaking as she speaks.

Gaara huh?

"Want me to give you a push?" Naruto asks her.

The girl looks at him, blinking in astonishment.

"You… you want to play with me?" The girl asks in surprise.

"Yeah, why not?" Naruto asks her, and she stares at him like he's just said he's a living god.

"I dunno… none of the other children ever wanna play with me." She answers him.

"Well, I'll play with you Gaara-chan." Naruto says with a smile.

He moves behind her, gently pushing the little red haired girl as she uses one hand to hold onto the swing the other clutching the bear to her chest. At first she's quiet, but as Naruto gently pushes her taking her higher and higher she begins to laugh as she swings on the swing and Naruto smiles as the girl enjoys being pushed Naruto. What's odd about the scene is the sand beneath her moves back and forth, staying under her as she swings on the swing.

"Ach-hem…" A woman clears her throat from behind Kushina, and she turns around to see a woman dressed similar to herself with short dark hair and dark eyes.

"The blonde is your boy isn't he?" She asks bluntly.

"His name is Naruto." Kushina coolly informs the woman. "And he is my son. What of it?" She finishes, crossing her arms over her chest.

"You shouldn't let him associate with that thing!" The woman hisses, obviously referring to red haired child on the swing.

"'That thing?'" Kushina asks, and the woman scoffs.

"Yes, that thing your son is playing with. You should tell him to stay away from it!" She continues.

"Why should I tell him to stay away?"

"That thing has the 1 tailed Shukaku sealed inside it!" She growls in anger. "It's a monster!"

Hearing that, Kushina is reminded of how the Leaf treated Naruto, and she can still hear the villagers whispering in hushed voices as she carried him out of the village.

"Did she ask to be a demon container?" Kushina asks in a low voice, gritting her teeth to keep her anger in check.

I can't get angry. If I do they'll wonder why I'm taking their treatment of the girl so harshly, and they'll begin to wonder about Naruto…

The woman blinks in surprise.

"WH-what?" She stutters, clearly surprised by the question.

"I asked you if she asked to have the demon sealed in her." She repeats herself in a calm logical tone.

The woman looks at Kushina with surprise in her eyes.

"What does that matter?"

"Everything." Kushina answers. "Just because she has a demon sealed inside of her doesn't make her a monster."

"She attacks people!"

Looking at the girl laughing and enjoying herself on the swing Kushina can't imagine her attacking someone in cold blood. Naruto jumps on the swing next to her, building up momentum and swinging in the opposite direction of Gaara, smiling at the red haired girl as the two of them play together.

"She isn't attacking Naruto." Kushina says with a shrug of her shoulders. "It doesn't look like she means to hurt anyone to me."

"She has the demon sealed inside her! If you don't warn your boy to stay away from her you'll regret it when you bury him!"

Kushina shakes my head slowly in pity.

"I'll deal with that when the time comes." She tells the woman, turning her head away from her.

"Whatever." The woman says dismissively. "It's your child's funeral."

With that the woman walks away returning to the other parents as Naruto and the girl called Gaara continue to swing on the swings. Watching the two of them Kushina can't help but wonder whether or not Naruto has made a friend in the little red head.

Do the people of this village honestly think that being a Jinchuriki makes a person a monster? No, that isn't true! Naruto isn't a monster and neither is this Gaara girl. I don't care what she's done; no child is born a monster. Monsters are made, not born…

Scene Transition


It had been 3 days since the Kyuubi's attack on the Village Hidden in the Leaves. It's the day after the mass funeral held for everyone who died during the catastrophe. Now Kushina stands at the village gate, Naruto held in her arms wrapped in a warm blanket. He quietly sleeps, and she wears a backpack on her back with all her worldly possessions from the Leaf in it. With Minato gone and her marriage to him null and void, she has no reason to remain in the Leaf Village, and fully intends to return to her home, the Whirlpool village.

Sarutobi accompanied her to the village gate, in a vain attempt to convince her to remain in the Leaf.

"Kushina-san, I really do wish you'd reconsider this." Sarutobi pleads for the 3rd time. "Naruto is Minato's son…"

"Then allow us to call ourselves Namikaze. Let me declare that I'm his legal wife, and Naruto is his legitimate heir."

Sarutobi sighs in frustration, shaking his head.

"Kushina-san, you know I can't do that." He reminds her longingly. "The council unanimously agreed that Naruto can't have any connection to Minato. They fear that the public won't accept any connection between the hero who saved them and the child that now represents the demon to them. Some are even calling for Naruto's death. It's everything I can do keep him alive. Without physical proof no one will believe that he's truly Minato's child and heir."

"Naruto isn't the Kyuubi." Kushina spits at him in disgust. "Minato wanted him to be treated as a hero, not as a scapegoat for the village's animosity."

Sarutobi sighs again.

"I know that, and there are a handful of people in the world who support your claim that Naruto truly is Minato's heir and you are his legal wife. However, the council will not be swayed by a handful of people, no matter who they are. Without physical evidence they'll never accept Naruto as Minato's heir and you as his wife."

"Then there's nothing keeping me in this accursed place." Kushina says matter of factly. "I refuse to raise my son in the village that killed his father and betrayed his legacy."

"Kushina-san, you know that this isn't what I want. It isn't what Minato wanted."

You presume to tell me what my dead husband wants for my child?

"Minato wanted Naruto to be treated like a hero; instead you're treating him as a pariah!" Kushina growls in anger. "What I want and what Minato wanted is for Naruto to be recognized as what he is, the legitimate son of the Fourth Hokage."

"I'm sorry Kushina-san, but that will never happen."

"Then there's nothing for us to discuss. I'm leaving the Leaf, and I'm taking my son with me."

"Kushi-chan!" A familiar woman's voice calls out.


Looking toward the source of the noise, Kushina sees not only the Sannin but also her assistant Shizune walking down the road toward her. Tsunade has a suitcase on wheels behind her, while Shizune has a small bag on her left shoulder. Neither are wearing their headbands…

"Tsunade, Shizune…" Sarutobi says in greeting, curious as to what the two medical ninja are doing here.

"Sensei…" Tsunade says coldly in greeting, and Shizune bows to Sarutobi.

"Hokage-sama…" Shizune whispers in greeting.

"Tsunade, Shizune-san, what're you both doing here?" Kushina asks, giving voice to the thought.

Tsunade grins.

"Shizune and I are coming with you Kushi-chan." Tsunade says with a smile.

"Tsunade!" Sarutobi blurts in surprise. "You can't just leave! The people of the village need your talents now more than ever!"

"The people of the village have never done me any favors." Tsunade bleakly responds. "Now one of my friends needs my help. I'm not going to turn my back on her for the sake of a village that does nothing but chew good people up and spit out their corpses."

Sarutobi opens his mouth to say something, and then closes it again, probably remembering Tsunade's troubled past, and the many precious lives the Leaf has taken from her.

"Besides…" Tsunade continues. "I'm only going to travel around with Kushi-chan until she gets settled in, then I'll return to the village. I'll be gone a month at the most."

Sarutobi sighs in resignation.

"I suppose…" He assents. "But you're important Tsunade, a Sannin. Please don't be gone long."

"I won't." Tsunade says with a sly smile.

Scene Transition

A week later, Tsunade, Shizune and Kushina along with Naruto in her arms arrive at the Whirlpool village, or rather, what's left of it…

"Oh kami…" Kushina whispers, looking at the carnage from the village gate with shocked, wide eyes.

The walls that once surrounded the village are gone. The buildings and homes and people that once lived within those walls are gone, only a handful of people are up and moving, the smell of death hanging in the air. Looking around, it's like she's been physically struck, seeing all the death and destruction, she can't believe her eyes.

Without thinking Kushina runs for the Uzumaki compound. Walking to where the Uzumaki lived, she knows in her heart that nothing's left even before she gets there. Walking to the spot where the Uzumaki compound once was, it's only rubble, human bodies lying amidst the wreckage, the faces of her extended family mutilated and forever frozen in horror and disbelief.

"No…" She whispers in disbelief.

She turns away, unable to look at the scene anymore without gagging.

"Kushina…" Tsunade whispers, for once not using the nickname she and Jiraiya gave to the red haired tomboy.

"Tsunade…" Kushina whimpers, suddenly very glad for the Sannin's presence.

She can't hold back the tears. Whimpering and sobbing in grief over the loss of her entire clan, Tsunade puts a hand on her shoulder and gently steers her away from the scene.

"Let's go, there's nothing we can do here." Tsunade gently whispers.

Scene Transition

After Kushina wept for her fallen family, she had a decision to make. With the Whirlpool gone she no longer has a home to go home to, and needed to choose a new place to live, a place to call home.

Unfortunately there were very few options. She would sooner die than go back to the Leaf after the way they treated Minato's last will, and during the last war Minato became very well known as the Yellow Flash, particulary in the Cloud and Rock. Naruto and she would be ill welcome there as she's sure the Cloud learned that Kushina was involved with Minato, and put a hit out on her just for that. That leaves the Sand and Mist.

Recently the Mist had undergone a drastic shift as shinobi with kekkei genkai were persecuted and killed simply for having a bloodline limit. Since Kushina is a carrier of the Uzumaki bloodline, and Naruto likely is as well, the two of them would never be welcome there. Even if they were to sneak in, if Naruto accidently discovered his kekkei genkai, both he and Kushina would be hunted and killed just for being what they are.

Since the reason she left Konoha is because of the way they spit on her late husband's wishes and because the people of the village viewed Naruto as the Kyuubi and not as a person, if they were to go to the Mist they'd be in the exact same situation, only for a different reason. So, that leaves the Sand.

"I'm heading to the Village Hidden in the Sand." She finally informs both Shizune and Tsunade.

Shizune blinks in surprise, while Tsunade merely nods her understanding.

"I see. We'll need new clothes if we're going to the desert." Tsunade comments and Kushina nods.

"I'll pay for your clothes if need be." Kushina offers, and Tsunade shakes her head.

"If we're going to the Sand we need to get going. It's going to be a long and hard journey."


Scene Transition

Present Time

Kushina blinks the memory away, refocusing on the present as both Naruto and Gaara stop swinging. She watches as Naruto heads toward the square shaped jungle gym, and Gaara follows, apparently unwilling to be separated from her new playmate. Seeing Naruto begin to climb on the jungle gym while Gaara looks on, obviously concerned, Kushina chooses then to meander over to the young man who brought Gaara to the park. Stopping next to him, her gaze travels to her son as he continues to climb the jungle gym while Gaara is apparently unwilling to let go of the bear to climb on the jungle gym.

"Is that your daughter?" Kushina asks casually, nodding toward Gaara.

Out of the corner of her eye she can see the man scowl.

"No, she isn't my daughter. She's my niece." He says with disgust in his voice.

Even he doesn't like her?

"She's only your niece?" She asks curiously, keeping her own emotions in check. "What about her mother, or her father?"

"Her father is the Kazekage, her mother is dead…"

"I'm sorry." She offers in heartfelt sympathy. "My husband died around the time my son was born, so I know what it's like to raise a child alone."

The man's face doesn't move, but she can see his eyes change, a sudden vehemence filling them as he stares directly at the little red head.

"She's a Jinchuriki, right?"

He glances at her, no surprise or even a hint of emotion at her question, only that hatred simmering in his eyes.

"The other villagers told you, right?" He asks, and she nods.

"Her mother died during the sealing, right?"

"That's very astute of you." He says with a slight nod.

He doesn't say anything else, and it doesn't take a lot for her to put the pieces together.

The girl's father is alive, and her mother is dead. He's her uncle, and he looks at the girl like she's a monster. Could it be that his sister was her mother, and he blames the girl for the death of his sister?

"She was your sister, wasn't she?" She asks with a low voice.

Surprise flickers in on his face, there and gone in the blink of an eye.

"Yes…" He answers, his own voice lowering to a whisper.

Looking toward Naruto and Gaara once more, Kushina can't help but get the impression that the man blames the girl for his sister's death.

"My son is a Jinchuriki too." She whispers to him, and he blinks in surprise. "My husband died sealing the Bijuu into him." She explains, not mentioning exactly which Bijuu was sealed into Naruto. "But I never blamed him for my husband's death."

The man looks at Kushina with questioning in his eyes.

"How can you not? Your husband died so the demon could be sealed into your child." He says with venom in his voice.

"But Naruto never asked to be a Jinchuriki." She says with a faint smile. "My husband chose to seal the Bijuu into Naruto and no one else, it wasn't Naruto's choice. I could never hold my son responsible for my husband's death. He's all that remains of my precious husband that I loved so much."

"I thought like you once." He explains to her. "I thought that Gaara was all that's left of my sister, but I just can't forgive her for taking my sister from me."

Kushina shakes her head slowly.

"But Gaara never asked to be a Jinchuriki, just like Naruto never asked to be a Jinchuriki. The person you should blame is the one responsible for the sealing, not the Jinchuriki."

"The Kazekage ordered the sealing…" He trails, and she blinks in surprise.

The Kazekage ordered a Bijuu sealed into his own daughter? What in the world would possess him to order something like that?

As if the man can read her thoughts, he continues.

"He wanted to make a powerful weapon loyal to the village…" The man continues. "But Gaara began to hurt people, and everyone believes that it's her true nature, even though she insists that she never meant to harm anyone."

"And you believe that a 6 year old girl would attack someone in cold blood?" Kushina asks in disbelief.

"She's a monster. That's what monsters do…" He says with conviction.

Her teeth grind in her mouth at the statement, but she forces herself not to show any emotion.

"Monsters are not born, they're made." Kushina retorts absolutely.

"What would you know?" He asks, glaring at Kushina with anger in his eyes.

She doesn't look away, instead looking into his eyes with a cold glare.

"The real monster isn't Gaara; the monster is the one responsible for sealing the demon in her and killing your sister. Only a heartless monster would sacrifice his child's mother to turn her into a weapon."

He looks away, and she can see him struggling to accept the argument she's presented to him. A part of him wants to accept the argument and the reasoning behind it, while another part of him absolutely despises the girl for simply being what she is.

Seeing as he isn't going to talk anymore, Kushina walks a few steps away and continues to watch Gaara and Naruto play with one another. Sparing one last look at the man, she can see the gears of his mind turning, processing and arguing with himself. She glances back toward the kids and she can see that they've moved to a second dome shaped jungle gym. Again Naruto has climbed onto the jungle gym while Gaara remains on the ground, watching Naruto climb on the metal dome.

"See Gaara-chan, its fine!" Naruto assures her, standing on the top of the metal dome like a conquering hero.

Then a gust of wind blows, and every muscle in Kushina's body tenses as Naruto sways, his feet slipping off of metal and plummeting through the hole.


She bends her knees, coiling her legs and springing into a run, pushing her body to move when suddenly the sand beneath Naruto jumps up to meet him, catching him and slowly bringing him down to the ground unharmed and without a scratch. Kushina comes to a stop by the outside of the dome, looking at Naruto lying on the sand and then toward Gaara, who has her head directed straight toward the ground, clutching the bear even tighter in shame.

"What happened?" Naruto asks curiously, looking down at the sand and then rubbing it with his hand, as if to test it.

Kushina looks at him and then toward Gaara, smiling as she steps away from the dome and toward the little red head.

"You did that didn't you?" She asks in a calm, level voice.

Gaara quickly nods in shame, as if expecting Kushina to launch into a storm of accusation and start yelling at her.

Kneeling down, Kushina gently reaches out toward the little girl. Touching the girl on the chin she gently pulls her chin up, so that Gaara is looking Kushina in the eye.

"Thank you, you saved my son from getting any injuries." Kushina thanks the girl earnestly as she takes her hands away from her.

Gaara looks at the older woman like she doesn't believe her ears, and Naruto steps through the dome, the rest of the parents looking on in amazement at Kushina's interaction with the supposed 'demon.'

"Did you move the sand for me Gaara-chan?" Naruto asks with a smile, and again Gaara quickly nods in shame.

Naruto is silent for a second, and Kushina looks at him to see his eyes wide in wonder.

"That's so cool! Can you teach me to do that?" Naruto asks the girl, pointing at his chin with his right pointer finger, leaning forward in anticipation.

Gaara blinks in surprise, turning away.

"Um, I can't teach you." Gaara says with disappointment flashing in Naruto's eyes, and she quickly looks back at him with sudden resolution in her gaze. "But it isn't because I don't want to! I can't teach you because I'm the only one who can, not even my father the Kazekage can do it."

I thought so. Her power comes from the Shukaku. Naruto hasn't yet developed any extraordinary abilities related to the Kyuubi though…

"That sucks." Naruto says in disappointment, kicking the sand at his feet. "Though, I am glad that you saved me."

Kushina glares accusingly at her son.

"Naruto you shouldn't have been climbing on the dome like that!" She scolds him, and Naruto quickly ducks his head in shame. "Do you know how I would've felt if you'd busted your head open or broken your legs!"

"Sorry." Naruto apologizes in a beaten tone, and Kushina sighs reluctantly, shaking her head.

"You're lucky Gaara was around." She admonishes him. "If not for her quick thinking you could've been seriously hurt!"

"I know, I said I'm sorry." Naruto apologizes again.

The boy is genuinely sorry, and Gaara looks confused as she stands there. Kushina quickly gets the feeling that this is the first time an adult around her has been yelling and it wasn't directed at her.

Poor girl…

"Well…" Kushina begins, turning toward the small red head. "How would you like to have dinner with Naruto and me?"

Gaara blinks in surprise at the question.

"You…want me to have dinner with you?" She asks in a surprised voice and Kushina nods.

"You saved my son's life. I want to show you my gratitude." Kushina says casually.

That and I haven't noticed how the people were treating you before now. If I'd have known earlier I'd have done something sooner.

"Um, can you wait here a moment? I have to ask my uncle if I can…" Gaara trails and Kushina smiles at the girl, nodding agreeably.

The little girls turns toward the man who brought her to the park and runs toward him, the sand following her obediently like a lost dog.

"Mom, is something wrong with her?" Naruto asks quietly. "The way she acts, and the rings around her eyes…"

Kushina nods solemnly, the smile fading from her features as she observes Gaara approach her uncle.

"That girl has been treated like a monster her whole life Naruto." She tells him in a hushed voice.

"Why would they treat her like a monster? She doesn't look like a monster."

Kushina shrugs her shoulders.

"Not everyone thinks like I do Naruto. But I hope that you remember what I've taught you."

"That people are what's on the inside, not the outside?"

Kushina looks down to her son, smiling her approval at his remembering her lesson so well.

Good boy…

Both Naruto and Kushina watch as Gaara returns to them with her uncle behind her, looking solemn.

"Um, Uncle Yashamaru says he can't attend, but I can. May I still come?"

"Sure." Kushina answers casually.

"Greetings." Yashamaru says with a tilt of his head. "I am rather busy tonight, so I would ask that you escort Gaara-chan home after dinner."

"No problem." Kushina says with a smile, and Yashamaru nods toward her.

"I should go now Gaara-chan." Yashamaru says, kneeling down and looking at the red head. "Be sure to listen to Uzumaki-san okay?"

Gaara nods empathically.

"I will Uncle Yashamaru."

With that Yashamaru smiles at her, turning and walking away. He leaves the park, leaving Naruto, Gaara and Kushina alone.

"Can we stay and play some more Uzumaki-san?" Gaara asks, and Kushina smiles at her.

"Sure, we can stay for a while. So play to your heart's content."