No excuses for the lateness, other than the fact that since I last wrote to this I've since changed jobs and more importantly shift hours, so I now work 2nd shift instead of first, meaning I stay up till 4 am and sleep until noon. Also, another obstacle that has impeded my writing: Skyrim…
One Week Later
Watching the kunai fly Kushina stands behind Gaara, watching the red haired Jinchuriki throw the knife with perfect form, the steel weapon shimmering with wind chakra as it slices through the air.
Seeing the knife strike the wooden target Kushina can see the splinters fly from the back of the wooden dummy, the knife jabbed into the target up to its heft, the blade nowhere near long enough to pierce the dummy completely. Kushina had taught her to use the kunai as a hand weapon, stabbing it into the target and using wind chakra to extend the blade. In just a week however Gaara has not only learned to do that, but also to throw the kunai with wind chakra surrounding it, a much more advanced version of the technique.
Turning back to face her adopted mother the red haired Jinchuriki looks unsure, a part of her sure that she's gotten the jutsu right, another part scared that she messed something up and did it wrong…
But it isn't her fault that she thought about molding the wind chakra around the blade and then throwing it. When she'd first done it the chakra blade had vanished after it left her hand, and she quickly found out that she had to mold much more chakra in order to sustain the blade in flight and still have the same cutting power. Once she'd figured that out she went to Kushina and told her that she was finished training, and the red haired Uzumaki had come out to see the results of Gaara's training herself.
Meeting her green eyes Kushina nods approvingly, a slight smile coming to her lips as she approaches the young red head.
"You did good Gaara-chan." Kushina praises the girl, a part of her surprised by the relatively short amount of time it took the six year old to learn the jutsu and master it to the level she has.
Relief washing over her Gaara smiles lightly, a part of her still not used to receiving praise.
"T-thank you, Okaa-san." Gaara says quietly, her sand slowly swirling around her feet.
"Now…" Kushina begins slowly, walking toward the target and leaning over it, examining it.
Following her adopted parent Gaara doesn't say anything as Kushina stares at the kunai still stuck in the wooden target a moment.
Reaching out the Uzumaki woman plucks the knife from the dummy, grabbing the weapon by it's ring Kushina quickly checks the blade before slipping it into a holster beneath her robes.
"Is…is everything all right, okaa-san?" Gaara squeaks, her voice barely above a whisper, fear and insecurity overflowing in her tone.
Mentally smacking herself Kushina stands up straight, half turning to face her daughter the Uzumaki woman smiles disarmingly, trying to assuage her adopted daughter of whatever fears her mind has conjured.
"Nothing's the matter Gaara-chan." Kushina says soothingly, facing the girl completely before kneeling down in front of her, looking the girl in the eyes. "Why would you think that?"
Her voice isn't angry or upset, only curious, and the red haired Jinchuriki looks down, her shoulders slouching in defeat, her voice coming out in a very low whisper.
"Because…because…" She trails, the words caught in her throat.
She wants to say because people have always blamed her for things going wrong, even when she had nothing to do with what happened. As the daughter of the Kazekage however she wasn't someone anyone would brazenly attack in the street, and even if they were brave enough, her sand protects her and has put three people in the hospital on it's own…
Frowning Kushina places a gentle hand on the girl's shoulder, her voice coming out lightly as she speaks.
"Things aren't always your fault Gaara-chan." Kushina says gently. "You're a good girl and you're a member of this family now. I don't know what happened to you in the past and what other people have told you but you're just a little girl, you aren't a monster or a killer or anything like that unless you choose to be, OK?"
Nodding quietly the young Jinchuriki doesn't say anything, instead she steps forward, placing her head against her adopted mother's waist.
"Thank you, okaa-san…" Gaara whispers, the girl stepping back a moment later before reaching up and wiping her eyes with her hand.
Closing her eyes a moment Kushina breathes in slowly, exhaling the cleansing breath, forcing herself to ignore the sudden desire to find whatever idiot decided to persecute this innocent girl and bash his brains in, as therapeutic as it might be…
"Why don't we go check on Naruto?" Kushina asks, changing the subject.
Nodding the red haired six year old is glad for the change of focus. Being the target of so much animosity and hatred in her home village Gaara has grown fond of not being the center of attention. Before she'd been adopted into the Uzumaki family she firmly wanted nothing more than to just disappear, that way people couldn't scorn her and she wouldn't be a bother to anyone.
Now though, with Kushina and Naruto, things are…different. She doesn't know what to call what she feels when Kushina smiles at her, or what she's feeling when the three of them sit down together to dinner and just have a normal conversation. She'd never gotten that before. When she'd been living with Yashamaru he'd fed her, but the meals had always been silent, and the few times she did speak Yashamaru would only respond with short, concise answers or non committal grunts.
Walking with Kushina to the rear of the yard Naruto stands there, clutching a rubber ball in his hands, his face screwed up in concentration, glaring at the ball with a look that could melt the rubber in his hands…
His palms glowing blue chakra begins to spin inside the ball, Naruto focusing and using the most powerful chakra he can mold, spinning it around as fast as he can.
"Come on, come on…" Naruto mutters, the ball in his hand beginning to vibrate.
The rubber ball explodes in his hand, and Naruto just stares at the rubber remains a moment, his blue eyes bulging out of his head in disbelief.
Opening her mouth to congratulate her adopted brother Naruto bends his knees, hopping into the air and thrusting his fist up toward the sky.
"YESSSS!" He shouts at the top of his lungs in joyous celebration.
Closing her mouth Gaara pulls her head down toward her shoulders like a turtle, opting not to say anything after all. Watching Gaara out of the corner of her eye Kushina frowns internally at the sight of the red haired girl metaphorically closing herself off, opting rather to not say anything than to offer earnest congratulations…
Landing on his feet after the short hop Naruto turns around, opening his mouth to call out to Kushina he stops mid step, taking in the sight of the two Uzumaki looking back at him.
"Uh…how long have you both been there?" Naruto asks with a hint of embarrassment in his voice.
"Long enough to see you complete step two." Kushina explains to her son.
"Well, it took me long enough…" Naruto trails and Kushina shakes her head.
"You did it quickly enough, you're only six years old Naruto. When your Father made this jutsu he was over twenty five years old."
"Still…" He trails, kicking the sand at his feet.
Feeling a nudge at her back Gaara quickly looks up to see Kushina looking down at her expectantly, the Uzumaki matriarch looking at her and then Naruto, and then back again, her expression practically screaming 'say something!'
Swallowing the saliva in her mouth Gaara looks toward Naruto, his eyes flickering back and forth between Gaara and his mother, his blue gaze curious.
"I…I don't think you did that bad Naruto-kun…" Gaara very nearly mutters, her gaze dropping to the sand. "It took me over a week to learn what your Okaa-san wanted to teach me."
Listening to Gaara Kushina doesn't miss the way Gaara refers to her. Rather than refer to Kushina as just 'okaa-san' she'd specifically said 'your Okaa-san' implying that she doesn't view the red haired Uzumaki as her mother, in spite of Kushina's insistence that they were family and she was Gaara's mother, regardless of whom the girl's birth parents were.
I'll have to talk to her…Kushina thinks to herself.
Blinking Naruto cocks his head to the side curiously.
"Okaa-san taught you something?" Naruto asks, Gaara quickly bobbing her head in affirmation. "What'd she teach you?"
"The Wind Blade…" Gaara trails, not sure what else to say.
"Huh?" Naruto asks, clueless as to what Gaara is talking about.
Until now Kushina has been focusing Naruto on the 'basics' of shinobi training, teaching him to control his chakra and physical exercise. As far as techniques go the Rasengan is the first that Kushina intends to impart onto her child, but it isn't going to be the only one…
Looking up at Kushina Gaara's green eyes are pleading for Kushina to say something, but the red haired Uzumaki doesn't say anything, instead she simply nods permissibly toward Gaara, telling the young girl to explain it herself, the intention to at least get Gaara comfortable speaking to Naruto and being the center of attention. As it is now the girl practically loathes it…
"It's done by molding wind chakra around a weapon or your hand, to…to make a cutting edge…" Gaara explains, and Naruto's eyes seem to go wide in awe.
"Can you show me!" Naruto asks emphatically, the red haired girl slinking away from him slightly at the sudden outburst.
"That's enough…" Kushina says evenly, stepping forward and pulling her son's attention toward her. "She can show you after you learn the third step and master this jutsu."
"Right…" Naruto agrees with a nod, focusing on his mother. "What's the third step?"
Reaching into her pocket Kushina withdraws an un-inflated balloon, the red haired woman raising it to her lips and blowing into it, inflating the balloon to roughly the size of a large ball, holding it out for Naruto.
"Another balloon?" Naruto asks as a frown settles on his face. "How do I have to pop it this time?"
Naruto takes the balloon from his mother, looking at it curiously as a smile trickles onto Kushina's face, the Uzumaki woman crossing her arms over her chest as she shakes her head no in denial.
"You don't pop this one." Kushina explains to him, eliciting a surprised blink from Naruto, his head snapping up to her with curiosity written on his features.
"I don't have to pop it?" Naruto asks, and Kushina nods again.
"That's right." Kushina assures him. "For this step you have to combine what you learned in the first two steps to spin your chakra around inside the balloon without popping it. If you can do that all you have to do is repeat the process without a balloon and you'll successfully perform the Rasengan."
"Cool…" Naruto trails, looking down at the balloon held in his right hand.
"You'll doubtlessly pop a few before you manage to get the hang of it, so I'll get some more for you and bring them out." Kushina explains, turning toward the house.
"I'll help…" Gaara speaks up, Kushina acknowledging the girl with a nod before the two red haired Uzumaki head for the house.
Kushina just reaches the door when she hears a loud POP from behind her, followed closely by Naruto grunting in frustration.
"I didn't think it would be that soon…" Kushina mutters to herself, raising her voice as she continues. "Give me a few minutes and I'll have some balloons for you!"
"OK!" Naruto responds, Kushina looking over her shoulder to see her son looking down at the scattered remains of the red balloon Kushina had just given him.
Suppressing a sigh the Uzumaki woman heads into the house, followed closely by the young Gaara.
Closing the door to the backyard both Gaara and Kushina remove their shoes before entering the home proper, Kushina heading for the kitchen at an easy walk with Gaara behind her.
Her footsteps light against the floorboards Kushina walks to a kitchen cabinet, opening it and withdrawing a box of un-inflated balloons, setting the box on the table and opening it before handing one to Gaara.
"Here…" Kushina offers gently, Gaara taking the blue balloon with both hands and holding it to her lips.
Blowing Gaara slowly inflates the balloon, Kushina watching momentarily before taking her own balloon and inflating it, quickly tying it off and setting it on the table.
"They don't have to be really big." Kushina explains after finishing her own balloon. "Just big enough so that they fit in your hand."
"OK…" Gaara mumbles, blowing more air into the balloon before tying it off.
For a few minutes neither woman says anything, Gaara focusing on blowing another balloon while Kushina quietly watches the girl out of the corner of her eye.
Doing her best to look busy Kushina blows a second balloon, placing it on the table before speaking, keeping her tone relaxed and casual.
"Are you feeling all right Gaara-chan?" Kushina asks, not wanting to alarm the girl.
She's never heard of a Jinchuriki getting sick, and when she was the Kyuubi's Jinchuriki she never got sick and could heal practically any wound over night. She doesn't know about the Ichibi, but most of the rumors about Jinchuriki don't paint them as the type that can get a head cold…
"I'm fine Okaa-san." Gaara says calmly, tying off her second balloon.
The young girl doesn't look up at Kushina when she speaks, even after placing the balloon on the table the six year old just grabs another balloon and starts blowing again.
Kushina however doesn't buy it.
"Are you sure?" Kushina asks gently. "If something is happening to you I want to try and help…"
Her words are heartfelt and honest, and as Gaara finishes her third balloon and ties it off the young girl speaks softly, placing the balloon on the table as she does.
"I…I hear a voice in my head…" She trails. "It…says things…"
"Like what?" Kushina asks, kneeling down to place her eyes at Gaara's eye level, her gaze curious and comforting.
"Like that you aren't my real mother…" She trails, her eyes dropping to the floor. "It tells me that you and Naruto-kun are both going to leave me, that it is the only thing that won't leave me…"
"Do you believe that?" Kushina asks, Gaara looking up at her momentarily before looking down again.
"I don't want to…" She admits quietly. "Living with you and Naruto-kun has been so different from anything I've ever experienced, even with Uncle Yashamaru…"
"I've told you Gaara-chan…" Kushina begins slowly, placing a gentle arm on the girl's shoulder. "There's more to family than blood; Naruto and I are your family now, all that matters is right now, and I promise you, we aren't going to leave you."
Looking up to Kushina Gaara's voice is barely above a whisper.
Nodding Kushina gives the girl's shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Clutching a balloon in his hand Naruto's face is contorted in concentration, the Uzumaki boy struggling to create a stable rotation inside the balloon without blowing the thing apart. After spending weeks learning to burst balloons, it's rather difficult for him to not break the thing apart using his chakra now.
"Come on…" Naruto mutters to himself, trying to focus the chakra rotating inside the balloon.
Pieces of latex falling to the sand in front of him Naruto groans in frustration. He's already gone through over ten balloons in the last two hours, and he's starting to wonder whether or not he's going to be able to master this jutsu before he begins going to the Academy in just over two months…
A small column of sand rises next to him, Naruto blinking in momentary surprise before his attention snaps to the small column of sand, and the bucket of balloons atop it rising to his shoulder level.
"Thanks Gaara-chan." Naruto offers warmly, looking over his shoulder at the red haired Jinchuriki standing there with one hand extended. Taking a balloon from the bucket, the bucket slowly falling to ground level a moment later
"You're welcome Naruto-kun." Gaara says quietly, lowering her hand.
Kushina had suggested that Gaara use her powers to help Naruto, raising the bucket to his shoulder level and then lowering it again. At first she'd wondered why Kushina would suggest the idea, but after doing it a few times Gaara has quickly grasped the idea.
She's training my endurance, getting me used to using my powers for an extended period of time.
Before being adopted by the Uzumaki family Gaara never really had any positive opportunities to use her abilities. Having the power to manipulate sand nearly everyone in the village was afraid of her, and if they saw her using her powers in public for any reason it was likely to cause a riot. Now though Kushina doesn't seem to care that Gaara has such a powerful ability, and neither does Naruto…
Then there's the fact that he's another Jinchuriki, but he doesn't have any of the same…issues she does. He can sleep, he doesn't present any sign that he even has a beast sealed inside him other than the three whisker-like marks on his cheeks, and those are easily dismissible.
A part of her was jealous, he can and does sleep, he doesn't hear voices in his head telling him unpleasant things that he doesn't want to hear. Before she'd thought her life as a Jinchuriki was the norm, but now that she's seen Naruto, she knows that her life might not be so normal after all…
"He doesn't love you…" A very familiar voice whispers in her ears, barely audible. "No one loves you…I am the only one who will be there for you…"
Knowing that whatever it is that's speaking is talking only to her, and Naruto or anyone else can't hear it, the young Gaara shuts her eyes and shakes her head no defiantly.
NO! She thinks with as much resolve as she can muster. That isn't true and I'm not going to listen to you! Okaa-san said…
"You really think she's your okaa-san?" The voice asks chidingly. "She isn't. Your real okaa-san died to turn you into a killer…"
NO! Gaara denies again, Naruto completely unaware of the conversation happening between his adopted sister and her Bijuu not ten feet away from him as he stares at the balloon in his hands, trying again to complete the last step in learning his mother's jutsu. There's more to family than blood! The Uzumaki's have done more for me in a week than anyone else in my entire life! You're wrong about them, and I won't tolerate you talking badly about them!
She can feel a trace of anger inside her at the beast's insinuation, that it would say those things to her, to try and get her to turn away from the first people in her life to treat her like a person rather than a monster.
"Good…" The voice whispers, offering nothing more as it recedes, Gaara waiting several moments for it to continue, but whatever presence the beast has inside her mind disappears, and she is once again alone with her thoughts, the only question for the young Jinchuriki is how long will that be so? The demon never leaves her alone for long…
"SON OF A-" Naruto yells in anger, Kushina's voice coming from inside the house, interrupting the blonde boy before he can finish his statement.
"Uzumaki Naruto!" Kushina's scalding voice carries, and Naruto goes practically ramrod straight at the sound of his mother's voice.
He knows what he was about to say, and he also knows that Kushina doesn't like him using words like that. He'd picked them up playing with other kids, who'd heard them from their parents or from older children…
"Sorry!" Naruto yelps in fear, the young Uzumaki suffering from a healthy dose of fear for his 'red hot Habanero' former shinobi mother.
Kushina doesn't say anything, and Naruto's shoulders visibly slouch in relief when Kushina chooses not to pursue the subject further. In his very short life Naruto has learned the full extent of his mother's ability to torque his ear and make it feel like she's about to rip his ear off and not actually rip it off…
The barrel next to him rising Naruto pushes the early childhood memories aside, taking another balloon from the bucket before watching it slowly sink toward the ground.
Back at it…