Of the Desert
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
Note: The first paragraph is taken directly from the Naruto Manga, Volume 16 Chapter 138 Page 19
Three shapes blurred through the forest, heading northwest as fast as they could run. The girl bounded ahead and scouted out for enemies while the tall boy lagged just behind her, weighted down by his cargo: a red haired boy with a huge gourd strapped to his back.
When he caught up, she met her brother’s eyes, nodded the all-clear signal and they bounded off once more. Kankuro shifted his grip around the redhead’s chest and tried to keep up with her.
“Temari… Kankuro…” Gaara muttered. His siblings looked to him in fear. “I’m sorry, you guys.”
Temari’s eyes nearly popped from their sockets, but she knew better than to draw attention to anything Gaara did, good or bad. Kankuro met her perplexed gaze and swallowed deep. He tightened his grip around his brother’s chest in a slight gesture of acknowledgement. “D-don’t worry about it,” he said cautiously.
After a half hour, it became clear that the Leaf-nin weren’t following. They slowed their flight and Gaara gently pushed Kankuro, letting him know he could stand on his own. The three Sand-nin rested high in the branches of a tree deep in the forest. There were still 300 kilometers before the Wind country border and evening was approaching faster than they would reach it.
“We’ll make camp here tonight. All right, Gaara?” Kankuro asked.
When he didn’t protest they found a good spot against a rock outcropping to set up camp.
As her eyes grew heavy with sleep, Temari watched her younger brother. Gaara leaned against the rock, wrapping his scarf around him for more warmth. His intense, black-rimmed eyes started into the campfire flames as it licked at the darkness. Temari let a breath she had been holding out slowly and thought hard of something to say. He had apologized to them. Gaara, who cares for no one but himself, had said ‘I’m sorry’. The first thing that came to her mind convinced her that there truly was no way to reach out to someone like him, however much she wanted to. ‘Goodnight, Gaara,’ she thought and closed her eyes.
The following afternoon they reached the Hidden Sand Village in the heart of the Wind Country. They walked down its streets with their guard up. Even though they were home, the air of danger had not left. Their attack on the Hidden Leaf had failed. They had no idea how they would be received.
The sandy streets were desolate. People hid around corners and behind the heavy shutters of their house’s windows. Shops were closed or nearly vacant. Some shops had been looted. The road was strewn with trash and paper. This was a town that had experienced panic. Kankuro saw someone dart from one door to another out of the corner of his eye. The man wasn’t avoiding them, he was simply trying to remain out of sight.
“Looks like we surrendered,” he muttered.
“This is bad,” Temari clenched her fists. “If we thought things in the Hidden Sand were rough before…”
“Che,” Gaara scoffed, but didn’t comment. His eyes were trained further up the road. “Looks like we’re out of a home, kyoudai.”
The grand estate in the heart of town, the house of the Kazekage was draped in black cloth. “Oh no…” Kankuro grit his teeth.
“Father!” Temari shouted and sprinted to the house.
On his journey to the Hidden Leaf Village to witness the Chuunin selection exam’s final test, Kazekage had been ambushed and killed. His plans to destroy the Leaf were blown away when he decided to be in league with someone as unscrupulous as Orochimaru.
Gaara leaned against a wall in the foyer and listened to the council talk of treaty arrangements and fuss over who they would select as an interim Kazekage. Talk of politics and surrender made his stomach churn. He tried to tune it out but his mind just kept returning to his last fight. Gaara had gone all out and still was defeated at the hands of someone like him who was also completely unlike him. He pouted and stared at the floor. ‘What your pain must be… I understand that… the hell of being alone…’ Naruto’s words rang in his ears. He turned to leave.
“Gaara, where are you going?” Temari asked, startled by his action.
“Away. This no longer interests or concerns me.”
Kankuro took a step forward. “But, Gaara, what are we going to do?”
He stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “I don’t care what you do. I’m leaving.”
A new administration was set up in the Wind Country in an attempt to stabilize the government. Baki, the sibling’s sensei, was made interim-Kazekage. Kankuro and Temari did their best to help, but Gaara was nowhere to be found.
It was a difficult time to be the loser in an unwarranted war against a much more powerful country. Local warlords all over the Wind country used lawless confusion to their advantage and terrorized more rural areas. Ninja now found jobs either as escorts for merchant caravans trying to traverse the desert in peace or as mercenary soldiers attacking the caravans.
One such caravan was making its way across the unforgiving terrain when it encountered a lone shinobi standing in its path. The camels refused to get near him. The escort-nin tried to attack him. All of the people, women and children included, were dead within 15 minutes.
In a small tavern Gaara took a long draught of water and cocked his head to better hear their tale. Three men at the bar leaned in and made exasperated sounds.
“I’m tellin’ ya it’s the truth!” a fourth, the story-teller shouted. “I was in a caravan just behind these guys. They was all dead an’ all their goods and money was gone!”
“Damn it, what’s this world coming to? The women and babies too!” someone exclaimed.
“Did they have an escort?” Gaara asked as he handed his empty canteen to the bartender to refill with water.
“Sure nuff!” the teller barked. “Five of ‘em. They was no match for these bastards, whoever they was.”
Gaara narrowed his eyes. “It sounds to me like they invested poorly.”
“Eh?!” the slightly drunken and angry teller growled. “You think yer better than five ninja, punk?!”
“I’m better than all ninja,” the boy deadpanned and took his full canteen back.
As he turned and left, one of the audience hissed, “Man, watch out! I think that’s Sabakuno Gaara!”
“Shit! Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place!”
By the time the men turned to look, the boy was gone.
The sands whipped across the desert in the tail of a storm. Gaara marched across the dunes, wrapped in a protective cotton robe. On his back he carried a fairly large pack in place of his trademark gourd of sand. “Damn it,” he muttered as the wind howled against his clothes, pushing against him. He refused to admit even to himself that leaving the gourd behind was a bad idea. He hadn’t been without it for about five years.
The sandstorm had only one good point: it blocked the harsh rays of the sun, allowing him to travel in the middle of the day. The route was unmarked, but he knew to head south-south-west. As the storm abated and the sun beat down, Gaara stopped, set up his one-man tent and sat very still. Day dreams of the gulf coast he would reach in just a week danced through his head as he tried to ignore the 120 degree temperature. Just as he began to relax and meditate, a shivering movement on the horizon caught his eye.
Gaara squinted at the intense brightness of the rolling desert as shapes danced on the border of sand and sky. They crossed from right to left Gaara decided they were part of a trade caravan and closed his eyes again.
The only time Gaara could get any rest was the middle of the day. He would concentrate with all his might, meditating on a seal. When it was complete, he could rest, still awake, for three hours. This was the only rest he ever got. Sometimes Gaara went without rest for days on end. It wasn’t uncommon. Fighting the demon inside him was a constant struggle, unlike Uzumaki Naruto whose demon was neatly locked away by a seal that had killed its caster to perform.
Gaara snorted in disgust. The thought of the blond boy who’d defeated him jerked from his reverie. “Damn it,” he spat and folded his arms tighter. The shapes on the horizon were still bobbing in the heat-haze, but as he narrowed his eyes, Gaara realized they were no longer moving.
“Why would a caravan that’s already traveling in midday stop?” he asked the silence. For the next three hours as he put himself in the waking trance he watched the shapes flicker and undulate, distorted by the heat rising from the sand.
It was sundown when he rose, packed his tent and continued on his journey. It just so happened that the caravan was on his way, Gaara decided to investigate. When he reached the wagons he knew why they had stopped.
Everyone was dead. Camel and horse tracks led off to the south. The killers had come and gone. The half-dozen shinobi that were supposed to protect the caravan were strewn close to the southern side of the group, indicating that they attempted to take the enemy head on. “Che, idiots,” Gaara scoffed. He wandered unflinching through the carnage. The wagons were overturned and their contents scattered about. He stood still and looked around him. “That’s odd…” he muttered. There was no sign of a struggle between any of the victims and their attackers. The footprints in the undisturbed sand indicated that the robbers had an easy time of their looting. He approached a man’s body and scrutinized the kill.
If Gaara had killed them, their bodies would bear tell-tale grains of sand imbedded into their skin. There had to be a clue. Then he found it. A man had fallen on his own sword. To his left, another man lay sprawled on the sand, the gun he shot himself in the face with still in his hands. Another gripped a bloody knife. “They killed themselves?” Gaara whispered.
The breeze picked up some sand and made miniature tornadoes around the debris. Gaara turned to move on but a foreign sound caught his ear. Something was moving under some discarded tent canvas. Sensing no danger and wanting to know more about what had happened, he approached it and uncovered the being underneath.
A dark haired and skinned woman of perhaps 30 years was curled in a fetal position in the sand. She twitched and held herself tightly. She repeated the word ‘no’ senselessly.
“Oi, woman. What happened here?”
“No, no, no, no… not… no…”
Gaara pouted. “Not much use talking to this one,” he snorted and turned to go.
“No. Not. My. Baby. No…” she stuttered.
Gaara stopped in his tracks. His heart rose into his throat and he suddenly felt as if he were going to be sick. The boy stared at the woman, who he now realized wasn’t clutching herself; her arms were wrapped around her swollen abdomen.
For a good minute he stared, confused and unsure of the things he was feeling. Darkness was setting in and the temperature was beginning to drop rapidly. At last he unclenched his fists and squatted down next to her. “Hey you,” he addressed her. “I’m going to move you from here.” She continued to prattle, but in a hushed tone, as if she registered his words but was still too much in shock to reply.
She was too large for him to carry comfortably. Gaara used the tent canvas, tent poles and some twine to construct a drag on which he could pull her. Finally, he bent to pick her up. He hesitated before touching her then carefully laced his hands under her arms. She gasped in alarm at his touch. Her eyes were shot with worry but couldn’t seem to focus on him. “I’m just moving you. You’ll die if I leave you here,” he advised her at a whisper. She calmed down again but her dry lips still repeated ‘no’ like a broken record. She settled into the drag and Gaara began to haul her and some of the left-over supplies away from the crime scene.
Gaara’s brow creased under the cotton turban he wore and he stopped for a moment. Already, the woman had begun to calm down. “When you come round I have some questions for you. So don’t die just yet,” he called and moved on to the southeast.