Of the Desert
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
The large, airy meeting room was cluttered with magistrates and officials from all over the Wind country. Baki sat cross-legged on a slightly raised platform and closed his eyes. The din of more than a few disagreements was beginning to get to him.
“Enough!” he barked. “If you cannot speak in a civilized fashion then discussion for today will stop.”
“Of course, Baki-sama,” many of the bureaucrats were heard to mutter. They shuffled their papers and whispered, but allowed order to return briefly to the conference.
For months, Baki had been attempting to repair his ailing village. The Daimyo had been assassinated and now the Wind country was scrambling to reorganize. Rumor spread that an intelligent man was serving as Kazekage, and it frightened those who wished to replace the Daimyo. Baki was careful not to be swayed by anyone, but the constant arguments between regional magistrates were beginning to grate on him. Truly, his only concern was the life of his village and the topic of conversation was beginning to diverge further from that goal with every passing moment.
“Baki-sama,” a particularly rotund official bowed from his seat on the floor to his left. “There is the matter of protection which has always been promised by the Hidden Sand for the trade routes across the western desert.”
Baki held up his hand. “Rest assured,” he said with a relieved sigh. “A special team has been assigned to that very task. That branch of patrol should be up and running in the next two days.”
The official smiled a surprised smile. “Thank you very much, Baki-sama!”
Baki went on to the next person’s dilemma, glad that at least one thing was going smoothly.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Temari shouted over the heads of almost twenty other Chuunin level Ninja. “I said break into your five-man teams and be here in an hour. Most of you are late!”
The adults shouted their apology to the teen girl.
‘Oh man,’ her brother moaned internally. ‘I don’t know who’s scarier: Gaara or Temari.’
“Team One, Two and Three you will be lead by these three fine Jounin,” Temari indicated to three men who bowed to the group. “Team four,” she met their eyes and they shivered. “You will be led by Kankuro and myself. You have your itinerary. You will be spending three weeks in the desert, guiding trade caravans and quelling any warlord activity you find. You have a list of known gangs and routes and permission to kill if necessary. Do your best and report back here on the first of next month by sundown. If you are late you had better be dead. Understood?”
“Yes Ma’am!” the teams shouted.
“All right, let’s do this!” Temari shouted and they set off on their missions.
In a rocky, hilly spot just to the north of the border between the true dunes and more varied desert terrain, Gaara stopped for the night. He put the drag down and set up a larger tent obtained from the caravan. In a few minutes he had a small fire going and was heating some noodles over a miniature camp stove. The woman was sleeping now. Her brow was creased and despite the oncoming cold of the desert at night, beads of sweat gathered and trickled down into her eyes.
Gaara wet bit of cotton cloth with water from one of the canteens he had scavenged from the caravan. Tenuously, he wiped her forehead once and waited for a reaction. To his surprise, her eyes fluttered open.
“You’re awake,” he stated.
“It’s over…” she whispered in a thick rural accent and eyed his canteen. Gaara handed it to her and she gulped down its contents. “I was sure I would die. He was so strong.”
Gaara got straight to the point. “Just what happened back there?”
She looked around and furrowed her brows. “Where am I?” she asked, more annoyed than frightened.
“I took you from there. There’s nothing left.”
She put the empty canteen down. “They were all dead?” she asked quietly.
“Yes. What happened? Who killed them?”
“Not who, what,” she corrected him. “That boy…” suddenly she realized how old Gaara was. “You’re a ninja. You’re not with him, are you?”
“With who, the killer?” he scoffed. “Certainly not.” He almost added that if he had been she would not have survived.
“What’s a kid like you doing alone in the middle of the desert, then?” she asked, skeptically.
“Answer me first. What happened?”
They stared at each other for a moment, both as stubborn as badgers. His pale, blue-green eyes held steady under her hazel gaze.
“Why do you have ‘love’ tattooed on your forehead?”
“….” Gaara’s eye twictched.
The air seemed to arch with electricity between them. She sighed, folded her arms and looked down. “It was too horrible. I can tell you the boy was perhaps younger than you. He used genjutsu on them. That’s what killed them, rather, made them kill themselves.” She shuddered and hugged herself again.
“How did you survive it, then?” Gaara squinted. “Perhaps you’re on his side.”
Her eyes flashed with anger. “That caravan was my husband’s family. Why would I allow such a thing?”
“Stranger things have been known to happen,” he said, thinking of his own family’s tactics.
“I survived for two reasons,” she said and stood up, stretching her back. “One, I am of a ninja family, and two,” she ran a hand over her belly, “I have something to protect. I cannot take my own life, no matter how much it hurts.” She shuddered again, but took a deep breath and looked around at their surroundings. “So, Short-stuff,” she gazed down on him. “Just who are you?”
Gaara thought fast. “You can call me Raaga.”
“Good enough. I’m Okochio Rouzu. So, Short-stuff, since you were so kind as to rescue me from certain death, I’m sure you won’t mind being my escort.” Rouzu grinned a thin-lipped, manipulative grin. “You wouldn’t leave a poor, defenseless pregnant lady alone in the middle of the desert, would you?!” She could have made puppy-dog eyes at him, but her gaze remained the same; steely and confident.
Gaara shot to his feet. He folded his arms tightly and turned his back. “I did not rescue you. I simply wanted to know what was responsible for that massacre.”
“Why?” she asked, pushing him further, her voice becoming serious again.
“So that I might have a decent opponent.”
Rouzu raised a brow. “You think you can kill him?”
“I know I can.”
“Then I will follow you.” She smirked and put her fists on her ample hips. “I will see him dead.”