Chapter 1: A is for Argument
It is a little known fact, but Gaara revels in the rare confrontations he has with Kankuro.
Usually, the idiot laughingly called his older brother manages to reign in his temper around him, cowering in waves of anger and humiliation. Then once in a way, he loses his temper and tries to challenge his authority. Challenge him the demon carrier. Gaara thrives on it like a rarely sampled delicacy.
“Gaara, I need to use this ground for training”
“I booked this place two weeks ago. You weren’t even there.”
“You have another mission tonight. I need to use this ground today.”
“I said -use another.”
“Why must you be- forget it! Do what you want…”
In spite of perpetuating the shell of fear and suspicion that surrounds him, Gaara is weary at heart. Weary of his lot in life. Weary of the perpetual fight for survival. Weary of being trapped in his self inflicted cell of isolation. So weary in fact, that he overrides his killing instincts time and time again for the sake of winning some trivial argument that creates flutters of excitement through his dormant heart.
Chapter 2: B is for Beggars
Maito Gai and his student Rock Lee are eliciting giggles from a group of sand kunoichi by extolling the aerodynamic virtues of the green leotard.
“Ladies please avert your eyes, for we’ve been known to hypnotise with the wonders of – the Dynamic Duo Unitard” Cue flash of lightening, sunset, seagull cry.
The ‘admirers’ barely excuse themselves with tears of mirth. Gaara wonders why he agreed to train with the pair. Oh, that’s right.
"Beggars can't be choosers" said Baki once during a training session. It was a reproof against Temari about something she forgot or the other which Gaara can’t recall now. He took it to mean that one should make the best with their limited resources. He never ever expected making friends with willing sparring partners, even if they had odd death wishes. Gaara owes them a different sort of debt from the one he has with Naruto. After all, he’s a beggar on a beach of gold. He can have it all but he can't take it with him.
“Do not fret Oh Gaara most shining tiger! Your unitard arrives tomorrow.”
Chapter 3: Bonus:A is for Anomaly
Timeline: Night before Chunnin exam finals season 1.
Disclaimer: Naruto (tm) and associated characters of the Naruto (tm) franchise belong to its creator Masashi Kishimoto. (presumably his own master).
Gaara doesn't know what to make of the solitary figure weaving his way through the crowded streets of Konoha. His initial instincts were right. The guy is not in the same league as the Uchiha genius. It’s a wonder how he can even compete in the same team. Clearly he’s an anomaly in the shinobi world with its harsh unbending creeds and colourless lifestyles.
And yet, his presence is unsettling. He does everything wrong. He brings in unnecessary emotions into the battlefield. He fights for causes that are none of business. He’s haphazard, yet fiercely determined. In a world of black and white (tinted blood red, he adds privately) the boy blazes through the stadium like a firecracker all yellow, blue and orange. The Chunnin exams are a joke and its all because of this strange boy. Gaara is a little uncertain (not afraid, never afraid) of this boy because he can’t read him. That has never happened before. And he hates being uncertain about anything.
“Destroy him” whispers his mother.
He nods grimly in the dark.
Chapter 4: I is for Inheritance
Disclaimer: Naruto and associated characters of the Naruto franchise belong to its creator Masashi Kishimoto. (presumably his own master).
When Gaara was younger, his mother’s picture frame was a familiar almost comforting presence in his room. He believed the delicate features and uncertain smile were his only inheritance from her. He doesn’t remember her and his normally boisterous siblings were unusually subdued whenever she happened to be mentioned. Kankuro would start and his pupils dilate slightly in recollection. Temari would stiffen and abruptly change the conversation or leave the room without an explanation. A grueling training session inevitably followed.
"Why don't you talk about it?" she asked once when the nights were bad.
"Why don't you ask her?" he snaps, as Temari pales. She doesn't ask again.
In the years that follow, Gaara learns that he had inherited his mother’s will and her hatred for the village. They were an unbeatable team – Mother and he. He did everything to make her happy, keep her placated while she protected him from a hostile world. Still later, he came to terms with this fabrication, discerning beast from self and harder still coming to terms with her unhappy state of mind at the time. Temari quietly explained to him one evening about the concept of PND and its effects. He takes Temari’s words in without question noting the dull, strained expression in her eyes. He wonders if she’s afraid of inheriting more than just their mother’s features.
"You're not her." he states baldly after a mission has gone south.
Temari stiffens but looks at him inquiringly.
Gaara struggles and finishes lamely, "You're you that's all." All that matters to us.
He can see the gratitude from the sheen in Temari's eyes before she turns away to her room.
Chapter 5: P is for Portrait
Gaara looks at the family portrait past and present.
Of the entire gene pool to choose from, why did his siblings have to inherit their parents features? Gaara muses upon this thought as he gazes at a recent photograph taken of them.
It is a vast improvement from the last shot they had together (they were together willingly) and the stances are relaxed, casual, seemingly unaffected by this rare instance of domestic solidarity. The combination of brunette and blonde heralded by vivid red stirs something within him. His mother’s hair and his father’s eyes and his uncle’s smiles. In another time, in another reality perhaps this could have been – he shakes his head sharply. No, you cannot control the gene pool just as you cannot control the personalities it breeds.
He can tick off every known fact about his parents on his fingers whereas he would need the combined digits of all the Kage bunshins Naruto style to number all the traits of his siblings. He knows Temari’s likes (Dango sticks and spas and a certain Konoha Chunnin) and Kankuro’s fears (shadow puppetry forgotten, turning into their father).
He’s fought with them, bled with them, screamed at them and somehow they made a place for him within them. Gaara replaces the frame on his desk, shifting it slightly so that it catches the light filtering in through the blinds.
“Ne Gaara” says Temari teasingly from the doorway. ”Next time why don’t you smile?”
“I don’t need to with you.”
She looks uncertain, revisiting her words.
“I am happy.” He translates softly.
They carefully avoid looking at each others soft smiles.
Chapter 6: W is for Wrestling
Gaara learns the art of pugilism from Naruto.
Their fight was destined to make it to the annals of Shinobi history. It laid the groundwork of a lasting friendship between two unlikely shinobi warriors who became legendary heroes in their own villages. Generations of children thereafter would clamour for the details of the battle royale between the Jinchurikis of Konoha and Suna and thereafter. What Gaara ferverently hoped would never make the footnotes were Naruto’s ‘lessons’ in the adjoining those early years.
“Eh he he…you’re kidding me, ne? you’re not? You’re …no way! No Way!!”
Naruto is all righteous indisgnation as he leads the way to an empty training ground.
“We’ve got to correct this. You’re missing out on shinobi training of magna- magnim- its just plain wrong to miss out on your youthful training and I’m going to help you. Right. Put up your fists. ”
Uzumaki Naruto, reputed dead last of his class, prankster supreme and leading contender for the village idiot award in all five shinobi nations has taken it upon himself to train Sabaku no Gaara. The boy who flawlessly completed eight assasination missions, marked in Bingo books in five shinobi nations is being taken through the basics of: World Wrestling.
"Hold your guard in front of your face, then I feint and you - Nooo! don't use the sand! use your own fists! Hit with your fists!”.
When Gaara was punched in the face by Naruto, he felt his world slide under him. No one had ever dealt in hand to hand combat with him when his sand shield automatically protected him. All it took was one slight window of opportunity and depleted store of chakra to reduce to someone he never thought he was possible - a normal, angry young boy who punched like a civilian.
“How can you not know a scissor cut?! The grand slam? ahh! Wasted youth!” grumbles Naruto, roilling off the ground for another round.
Gaara is frankly apathetic about these sessions. However he continues to meet up on these grounds whenever he visits Konoha. If Naruto's small knwoing smirk is anything to go by, he's glad he has a willing sparring partner too.
Chapter 7: V is for Voyeur
Disclaimer: Naruto (tm) and associated characters of the Naruto (tm) franchise belong to its creator Masashi Kishimoto.
Starlight glides gently on the round curves of chrysalis buildings shimmering undisturbed in Sunagakure.The wind sends its coarse lullaby through the quiet streets, picking up fragments of loose debris be it an old newspaper, sand or stray murmurs behind closed doors. Under a cloudless starlit clime, the hidden village of Sand becomes a wonderland to inquiring eyes.
“..your mouth, Kankuro he might hear you.” faint patter of feet, swish of robe.
“I’m just saying its plain creepy the way he does that.” clicks of wood against floor.
For as long as he can remember, Gaara had been watching Life as it happened to other people. He couldn’t quite grasp the notion of a normal life ever happening to him. He had to be content with watching it happen to other people from afar while never taking part. When he was younger, he took to observing the habits, idiosyncrasies, tics and mannerisms of the people of his village and created a world in his head. In this private world, he could re-enact everyday scenes where he was at the centre instead of apart just watching.
“Does what?” .
“Just watches. All of us. All the time.”
Always watching. Gaara watches the same scenes everyday as if they were his own chessboard moving the figures in patterns only he can know . He developed an uncanny ability to read people and predict their movements simply because they give themselves away so easily. A lingering gaze here, a mouthed whisper, a touch under the elbow there. Hidden secrets. He sees them all from his perch up on high. It was unchartered territory, a bit like those tales of far off exotic lands that he used to read as a child. Here be dragons, he notes wryly to himself.
In an unguarded moment, Kankuro had confessed that this form of spying was plain creepy. Gaara frowns at the memory. He does not consider himself a voyeur. After all, he has to do something to while away the hours until daylight.
Chapter 8: U is for Ukki
Disclaimer: Naruto (tm) and associated characters of the Naruto (tm) franchise belong to its creator Masashi Kishimoto.
Gaara looks at the object with unconcealed surprise. Temari sighs and places the object in the right hand corner of the office. Just enough shade without threat of the sun’s overexposure.
“Naruto sends his compliments” she said by way of explanation.
Gaara seriously doubts this, as he knows Naruto’s vocabulary couldn’t stretch that far.
“Yeah, well you know what he means.” She adds correctly translating the look. ”The way he was fretting! I refused to carry the plant food and leaf wax just so you know…”
Uzumaki Naruto is going away for training with the Sage Sanin Jiraiya. He is leaving behind the village he has always known, the friends he has made, the life he has secured for the unknown. The plant is small yet sturdy and in very good care. This elicits a small smile from his normally expressionless face.
Mr Ukki Junior had found a new home.