There was a very distinct feeling of gravitational confusion.
A strange mixture of pulsing vibrations and stagnant molecules in the air left the world feeling chaotic but still at the same time. A small conscious thought seemed to flicker through the hazy darkness of the young Kazekage's mind.
Everything felt wrong.
Gaara didn't know whether he was lying down, standing up, underwater or falling from the sky. It could have been any of those things – all of those things. Situational unawareness and sensory deprivation. His body was immobile.
He could feel the burning though. It ran through his tissues and tendons, unforgivingly cold instead of hot. When he tried to sit up, his muscles refused his command and he spent the next few moments contemplating which way was up. It was oddly hard to discern. There was cold wind brushing against his face and the front of his body, so it was likely he was lying on his back. Get up.
With almost irritatingly amount of effort, Gaara commanded his eyes to slowly crack open. It was like wrenching bolted doors open, heavy and painful.
He was welcomed with darkness.
Open or closed, his eyes continued to see that same black. For a few stressing moments, the young Kazekage started to deliberate if he had been rendered blind. He blinked once, twice, three times and slowly the black void began to pale. Suddenly he could see an inky dark blue above.
There were small specks of glittering lights, like fireflies swimming in the sky.
His senses began to awaken and suddenly a cacophony of scents swirled around him, blanketing his previous blindness in too much colour, too much sound and it was all so familiar...
Gaara jolted his muscles and sat up. He used every ounce of control he mastered over many years to not fall back down from the wave of heavy nausea that accompanied his sudden movement. After accomplishing the arduous task of beating away his vertigo with a stick, Gaara finally took in his surrounding with an almost disbelieving euphoria.
He could feel sand under his palms, grating softly against his flesh and he could feel the grains under his shirt and in his hair. The abrasions were a comfort, a throwback to home.
A home that should have been terrorized by war – crumbling and held together by dwindling hope and clay hearts.
A home that should have been gone but now glimmered like a mirage in the desert backdrop.
Being a shinobi meant that Gaara was seldom ever overwhelmed to the point of distraction, but for the first time in a long time, he was finding it hard to breathe from pure, unadulterated confusion.
The once decaying village of Sunagakure was standing fully erect and very much there.
No marching horns, no broken weapons left in the sands, no war banners.
The chalky ochre tones of the high outer walls that encased the village of the sand remained intact unlike the last time Gaara had seen them. The light from houses and shops illuminated a dim yellow glow into the sky from behind the walls. There was even a faint scent of food that danced in the air.
The young ninja was by now on his knees as he propped himself against a near-by boulder, his eyes never leaving the homesick sight before him. He must have been about thirty meters outside of the outer walls - how he got there he would never know. But whether this was a genjutsu or just a delusion created in his war-torn mind, he did not ignore his instincts. And Gaara's instincts were telling him that this was his home.
But the war…
He pushed himself on his feet with an audible exertion that seemed fated for him to just fall back again, but Gaara took one painful step after another. The lone figure hobbled slowly to the village lights that seemed to attract every ounce of his attention leaving no room for any other thought.
He just wanted to reach the wall...regardless of whether it was real or not.
Perhaps it was his half exhausted, half deluded state but the little ninja trudged on despite how difficult his breathing had become. He was about fifteen meters or so to the wall when he heard a voice call out - what they said was lost on him. Gaara stretched out his hands, reaching. The voices became louder in her ears and the sound of crunching sand beneath feet approached him.
Suffocating exhaustion infested his limbs and his body stopped responding.
Just as he heard more distinct voices, Gaara collapsed.
The panicked voices disappeared and were replaced by a demonic grumbling echoing ominously in the darkest corner of his mind.
It was a cold whisper, a voice so familiar that Gaara could not mistake it for anything else.
But before he could fight back, before he could resist...strangled sleep overcame him.
Kima picked his nose as he gazed out into the desert, counting down the moments till his patrol shift was over.
The young man was a dedicated shinobi but today he was feeling exhausted from lack of sleep. Keeping up with his new born daughter required more endurance than any training the new father had to endure.
Tantalizing thoughts of a soft pillows and firm beds were cut short when his eyes locked onto something in the distance.
The horizon line was disrupted by a dark mass slowly approaching the village. It was a slow trudge that suppressed immediate alarm but something in Kima's gut told him that there was something wrong.
He directed his lamp higher till it shone down dimly at the approaching figure. "Hey, who goes there?"
No answer except the soft crunch of grains slowly moving towards him. His call out attracted the attention of three other gate guards who stood near him.
"Is that...?" one ninja began.
Kima's eyes widened as a nest of russet hair appeared from the dessert night. Something was familiar about…
His eye’s widened.
“It’s the jinchuuriki!” He blurted out in alarm.
They all leaned forward to get a better look and indeed it was the vessel heading towards them. His fellow patrol men stood awkwardly, unsure how to read the situation. Was is safe or was it a prelude to a potential disaster?
After a moment, three ninjas jumped down and approached the young jinchuuriki with palpable apprehension. By now Kima could see the Kazekage's son more clearly and the obvious limp was now more pronounced.
The boy raised his hand out stretched, as if reaching to them and then with no warning, suddenly collapsed.
The jounin next to him suddenly swore and began calling out to the three shinobi who went down earlier.
"Come back!" he yelled. “Get back behind the wall!”
A chill crawled down his spine and pooled itself in his stomach as his fellow shinobi began to bark out orders to flee.
The jinchuuriki was unconscious.
The three shinobi began to run.
It was only a moment later when Kima's blood ran cold in his veins.
A palpable, oppressive weight washed over him, digging and burning into his bones like hot fish hooks. His fingers began to shake and his mouth felt drier than rice paper.
The jinchuuriki was now slowly moving back up, but this time there was something fundamentally different.
The demon was out.
A large layer of sand began to shift and hover around the red-haired boy. A low animalistic growl hummed in the boy’s throat as the sand shifted around him like a cocoon and in a blink of an eye, it shot out and threw five ninja backwards.
The assault had begun.
They had protocols for this, they were trained for this specific situation but somehow all those simulations, training and rehearsals seemed laughably redundant.
They were being tossed like ragdolls against the wall with depressing ease.
Throwing ninjutsu at it only made it worse.
Kima was still watching from the wall and his hands were shaking from the foreign chakra that sizzled the air - it burned hotter than the hottest day in summer at high noon. He could hardly understand how it was all coming from such a small body. Kima had heard about the insane jinchuriki and its infamous lust for blood but the young ninja never thought it would be this intense or so – demonic.
He just wanted to go home to his new born daughter.
Kima forced himself out of his stupor and realised his comrades needed him, regardless of the murderous atmosphere. He was about to jump down but stopped when the atmosphere cracked.
Hissing gurgled from the demon’s throat like liquid metal. A promise for pain.
Slowly sand began to harden over the boys form, shaping half his body into pale armor. Then his face began to change, twisting and molding into a face from old nightmares.
The boy was losing control and they were losing. Period.
Twelve-year-old Kankuro grumbled for the hundredth time about older sisters with superior complexes.
He leisurely walked down the street with his hood pushed back, thinking over the things he needed to fix with his puppets. He cursed Temari for being so careless and breaking the framework of one of his puppets. To grind salt into his wounds, she brushed it off and told him to stop leaving his ‘toys’ around to be stepped on. They weren't toys. They were carefully crafted weapons. And his sister treated them with the same equivalency as children play-things, considering the way she trample – no – danced on them.
He sighed and laced his finger together behind his head. He might as well start over with a new design.
Kankuro's musings were cut abruptly when he felt a familiar burn.
The boy blinked and knew the hairs on the back of his neck were defying gravity.
His legs unwillingly brought him to the edge of the village to investigate despite half his mind hissing out in alarm.
When he reached the wall, the genin froze, his faced drained of all colour.
He could feel his younger brother’s chakra mixed in with the demons but the oppressive darkness of the One-Tails was easily dominating everything.
Kankuro had been exposed to the demon’s chakra more than the average person, along with Temari and Baki-sensei…but somehow the sensation of murderous hunger still leeched into his skin every time, impossibly getting worse every time he experienced Shukaku’s rage.
Kankuro's instincts were telling him to run. Fight or flight.
And he was so ready for flight.
Instead he grudgingly followed protocol like he was trained to.
Kankuro turned to the nearest ninja.
"Oi! Go get Jounin Baki-sensei in the main tower and find anyone else that can contain one-tails long enough! We need back up!"
It didn’t matter that a genin was barking out orders, the ninja did as he was told, clearly relieved to be given a chance to get the hell away.
The ninja ran off as Kankuro looked down at the sight of his crazed brother. The young red-head's face was contorted into a vicious sneer and his eyes were blazing with uncontrollable crazy.
Kankuro - despite his limbs all but vibrating in anticipation to runaway - went closer to observe until Baki-sensei came with reinforcements. But his plans to remain safely behind to wall crumbled when rubble began to fly his way.
Kankuro flailed as he was thrown backwards - along with other ninja - and slid down stone walls with a heavy slump. The world was now in double vision and he could taste copper at the back of his throat.
Kankuro did not see the most subtle pause in Gaara's movements. No one did.
Gaara clung onto the edge of the precipice, his consciousness dripping trough the sinkhole, falling down, down, down.
It was like a half-dream as he watched the demon pull his body around like a puppet, needling strings through his palms, wrapping twine around his throat and cutting wire through his heart.
A marionette with claws.
But he pulled himself up from the dark void, the chasm of bloodlust and suddenly forced everything to an abrupt stop. In the haze of Shukaku’s impossible presence, Gaara turned his head towards a familiar voice.
His half blind eyes narrowed onto a boy’s painted face now covered in blood and something fraternal bloomed desperately from inside his ribcage.
It didn't matter how far gone he was or how much the demon twisted his impossibly young body – Gaara would never bend to it. He had long ago gained control over the damn beast for the soul purpose of being more than just a container. More than just a vessel or a package wrapped in soft flesh and brittle bone. A child accosted with monsters made from nightmares. He was more than that.
Only one thought crossed through his semi-unconscious mind.
With one look over to his older brother who was now trying to stand back up, Gaara felt an impeccable wave of relief.
Then right afterwards Shukaku began to scream.
The jinchuuriki suddenly clutched his head in both his hands, yanking his hair, forcing back the crazed entity plaguing every fiber in his being.
By now most of the still-standing ninja were watching with fearful apprehension as the assault from the crushing sand stopped and remained swirling violently around the vessel.
Despite the lack of attack, no one felt even remotely safe as the demonic chakra raged on. Its fluctuating presence pulsed menacingly in the air and left a bitter sting on their skin.
Kankuro was watching along with everyone else, embarrassingly ready to wet himself. The killing intent was so think it was invading his eyes and crawling into his mouth.
His younger brother had lost control before but it never to this extent. Never to the point of forming a physical form of one-tails.
Kankuro watched his younger brother yanked his head side to side with his eyes screwed shut in a kind of concentration that seemed almost desperate. Low growls broke from the boy’s throat but were quickly over taken by a sudden screams that gave him goosebumps.
Everyone was caught by surprise when the jinchuuriki fell onto his knees with a heavy thud. None of their weapons were lowered.
The sand moved around him in erratic lashes, but progressively less offensive and more confused.
Another human growl ripped from the boy’s throat followed by heavy breathing.
No one moved an inch from where they stood. Despite not knowing what was happening, there was a unanimous understanding that no one was to move - no one wanted to risk breaking the demon out of his...
Finally and ever so slowly, the demonic sand began to drip away.
The demon chakra was still palpable but the killing intent was definitely decreasing. The remaining ninjas took audible gasps of air as the pressure lifted. Meanwhile the vessel folded into himself, his face completely obscured by his hanging fringe.
Some ninja began to stand up and others began to shift a little closer. No one knew if the threat was still unstable. Fear still cemented their limbs.
Gaara's heavy breathing was strained and the boy's body was vibrating as his muscles burned with a familiar heat that only ever came with his loss of control. For a moment everyone just watched for the demon child's next move, trying to ready themselves for another possible attack that would surely come.
Kankuro's leg was bleeding.
And he promptly ignored the twisted body of a dead ninja folded under a rock to his left.
The atmosphere was still tight like coiled cords around everyone’s throats, but somehow, he unexplainably knew this would be all for the night.
Gaara was curled inwards, the epicenter of the sudden eerie calm and Kankuro didn’t know whether to move closer or runaway while he still could.
Then his brother’s head began to lift upwards and everyone tensed. Ready for a fight. Ready to flee.
Without hesitation, the first thing those pale eyes locked onto was Kankuro.
The puppeteer froze immediately as those eyes bore hazily into his own. The genin was expecting the cold stare of flat eyes but what met him were exhausted pair of pale green. Like thin shale underwater.
His younger brother's usual crazed look was now replaced by something that Kankuro didn’t have the vocabulary to identify – something less like barbed wire.
Before Kankuro could stop his mouth he called out, "Gaara?"
The puppeteer nearly slapped his hand over his mouth. Silence and tension fizzled through all the sand shinobi standing at the ready.
Suddenly the jinchuriki was moving.
But the demon container did not attack. He just slowly pushed himself off the ground with an almost painful amount of effort till he was standing on his feet. Exhaustion was palpable from his shaking limbs and labored breath. After managing getting himself vertical, he stood on his two feet for a few seconds then began to drag himself in an almost coma-like state.
Out of fear and out of apprehension the ninja watched the boy trudge painfully past them without doing anything to stop him.
They watched as Gaara slowly limp toward one person.
Kankuro didn't know what to think when he realised that his brother was approaching him. The older genin was still sitting amongst the rubble with a bleeding leg and suddenly felt trapped like he’d never been before.
Gaara eyes remained locked on Kankuro, no one else.
Kankuro began to shuffle backwards, trying to get a greater distance between him and Gaara but couldn’t get very far. He looked up fearfully at his younger brother who was now only a few meters away and pressed his back against the broken wall.
The puppeteer wished not for the first time that he had stayed home with his broken puppets.
Relief flooded him when he spotted Baki-sensei approaching from over the wall but moved no closer. He just watched the strange scene with apprehension. When the older genin looked back at Gaara, he paused when he saw a hazy kind of recognition flicker behind his eyes. He wanted his sensei to move and get him out of there!
But Gaara was still standing passively in front of Kankuro, arms hanging meekly by his side and eyes drooping low.
Not a drop of crazy in sight and that somehow made the genin more nervous.
But…maybe for the first time that night, he felt that perhaps Gaara wasn't going to go flipping mad. Either he was feeling really brave or a bit of rubble hit him too hard on the head but Kankuro decided to test his chances with his dazed brother.
He didn't think his brother had heard his whisper but flinched when Gaara’s eye narrowed to the sounds of his voice. Razor-sharp and burning.
Something wasn't right.
Nothing was making sense in his abused mind anymore and he couldn't seem to gain control of his reasoning.
Too young. Too small. So tired.
Thrumming inside his skull never seemed to cease. He looked back at Kankuro who flinched involuntarily and Gaara felt a deep sadness carve a trench in his gut.
He hadn’t been looked like that in so long.
Suddenly Gaara felt his face burn uncomfortably and pins and needles accosted every surface of his skin. The strange feeling of gravitational confusion rammed into his temple and Gaara fumbled to his knees again. The sky was spinning in circles.
He barely felt the rocks cut into his cheek when he fell face first into the ground.
Art work I painted for this fic ~ CADEL