Summary: Gaara lies in a Konoha hospital, legs and life crushed, but there is one who watches over him.
Warnings: Angsty self-examination, ahoy!
Remixed from the moving Mortality, by loveotter, aka diamondmuse. (Scroll down to story and links to all parts.)
Thank you to my fabulous harsh-mistress beta, who set me straight and only beat me a little.
//Where are you?//
//Gaara-sama, where are you?//
//Gaara-sama, I cannot reach you//
No answer comes.
Searching blindly, seeking in all directions – there, there he is. Wetness, sharpness. The vessel of his body is broken. Blood seeps, bone protrudes. He is damaged, badly. Dying. He is–
A flicker only, but there. His chakra, coming alive. He lives. He still lives.
They have carried him to this place of healing.
He lies among those who were once his enemies, at the mercy of those he tried to kill in the before-time. I do not understand why he is here.
He lingers in the between-place, not awake, not dead. Maybe that is good. His injuries are grave, his pain terrible in his brief moments of wakefulness. Healing him is beyond my powers; he must heal himself – he must choose to live. But I have sensed him, and I feel/know/fear the worst.
The others know it, too, especially this one, the quiet strong one who tends to him. I sense a will in her to do her best as she sits with him, wrapping him in clean coverings, pouring healing power into him as he sleeps. Sometimes she speaks to him, though he cannot hear her; her hands tremble as she works. If she is afraid, why does she sit beside him, try to fix him? He is not of her people. They were enemies once. I remember her. I remember all of them, every one he has fought.
This place unnerves me. There is too much moisture on the wind.
Others come to peer in at him, some approaching uneasily. I coil myself, ready to strike, for even if he sleeps, even if he cannot command me, he must be protected. He will not be harmed while I watch. I am bonded to him, and he to me. He is mine to protect.
The people here are strange, too, cool and moist like their air. But no one tries to harm him and little by little my tension ebbs.
One comes and lingers by the door. This one is easy to remember – I have fought with him, held him in my embrace, crushed his body with mine. He should have died, or been rendered a cripple. Yet he lives, and walks. It is…curious. I do not understand.
And there is another, their leader. I have seen her in the before-time; among the Sand we know her as the great killer-healer of the Leaf. She comes close, touches and examines him, but her touch is not dangerous. She seeks his chakra, reaches into it, fans it brighter. I, too, grow stronger at her touch.
Afterwards she and the quiet one speak in whispers. Their faces tell nothing, but when they look at him lying so still, waves of sadness fill the room. Only one – the one who peers in at the window at night, the moon at his back – only he does not despair.
"Gaara, hey, Gaara," that one says, "quit sleeping. Wake up already."
//Gaara-sama, wake up, wake up. I am waiting//
He is awake.
The loud one with the beast within roused him, the same one who comes through the window every night to sit by his bed.
//He is dangerous//
Until tonight Gaara-sama lingered in the between-place and did not hear my warnings. But tonight he wakes when the loud one comes. His eyes blink open, and the loud one jumps up like a monkey. "Hey, Gaara!"
//I will protect you from this one//
I cease at his command, though I remain uneasy. But Gaara-sama is awake, and I am content.
Many days pass.
The loud one comes and sits and jumps up and gestures and talks and talks. I have stopped coiling to attack when he comes, for I sense no danger, but within the loud one's vessel is a powerful presence and I will continue to be wary.
"So long, Gaara, feel better." He is leaving. On his way to the window he brushes against me, and suddenly I sense a new feeling/word/thing inside me, coming from him–
No answer comes.
He still cannot move his legs.
Many more days have passed, and he has grown stronger, but his injuries are nowhere near healed. The loud one comes every night and the quiet one sits with him every day, and now that she is no longer hesitant she shares tales about this place, about herself and the loud one. Gaara-sama listens. He does not share our stories.
She urges him to go outside for the first time since he came here. I warn him against it; he does not listen. My chakra is low from many days without his touch and if he does not reach out to me soon, I know my fate. I will fade into dust, become like the dead sands of the desert. If that is Gaara-sama's will, so be it.
But I have enough strength to send the thinnest tendril after him – I believe he knows I hover here, but still he ignores me. As he watches their people practice fighting skills he says nothing, and when I sense him he feels nothing, only the agony of his crushed legs. He feels no danger around him, or perhaps it is just that he does not care.
But there is danger here.
There is a female, thin, dark. Her eyes dart towards him as she practices her fighting moves, her glance slithering sideways like a desert snake, returning to him again, again, again.
I do not like her.
His mind is troubled, dark, tonight.
//Gaara-sama. Tell me how to serve you. Tell me how to protect you//
//But you didn't protect me from this// he thinks at me. //You didn't save my legs//
Devastated, I cringe away, fleeing toward the safety of my shell.
//Stop// He reaches out his hand. //Come//
His fingers run through me, close on me as I ribbon about him. Coiling up his arm, I taste his chakra and shiver as he sifts me, rubbing my grains through his fingers. I slide against him, swelling and twisting, flying apart, coming together. I sense the desert in him, the heat, the wild dry winds that scour the sand. I sense the yearning.
//Gaara-sama, let me carry you there. Let me take you to our home, Gaara-sama–//
//Help me to rise//
His chakra flows into me, strengthening me, increasing my power. Careful of his legs I lift gently, caressingly, never letting his feet touch the ground. In the darkness he is a pale ghost in my embrace, small, nearly weightless.
We dance together across the room, into moonlight and shadow, his white face catching the glow and falling into darkness, my grains whirling about him like a glittering burst of starlight.
He is damaged, but he is beautiful.
We are beautiful.
//Gaara-sama. Gaara of the Sand. We are one. We are one//
He grows restless.
The loud one comes again and again, always by the window, never by the door the others use. Whenever he comes I feel something shift in my master, an alertness that fades at other times.
The loud one speaks to him as if he were not injured, promises he will walk again, acts as if he were well and whole already. Gaara-sama becomes angry sometimes and is always tired when these visits end. But I no longer feel the need to protect him from the loud one or the presence he carries within. The word/thought FRIEND always hovers near the surface of that one's mind, and whatever it is, I understand it is something good, something that makes the loud one happy.
Gaara-sama's chakra has begun to burn brighter. When he thinks/feels //will I be stronger?// and //do I deserve to live?// now there is a flicker of hope.
Tonight when the loud one comes through the window Gaara-sama makes him unroll the white coverings that protect his crushed legs. He gasps at the pain. It throbs; I reach in to share the pain and find agony. But he bears it, and accepts the damage to his flesh. He has grown strong, my Gaara-sama.
When we are alone he weeps, but he does not pity himself.
There is something wrong in the air; we both feel it.
He quivers with emotion. I reach out to sense him and receive a confusion of thoughts/feelings: //I can't fight/I must protect him/save him/help them all// He gives a strange command: protect the loud one, protect the others, protect those who were once his enemies. With a sharp gesture he parts me, sending half away, and whether or not I understand I must do as he wishes.
With my other half I bow to his thoughts and wrap about him, lifting him from the bed. Within him there is a new spark that fills me with excitement: //I will stand again, I will be whole// he thinks, more to himself than to me. It is a glorious feeling. Together we will race across the desert again; together we will fight.
The half that searches finds the loud one easily – he is in the midst of battle, ferocious, feral, strangely excited. He dispatches enemies with ease and rejoices as he does so. This one does not need my protection, so I will look for another who–
Wait! He has foolishly allowed himself to be struck on the head, and falls, and there is one with a weapon. I obey my master and strike.
The loud one blinks at the fallen assailant, then turns and stares at me with wide, unfocused eyes. "What the–?" I encircle him, and he goes rigid, but I think/feel //FRIEND// at him. It is a strange sensation as his body relaxes within me and gives off a sense of pleasure. His mouth opens to reveal a great many teeth, but they are not bared in anger. Instead, he laughs. "Hey! Gaara! Wherever the heck you are, thanks!" And then he is up again and running towards the next battle.
The part of me that remains behind senses the danger before it can be seen, but I am only half myself and cannot respond with speed. The thin one, the dark serpent-eyed female, it is she. She comes through the window, teeth bared, and there is fury and hate in her, so strong it is like a living thing. With Gaara-sama in my grasp I jerk away, but it is too late. The dark one attacks, yanking him from me, muttering words of hate. There is a sharp cold thing in her hand, and with a curse she drives it into his side.
I feel the strike, feel the cold, feel the wrongness, the sharpness and //no, no, no, Gaara-sama, I cannot allow this// in fury swarm around her, tear her from him. He stares wordlessly. Blood, there is so much blood.
//Say it, Gaara-sama! Command me//
His eyes widen, but he is not seeing her, not even seeing me. I can sense him; he feels himself dying, but he is thinking/feeling/wanting //let me live. I want to live//.
His fist closes, and he murmurs something strange. "Forgive me."
Does he speak to me, or to her?
When I crush the life from her, feel the crunch of tendon and tissue within my coffin, when her blood mingles hot with my grains, when her bones snap and she screams her last, for the first time ever there is no ecstasy of revenge, no happiness in the act of killing. Gaara-sama pulls the weapon from his side. He is calm, though I am not. And then his control collapses and together we fall to the floor. I reach a tendril towards him with my last strength, probe his senses, but there is nothing more.
When the loud one and others come, I am lying useless beside him, covering him as best I can, unable to move without his chakra to command me. Before me the desert stretches without end. Perhaps I shall return there. Perhaps, together.
////We are dying////
There is too much water in the air. I still do not care for it.
But here we remain, until he is well enough to travel. They have fixed him, repaired the vessel of his body to the point where he will live, and, in time, recover. I was wrong. They were not enemies. There was only one enemy, and she is dead.
I will be happy to leave this place.
The loud one and the quiet healer stand before his bed, and they are arguing with each other. The quiet healer is not so quiet with the loud one near. But both are smiling.
Gaara-sama sits up, and he is troubled. "Why," he says, "why did you save me…again?"
A flash of anger from the loud one. "What are you talking about?"
"I killed her. And I was going to die. It was enough, but you–"
And then the loud one hits him, a quick slap to the face. Before, I would have uncoiled at this to protect Gaara-sama. But there is no danger in the loud one, and no force behind the blow.
Words burst from the loud one in a mighty whirlwind. "...tired of this!" and "…Kazuki might've hurt you again!" and "don't tell me you deserved it!" but through it all, underneath it all, there is a sense/thought/feeling stronger than words, different from the loudness and the anger and the waving of fists. He is feeling FRIEND at Gaara-sama, and it is so loud and clear it fills the room.
I sense the moment when something shifts. Suddenly Gaara-sama breathes in sharply. FRIEND. His chakra shifts, rises, changes color. FRIEND.
//FRIEND//, Gaara-sama thinks at me, his eyes wide, and then he turns to them, and thinks it again, even stronger. And then he begins to tire, lies back. The quiet one leaves us.
The loud one sits by the bed, strangely silent.
//Rest now, Gaara-sama// I croon to him. //Gaara of the Sand. We are one. We are…//
When I look at the one who watches him, something churns inside me, something I cannot name.
//You are mine to protect, Gaara…
We are leaving.
//She should be scoured from the earth, this one who tried to kill you//
"They will forget her in this village," Gaara-sama says, looking at the grave. "But I'll remember." He looks to where the others of the Sand wait to carry him home. A little ways ahead, the loud one stands with the rising sun behind him, his mouth split open in that toothy way.
//FRIEND// is in Gaara-sama's mind. He starts to hobble forward on his crutches.
//Do not trouble yourself, Gaara-sama. Let me carry you–//
"No," he says aloud, and his voice is firm, though there is a lightness in him I have never known. "I'll walk by myself." //FRIEND//, he thinks again.
He does not look back. He turns from me, toward the rising sun.