Second Bite at the Cherry @sakinthra
Chapter 6

Everyone's chakra had a nature and a signature.

This was beginner stuff. Sakura had learned the concept in school, but they hadn't bothered to go much further than concept, as it was expected that one's jounin instructor would help their genin learn their nature, and signatures were only really important for sensing shinobi. Sakura had never seen herself as a sensing type. Kakashi had mentioned on occasion that she tended towards genjutsu, something that had never panned out due to Kakashi's focus on Sasuke, but if the tendency was there, it was definitely something to explore down the line. But she didn't have a genjutsu scroll, she had a sensing scroll, and that was just how the cards had fallen.

That didn't mean there weren't some interesting cards in the deck. The next jutsu written out on the scroll was a more specific type of sensing, meant to, over time, be combined with the first so that a shinobi could not only sense how many shinobi were in an area and where, but also what type of shinobi they were, and where a specific one was if they knew the signature. (This combination jutsu was referred to as an A-rank technique, and Sakura wasn't stupid enough to think she was going to master that in a day, but it would serve adequately as a 'future goal' to strive for.) If she really was a genjutsu type, being able to determine how many shinobi she needed to affect, as well as the best way to affect them, well…that would certainly make things a lot easier on her. Even just 'knowing her enemy' was a desirable enough skill.

There was a problem, though, because of course there was. She could use the jutsu easily enough on a first try, and could easily tell that there were differences in nature between every shinobi in her range. That wasn't the problem.

The problem was that she had no idea which natures she was looking at. Without a teacher to tell her that a certain person tended towards 'earth' or 'wind' or whichever, all that Sakura could deduce from the jutsu was that people were different from each other, which was entirely useless information. She could (probably correctly) assume that Temari was 'wind' based and go from there, but that was still just an assumption, and she didn't want to put her life on the line going off of an assumption. If she'd been in Konoha she could have just asked each shinobi what they tended towards, but here in Suna? They had an alliance, sure, but going around questioning individual shinobi about their chakra would definitely be seen as suspicious. Gathering information to be used in the future, perhaps.

Equally frustrating was the realization that she couldn't use the jutsu to sense her own chakra. She'd always been curious as to which was she tended, but chakra paper was expensive, and there was no way she could afford it now without income. So, Sakura was left mastering an ability that was absolutely useless to her without some sort of teacher.

This led to an afternoon of moping for Sakura, which she allowed herself. (She'd braved the Suna desert for days, after all, so she deserved a mope break.) Naruto had gone off with Jiraiya, and Sasuke was (unfortunately) training under Orochimaru. Logically, she probably should have gone to Tsunade for aid, maybe even asked to be her apprentice, but how could she take the tutelage of someone who knew so much yet refused to act on it? Tsunade was content enough to play things safe. In a way, Sakura got it. In a world of unknown enemies, it was logical to play things safe, keep withdrawn, ensure they didn't provoke their enemy's ire before they were prepared for it.

But the problem was that Tsunade didn't even seem to be preparing. Sakura had gotten more done and learned more in the past month than in the entirety of her career as a shinobi. Following the rules, staying back, keeping safe...time had proven that shit just didn't get done that way. She hadn't survived the chuunin exams by holding back.

And...well, she couldn't hold back now, could she? Maybe she didn't know what all of these damn chakras correlated with, but that didn't mean she shouldn't practice. One day she would know, and by then she'd be so damn good at this jutsu that she could tell chakras apart in her sleep.

So Sakura made her hand signs and concentrated once more, and once more her senses were overwhelmed with information. There were shinobi everywhere, so many that auras seemed to blend together. It was difficult narrowing down single shinobi. Sakura had begun to gain a newfound respect for official sensing shinobi; it was difficult to concentrate without getting much of a headache.

To the north there were...three shinobi, yes, it had to be three. One of them had a nature that Sakura had dubbed in her mind to be a 'riling' energy, something that seemed to swell up within her and push her to action. It was the most distinct of the natures, and the majority of the shinobi here seemed to have that nature. The other two, however, had a nature that felt better to Sakura: it was calming, putting her at ease and making her feel safe. She had a small inkling that whatever this nature was, it was probably her nature too, and maybe if she watched these shinobi long enough she could get some sort of inkling as to-

All at once, her senses were engulfed by a single chakra. Behind her, directly behind her, an energy seemed to slam into her, and all that Sakura could process was Death, Death and Blood and Pain and everything that terrified her, an chakra that seemed to make every cell in her body scream in fear. Her hand flew to one of her kunai, drawing it as she turned to defend herself, but how could she defend herself against…

Gaara?

The last time she'd seen Gaara, he'd been with his team, dropping off her friends who'd been battered and broken at the hands of Orochimaru's underlings. It had only been brief, then, but even without sensing the shinobi's chakra, Sakura had still been terrified of him. And why not? Before that, Gaara had gone all out trying to kill her and her teammates. She couldn't help but vividly remember how his chakra had transformed him into something half man, half monster. That was Shukaku inside him that she now sensed, Sakura realized, this baffling power was that of a Tailed Beast.

And this time, thank goodness, Gaara was not trying to kill her. This was his passive energy. This is what others in this village had felt from him for years. Knowing this now, Sakura couldn't help but understand why shinobi feared the Jinchuuriki so much. If this was when Gaara was calm, how terrible must his chakra feel when he was enraged, ready to kill?

She forced herself to take a deep breath, and she put her kunai away. "Son of a bitch." She grumbled. "You could afford to give a girl some warning before sneaking up on her while she's concentrating."

Gaara kept the same stoic look that was typical for him. His voice was the peak of apathetic as he spoke. "I was told you wished to speak with me."

"Next time, you could start with 'hello'." Sakura answered, pushing herself to her feet. Her heart was still pounding in her chest like a hammer, and a very large part of her wanted to keep the kunai out, just in case. Gaara seemed to get a curious look on his face at her comment, one that portrayed an emotion Sakura couldn't quite identify. (Maybe it was the lack of eyebrows.) Eventually, Gaara spoke again.

"Hello."

Sakura blinked. Was he...was he trying to be funny? With that deadpan look it was impossible to tell, but if he was at least attempting some sort of humor, well, she could work with that. She needed to humanize Gaara in her mind if she was ever going to understand Jinchuuriki, ever fully understand Naruto.

"Hello." She answered in return. "I don't know if you remember me from that time you tried to kill me, but I'm Naruto's teammate, Sakura, and I'm here to learn about Tailed Beasts."

"Alright. What do you want to know?"

It was that easy? Sakura wondered if he'd gotten permission from his superiors to discuss Shukaku, or if Gaara was just that willing to talk. Either way, she'd been expecting some sort of disclaimer, or a limitation on what she'd be allowed to know. And maybe there still was.

"Well, we could find a place to sit down, first." Sakura suggested. "Maybe we could get dinner." She had picked a somewhat secluded area to practice her chakra sensing, in the hope that she wouldn't be bothered. (Nice pick, she thought to herself, what with Gaara so easily sneaking up on her). Gaara seemed to think on this before turning and beginning to walk away.

"Dinner, then."

Sakura, of course, had no choice but to follow.


It was admittedly odd to see Gaara so at ease, or at least as ease as she ever expected to see him. Supposedly shinobi like Kakashi had similarly fearsome reputations, but she had never thought twice about such things when she considered the at ease, constantly tardy, playful personality that Kakashi had always showed to them. Gaara too had a relaxed side. Gaara too had a place he preferred to eat, or else he'd had enough sensitivity in him to pick a place he'd thought she'd like. (Though Sakura was more likely to believe the former.) Did Gaara have hobbies? Books he liked to read, things he liked to do? She couldn't see him being a prankster like Naruto, not in a million years, but surely there were some things? All at once, Sakura found herself wanting to know more about Gaara than Shukaku.

But Sakura kept her thoughts to herself, enjoying the unique curry that had been brought to her. Suna food was certainly a different experience, but one she was quickly learning to enjoy. Still, she went through three glasses of water before her meal was done, while Gaara hadn't even once seemed to show any sign of discomfort.

"So...Shukaku." Sakura began, not sure where else would be a good start. "Did Temari bring you up to speed about Akatsuki?"

"She informed me that an organization might seek to take Shukaku's power from me." Gaara replied. Alright. Up to speed enough, Sakura supposed.

"Well, they've already attempted to abduct Naruto in the past, and they almost got away with it too. If they're strong enough to infiltrate a village and take out three jounin, I don't even want to think about what they'll be like with a Beast inside them. You're scary enough." Sakura hesitated. "Er, well...I don't mean to be rude, but you're pretty scary."

Gaara simply nodded at this, but said nothing else. The awkward silences were quickly becoming the scariest part of the conversation.

"So, well, I don't want Naruto to get abducted. I'm looking into Akatsuki to try and better prepare us for future attacks, but I feel like in order to understand Akatsuki, I need to learn more about the Tailed Beasts. Since you're the only other Jinchuuriki I directly know, I figured I'd come here first. I don't know how much you can tell me, but…" Sakura pulled out a small scroll from her pack. Notes, she'd need to take down notes in case there was anything important. "Well, how about I ask and you can tell me what you're able to?" Silence greeted her again, but since he was protesting, Sakura took it as an affirmation. "Maybe, well...have you ever communicated with Shukaku?"

This seemed to elicit a response out of Gaara. For a brief moment, did he look nervous? Nervous, maybe even uneasy. "Never on purpose." He finally admitted. "But communication is possible."

"It is?" Sakura couldn't help but feel excited at the news. Did that mean Naruto could communicate with the Kyuubi inside of him? Or maybe he'd already done it and she hadn't known? "How does it work? Some sort of telepathy?"

"Yes. His voice enters my thoughts when he wills it. Though not as much recently." Gaara's nervousness was still apparent. A touchy subject? "I don't know why you would want to communicate with them."

"Well, my hope was that it could help Naruto out. If he can control the Kyuubi, maybe it will make it harder for Akatsuki to make off with him." Sakura shrugged. "I don't know. I guess the problem is I don't really know a lot about how Jinchuurikis work. Nobody really seems to. I went through all my village had on them and the best I got was that they were pretty good weapons, but that's not how I want to see Naruto. That's...not how anyone should be seeing any of the Jinchuuriki."

"Like it or not, that is why we exist. We exist to be weapons. We exist to kill for our village." Gaara retorted. "And we exist as a prison. Should Shukaku be allowed to rampage, he would not stop until he had ensured humanity's destruction. Shukaku does not care for anything but death."

"Yeah, I kinda got that." Sakura winced, memories of Gaara's transformation still vivid in her mind. "But haven't you ever been curious as to why?"

This thought was enough to keep Gaara silent for a while. Sakura as well. She allowed herself to mull over her words. The Kyuubi had attacked their village upon its freedom, yes, and someone had clearly freed it for that purpose, but was the Kyuubi really an unfeeling force of destruction? If Shukaku had enough sapience to hold some sort of conversation with Gaara, to hold desires, even destructive ones, then it was intelligent enough to have reasons why.

"I'd never had reason to ask." Gaara finally admitted. "Some things are just assumed."

"Then how would you feel about trying to ask? I think it could be helpful either way, and if you're successful than certainly Naruto would be able to-"

"No." Gaara spoke. "I will not speak with him. It is too risky. Allowing him words gives him opportunity to work his influence over me, and I will not allow that again."

It was the most assertive she'd ever seen him. On this, Gaara did not seem as though he could be swayed. Ah, well, it had been worth a try. Just the knowledge that it was possible was enough. "Okay." Sakura took down her notes. "Okay, no talking with Shukaku. Now, I know I probably won't get any answers for these next questions, but it's worth a try. Is there anything that's effective in controlling Shukaku? Certain types of jutsu, certain states of mind, anything I can pass along to Naruto so he has a better chance with the Kyuubi?"

It took even longer for Gaara to answer this time, but when he did, Sakura could have sworn she heard some sort of emotion in his voice. "Acceptance." Gaara explained. "Acceptance and...companionship. As long as you are there for him, Naruto will not falter to the Kyuubi's influence."

Acceptance...something, Sakura wondered, if Gaara had ever experienced. Even just walking here with him to dinner, she had seen the cold looks and frightened eyes that had turned Gaara's way. Something Naruto had supposedly dealt with in his youth. Naruto had friends now, companions to help shoulder the burden, and Gaara? Gaara didn't seem to have anyone.

Had that been melancholy in his voice, then?

"You know, I don't blame you for trying to kill me." Sakura found herself speaking without thinking. "I mean, it was terrifying facing you, but it was just what you'd been ordered to do. And you helped out when Sasuke left, so...so I can't hold anything against you, just for that. Sasuke is my friend and I-" Well, maybe talking about her love for Sasuke was a bit heavy handed. "I'm just grateful that so many came for him where I failed. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't care what happened in the past. You tried to help Naruto and Sasuke, so you're my friend now, got it?"

Gaara didn't have anything to say to that. But Sakura could have sworn she saw a hint of a smile on the shinobi's face.

1. Chapter 1 848 0 0 2. Chapter 2 3162 0 0 3. Chapter 3 2532 0 0 4. Chapter 4 2819 0 0 5. Chapter 5 2551 0 0 6. Chapter 6 2767 0 0 7. Chapter 7 2188 0 0 8. Chapter 8 1950 0 0 9. A Brief Intermission 949 0 0 10. Chapter 10 4053 0 0 11. Chapter 11 3692 0 0 12. Two Worlds Away (Intermission Part Two) 1320 0 0 13. Chapter 13 3836 0 0 14. Chapter 14 2739 0 0 15. Chapter 15 2390 0 0 16. Failures (Intermission Part Three) 2824 0 0 17. Chapter 17 3234 0 0 18. Chapter 18 6529 0 0 19. Chapter 19 4214 0 0 20. Three's a Drag (Intermission Part Four) 2630 0 0 21. Chapter 21 3341 0 0 22. Chapter 22 2924 0 0 23. Chapter 23 6969 0 0 24. Chapter 24 3801 0 0 25. Chapter 25 4158 0 0 26. Alliances (Intermission Part Five) 2667 0 0 27. Chapter 27 6918 0 0 28. Act One Epilogue 30 0 0 29. Act Two Prologue 1 0 0 30. Chapter 30 7214 0 0 31. Chapter 31 3687 0 0 32. Other Worlds, Other Minds (Int Part 6) 7031 0 0 33. Chapter 33 2703 0 0 34. Chapter 34 2734 0 0 35. Chapter 35 3454 0 0 36. Chapter 36 3502 0 0 37. Chapter 37 2836 0 0 38. Sparks (Intermission Part Seven) 3351 0 0 39. Chapter 39 3664 0 0 40. Chapter 40 4064 0 0 41. Chapter 41 4611 0 0 42. Chapter 42 3675 0 0 43. Chapter 43 3720 0 0 44. Alekhine (Intermission Part Eight) 1118 0 0 45. Chapter 45 6405 0 0 46. Chapter 46 6106 0 0 47. Chapter 47 4601 0 0 48. Chapter 48 4531 0 0 49. Chapter 49 3483 0 0 50. Coming Storm (Intermission Part Nine) 7177 0 0 51. Chapter 51 4480 0 0 52. Chapter 52 5763 0 0 53. Chapter 53 3722 0 0 54. Chapter 54 4708 0 0 55. Chapter 55 5271 0 0 56. Chapter 56 5280 0 0 57. Sounding Thunder (Intermission Part Ten) 2812 0 0 58. Chapter 58 9001 0 0 59. Chapter 59 4492 0 0 60. Chapter 60 5379 0 0 61. Chapter 61 9941 0 0 62. Chapter 62 8222 0 0 63. Chapter 63 4430 0 0 64. Chapter 64 4766 0 0 65. Chapter 65 7008 0 0 66. Chapter 66 5769 0 0 67. Act Two Epilogue 2816 0 0 68. The Months Between 9232 0 0 69. Act Three Prologue 96 0 0 70. Chapter 70 5300 0 0 71. Chapter 71 5013 0 0 72. Chapter 72 4580 0 0 73. Chapter 73 5123 0 0 74. Chapter 74 3585 0 0 75. Chapter 75 3963 0 0 76. Chapter 76 4747 0 0 77. Chapter 77 3671 0 0 78. Chapter 78 2347 0 0 79. Chapter 79 5030 0 0 80. Chapter 80 3135 0 0 81. Chapter 81 4371 0 0 82. Arbitrium (Intermission Part Twelve) 3793 0 0 83. Chapter 83 3219 0 0 84. Chapter 84 2189 0 0 85. Chapter 85 2827 0 0