Each Grain of Sand is a Story

In which Gaara is teeny tiny and Shukaku is not a babysitter. Really, he's not.

Shukaku wanted to bury his head in the sand and stay there.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't do him any good.

He'd already tried that and it hadn't helped in the slightest.

No matter how far he burrowed, he just couldn't escape the wailing. He did not remember his host screaming this much the first time around. Or maybe he'd just been better at ignoring it then. Honestly, couldn't these damn humans figure out a way to shut up their own spawn?

Apparently not because Gaara had been screaming for hours and it didn't look like he was going to stop anytime soon.

Tch. Useless all of them. They're so scared of him they'll let the kid suffer and not feel the slightest bit of guilt over it.

"You better appreciate this, brat," he grumbled.

Suna had never been particularly good at sealing. That wasn't to say they were bad, exactly – the seal did its job, it kept him contained, but that was literally all it did. The only thing the seal he was under now did was keep him trapped within Gaara's body. So it was no effort at all to find the boy's consciousness and drag it into his mindscape.

The little boy before him was nothing like the obedient, blood thirsty child he had crafted or the Kage with a spine of steel strong enough to weather even the harshest of sandstorms. No, he wasn't even old enough to be considered a boy – he was a baby, not a warrior. No control whatsoever of his body; he flailed and stumbled and had absolutely no balance. His head was too big and his limbs too scrawny and he looked far too squishy to take a hit.

His lungs worked just fine though.

"Oi, brat."

Gaara visibly startled, a flinch wracking his entire body, head jerking up. Shukaku found himself staring into a pair of wide, wet, pale eyes.

Well now what?

"You're loud," the Ichibi said after a long moment.

Gaara made a sound somewhere between a hiccup and a sniffle.

Shukaku groaned. "This is ridiculous. What the hell am I supposed to do with you?" he grumbled, "I can't do anything with you; you're tiny. I can't fight you when you're tiny."

Gaara shifted, crawling over to him and reaching out to touch one of his claws with a tiny hand. "San'," he said, patting Shukaku firmly.

The Ichibi huffed. "What of it, brat?"

"San'," Gaara said again, looking utterly pleased with himself.

Shukaku rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. "Fine, fine," he said and with a wave, sand swirled around them, twisting and twining through the air. "How's that?"

Gaara squealed and clapped his hands, pale eyes bright in a way that Shukaku could never remember seeing in his host before. The boy reached out for the sand, fearless in a way that only small children ever are, watching with a mesmerized expression as it curled around his fingers and up his arm to lightly caress his cheek. Gaara giggled at the touch, light and happy.

Shukaku settled back to watch as his host played with the sand, every so often shifting the grains in the air into a different shape or moving them in a new way that would make Gaara laugh and smile and clap.

"Work with them, huh?" he murmured to himself, watching as Gaara tried to give chase to cat made of sand, his small, awkward limbs making the simple task into a challenge.

Still, the boy didn't quit and his smile never dimed. His laughter echoed through their shared mindscape, loud and free, but Shukaku couldn't find it in himself to mind. It was far better than the constant screaming after all.

This boy was not the one he'd left behind, the one he'd been taken from. The one who'd defended him as best he could even after all the torment and pain Shukaku had put him through. The one who'd become a Kage in spite of what he was and what Shukaku did to him. The one who died protecting his friend.

No, this boy was not that boy.

Would probably never be that boy.

Because Shukaku already knew that what he did to Gaara before, he'd never be able to do again.

Not after everything that had happened.

But not tormenting him and working with him were two very different things and generations of anger and resentment didn't disappear overnight. The humans had never been kind to him, never saw him as anything other than a monster, a tool, a weapon.

Yet Gaara had always been just as much a victim of their cruelties as he – not even born into the world before Shukaku was sealed inside him.

Shukaku didn't think he could work with humans, not yet. But Gaara was young, so very, very young. A baby really. There was time and for all he hated it, his confinement had taught him patience. He could wait. There was no rush to fulfill the request that had been made of him and siblings. Not yet.

Did he want to work with the humans?

No, he didn't.

But could he work with Gaara?

The boy smiled up at him from atop a large pile of sand, the cat curled up in his arms.

"We'll see, Naruto," Shukaku said, "We'll see."

Smol!Gaara is adorable and Shukaku is reluctant babysitter. Fight me.

Until next time,