Gaara had set objectives, if objectives difficult to achieve in any form of a near future, and he never ceased to strive toward them. When not working to the bone (in a less literal sense than might have been applied to Kimimaru) over the various issues relating to the handling of a fallen Village, and the refusal to allow its complete disappearance, he worked in training. Though no longer possible to go by completely without sleep, because as much as the effort toward insomnia had been to escape Shukaku, it had been much of Shukaku's mixed chakra that permitted him the energy.
But he did not sleep much, all the same. Speed became the primary issue, and learning the most basic of jutsu, so to affiliate himself with what he had never needed to learn. But those had been covered in the first years since losing his demon, and Gaara strove to stretch beyond basic, to know true speed, to not have to rely on the sand, to find an ability and strength he might have if there had never been a Shukaku.
He worked currently with kunai, with targets and aiming, with weaponry and moving as if chased, as if his mother were not in some sand to surround him. His gourd remained against one tree, composed of sand and packed tight by an effort that was nearly subconscious. He had no time to feel ridiculous for indulging in the work of a Genin, of a Chuunin, the fallen Kazekage; only time to improve. Learning to focus on the matter at hand, on the branch to sever with the flight of a slight blade, and not the politics which otherwise haunted.
Settling briefly on a thicker branch, though still quite small, he took controlled breaths and examined the target, many meters away. The blade was off-center. His eyes narrowed, almost to slits, as he reigned in his frustration. With sand, it was nothing.
Though Sasuke would have preferred to approach without being seen in the first place, one didn't just sneak up on a Kage, if nothing else out respect for the position. Also because of what he planned to do--inquire as to what to expect as far as the climate of Wind as well as copy/learn jutsu, and just 'stealing' the jutsu could put a strain on relations between Leaf and Sand. Sasuke honestly didn't care much, but he didn't want to have to deal with Tsunade bitching at him were something to happen. So he approached openly though, eyes a monochrome black.
When he saw the sand moving around in the training area, he itched to use Sharingan to see the jutsu being used. Control asserted itself and he didn't. He stopped about a hundred meters from the green-eyed redhead and waited to be noticed.
His irritation with the target, rather, with himself, did not prevent him from noticing the open approach of the Uchiha. Even if he had not been aware of it due to being physically alert, he had a few eyes of sand in the vicinity. Gaara took an easy jump from the tree and landed, able to do that at least nimbly, without a sound, and facing Uchiha Sasuke. His arms moved into the habitual cross, hand over sleeve, and he nodded a greeting. Sweat dampened his brow, a new event for the past years.
Sasuke returned the nod though added a verbal greeting. "Kazekage-sama. I apologize if I've disturbed your training." Words, practiced courtesies. Annoying things but necessary all the same. Still, he kept his voice and expression to bland politeness, showing nothing of the thoughts in his head.
"Not at all," Gaara responded, his own voice and expression bland simply due to his being very easily without emotion, to his having mastered a restraint from emotion. It had been a miserable session, though that only fueled the need to persist in it. But the Uchiha had clearly come with business, and Gaara would not subscribe to impropriety and ignore him.
"What's your purpose?" He asked, intending to be direct rather than blunt or rude. He would not close the gap, however.
Sasuke maintained the distance as well. "Two-fold," he returned with the same directness. "I would appreciate any information you could give into the kinds of quirks one might run into in Wind Country's deserts, as that is where the mission I'm assigned is headed." Which Gaara already knew, as approval had had to come from him to have his older brother on Sasuke's team. "I was also curious if you would be willing to teach me any sand-related jutsu, as there is no better place than a land of sand to practice such."
Gaara considered the first briefly. He had lived, breathed, devoted himself to the desert, to the extent that he had shared a shell with the demon of the sand for fifteen years, had bathed in sand, had worn it often as his skin, still carried pieces of said desert with him (the bloodstained composing his gourd), the issues of terrain. But what would be pertinent to a mission within the Wind Country, he knew his brother could cover just as well.
"Have you asked Kankurou?" He questioned, bemused. "He knows just as well. It might have facilitated communication, team wise, rather coming to me." And wasting his time; Gaara suspected that question was a formality, to keep it from being a matter of walking up and demanding to know his jutsu.
True. But. "While I agree, with all due respect you have a more intimate knowledge of the desert than he." Asking Kankurou was a second choice, and seeing as the mission had only just been assigned, if Gaara wished not to discuss it, there was still time to chat with the other brother.
"He knows what is necessary," Gaara noted, his eyes unwavering, his arms unmoving. Almost flattery there. "I can tell you, but I believe it better for you to ask him, for the reason I've already said." Communication. Kankurou might yet appreciate seriousness toward the mission and toward understanding the forsaken country.
"In regard to my jutsu," Gaara continued, pausing then. Having been looking so far at the Uchiha "prodigy," there was no greater intensity of gaze. Simply the continuation. A long pause as Gaara considered words he had already been musing over. It would do no good to be suspicious of this one, though he was. It was not a refusal to share, but recognition of one simple fact.
"I once told you that your eyes looked like mine. My eyes have changed, and with all due respect," there was no sarcasm, the ongoing monotone, "I do not think your eyes have changed much at all."
Sasuke had not forgotten that, nor that Gaara and his siblings had been asked by Tsunade to be part of the backup force to bring Sasuke back to Konoha after his attempted flight to Otogakure. "Perhaps not." Not quite amicable agreement, more like acceptance of what is. "Naruto believes there has been some change."
Ah. Gaara acknowledged that, both mentally and now with a tilt of his head forward, just slightly.
"Yes." Pause. But Naruto, as much as Gaara had affection for him, tended to have blind faith in people. While Naruto had then proved his faith warranted, in that people changed rapidly, himself included, Gaara could not help but retain aspects of the cynicism that had ruled his early life. The collapse of his village did help to renew it.
"I do not care what you do, or what your eyes mean. It would interest me only in terms of how swiftly you master my jutsu. However... That person does care. That person cares where it ends, what you do, and what it means." Could Gaara admit that Naruto's confidence didn't set him at ease?
He chewed over it a moment more. "I assume you would tell me, that person would approve." And of course, if Naruto were to come to him and say, show Sasuke your jutsu, Gaara would. And Gaara would give him his right or left lung, if asked, or a few fingers, an eye. Anything but what he needed to live and to train-- though Naruto had saved his life, due to his own failure, he could not yet give it back. Not yet. He had too much to do.
"...." He relented, lifting his chin before turning to walk to walk toward his gourd. The action was unnecessary for a number of reasons. He could make sand with no effort, and even if not, could have had the sand in the area bring it to him. Nonetheless, he acquainted himself evermore with mobility.
"There are only a few actual jutsu I can show you, and those will be useless without acquainting yourself with the sand. Much of it is chakra manipulation of the sand." Lifting the gourd, and strapping it in place, the shape of it shifting and lightening for the process.
"...However," he said, his arms crossing again, his tone matter-of-fact. "If you disappoint that person, I may be forced to show you how well I know the sand."
While aware of the genius of the Uchiha, Gaara was confident that he would always have the upper hand, when it came to the jutsu of the sand. He was very nearly composed of sand himself. If the sand could not live in the leaf, how could a leaf replicate the sand? But best not to underestimate the Sharingan.
Sasuke well understood the threat Gaara implied, and while it was respected (only an idiot wouldn't) it wasn't feared. Dying didn't faze Sasuke; not completing at least one of his life-goals did. "Acquaint myself with the sand?" he asked with a touch of curiosity as his eyes spun to claret and ebony. The disappointment comment was heard but he chose not to respond to it verbally. Not that Sasuke sought to do it, but Naruto set himself up for disappointments and that really wasn't Sasuke's fault now was it? It was dangerous, being Sasuke's friend. Since being ordered to stay with Naruto, that dark inner voice (which sounded a lot like Itachi when the air was still) seemed to whisper every night about how close he was to obtaining the Mangekyou. How easy it would be. And every night he fought it and ignored it, though he was only human and hungry for power at that. Given enough time and every resolve dissolves under strong enough pressure.
"It isn't as simple as chakra manipulation," Gaara began to explain, the sand comprising the gourd's cork trickling away as the malodorous sand flowed free. "You use the chidori, a concentration of your chakra. But concentration is not enough. It is not a matter of flooding chakra into a condensed point, but," and especially when one didn't have a demon's chakra to fall back on, "a controlled release and manipulation, extending it much farther beyond that point, to many, many points; every grain of sand. You grab the sand with your chakra, and once able to do that, further manipulate it with jutsu. Sand covered in chakra, such as that in my gourd, is more easily moved once taken in by chakra."
He paused, and almost smile; the ghost of an expression. "Or that might be the blood. I've yet to come to a conclusion."
The sand snaked around him, pooling near his feet, though nowhere near all of it had left the gourd's packing. It was second nature; as nearly was the sand skin he perpetually had in place during training, and occasionally not. "The jutsu are very much willpower," he continued, "though I do not doubt you have plenty of that."
In a way, a way that Gaara had recognized once, he and Sasuke had certain similarities. While Gaara might have scoffed once at the idea of anyone else being able to manipulate sand, he would not be so vain. It would be interesting, to say the least.
"...It's difficult for me to explain it, beyond that," he acknowledged, lifting an arm at a loose angle as the sand gathered into his palm. He curled his fingers in, rubbing the tips against the rough grains. "I've never had to think of it." When he had, it had already been so natural...
That's all right, all I need is to see how you do it. Sasuke watched raptly, his eyes able to see the chakra as it was used to move the sand. The control needed to manipulate the tiny grains was great, but in some ways it was similar to Rasengan in that there he needed to branch of chakra into fine wires. So, what better place to start from there?
He reached down to scoop up a small handful of sand before focusing chakra to his palm. Instead of starting with Rasengan's core, he started with the fine wires which he tried to make 'sticky' in order to grab sand. It was difficult though he did manage to get a teeny portion of the grains to whirl on what to the naked eye would appear to be nothing.
"Part of the reason for your gourd, then, is to have sand your chakra can easily grasp and mold into useful shapes?" he asked, his eyes still on his hand.
Gaara did smile, then, a shadow of an old mania though far less diabolical. Fascinating. His eyes were tuned to the movement of the sand, and Sasuke did catch on very quickly. The amazing Sharingan, indeed. Completely fascinating, and the ability that came with it? It almost struck him with envy. He watched with approval as the grains moved in a swirl.
"There's that," Gaara agreed, plus the particular quality of the sand. But his mother was something else entirely.
There was more, but likely attributed to Shukaku. Sasuke kept concentrating on the sand in his hand before he let his hand drop. He furrowed his brows as he focused on keeping the 'caught' sand in mid-air. Without the flow from his hand it was harder to hold the grains so he lost some but most he retained. After about ten seconds he brought his hand up to catch the sand when he felt the intense control begin to slip even though it was minor. For this, he surmised, there had to be only precision and a partial grip simply wouldn't do. He would condition for all or nothing...which probably meant keeping the same sand on him for a while until he was more used to this.
Terrific. If Gaara were in a voluntary teaching situation, if he held pride in his student, he might have uttered some form of encouragement. Or perhaps not, his deficiency in socializing quite extreme, thus why he really had no business being a teacher. Further, as he did this out of courtesy and interest, he felt little obliged to be supportive. But Sasuke hardly needed it. It would be only annoying, useless words.
"To state the obvious, an effective jutsu with sand requires much more of it, and far more versatility of control."
Gaara doubted he needed to tell Sasuke to watch; he glanced unnecessarily to his left, pinpointing a tree well in the midst of rot. Nor did he insult Sasuke by performing the very simple movements slowly. He moved his hands swiftly, beneath his nose his ring fingers meeting but angling out at a diagonal, not quite perpendicular from one another; his index and middle fingers curled around one another, his pinkies separate due to the width of the triangle formed, where his thumbs met at a joint, bending outward.
His right arm thrust out as his left leveled his hand at his mouth, index and middle finger pointing up, ring and pinkie down, thumb around. He jerked his right; the hand partially cupped as the sand twisted thickly around the drooping tree, and as his other arm dropped, clenched his hand into a fist. Easy. The sand condensed, crushing inward, shattering the tree in an implosion of sand.
One could employ two coffins at once, and the thrusting motion was less necessary and more, especially now, as an aid in focusing the direction, the visualization.
Sasuke watched just as attentively as before, approving of Gaara's choice to go through the seals at normal speed. It would take time and effort to get to the point of the Desert Coffin and the Funeral, but it would be well worth it. Even Itachi, good as he was, would have trouble with it. (Though if things went as planned, Itachi wouldn't survive it.) He remembered hearing about the Ame nin during that Chuunin exam and of Lee in the preliminaries. This was power. This is something he would learn, and the mission to Wind would provide plenty of sand.
Already he was debating how much 'core' sand to keep on him. As for using the Coffin/Funeral combination, unless he was willing to sacrifice sand-speed he would need a significant amount. Unfortunately it would cut down his bodily speed as sand is heavy, and Sasuke was by nature a speedy fighter. It was part of who he was and something Sharingan enhanced due to its ability to foresee movements based on the barest of clues.
Maybe he could store the sand in a summoning scroll...? This, too, would need ponderance.
Effortless. Or nearly. The weight and manipulation of immense amount of sand, then the concentration to crush an object completely, it was so much easier than speed, than the rest which he continually struggled to familiarize himself with, even while augmenting his various abilities with the sand.
Even if Sasuke were Naruto, Gaara would not offer his gourd-- not because of speed, but due to a likely silly that whatever else in the sand might not take. The sand returned to him, packing into the gourd.
"Once you've managed to control the sand, the next step is creating it." As simple, to Gaara's mind, if all the chakra put into successive techniques required his being aware and more frugal with use, getting the most out of the least, as had never been a worry before. Another difficult thing to explain was this, as Gaara could crush a great deal of the soil and rocks without effort. Desert Avalanche required a jutsu, or rather, as with clenching a fist, more physical affirmations of the demands on the sand.
"To create sand, simply, or not so, crush the rocks, minerals, soil into sand. In one perspective, it might be a refinement of the Coffin and Funeral, except with only chakra." The indication, really, that it was not nimbly that Gaara had some infinite connection to sand that no other could achieve. Only chakra control and ability especially honed toward all things related. "The sand is slower, at first, but infinite."
Thus the sand required in Desert Avalanche, or Requiem.
Sasuke nodded and reached into his hip pouch. Grasping a scroll tube he used his thumb to push the lid off so when he tilted the tube the scroll slid out into his pouch. The lid was retrieved before both it and the tube were brought around front for the core sand to be poured into (with a small amount of chakra to get the clinging grains from his skin into the tube) and the lid replaced. Crushing soil was of interest though determining how much chakra would be necessary to create an amount sufficient for whichever jutsu he decided to do would, again, take time.
Well. Not like he was expecting to master any of this overnight, and it would give him something to focus his attention on so he could forget about everything else, at least for a time. The thought was encouraging and also comforting, in a way. In training alone it seemed he could find a kind of peace because there was no past, no future, only the technique at hand.
He inclined his head in gratitude though spoke the words "thank you" anyway. Redundant but respectful, and he was appreciative.
Gaara only nodded. He let the words fade in air before uttering a thought of interest to him as well, it scraping off his tongue in the same sand-paper monotone as the rest had.
"If you would be interested in training," he said, plainly, as directly as ever, "It would be to my benefit as well."
His expression remained slack. There were a number of individuals he would ideally seek to train beside, to test his strength, reminiscent of that need so long ago but far less malicious. While Gaara always, always focused on sand, on his best, he had been prevented from taijutsu in the past by the nature of the response of the sand to collision -- he thus meant to approach Rock Lee, in time, as well.
Sasuke considered, then nodded. Actually working with the person whose jutsu he copied would be more beneficial to him learning it quickly and correctly (something better than the haphazard way he had first learned Rasengan). "I have some time tomorrow but the day after I will be leaving on that mission," he responded. "When I return, I wouldn't mind picking up where we leave off."
Gaara of course knew the time of the mission, but Sasuke's answer was thorough. Another nod, acknowledging the agreement. "Tomorrow I also have time," he noted, "though we may want to be a little more specific."
An entire day did have twenty-four hours in it.
A flicker of amusement (in the form of a smirk) briefly crossed Sasuke's features. "It would probably be easier for me to accommodate your schedule, Kazekage-sama. When will you be free?" he asked, the presumption being they would meet here unless Gaara named a different location.
Gaara had no need to consider, having reflected over it previously. "Five, fourteen, and nineteen," he summarized in characteristic brevity, operating under the same presumption.
"Fourteen hundred's fine," Sasuke replied. Five in the morning normally wasn't a problem, but as he planned on working on this jutsu on his own later tonight he wanted to have a stretch where he could sleep undisturbed.
"Remember to ask Kankurou," Gaara replied, as both agreement and good-bye. He bore a very slight smirk, minimal before gone, and for Gaara it was hinting at his earlier suspicion; that Sasuke had only asked after the climate in order to sugarcoat his actual purpose.
The smirk was seen and understood, irritation flashing momentarily below the surface. It didn't matter what Gaara thought; in Sasuke's experience people believed only what they wanted to. Sasuke inclined his head politely before departing. One of the Kazekage's advisors would have a better idea of where the puppeteer would at the moment.
Still, Sasuke had meant what he'd said. Who better to understand the desert than someone who used that landscape to his own advantage? However it was possible that because of housing Shukaku the desert didn't affect Gaara the same as it would someone who wasn't a Jinchuuriki in which case Kankurou would be the better source of information acquired through personal experience.
As the Uchiha left, Gaara turned to regard the unsatisfactory targets once more. It would indeed be interesting to train against him, to observe what other jutsu he had been copying, and to be sure of his own ability. But people did believe only what they wanted to, and Gaara had little problem with bias, especially a bias so well-supported.
It wasn't that Gaara felt uneasy about Uchiha Sasuke using his jutsu, even mastering it. It wasn't that speaking to Uzumaki Naruto about his confidence in him would make Gaara feel better, simply because Gaara had nothing to feel better about. Or so he told himself: he would be very displeased if Naruto were to be disappointed. He did have very much to worry about, without having to worry about Naruto as well, and thought he might pay him a visit, if only to be able to keep it completely out of mind.