Characters: Kankurou and Gaara (and Temari too, although not as much)
Genre: Gen/yey! Siblings!
Rating: Probably PG-13ish?
Warnings: All the blood and gore involved with Gaara killing things, language.
Summary: When a rare thunderstorm in Suna brings back memories of the old Gaara, a few small acts of kindness go a long way.
Disclaimer: Given that I'm not Kishi, I don't own Naruto.
A/N: I've been wanting to write for a while about the... weird family dynamics the Sandsibs have. They seem to change a lot during the timeskip especially, so this is set during that period.
Kankurou mounts the stairs as the sounds of wind and rain intensify. In the suite in the cellar, the noise is dampened into an indistinct roaring, but the higher he climbs in the towers of the palace, the louder and clearer it becomes. Here is the wailing of the wind and here: the boom of thunder. He can no longer hear the sound of his own footsteps.
Suna is dry as dust; sometimes Kankurou thinks it must be the driest place in the entire world. It’s certainly the driest place that he can imagine, and he’s lived here all his life; he’s as used to it as it’s possible for anyone to be. It has been years since it has rained like this.
(Five years and seven months, to be exact. He’s not likely to forget anytime soon.)
The rains have come again.
The day of the last storm like this has hardly left a good memory behind. It doesn’t matter that apart from their unusual intensity the storms themselves share little in common– this is the aftereffect of a massive hurricane come up from the south while the previous one started in Bird Country and brought with it the thing called sleet– because they’re still too similar for Kankurou’s tastes. A tiny tremor passes through him; it starts in his core and tries to move outward, although he suppresses it before it can reach the surface. It doesn’t matter if nobody’s watching. When you’re seventeen and the older brother of the kazekage, you shouldn’t be shivering over a mere memory. (Never mind that it’s the person who is now kazekage who is to blame for that shiver in the first place.)
He bites back his thoughts when he reaches the top of the stairs. The door to Gaara’s office is ajar, and he knocks against the doorframe a few times without response before easing the door open and stepping in.
The room is dark and quiet save for the light and sound of the storm. There is a picture window directly behind the desk, and shades across it have been flung open to give as wide a view as possible of the sky outside: the strange, dark gray clouds; the momentary white flashes; the pall of rain. And what rain! The staccato thud it makes against the glass is louder than he would have expected.
Gaara is sitting at his desk, but with his back turned to the door– looking out the window, it seems. Kankurou clears his throat loudly, but Gaara’s as strange as ever: he doesn’t turn around, doesn’t give any sign that he has heard it at all. The back of his head, which is all that can be seen over the high back of his chair, doesn’t move even the smallest bit. After hesitating for a moment, Kankurou walks forward until he was standing at his brother’s side, although if he thinks this will make matters clearer, he’s mistaken.
Gaara sits like a statue– a scrawny, red-haired statue, Kankurou says to himself– with his hands in his lap and his fingers barely touching. His eyes are closed, although he can’t be asleep, because he’s Gaara and Gaara doesn’t sleep. (And because if he were asleep, the treacherous little voice in the back of Kankurou’s mind insists, you wouldn’t be here, this room and its picture window wouldn’t be here, and those small hands wouldn’t be here. All that would be here would be the wind and the rain, blood and Shuukaku.) He might almost be dead if it weren’t for the faint, slow rising and falling of his chest.
Kankurou stares for a minute or so before he starts to have serious regrets about having come up here in the first place. Why couldn’t it have been Temari? This was her idea in the first place; she was the one who thought that, given the circumstances, somebody should go and check on Gaara– somebody meaning anyone other than her, apparently. He sighs and he’s about to turn and leave, and that’s when Gaara finally does something.
“You can stay. If you like,” he says, and his eyes flutter open.
“Oh. You’re awake– not that I thought you were asleep, but....” Damn. When it comes right down to it, perhaps he’s no better at conversation than Gaara is– quite a frightening prospect.
There is no reply and they lapse back into silence as Gaara looks away from him and turns to face the window once more– but his eyes are still open this time and it’s as if he’s searching for some infinitely small thing hidden among the raindrops.
“Temari and I were just finishing up some of the paperwork since we’re stuck inside anyway,” Kankurou explains after a while. “We noticed you forgot to sign a couple of things. But if you don’t want to do it now....”
“No, that’s fine,” he replies absentmindedly. “Give me the papers.”
And he holds out his hand– slowly; for some reason, he moves very slowly. He doesn’t seem to have seen through his brother’s thin pretext– a pathetic excuse, really; he wouldn’t even try it on any other shinobi, but Gaara still doesn’t have a very good feeling for these sorts of things, and sometimes you need to make excuses in order to cover up your worries– for coming to see him, or else he’s very good at hiding it, but that’s Gaara. After taking the sheaf of papers in hand he reaches behind him (slowly, still; why so slowly?) for a pen and starts scratching his signature across the pages.
“The last time it rained like this was when our father was alive,” he comments as he writes. His tone is typical Gaara– so matter-of-fact that Kankurou isn’t entirely sure whether he’s expected to reply or not. But what the hell?
“I was just thinking about that too. Seems like it’s been a long time, doesn’t it?”
Gaara turns away from the window then and gives him a surprised look. “No, not really. It hasn’t been long at all.”
A pause, and then, “No, I suppose it hasn’t.”
And then an uneasy silence. A particularly bright flash of lightning turns the room an eerie silver-white for a split-second, and the following thunder shakes the windowpanes. Kankurou tries to pretend that doesn’t bother him.
“It’s better now, though,” Gaara mutters after a while. “It doesn’t upset me now. Not like last time. I can deal with it.”
(–Is there a certain pointedness to that last statement? Perhaps he has determined the real reason for Kankurou’s visit. Or, more likely, perhaps it’s not Kankurou he needs to reassure.)
“Not like last time,” he repeats, more than a little wistfully.
The first storm started an hour or so before noon, but in every way that mattered, it came very late. Temari was twelve, Kankurou eleven.
She was soon to graduate from the Academy and anyway, she was one of the type of girls that do most of their growing quickly and early on. The past summer their father had told her to pack up her things and choose a new bedroom on the basis that perhaps it was no longer appropriate for she and Kankurou to share a bed. (Which Kankurou personally thought was ridiculous; it wasn’t like he watched her undress or anything, and anyway, as he had already decided, She Was Temari And Temari Was A Shithead.)
From here on out, there wouldn’t be many more opportunities to laugh at the rain.
But there was a little time left, even still. A little could be enough. They hastily threw their fans and puppets, scrolls and kunai down on their beds, shook off their sandals, and rushed outside. Ironic, of course, but that’s the way things work out sometimes: for the first time in what seemed like years, they were children more than they were shinobi, brother and sister more than children of the kazekage.
It was simple and stupid, and for that reason fun just to jump up and down in the puddles, to shatter the water beneath their feet, press their toes into the pleasant chill of the rapidly accumulating slicks of this ‘sleet’ and shout for no other reason than shouting. Temari caught him when his guard was down and pushed him so that he fell on his ass into a puddle of slush. But her laughter on the cold wind was somehow gladdening.
She started to shiver, and they realized their clothes were all soaked through and were starting to stiffen with ice. Temari at least looked like a drowned rat.
“Fucking cold,” she commented, but she was still smiling. “Holy– what do you think it would be like to have weather like this all the time?”
“Fucking cold,” he agreed.
They didn’t say, It isn’t so bad though, is it? To be cold with your family, instead of staying inside in the warmth alone? It’s not bad at all.
It’s on that last sentiment that they were the most wrong. By the time you’re eleven, they would later chide themselves, you should know better. This carelessness couldn’t last.
It was Gaara, of course, who came to dispel their illusions. And it was Kankurou who first noticed him; he happened to look up on a whim and saw Gaara balancing precariously on the railing of the balcony above. When she noticed how still he was standing, Temari stopped and followed his gaze upward, and then they both instinctively stepped closer together and their eyes traced their brother’s movements. He swayed back and forth ominously, but didn’t fall. (Not, Kankurou reminded himself, the it would have mattered if he did. This was Gaara, after all. No one had ever seen him hurt.)
Gaara stood there for what seemed like a long time with his arms outstretched and his face turned upwards. They got the impression he was yelling something, although his words weren’t clear– until the wind turned just the right way and they caught a snatch of his conversation: “I know! You like it! You want to taste it: the rain and–”
They didn’t need to hear the rest. Gaara was always at his most dangerous when he started talking to it– or to her, rather, the one he called mother. Shuukaku. Then he bowed his head and made a hand seal they couldn’t see clearly enough to interpret, and suddenly his whole body relaxed and he fell forward over the edge of the railing.
The figure that fell from the balcony was small, almost fragile, but the one that hit the ground was anything but. They had always envisioned Shuukaku as something ethereal: bad spirit, evil dream fragment. They had never imagined they would see it with their own eyes.
And yet they recognized it instantly. How could that be? It was surreal.
But it landed with a real, earthshaking crash that almost threw them off their feet. One of the long tan hairs of Shuukaku’s tail fell against Kankurou’s face, thin and light like the fine edge of a sword. Could it sense that? Did it know that they were there? He could hear Temari taking rapid, shallow breaths beside him, but strangely, he wouldn’t remember feeling afraid.
And then Shuukaku turned to glare at them. He saw it coming before it happened, but made no effort to run. It was as though the icy rain had frozen his muscles in place. He just stood and watched in silence as its giant face got closer and closer to them and he could feel its hot breath. He didn’t dare to close his eyes, so he kept staring into its fierce yellow ones. No matter how deep he looked, he could see nothing that he recognized as his brother staring back at him.
This is what it’s like then, he thought. Death. He had always wondered. It was an odd feeling: he was going to die here, and so was Temari. Nobody was going to come to rescue them, or if they did they would get there too late or Shuukaku would brush them off like flies. He got up the nerve to break his eye contact with Shuukaku and glanced over at his sister. That was even stranger, looking at someone and knowing that they were about to get torn to shreds. He half knew he ought to do something, anything; Temari was crying, and it was the first time he had ever seen her cry, and he ought to do something– but in the demon’s petrifying gaze, that was impossible. Icy rain and sleet fell and he stood and waited to die.
Kankurou was certainly right on one point: their father’s men wouldn’t arrive for a few minutes yet, so there would be no rescue. (There was just the two of them and Shuukaku, and it was going to crush them under one of its massive paws, and by the time anyone got there every bone in both of their bodies would be shattered.)
It was as he was thinking that that it happened. Somehow, miraculously, they were spared. He didn’t dare to believe it as it was happening, was sure it must be some sort of trick. But sure enough: Shuukaku backed slowly away from them and then suddenly turned and darted off in the opposite direction, as if the impossible had happened and somehow, something about them had spooked it.
(Later he still wouldn’t be able to figure it out: what could possibly have made that monster flee– until one day, many, many years later, and when he did realize, it seemed so obvious that he didn’t understand how he could ever have missed it. –But that’s always the way with those things. Perspective matters.)
And then Temari, who was quicker on her feet, grabbed his wrist and pulled him after her. Once they were inside, they broke into a dead run, and that was when they starting screaming, all the way to her room. They bolted the door and sat huddled together on her bed. They didn’t notice as their wet clothes soaked the sheets. He pulled his feet up onto the bed and hugged his knees– just like he was a little baby. Normally the thought would have appalled him.
Sleep didn’t come to them that night, and the food one of the servants brought them grew cold on the floor before their locked door.
(And although neither of them would hear about it until much later, their father sent out three teams of jounin looking for Gaara.
“Find him before he causes any more damage,” he ordered in the low voice of someone afraid that they’re about to lose it completely. But it didn’t matter what he ordered: an hour into their search, the teams found a village out of the steppe that had been torn to pieces, strewn with the dead, but there was no sign of Gaara himself. The kazekage’s most trusted men had been outwitted by an nine-year-old.)
It was sometime the next morning that Temari looked up with tired eyes and without much emotion announced, “We’re going to be killed, aren’t we? By him. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”
He met her gaze, and then pursed his lips and replied, “No, I suppose not.”
“I wonder what our father will think. But there’s not much he can do either, you know.”
“No. If there were... Why couldn’t they have done it? Just once, that’s all it would take. He’s had that mission on for years now, and they can’t make it work even once.”
She shook her head slowly and said what they were both thinking. “Why the hell won’t he just die already?”
That was when Kankurou stood up and pulled all the drawers of her dresser all the way out and threw their contents on the floor; he overturned her night stand and broke a lamp and her desk chair against the wall.
She sat and watched in silence as he destroyed her room; she made no move to stop him. It didn’t matter. But it was at about the time when the chair hit the wall for the fourth time that she lay down on her back, flung her arms up over her face, and started to cry again.
–And then she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and stood up. She picked through her belongings and filled her skirt pockets with knives and explosive tags. It was an empty gesture, to be sure. Blades and explosives looked like toys in comparison to Gaara’s sand; they would help neither with attacking nor defending against him.
Still, there was a message there. Kankurou understood. He held out his hand, and she solemnly placed a new, evilly sharp kunai in his palm.
Three days later, Gaara wandered home, which was the only thing worse than him not coming back. Kankurou and Temari weren’t there when he showed up at the front gate, but they heard about it later; the gossip would have been hard to ignore.
Gaara would usually emerge perfectly pristine from even the most grueling training, his sand shielding him as it did from the elements, but the day that he returned he was filthier than anyone could remember seeing him: naked except for the gourd slung over his back and one badly tattered sandal, but caked from head to toe in blood and dried mud, looking dazed and acting strange and disoriented.
(But not a drop of that blood was his own, of course; once all the muck was washed off the doctor found not even one scrap, not even the smallest nick.)
The teams that their father had sent out searching for him would later return ripe with stories of a path of corpses cut through the desert, of a well from which they had drawn water red with blood.
But it wasn’t until they finally left Temari’s room several days later that his two siblings saw him again. He was sitting opposite Baki in a small, sunlit room. The weather had plainly cleared up, and the sky in the window beside them was back to its usual cloudless blue. Although he was still nominally a student at the Academy, these days Gaara was mostly tutored from home by Baki. There had been too many incidents, as their father liked to call them, and Baki was one of the few people in Suna who could keep Gaara in line. The last day that Gaara had gone to school with his siblings, he killed two of his classmates. No one ever found out why.
He and Gaara seemed to be talking about something, but they spoke in such low voices that neither Kankurou nor Temari could make out anything more than a faint whispering. That didn’t bother them. They weren’t aiming to eavesdrop, merely to watch. And thus to come to a decision.
So they stood and looked at Gaara for a long time; they took in every detail: the way his skin was so pale as to be almost translucent, his short auburn hair, his dark-rimmed eyes, his long robe of undyed linen, the stiff and nearly formal way he sat– all the things that meant littlest brother.
And then they looked back at each other and knew that none of that meant anything to them. They had, after all, seen his true self. There could be no deception, not anymore, no going back. It hurt more than they would have expected.
“He wasn’t always that bad,” Temari commented, trying to catch Kankurou’s eye. But he looked away.
“It’s true. You know it. Even with Shuukaku... he used to okay sometimes. And he’s our brother.”
“No brother of mine,” he muttered, and this time he did meet her eyes. She bit her lip, but didn’t look away. “Our mother was Karura. And he killed her. I barely even remember what she looked like, you know that? And it’s all because of him.”
Half of him expected her to protest, to say, Shut the hell up, Kankurou, and tell him that it wasn’t Gaara’s fault; you couldn’t blame the child for the fact that his mother died giving birth to him. Temari had always liked Gaara more than he ever had; perhaps it was because she was the bravest. But it seemed that there would be no defense of him this time.
Instead, she surprised him by replying, “And you’re saying that she isn’t his mother. When he talks to that thing... he calls it his mother, doesn’t he? Not okaa-san.”
There was a pause in which she seemed to study Gaara very carefully. And then she nodded and continued speaking.
“He’s dead, isn’t he? That kid who wasn’t all bad. He’s been dead for a while now, I think. It’s too late.”
Again, it was what both of them were thinking. For Gaara, it was far too late.
The next day they went to visit their uncle’s grave, and they brought incense and long-stemmed yellow flowers of the sort rarely seen in desert Suna. In all the years since his death, they had never come here before; in fact, they couldn’t remember having spared more than a passing thought for him for what felt like forever. Not even Gaara spoke about him these days, and the name plaque on his grave was covered in a thick coating of dust. Kankurou wiped it clean with his sleeve. He wasn’t really one for reverence, but he could make an exception here.
Temari lit the incense. There was no holder for the flowers, so they scattered them on the ground– gently, though, carefully. Because they understood now: why he had done what he did. They had picked their side.
(You couldn’t avoid Gaara, not when he was your brother and you had already been told by the kazekage himself that he would be your future teammate. Not when, as your father had already found out to his shame, he couldn’t be killed. You simply couldn’t get rid of him.
But you could exclude him in this way, wear your contempt for him like armor so that you wouldn’t be hurt again. No more. And he, a monster who couldn’t understand people, wouldn’t even know that he was being excluded. He was far too blind.)
They understood now; they saw it all. It wasn’t worth it, knowing that that was their little brother. The price of having to feel for Gaara was, they knew now, far more than they could pay. Better to default.
(And in their deepest hearts, it wasn’t only Yashamaru they mourned for.
Because it was too late for Gaara; from here on out, they reasoned, it always would be.)
Gaara sets the pen down carefully on his desk, and then holds out the papers– still with that peculiar deliberate motion, as if a simple act like this were something that needs to be handled with the utmost care.
And that’s when Kankurou realizes: that’s because it is.
And what has it cost him– what is it costing him– to pull himself together, to drown out the voice that only gets louder in this weather, to not allow himself to quench Shuukaku’s thirst? The price is higher, he thinks, than most would be willing to pay. At that thought, even he can’t help but feel a little stab of pride.
“By the way,” Gaara interrupts his thoughts, “You said you were doing some paperwork? I can help too.”
“It’s only stuff that we’ve been putting off for the past week and a half anyway. And if you were busy....”
He lets the question hang, unasked: What were you doing up here, alone, in the middle of a thunderstorm? Perhaps he already knows the answer, or, at the very least, he suspects it. (He wants to know: How strong is it, really, this hard-earned new self? Can it hold even now, or will it crumble the instant Shuukaku starts to claw at it? Whose will is stronger?)
But he doesn’t ask, and Gaara just shakes his head– and is that a very faint smile? No, he can’t be sure, especially not in this light– and says, “No. If the kazekage can’t help his own siblings when they’re doing work for his office, well....”
Kankurou shrugs. “Actually, mostly we’re eating. Temari wanted to know if that restaurant she likes– you know the one, the one with the green roof– would still deliver across town in this weather. I think I heard her threaten to beat the delivery boy if her food wasn’t still warm.”
“That sounds like a grave misuse of the power of this office,” Gaara decides after a moment’s pause. And then he looks like he wants to say something more, but whatever it is, the words won’t leave his mouth.
Kankurou sighs to himself and then makes up his mind. Some things can’t be helped. “All right. Come on, then. I haven’t finished eating yet, so you can have some of mine. Sorry, there’s not that much, but you can have what’s left. Does that sound good?”
“I’d like that.” And he smiles and stands up, and they start to make their way down the stairs. Kankurou reminds himself to walk slowly, to keep pace with the faint steps behind him, and he listens intently for them, tries to tune out the sounds of the storm. Gaara keeps pace, and they make it down the first flight of stairs in silence.
And then: “Ni...” –But whatever it is he was about to say, he trails off immediately. Kankurou turns his head to see that he has paused a few steps above him, next to a small window that lets in a weird light that shivers all around him. Kankurou gives him a curious look and in response he looks down and sighs.
“My advisors have brought it to my attention that I need to work on cultivating proper responses in social situations,” he remarks somewhat sheepishly. (Sheepish, Kankurou thinks, Since when has he ever been sheepish?) “So. Nii-san, thank you. That’s what I wanted to say.”
Kankurou wants to say, It doesn’t really matter to me, shrug, and keep walking down the stairs in silence. What makes Gaara think that he of all people is the right person to try out his social niceties on? The truth is that when it comes to dealing with people he’s almost as badly off as Gaara himself. You can talk to puppets if you like, but they don’t talk back.
That’s what he wants to do. Except that he has a brother right behind him who dragged himself back from well over the brink of madness.
So instead, he gives him a brief, slightly crooked smile and replies, “Yeah. You’re welcome, jan.”
And the sounds of the storm become fainter as they descend, and then Kankurou can clearly hear Gaara’s– All right, he thinks, otoutou-san; he deserves that much– steps behind him. There are worse things.
Time is a pomegranate, many-chambered,
nothing like what I thought.
-"Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets," David Young
- I decided to refer to Gaara in his Shuukaku form as it because... well, he's male, but Shuukaku appears to be a female demon and I don't really know what to make of that. (So, when he assumes that form, does he grow a giant, gaping
- It used to be that when I wrote fics, they were usually 600-900 words long. And then I couldn't write anything under 1,000 words. And then, nothing under 2,000. Now, I'm apparently incapable of writing things less than 3,000 words (and, in this case, often quite a bit more). I must have severe logorrhea or something. Somebody send halp. ):