crayon hearts/by kikofreako
"It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."
Gaara bit his lip. Puzzle piece… Absently, he poked a hand in the blank space, the space that called a certain six-year-old to fill it. He liked puzzles: they didn't run away when you touched them, they offered something other than boredom to occupy his days.
Picking up a thin cardboard slice, he wedged it into the small slot. Not right. Carefully, Gaara set it aside and tried another. No, not this one either. It was okay. He didn't have anything else to do.
The silence was broken as an excited Temari and Kankuro burst through the door, calling for Yashamaru. "Lookat!" Kankuro yelled, waving a piece of paper in one hand like a flag. Gaara tried to see what was on it, but it was whipping around as if in a hurricane and he couldn't make it out. He righted himself, puzzle quickly forgotten at the promise of something more entertaining. Temari caught his move and shifted slightly away from him, still wary of this green-eyed boy.
"Hn?" Yashamaru stuck a head through the door. "Kankuro? Temari?"
"Hai!" Kankuro yelled. "Lookat what we made-"
"A ninja," he murmured, "speaks softly and strikes without a sound." Kankuro fell silent and hopped from one foot to the other, eager to show his prize.
"Look! Sensei had us draw today." He showed the crumpled paper to his guardian, who took it with a look of mild interest on his face. "We had to draw our heart."
"Your heart, eh?" Studying the paper, he pointed. "Who is this?"
Gaara stood on tip-toes, trying to make out the shoddily-drawn crayon scribble. "That's Temari. Then there's you," he pointed, nearly punching a hole through the paper, "and that's Karasu. I mean, that's what I hope he'll look like." Kankuro furrowed his brow, thinking of the half-completed puppet. "He'll be done soon, right?"
"Hai. Temari, what did you draw in your heart?"
Bubbling over with enthusiasm, she rushed over. "I've got you and me and Kankuro, then dango, cause it's really good. And then this is my special kimono that Moth-" She stopped abruptly, noticing Gaara twitch. "that I got for my first day in the Academy." She took the paper back and hugged it to her chest. "I'm gonna pin it up in my room later. We're gonna take it back tomorrow, 'causeSensei says we're gonna do something else with them."
"Why don't you leave them on the counter," Yashamaru proposed, "so you won't forget them tomorrow?"
"'Kay," the pair said in comical unison. Temari shoved Kankuro to the side and slapped her paper on the counter first. "Ha ha! I win!"
Kankuro crossed his arms and stuck out his tongue. "Well, I wasn't even racing anyways!"
"Yeah you were!"
"No I wasn't!"
"Yeah you were."
"I was not!"
Kankuro started chasing Temari and she ran out of the room with a scream. "KAZEKAGE-SAMA, KANKURO CALLED ME A BAD NAME!"
"NO I DIDN'T!"
"Kankuro, Temari, please..." Yashamaru started out after them, shouting something about how the Kazekage was deep in study and shouldn't be disturbed.
Gaara listened as their voices faded out, then made his way over to the counter. He pulled a chair over, frowning slightly at the loud scraping sound it made. Then he hoisted his small body up and felt around for the papers, pulling them out and sitting on the chair with his legs hanging over. "Hmmm…" Fingers traced the drawings slowly, looking for something that wasn't there. No picture of him.
Carefully, he placed the sheets back on the countertop, slid off the chair, and went back to his puzzle.
Puzzle piece… There. Gaara picked up the piece and slid it into its niche, marveling silently at how perfectly it fit. He smiled and traced the smooth edge, basking in the satisfaction of a job well done. The puzzle was completely blank, which made it harder because there was no picture for a frame of reference. Gaara picked up a marker and drew a smiley face on it. It smiled back at him. "Hello, puzzle," he whispered.
Yashamaru appeared at his side, silent in his approach. "Another, Gaara-kun? You are getting very good."
"Arigato, Yashamaru-sama." Gaara glowed, drinking in the praise and even the simple voluntary human contact. He pictured that if his heart had a face, right now it would be looking like the one he drew on the puzzle. It usually didn't. Gaara tried to box the warm feeling and store it away for that night.
Yashamaru placed the empty box in a trash bin. "Shall we put it with the others?"
Moments later, the pair was in Gaara's room. They pinned it on the wall, Gaara standing on tip-toes as he put away the black chisel-tip marker. "A good puzzle," Yashamaru said, "is a nice distraction on a quiet day."
The entire room was festooned with completed puzzles. Gaara-kun had many quiet days.
"Ohayou gozaimasu, Sensei. Good morning!"
"Ohayou, class. Does everyone have their heart pictures?"
"Haaaaiii!" There was a rustling of paper as a score of students pulled crumpled sheets from backpacks, pockets, kuani pouches, and in one case, a shoe.
The teacher smiled and removed a small rectangular object from a drawer in the desk. "Today's lesson is emotional training."
Temari wasn't really listening. No surprise. She smoothed out the dog-eared corners of the paper almost lovingly, smiling at the crayon caricatures of her brother and special kimono. She thought of the dress hanging in her closet, every stitch bursting with beauty. The sides of her mouth twitched into a smile as she imagined twirling in her royal blue kimono, the skirts billowing out and tickling her face teasingly. Her daydreaming was interrupted as her classmates gasped and stiffened. Looking up in confusion, she saw Sensei with a lit match in one hand and a book of matches in the other. "Please come forward and light a match," she said softly. "Today's lesson will be short."
Unlike the day before, Kankuro and Temari were quiet and subdued on their return from the day's classes. And early. Gaara furrowed his brow in confusion and tried to work it out in his simple six-year-old mind. They were so quiet, and where were their pictures...?
"Ikaga deshita ka. How was your day?" Yashamaru looked up from the meal he was preparing, wiping a few grains of rice from his hands.
Temari spoke in a whisper. "We had emotional training today."
"Mmm. It will serve you well in missions after you receive your hitae-ate headband. What did you do today?"
"We burned our heart pictures."
Yashamaru said nothing but sat down at the table. Gaara continued to watch. Kankuro was sniffling. "S-sensei told us t-to light a match and b-burn the picture. S-she said that feeling m-make a s-s-shinobi w-weak, and..." He stopped, clenching his fists. "...and everything i-in our h-heart picture w-was a h-h-hindrance."
Yashamaru sighed. "She is right, Kankuro-kun. Shinobi must not let feelings influence their decisions. You are to do whatever it takes to complete your missions. Petty feelings are not something to be preserved."
"B-but..." Kankuro sobbed, "I... I l-liked my p-picture!"
Temari suddenly brushed past him, hitting his shoulder a little harder than necessary. "Baka. You are a fat, crybaby pig. Go play with your dolls!"
"I am not a f-fat crybaby pig!"
"Bend over! I can see your curly pink tail! Oink, oink, oink-" Kankuro tackled her and started pulling her pigtails. She cried out and hit him on the head, hard. "Nante mudana koto o, what a waste! This whole family is a waste! Baka, baka, baka, BAKA!" Kankuro just screamed hatred, face red with rage.
Yashamaru pulled them apart, Kankuro still throwing punches in the air at his elder sister. "Kankuro-kun, Temari-chan. Please." There was something about his tone that caused both to fall silent. "A true ninja is apathetic. You must not care when people call you names," he looked at Kankuro, "or when people make you angry." Obviously directed at Temari. He placed both on the ground, Kankuro scrubbing furiously at his eyes and Temari rubbing her shoulder. "Please adjourn to your rooms." Both filed out, completely silent. Gaara sat, mesmerized by the look Temari's eyes had carried. They looked like his, just for a split second. So had Kankuro's.
"So, Gaara-kun,"Yashamaru murmured, "would you like a rice ball?"
He shook his head mutely, slid himself off the chair, and shuffled to his room. The smiley faces always made him feel better. Unless that little voice in his head was whispering; then they just seemed a menace. Gaara shut the door and sat on his useless bed and tried to revive that warm feeling of Yashamaru's praise yesterday. It didn't work.
Kankuro sat on the counter top, gazing at his tearstained face in the mirror.
"Nante mudana koto o, what a waste!"
"Fat piggy boy!"
"I... am... not... weak." he grated, picking up a razor blade. "I am not weak, I am not weak, I am not weak, I am not weak!" He clenched it in trembling hands and brought it to his face. "I am not weak!" Kankuro gouged the small slot of metal into soft skin, suppressing a scream. He drew it back, deepening the cut. I'll show them, I'll show them... He continued to carve patterns into his face: across his nose, the edges of his cheeks, his chin. A trickle of blood leaked into his eyes and the metallic, burning liquid finally broke through his defenses. Kankuro clutched his face and howled in pain. Blood dripped past his clenched fingers and into the sink. He heard voices, someone lifting him off the counter, then the world faded to black.
Temari groaned and turned in her bed as the morning light shafted through the window, attacking her viciously. Then, she was instantly awake, a sixth sense buzzing in the base of her skull like a nest of hornets. She stepped lightly out of bed, bare feet skimming the sandy floor as she grabbed her fan. Couldn't really use it yet, but maybe she could bluff her way out... think, think, think... Something definitely wasn't right. Why hadn't Yashamaru awoken them, as he did every day? And why was it so quiet? There should have been activity in the kitchen...
She tried to come up with a plan. Come on, you baka! If the enemy had overpowered Yashamaru, then she didn't stand a chance. But Gaara... if she could get to Gaara and somehow have him follow her orders, they could undoubtably fend off any attackers. Like Gaara would listen to her. Gaara listening to her older sister was about as likely as her finding him in his room sitting in a kiddie pool of whipped cream with the Kazekage. And that didn't seem very likely. No, he would probably just kill her.
This is a horrible plan. I am not doing this, this is a HORRIBLE PLAN. It would be better for me just to jump out the window and run to a different village, better that then get killed... this is such a horrible plan...
Her body didn't listen. Temari crept down the hallway, sweat dripping down her face in apprehension. "G-Gaara..." She put a hand on the door tentatively. Suddenly, she drew back with a shrill scream. Sand slammed the door, hard, almost breaking it off its hinges and tiny grains seeping through the doorway. Temari turned and ran, straight into her father. The Kazekage.
His face was stony and his words hard. "Come. We have things to discuss."
Later, the siblings would all agree that that was the time that it had all started to spiral downhill. It was as if the sanity of the house was a delicate balance, and as the final pebble dropped, everything came spilling out. Gaara's shockingly green eyes became hard and flat, his eyes becoming even more deeply lined in kohl, insomniac streaks. Temari remembered that Kankuro had first shown up with face paint that day and that under his fingernails, there was dried blood. And Yashamaru didn't come back.
Waxy images slid off crispy paper as they were incinerated, like a body at a funeral pyre. And in most respects, they were. "For when a heart burns," Gaara had once said, right before he killed yet another, "the last wisps of humanity are swept away in a torrent of vengeful, scarlet blood ." And not one of three sand siblings believed that there was any hope of getting them back.
A very random little one-shot I thought up on a car ride. Review, and I'll give you a cookie and a response. What more can you ask for, eh?