By Dreaming of Everything
Disclaimer: I don't own, and I don't even wish, because I would send the original to Hell and back. Actually, probably only there—the way back's uphill, and I'm lazy.
Author's Notes: Awww. I love these three so incredibly much. They make we want to write open-faced angst-fluff sandwiches, seasoned with a heavy dash of Weird Interpersonal Relationships. So I do.
Naruto, you have killed my brain ded.
Written with the purpose of genfic; interpret as you want, but please no anti-incest rants, because that wasn't my purpose, regardless of my own views on the subject. Which I'm not putting here, so nyah.
Timeline: Verging on TWT (that's Timeline? What Timeline? for those of you not in the know) but beyond that: Shortly after the whole Naruto-Gaara fight-thing. The Sand Sibs have returned to sand and pretty much been left to their own devices while the upper echelon of Sand reconfigures itself.
SPOILERS up through the Sasuke Retrieval 2.0/Akatsuki Showdown arcs of the manga.
Edited 5-27-07 for ridiculous cultural mistakes.
Gaara is always there in the mornings.
Kankurou and Temari aren't sure that they trust him; there's years of fear to erase, after all, and he's still far from normal, even by shinobi standards. But they can trust him to be sitting at the kitchen table, deadly silent and nerve-shakingly frightening, and they can trust him to stay there, cautiously avoided and studiously not ignored—to prevent anything setting him off into another psychotic episode—until they're both there, and a little bit after, before he disappears, either outside or into the rest of the house.
Sometimes he has made coffee.
It's like dancing over and around unstable tripwires first thing in the morning, only not so easy or safe. They are ninja, after all.
Eventually, though, the shock that accompanied his first appearance at the table wears off, because people adapt no matter what the situation or however unwise it might be, and a body can only hold onto a state of hyperawareness, nerves and adrenaline so long before it fades, even if it is Gaara. They have lived fifteen years in terror, and no crushed-in, sand-covered corpse has appeared for months.
Mornings are still interesting, needless to say. The edge has been worn off their fear, blunted by repetition, but it's still there. They're still tip-toeing. Kankurou's mind pauses at his mental checklist no matter how many mornings he runs through it: coffee, check; psychotic, demon-possessed little brother, check; refrigerator and its contents, check and check, minus the last of Tuesday night's leftovers.
When Temari enters the room she nods what might be a greeting and might not in Gaara's direction, so that he can ignore it or accept it as he chooses, then affectionately cuffs Kankurou on the shoulder. She makes coffee or drinks what's already there, hoping beyond hope that it won't set Gaara off one day, because she knows that he doesn't drink it—too much risk in what would happen once the caffeine wore off and left him potentially too tired to stay awake—but she doesn't know why he makes it.
The idea that he might make it for them is too ridiculous to even enter her mind.
…and how did Gaara learn to make coffee, anyways?
Every morning Temari and Kankurou get their breakfast on tenterhooks, keenly aware that there every move is being watched and probably analyzed. It can be hard to tell, with Gaara. Will their breakfast inconvenience him? A motion too fast or too slow startle him? Something insult him, or remind him, or threaten him? Will he take offense if they speak, if they don't speak, within themselves—the two of them, the two of them and Gaara watching, listening—or amongst all three?
Eventually Kankurou begins to speak in the mornings: a hello to Temari, a muttered curse at the creaking cabinet door, a comment about the news or the weather or some other morning variable. How bad Temari is at making coffee—but never how bad Gaara is or isn't, and he always knows who made it that morning. Everyone is always aware of Gaara.
And Temari begins to talk back, when Gaara doesn't visibly react to the change Kankurou tentatively introduced. She begins to relax—still balancing on a knife's edge, mentally, and still treading as lightly as she can around Gaara, but beginning to be almost able to pretend that she can imagine that he's not there—and makes sarcastic, older-sister comments that are entirely Temari, and Kankurou begins to tease her back, sometimes, though they always avoid mentioning Gaara.
Eventually, Temari begins to slip to the extent that she'll pull Kankurou into an embarrassed half-hug. She's a surprisingly tactile person, considering her personality, and Kankurou, at least, knows that she would be unnervingly touchy-feely (well, touchy, at least) if it wasn't for her career, their village, their father. If it wasn't for Gaara.
So he does his part by pulling her into split-second hugs, even if she threatens to hit him afterwards. Or kill him. At least she's only followed through with the former so far.
Slowly, mornings have become a time to relax, to enjoy the other's presence and be human, even if they are watched by unnerving sea-green eyes ringed with inexplicable black.
Temari still finds herself slightly startled by Gaara's presence each morning.
And it's funny, no matter how early or late she's up, he's always there. How early does he arrive, each morning? How long does he wait? And why?
It's too discomforting to think about, so she doesn't, she accepts it as fact and moves on. It's not like there's much else she can do.
Against her will, her vigilance is relaxing, on these early mornings.
This morning she said a hello to Gaara before she could think, before she could gather herself—she froze the moment after it left her lips, of course, because talking to Gaara when he hasn't spoken to you is a death sentence at the best of times, and the silent mornings he spent watching them were not the best of times. This was the first time she has ever slipped like this—
And there's something in his eyes, something fragile and snapping, and she thinks that at least this way Kankurou might live, he's always the last into the kitchen in the mornings so he's not here yet, and maybe Gaara won't carry over his grudge to him.
But then Kankurou walks into the room, door banging open and shut loudly behind him (he can't do a thing quietly, except on missions, unless it involves puppetry) distracting Gaara, at least, enough that he glances over at the source of the sound and so much for that thought.
Kankurou's eyes dart around the room, taking in Temari's frozen expression and defensive posture, Gaara's wide-eyed attention even more intense than normal, and deduces enough to at least guess at what to do next.
"H—Hey, Temari," he says, his voice trying to pretend it's not tense, slinging a casual arm around his sister's frozen neck. He knows that his face is unconvincing in its false relaxation, but Gaara's never been good at human interactions and it's always worked in the past, as well as anything else did.
He can feel the thin sheen of sweat on Temari's skin.
"Good morning," she says, still facing towards Gaara, face immobile and voice flat. Kankurou half-nudges and half-pushes her towards the kitchen, and hopes that nothing sets Gaara off again as he turns slightly away, gaze fixating on an empty patch of air several feet to the right of them. There is something wooden in his gaze. It's the quietest morning they have spent together in the past month, month and a half: Kankurou and Temari are too wound up to relax into the normal routine. The two of them leave before Gaara does, for the first time since he started to spend mornings with them.
Gaara isn't there the next morning.
He's disappeared. Five days, and no sign of the one person every member of Sunagakure is always intensely aware of.
It's not simply a case of Gaara deciding to be unobtrusive and simply going unnoticed for a while. They've looked through the village, and he's not there.
At least nobody has shown up dead yet.
The possibility of a psychotic break is in the front of everyone's mind, still, and people don't linger on the streets. They don't go out after dark if it's at all possible. They subconsciously clump together as they walk through the hushed, nearly-empty streets, never really bustling, even at the best of times.
Temari and Kankurou have already reported the incident that occurred before Gaara's disappearance. It is nothing compared to the temperamental shifts and warnings he went through before the disastrous attempted war with Leaf, but it is the only such occurrence that has taken place since they've returned. Since he started appearing at the breakfast table.
On today, the seventh day of Gaara's disappearance, the council placed Temari and Kankurou in charge of finding him. They have been having meetings about what to do with Gaara all along, but it was playing second fiddle to the restructuring of Sunagakure's government. Now that he has disappeared, it is all they have debated.
There is no real reason for the placement—true, they are the ones that Gaara tolerated, his unspoken watchers for the past four months and true, they are competent ninja who have proven themselves several times over—but they are also the probable cause of his disappearance, and hopefully not the cause of a return to his previous self.
At least nobody has died yet, turned up crusted with sand and contorted with fear and smelling of rot and burst internal organs—
It is most likely, Temari thinks, that the Council merely doesn't believe that whoever they send will make it back alive, and they don't want to deal with the now-dead ex-Kazekage's children, so it's better to lose them than any other. Or maybe it's because they blame him for his disappearance, or merely hold them accountable. It could be they've fallen out of political favor, or that they've been damned by association, sub-human because of their relation to a monster.
Regardless of the reason, they will follow their orders like any good shinobi, because they always do, because everyone always does. Missing-nin are rare and rarely live long. Disobedience isn't tolerated, not when it means death, in any village, and Sunagakure is so much stricter, so much harsher, than even the other hidden villages.
They know that Gaara isn't in the village, so they set out into the desert, leaving with the last of the daylight—the moon is full so visibility isn't a problem, and the night is less harsh than the day. Both Temari and Kankurou are used to life in the desert, and the difficulties it brings. A harsh land and a harsh people, and good ninja because of it.
They find a trail on the third day. Gaara is making no attempt to hide his passage. He never has: he's never had any reason to fear. Never anything that qualified as a threat—
Of course, he's been taught how to. They are still shinobi. There is nothing that would willingly track him, though, not in Sand, not with what Gaara or Shukaku, Gaara and Shukaku, have done in the past. Might be doing now.
And if he did not want to be found in the desert, there is very little that would find him. He can control the sand: hide his path, set false ones, disguise himself as a part of the desert itself, cause sand-slides and force you away from where he is, or kill you with less than a thought—
He's never cared who could find him, before. Nobody ever went looking for him. He doesn't care now, Kankurou and Temari know, because there's only his footprints, half-blurred by wind and time and shifting sand, heading straight out into the desert maybe a mile out from one of the more minor, rarely-used village gates.
So they follow.
They've always followed Gaara, and nothing has changed, despite so long, so much time spent waiting at an empty breakfast table—.
They find him half a day—or maybe more—later. He doesn't see them approach.
The area is a battlefield, is Temari's first thought: baroque sprays of sand thrown up from the ground, twisting patterns, over-turned, crumbling rocks that must have been forced up from far below the surface of the desert, showing none of the wind-damage it would otherwise show—
The only marginally untouched area is a small shelter, the kind of loose tent all sand shinobi bring into the desert, to keep the fiercest sun off of them, and a small pile of well-preserved food, the kind that would last indefinitely.
And Gaara himself draws all the attention because he always does, there's not a person in Sunagakure who would ignore him in favor of anything else.
He's wild-eyed and panting, dripping sweat, and Kankurou notices that his skin is bared, not covered with sand, that he's lowered that defense, at least, but why, and what is there to fight?
And both Temari and Kankurou realize that he's the only person who's been here, there's no blood or sign of a fight, or evidence of anyone at all, only Gaara.
"…Gaara?" says Kankurou, so calm that Temari knows that he's as far beyond panic as she is, and he speaks only because they learned to announce their presence when he turned on him once, for walking up too quietly behind him, like another of the many assassination attempts ordered over the years. The sand abrasions on Kankurou's arms had gone septic and hurt him for months.
He whirls with a harsh, uncontrolled breath that would be a shout or a yell or a scream in someone else, but they don't know what it is, with Gaara, because he's never been like anyone else, least of all now, with those wild eyes, and all Temari can think is that he's been fighting hallucinations out in the desert, after something broke in him more permanently than Sunagakure has managed to break anything before.
Kankurou flinches, and Temari stills more than is natural. She knows he sees their reactions because he reacts like she does, stopping all movement until he's merely a statue, with those black-rimmed eyes the color of a mineral-harsh desert pool, too poisoned to drink and too corrosive to even bathe in.
"What are you doing?" asks Temari, because she's going to die anyways.
Gaara begins to laugh.
Gaara begins to laugh, and it's a parody of what the noise should be, so filled with something unrecognizable but painful that Temari's breath catches in her throat, and she wonders why she's not dead, or Kankurou, because that's the only time Gaara's ever laughed before, if you could call this noise laughter…
There's a kunai lying abandoned on the ground, so Kankurou picks it up, wondering: Gaara's never had use for knives, throwing or otherwise, ever before, nothing but his sand as a weapon.
It's clearly one of Suna's, and probably one of Temari's; he recognizes the make, larger than is average for kunoichi, but still smaller than normal. She has them specially made.
It's scraped and scratched from sand, the grains wearing away at it until it's dull and dulled, both the dark smoothness of the metal and the edge gone.
"I want to feel hurt," says Gaara, the hysterical edge in his voice a glimmer in his eyes, his body shaking with some violent emotion and the air around all of them shimmering with loose grains of sand. He turns then, dismissing them, and an arrow of sand plunges towards him before it turns away as it hits against some invisible barrier, scattering back into its component grains as it falls—
Kankurou and Temari have both seen that technique kill before.
Temari chokes on a dry sob. It's the closest Kankurou's ever seen her to crying.
"Why?" he says, because this could be Shukaku, forcing his host's hand and seeking to escape, though there's no guarantee that death will free the demon.
Gaara frowns, his face returning to something closer to the more-familiar placidity of the mask he usually wears.
"Because— I—" Temari and Kankurou have never seen him lost for words before; silent or blunt or contempting, but never needing to speak and not knowing what to say…
They both knew something about his past beliefs: that he proved his existence, his worth, in some twisted way, through killing, through death, and that that had been shaken during his fight with that other jinchuuriki, Naruto. They hadn't realized the extent—
Neither had realized that he had abandoned that altogether. Neither had thought about what would replace that.
Neither had thought that he was human enough to want to kill himself.
"He—" and they knew he was talking about Naruto "—found his precious people, who he could fight for and live for and I have never had anyone, nobody who would love a monster, and—
"So I tried to find mine. But I am not human, not human, nobody ever needs me—"
His breathing is harsh and jagged, irregular.
And Temari can only think of how he had sat and watched them, each morning, as close to peaceful as he had ever been, as she and Kankurou had ever been around him, and now she knew that he had been trying to be that, trying to form a connection with them, tried to find someone who would love him, had cared for them, and they hadn't understood.
And she had grown used to that, had begun to understand, or to act as if she understood, relaxed around him, and then she had slipped too far, in her own mind, and reinforced and recreated everything Gaara had believed, still believed, and Kankurou had followed her lead and he was still her brother after everything else, and they had told him that he would never be accepted, never be needed, would always be the monster in the closet, the thing they feared but lived with because he was too frightening to face, to powerful to defeat.
She knows that Kankurou is thinking something similar. It's plainly written in his face, in his stricken and confused and divided expression.
They don't know what to do, how to react, not even whether or not they will live. Gaara had changed (so much, so that he was hurting because he had reached and they had turned away, horrified, and that he had needed that comfort at all, admitted to it, had been so beyond fantastical it was incomprehensible just a short while ago, and now it had been realized, all because he had needed to care, to be cared for, and started showing up at the breakfast table—) but he was still Gaara, could still kill them for hurting them because he had nearly killed them before just for inconveniencing him, and this was so much worse than that had ever been.
But no, he's crying like he doesn't know how it works, thin body shuddering back and forth, wide eyes with shrunken pupils fixed and staring, tears streaming down his face, and Kankurou thinks that, if it had been anyone but Gaara, anyone other than the person who had killed and hurt and terrorized them all so much that he can't forgive him, not yet, doesn't want to forgive him but somehow does, than it would have been one of the most heartbreaking things he's seen.
Temari wants to run away from here, doesn't want to be faced with this shell of human being who is her brother, who needs them as he's never needed anything, or maybe has but hasn't been able to take it or ask for it or even know he's missing it and needs it. Some part of her wishes that he had been stillborn, killed before he could do this to her, to her family, dead and the Shukaku buried with him, deep in the sand, desert leaving him only a desiccated corpse. But some part of her wants to embrace him, comfort him, wants to let this strange little child cry because it's been so long since he has, if he ever has, that he's forgotten how…
But the sand is straining around him, restless and dangerous and desperate.
"Gaara," Kankurou whispers, barely more than a breath. It's the only sound in the surrounding desert, what life it had held having fled long ago (because of Gaara and what Gaara carried inside him) and Gaara's sobs are silent, heaving things. The rising heat and sun presses down on them all.
The sand curls around him, a grim parody of a hug, so similar to the Desert Coffin that has killed so many people in the past, deserving and undeserving, ordered and not ordered—and something in that makes Temari walks forward, head bowed and eyes at peace and challenging the death that she is inviting, defiant even of what she has accepted. She had gotten used to expecting death, as a shinobi and as Gaara's teammate, his sister, over the years, and what was once more?, and there was no guarantee she would live anyways, regardless of what she did or did not do.
Kankurou hesitates, takes a step, stops and then continues, follows after her. He might die, but he might die any day, as a shinobi, as a member of Sand, as Gaara's brother—because that's who he is, not his guardian or his teammate or his controller, his brother.
And Temari wraps her arms around Gaara because she is surprising tactile, Kankurou knows now, something it took until these past few months of mornings, with their gradually more comfortable atmosphere, to realize, and Temari hugs Gaara because everyone should have someone to hold them, something other than the sand that's melting away (thank God and thank Gaara that it's not strangling her, crushing her for what she's doing) from Gaara and bringing her closer to him than she's ever been before, so that she can smell the strange, dry, smell around him, made up more of sand and sunshine and empty eternity than anything human, and she sobs again, eyes still dry, at the fact that she's never known that, never been close enough to this boy, this child, to know.
Kankurou doesn't even think twice before he joins them, because he's used to following Temari by now, who was always the leader, although one with no control if Gaara made up his mind about something, but maybe that's changed because Gaara's wrapped one desperate arm around what he can reach of Temari and one has looped Kankurou's own arm in his, and there are sounds mixed up in the crying now, but both of Gaara's siblings have fallen quiet and their attention is still centered around him, as it always has been, but for once they don't regret that, and once their eyes meet with a panic-tipped look of wonder and sorrow and unknowingness.
Gaara had cried until he had exhausted himself, then pulled away from them and stood, limp and lifeless, eyes fixed at some empty point in the air in front of Temari and Kankurou. Neither knows what to say.
"Are you ready to come back…?" offers Temari, unsure of what he's waiting for, what he wants from them, and Gaara looks at her with those startling eyes of his, and the innocence and the growing twisted hope they hold is even more surprising.
"Yes," he says, voice exhausted and subdued, more agreeable than they have ever heard him before. More tired.
They allow Gaara time to pack his equipment and then start the long walk back towards the village, going slower than they could have, not ready to face the council with explanations and reassurances and reports. Not ready to face reality again, not ready to wake up.
"Why did you start showing up for breakfast?" says Kankurou finally, because it's easier to speak when he's in motion and he thinks that this is likely to be the last time he will feel safe asking Gaara anything.
"I wanted to—connect," says Gaara dully, voice an emotionally exhausted monotone.
Temari sucks in a harsh breath and Gaara flinches at the sound. "What made you leave?" she says, voice soft and guilty and hoping against hope.
"You… Still feared me. Still hated me. I was only—hurting you further…"
She shakes her head. "No—No! I—" I did hate you, fear you, because I didn't know what you were asking, didn't know you were asking anything at all… "—I didn't know. I've never understood… you before, and I didn't know what—" you wanted, because it could be anything and everything you've done in the past could still happen… "—what you wanted, and in… the past…" you would have killed us if we did something too wrong, or crippled us or tortured us or maybe, if we were lucky, ignored us.
"We didn't know," says Kankurou, voice lower than normal with some untranslatable emotion. "We didn't know what you wanted, how much you had changed… If things had changed at all…"
Gaara halts, and for one moment they fear for their lives and then they think that Gaara is going to go back out into the desert without them, but he only asks a question.
"Why… did you do that? Why do you—act like you care about me, even after everything I've…"
Neither has a response.
"Because—" Kankurou begins. "…You're our brother, and you haven't killed us, and you listened to us, sometimes…"
"But it's not right. You wouldn't— I— It's not how you and Temari are, it's not like it's supposed to be, that's not enough…"
"Because you tried," says Temari, voice soft and choked. "Because you tried, and because you needed us."
And Kankurou is almost scared because Temari's crying, now, actually crying, not the unintended, uncontrollable heaving dry sobs that had come earlier. And he doesn't know what to do, so he wraps his arms around her because hell, it worked earlier. And then he hesitates, and holds out a hand to Gaara, whose eyes are wide and horrified; he looks like he's nearly about to bolt, but he edges forwards like he's afraid, and finally reaches out, and the three of them stand there like that, Temari sobbing and damn but Kankurou's eyes are filling up as well, though he has enough control still that the tears don't fall.
Eventually Temari's tears stop and she dries them, tries to rub away some of the crying-fit-induced blotchiness, squeezes Kankurou back hard one last time and then whacks him on the head (because she has standards to uphold) and flutters her hand once, indecisively, in the air, before brushing it gently against Gaara's shoulder, still not sure what to do with him. She nearly jerks away when sand brushes at it, and only stops herself because she's seen what that sand can do, when people react to it, to Gaara, like that, but it seems curious instead of cautious or homicidal, so she lets it happen, far more unnerved by the situation than she'd like to admit, though Gaara looks almost as if she's passed some sort of test—and perhaps she has, because ten hours ago she wouldn't have let that happen, wouldn't have let him get that close at all.
"We," starts Kankurou, then glances at Temari for permission to continue with her name attached. "We… Didn't know what you were doing, waiting at the breakfast table with us like that. But—now that we know that you're trying—I think that we would like to try as well, because it really does make a big difference, knowing that, and—"
"—and we know that we can talk to you and include you without—without insulting you too much," Temari cuts in. "I think that you could become… One of my most precious people… Because you need me, and you would protect me, and I—
"Would need you."
They halted once more, briefly, once they reached the city gates. As Temari and Kankurou prepared themselves mentally for everything that would follow—the reports and debriefings and reassurances—Gaara stood watching them, until suddenly, movements hesitant and jerking and unsure, he flung a desperate last hug around Temari, unsure of the action, how it would be received, head tilted upward to watch her until surprise turned into something else, something more at peace and more understanding and more sorrowful and she hugged him back, releasing him a short second later when he shifted away from her, turning and repeating the action with Kankurou, and both of them pretended not to hear when he muttered, fierce and dark, "I am not alone," as they entered the forbidding gates of Sunagakure.
The council had been relieved enough at Gaara's return to not ask questions, at least for the moment.
Gaara had been formally put under house arrest for being in an 'unstable state,' and Temari and Kankurou named his watchers for an indefinite amount of time. It was boring, but it gave them free time and kept them from the monotony of the routine missions they probably would have been assigned.
Gaara still showed up every morning for breakfast, but sometimes he ate something, now. And Temari would say hello to him, or rest a hand on his shoulder or head, and Kankurou would give him a cheerful good morning when he gave Temari hers, and sometimes they would talk, the three of them.
And some mornings, Gaara would pull one or the other into a fierce, desperate hug that neither Temari or Kankurou understood, except that Gaara needed it, so they put up with it, until Temari would sometimes initiate it, because she liked the comfort, the physical closeness, and this was the first time she had had people would give her that contact.
The three of them began to form the bonds that hold people together, that make someone a 'precious person,' someone who is needed and needs you. For the first time, they had family.
Eventually, Gaara was released and put back on active duty, along with Temari and Kankurou. Eventually, he became Kazekage.
He still spent every morning he could with them, and they both got used to their little brother appearing in their kitchen unannounced, with coffee brewing and that serious, wide-eyed and watchful expression, emotionless unless you knew him.
And he would still draw the other two up into his desperate, needy grasp, some of those mornings, just for the contact. Just to be human.