He is sitting.
He is sitting...and these people sit around him. He sees no friends here. No familiar faces, no allies.
He is sitting in a room full of people around him. And he has never felt more alone.
Enemies, former enemies, strangers, he can feel the knives at his back that he can't fully determine if they're just his imagination or if they're really there. Poised to strike.
Gaara knows it should not be like this. He should be dead. They should all be dead.
Or, perhaps conversely.
He should be here with his friends.
With his brother.
But instead he has this. Trapped halfway to neither side.
And he doesn't know what to do.
None of them, know what to do anymore.
Their world lies in ruins. Shattered into so many shards of glass that it makes him feel as if a century would not be enough to gather up the pieces.
Thousands had come here. Thousands. Tens of thousands and now their collective number barely scratches the surface of a single hundred uninjured Shinobi.
Some might still be out there, in the dunes, away from this place, lost to the arid sea. But with each day fewer and fewer would be found.
Only a single column, of all the civilians that had managed to escape through the caves was making their way here now. Surrounded by all that was left of his military force.
And he was walking them straight here.
Here...a place where all he could see were the faces of enemies, former enemies and strangers.
They each only know one thing, and that, more than almost anything else, is what binds them together.
They do not want to fight. They Want to live. To go home. To go home with whatever ruins remain to them, and take shelter there, lick their wounds.
That is it. That is everything. A simple sentiment that holds them all here. From somber Toushiro and Toyohiza, to Jiraiya of the sannin, who's features have thinned, withered, aged.
None of them looked their age. None of them could truly remember their age probably. They all felt...so much older.
Jiraiya is the one who stands, grunting. His movements are slow...slow with pain. And this one is from age and stiff bones after an eternity spent sitting here, staring at each-others faces.
"Lets get on with this." He says, cutting straight to the point. "He's dead...Lets discuss terms..."
Hanabi knew what she would do when Temari finally woke.
At least, she knew what she had to do. She was discovering rather quickly however, that knowing what one has to do, and how to go about it, are largely different things.
But she didn't flinch when someone came for her. When the flap to her tent opened and she was told that the Suna princess was waking up she had made her way there, ignoring her heart hammering in her chest and the nervous anxiety that made her palms sweat.
When she finally saw the Suna princess, her entire shoulder and arm bandaged tightly from wrist to the nape of her neck, the bones having been set and knit together by med ninja she felt herself swallow, and Temari looked at her with a face, carefully devoid of expression or feeling.
They waited...or perhaps, she waited really, until the doctors vacated, until the nurse left, until they were alone before she said anything.
"Suna is destroyed."
It was blunt. Probably the most blunt thing she'd ever said to anyone, ever. She winced at her own callousness. She averted her eyes, looking away from Temari's smoked gray, though she saw the woman's features tighten, her face crumple in grief. And even when she looked down she could see Temari's hands fist the sheets.
That wasn't what she wanted to say...she wanted to say something else...She was sick...she didn't want to tell her about all the others that died. She didn't have to hear that yet. Especially not from her.
"You-you've been asleep for three days." She spoke again. Her mouth moving, the words tumbling out, all a mess. She was rambling. Why was she rambling? "You're gonna feel weak, the doctor's say you haven't been able to keep food down. They think it might be a reaction to the pain herbs. You-"
She stopped, the words choking her throat. Hanabi felt as though all her courage was abandoning her. Like she was standing infront of Hinata again when her sister was disappointed.
She felt as though she had done something wrong.
She hadn't...she hadn't..!
He Died! He wasn't supposed to die! He was The Demon King! She should never have to be standing here for this!
It wasn't her fault...It wasn't!
She choked, and was startled to feel the tears stinging her eyes, her breaths strangled in the back of her mouth.
"Hanabi..." She heard Temari's voice. She didn't notice the Suna woman's own voice betrayed her, that her tears were mirrored in those colored eyes.
"He told me to take you!" She said, her mouth opening again, the words tumbling out like before. But she was shouting now. Shouting. Not rambling. "He told me to take you!" She repeated. And didn't notice that the Kunoichi was standing, her knees shaking, her legs weak after three days bedridden and half starved. Her bandaged arm barely supporting her weight as she made her way closer.
Emotion tightened Hanabi's chest. Strangled her. Suffocated her. Emotions kept at bay for the last three days were ambushing her, taking hold with a ferocity that terrified her as everything came back.
The battle, the smell, the blood, the death. Yoshihiro, Shino, Kisame, Pein...Naruto!
He told her to leave! He told her!
It wasn't her fault!
It wasn't her fault! But she should have never listened.
Not after he spoke to her, not after he told her to carry his message, asking her to deliver it to this woman.
She knew he was going to die. She knew it.
"But he told me to leave!" She sobbed! Barely hearing Temari's startled shout of her name as her legs abandoned her, hardly feeling the woman's touch on her arm as she brought them both tumbling down.
All she knew was that she was there. She wasn't dying, she wasn't leaving. She was there and as pathetic and sad as it may sound she's the only thing she has left from before this. Before Suna!
And she clings to her. Tells her its not her fault. Wants to know that she knows! That someone knows!She grips her and knows she's shouting, hears her speak 'Its not your fault. Its not your fault and its not enough. She holds her tighter holds her so tightly she knowsshe's hurting her. Knows that this this woman needs her rest, that she's the one that's going to get the shock of waking up three days later. That she's the one that's going to need to be held, not the one doing the holding as she realizes that more than just her brother are dead.
But she doesn't care! And so she holds on and Temari, this Suna princess. Half an enemy half a friend and half god knows what holds her just as tight.
"There was something he wanted me to tell you." And that's what she wants to say. That's what she wants to say but she doesn't at the same time. Because repeating it...to say his words...to speak that message that he wanted Temari to hear would just make it real...make it more tangible...more horrid.
Because then she'll know that he shouldn't have died!
He should have lived...lived to tell her himself.
Because she deserved to hear it from him!
And he deserved to say it to her.
She doesn't want to speak. But its what she wants to say. Her mouth opens and the words come tumbling out.
Before another word can be said, someone steps in, one of his men.
And he doesn't care how rude it is, how weak it may seem. He stands up and turns his back on these enemies, these former enemies, these strangers and leaves, caring not for protocol or respect. They like him no more than he likes them. The meeting has waited for three days. It will wait another if it has to.
And he walks, cutting his way through the camp, who's resident's part like schools of fish before the larger one, stepping asside and bowing their heads. It didn't matter who they were, or what village they belonged to.
No one wanted to fight.
Their heads didn't bow to him. They were always bowed now, like animals whipped until they learned to fear the lash.
They didn't want to fight.
And so he makes it to the tent, unimpeded, uninterrupted.
He opens the curtain and she's there, sitting at the foot of her bed on the floor, and he sees Hanabi's dark head of raven hair on her lap, her fingers running through the tresses.
Then she turns her eyes to him.
And he sees it there, plain as day.
There was sorrow there, sorrow and pain, like a raw deep knife wound. Her eyes glimmered with unshed tears.
And he wants to pretend. He wants to pretend so badly that those tears aren't for the person he knows they're for. He want's to pretend they're for Kankuro. For Chouji, for everyone else that they've lost. All their friends. He wants to pretend.
So he does.
Its cowardly, running from a truth he knows to exist won't change it but he doesn't care.
He doesn't care because its easier. Because he's earned the right to be selfish.
Because this is his sister and he wants to hug her like he did before. Like they're twelve again, and he trusts her, and she trusts him, and there are no secrets, no half truths, no shames.
And if he has to pretend...if he has to make believe there is nothing here, nothing between them. That no betrayal or differences hang in the air that separate them, in order to make his embrace easier then he will.
Because she's his sister, and despite everything, what may or may not be. Whatever he's ignoring, or pretending doesn't exits...he's still relieved to have her here. To feel her in his embrace. To feel her hands snake around his shoulders and hold onto his robe.
And he hears her say his name, half a whisper, half a sob, the muscles in her shoulders growing rigid, taught, shaking as she tries to hold back her tears, burying her face in his chest as he kisses the top of her head.
Because she is his sister, and she's back, and she's safe. And he doesn't know what will happen, where things will go from here or what he'll do...
But they will get through this.
He won't let it be otherwise.
The tent flap parts, and closes, he feels someone else behind him. "Out." He orders. "The meeting can wait."
But the person doesn't move. So he pulls away, reluctantly letting his sister go and standing to his full height before turning around.
Because she's standing there. Filthy, covered in heavy clothes that are half sand bleached by now, looking absurdly small in direct comparrison to the massive sword on her back, covered in white cloth from hilt to tip, which bear the markings of recent containment seals and chakra suppressant Kanji.
"You're back." And he's somewhat surprised. He hadn't expected to see her.
Because she'd gone back.
Back into that pit that was now a small part of whatever hell had swallowed the Demon King that had remained behind; over the ruins of what was once Suna.
No one else could get close. Not even him.
Perhaps she was the only one.
Wanderers and scouts that ventured too close to what had once been his home had quickly grown ill, wracked with pain, poisoned with chakra, burned by seemingly nothing but thin air.
The men were already claiming it a natural disaster. But they were wrong.
Nature brought ruin, devastation.
But nature always recovered, the earth always healed.
This place...this place would scar. This place would fester.
A fitting tomb.
She nods at him. "I am. I was looking for something...and thinking..."
"And what's that?" He asks, and can feel his sister watching, feel her curiosity.
Akina doesn't answer...she sweeps her eyes over them, watching them and he's not sure what she'd looking for, but when her eyes turn back to him she does speak. "Just before...just before he died...when he was pulling the demon from me...when he was drawing the final seals...he told me something."
He hears his sister suck in a breath, and forces it not to distract him, not to dismay him. Though it still does, even more than the sudden worry he has staring at the woman infront of him. "And what's that?"
His voice is cold, edged. Why should he care what that thing had said. Why should anyone care? Why the hell did they?
"He told me something that I have to do...that we all have to do." Her voice is soft. Like a bell at the edge of hearing.
"We don't have to do anything he says." He thinks, but holds his tongue.
"He said...that...we have to make a new world..."
And he barely chokes down the bile in his throat. Barely reigns in his fury, a roiling hatred seethes through him so deep its a palpable thing.
He's never known he could hate so fiercely.
Make a new world. Make a new world with what? Dust? Ashes and echoes? That's all that's left!
But she meets his eyes, and he knows she can see his hatred, his revulsion. She holds his gaze steadily, hesitating only for a moment on her next words.
"A new world..." She breathes.
"-where a person like him cannot be born."
And he hears his sister gasp, a whimper of a half choked cry, so small he barely hears it at all. And his fury bleeds out replaced by a listless...numb feeling that drops onto his chest like a lead weight.
He turns away from them, making his way deeper into the tent before he decides to sit down on the bed. He finds his face in his hands, his body slouched.
He should sit up straighter he knows.
Its unbecoming for a Kage to be seen like this.
But he neither has the strength, nor the will to do so.
"Make a new world." He repeats
"Yes." He hears her by the entrance, she hasn't moved, and he's grateful for that. She's not him, but she's a reminder. One of many, but probably the most vivid really. And he doesn't want her anywhere near him at the moment. Perhaps its wrong. Its a fault at the very least.
"And how exactly do you propose we do that."
"The only way you know how."
She answers, her voice is soft, and she startles both herself, and Akina by the entryway. She stands, pulling herself free of Hanabi who remains on the ground, curled with despondent tears still leaking from her eyes. Perhaps its shame that keeps her so still. Perhaps its shock, hysteria. Perhaps something else.
When she rises, she turns to face her brother, who looks at her through the very corner of his eye, the green barely catching the dimmed light in this place.
She walks around the bed to stand infront of him. There are tear marks on her face, her eyes are puffy, she feels weak and isn't rightly sure how the hell she's standing right now but she manages. She looks down where he sits staring back up at her.
"As best you can."
And he looks down, the muscles of his face tight with some emotion she cant name. The corner of his jaw twitching beneath his skin.
"What makes you think I can even do what you want?"
She doesn't know if he can. She doesn't know if anyone could. If anyone could rightfully bear the weight of the whole world on his shoulders.
Furthermore she doesn't want him to.
She wants him to be her brother again. For things to be simple and easy again. For the world to still spin in that old way it once did, knowing that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Where things were still as they should be.
'Where a person like him cannot be born.'
But more than anything else because she doesn't want that.
Most will disagree with her, most will hate him...already hate him. That a world without him is brighter. Maybe they're right. Maybe she's just a stupid woman.
But she loves him.
And she knows...gods above she knows that there was something Good inside of him. Some small pearl of light trapped in that shell of ice. And maybe to others...the evil that he was would never be outweighed by what little was good. But to her that one thing. Even if it was just love for her and no one else is worth it. It was worth him being here.
Even after all this.
And she misses him. He hasn't been gone from her life for more than an hour as far as she knows but she already misses him. And she knows her grief will be greater soon. When Hanabi's confession sinks in. When she hears everything else that she hasn't heard. But even now just the knowledge that he is not coming back feels as though someone is picking at a wound over her heart, picking and picking and picking so the injury grows and the flesh stays raw.
But her grief doesn't matter. Not now...because her brother is here, staring up at her with those green eyes, begging an answer to his question without asking it. And her voice chokes at the familiarity of that. At the fact that she can read his eyes and the lines of his face as easily as she did Naruto's.
She doesn't know what to answer him, what she can say. So she settles for the closest thing to the truth that she can bear to give him.
"Because you're a good man."
And his head falls, bowed, his eyes obscured from her as he sighs. "I suppose...that makes things simple then."
And he stands. She doesn't stop him as he leaves forcing herself to take those last few steps to sit beside Hanabi
And as Temari cradle's her head again, running her finger's through the Hyuuga's dark tresses. she rocks her as best she can.
She starts to sing to keep her weary sleep away.
"There's not a rose where'er I seek
As comely as my baby's cheek.
There's not a comb of honey-bee,
So full of sweets as babe to me."
She follows after Gaara, leaving the two women. If she's honest with herself, perhaps she'll admit one day that it was not so much to follow Gaara as to not be alone with them.
Or more specifically with Temari.
People talk, and rumors travel faster than sound, even before she'd left, two days ago people were speaking; a whispered conversation here, a hushed story there.
Perhaps they were true. And perhaps one day she'd have the courage to ask, to discover more than what she knew. To hear it direct from the person he was closest to as to who exactly her brother was.
And perhaps, ease her anxiety pertaining to the question of who he was not.
Rumors of secret affection were not the only kind that men whispered. Too few had seemed overly incredulous at the notion of force.
Not even her...and she prayed to any god out there that still cared enough to listen to a stupid little girls hopes...
She felt a quiver at her back, and wondered for half a moment if that was her before she remembered what exactly she had over her shoulder.
Samaheda was both more and less than what it had been before. The seals painted on the cloth she'd wrapped around it were not for simple show. It was the only thing that had survived Suna.
This time she did shiver. It would be a long time before she forgot what it looked like within the heart of that nightmare landscape again.
Gaara stopped, she did too.
"Tell me..." He said without turning to look at her. "Is that all he said to you?"
She thought back. She stood in that place again, remembering herself answering his question... remembering him answering hers. And all the things that were said and unsaid as he climbed back onto that throne atop his mountain of skulls to fade away forever.
Sometimes...secrets were better than truths. "Yes."
She wasn't sure if he believed her. Because even now...as much as was said and unsaid between her and her brother, just as much remained between herself and this man.
Maybe he just didn't care anymore.
He started walking again, and she followed.
She counted it as a victory that he did not object.
They made their way to the largest tent of this camp, two guards posted at the entrance, she wasn't sure who they belonged to, didn't matter much.
They entered, and as her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dark, shadowed interior she noticed someone's eyes flicker to her. By his appearance, she recognized him easily as Jiraiya. He recognized her as well, his shoulders tensed, the sorrow on his face being purged by steel. He was angry, or at least wary. She had to wonder if she was the source of this, or perhaps the easiest recipient.
The men stood, bowing in greeting, Gaara returned the gesture, they were all tense. She made her way around, staying away, their eyes followed her in curiosity for a moment but soon returned to Gaara when she found a spot she liked and kept still.
They finally sat, and Jiraiya spoke, his voice was tight, just the barest hints of impatience held in its inflection. "Are you prepared to discuss terms now Kazekage?"
And she could almost hear it...the whisper at the back of her mind, almost see herself standing in that place again, before the throne atop the skulls, standing in salt water, hear his voice on her mind. Challenging her...taunting her...maybe even encouraging her.
"Do it." He would say, laughing in that mocking way of his. "Do what I could not...succeed where I failed."
"Do you have the strength sister? To bear this world; one without me...atop your shoulders?"
And perhaps she's just being that stupid little girl again. But she wonders if Gaara hears the same, wonders if her brother's specter haunts him as much as it haunts her.
Like embers stoked back into a fire she sees that determination burn behind his eyes, sees him square his shoulders, the lines of his face vanish as he tightens his expression. And there's his strength, and there's the faith placed on him. The weight settles on his shoulders and she doesn't know if he can do it, doesn't know if he's ready. But he's willing to try, and that will be enough for now.
"Yes...I am prepared." He answers.
And she hears his voice again wonders if she's going insane. But she can conjure his tone in her thoughts as though he were right here next to her.
And she wishes she could answer, wishes he was here so she can say that she'll try, that she'll do it.
But he's dead, and she can't answer, so all she can do for now is keep an eye on the man who can help her.
"Make a world where I cannot exist."