Fish Heads

by Lotos-Eater

Sand-sib gen fic Because Kankurou just had to be a jerk, something they thought they had lost for good was reborn.


It was a little-known fact that when they were very, very young, Temari and Kankurou acted like a normal brother and sister. Which is to say that they couldn't spend five minutes in each other's presence without poking, yelling, hair-pulling, biting, scratching, pinching, punching, or trying out their new-learned ninja tactics on each other. Temari hated her little brother and she told him so in her already-booming voice. Kankurou openly hoped his sister's skeleton was picked clean by carrion while she rotted in the desert. Temari slapped him on the back of the head. Kankurou tweaked her pigtail. Temari made a lunge for his face and he dodged it in time to make a jab at her vulnerable shins…

They didn't know they had another brother.

To them, he was just the creepy little kid that hung around the Kazekage's tower sometimes. They didn't get to play much with normal kids, so they didn't hear the rumors, but they didn't need to be told that he was someone to be avoided. Their father carefully hid the fact that he was their brother from them until Temari was ten years old. And then one day he took all three into his chamber and told them what they would become.

The two older siblings stood across from the younger one. He already had the dark rings around his eyes and the cold and empty gaze that he would carry for most of his young life. Temari and Kankurou were mutely horrified, although both tried not to show it. Gaara quite obviously didn't give a damn who they were. And so they met.

They didn't realize the change at first, because there were so many other changes: Gaara was their daily nightmare, their father became a shadow behind their lives, their training became suddenly serious, their punishments ten times as painful. This was when they learned to obey without question. It was hardly surprising that Temari and Kankurou didn't notice the other subtle change that occurred when they started to grow up like this.

Gaara noticed.

Gaara, who had been watching them for as long as he could remember, just as he had watched all the village children, first with lonely envy and then with seething jealousy, noticed the change in them as the years pressed on. It wasn't that they didn't fight anymore: there were plenty of hard words and vicious looks in those years among all three of them. But he noted the change between the older two. He was clinically detached from it and didn't care, but he saw what was different. It was painfully obvious to him.

When they were young, when he had watched them in silence, he saw their fighting for what it was. Where other people saw a pinch or a shove, he saw that elusive human contact that he had always lacked. They were touching each other. It was as natural to them as breathing. It wasn't a sign of fondness, but it was a bond: hate like that was almost as powerful a bond as love. Somehow he knew that if he threatened them, they would just as quickly join forces to protect each other.

But after he became a part of their lives, the walls went up, and they became as cold and distant to each other as he was to them.


The earth crashed into the sun, the sun eclipsed the moon, rivers overflowed their banks, the desert turned green. At least this was what it felt like. Even just a few weeks after the Chuunin exam, everything looked different. The Kazekage was dead and Suna was in an uproar, but more importantly, Gaara was awake. Temari and Kankurou didn't phrase it like that, because it would have been cruel given his condition, but that was how it seemed. It was like he had been sleepwalking through a nightmare his whole life, and now he was suddenly awake.

With this realization came the guilt that they had been part of that nightmare. They had feared and vilified him as much as anyone else in the Sand.

It was almost like an unspoken truce: they would not speak of his murders or his old threats to kill them, and he would not bring up the fact that they had hated him as much as any other villagers. At any rate, before they could sort out past grievances, there was the matter of everyday life. They were no longer the children of the Kazekage, and everyone that was left of his inner circle seemed to want all traces of the old rule washed away, Gaara most pointedly, but Kankurou and Temari by extension. All three were associated with their father's foolish bid for power. But they did have one advantage, one legacy of their father that helped them, and that was their strength as shinobi. The Suna elders were willing to commit any number of crimes to promote their village, but they would never throw away a good ninja who was in the service of the Sand.

So they were given a house to stay in, a much more modest affair than they were used to, and they earned their keep through taking missions. They were already used to living together, so it wasn't so bad.

But Gaara was troubled. There was still that wall between Temari and Kankurou, and Gaara could see it, and now that he was awake he wished they could go back to being the way they were when they were very young. It didn't matter to him anymore that he couldn't be a part of whatever warped bond it was between them. He couldn't explain it, but he yearned for it silently. They had accepted the fact that he was no longer homicidal. They had backed him up in every way they could since the Chuunin exams, as if that could make up for before. It couldn't. But they were trying, for some reason. Why did they feel obligated to do anything for him? Why did they have that strange pride in their eyes when they looked at him?

He wanted to believe that their lives weren't ruined because of him.

He didn't realize how quickly and easily the rift could heal, aided by, of all things…

"What in the hell is that?" Kankurou blurted out as soon as he walked into the kitchen. He looked tired after an afternoon of training, and his hood was pushed back, lying in a flap on his back, and the sweat stood out like beads on his neck. Temari looked up from the island, where the mysterious thing was sitting on the cutting board in front of her. Her hands, her shirt, and the counter surface surrounding the thing had been stained with all manners of fluids, from egg yolk to blood, including the large book that was open in front of her on the counter. Temari was obviously, and unfortunately, trying to cook again.

She'd picked up this and other protective maternal urges to aim at her little brothers just after the uproar and the death of their father. But Temari and maternal went together about as well as …fish and the desert.

She was trying to figure out how to de-bone it.

"What does it look like, genius? It's a fish," she said in a very dangerous tone. "You're going to eat it and you're going to like it."

Kankurou pinched the bridge of his nose. "Tell me you're not serious. That thing stinks like shit!"

Gaara, sitting at the kitchen table with a book in his hand, silently agreed with his brother.

They mostly ignored him and the new habits he'd picked up, like reading novels all day, because they didn't know what else to do with him. They didn't seem to notice that the books were a cover. He really just wanted an excuse to sit around and observe them without making them nervous.

"It's healthy. They eat it in Konoha," she said with a murderous voice. "It's good for you."

Gaara did not miss the meaningful glance she shot at her youngest sibling. While she was obviously relieved that he had come out of his homicidal stupor, Temari silently disapproved of the diet he'd picked up since. Gaara didn't see what was wrong with eating potato chips. They tasted just as good as anything else. But for some reason she kept trying to make him eat other things too.

It was so quick he almost missed it. Kankurou's curious finger moved slowly toward the fish, and Temari's hand flew out to swat him away.

There. A touch.

"Don't you get your grimy fingers on our dinner! Do you know how much this cost? Do you even know what fish cost out here?"

Money was another thing they'd learned to deal with very quickly. They were no longer royalty in the streets of Suna; dinner cost just as much for them as it did for anyone else.

"Yeah, so why'd you buy it, genius?" he asked, backing away.

"I told you, it's healthy. Somebody around here has to think about the way you idiots eat."

Gaara paused, mentally. Temari had never dared to insult him before, even obliquely. Temari and Kankurou seemed to realize this simultaneously. There was a heartbeat of time where they obviously were waiting to see how he would react – whether it would mean their deaths or not – he didn't even look up from his book, pretending not to notice – and then – thwack – she had to swat Kankurou's hand out of the way again.

"Stop being so disgusting."

"What's the matter? Is big sister grossed out by the icky fish head?" he sneered, poking at its eyeball.

"I said cut it out! If you're not going to help you can get out of the kitchen." But she gave a brief shudder when the eyeball squelched under his finger. Gaara lowered his book with curiosity. Temari wasn't the type to shudder or show in any way that she was squeamish. Kankurou had obviously seen that shudder as well, and now he was looking extremely devious…

Kankurou backed innocently into the corner by the refrigerator, arms crossed on his chest. Temari seemed satisfied that he was going to stay out of the way and went back to work with rigorous concentration (Temari approached cooking the way that most people would approach defusing an explosive). Gaara watched closely. Temari bent back over the book and the fish in front of her…

The fish jumped off the cutting board and at her face with its mouth wide open and its eyes nearly popping out of its head.

Temari shrieked.

Gaara put down the book. He had never heard Temari make that kind of noise.

"KANKUROU YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE, GET YOUR CHAKRA STRINGS OFF OUR DINNER," she bellowed, obviously embarrassed about the girlish shriek and trying to cover for it.

Kankurou was laughing so hard there were tears coming out of the corners of his eyes. He was still toying with the dead fish like it was one of his puppets. "That was awesome… that look on your face… that was priceless."

"Kankurou, that is not funny!"

He kept laughing.

You could see the anger building up by the red hue of her face. Gaara had a feeling he knew what was coming next. Her ninja reflexes were a lot better now than they were when she was seven.

But as soon as she lunged for him, she had to jerk her head back, because he had thrust the fish's head directly at her nose. She shrieked again.

Gaara would have missed it if he hadn't been looking for it: the tiniest smile creeping into her face…

"Get that thing away from me!"

"Don't you like it? It's nice and healthy."

"Cut it out – ew! Seriously cut it out!"

"Come on now – he wants a kiss…"


He had successfully chased her around the island. She was running for the kitchen door. Then –

"Gaara – quick! Cut her off!"

With reflexes honed by years of training, he jumped out of the chair and blocked her exit, arms across his chest.

She ran straight into him.

She tried to shove past him.

This was strange, he realized. There was obviously a situation she wanted to avoid, one involving fish heads, and she was obviously mad at Kankurou, but somehow it didn't quite seem like she was trying to get away. In the midst of this he realized that while he held her back and Kankurou assaulted her with the fish and she tried to squirm out of his reach, she was shoving up against Gaara as she tried to squeeze past him through the doorway. He realized that this was the closest they had ever been, physically.

In a heartbeat she dropped to the ground and rolled away, back toward the island. Her eyes were evil. She reached for a weapon. Gaara thought she would go for the kitchen knife lying next to the cutting board, which would make the most sense…

She grabbed an egg.

"You are going to pay," she said to Kankurou.

With elite-ninja speed, she ran up to him and shoved the fish aside and slammed the egg down in his hair. Temari had always been faster than Kankurou, almost as fast as Gaara; Kankurou barely had a chance to block her. Bits of yolk splattered onto Gaara.

For a second he had a vision of blood flying in every direction, but it passed just as quickly.

Kankurou growled, trying to squirm away from her, but she held him down to the floor, his head in a chokehold by one of her elbows and her other hand smearing raw egg into his scalp without mercy. "Gaara – get me another!"

His sand shot out and fetched her the whole carton of eggs. "You're supposed to be on my side!" Kankurou shouted.

Unfortunately, he accidentally brought them in range of Kankurou's hands…

Temari smashed another egg into Kankurou's hair. He slunk his head out of her grasp, grabbed her arm and dragged her down to the floor and smashed one into her hair, right between the pigtails. Reaching over for the egg carton his knee slipped on the yolk-covered floor and he accidentally smashed one into Gaara's leg – Gaara was still blocking the doorway. And Gaara, overriding the instinct that told him to attack, kill, grabbed one of the cold round delicate things and shoved it right into his brother's face.

Both of his older siblings seemed to pause for a second, but that was all they gave him. Kankurou then got him right back, dragging his little brother down by his robes and smearing a handful of sticky, syrupy yolk into Gaara's nose.

The sand didn't stop him.

Temari, in a bid to defend Gaara, grabbed for the fish, swung it by its tail and whacked Kankurou on the head. It splattered.

Chunks of expensive, white, healthy fish meat went everywhere.

Everyone froze for a moment.

Gaara observed these things in the following minutes:

That Temari, who had earned and fully deserved the title of Ice Bitch, and who had a tendency to mock those she was about to kill, had a deep, throaty laugh that was almost musical.

That Kankurou, who didn't even flinch anymore when an enemy's flesh seeped out through Kuro Ari's wooden seams, had a face red with hysterics even through his battle paint, and was making a hissing noise because he was laughing so hard he could barely breathe.

That neither of them seemed afraid of him.

That they were all touching. Kankurou was half on Gaara's lap, and Temari had fallen onto both of them. They were sitting on the kitchen floor, sticky with egg yolk among flecks of white fish.

That he had never seen them really laugh before. He had seen them laugh with condescension, he had heard their bitter, ironic laughs, but had heard nothing ever even remotely like this in his presence.

That they had changed since their father had died.

That maybe they had been hurt almost as much as he had, in a way.

Gaara didn't laugh, but he watched them and almost felt like crying.


"Stand still!"

Gaara didn't like being told what to do. They never did this. They knew better. But in spite of what was probably her better judgment, Temari was scouring his face with paper towels.

"He can do that himself," Kankurou grumbled.

"You be quiet. You ruined our dinner!"

Kankurou scoffed, and under his breath Gaara heard him say, "As if we would have eaten…"

"You're taking us out," Temari said in a voice that did not brook argument. "Dinner's on you tonight. And I am not eating hamburgers." She finished with Gaara's face and gave him one last glance, something unreadable, something between a smile and a grimace, something that if he had not been a cold-blooded killer he might have thought was affection, but since he was Gaara and he assumed this was impossible, he didn't know what it was.

They ended up at a restaurant nearby where the service was terrible but the food was good and bitter enough for Gaara's tastes. As soon as they had taken their seats, the tables around them started to clear out. Temari and Kankurou pretended not to notice.

Gaara was feeling an unfamiliar emotion. Pretty much all emotions other than hatred and annoyance and the excitement of killing were unfamiliar to him, but this one was definitely new. It had started sometime back at the house, when Kankurou had needlessly helped him off the floor with a hand, or when Temari started to try and get maternal again and clean off his face with a napkin. It continued to build as they walked through the streets to the restaurant, receiving the usual glares from all passersby. It continued even now as they received the same glares from the other restaurant patrons and the waiting staff. (This was why Temari had been trying to learn how to cook.)

They all knew it without saying it. Everyone was afraid of them, not just Gaara but them, because somehow all of them were Gaara. They had spent too much time as a team to be dissociated in the minds of Suna villagers. And they sat there and felt the fear emanate off of everyone around them.

The waitress approached them with trepidation. And Temari smiled. And Kankurou smiled. Almost as if they liked being the most badass ninja around.

Kankurou began to order a hamburger, explaining in great detail to the waitress how he required the meat to be especially rare, to the point of bloodiness, until her face has been drained of all color. Temari glanced at Gaara. If she had been the type to roll her eyes, this is where she would have rolled her eyes.

It's another unspoken truce in their list of unspoken truces, almost as if Temari and Kankurou were saying to him: yes, we know we've been fucked with, albeit not as much as you, and we have suffered and followed orders that could have cost us our lives, and we have done plenty killing ourselves. We have been trained to be tools, and now we think for ourselves and they don't know what to do with us anymore. We're monsters too. But we are in this together. With you.

It's not the comfortable normalcy that most families seem to have, but it's a start.