Title: Automatic
Author: Dayadhvam
Rating/Pairings: PG. Gen.
Summary: Gaara's shield defense is automatic; he has never had to consciously think about ordering the sand where it is needed. Kankurou and Temari have always known this.
Notes: Written Nov. 2007, edited Sept. 2014.

"All physical attacks are useless against him. Because regardless of Gaara's will… the sand becomes a shield and protects him."
—Kankurou, Naruto Ch. 82, "Lee's Secret"

I. Kankurou

The most annoying thing about being on a team with Gaara, Kankurou grumbles to himself as he jerks Kuroari away from a fireball, is that they always get sent out on the most dangerous missions. The council obviously hopes that someday Gaara will be defeated, like he was in the Konoha invasion, and gets taken out or something like that.

Well, that's just about the most annoying thing—that is, besides Gaara's tendency to kill whatever he likes. But that's a given, anyway.

(Not that he doesn't want dangerous missions, but can't the council give them some damn rest?)

And damn it, the fireball singed Kuroari's hair—does the stupid missing-nin know how long Kankurou spent working on that?

(Not that he doesn't like fighting, but couldn't the missing-nin have run into them sometime else, instead of right after they just finished an exhausting mission? Asshole.)

"Kankurou, get your dolls out of the way," says Temari, landing lightly next to him.

An instinctive mutter of protest—"They're puppets, not dolls—" But he pulls them in all the same, leaving Gaara's sand to lunge and stab at the surprisingly quick shinobi.

Temari draws open her great fan to three spots, and runs a thin ribbon of blood over it; braces herself as she pulls it back, then—"Kuchiyose Kirikiri Mai!"

The twitchy weasel Temari's always feeding at meals whisks out—oh no. Kuroari and Karasu are down on the ground quick as you please. He's not about to risk having them get blown to bits by the wind, considering he finished oiling their parts only two hours ago. Gaara's done the same with his sand, plastering it close against the ground around them.

(Kankurou also notes that Gaara is standing at least two trees away from him. He's already calculating how much time that gives him to get away from Gaara's sand. Just an old habit; just in case. They aren't going to do anything short of killing the stupid man, and Gaara always gets caught up in that bloodlust of his when that happens.

Yeah, okay, so maybe he doesn't do that so much now. Still, it's Gaara.)

Most everything around them is leveled; Kankurou snorts. Trying to be showy, he thinks, but at the same time he's trying to suppress a grin at his sister's jutsu. Temari lowers her fan warily. "Kamatari, where is he?"

The weasel is sniffing at the air, head cocked to one side. "Over here," it calls, darting some ways off. "But wait—it just ends here—"

The shifting of dirt behind them is all the warning Kankurou has before he turns his head and sees the bastard coming out of the earth, a rain of kunai flying at them. His fingers twitch, but the puppets are too far away; Temari's swinging around with her fan, but too late for her wind, too late to even get out of the way—

Oh, fuck

II. Gaara

He turns on his heel and sees the man they're going to kill.

"Sabaku Kyuu," he says. Then: "Sabaku Sousou."

The blood flies.

He opens his hand, letting the pressure recede slowly as the sand spills away and leaves behind the shinobi's mangled body; looks up, to see Kankurou and Temari making strange faces at him.

He blinks. There is not much outright fear, as has always been the case: only a sort of odd surprise.

Kankurou says, "Oh—well—good job, Gaara. Thanks."

He doesn't say anything, and jumps down to the ground. Waits, and glances up at them. They still haven't moved.

"If we are done," he says slowly, "then we can continue."

Kankurou's puppets click as they're pulled back and wrapped up; Temari's fan slowly snaps shut.

III. Temari

The sunlight has long since vanished; their surroundings are lit only by the small fire.

"Look at it! I swear there must be chopped up paper in this thing!"

"Kankurou," she says with exasperation. "I don't care if you think the rations are disgusting—go complain to someone else about that. It's all we have for now. Eat. Anyway, Kamatari likes it." She pats the weasel on the head; Kamatari shifts and continues snoring.

"It's a weasel. I'm not a weasel."

"I'm not letting you starve just because you're picky. Although I'm sorely tempted." To beat you over the head with my fan, is the implied threat.

He grimaces and takes a bite; grimaces again. "Ugh, this is almost as bad as your onigiri—and that's saying something!"

"Idiot!" Temari gives him a good slap. She wonders again, for who knows how many times, why she got stuck with a brother like this. Ungrateful brat.

Which reminds her of Gaara. She glances across the fire at him; Gaara has his arms folded across his chest. He's staring at them. His face is very blank.

She smiles back at him.

An uncertain expression appears on his face, like he's not quite sure what to make of her—and Temari knows, silently, that it's because she's never really bothered to smile at him before.

"Gaara," she says, "did you eat yet?"

"No," he says, and continues to eye her like she's a particularly strange, misbehaving experimental specimen.

"Hmph," Kankurou huffs. He tosses the food to Gaara, whose sand snaps out to catch it. "You can have that then—eat it for me, will you?" He grins. "I'm off. Wake me up when you switch for sentry duty." He falls back and is fast asleep in the next minute.

Silence creeps into their camp. Gaara has never been one to talk much, and Temari doesn't know what to talk to him about. So she putters about, cleaning her fan, putting Kankurou's dolls to the side so she won't trip over them, pulling out her blanket.

Gaara is staring into the fire now. Temari pauses to look at him; wonders what he's thinking. He has always been closed off to her: literally, because when she was young she didn't even know she had another brother until their father brought an eight-year-old boy to her and Kankurou and told them, This is Gaara, and she realized then that the overheard whispers about a red-haired boy who walked with sand were true—figuratively, because from the beginning his face was like the front of an empty house, shutters closed tightly and door locked.

He wasn't even looking, she remembers. She and Kankurou were staring up at the weapons that streaked toward them, and then she turned to evade (too late!), turned to find Gaara, who was too far away, who wasn't even looking at them, who hadn't heard the earth break behind them—

—and the kunai had slammed into sand.

The shield had fallen away as quickly as it had formed in front of them, and then Gaara had turned around, awareness and the cold killer look dawning in his black-rimmed eyes, but to Temari the sand jutsu that came afterwards was an unspectacular blur they'd seen many times before, a mundane death.

She remembers, mostly, Gaara standing far away with his back to them, unknowing, and the shield of sand.

Gaara's automatic defense.

She reaches out—stops—then ruffles Gaara's hair. He practically jumps. "Are you done eating?" she asks.

His body is stiff under her touch. "Yes," he says shortly.

She notes that he has, in fact, eaten the food Kankurou tossed to him. "All right," she says, and pauses. Then: "Could you do sentry duty the entire night? I'm—tired."

She hears the sand in his gourd shifting a little. "Yes," he says again.

"Thanks, Gaara." She leans down low and blows away the last small flames of the dying fire. She and Kankurou normally switch back and forth, so there was always two of them awake. Kankurou or her, and Gaara.

(Because, after all, they didn't know if Gaara wanted to kill them while they were sleeping. Back then.)

No light from a dead fire: the darkness sweeps across their little campsite. Temari burrows deeper under her blanket.

In front of her, Gaara sits, and she watches the moonlight shine through the leaves in thin silver bands upon her little brother.