Chapter Three: Will You Be Here for Me Tomorrow?
Gaara stood in the doorway between his bathroom and his bedroom. The expansive room had once belonged to his father, and once Gaara had become Kazekage, his siblings had insisted he take the room. Gaara understood the reasoning behind the gesture, but he'd never been comfortable with the decision. The few household servants in their employ — the two women and one man who had served under the Forth Kazekage — had insisted on redecorating the room for its new owner, and Gaara had let them. Still, it didn't feel like his room any more than his old room had. After all, he never had slept in it.
This night the room seemed even more foreign. The cold blues that had once decorated the room — the color always associated with the Kazekage — had been replaced with warm reds and golds: thick crimson rugs accented the wooden floor, and gold velvet chairs stood in the corners. A mahogany desk occupied the far wall along with a mahogany bookcase. Gaara could tell the women had an eye for décor and had probably wanted the room to feel homier, but he felt as though he were standing in the doorway of an inn and not a personal room.
However, the king-sized bed drew Gaara's attention most. The crimson, silk bedspread had never been turned back. Gaara had never even sat on the bed or moved one of the sausage-shaped pillows. He'd spent a few nights at the desk and an occasional evening in one of the chairs. But the bed might as well have not been there.
With a sigh, Gaara walked over to the bed and yanked back the covers. Crisp linen sheets presented themselves for inspection — sheets that had never been slept upon. Gaara frowned and reached up to run one hand over the satin nightshirt he'd donned. The maidservant had left it for him. The woman had a way of giggling and blushing when she saw him, and Gaara suspected she'd bought the red nightshirt and pants to match his hair.
Women really did mystify him. The only one he could understand was Temari, and she'd always been a tomboy. She didn't giggle or blush around boys or try to look demure; she always just spoke her mind.
Sighing once more, Gaara turned out his bedside lamp and climbed in bed. Lying on his back, he crossed his hands over his stomach and stared at the ceiling, which was illuminated by the moonlight pouring through his window. It was time: he had to face the concept of sleeping. He'd never been one to run away from problems; in fact, for most of his life he'd slaughtered any problems that got in his way. This time should be no exception. What was, was, and he planned to fight his dreams as well.
Gaara closed his eyes, wondering how long it would take him to fall asleep. Would it take long? Would he dream right away, or would he even be able to track the passing of time? Putting himself to sleep in order to release Shukaku had been an intense but short-lived blackness. This time it might be different . . .
With these thoughts, Gaara drifted off and for the first time in his life dreamt.
In his dream, Gaara was six again, kneeling by his injured uncle's side and crying. "You were under orders to kill me, then?"
Yashamaru smirked. "No . . . I wanted to."
Young Gaara knew what would come next. The words were already echoing in his mind: No, I wanted to because I hated you for killing my sister. Your mother hated you and cursed you with her dying breath. Gaara bowed his head, struggling against the dream but unable to stop the words he didn't wish to hear.
"I wanted to," Yashamaru continued, saying the dreaded words, "because I never considered you my brother."
Gaara gasped and looked back at his uncle. However, Yashamaru was no longer Yashamaru. It was Kankuro who lay dying, sand burns on his face and blood dripping from the corners of his mouth.
"Kan . . . kuro . . ." Gaara whispered, horrified. He clutched at his heart, and his clothes ripped under the pressure. "Please . . . not you!"
Kankuro turned his gaze toward him. His face was clear of paint, but blood poured down each side of his nose from his forehead. He wore Yashamaru's vest and clothes instead of his own bunraku outfit, and his eyes also held Yashamaru's same resignation and hatred.
"I tried to love you," he said, his voice raspy. "I really did. You were my one and only little brother, and I've always known it wasn't your fault that you killed our mother." Kankuro spoke slowly, each word enunciated with terrible determination and conviction. "But you were never anything other than a monster, even though you wore a human face, so I couldn't help it. I found myself hating you and accepted this mission in order to avenge Mother's death."
Young Gaara began sobbing so hard his chest hurt. His head seemed to ring with the anguish, causing him to smash his fists against his temples. "No!" he choked out. "You said you cared! You said we were of the same flesh and blood, that we —"
"I said what brothers are supposed to say," Kankuro said, blood oozing from his mouth with each word. He reached up with one shaking hand and unzipped his vest to reveal the explosive tags underneath.
Gaara noticed that his sand was gone — both the sand he'd crushed Kankuro with and his gourd. That's right, he thought, dazed, Shukaku is gone. This time I can let the explosion kill me. He dropped his hands from his temples, letting them fall into his lap. "Kankuro," he whispered, his pain so intense that he shook with it. He lifted his face toward the sky as tears streaked down his cheeks. "Do it. Kill me."
The explosion lit the night like a midnight sun.
Gaara jolted awake and without thinking threw off his covers and tried to climb out of bed. However, his body was oddly heavy, as though sleep were still trying to claim his limbs, and he stumbled and fell on his knees to the floor. His eyes felt sewn together, making him fight to keep them open, and his mind refused to clear, causing everything to seem slow motion and hazy. He felt as though he would be dragged back into sleep against his will.
"No," he choked out, desperate to avoid the nightmare realm. "No." Adrenaline pumped into his veins, enabling him to move more freely, and he clutched at his chest with one hand, covering his heart. The nightmare cycled through his mind, punishing him with images of his brother cursing him, and the hand over his heart trembled with his pain. Everything seemed warped and wrong — the furniture too tall, the shadows too wide, the world too evil — and he hoped that he wasn't still dreaming.
Why did I dream that? He tried to control his thoughts, but his mind began racing. What if it's true? No, it was a dream, not real. But people say dreams can reflect reality. Suddenly, he didn't feel real. Who . . . am I? What is this feeling? That strange void he'd hovered in for an eternally suspended moment seemed to break into reality, confusing him. He pulled his hand away from his chest and rubbed his fingers together, but he couldn't feel his own skin. What is . . . Gaara?
Dream, reality, death, the world in between . . . all the realms seemed to touch each other in that moment.
Vaguely, he realized he needed help. Forcing himself to stand, Gaara headed toward his door. He wove unsteadily like a drunk, not even feeling the hardwood floor beneath his feet, but he had to climb upstairs to the second-story bedrooms. He had to talk to Kankuro immediately.
Why? he wondered as he jerked his door open and headed down the hallway. Why did Yashamaru have to turn into Kankuro? Gaara put his hand against the wall to steady himself; he body felt as though he were wearing his sand armor. He blinked several times, trying to clear his blurry vision, but his eyes wouldn't cooperate. Am I on the verge of falling asleep again? No, I refuse to return to that nightmare world. But for a moment, all he could see was the image of himself as a child, crouching on the cracked ground, crying.
Gaara reached the staircase and stumbled up the steps. When he reached Kankuro's bedroom door, he stopped short and stared at the wood. Could he really do this? Could he awaken his brother over a dream? But the images were growing stronger, not fading, and if he'd learned anything, it was that people couldn't remain alone.
Hesitating, Gaara pressed his hand to the cold wooden door, trying to actually feel and comprehend its existence. His legs were still trembling from his earlier adrenaline rush, and in his mind, all he could see was Kankuro's bloody face and bitter gaze. The image kicked him in the chest, scaring him with its brutality and finality, and he could taste aluminum in his mouth, as though his fear had a metallic flavor.
I have to see him. I have to talk to him. Gaara clenched his hand into a fist to knock, only to pause. He's going to think I'm weak. No, no. He said to ask him if I had questions. I just won't tell him the details. He inhaled sharply and knocked on the door; however, he hit harder than he intended, causing the bang to echo down the hall.
Embarrassed, Gaara considered turning back immediately, but the sound — so loud in the silence of the night — caused him to freeze. A pause followed, and then Kankuro's sleepy voice came through the door.
Gaara exhaled a breath he didn't realize he was holding and reached for the doorknob. His hand still shook; the entire world seemed to vibrate. No good, no good. Is this even real? He forced himself to open the door, step inside, and close it behind him; however, he kept his gaze on the floor. The moon shone through the window and created a path of light across the wood, and he wondered belatedly if he should have turned on the lights when he first awakened. Maybe it would have helped him clear his mind and get in touch with reality.
From the corner of his vision, Gaara saw Kankuro sit up in bed and yawn. His spiky brown hair was tousled, and he rubbed one hand through it.
"Gaara?" he asked, obviously groggy, then paused. When he spoke again, surprise and concern colored his tone. "What's wrong?"
Gaara crossed his arms over his stomach. "I managed to sleep." Although his voice seemed far away to him, he realized he sounded thready and cleared his throat. "It . . . wasn't pleasant."
Kankuro pushed back his covers and slid to the edge of the bed. "I'm not surprised. People who lose a lot of sleep usually have nightmares at first; in your case, nightmares would be inevitable."
Gaara clenched his jaw, swallowing the questions he wanted to ask. "In the dream, I . . ." He couldn't say it. He couldn't reveal his horror, his anguish, his fear. It was a weakness Kankuro could exploit in the same way Yashamaru had when he'd attempted to assassinate him.
"Gaara?" Kankuro now sounded alarmed. "Was it that bad?"
Gaara hunched over slightly as his stomach cramped with pain; he tightened his arms around himself. Can a dream hurt this much? But the nightmare I had involved pain . . .
Kankuro stood. "It was only a dream. I can't imagine how bad it must be for you, but I promise it can't hurt you."
It already hurts!
Gaara forced himself to raise his head and look at his brother. In the moonlight, he could clearly see Kankuro's worry: his brow was furrowed, and he was frowning.
The instant their eyes met, Gaara was captured in Kankuro's gaze. He couldn't look away even though he knew his face had to be contorted in pain. His brother's eyes widened, and he inhaled sharply.
"G-Gaara!" Kankuro moved abruptly, as though snapped out of a trance. He ran across the room, grabbed Gaara by the arms, and pulled him against his chest, wrapping his arms around his little brother.
Without thinking, Gaara jerked backward, trying to free himself, then froze. For a tense moment, neither of them moved, and Gaara realized he wasn't under any kind of attack or restraint. His brother had simply embraced him. He wants to hug me? Gaara thought, shocked, but since he had always wished someone would be affectionate toward him, he couldn't bring himself to pull away.
Apparently realizing he wouldn't be rebuffed, Kankuro ran one hand up Gaara's back to his head and tucked it against his shoulder, holding him closely.
That last sign of love proved to be Gaara's undoing — he grabbed the sides of Kankuro's nightshirt with both hands and buried his face into his brother's shoulder. "Don't lie!" he yelled, his voice muffled. He could feel tears burning his eyes, but the onslaught of nightmare images and unreality had turned his emotions into quicksand that swallowed his control, leaving him raw. He found himself blunt in his desperation. "Don't lie! Tell me if you hate me."
Kankuro hugged him tighter. "Hate you? I know I got pissed off a lot, but I'm not sure I ever truly hated you. And I certainly don't now." He stroked Gaara's hair, his usual punk demeanor completely banished by his show of care. "It doesn't matter what happened in your dream; it can never change the truth of the waking world. You're my little brother, and I'm going to — to take care of you. Is that all right? I'm going to protect you for the rest of your life."
Perhaps because they were words Gaara had always wished to hear, his grip on reality slipped further like sand pouring between his fingers, and he clutched his brother's nightshirt harder. "But I killed your mother." In this pseudo-world, he somehow failed to process that she had been his mother, too. "And I hurt you."
The hand on Gaara's head paused briefly, then continued to stroke his hair. "You didn't kill our mom," Kankuro said. "Our father did that, and I blame him for it, not you. And I told you before that you don't have to apologize for who you used to be. I'm only concerned with the person you are now."
Gaara inhaled sharply, but he felt like he couldn't breathe. He turned his head slightly so he could breathe easier, but his inhalations were shallow and quick. "But I —" He gasped again, feeling like he'd suffocate in his anguish. Wake up, he thought, internally screaming at himself. Wake up! But which reality would he awaken to? If his brother spoke the truth, shouldn't he want to stay in this place?
"Hey," Kankuro whispered, growing still. "Take deep breaths. Slow, deep breaths. You're on the verge of hyperventilating."
Gaara did as instructed, the physical pain finally convincing him that it wasn't a dream. He became aware of his brother's measured breathing, so much steadier than his own, and even the faint smell of detergent clinging to his t-shirt. He said he blames our father, he told himself, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. But — but I was a monster. For years I kicked him away from me, threatened his life, told him go to hell. Gaara's breath caught again, and he gasped as his lungs seized. "How can you forgive me?"
Dropping his hand from Gaara's head, Kankuro hugged him tighter and rubbed his back with one palm. "I forgave you because . . . I care about you. Forgiveness is a gift of love, not something you can earn."
Gaara tried to slow his breathing once more, but he only felt confused. Yashamaru had said something similar to him, but then he'd turned around and tried to kill him. Now Kankuro was saying the same thing. "I don't understand. Why do you care?"
"You turned to me first, remember?" Kankuro chuckled. "You turned to Temari and me and said 'I'm sorry.' You showed us you weren't a monster."
Gaara gasped, struck by the truth of the statement. I did . . . I told them I was sorry. With this realization, he felt suddenly exhausted, as though he would fall down if Kankuro weren't holding him. His feelings of suffocation drained from him, and with a deep breath, Gaara began to calm down. He released his hold on Kankuro's nightshirt and wrapped his arms around his waist. "I'm still sorry."
"I know," came the quiet reply. "But you don't have to be. I let it go long ago."
Gaara tried to focus on those words and relax. He really does accept me as a brother,he told himself, trying to drive the truth through his own head. After several minutes, he became aware of the warmness of Kankuro's embrace and the strong arms wrapped around him. An equally strong, warm hand was smoothing down his hair.
"There," Kankuro whispered, his voice unbelievably soft and kind — far more so than Gaara could have ever imagined. "That's better. See? I told you I could take care of any problem you had."
"Um-mm," Gaara mumbled. It was strange, this feeling. This awe. Someone really did care about him and was truly devoted to him. Was this it, at last? Was this feeling love?
Kankuro carefully pulled away and then grasped Gaara's shoulders in his hands. "I won't ask you right now to tell me what you dreamed. But when you're ready to talk about it, I'm here."
"Okay." Gaara felt a hint of pain at being released, but Kankuro leaned down and kissed his forehead — right on the kanji for love. His skin tingled faintly from the contact, and a snort of amusement escaped him. For a moment, he felt like a small child.
Kankuro released him and stepped back. He laughed awkwardly and ran a hand through his spiky hair. "I know. Sorry. I didn't mean to kiss you on the forehead like I was your mother." He tousled his own hair, apparently in embarrassment.
"I don't mind." Gaara glanced at his feet, feeling uncomfortable, but he still wanted Kankuro to know it was fine. "You are my older brother."
Kankuro grinned, then bit his lip. "Um . . . do you want to try to sleep again?"
Gaara snorted. "Never. Again."
"I was afraid you'd say that." Kankuro grimaced. "You know you have to."
Gaara crossed his arms and looked away. "I'll have the medical ninja research a way for me to forego sleep."
Kankuro reached out and grabbed his arm. "I have a better suggestion. Why don't you just sleep in here tonight? I'll watch over you, and if it looks like you're having another nightmare I'll wake you up."
Gaara dropped his gaze to the floor, embarrassed by how much he wanted to agree to that. His brother apparently had the ability to make him feel safe.
Kankuro tugged on his arm and pulled him to the bed. "Try again. I'll be right here."
Gaara found he couldn't say no. He allowed Kankuro to pull him into the bed. His brother lay down first, then wrapped one arm around Gaara so that he could rest in the crook of his arm. Kankuro pulled the covers up over them.
"There," he said once they were settled. "I'll be right here the whole time, so go ahead and beat this."
Gaara relaxed and put his head against his brother's chest. He could hear Kankuro's heart beating steadily, and it helped him to feel drowsy and safe. In fact, he felt at home in this bedroom, unlike his own, because of his brother's presence. "Very well. I will."
This time when Gaara drifted off to sleep, his nightmares had no power over him.
A/N: As always, thank you to Darkhelmetj for beta reading and to anyone who reads and reviews.
I freely and openly admit that the final part of this chapter where Gaara listens to Kankuro's heart was directly inspired by Blacknbluesiren's "Tempo of Love." Please consider it a compliment, Blacknblue, that your story was so powerful that I had to include that detail in my story. To the readers: please go read "Tempo of Love." It's lovely.
Anyway, I'm finishing up a second Gaara & Kankuro h/c story right now that will be the sequel to this one — "Requiem for Atlas."