While working on numerous other fanfictions, this idea came to me, and it just had to be written. It's one part comedic idea, one part fluff, two parts angst, two parts introspective, and one part anger management, Gaara style.
Dedicated to Ben and Kelsey. You two know who you are. Also, dedicated to any and all Gaara, Matsuri, and GaaraxMatsuri fans out there - this is written for you!
Gaara teaches Matsuri the tricks of the trade.
"Look at her!"
"Look at her clothes!"
"She's a total geek!"
"The way she dresses . . . color-blind, much?"
"She has no friends, right?"
" 'Course not. She's totally emo."
"With all that color?!"
"Stuck up, too."
"Sits in the corner all the time, eats lunch by herself . . ."
"No one likes her."
"Guess she thinks she's better than us."
"She's a nobody. Less than a nobody."
"Oh, guess what – I'm in her class at the Academy, and guess what –"
"Guess who she picked for a teacher?"
"The demon freak!"
Loud, careless voices, broken by laughter and made sharp by scorn, carried clearly across the courtyard, where the air wavered with the disturbances of heat and voice. Girls whose clothing clung to them as lovers moved about, their lack of grace compensated by their energy, in an anxious flock; boys whose straying hands grabbed and straddled the girls, whispered crude comments amidst guffaws that emerged, thick and rude, from their throats.
Matsuri knew this group well, and feared them.
She ducked her head and curled a little tighter on the swing, so that her feet trailed backwards through the sand. Cruel words had crept into her life, accompanying insecure people and their judgements, years ago, into time beyond reckoning. Matsuri's brain scolded her for allowing those words to impact her, to stray within her thoughts even after the people had moved on and away. In her heart of hearts, that secret place that only she was privy to, however, Matsuri had to admit that their words made her feel little, and weak. Made her feel hollow.
Perhaps they shouldn't hurt, perhaps she should be strong enough to not allow them to hurt . . . but their words always wounded Matsuri.
Why did people do this to her? She whose sensitive and gentle nature could never hurt them; she to whom violence was a stranger.
Matsuri didn't understand.
She really didn't. She supposed the outline of the concept was there, but she had only imagination to supply the shape – and, even in her dreams, when she orchestrated situations wherein scathing words descended from her lips, she awoke with the leaden veil of guilt upon her mind, a ghost that haunted her through all the day.
But guilt was a ghost that others seemed numb to.
So, she usually let it go. She would burn for a day, maybe two, with humiliated feelings and a sort of confused, dim rage. And then they would fade, as cuts and bruises do: slowly, and with slight pain whenever touched upon, in the distant place where she would bury them, where she would lock them away into the depths of newborn nightmares.
She stood, turned, and walked away. The swing, released, fell back with a jagged clink of chains, and wobbled in her wake. She abandoned it to the emptiness any object suspended in the summer air would know.
Barely anyone strode the streets of Suna this day, and she neither recognized nor greeted those who did. The asphalt beneath her sandals brimmed with packed heat, and the breeze, although it pulsed gently against her face, was no cooler. Matsuri could feel the sun as its shine fell against her hair and back, bathing her and the street she strode in light that was both merciless and pure.
The way she dresses . . . color-blind, much?
The way she dresses . . . color-blind, much?
I like color, she thought to herself. One hand drifted upwards, found her scarf, yellow as her mother's hair was yellow, a pale shade of lemon; and moved down, tracing the turquoise shirt, the white one that lay beneath it, the purple skirt that hung above the darker knee-highs, and . . . damn it, she did not need to defend herself. Not even from the voices that had burned into her heart.
The thing was, though . . . she did.
Matsuri's gaze blurred, the colors merging into a mess of shapes and shades. She raised her hand again, brought her fingers to her cheek, and drew them away, wet. The only cool spots on her body, the tips of her fingers evaporating in the desert's breath.
Oh, she was not crying because of them. She was not.
But she was.
She blinked. Her feet froze in midstep, tripping her into the wind.
It was him.
Matsuri recovered her balance without grace, and turned around with a type of stumbling pirouette. Dust and sand, disturbed, rose in clouds about her toes.
He was a few steps behind her. Standing where he was, gazing slightly down at her, his face seemed to eclipse the sun; and the glow of midday swarmed about his face, as a halo might. His hair fell about his face, casting shadows made weak and grey by daylight upon his skin.
His eyes were looking directly at her. Matsuri's mind drew together a half-thought about their blueness, about how they seemed to burn between the perimeters of blackness, and trailed off into silence. She felt blank inside.
"Oh . . . Gaara-sensei . . . um . . ."
Her voice wavered, faded, and deserted her. Reddening, she coughed and rubbed her eyes, slowly, dwelling in the dark respite that closed eyes allowed her. A world within her head, an existence within her inner night.
Although he must have seen the tears. How long had he been there? Had he heard . . .
No one likes her. Freak. Freak . . .
No one likes her.
Freak . . .She's a nobody.
To her horror, she began to cry in earnest, there in the darkness behind her hands.
For Gaara, nothing like this had ever happened before.
When he had agreed to go get "some things" from the market, Gaara had not expected to find Matsuri wandering the streets. Surprised – in a good way, he supposed; Matsuri's face seemed to lighten something within him – he had greeted her.
And she had burst into tears.
What was he supposed to do?!
"Um," he said, "Um . . ."
He was inaudible even to himself.
"Matsuri . . . ?"
His student raised her head, a little, and peered owlishly at him through fingers spread like prison bars. Tears welled in her dark eyes, spilled below her hands onto her cheeks, stained them with pain.
He realized, suddenly, that he hated seeing her so hurt; it felt almost like a pain, a sharp coiling thing, within him. She was his student, and she was crying, and . . . and he didn't want her to.
In the end, he supposed, everything culminated in selfishness.
But – now was not the time to think –
What should he do?!
Feeling supremely awkward, Gaara reached out, slowly, and tentatively touched her shoulder. He half-expected her to run away, but she didn't draw back; her bare skin was hot below his fingers. He could feel her bones through her skin and shirt, the strength that preserved her thin frame.
Why she stepped closer, he could not say; but she did; and her eyes had crinkled shut again.
"I . . ." she breathed, "I . . . am so angry . . ."
Gaara heard her choke a little, on the last word. Her shoulder shook beneath his hand.
"I'm sorry," he mouthed.
It was all he could think to say; and even then, he had no voice to offer her.
She shook her head – negation? apology? acceptance? – and Gaara, feeling hollow, lost, reached out through the sunlight and hugged her close.
Her apartment was small, unpainted, unlovely.
Boxes were stacked everywhere; from a distance, they appeared as a mass of angles at odds with gravity, juxtaposed with the certain weird architecture only piled moving boxes could really achieve. From them sprawled the memoirs of a life; sweaters and shirts from one, dolls from another, pots and pans from a third. Furniture lay interspersed between the boxes – a desk, a table, a bed – and clothing was flung about in frantic crumpled colors. The kitchen, through which one entered, opened up onto the living room, which opened up onto a small hall; and from there the bathroom, the bedroom, and a closet were all accessible.
Gaara silently watched Matsuri sink onto her couch. She still shook, and her hair fell, tangled and crushed, over her cheek, as if it wished to shield her from the world.
They sat in silence for a long, long moment, she curled at one end of the couch, he seated cross-legged at the other.
"Are you all right?" Gaara finally asked.
"Yeah," she sniffed. Gaara wordlessly handed her a handkerchief, and watched her wipe her face with it.
"Thanks." she whispered.
"Hm," was all Gaara could think of in way of a reply. Feeling useless, he folded his hands in his lap, and merely watched Matsuri as her breathing began to calm.
"No," she said, after a heartbeat of silence.
"I said, no." she raised her head, and her dark eyes found his. "I mean, I . . . I'm not okay."
"I'm . . ." she lowered the handkerchief, twisted it. ". . . really angry."
Gaara studied her face, intently. Before, her expression had been drawn, closed – the skin around her eyes scrunched tight, her mouth grim and unsmiling. Now, her brow had cleared, her lips drawn back to their normal position. What ocean had flooded her before had ebbed away; all that was left was residue in the form of dried paths tracing down her cheeks.
He remembered holding her. He remembered his arms around her back, remembered his arms shaking with her pain, sharing the tremors that coursed through her body. The long knobs of her spine below the fabric of her shirt and his. The pressure of her face laid near the side of his, the warm bland feel of skin against skin. The smell of her hair, smooth against his cheek – feeble trace of dust and sand, and the strong clean scent of mint.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked. His voice was soft in the silent apartment, soft against the mute testimony of an unpacked life. "Talking . . . helps. Sometimes . . ."
What was he trying to say? Gaara turned his face away, to the window, to the sunlight that spilled through it. He could barely talk to his siblings, the closest people he had, about himself; and here he was, recommending that she bare thoughts that she kept hidden to a boy she had known for barely a month? He could not do it, were he Matsuri; the idea that she would was ludicrous.
And yet . . .
Who else, Gaara wondered, did she have?
Her parents were dead, and what friendships she retained with others were tenuous at best, flimsy bonds of greetings and brief conversation. No one ate with her at lunch, or chose her as a sparring partner, or came to her for companionship. No one sought camaraderie with her. No one shared her moments.
No one wanted to.
"Do you . . ."
Gaara, pulled from his thoughts, started at Matsuri's small voice. She fiddled with the hem of her shirt, head bowed.
"Would you listen?"
If not he, then who?
Her hand lifted to her cheek; her fingers swept her hair back, slowly. The brown strands were dark against her skin.
"They . . ." her voice threatened mutiny; she swallowed, coughed. ". . . upset me."
Matsuri gestured vaguely with her hand; the hair fell away from it, fell against her cheek once more.
"They . . . uh, you know . . . those kids in my class. The ones who always hang out together . . . they say . . ."
She gritted her teeth.
"They say . . . mean stuff. About me . . . about, uh, you . . ."
Something flickered in his face.
She was speaking, he realized, of those children whose grandfathers and uncles served on the Council. Those ones that knew the most detailed of the stories, who whispered with the most audacity, who faced the world with violence in one hand and scorn in the other. And what is scorn but a very real violence, aimed at the heart and soul, drawing, not blood, but tears?
Tears . . .
The stains on Matsuri's cheeks, mingled with the wetness that had yet to dry, revealed by the light that seeped in from outside. The shimmer in her eyes, dark as the night was dark, and just as lonely. For night was the time when one's world withdrew to just the tactile perceptions, and the mind's activity; night was when one was alone, separate from the world. Night was when the earth could fall away, and you might move from your room to discover that even the morning was gone. When people lay prone beneath their cloth, as corpses who had yet to die, waiting for their existence to dim into whatever mystery it was that sleep was.
Watching her, Gaara felt a powerful mix of emotions steal into his heart at the sight of those stains. One was anger; another, a slow unhappy pain; and, hand in hand with both, was a sad, protective tenderness for the shy girl who wept before him.
Part of him – a very strong part – wanted to recoil from these startling new feelings, to run away, to not have to deal with this – what was he supposed to do, anyway? His efforts at offering comfort were few and far between, and directed solely at his siblings; a soft word of praise for Kankuro's cooking after Temari had roundly abused it, a nod of encouragement for Temari's new dress when Kankuro teased her for it. Small words, small gestures.
Yet they mattered.
Here, maybe they would matter, as well.
And . . .
And, Gaara realized, no one had ever cried in front of him before.
Even the would-be assassins from the terribly bright and empty world of his past had never wept. Cursed, yes – demon freak being the most favored of these (Gaara had ultimately come to the conclusion that the vast majority of would-be assassins bore a dismal lack of originality) that had rung out into the deserted landscape. But wept, as Matsuri wept now, cut and bleeding below her skin?
No one had been brave enough to get this close.
And so he stayed. And so he gave her his attention, his thoughts, and his concern. Not a rational decision, really – just one his heart decided and his feet obeyed.
"It's stupid," she was saying, "it's really stupid that words could do this to me . . . but I-I cry . . . a lot, so I, I don't know, I might be overreacting . . . or something . . ."
She mopped her eyes again, and then slid her thumb into her mouth and bit it, gently, quickly.
"But, I mean, why . . . why would they do that?"
Gaara shook himself once more from his contemplations, and surveyed her calmly. "What did they say?"
"Oh – uh, mean things about me."
"And me." He added, emotionlessly.
"They . . ." she removed her thumb, and clasped her own hands, about her knees. ". . . shouldn't, you know, say stuff about you. It's . . . not true."
Cool surprise washed through him.
His emotions must have shown on his face – he could feel his eyes widen – for she responded with surprising vehemence.
"You're not a freak, Gaara-sensei!"
Odd, really, to watch energy flood her face, animation working below her skin and bones. No longer a sorrowful drowned thing, but a creature of passion and flame.
"You're really, really nice!"
His mouth opened, a little, at those words. He really hadn't expected that; and his obvious shock seemed only to feed her enthusiasm.
"You really are, Gaara!" she continued brightly. "I mean, you help me, every day, and you're patient . . . and you don't get angry at me, when I mess up – I mean, I'm so clumsy I mess up all the time –"
"You're not clumsy," Gaara managed to say, almost weakly. She stopped mid-tirade, and flushed deeply.
"I-I . . . um, thanks – but I, uh, I think I am . . . clumsy . . . God, I'm sorry, I'm shy . . ."
Matsuri ducked her head into her hands, still blushing furiously.
You're not clumsy
You're not clumsy. . .
"I'm really shy . . ." she repeated. "I've always been shy . . ."
"Shy," Gaara mouthed.
"The feeling . . . oh, that people . . . people scare you . . . because they can see you, the you that's yours, that's private, secret . . ."
She closed her eyes.
"The feeling that they judge you . . ."
Gaara could only stare at her. He felt torn open, exposed; she seemed to give the feeling that had harbored, long ago, in Gaara's own heart, a voice.
"The feeling," he said, softly, "that you don't want to look at people . . . or be near them . . ."
"Because they look at you –"
"And you hate that, they should leave you alone –"
"Why do they look at me? I just want to be here –"
"In my own perception of existence, not theirs' –"
"Because I don't know if they'll like me or not –"
"I don't want them to think about me – to judge me, by their standards –"
"As a freak –"
"A demon –"
"A friendless girl –"
"An outcast –"
"Yes, motherless –"
"Someone who hides in the corner, because she doesn't want people to look at her, because they look . . . oh, they look . . . "
". . . with unkind eyes." Gaara finished.
They gazed at each other, mute, blue eyes to black.
To Matsuri, Gaara's face seemed . . . different: it was as if the blank mask he wore had swung open. Not a lot, but enough for her to see something gentler, warmer, below the almost scientific composition with which he arranged his face.
It was the face she had seen when he had touched her hand after she had bandaged a badly scraped knee. The face she had seen when he had bent over the textbooks, explaining the finer aspects of genjutsu to her. The face she had seen when he had told her, nearly a month ago, pick a weapon.
Unconsciously, her eyes drifted to the jouhyou, folded neatly on her desk, next to a framed photograph.
Gaara's eyes must have followed hers, for he spoke, in his usual toneless way:
"Who are they?"
She glanced at him, and Gaara met her eyes before briefly pointing at the photograph. "The two adults behind you."
"Oh, them . . ."
Matsuri slid from the couch, nearly tripped over the rug, and caught her balance on a chair. Blood fiercely mantling her cheeks, she grabbed the frame and settled back onto the couch as quickly as possible. Gaara offered her a small hitch of his shoulders – It happens – and turned his attention to the picture in her hands before she could reply.
A slim, smiling woman, with short, almost punky, blond hair, reclined against a wall. Next to her, with his arm around her, stood a shortish man whose long ponytail of brown hair frosted to grey near his scalp. Between them was Matsuri, not all that younger than she was now. All of them were happy, Gaara could see; their faces were lighted from inside, as if from an inner dawn.
"My parents," Matsuri explained, rather briskly. She bit her lip and blinked, rapidly. "My mom and dad . . ."
Her breathing hitched a little, and Matsuri closed her eyes.
"My mom, she liked bright colors . . ."
Water seeped between her lashes, and the words tumbled from her lips.
"Her name was Aya, and her little sister died when she was young, so she wore bright colors, because she had liked them, for her memory. She wanted to celebrate her life, and the things that made her happy. That made her happy, too. Parent's emotions . . . they have a big impact on their kids." Matsuri wiped her eyes with the edge of her palm. "And she knew that. And she always tried to be happy, to smile. To look on the bright side of thing. That's why . . . th-that's why I hate it, when those kids tease me about my clothes. She picked them out. All of them. I . . ."
One finger reached down, touched the smiling woman a world away.
". . . haven't been to the store since she died."
She fell silent, and Gaara didn't press the issue. He left her alone with her thoughts, and cast his eyes about the room. Her parents' deaths must not have been so long ago, for her clothing still fit her; hence the unpacked boxes, the chaos. She'd probably been shunted off into a genin apartment when she had no money to pay the bills for a house. His eyes settled on the pots and pans.
At night, he thought, those boxes would loom like monstrous things, black and alien, in a house whose walls were as raw as Matsuri's grief.
Gaara's gaze went, once again, to the photograph. To the woman, decked in lavender and a muted rosy pink, with long tan boots. Aya, Mother – she who must have held her child, she who must have rocked Matsuri in her arms, who must have soothed and cherished the baby Matsuri once was, and thought her to be precious.
She must have loved her.
Gaara shut his eyes. He knew what is was like, lying awake in bed, straining and yearning for the voice that would never come again, trying to find it in the void of listless nights. To creep into a bed whose pillow and blankets smelled of soaps and skin, to curl up atop impressions in a mattress of a body that once was. To search and search, and discover only emptiness. A quest upon which every single step drew blood.
"Why don't you do something about them?" was what he asked, aloud.
Gaara opened his eyes, and frowned slightly at the window.
"To make them stop. To make them be silent."
"I – can't."
Now he frowned at her. Flustered, Matsuri curled her hand in her hair.
"I just mean," she said, "I think of walking up to them, and telling them to stop, that it hurts, and I can see them laughing . . . laughing their heads off."
"Laughing their heads off?"
Gaara tried to see how a human being might accomplish that, and came up blank. Matsuri must have deduced his thoughts from his question, for she shrugged and clarified, "Laughing really hard."
"Oh," Gaara replied, deadpan. "Hn."
He wished she'd drop the honorific; deep down, he felt undeserving of it.
"Frown at me." he ordered.
". . . eh?"
"Okay, Gaara-sensei . . ." Matsuri drew her face together.
"No." Gaara surveyed her sternly. "Frown at me."
"Um . . . yes, Gaara-sensei . . ."
"No, I mean, frown at me. Really glare." Gaara said.
Gaara sighed, and then cupped his hand in her direction. "Come with me."
Matsuri hastened up as Gaara rose, and trailed behind him as he led the way to her bathroom. Their footsteps – the brisk wisp of his socks, the hurried pad of hers – seemed to echo in the quiet house.
"They make you angry," he stated, sliding the door open.
"Yes . . ."
"You want them to stop?"
"So . . ."
Gaara flicked on the light.
"Imagine them dead."
Matsuri's eyes snapped wide.
Gaara calmly walked into the room, and oriented himself towards the mirror that hung above the sink. Matsuri followed him into the room, feeling completely thrown for a loop.
The bathroom, like the rest of the house, was unpainted. A cubicle was screened off for a shower, and a toilet was situated next to it. Between the toilet and the low child's sink was a chest of drawers, to which Matsuri stood in front of as she swung around to her sensei's side.
"What do you mean–"
Gaara shrugged. "Look at that mirror. Watch me."
Matsuri looked on, obediently, as Gaara folded his arms, bowed his head a little, and proceeded to glare his reflection down into the dust. Matsuri had actually drawn back a little from the weird intensity burning in her sensei's eyes, before Gaara relaxed back into his normal expressionless state, and glanced over to her.
"Now, you try it." He ordered nonchalantly.
She folded her arms, drew a deep breath, and stared at the mirror.
"It really does help to imagine them dead," Gaara remarked, after a few fruitless seconds.
He absently tugged on his sleeve, and appeared to ponder for a moment, before returning his attention back to her.
"Repeat what I say, Matsuri."
She nearly jumped back as his eyes swung up and locked onto hers, and seemed to burn into her with a hostility both sudden and powerful. "I will kill you."
There was a long moment in which the sink dripped far too loudly.
"Come on, Matsuri." Gaara urged, in a normal, gentle, I-will-not-kill-you tone. He leaned over the sink and pressed the handle firmly to the left, killing the leaks. "Say, I will kill you."
"Um . . ." she swallowed. "I will kill you?"
"No . . . I will kill you. Really put the emphasis on kill; deepen your voice a bit." Gaara tapped his neck. "Say in it your throat, almost."
"I . . . will kill you . . ."
"No," Gaara patiently folded his hands, as a schoolchild might. "I will kill you."
She drew a breath. "I will kill you."
"I will kill you."
"I will . . . kill you."
"I will kill you."
"I will kill you."
"I will kill you."
"Um . . ."
"You can say it." Gaara offered her a nod. "I know you can."
"I . . . I will kill you."
"It really does help to think of them dead," Gaara reiterated. "Evoke your anger, Matsuri. Draw your rage and pain out, like a blade. It is your weapon."
"My weapon?" Matsuri repeated. "But . . ."
Gaara's eyes seemed to fade, to loose their focus and turn inside. Matsuri closed her mouth, biting off her question.
"Sorry, Gaara-sensei." she whispered.
"Don't be." Gaara frowned slightly at the mirror, and then shrugged. "Words, Matsuri, are the greatest of weapons, for with them one inflicts the most terrible of wounds." He closed his eyes. "You know that. Isn't that exactly what just happened, today?"
Matsuri shut her own eyes. She knew this all too well.
In the vague darkness, her sensei's words came to her.
"Think of your humiliation, Matsuri . . . your pain, your horror, your anger. Think of yourself crying . . . feel protective of that hurting self. Feel a mother's anger for that part of you that bled before their eyes."
She pictured herself, months ago, kneeling by her mother's grave, whispering through the early morning of words she'd overheard. Seeking comfort from stone and memory, for there was no one else to go to.
Gaara's voice was there, with her, as the earth and sand against her knees was with her; with her as the coldness of the night chilled her clothes and skin; with her as the smooth granite wept a rare winter dew below her fingers. "Now, say: I will kill you."
Her voice came from the granite and the sand and the sun.
"I . . . I will kill you."
"You will die."
"You will die."
"Burn in Hell."
"Burn in Heck."
The spell broken, Matsuri blinked her eyes open, just in time to see Gaara's mouth perform the faintest of twitches.
"Hell, Matsuri. Heck doesn't have quite the same ring."
"Oh." she said, faintly. "Okay."
Gaara's lips crept back in a smile.
"Fold your arms, lower a head a little, and practice not blinking," he ordered quietly. "Try to look . . . sadistic."
"As if you'd like to rip their hearts out, yes." Gaara shrugged again. "As if you'd stand there with a knife, and cut long red lines into their flesh, and laugh all the while . . . which probably isn't good people skills, but hell with that . . ."
His voice trailed off as he studied her face.
"Seriously, Matsuri, just look as if you mean it. Righteous anger is a terrible force, and it's at your fingertips. All you need to do is see it." Gaara gripped his hands together, briefly, although his musing expression never wavered. "Just see them as the insensitive, poisonous, bullying malcontents they are, and strike them down for it."
Matsuri nodded. "Okay, Gaara-sensei."
"Try it." He reached out and tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear; it had been irking him all the while. She turned towards his touch, and he smiled a little wider.
"And, Matsuri . . . speak with a smile." Gaara stepped back a step, allowing her to move fully in front of the mirror. "Smile as if you're about to have a lot of fun. It works every time. Trust me."
She turned her head to peer back at him, solemn but smiling below wisps of brown hair. "Thanks, Gaara."
"Matsuri . . ."
He reached out, touched her hand, held it with the lightest of embraces.
And after that, no one ever messed with Matsuri again.
Matsuri gains a lot of confidence between the fillers and Part II; perhaps this is how.
Matsuri gains a lot of confidence between the fillers and Part II; perhaps this is how.
Thank you for reading! Please tell me what you think. Comments and criticism are all welcome.