Sensei stops for a moment. "Temari, Kankuro, Gaara." We stop. I lean on my fan. Kankuro cocks his head in surprise. Gaara crosses his arms. "Time to rest for the night. I'll set up our camp." Kankuro and I nod. Gaara ignores him and merely stands still. I can hear Kankuro grinding his teeth. I glance at Kankuro. He's my brother and one of my best friends. Sometimes though, he does things he shouldn't. I can sense him about to do something like that right now. He turns to Gaara.
"Hey, Gaara. Didn't you hear?" Gaara ignores him. Kankuro grinds his teeth louder. "Gaara, listen to us." Gaara turns his head slightly. He looks scornfully over at Kankuro.
"What do you want now?" Kankuro bites his lip to restrain his anger with our younger brother. He scowls.
"Try acknowledging that you hear sensei talking." Gaara's face gets even more expressionless. He turns away.
"Why? Why does it matter to me if you're talking?" I put a hand on Kankuro's shoulder. I can sense that he's about to do something even stupider. Something like trying to hit Gaara. I know this would be a bad idea. Father has a chart in his office of all the ninja he lost while trying to kill Gaara. The chart includes chunin and even jonin. Kankuro looks at me in confusion. I look nervously at Gaara. He's not moving.
"Kankuro. Leave Gaara alone. Do you want to end up as another name on father's chart? Leave him alone." He shrugs his shoulders.
"I just can't stand his lack of respect for anyone. This is why I hate brats so much." I remember the other times that Kankuro has insisted that he hates brats. It doesn't take much to realize that he defines "brat" as anyone younger than him especially if it's his little brother. Sensei has already moved a slight distance away. It's up to me to control my brothers and keep them from a fight. Father would be angry if he lost another shinobi and especially if it was Gaara, the village's weapon. The fact that we're his children doesn't seem to matter in the slightest. Kankuro brushes my hand off his shoulder. He pulls Karuaso, his puppet, off his back and lays the wrapped up puppet down on the sand. I glance around for any signs of life. There are none. The desert surrounds us. But this bothers no one. Suna is a village of desert dwellers. Even one of the academy students would survive out here better than a chunin from another village. It's the way we've been trained. Confident that Kankuro will leave Gaara alone, I lay down my fan. Gaara sits down in the shade of a small dune. All I can see of him is the top of his head. I've always wondered why Gaara has red hair. It seems a bit strange. Neither of our parents had red hair and neither Kankuro nor I have red hair. It's not very common but makes it easy to see where he is. Kankuro and I go to help sensei with setting up. It's draining and takes about ten minutes. We're sweating and exhausted by the time we're done. Kankuro glares over at where Gaara is. He seems to be sitting with his eyes closed. I wonder if he's asleep. I can feel Kankuro's anger toward him. Chances are that tomorrow something will happen again and I'll have to stop them from fighting. Kankuro will probably leave Gaara to himself for the rest of the evening and night.
The sun dips still lower by the time we've finished making food. Since if Kankuro was the one to take it they'd probably fight, I put some food on a plate for Gaara. I don't like the idea of him moving around in the night. I know that he is filled with hatred and that makes him more dangerous than a poisonous snake. It's a bit like taking food to someone in prison. I carry the plate over, carefully watching the ground. I can just see Gaara making some sort of quicksand trap around himself so that he can rest with out fear. I almost feel sorry for him if he must resort to that to feel safe. The assassins must have destroyed his trust for everyone. I get closer. Suddenly I walk another step and a small orb of sand is directly in my face. Its Gaara's technique, third eye of sand. I bite my lip so I don't scream out loud. Gaara turns toward me with his eyes still closed.
"What is it, Temari?" he makes a hand sign before opening his eyes. The third eye collapses and goes back into the gourd beside him. "What do you want?"
"Your food." I hold out the plate. He ignores it and I place it beside him. He stares up at the stars that are emerging as if I'm not there. I shrug and back away. Gaara isn't in the mood to be conversational. He never is. As I back off I can see Gaara pick up the plate and slowly start eating. I knew he would. Sometimes I think that the only reason Gaara keeps himself alive is out of spite. He has nothing else to live for. I get back to the camp we set up. I don't think Gaara will come over here tonight. He hates all of us and doesn't seem to need rest the way we do. I've never seen him sleeping. All the times when I thought he was asleep he turns out to have only had his eyes closed. From what I've heard father say none of the assassins saw him sleeping even when they attacked him in the night. He seems to have been awake on the roof all night, every night. Putting it all together I realize with a start that Gaara can't sleep. My little brother must have severe insomnia. I can't tell whether it's natural or from the demon inside of him. I wonder if Kankuro knows this. I walk to where he's sitting. Sensei is reading from a scroll a small distance away and Kankuro is sitting all by himself near the little fire.
"Kankuro?" he looks up.
"What is it, Temari? Did Gaara do something to you?" I shake my head.
"He didn't do anything. But really, have you ever seen Gaara asleep?"
"Never. Why?" I shrug my shoulders.
"I don't think he can sleep. And from what I've heard father say he never has been able to." Kankuro draws in his breath sharply.
"Are you sure?" I shrug again.
"I can't be absolutely. The only one who must really know the answer to that is Gaara and he wouldn't tell us." Kankuro nods.
"That makes sense. If I couldn't sleep I wouldn't want it to be the talk of the village. But then again, Gaara's one secret is something that everyone knows. He might not care if people know this."
"It makes you feel sorry for him, doesn't it? It's not really his fault that he's different and to add to that he can't sleep. It must be so hard to be him, with everyone against you always. With no one who cares." Kankuro looks sternly at me.
"Temari. Gaara hates us. He'd kill us if he had the chance. You're talking about the person who killed our mom. Do you remember her?" I nod. One tear comes into my eye. Mom died when I was four and Kankuro was only three. He holds Gaara responsible for her death and hates him absolutely for it. We both feel that Gaara killed her and we can't forgive him for that. Father was never really like a parent to us at all. There are so many times when we wish mom were here with us. I can just remember what she looked like. "Gaara would kill you without caring. You know that. Don't start feeling sorry for him. A monster like him doesn't deserve pity." I nod but still don't feel fully convinced.
"Kankuro, Gaara's just a kid. He's 12 years old and he was only a baby when mom died. He can't have wanted mom to die. I don't even really know why he's such a monster. I mean, I know about the demon but that isn't him, it's just sealed inside of him. Why would it be his fault?"
"Temari, you've seen the bodies of people he killed. You've seen their widows and their families crying. Gaara did that. No human would do that, only a monster would do the things he does. He isn't human." I nod again, more convinced. "Lets go to sleep. We'll have to deal with him again in the morning. We can test your theory that he has insomnia by getting up really early before sensei and going over to that dune. If he's awake then he probably is an insomniac, if not then he's just a monster." I nod.
"Alright. I can say I'm getting the plate from tonight. We'll have to be careful. Can Karauso go before us and test the way? I can easily see Gaara putting all sorts of traps around himself. It's going to be dangerous. Even if he sleeps he's probably a light sleeper. If he gets angry or thinks we're trying to kill him he'll kill us." Kankuro nods.
"We won't die. I don't want to destroy Karauso but I'll go first. You follow me. That way if one of us gets caught in something it'll be me." I bite my lip but nod.
"Alright." We get into bedrolls and go to sleep.
It's three in the morning when I feel Kankuro shake me awake. Silently, I slip out of my blanket. My hair is back in a single ponytail. Kankuro walks ahead of me over to where we last saw Gaara. As we get closer we can see that he's lying on his side facing away from us. His sand gourd is under his head like a pillow. Now that we're so close to figuring out the truth about Gaara, Kankuro is really interested. He puts a hand on Gaara's shoulder. Slowly, he turns him over so he can see his face. I feel my breath coming quickly. Gaara's pale blue-green eyes are wide open! Kankuro jumps back with a muttered oath. Gaara sits up. Kankuro moves slightly in front of me.
"So, you really don't sleep, do you, Gaara?" Gaara's eyes are blank. I am more afraid of the emptiness then if he had been angry.
"No, I don't." his words are calm and controlled. "The truth is that I can't. I've never slept in my whole life." he stands up. The gourd starts to shift. Kankuro backs up another step. "This demon keeps me from sleep. If I let myself sleep it will take over, eating away at my consciousness until I become even more of a monster than I am now." There is a slight bitterness in his tone that Kankuro can't seem to hear. He turns his head slightly toward me.
"I told you he was a monster. He even admits it." I nod but somewhere inside I feel horribly guilty. Gaara thinks of himself as a monster and not human. What must we have done to him to hurt him so much?
"Gaara, are you angry at us?" I ask him nervously. If he's angry our chances of survival are slim. Sensei sleeps soundly and we have neither Karauso nor my fan. We're sitting in the middle of the desert, sand is all around us.
"Why should I be? You think I'm going to kill you, don't you? That's what something" he stresses the second half of the word, "like me would do, isn't it?" Kankuro nods. Gaara smiles faintly. I can feel the anger radiating off of him.
"Temari, run!" Kankuro says softly. "Wake up sensei, I'll hold him here. Go!" I shake my head. The sand gourd shifts faster. It becomes an arm made of sand, an arm like that of the demon inside Gaara. It rears up and moves toward Kankuro and I. Without pausing to think I launch myself forward and in front of my brother. I hold my arms up in front of me and close my eyes. I feel the sand slice my lower arm in between my elbow and my wrist. A long, jagged cut. A bit of it went past my head and I feel it slice through my hair band. My hair falls around my head. I hear Kankuro draw in his breath. I feel his hand on my shoulder.
"Temari? Are you alright?" he says. I open my eyes and look behind me at Kankuro. His face is white.
"I'm fine." He raises an eyebrow.
"Really? About as fine as mom is. You realize that you look incredibly like her right now?" I smile.
"Seriously, there's nothing wrong with me." I hear a sharp intake of breath. I turn forward toward Gaara. His eyes are wide. Something inside of them has snapped. There's madness in his eyes, a strange madness. Kankuro turns forward also. I can see the pain in Gaara's face. He looks like I'm hurting him. The sand arm shivers and collapses. It reforms into the gourd. Gaara is breathing hard now. His breath is coming quickly. Kankuro looks as confused as I feel. What could have merited this change?
"Gaara?" I say. His eyes widen still more. His hands go up to his face and cover his eyes. He hunches his shoulders. From in between his fingers I can see the tattoo on his forehead. Love, the love he's never had. Even when he just tried to kill me and Kankuro I still feel pity for him. Kankuro looks even more bewildered.
"Temari, lets get out of here before he snaps again. I want to wrap that up." He indicates my arm. I nod. Now that the shock is over the pain sets in.
"Ow," I say in surprise. He smiles. He grabs my other arm and pulls me away. When we're nearer to where we were sleeping Kankuro motions me to stop. Sensei, an early riser, is stirring slightly. Kankuro moves forward and grabs Karauso. He unwinds some of the wrappings and cuts some of it off with a kunai. Holding the length of cloth in his hand he walks back to me. He pushes my shoulder to make me sit. He pulls up my torn sleeve and quickly wraps the cloth around my arm. He ties it tightly.
"Alright, you're going to be fine." He says in relief. I nod.
"Thanks." He smiles and looks over toward Gaara. I follow his gaze. From where we are now we can see him clearly. He still has his hands over his face. As we watch he sinks onto his knees. His agonized breathing carries clearly through the still air. He leans forward. I can hear him murmuring softly to himself in fear and something else. Something like sorrow. If I didn't know better I would suspect that Gaara was crying. This doesn't tally with the view I held of him being a callous demon who killed with out remorse. He looks like a scared little kid. Kankuro looks shocked also.
"What did we do? Why is he so," he struggles for a word, "upset?" I shrug. "What Gaara does is no concern of ours. I'm going back to sleep since you're ok." I nod. I walk over toward our things and grab my blankets. Kankuro looks confused.
"I need time to adjust to how close I came to dying." I lie. Kankuro looks convinced. He nods. I pull my blankets over to where Kankuro wrapped up my arm. Kankuro shrugs and climbs under his own blankets. I spread mine and lay down. Gaara is still whimpering. His cries reach my ears and I feel my heart twist painfully. Gaara's just a little kid somewhere deep down inside. He still gets scared and he still has feelings. I watch him silently. My feelings of pity for him grow. But is it worth it to do something to help him? I weigh the pros and cons in my head.
I know that deep down inside Gaara's human. He's just lonely and he's my brother after all. It's partly my fault that he's so lonely and I owe him help. Gaara never had anyone give him a chance. He deserves at least a chance to have friends. We're going to have to work together for a long time so I may as well be friendly. There's this side of Gaara that I haven't seen for years. The last time I saw it was when he was six years old. That Gaara cried all the time for the love he couldn't find. That Gaara is coming back slowly and if I help him, be kind to him, give him a chance to show me who he really is, maybe someday he'll go back to being like that again. Back then his power wasn't under control and he hurt people by accident. Now he controls the sand as easily as if it were one of his limbs. As if it were a part of him.
I'm scared of him. The way he looks at you filled with hatred frightens me. There's no way to be sure he would even believe that I wanted to help him. I've never cared before. No one's ever cared before. Why should I care now? He'll think I'm trying to make him a weapon again. That's all he's ever been, monster or weapon. Kankuro hates him with the kind of hatred that never fades. Since I couldn't be sure of Gaara trusting me it seems foolish to give up a good friendship with one sibling in order to try for one that might not even work with another sibling. My friends back in the village hate Gaara. They've stopped using him as a topic of conversation since I have to work with him but I know that they hate him for being different. The whole village hates him and if I try to be his friend the village and all of my friends will turn on me. I'll be shunned like he is. I don't want to face the hatred that he faces. He's alone always with not a single friend. Is that the kind of life that I want? Besides, father instructed me not to get any nearer to him than I had to and to not get close because if he outlives his usefulness again, father will have to continue the orders to kill him. He told me to stay away from him when I could and to keep Kankuro away too.
I don't know what to choose. I look over at Gaara again. His whimpering has slowed and he rocks himself back and forth. How can I turn my back on someone that lonely? Someone that desperate. But how can I leave my village behind? I weigh my choices again. I glance at Kankuro and make up my mind. The village is the only logical choice. But still I wish that I could find the courage to ignore the risks, hug him and help him to stand. Someday, maybe, he'll find someone braver than I. Someone who is brave enough to be his friend and comfort him even though he's different.