Gaara's Ghouls

Disclaimer: All characters and the Naruto-verse are copyrighted by Masashi Kishimoto and Weekly Shonen Jump. I am making no profit; this is just for fun.

A/N: Sorry for the long drought without any posts. I've been, frankly, kept mentally and emotionally busy enough to kill an extremely composed ANBU shinobi. I will probably still be this busy into the foreseeable future. Thank you in advance for any reviews; I likely won't have time to respond to them personally, but I still really appreciate getting them. And as always, thank you to Ariel-D for beta reading (and helping me kill all the unnecessary prepositions).

Translations (jic): "jan" is a nonsense word Kankuro puts on the end of some of his sentences.

Kankuro could tally on one hand the number of things that truly terrified him. Sure, there were lots of things that gave him the creeps. Like too many green vegetables, for example. They tasted nasty and gummed him up every time he ate them. Plants in general were downright sneaky.

But real fear was different. Some of the things he could count on his fingers included bugs, particularly if they came from the creepy Konoha kid, and the monster his little brother sometimes turned into when he was really angry. Kankuro hadn't seen the latter recently, thankfully. Gaara and Shukaku seemed to have chummed up enough that Kankuro could at least go through a poorly cooked meal without having death threats rained down on the rice. If anything, Gaara seemed to spend more time glaring at some internal facet of himself than at anyone else in particular.

He wondered then, as he put his ear to his brother's bedroom door, if Gaara was trying to cook up some new kind of sibling sadism that he could use against Kankuro. Gaara had slipped into the room the night before and hadn't come out yet, even for breakfast. The older ninja inched up on his toes to try and hear better. Gaara had certainly reformed from his lowest point, which had been his utterly insane moments during the Konoha Invasion. Since he had shared with Kankuro his intent to become Kazekage, he had been every bit the model citizen.

Yet, Kankuro couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Gaara, who had strove to be more open with his siblings since the Invasion, had spent the past several days skulking about the house, popping around corners and out of broom closets when Kankuro and Temari least expected it. The first time it had happened, Temari had shrieked and thrown the sashimi she carried. Kankuro had seen the opened closet door and his brother's large eyes and browless forehead gleaming in the darkness, and understood pretty well why Temari had flipped.

"Temari," Gaara had said with an alarmingly passive expression, "why are you throwing sashimi into the closet?" A piece of raw fish slid down his forehead. It paused at his brow to give him a haphazardly-placed inquisitive eyebrow, then slipped to the floor with a wet 'thwack.'

"Throwing?" Temari looked incredulous and sounded winded. She also, Kankuro noted with slight amusement, looked like she had just dirtied her pants. The overturned sashimi bowl and remaining sashimi lay forgotten on the floor. "Throwing? Why the hell are you hiding in the closet?!"

Gaara blinked and gave a nearly imperceptible shrug. "I don't know."

Looking back on the whole scene, Kankuro wondered how Gaara had gotten away with the obvious lie and the Mummy-in-a-Closet routine without losing a good portion of his skin. Temari used to be scared of Gaara, but ever since he had turned himself around, she hadn't been afraid to go after him the way she went after Kankuro. It usually earned her a good thumping from the automatic sand shield, but it no longer --

Kankuro paused as something tore him from his thoughts. From inside Gaara's room came a low, scratching noise, like sand being rustled around inside something stone. Kankuro's breath hitched in his throat, and he fell back to the soles of his feet with a loud thunk.

Sand noises were harmless most of the time now, yet they still made him uncomfortable. He'd spent too many years running away from that noise to not be jumpy. It was hard to tell what was going on in the room just from that, and the way his heart was pounding, he didn't think he could take any more raccoon-eyed zombies popping from closed doors. Even if Gaara didn't want to kill him on purpose, it didn't stop him from doing it by accident.

Kankuro cocked one wide eye at the door, shook his head, and went trudging towards the kitchen. He had better things to do than try to puzzle out his younger brother's weird habits.

"Why the hell are we doing this?"

"Temari, don't be so loud, jan!" Kankuro hissed, holding up a finger to his lips. "I don't even know if he's in there."

Temari shrugged and dropped her voice to a whisper. "Well, I don't know if I even care."

The night-time shadows partially encompassed their bodies, painting their faces with alternating light and dark strips. Temari's own shadow was strangely elongated by the moonlight spilling through a nearby window. When she pointed her finger towards the door, the shadow looked like a hag stretching a flesh deprived bone.

Kankuro shivered and tried to push the image from his mind. "Man, you're creeping me out."

"Wimp." Temari's voice betrayed her when it wavered. She seemed just as scared as he was. "This was your idea, stupid. Don't you want to find out for sure now that you've dragged me down here?"

He really did. The whole day Kankuro's mind had, against his better wishes, been occupied trying to figure out why Gaara had disappeared into his room the previous night. The kid never spent any time in there unless it was to change clothes. He couldn't sleep, and Kankuro had never seen Gaara relax for more than a couple minutes, which rendered the bed useless.

"Yeah, sure." Kankuro's lips quirked into a cocky grin. "Sure I do." He put his ear to the door again and listened. Not a sound this time. Not a Gaara to be seen anywhere else in the house. He had to be outside somewhere.

Kankuro traded a look with Temari, then nodded. He flicked his fingers at the door knob, catching the metal with three thin chakra strings. A quick snap of his wrist turned the latch noiselessly. The door floated open, letting a long shaft of moonlight leak from the room into the hallway.

Kankuro looked to Temari again, then slowly crept towards the opening. He paused at the entrance to the room, listened, and, hearing nothing, stood up and slid through the door. He felt Temari close behind him. Their movement rustled the door, and it closed with a click, causing Kankuro to jump.

The room itself was dark save the moonlight. The corners were hazy, as though black shrouds had been thrown over them. Kankuro frowned as he studied the bed. He approached it tentatively, then brushed his fingers over the covers. Something gritty scratched his palms.

"Sand?" Temari appeared beside him, little dots of light dancing on her pupils.

"No." Kankuro grabbed some of it in his hands and felt it with his thumb. "I think it's dirt, jan. Like, cheap dirt. Dirt dirt."

"Dirt?" Temari sounded scandalised. "I keep finding it all over the damn house. Why is it here, too? He never uses this room, and he hasn't had a mission recently that would get his clothes dirty."

"I don't know." He sighed and let the dirt fall back to the bed. "Something just isn't adding up. I mean, what is he--"

Kankuro had turned to look about the room again, and something in the corner opposite the bed caught his attention. He hadn't noticed it when they entered because it was in the corner nearest the door and had been mostly hidden.

Kankuro tried to resist the urge to run. Shadowed in the room's darkest corner, the thing looked like a hellish behemoth. The moonlight skirted the object, and all Kankuro could see was something frighteningly large and towering. Its strange shape and looming, monstrous proportions gave him a body wracking chill. He tilted his head, and the sublime haze made it sprout ghoulishly twisted arms, which were covered by thin, sharp teeth. And the harder he listened, the more he thought he heard them making little clacking noises.

"K-kankuro . . ." Temari's voice was wispy. The clacking noises grew louder. "What is that . . . thing?"

Kankuro never had a chance to answer. As he stared at the impossible object, his brain trying to comprehend something he couldn't see and his body too petrified to move, the clacking noises stopped, and someone flipped on the lights.

"What are you doing in my room?"

Kankuro couldn't help it. His nerves had had more than enough terror for one day.

He screamed.

Retrospectively, Kankuro didn't think the overhead lights made the thing look nearly frightening enough to explain why it was that way at night. He and Temari watched silently as their younger brother carefully, almost daintily, used a watering pot to water the cactus. The water bubbled and gurgled around its base, disappearing quickly as the dry soil absorbed it.

"I have to water it at night," Gaara explained, as he moved and watered the back of the plant. His headband knocked against a clasp as he walked, making little clacking noises. "If I water it during the day, the liquid sometimes evaporates too much. At least, that's what the book said. I just finished reading it last night, and it took me until this morning to pot the cactus. Getting the right sand and dirt composition for the soil was difficult."

Kankuro continued to stare at his brother and the cactus. The latter towered several feet over the former. Its many limbs were coloured like dead foliage, and sharp-looking needles grew in clustered hundreds over the entire plant. Some needles were snapped off, and Kankuro got the distinct impression that they were more brittle than lethal. In short, the plant looked ridiculously unthreatening.

Given Gaara's explanation as to when the plant had been potted, Kankuro also suspected why there had been dirt in the house and what Gaara had been hiding in the closet. A few dozen questions flashed through his head, but none made it out of his mouth. He felt as though his brain had been liquefied.

Temari's apparently hadn't been. "All right." Her voice was still shaky, and she laughed unnecessarily at the end of her sentence. "Okay. So you have a plant. That's fine. That's . . . totally fine. Right, Kankuro?"

"Er, right!" Kankuro suppressed a cringe and wished Temari hadn't brought him into it when he couldn't think well enough to vocalize his own thoughts, let alone answer hers. "Sure, jan!" He ran his fingers through his hair. "Lots of people have plants. I mean, it's not a monster, right? It's definitely not a monster!" He cringed at his utter lack of subtlety.

Gaara's brow furrowed noticeably, and he looked up from his watering. "Monster?" He paused, apparently considering Kankuro's words. "I . . . don't think it is. The book said it was particularly easy to look after. In my experience, monsters take more work than this." Something resembling a smile crossed his face momentarily. "I was looking for something that was lower maintenance to keep me occupied in the evening."

A pang of guilt hit Kankuro in the stomach. Here he was, sneaking into Gaara's room suspecting a conspiracy, when his brother was just trying to find something to do. It was the furthest thing from delinquency Kankuro could think of. But one thing still bothered him.

"So why'd you hide it?" Kankuro paused for a moment. "I mean, you could have told us what you were doing."

"Sure!" Temari nodded. "What he said. You could have told us." Her eyes narrowed slightly, though Kankuro thought she looked more tired than angry. "I could have done without your little closet trick two days ago. I'm probably going to be even less happy when I look back in that closet and find the needles this thing has shed. Am I right?"

Their brother didn't answer her question. Gaara set the watering can on the floor, stood, and studied the cactus. He didn't meet either Temari or Kankuro's gaze. "Temari . . . . Kankuro . . . ." His voice was quiet. "Please be honest with me."

"Eh?" Kankuro widened an eye at the request. "Sure."

"If I had told you about it, you would have laughed, wouldn't you?"

Gaara said it with such gravity that Kankuro couldn't keep his composure. The older ninja turned around to try and hide his shock and amusement, but failed miserably. A snort still escaped his lips. He heard Temari laugh beside him, and he knew they were both doomed.

Kankuro faced his brother again and gave him a shrug, still chuckling. "Probably."

Gaara nodded, and to Kankuro's relief, he didn't seem to be angry. If anything, his expression had turned thoughtful. The younger boy walked slowly to the door, paused with his hand on the handle, and cocked his head at Kankuro and Temari.

"Then you'll understand when I say that if you tell anyone about this, including Baki, I will kill you." He paused. "Probably." Then he flipped the light out and closed the door behind him.

Kankuro stood for a long moment staring at the door. He turned slowly to stare at Temari. Both their eyes darted to the side, where the cactus glowered down at them again from the gloom.

Kankuro shivered and glared at the cactus. It was comforting to know for sure that his brother's personal monster could no longer kill him. It wasn't comforting to learn that Gaara's newest pet apparently could. The last thing he wanted was to have Temari explaining to the guys in the Puppet Corps that his little brother's ghoulish cactus had frightened him to death.

"Think it can bite us?" Temari's voice was subdued. "Kankuro?"

"Nah, jan. It's just a plant."

"A creepy one. It's a creepy plant."

For once in his life, Kankuro found that he couldn't disagree with Temari. He decided it was probably wise to be more wary of plants in the future. Plants, bugs, and anything Gaara kept as a pet.

"Yeah," he said, as the cactus glared back at him. "Yeah. It's kind of terrifying, actually."


A/N 2: So, after much reading online, I found out that the third Naruto databook, the one for Shippuden, lists Gaara's favourite hobby as "growing cacti." I howled with laughter, as you can probably imagine. I hope you did too when you read this story. I can't quite label it as crack since the cactus growing is apparently canon. But . . . it's still crack. Happy, happy crack written at 2 AM in the morning for a contest on Deviant Art. Gaara's insomnia is catching. Thankfully, the cactus growing, at least for me, is not. (I prefer Lucky Bamboo myself.)

I have no idea if the cactus is actually real. I do know that there are cacti in Arizona that grow to be almost or over ten feet tall, and that they have many arms. Given that the Naruto world has strange plants in it sometimes, I think it's probably okay to use our imaginations here and take the pet cactus for what it's worth. The only cacti I have direct experience with are the small, round kinds you can accidentally sit on while on school fieldtrips.