Naruto and its characters © Masashi Kishimoto

Dedicated to quietnature12 – She is made of awesome. ;D

Boyue's Note: The last and longest chapter ever! And long A/N at the end. Kanky-centric.


IN WATER


10

Kankuro wants to punch Temari in the face. Somehow, he manages to control his anger. Instead of beating his sister, he stomps upstairs and goes sit in Gaara's room. A lot of Gaara's things have been packed and mailed to the facility. Kankuro looks around him and groans at how bare the room looks without Gaara's toys and clothes. He gets up and opens the drawers; only a few old clothes remain. If he didn't know better, he'd think that Gaara has moved out completely, which is exactly the reason why he has wanted to punch Temari. It's been a month since they came back from their vacation, and Kankuro is hoping that they will be going to visit Gaara soon, like in a week or so. Temari, of course, has a different plan. In order to be sufficient and not take their father's hand-out anymore, they will have to save up a lot of money. They need enough money to pay rent, bills, school tuitions, and other basic cost of living. Kankuro thought it would mean that they will have to cancel their cable TV service and buy the cheaper kind of toilet paper. He hasn't expected it to mean that they can't be spending money on plane tickets to see Gaara.

"You're such a fucking bitch," Kankuro shouts when he hears the news.

"If something happens, the director will let us know. Then if needed be, we can go see him," Temari says calmly.

"You said this isn't going to be a permanent thing."

"And it's not. As soon as we save up enough, we'll get him back."

"How long is that going to take?"

"If you go get a job," Temari says, finally showing some of her anger, "it'll be easier on me."

"Fine, I'll get a job. Then how long is it going to take?"

Temari stays silent as she gathers the dirty clothes off Kankuro's room floor. She throws them into the hamper and edges her way out of the room. Kankuro leaps to the doorway and stops her from leaving.

"How long?" he asks sternly.

"A few years," she answers simply. "At least."

"Fuck!" Kankuro slams his hand on the doorframe.

Temari gives a sympathetic look before she leaves and goes into the garage to do the laundry. Kankuro stomps over to his bed and flumps face-down on the mattress. He knows – or he hopes – that Temari doesn't mean they can't see Gaara for years, but he really wants his brother home. He has barely made it through the three weeks without Gaara around. Most importantly, he notices that ever since Gaara left, there has been a strain between Temari and him. He doesn't know if it's because he is still mad at her for sending Gaara away, or if it's because they have nothing in common besides being Gaara's older siblings. He is starting to think that it's the latter. Throughout his life, most of his interests have been on Gaara. Now that he thinks about, he doesn't even know what Temari is studying in college or what she wants to do once she is finished. He is right about them needing Gaara. The little brother is what anchors the family together.

Kankuro hops off the bed and hurries to his laptop. He goes online to check his bank balance. He scolds himself for not believing in saving accounts and squandering whatever money he comes in contact with. He has $215.38 in his bank account and there is a pending credit card bill of $64.75. He runs his fingers through his hair and takes a breath to stay calm. He surfs the web and looks for the cheapest flight ticket he can find. It is going to cost at least eight hundred dollars for a roundtrip. He figures he can probably spend the night at the home and no one will mind, but he can't cough up eight hundred dollars anytime soon. He does some math and calculates that if he only spends on the bare minimum, he will have enough to pay for the tickets by July or August at the latest. But of course, the tickets will probably go up in price. He slumps on the desk and sighs dejectedly. He can't believe he won't see his brother for at least four months. He barely made it four days without him.

Kankuro decides that it is not time to sulk. He grabs his phone and wallet and runs downstairs. He gets in the car, glaring at Temari by the washer and dryer as he pulls out of the driveway. He drive around town and hops from places to places looking for a part-time job. He normally has more dignity but desperate time calls for desperate measure. He won't put it above him to get a job at a fast-food place, however greasy he will come home smelling every day. Fortune smiles down on him, and Kankuro finds a part-time working at a family-own pizzeria. It's better to smell like tomato sauce than French fries.


When July rolls around, Kankuro grins happily as he cashes in his June pay check. Instead of going to summer school, as Temari and his counselor has suggested, Kankuro has been working noon to 9 at the pizzeria Monday to Friday. Like many people, Kankuro hates his job and every time he goes to work, he dies a little inside. Sometimes, he wishes he can throw his order pad at the picky and rude customers. He is tempted to spit in their pizzas or drinks. He wishes he can throw a punch at his cocky boss's face. He wishes he doesn't have to put on the stupid mascot costume and parades around the restaurant during lunch time. But he fights the urge and swallows his pride. Do it for Gaara, he tells himself, do it for him.

As soon as he gets home from work, Kankuro runs upstairs to his laptop. With his new paycheck, he finally has finished paying for the rest of the plane tickets. He pumps his arms in the air when he receives the confirmation page that his payment has been received. Since it's close to the Fourth of July, the price has gone up but Kankuro doesn't care. He can probably wait till the holiday past before he goes to see Gaara but he can't wait another day. He actually wants to spend the holiday with Gaara. The three months without his brother around has been madness. Temari and he rarely talk to each other. And when they do, it's a forced conversation about their days. The only normal conversations they have are those revolving Gaara. He needs his little brother back desperately before the reminding of their family falls completely apart.

He has kept in contact with Lee throughout the months. On the days that Lee is at the home with Gaara, Kankuro calls every night during his break at 6, which, with the time zone difference, is right before Gaara's bedtime. He talks to him and tells him about his day and his heartless boss. Sometimes Gaara will babble a response or repeat what he has said. There is no actual proof but Kankuro knows Gaara is listening, and according to Lee, Gaara expects the nightly call before he goes to bed.

Kankuro opens his closet and finds a duffel bag. He is only staying for the weekend and doesn't need too many things. He has already spoken with Iruka and the director is kind enough to let him stay at the home. He packs up three days worth of clothes and takes his pillow as well just in case. He needs socks and finds that there aren't any in his drawer. He goes to the garage and opens the dryer. He hums happily to himself as he picks and chooses what he wants. What he doesn't want, he leaves them in the dryer.

"You don't think you can unload all of them?" Temari asks as she holds the garage door open.

"Doing laundry isn't my chore," Kankuro answers. He grabs four pairs of socks and closes the dryer door, deliberately leaving the rest of the clothes.

"Where are you going?"

"Upstairs," he says with a mocking frown, like Temari has just asked the stupidest question ever.

"I saw you packing. Where are you going?"

"Didn't I tell you?" Kankuro scoots past Temari and goes back inside the house. "I'm going camping this weekend with my friends."

"No, you didn't."

"Well, now you know," he says, running up the stairs.

"When are you leaving?" Temari follows him and stands outside his door.

"Friday morning. I'll be back Sunday night… Monday morning."

"Who's going?"

"You don't know them," Kankuro says as he stuffs the socks into the bag. "Some guys from work."

"What are you going to do there?"

"Oh, I don't know. The usual. Fishing. Killing bears."

"You don't like camping," Temari scowls. "You can't stand the mosquitoes and you hate sleeping on the floor."

"That's why people invented bug spray and sleeping bag."

"We don't have a sleeping bag or bug repellent."

"Good point… Thanks for pointing that out. I guess I'll have to buy them."

"Kankuro," she sighs as she rolls her eyes, "you know you aren't supposed to spend money on anything you don't need. We are on a budget here."

"Okay, fine, I'll just… ask if one of the guys got an extra one."

Temari heaves her shoulders and walks away. Kankuro dodges a bullet and is amazed at his ability to come up with lies so quickly. Of course, if and when Temari finds out, he is going to have one hell of a problem. Until then, Kankuro is just going to enjoy the calm before the lie is found out. He hits a stump when he tries to think how he is going to get to the airport. He will just have to cough up the extra cab fare.

"Kankuro," Temari calls. She takes a step through the door but steps back again. "Can I come in?"

"Yeah… Sure."

Kankuro shoves his bag off his bed. He knows that look on his sister's face. She wants to talk, and when Temari wants to talk, there is no stopping her. She hesitates and stands near the desk. Kankuro pats the empty spot next to him on the bed, and she comes over. Now that she is sitting next to him, Kankuro can get a good look at his sister. He notices the heavy bags under her eyes and how dry her skin looks, which means she has been cutting down on her beauty products. Her nails aren't manicured and she can use a haircut. He looks away guilty once he sees the sacrifice Temari is making. He knows his sister well enough to know that she isn't the emotional kind. If anything, Temari probably wears the pants in the family. She stares down at the floor and picks up a stinking pair of socks. She shakes her head, and Kankuro snatches the socks from her.

"I was going to put it in the hamper… but… it wasn't in the bathroom and I was going to bring it downstairs but then---"

"What happened to us?" Temari asks, interrupting. "We don't talk anymore."

"Well, you know, we are both busy with our own stuff."

"Are you still mad at me for what I did to Gaara?"

"No," Kankuro says, and it is the truth, "I can't be mad at you, you know that. And… I know… it is for the best even if it sucks a lot."

"It sucks a lot," she breathes. "I miss him so much. I just… I want him here."

"Yeah… I miss him too but it's alright, we're going to have him back soon."

"I thought things would be easier without him around, but I never thought it would actually get harder. I am so used to taking care of him that I don't know what to do. I feel like… I'm crippled and..."

"Hey, don't worry about it," Kankuro shushes, "you know you're going to be stuck with him for the rest of your life 'cause you know he isn't…" He stops himself before he says too much.

"Unless we leave him at a home and cut him out of our lives. Make him into one of the relatives we only see during the holidays. Then we'll come up with excuses. Can't go. Too busy. Can't afford it… until we stop visiting him completely and push him to the back of our minds…"

"It's not going to be like that," he says sternly. "You said it yourself… we aren't dumping Gaara off."

"I'm scared."

"W-what? Why?"

"If something happens to us… who's going to take care of Gaara?"

"Well, you know… the people at the home will…"

"What if… Dad stops paying and they kick Gaara out? He isn't… going to know what to do. He'll… be homeless and people will think he's a crazy bum… and… oh god, what if some stupid punks mess with him while he's out on the street? What if they hurt him?"

"Woah, woah, what's going on here? What's up with you? Gaara's going to be okay. And if something does go out of plan, I'm pretty sure they don't just kick people out of the home. They'll probably turn Gaara over to a mental hospital. You know, the ones that are run by the government."

"What if he runs away? Where will he go?"

"He won't run away. That's the last thing you have to worry about."

"I just… I wish I know what's going with him right now. I wish… I can talk to him and see if he needs anything…"

Kankuro reaches over and puts a hand on Temari's shoulder. He pulls her a little closer and gives her a soft squeeze. Temari nods her head in gratitude and rubs her eyes.

"Gaara is strong and he knows how to defend himself. He isn't a baby anymore, you know," he teases.

"Yeah, I know…" Temari breathes out a heavy sigh. She pats Kankuro's knee and smiles at him. "What about you? Are you still a baby?"

"Tch, of course not! See these guns," Kankuro says, flexing his biceps, "you think a baby can have these?"

"Oh please," Temari rolls her eyes. She stands up and pokes Kankuro in the side of the head. "When you see him, tell him I said hi and I miss him a lot."

"H-huh…?"

Temari smiles and walks out of the room. Kankuro scratches his head. He should've known his sister is smarter than to fall for his 'camping trip' lie. At least she isn't mad about it. He reaches over for his bag and puts it back on his bed. He gathers the rest of the things he needs and zips the bag up. He hurls the bag by the door and gets ready for bed. He stares up at the ceiling with a soft smile. He is going to see Gaara in two days. He can hardly wait.


When he gets off the longest flight of his life, Kankuro takes a deep breath of the beach air. He misses the beach and loves how refreshing and clean the air is compared to the dry desert temperature. He looks out the cab window and takes in the scenery. In summer, the beach has a different feel to it. He isn't concerned about sight-seeing. He just wants to get to the home quickly, and of course the freeway has to be jammed with traffic. He groans, sinking into the backseat. Walking will get him there faster. When the cab pulls off the freeway and drives through the familiar neighborhood, Kankuro perks up and stares eagerly out the window. He almost yelps when he sees the front gate of the home and the driver pulls up to the driveway. He hurries out of the cab, nearly forgetting to pay his fare and take his bag with him. He walks up to the front door, feeling like a little boy at his first day of school: nervous, excited, and scared.

Iruka answers the door and invites in him. The director doesn't lavish Kankuro with welcome and chitchat. He takes his bag and gives Kankuro a brief run-through on where he will be sleeping and some of the rules in the house.

"Gaara is in the study room down the hall," Iruka says, pointing at the right direction.

Kankuro walks quickly through the hall that seems to stretch on endlessly. He heads into the study room and finds Gaara sitting by the desk, writing vigorously in a notebook. Kankuro steps in and finds his way next to his brother. He is at loss of words. His knees feel weak and he somehow lands on the floor next to Gaara. He takes a quick look at the notebook and sees that Gaara is writing the word 'love' over and over again. His handwriting has improved from what Kankuro remembers but is still illegible. He looks up at Gaara and grins. Gaara drops his pencil once he acknowledges the presence of a person next to him. Slowly and full of hesitation, Gaara turns his head slightly to Kankuro's direction.

"Hey, bro, it's me," Kankuro says. He reaches over and ruffles Gaara's hair.

Gaara glances at Kankuro with a frown, like he doesn't recognize his own brother. The little brother looks away and stares down at his notebook. Kankuro feels a pang in his chest. He runs his fingers through Gaara's hair slowly, hoping it will somehow refresh Gaara's memory. Gaara lets out a low whine and squirms away. Kankuro retracts his hand and hangs it over his lap.

"You're mad we left you," he says. "I'm really sorry about it."

Gaara turns toward Kankuro with a rigid stand. He stares at Kankuro's chest for a moment before he shoves his older brother down on the floor. He jumps on Kankuro and pins him down. Kankuro throws his arms up, anticipating Gaara's attack. Instead of hitting and punching, Gaara presses his forehead on Kankuro's chest. He clutches Kankuro's sleeves and emits a loud whine as he rocks slightly back and forth.

"I'm sorry, bro. I'm sorry."

Kankuro puts a hand on Gaara's back and runs his other hand through Gaara's hair. He wants to hug his brother but has a feeling that it will bother Gaara. So he stays on his back and lets Gaara rock for a moment. Once Gaara stops moving, Kankuro gently eases the smaller boy off. He sits up and grins, pinching Gaara's cheek. Gaara flutters his eyes and wears a dazed look. He rubs Gaara's back and gets up with a jump.

"Let's do something fun! Let's go out of here!"

Kankuro helps Gaara up. Gaara goes upstairs to get ready to go out. He comes back down in a new jacket that Kankuro hasn't seen before. He has a good idea who got it for Gaara. Kankuro takes Gaara out to the beach since he wants to go as well. When they arrive, it's almost lunch time and Kankuro's stomach is growling. He wanders the streets with Gaara and looks for a place to eat. The beach is crowded with summer tourists. The place hasn't changed much since spring and Kankuro is able to find his way around fairly easily. They walk past the hotel they stayed in and head for the food district.

"What do you want to eat?"

"We eat chicken nuggets on Fridays," Gaara mumbles. "Chicken nuggets."

Kankuro never knows that Gaara likes chicken nuggets or that chicken nuggets are only to be eaten on Fridays. He nods and goes to a fast food place since it's the only place he knows that serves chicken nuggets. He takes the tray of food and finds a booth near the back. He puts the box of nuggets in front of Gaara. He unwraps his burger and takes a big bite. Gaara opens the box and stares at the nuggets. Kankuro can see him quietly counting the numbers of nuggets he has. Gaara counts the nuggets twice but doesn't eat one.

"What's the matter?"

"I'm only supposed to have eight nuggets," Gaara mumbles, staring at the box.

"Oh… Well, don't mind if I do." Kankuro reaches over and takes two nuggets away. "There, better?"

Gaara takes out the nuggets and lines them into two rows of fours on the tray. He drizzles ketchup on each nugget before he eats them from left to right. Kankuro chews his burger with a content smile.

"I miss watching you eat," he says with a mouthful of food. He slurps his soda and hands it over. "You want some?"

Gaara gives the cup a look before he snatches it and takes a greedy slip. Kankuro watches him suck up half of the cup. He laughs and playfully grabs it back. Gaara looks like he is ready to fight it over with Kankuro.

"Get your own soda, brat."

Gaara turns his attention back to eating his nuggets. Kankuro notices that Gaara eats a lot faster than he used to. He hasn't done with half of his burger yet and Gaara has already finished his nuggets. He eyes Kankuro's fries with a sneaky look, like the fries are forbidden fruits. Kankuro pushes the fries over. Gaara scrutinizes them for a short moment before he grabs two and stuffs them in his mouth. He chews them with a closed mouth, like he is afraid of someone catching him eating fries. Like a mouse stealing food, Gaara grabs three more fries and pushes them in his mouth.

"Slow down," Kankuro says, "No one is going to steal them from you."

Gaara doesn't heed the advice. He grabs two more soggy fries and greedily eats them. Kankuro can't help but put an idiotic smile on his face as he watches his little brother consumes half of the fries.

"I miss you so much. We're going to get you home soon."

Kankuro takes a sip of his drink and finds that Gaara has finally finished all of it. He puts down his burger and stands up to fill his cup. There is a short line at the machine and he has to wait before he gets another cup of thirst-quenching carbonated liquid. He walks back to his booth and stares at it for a moment, thinking that he is at the wrong booth. But he sees his half-eaten burger and the empty nugget box on the tray. He looks around him and puts down his soda.

"Gaara?" he shouts, eyes scanning the place. "Gaara?"

He rushes over to the restroom and looks inside. No one is in the stall and only an old man is relieving himself. Kankuro heads back out and gives the place one last look. He doesn't see a redhead anywhere. He hurries out the doors and searches the streets. Four months ago, Kankuro could care less that Gaara has wandered off because he firmly believed that his brother cannot get lost. Now, he isn't so sure about his brother's homing ability. He takes a moment to think over the possibilities. Gaara most likely remembers the place and is probably visiting the places he went to last time. Kankuro wouldn't be surprised if Gaara goes back to the hotel.

He makes a run-through to all the places they visited last time. He stopped by the restaurants and stores. Compared to the spring season, there are a lot more summer tourists. And since the weather is hotter, Kankuro gets agitated quicker. He has never felt so helpless and scared before. If he loses Gaara, he doesn't know what he is going to do. Kankuro is on his way to the beach when he passes by the gelato shop. He runs past the glass window and comes to a halt. He stomps inside the shop and walks up behind Gaara.

"Dude, you just can't go off without telling me," Kankuro scolds.

Gaara points at the glass protecting the delicious treats. Kankuro pants to steady his pounding heart. He runs his fingers through his hair and wants to yell at Gaara for almost giving him a heart attack. But Gaara is only staring at the frozen gelato. Kankuro sighs and bends down a little next to him.

"You want the chocolate?"

"Cioccolato," Gaara mumbles, pointing at the brown gelato.

"You haven't changed a bit."

Kankuro pays for a scoop of the chocolate gelato. Gaara takes the waffle cone with both hands and licks at the dessert like a thirsty dog. He licks around the waffle cone, and Kankuro remembers that he doesn't eat the cone. He could've saved fifty cents and gotten the paper cup instead.

"Let's go to the beach," Kankuro says, waving for Gaara to follow him.

The beach is, as expected, crowded with so many people that Kankuro feels like he can't breathe. He keeps a close eye on Gaara and makes sure that his brother walks in front of him. They stroll down to the usual spot, where there is less people roaming about. They sit down by the water and watch the strong waves roar. Gaara finishes his gelato and gives the cone over to Kankuro. Kankuro eats the cone quickly and dusts his hands on his jeans.

"How are you doing in the new place? Are you getting along with the other kids?" Kankuro looks over at Gaara, who is poking his fingers in the sand. "Temari says hi and she misses you. We got a lot of money saved up and if everything goes well, you're going to be home in a few years. Temari wants to finish school first and she wants me to go to college. I keep telling her I don't have the grade for it but… she insists. College is going to cost a lot of money too and with my grade, there goes my chance for scholarships. We're probably going to have to take out a loan down the line but don't worry about it… we got it handle. You just enjoy your long vacation here and have fun. So, is there any cute girl you like? Did you make a move on her? I can probably show you a few tricks."

Gaara stares out at the ocean. A flock of seagulls soar by and one of them drops a fish on the shore. It flies down and snatches it before the other birds can get to it. Kankuro sits up and pulls Gaara closer. He buries his nose in Gaara's hair and is glad to find that his hair still has the tropical scent. He ruffles Gaara's hair and grins.

"I have class at 2," Gaara mumbles, gazing up at Kankuro's chin.

"Alright," Kankuro checks the time. They still have another hour before it's time to go. "We still got some time. Don't worry. You won't be late for class."


Kankuro and Gaara, as well as the other residents of the home, all go to the beach on Saturday to watch the firework. Lee is there as well, even though it's not his time to spend at the home yet. As soon as Lee arrives, Gaara latches on to him for dear life. Kankuro watches the scene in front of him. Gaara used to be obsessed with their uncle when he was still alive. He couldn't get through an hour without his uncle around. When his uncle passed away, it took Gaara a long time to get over it but once he did, he doesn't even seem to remember having an uncle. Kankuro hopes it won't be the case for Lee. He really likes Lee and he knows that Lee can only be good for Gaara.

When the first firework blasts into the sky, Gaara gets startled by the loud noise. Kankuro and Lee lead him away from the shore and walk into the city. The fireworks still blast loudly behind them but at least Gaara seems a little calmer. He walks in front of them and glances at the familiar surroundings. Kankuro looks over at Lee and sees how caring Lee is watching Gaara. He walks over.

"I got a question for you. It might seem a little weird but here goes," Kankuro says, "You think… you wanna live with Gaara?"

"What do you mean?" Lee asks, looking up at the taller boy.

"You know… once we get him out of the home, you think you wanna live with Gaara and take care of him and stuff?"

"I-I… I do not have an answer for that…"

"It's just Gaara is really attached to you and I don't know how he'll do without you."

"I cannot… live with Gaara. It will be… not… right. I cannot possibly take care of him on my own and where will we live?"

"I was just throwing it out there. Chill. But hey, if something happens to me and Temari, I'm leaving Gaara in your hands."

"Oh no… no! I cannot…"

"It's fine, Lee. You'll do fine. Gaara likes you. You like him. It's all good. Right?"

"I do like Gaara," Lee says. He gasps and stammers, "I only like Gaara as friend! I do not dare to think of him any other way!"

"Relax, dude. I didn't say anything."

"I am not like that," Lee says firmly.

"No, yeah, I know. I believe you."

Kankuro snickers and gives a playful nudge at Lee's shoulder. Lee blushes deeply and keeps his head low. Kankuro tucks his hands into his pockets and walk behind Gaara through the crowded streets. He is flying back out tomorrow and he doesn't plan to say good-bye this time either. He will have to save up all over again for his next ticket and that will probably take another three or four months. He really hopes he will make it in time for Christmas. If there is one holiday Gaara loves, it is Christmas. He can sit for hours and just stares at the lights on the tree without moving an inch. And though he isn't supposed to, Kankuro likes to slip Gaara a cup of alcoholic eggnog when Temari isn't looking. A tipsy Gaara can be kind of cute. If he doesn't make it, it'll be the first Christmas he will spend without Gaara, and Kankuro definitely doesn't want that. But if he really can't make it, he will definitely aim for Gaara's birthday. He'll come with a big present to make it up as well.

"Gaara," Kankuro calls, "you're walking too fast."

Gaara slows down a bit but keeps a lead. The people around them laugh and are having a good time. Kankuro watches Gaara slip in and out of the crowd, going nowhere fast but constantly disappearing out of his sight. He doesn't think he has ever felt so sad looking at Gaara's back. He also notices that Gaara seems a little taller than the last time he saw him. He lets out a slow sigh and acknowledges something he hasn't wanted to: Gaara is growing up.


Kankuro doesn't say good-bye whenever he leaves the facility and go back home. Saying good-bye is too hard for both of them. So he prefers to quietly slip out the front door and climbs into the waiting cab. The hardest time is when he is waiting in the lobby for his plane to leave. There is always that tempting feeling to go back and drag Gaara on the plane. He hopes it won't be constituted as kidnapping if he does do it. Time passes slowly in the lobby. Caught between two places, Kankuro doesn't know which way to go.

He visits Gaara again in January, having missed the December deadline. The extra month gives him some time to get Gaara a nice present. He buys Gaara his first bike. Temari doesn't allow Gaara to bike since she thinks it's dangerous but Kankuro doesn't see the harm in it. She isn't going to be happy when she finds out how much the bike costs but she doesn't have to find out. Kankuro spends the weekend teaching Gaara how to ride a bike. It takes a lot of trials and errors before Gaara can sit on the bike long enough to pedal a few steps before he goes tumbling down. Gaara has the scratches to prove his effort. Since there is a large area out in the front of the house, Gaara is able to bike around in a circle for a while every day. He isn't allowed to bike out to the streets, of course, but he likes the movement of being on a bike.

After the January visit, Kankuro doesn't visit again until half a year later in June. After the June visit, Kankuro doesn't visit until February of next year. He can't explain why his visits dwindle down. He is going into his senior year in high school and has listened to Temari to start looking into colleges. He can't afford his time and money to visit Gaara when he has his future to look forward to. It is a selfish thought, and he knows it. But Gaara will understand that it's for the best. In the start, it was weird without Gaara but as with everything in life, Temari and Kankuro get used to it. Kankuro will admit that it can actually even nice without Gaara. He can sleep as late into the day as he wants and not have to worry about feeding Gaara. He doesn't have to watch the five-o'clock cartoon. He doesn't have tantrums and fits to deal with. He has more time to himself and he even brings up his grade a lot. Despite the newfound freedom, in the dead of the night, Kankuro will sometimes think that he can hear Gaara crying. He will get out of bed and goes to Gaara's room to find only darkness. Sometimes, he will sit down and watch the cartoon that Gaara loves so much. Every time he passes by a gelato shop, his chest tightens. His most cherished time is when he gets to talk to Gaara on the phone. Even just hearing his brother's breathing helps alleviated the guilt.


The plan to get Gaara home takes three long and hard years. Nonetheless, the day does come. Temari has graduated from college and has found a stable job with a stable income. Kankuro is doing well in his first year in college and has a part time job to help support the family. They have saved up a large sum of money and give their father the middle finger. Gaara is coming home, rather their father likes it or not.

The first night Gaara comes back home, he wanders the house for hours, re-familiarizing himself with every nooks and corners. Gaara circles his room. He opens the drawers and turns on and off the television. He plays with the alarm clock and touches his bed. Temari and Kankuro watch him move through the house like a ghost. Gaara opens the fridge and looks inside. He taps the table and the chairs. When midnight arrives, Gaara is still on his mission to explore the house. He doesn't sleep a wink. According to Iruka, he has been sleeping less and less. Kankuro thinks it's because Gaara is older now and doesn't need as much sleep. He watches his fifteen-year-old brother wanders down the hallway. Gaara has gotten taller and has a wider frame now. His hair has gotten longer as well. Though he most certainly looks different, Kankuro still sees him as his baby brother, especially when he crouches into a ball and rocks himself back and forth, quietly crying next to his bed.

It takes three nights before Gaara calms down and starts to behave more like his regular self. Temari has to accommodate to the daily schedule Gaara has instilled in him. For instance, Gaara won't eat lunch unless it's 12:30 and he won't take a shower until 6 no matter even if he is dirty. He will only eat when he is used to eating at the home on designated date. Kankuro can tell that Temari wants to call Iruka up and yell his head off. It is Thursday and Thursday is taco night. Temari doesn't even like tacos. Still, she runs to the store and gets what she needs to make tacos for Gaara.

"Hey, it's time for your shower," Kankuro says.

Gaara looks up at the clock. It's only 5:58. He looks down at the book he is reading – or looking at – and flips to the next page. It is a children's book about a rabbit with bold words and pretty pictures. Gaara still has trouble reading but he has made progress to read simple sentences. He also does very basic math now. He knows how to add up to four numbers together, as long as the sum doesn't exceed thirty. His handwriting has improved a lot thanks to endless practice and he likes to copy down what he sees.

When the clock turns to 6:00, Gaara puts down his book and stands up. Kankuro follows him to the bathroom, where he has already laid out Gaara's towel and pajamas. Gaara closes the door behind, and Kankuro waits to hear the water running before he goes away. He walks into Gaara's room and picks up the notebook that he likes to write in. He flips through the pages, looking briefly at the rough handwritings. Most of the pages are filled with words or squiggly lines. Kankuro is actually quite surprised to find doodles in the last pages. Gaara has drawn little trees and a raccoon-looking animal. The drawings are childish and nothing exceptional in term of artistic skill, but Kankuro is so proud of his brother. He makes sure to show the notebook to Temari when she comes back.

He cleans up Gaara's room and then picks up his own room as well. He has made a deal with Temari: if he wants cable TV back, he has to help around the house. He figures he should've been helping around the house anyways. At 6:30, the water turns off and Kankuro makes his way back to the bathroom. Gaara comes out a few minutes later, clean and in his pajamas. His hair is dripping wet. He edges away from Kankuro and tries to go back to his room.

"Woah, wait, you gotta blow-dry your hair."

Gaara understands and walks back inside the bathroom. Kankuro grabs the blow-dryer from under the sink and plugs it in. He looks at Gaara through the mirror and grins.

"Still hate the blow-dryer?"

Kankuro turns it on and sets it to the lowest setting. It will take more time but it will be easier on Gaara's ear. Gaara stares at the faucet dully. He glances around the bathroom until his eyes land on the mirror. Kankuro runs his fingers through Gaara's hair to get out the moisture.

"So what's the deal with you and Lee? I think someone got a boyfriend," Kankuro teases. "He's coming to see you next week. I bet you're excited, aren't you? He is a good guy. He is there for you so you better treat him right. You can't find someone like Lee just around the corner. I asked again about moving in with you… he is iffy about it… he is scared he won't do a good job as your nurse… Hah, but as long as he is around, it's all good, right? I mean, I know you don't want him out of your life. He is your best friend and I know he doesn't want you out of his life either. . I'm happy for you, really, Gaara. You have… a lot of people who love and care for you."

Kankuro takes a quick glance up and freezes. Gaara is looking right at him in the reflection and he is making active eye-contact. Kankuro softens and tries to smile but his lips twist sadly downward instead. He is too old and manly to cry now, but his throat still dries up a little. He ruffles Gaara's hair and the younger brother slowly grins.

"You still like that?"

"I like it," Gaara says through the soft roar of the blow-dryer.

Kankuro takes a deep breath and clears his throat. He blinks away the blur in his eyes and chuckles at himself. He is the big brother; he needs to set a good example. What is Gaara going to think if he sees his brother crying like a little girl? Kankuro grabs the comb and runs it through Gaara's thick hair. He puts it in his schedule to take Gaara for a haircut. He turns off the blow dryer and sets it down on the counter. He rakes his fingers through the hair to make sure that it's well dry. He grins at their reflection in the mirror. It's a good picture. He likes it. He pinches Gaara's cheek and nudges him playfully.

"Welcome home, bro."


THE END


Boyue's Note: And with that, this story is officially and completely over. Unless I write a sequel, which I probably won't. This is one of the most emotional stories I've ever written. I was on the verge of crying a few times myself while writing this. I just… really love this story and I certainly hope you did too or at least enjoyed part of it. My personal favorite scene is in chapter 8 where Kankuro takes Gaara into the ocean to catch fish. Oh, it was so heartbreaking for me! (If anyone draws that scene, I will bow and worship you…)

I hope by reading this story, it'll make you want to reach out to someone who needs special care in your life/community. I remember once in high school, a special need student came up to me and hugged me suddenly out of nowhere. I'll admit that I freaked out and wished he hadn't touched me. Now that I think back, I really wish I had hugged the guy back because what is the worst that can happen from a hug?

But I truly hope you will take something away from this story… be it to be less judgmental of others and more supporting or even if it's just a love for chocolate gelato 'cause they are damn delicious. I boldly hope that you learn something new about yourself as well.

A very special thanks to everyone who has shared with me their experiences with autistic people. Your helps were pivotal to guiding me through the story.

Thank you so much for reading this story. Your reviews made it worth all the gruesome hours. And here is the part I hate the most… saying good-bye! I sure hope you will read more of my works in the future.

Thank you! =)

1.26.09

9:45 PM


FUN FACTS

The idea for this story came to me in a dream. Yes, I dream about Gaara and Lee. Shut up. Basically, Gaara and Lee go to the beach. Every time the wave comes, Gaara uses his sand to protect himself. Lee tells him to relax and enjoys the water. They go further into the water but a huge wave comes and pulls Lee away. Gaara gets distressed and sand-avalanches the hell out of the ocean to get Lee back.

And I was going to basically write the plot as such: Gaara meets Lee at the beach. They talk about life and stuff. Lee is severely depressed. And at the end of their conversation, Lee swims into the ocean and drowns himself a la Edna Pontellier. But half-way through writing the first chapter, the story turns into this one. Originally, Lee was still going to drown in the one-shot… but glad that didn't happen!

It's called "In Water" because of the whole drowning thing I was going to do… but I like the title… And it's also taken from one of the endings from the video game, Silent Hill 2, which for the love of all that is holy, this story didn't turn out like that.


AUTISM FACTS

Autism is estimated to occur 1 in 150 births.

It is four time more prevalent in boys than girls.

Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.

Autism is one of the five disorders that falls under Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders of impairment in several areas of development.

Taken from the Autism Society of America