To Cease to Exist
Description: SANDSIBS fic. The morning after Gaara flees with Kankuro and Temari from the failed Konoha Invasion, how will he and his siblings react to his emerging new view of life? Will Gaara, as he has feared, simply vanish from this world, or will his life serve a purpose?
Disclaimer: Gaara, Kankuro, Temari, 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: Story written for my 15,000 page view kiriban on DA, Jan. 2009. The request: a story set the day after the Konoha Invasion that chronicles how the siblings (and Shukaku) are reacting to Gaara's revelation and change in behavior.
Thank you to Darkhelmetj for betareading this and all who review! The quotes in italics are all from fan translations of the manga, which I frankly prefer more than the Viz versions. Other italicized passages are just Gaara's thoughts.
I don't want to cease to exist.
Gaara leaned against a tree trunk, one leg propped up, and watched the dawn reach through the forest canopy with pale golden fingers, dappling the grass with wavering sunlight. Resting one arm on his knee, he analyzed the world surrounding him, trying to comprehend it — to comprehend himself and that he still lived. Cardinals chased each other from branch to branch, their crimson wings flashing across green leaves; baby robins chirped in unseen nests; and a lazy bumblebee buzzed near his neck, as though nearly mistaking him for a flower before moving on.
"Love only yourself and fight only for your sake. Your mother wished and believed that your existence would last forever as long as you lived in such a manner."
Gaara turned his hand palm up, moving each finger slowly, aware of the motion but somehow unable to feel it. He had long known that he wasn't wanted in this world, so now would he finally vanish? Or had his realizations the day before suspended that moment of utter voiding?
Troubled by his thoughts, Gaara allowed his gaze to move past his fingers to his siblings, who slept shoulder-to-shoulder against a tree trunk five feet away. They had agreed to each take a guard shift for the night, only to both succumb to exhaustion. Several golden hair strands had escaped Temari's ponytails and wavered in the morning breeze, and one cat ear on Kankuro's hood had bent downward, flopping more like a dog ear. With their eyes closed, they seemed like perfectly positioned corpses. What had they thought when he had apologized to them the previous afternoon as they fled Konoha — an apology offered because of the glimpse of truth he'd seen in another's eyes?
Love? Is that why he is so strong?
Uzamaki Naruto — loud, obnoxious kid with a funny name and a ridiculous amount of chakra. How had his love for his friends made him so strong? Naruto, like Gaara, had seen those eyes, seen them all: eyes that glared with a piercing hate, pinning him against wall like a struggling butterfly in a bug collection. He had known those words, known them all: insults and names that stung with freezing fear, condemning one as a murderer who had killed, killed, killed, turning the desert's sand crimson, an ocean of blood to taste, for It.
Will you not feed me anymore? Can I not taste their blood? Gaara, we need that smell, like a perfume. I thought you said you were always a good boy.
"Kaa-san?" Gaara slapped both hands against his temples, shaking his head and growling under his breath. No! He did not need that Siren's song. I will not be erased. That Naruto kid, he knew my pain, but he said other people saved him from his loneliness. I don't understand, but somehow, somehow . . . love made him strong. He closed his eyes, panting with effort as he clenched a mental fist around his thoughts, condensing them, crushing them, an internal sabaku kyu to rid his mind of the whispering voice of The Other.
Kankuro's faltering voice. Gaara opened his eyes and stared at the puppet master, who was scuffed and bruised. Stiffly, Kankuro pushed himself to his feet and crossed the clearing to kneel by him. Despite his brash attitude, the older boy was always uncomfortable around him.
"You okay, jan?" Kankuro asked, peering at Gaara's wounded shoulder.
"My family is nothing more than mere lumps of meat!"
Gaara blinked and watched Kankuro's brow furrow. For hours the day before, even with his own injuries, his brother had carried him, escaping Konoha as quickly as possible. In fact, he had carried not only Gaara's weight, but also the weight of his puppet and — before the battle — the gourd. And now this so-called 'lump of meat' was watching him with concern.
"Fine," Gaara finally replied, his voice toneless.
Kankuro reached out and fingered the bandage Temari had applied to his wound the previous evening. "If you say so, man, but that bandage has been bled through."
Frowning in confusion, Gaara started to ask Kankuro why it mattered. He was unused to being hurt, and he was equally unused to having people care if he were 'hurt' in any fashion or sense at all. No one had ever . . .
"You were never loved."
Gaara stared at his knee, not understanding why Kankuro was bothering to inspect his wound. However, Naruto's words echoed in his mind: "Why is it that I understand your pain?" Gaara clenched his hand on his knee, but the truth of it remained: he might be unloved, but he was no longer alone. Someone else in the world shared the special torment he lived in, and Naruto had said his friends saved him from being alone.
Gaara glanced back at Kankuro, who was motioning to a now-awake Temari. "Hey, he's bled through his bandages. We should get him cleaned up again and more medicine applied."
Temari struggled to her feet, stretched, then crossed the clearing and knelt on Gaara's other side. "Okay. I have enough supplies left." She pulled a roll of bandages and a box of medicine out of her pouch. She, too, was scuffed and bruised, some of the bruises having been Gaara's fault, in fact. He'd hit her out of his way during the fight. Despite that, she was using her supplies on him.
People to save me from being alone? Is that truly possible? Gaara wondered, then jumped faintly as Kankuro reached across his chest toward his wound. "What?"
Kankuro chuckled nervously. "Just helping, jan." He unsheathed a kunai and cut through the old bandage carefully, pulling away the brittle, blood-soaked cloth. "You took quite a hit. It's still pretty hard to believe."
With wide eyes, Gaara stared at his brother, stunned speechless by how gently he removed the old dressings. His brother had no reason to look after him, and yet he was.
Temari leaned in from the other side. "Yeah, but it's looking better. Seems to be healing fast." With a soft touch, she used a gaze pad to wipe the wound with medicine and clean off the dried blood. "We'll just keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn't get infected."
Opening his mouth, Gaara started to respond, but once again, he found himself incapable of words. No look of hate tinted her dark teal eyes, just no-nonsense concern — the same she showed for Kankuro when he was injured. In his siblings' eyes could he become more than a monster?
"So for what purpose did I exist?"
Sitting under his brother's and sister's worried gazes, Gaara wasn't sure who or what he was or could be. If he wasn't the frightening monster Suna employed to destroy its enemies, what purpose did he have? If his life wasn't that of the Self-Loving Demon who forced himself to remain in existence by killing all other people, what would keep him from vanishing? What other use did a human weapon have? I will not vanish. I can't. I refuse.
Temari stood, her ministrations completed. "There. That should hold for the rest of the day. Let's get going." She grabbed her fan, securing it to her back.
Kankuro crossed the clearing and hoisted his puppet onto his back, then returned to Gaara. "You ready to go?"
Gaara glanced up at his brother and the hand he offered. "Yeah," he said, taking the hand and allowing the older boy to pull him to his feet. Kankuro wrapped one strong arm around his waist, holding him securely to his side.
Gaara tightened his arm over Kankuro's shoulders, considering the strong jaw of the boy he'd always deemed an annoying coward. Kankuro's dark eyes narrowed with concentration as he vaulted into the trees, again carrying both his brother's and his puppet's weight. Once he stopped to ponder it, Gaara realized Kankuro had never balked at a mission, no matter how dangerous. In fact, he approached his battles with a bloodthirsty zeal.
He's not really a coward, Gaara realized. The only thing he's scared of . . . is me. And yet here he was, patiently carrying Gaara on the second day of their trip home. Kankuro's attitude toward Temari when she was in danger, and now toward him when he'd been hurt, reminded Gaara of Naruto's shock, anger, and care.
Do you have a hidden strength? Gaara wanted to ask his brother. He glanced at Temari as she vaulted ahead of them, taking point. Does she, also? And does it come from love? It seemed strange to consider that his teammates, who he had believed to be nothing more than pests, actually had worth.
"Those who always stay beside you . . . if you make them important to you, they will watch over you with love."
Perhaps Yashamaru had actually tried to convey truth to him somewhere among the liquored lies about love. If so, Gaara was left with the same question once again: if he wasn't needed as a frightening weapon, if he didn't exist to love himself, then why was he still alive? What purpose did he have in life?
"Those who always stay beside you . . ."
Looking between Temari and Kankuro, Gaara realized the simple truth of the matter. In the weakened condition his siblings had discovered him in, they could have stayed back and allowed Naruto or Sasuke finish him. How simple it would have been to return to Baki and report him dead. No one would have questioned it; at worst they might have received a lecture about responsibility to teammates. Then again, perhaps not. Suna shinobi were trained to value the mission over the lives of teammates. Kankuro and Temari would've needed only to claim that they were returning to Konoha to support the invasion and that Gaara had refused to accompany them. From that point of view, Gaara would have caused his own death. What was more, the villagers and council would have been relieved, and Gaara's father would have been happy.
And yet, for a reason Gaara couldn't even imagine, they had returned to his side and rescued him. He wanted to ask them why, but the words wouldn't form. What did it mean? He didn't know, but he knew it mattered to him now in a way it wouldn't have the previous day. He had to say something. From watching the humans around him, Gaara understood the most basic protocols for civility, so in a quiet voice, he spoke simple words to them: "Thank you."
Temari's shoulders jerked, and she glanced back at him. "Gaara? You're welcome." She gave him a small, tentative smile before facing forward again.
Kankuro glanced at him, his eyes widening slightly. "Yeah, man. No problem." He tightened his arm around Gaara's waist. It was the closest thing to a hug he had ever received — and probably ever would.
Gaara nodded silently in response, and he assumed Kankuro was merely shifting his grip. However, for a moment, he wished his brother's action had been triggered by some sort of connection that Gaara could expand upon, although the idea seemed laughable. Still, if that Naruto kid was right, if connections mattered and the loneliness could be reduced, then in Gaara's mind the concept had worth.
Maybe, like Naruto, I can change my fate, he thought. And then maybe, one day, I will be needed by someone.
Edit, 2011: I extended this story into a 4-chapter fanfic, which I entitled "Divergent Paths." If you enjoyed this story, please check out the extended version.