Staring up into Gaara's aquamarine eyes, it wasn't just the fall that had left me feeling winded. At the entrance to the village, surrounded by those tall forbidding walls, long shadows carved strange highlights into his features. He looked searchingly at my face as he set me slowly down, steadying me and then stroking my cheek. An electric thrill ran through me, followed by a sharp jolt of pain, that made my eyes almost water. It seemed that those annoying demons had left me a souvenir. Then Gaara's eyes locked on mine again and I attempted a smile.
"I told you." He murmured, fingers ghosting over my chin.
"Whu-?" Half words were the only thing I could manage. He hand tightened around my shoulder,
"I told you to come back safe. What is this?" I winced as his cool fingers slid across the graze again, "And why, on the subject of you arriving home, did you do so in such a fashion?"
"I know, jumpsuits are totally 'In' this season, right?" A muscle in his jaw twitched and I grinned, following his gaze as he looked up into the sky, "Oh, that! Cross-dimensional travel and all. Don't you worry your pretty little head about such concepts." I patted him on the cheek and turned, to find three pairs of very black eyes staring balefully at me.
"Are we interrupting?" One of the boys asked. I spun back around quickly to face Gaara, blinked, and looked over my shoulder. The three boys were still there, their heads tilted expectantly, black hair falling into black eyes.
"Why are they here?" I hissed. Gaara stepped back, and I could see the billowing clouds of sand that he was beginning to churn up around him.
"We were about to fight."
I was about to say something witty in return, then realised something and I smacked the palm of my hand on my forehead,
"Mickey! I knew there was something I was missing! But I kind of got sidetracked, falling into another world, fighting species-ist demons, falling (and really falling, I mean) back again and all. You know how it is."
Gaara paused, and looked at me, an adorable uncomprehending panic in his eyes,
"No. No, I don't." I grinned at him, then rounded on our spectators,
"Right. Boys, boys, boys. To what do I owe this pleasure? It's been a while." They looked at me non-committally, "What? Not even a 'hello'? Harsh, guys, harsh!"
"You know them?" Gaara asked resignedly. I think he had figured even by then that anything strange or out of the ordinary occurring in his life probably had something to do with me.
I smiled to Gaara, and then scratched my head,
"I guess Mickey made it back and spilled the beans, then?"
One of the three boys stepped forward. His black eyes met mine unflinchingly,
"We came to annihilate this village."
I looked at them in mock surprise,
"But that's not very nice!" I looked behind to Gaara, "It's a shame you couldn't meet these guys on a good day. Come to think of it, I've never met them on a good day either." I narrowed my eyes at the other Mergers again, "I wish you could just be a little less morbid, just some of the time. Make your lives a lot easier, trust me."
"We don't." One of the boys said coldly, and I snorted.
Just then, Kankuro thudded into view, slightly panting after a long run down from the main office. I had wondered where he was.
"Gaara! I heard from one of the villagers! They said you were fighti- oh, hi, Youko!" He skidded to a halt, and flipped out the mannequin on his back. For a moment, I was taken by the wonderment of the life size weapon as its limbs thudded down beside it and Kankuro pulled it upwards, like a true master of his trade. He winked to me, and nodded to the three boys, "What's the low down?"
"These three are fourteen, or two. Cain, Alejandro and Titus. They're triplets."
"I wouldn't have guessed." Kankuro muttered, as three matching faces turned interestedly towards him.
"They each have a different elemental attribute. Do you three want to do this whole introduction thing, by any chance?" I was met with silence, "Thought not. Alejandro is on the left there. He's got air chakra. Titus is on the right, earth chakra. And this is Cain in the middle, water chakra."
"Why are their eyes so black?" Kankuro asked slowly, drawing chakra strings out of his palms to attach them to his fighting doll, and I could see his brother likewise preparing himself for battle. Maybe I should have been doing that too... But talking is so much more fun than fighting, I always say (whatever Liam says about me).
"These guys... are one of Kazuhiko's little experiments." I spat the word, and Gaara looked at me, startled. I inhaled, then looked him straight in the eye, "So was I. I mean, technically we all were, but some more than others."
"Your talk... becomes boring." Cain's voice scratched my ears like a knife sharpening another knife. Dangerously. Without so much as a nod or movement that could be some kind of sign, the three leapt, perfectly in sync, into the fight.
Gaara threw up a sand shield and behind it, I began to rub my hands together. Kankuro brought his doll into some kind of mechanical life, spinning in perfect harmony as he deflected blows.
"What are you doing, Youko?" Gaara asked, the slight strain of keeping the shield up against the barrage of blows perceptible in his voice.
"Making fire." I said shortly, and opened my palms to show the newly ignited chakra pathways on my skin. Gaara stared at me, clearly surprised. "It's something I've been thinking about-since I was in the demon world- I let my sand chakra get the better of me." His eyes darkened. I knew he knew just what it was like for that to happen." So my theory is- if I could let demon chakra take control there- I should be able to- let human chakra take control here." The small flame that I had been kindling leapt, searing my skin but not in a painful way, and I nodded to Gaara, "Let down your barrier."
"Why is the fire so important?" He demanded, still holding the barrier in front of me.
""Air, water, earth- What's missing?" I smiled to him, then leapt. He dropped his sand at just the right moment, and suddenly I had three teenage boys heading my way, bent on destruction.
Kankuro's doll dotted in and out between them, in well-deflected attempts to break their formation. The triplets had had these tactics down for at least a year. Titus stood on the floor, and already I could see earthy tendrils sneaking out from beneath his trousers and embedding themselves in the ground. On his shoulders stood Alejandro, poised in a perfect pirouette, knives ready. And in front of them, behind them, between them, moving at an ever-increasing speed, was Cain.
"Aim for Cain!" I shouted to Kankuro as I dodged the knives sent flying by Alejandro.
"Which one is he?" He asked and I groaned,
"The one attacking us, idiot!"
The triplets are a perfect formation of attack and defence. Cain attacks, while the two others fend off attacks from his back. They move in seamless synchronism. They are impossible to defeat. Unless you're me, of course, that is.
Kankuro's doll moved in for an attack, and I risked a glance behind me to Gaara. He was on the floor, hand on the ground, drawing some kind of symbols in the sand. I didn't know what it was, but I had a fairly good idea that he was probably targeting Titus. Clever guy. I guess you don't get to be Kazekage for nothing.
Because this whole formation relies on Titus' hold on the earth around him; a normally impossible obstacle. But when you're fighting the sand-wielding Kazekage in his village surrounded by desert, the balance starts to tip.
I somersaulted, and landed ten feet away from Cain. Fire coursing across me body, I watched his movements, the fluidity of water that spoke through his limbs, the graceful ripple of muscles as he wove between his brothers. Then I leapt.
I met him in mid-air, grabbing his wrists and throwing him over my shoulder. He landed with a thump, on his back.
"Cover me!" I screamed, as Alejandro's knives thudded into the earth around me. With the clanking sounds of Kankuro's doll in action to comfort me, I slapped away Cain's punch, and cursed as he swept my feet out from under me. I kicked up, catching him in the stomach, but he just flowed over me and smashed my head further into the dirt with a fist. I caught hold of the back of his shirt, twisting it to stop it from ripping, then pushed my feet up, moving vertically up into the air and back towards Cain. Spinning, I placed a foot into his back and floored him again. Holding him down with my full force, I gathered the fire still in my palms, and shoved it ruthlessly down his throat.
For a second, nothing happened, and he struggled violently under my grasp, but I held firm. Then, he began to cough, retching and pitching out of my grip. He threw me off of him, and tried to crawl a few feet away. Then I heard sound, a little like water steaming out of a cooking pot, and he collapsed. I looked around me for the first time, and saw that the fight was wrapping up elsewhere too. Kankuro's doll had captured Alejandro, he of the air, who should never have been confined, and increasingly weak sounds of a struggle could be be heard from within. And Gaara, the surprisingly clever Gaara, who had hung back from the fray to meditate with his hand on the earth, was now standing, sand flying everywhere, Titus held in an iron grip on sand, feet kicking, feet not touching the ground, helpless. Then I threw up. I guess chakra really does hurt to use up. I wish my body came with a warning light for when I'm about to overload. Not that I would pay any attention to it, anyway.
The biggest surprise for me that afternoon wasn't Gaara rushing over to me, and it wasn't the way he picked me up incredibly gently. It wasn't the way his eyes looked at me when he thought that I was already unconscious. It wasn't anything to do with Gaara. Really, that should be the biggest surprise of them all.
The triplets, complete with guards, came to my bedroom as soon as word had gotten out that I was awake again, in handcuffs and looking a lot smaller and thinner than they had ever seemed before. I regarded them thoughtfully, just as Gaara followed them into the room.
"Why are they here? What's going on?" He held up a hand and I fell silent again,
"We need your advice." I looked, confused, from him to the triplets, and that was when I practically fell out of my bed and almost embarrassed myself a scarily large amount in front of the always-so-cool Kazekage (Me in threadbare hand-me-down-from-his-sister pyjamas isn't exactly the sight I want to give him right now). The triplets all looked up at me, in perfect timing, as always, and I was startled to see honey coloured eyes peering out of their fringes.
"Wha- what..." My voice trailed off, and I reached over to a dressing gown, pulling it over my arms and jumping out of bed. That was a bad idea. I swayed, but shook my head at the guards who made moves to steady me. If it isn't going to be from Gaara, Youko The Almighty doesn't really like accepting help. I walked shakily over to the triplets and pulled Cain's chin up with a faltering hand,
"What's happened to you?" I murmured. He looked down, and swallowed.
"I don't know. Maybe we each met our match." The other two nodded, "We think... well, as best as we can guess, we think that it neutralised some of the demon in us."
I bit my lip. There was something in his voice, in his eyes, that made me feel very, very sorry for him,
"Are you still Cain? And you, "I turned to Alejandro and Titus, "Are you two the same?"
"Youko." Gaara's deep voice turned me round, and I shook my head,
"I don't know what it is. Something's different."
"That's what I thought." He nodded, "What did he mean 'neutralised'?"
"Remember, I told you that Kazuhiko liked to... experiment with us... Well, two years ago, he got this big idea. He wanted to see if he could-" Here I faltered for a moment, glancing at the triplets, who just stared non-committally at me, as always, "If he could combine three demons with- with one human. Make something even stronger." I looked at the triplets, my eyes soft, "It didn't work. Somehow the human child split, and because the human chakra had split too, the demon chakras took over. They were barely even Mergers."
"'Were'?" Gaara repeated questioningly, and I frowned,
"Yeah, 'were'. There's something new, a new feeling about these three."
"It was the fight." Cain said slowly, uncertainly, and I noticed that his voice had become higher, less other-worldly, "I dunno- we don't know really what happened, but we think that being, um, beaten up to that extent," I smiled apologetically, "It knocked something back into place inside of us. I think we're better, now."
I sat down on the edge of my bed, and breathed in deeply,
"Gaara. I think they're going to be ok. I think- I think they're safe, now."
Gaara frowned, then slowly shook his head,
"I apologise. You... you cannot be allowed to leave freely."
The triplets nodded, as if they had been expecting it, but I jumped up unsteadily and ran across to the Kazekage,
"But they're ok now! Look at them! Anyone could see that! Can't you let them stay here, like me?"
"They're not like you." He replied shortly, "You haven't tried to kill anyone. Yet."
I was taken aback by the sting, but one look into Gaara's eyes told me that it was a tiny little joke, just between the two of us, his attempt to lighten my mood. I appreciated it.
I turned to the triplets, but before I could speak, Cain stepped forward again,
"He's right. It's true. We have been dangerous. We have done... awful things. Let us repent. They can do what they will." I looked at Cain once more, and then gave a little smile to him,
"You better not revert though, you hear me? We need to start again, once they let you go."
He smiled back, and the other two followed suit. With a nod from Gaara, they were led out, gently but still in chains, and we were left alone.
"Where are your brother and sister?" I asked once the clinking of metal against metal had disappeared. Gaara shrugged,
"Kankuro is at the hospital, with minor injuries," He added when I gasped, "And Temari is liaising with the villagers. How are you?" The question came a little as a surprise to me, and I looked up to face him,
"What do you mean?"
He looked at me almost tenderly and nodded at the door,
"They... must be like family to you. Whatever they used to be. Also Mickey. We keep taking people away from you."
I swallowed, hard, and closed my eyes,
"I... I can't say that I'm entirely happy with it, but I know that that's how it should be. I hope that the triplets can be rehabilitated."
I felt him sit down next to me, on the bed, very close, closer than a Kazekage should sit. I opened my eyes again, just as I was engulfed in a strong hug.
"Don't say anything. Please." He commanded quietly, and I sat numbly with his arms around my shoulders, hardly daring to breathe.
It's incredibly unfair that someone has this much power over me. It's even more unfair that that someone is just the type of person to, once he realises, exploit me completely.
He pulled back only a little way, so could look him straight in the eyes, and soon it was only his strong arms holding me up. Then, without warning, even so much as a word, he stood up,
"You must rest. 'Cross-dimensional travel and all that'. I will stop getting in your way."
Before I could offer a word of complaint or denial, he had swept out of the room, and I was left, alone and vaguely pissed off, with only the slight iron scent of him still lingering in the air.
School really is not the best friend of the aspiring author. Really, I'm so sorry about how late this was! And also sorry for how late they're all going to be from now on, probably. Just to warn you. Now, I really would love some reviews, especially for this chapter. A lot seemed to happen. What do you all think of it? CANARYwolf Xx