Ripples on the Pond
By Ariel D
Description: After the end of the war, Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari all reflect upon their father and the impact he has or hasn't had on them and their lives. In the process, they attempt to comfort each other. Set after Shippuuden ch. 548.
Disclaimer: The Naruto-verse and all its characters are copyrighted by Masashi Kishimoto and Weekly Shonen Jump. I am making no profit; this is just for fun.
A/N: Submission for the InsomniacINC contest (theme: Gaara and family). Totally a reaction to chs. 546-548 of the manga. Some extrapolation included since I wish we knew about Temari's and Kankuro's reactions and thoughts. Also total (vague) guesswork on how the manga will end.
Translations, jic: "ototo" means younger brother, "nii-san" older brother, and "nee-san" or "nee-chan" older sister. "Jan" is the syllable Kankuro adds to his sentences because he speaks in a Yankie/punk accent.
"Your mother truly loved you. Even in death, she continues to believe in you and protect you."
Staring at the sand he had coiled around his arm, Gaara still tried to comprehend fully that his mother's love protected him. His attention was so focused he barely noted the people he passed on Konoha's streets, nor was he particularly cognizant of the two temporary bodyguards trailing him. All he could see was the sand and the way it protected him even after Shukaku was long gone.
Overall, it had been the worst several days of his life, not counting the day Yashamaru lied to him and tried to kill him. While the Allied Forces had been victorious, he'd had the stress of facing his father. His best friend had been killed, although he'd been revived by Tsunade. They'd nearly lost the war, only to pull through in the last instant. The world had almost ended. It was more than any of them could take. Everyone, including Gaara, felt physically and emotionally battered. The joy over their victory was punctured by grief for those they'd lost; celebrations were interrupted with spontaneous tears.
And Gaara was dragging through Konoha's debris-littered streets to the hospital, where Kankuro had been transferred. Defeating Hanzo's poison had proven tricky, apparently, necessitating that the victims be moved from the field tents to a hospital. Despite his exhaustion, Gaara had grabbed the first chance he had to check on his brother. He'd already been able to verify that Naruto and Temari were all right, but although he'd been assured that Kankuro was recovering, he wanted to see for himself. Also, in a moment like this one, he wanted to be with his family.
He glanced up in time to see Naruto jump from the nearest rooftop. "Naruto."
Landing beside him, the boy gave him a sad smile. "I guess things didn't turn out how any of us expected, huh? But at least the world didn't end."
Gaara nodded silently, then mustered the energy to speak. "I'm glad you're alive. You scared me."
"Sorry!" Naruto clapped him on the shoulder. "Guess you know how I felt, huh? But we both managed to cheat death . . . for a price." He paused, frowning, then shook his head faintly. "Anyway, I heard you had to fight your own dad. Is that true?"
Although Gaara had discussed with Temari what had happened, he found he still hadn't processed it all. Even thinking about what his father had revealed about his mother made his eyes burn with tears. He took a deep breath, steadying himself. "At first it was just as bad as I feared. He was hostile initially and wanted to test my worth."
"Test your worth?" Naruto's voice grew sharp with his signature shock and outrage.
"Then he told me my mom truly loved me," Gaara added in a whisper, staring at his feet as they walked. No one had been able to figure out why Gaara had retained his automatic sand shield. The villagers had always assumed his ultimate defense came from Shukaku, and the total contradiction of his uncle's words had left Gaara himself confused — so much so that he'd once called the evil voice inside his head "Mother." Now, though, his upside-down world had been forcibly righted.
"Of course she loved you!"
Gaara looked up in time to see Naruto's blinding smile. "But my uncle told me . . ." His words trailed off as he considered the nature of the lies that had poisoned him and so radically altered his life. Had Naruto not come along, he might have never moved past the moment he was stuck in. "Thank you," he said.
"For what?" Naruto cocked his head, clearly confused.
"Being my friend." Gaara granted him a small smile. But as much as he appreciated their friendship, which was a type of brotherhood through mutual suffering, right now he wanted to see his blood brother. He valued his bond with Naruto — in fact, it would be more accurate to say he lived in awe of him — but his siblings were the ones who walked by his side every day and loved him even when he was in a bad mood. More specifically, Kankuro was the one who dealt best with Gaara when he was hurt, cranky, and exhausted.
It was the dichotomy of his siblings. Temari, who was quick to tease men and give them a hard time, would sit with him for hours, debating political, military, and economic strategies. Kankuro, who was highly physical and hands-on, would sit and listen to him talk for hours. Even though he'd work on his puppets the entire time, just when Gaara began to wonder if he were even paying attention, Kankuro would reply and prove that he'd not only listened but also fashioned some stellar advice or insight.
Therefore, Gaara had learned with time that when Temari entered his office and asked, "How are you doing, Gaara?" she meant "Are you getting enough to eat? Enough rest? Are you overworked? Can I help?" When Kankuro walked into his office asked, "Hey, man, what's up?" he meant "How do you feel? Is everything okay, or is someone causing you grief? Can I help?" Each had their value, and between them, Gaara felt well taken care of. But now that Temari had offered her commentary on their father, Gaara just wanted his nii-san.
Naruto had gracefully accepted the sudden change of topic. "Sure, man! We'll always be friends." He paused as they reached the next intersection. "I gotta find Kaka-sensei; there's a lot to talk about. But I'll see ya later, okay?"
"Sure." Gaara watched his friend bound away, then resumed his trek to the hospital, nearly blind and deaf to all the hammering and yelling around him. Konoha still hadn't fixed all the destruction caused by Pain's attack, and now there was more collateral damage. However, they clearly were resilient people, building back as soon as peace had been announced. Gaara was positive they could reclaim their previous prosperity, just as he believed Naruto would make an excellent Hokage.
But right now none of that mattered to Gaara. Since part of finding his true self had included a new, stronger bond with his siblings, he couldn't relax until he'd seen Kankuro with his own eyes as well as shared all his thoughts with him.
Stepping out of the hospital room, Temari shut the door behind her. She'd actually come to check on Kankuro again, only to be waylaid by the unmistakable sounds of her best friend, Suki, crying and yelling. Following the noise, she'd discovered Suki hovering at the bed of her boyfriend, who happened to be Temari's ex. The boy, Jiro, wasn't doing well, but since all Jiro ever did was hurt Suki, that produced mixed feelings in Temari.
As Temari wandered the hospital halls, making her way to Kankuro, she wondered why both Suki and she always picked crappy boyfriends. Jiro had treated Temari terribly as well, and despite her tough nature, she hadn't dumped him right away. Prior to falling for Jiro and his surface charms herself, Suki had mentioned something about girls choosing guys like their dads or rushing after the first man who showed them any attention. Temari had scoffed at Suki at the time, but after seeing her father during the war, she'd begun to wonder if there was any truth to the claim. Her father had shown little interest in her when he'd been alive, and he hadn't even noticed she was on the battlefield. Had she really been so desperate to have a man's attention and love that she'd picked two total loser boyfriends in a row? Why couldn't she learn from her own mistakes? Did she really need a model, and if so, who could she even use?
Setting aside the disturbing thoughts as she reached her brother's room, Temari pasted on a smile and slid open the door. The man in the first bed looked to be in a coma, but Kankuro was sitting up in his bed and gazing out the window. He turned toward her as she approached, and she noted the dark circles under his eyes.
"You look like shit," she said, smirking. "You gotta stop getting poisoned."
"You don't look so hot yourself, jan. What happened? You didn't get your ass kicked, did ya?" He returned the smirk.
Temari propped one hand on her hip. "Hell, no." Her energy for their usual verbal sparring matches died abruptly, and she stepped up beside his bed and gently ran her fingers through his tousled hair. "Seriously . . . you okay?"
His punk attitude dropping immediately, Kankuro closed his eyes a moment, letting her straighten his hair, then fixed her with a gaze. "I still can't walk very well, but I feel a lot better than I did. If I can go more than six months without getting poisoned again, I'll be a happy man."
Feeling a small smile tug her lips, Temari nodded once. "And I might not go prematurely gray."
"Ah, I'll make that happen either way." Kankuro grinned at her, and she swatted his shoulder. However, he grew abruptly grim. "Where's Gaara? He's okay, right?"
At this, Temari frowned and sat on the chair by his bed. "Physically, he's fine except for being exhausted and chakra-drained. Mentally, though . . ." She hesitated, grimacing.
"What?" Kankuro's eyes narrowed.
Temari could almost feel his protective instincts kicking in. "Well, I didn't want to say anything, but . . . one of the people summoned by the Edo Tensei was our father. Gaara had to face him."
"What? Are you for real?" Kankuro stared at her. "You got to see Father? Gaara got to talk to Father?" A pause, his brow furrowing. "Shit, and he had to fight Father?"
Temari had known her brother wouldn't take this news well, which was why she hadn't mentioned it the first time she'd visited him. The subject of their father was a sore one for him on several counts. "I saw Father out on the battlefield, but I didn't get close enough to speak to him or fight him." She still hadn't decided if that was a good or bad thing. "We were battling with four Kages, but Gaara managed to seal Father fairly quickly."
"But not before Gaara had to fight him?" Kankuro crossed his arms over his stomach and leaned forward slightly.
Realizing just how upsetting this news was, Temari wondered if she'd made a mistake. "I'll let Gaara tell you most of it, and just so you know, he's on his way to see you." She moved from the chair to the edge of Kankuro's bed. "But yeah, Gaara said that Father was stunned to hear he was Kazekage and that he set about determining his 'value' with his own hands."
Kankuro's nose wrinkled in disgust. "That sounds like our father, yeah. Poor Gaara!" He pulled his knees to his chest and hugged his legs. "So, did he 'fail' the 'test' even now?"
At first Temari didn't reply. They all shared the same wound: none of them had ultimately measured up in their father's eyes. Although Gaara had received the worst of it, having been judged as totally worthless and as a dangerous liability, Kankuro and she had also failed to please. "No," she said gently. "He said Father admitted that he'd grown. Apparently he didn't officially say, 'I entrust Suna to you,' but Gaara seems to feel that our father's opinion of him was drastically improved." She wondered if she, also, could have passed the "test," but she quickly dismissed the thought.
"That's good." Despite the sincerity of tone, Kankuro was still frowning at his knees.
"You wish we'd gotten a similar chance." Temari understood his pain well. "But, hey, we both made jonin as teenagers, and you told me earlier that both Sasori and Chiyo-baa complimented you. Not only that, but Sasori willed you two of his most precious puppets. Everyone in Suna, our father included if he could've heard it, knows how significant that is."
A small smile bent Kankuro's lips, then faded again. "I know, jan. It's just . . ." He shook his head. "Never mind that. How is Gaara doing with all this? It must have been one hell of a shock."
Struck by how selfless her brother could be, Temari reached out and squeezed his shoulder. He'd always been protective, but the older he'd grown, the more he put his family and friends before himself. "He seems alternately more at peace and totally rattled. We talked about it earlier for several minutes between the Kage meeting and the broadcast to the Daimyo. You can bet you'll be hearing all about it."
The small smile returned briefly. "Yeah, true." He sighed. "I've gotta admit, I'm curious about what they said to each other. There're several things I'd ask if I got the chance — several things I wish I knew."
"Yeah, me, too." No use in denying it. It occurred to Temari that just like she'd had no real father figure, Kankuro hadn't either, and she wondered if it bothered him. How had it affected him? Was he living in their father's shadow, or were their jutsu so different that he didn't bother to measure himself by their father's accomplishments?
"I just would've liked to talk to him one last time." Kankuro stared back out the window, clearly still upset and trying to hide it.
As she watched Kankuro, trying to determine what would make him feel better, Temari realized she was wrong. Kankuro had possessed a father figure: their maternal grandfather. And although Temari hadn't been close to either of their grandfathers, she had a male model if she wanted one. Because Kankuro had idolized their grandpa, he had turned out much like him. Therefore, despite the sexist attitude of their culture, in which women could be shinobi but still had to also do all the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, Kankuro was different. When their father had died, they'd dismissed the cook and maid since it took their combined incomes as genin to run the basic household — especially considering the price of keeping up their weapons and supplies. However, instead of expecting Temari to do everything, Kankuro had agreed to do the cooking, which he proved talented at. Following Kankuro's cue, Gaara had cleaned the kitchen every day and helped him grocery shop. Several of Kankuro's friends made fun of him, but he hadn't budged.
At first Temari had been shocked and chalked it up to her brother growing more mature; however, as she considered it now, she realized it indicated more than gaining maturity and accepting responsibility. It indicated an entire worldview.
She smiled at her brother, foregoing her usual teasing act, and took his hand, squeezing it. "I don't think we need to talk to Father. I think we figured out everything we need to know to live successful lives."
"Gaara's plenty successful despite the wounds he still carries — or carried, I guess," Kankuro said, turning his gaze to their clasped hands. "And we all three have wounds in our hearts."
"I know," she said quietly, begrudgingly aware that it was true. She never imagined she'd have trouble picking a decent guy to date or that she'd still desire her father's approval. "But I think you're doing a fine job."
Kankuro's eyes widened slightly. "You do?"
Since she usually teased him relentlessly, Temari knew he didn't expect her to stay serious for so long. "Yeah, despite your total smart-assed nature." She grinned, but in truth, as she considered what a successful squad captain he'd made, Temari found herself looking at him with new eyes. And part of that realization included noticing that Kankuro had carried his worldview with him into every area of his life. None of them had much time to date, but the girls Kankuro had dated had been treated with respect. No matter how angry he got with them, he had never called them names, and he'd taken their thoughts, opinions, and feelings seriously. When Temari looked at her brother, she could see their grandpa and how he treated his wife with loving reverence. She could imagine Kankuro would be that way with his future wife when they were old and gray.
Whether she really needed a model or not, Temari realized she could substitute her brother's example for her father's. She didn't have to live her life "handicapped" in some invisible, strange way. "Think about it," she told him, recognizing that her brother had undergone a similar substitution. "Is there anything that Father could have given you that Grandpa didn't?"
Turning his gaze to meet hers, Kankuro didn't say a word. Then again, he didn't need to.
"You're the better man," Temari said, knowing that even if they overcame their wounds, they both secretly wanted their father's approval.
Kankuro glanced back at his lap again, but he dropped his legs and relaxed his posture, the small smile returning to his lips. "Thanks, nee-chan."
Since he usually called her "nee-san" instead, Temari responded to the affection by leaning forward and giving him a quick hug. "You're welcome. Now hurry up and get well!" She gave him a grin that showed most of her teeth. She might not be able to do anything about their lack of a father figure, but she could step into a mother-like role for her little brothers.
He snorted. "Yah, yah."
"Gaara should be here soon." Temari grew serious again. "He looks absolutely worn out. I think he needs his nii-san." Just as she could step into a motherly role for her little brothers, Kankuro could take a fatherly role with Gaara, and she knew Gaara would still need that.
Kankuro immediately perked up, just as she knew he would. "Okay, jan."
"I'll leave him in your care, then." She stood and headed for the door.
"Hey," Kankuro called after her.
Pausing, she glanced back. "What?"
"You're doing a great job, too." Kankuro grinned.
Temari felt a genuine smile bend up the corners of her mouth. "Thanks, ototo." Before things got even more serious — and potentially weird — she opened the door and slipped into the hall, deciding she'd check on Shikamaru. After two devastating breakups, she felt gun-shy, and Shikamaru struck her as a bit immature. However, he seemed more reliable than he had before, so perhaps he'd grown up some since she last spent time with him. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to give him a chance to prove himself.
Having lain down again, Kankuro frowned at the ceiling, feeling torn. Despite his sister's assurances, he couldn't help wishing he'd talked with his father again. From his time spent with Gaara, he knew there wasn't much that could replace a father's blessing, although a powerful replacement father figure could help. He'd done his best to step into that gap for Gaara — listening to his dreams, supporting his growth, approving his goals, and loving him. Gaara had responded to the care slowly at first, as though he weren't sure what it was and if it were a temporary phenomenon. However, after Gaara had died and been revived, he had fully grasped that care, immersing himself in it, much to Kankuro's joy. Yet, in the end, Kankuro knew he couldn't undo the damage caused by their father's total rejection of Gaara and attempts to kill him, so he felt relieved that Gaara had gained their father's endorsement. Those wounds could heal now.
But they wouldn't heal for Kankuro. He also had never earned his father's full blessing, having been judged first as lacking value and later as merely adequate. However, he also knew Gaara had been doing his best to give his nii-san "medicine." When Gaara had made Kazekage, he'd gained authority over everyone in Suna, including his siblings. That built-in authority lent a certain weight to Gaara's approval of Kankuro's growth, performance, and value as a shinobi, and Kankuro had drawn as much relief from that as he could. In a sense, both Gaara and he had tried to fill in the gaps for each other. However, it looked as though Kankuro would have to finish closing the gap on his own; the one chance he'd had for anything more had come and gone without his knowledge.
The door slid open, and a soul weary-looking Gaara stepped into the room. The black rings around his eyes seemed darker somehow, and his shoulders were slumped. Instead of fighting with the straps on his vest, he lowered his sand gourd by simply unbuckling the flak jacket and shrugging out of it. The violent thud as it hit the floor shattered the room's silence.
"Hey, ototo," Kankuro said, noting the glazed look to Gaara's eyes and abandoning the kidding he would normally use to lighten a hospital visit.
Gaara flopped into the chair by his bed and gazed at him blankly for a moment. Then he scooted the chair closer to the bed — close enough that the arm pushed into the mattress — and looked him over critically.
"I'm better," Kankuro replied to the unasked question. "I can actually get up and go to the bathroom by myself now, which is a total relief, jan. I'm still a bit shaky on my feet though."
Nodding slowly, Gaara turned his gaze to his lap. "I'm glad to hear you're better. It scared me when I heard you'd been poisoned and had to be transferred here."
Kankuro gave him a small smile; hearing that his brother worried for him had not lost its novelty. However, over the past few years, he'd developed a keen sixth sense about Gaara's moods. Although Gaara had slowly grown more expressive when alone with his siblings, he still was fairly stoic; as a result, Kankuro had trained himself to interpret the tiniest signals, a habit that was almost unconscious now. Even without Temari's warning, he would have known his ototo was upset. "What is it?" he asked, trading his usual punk tone for a gentler one.
Gaara's brow furrowed, and his gaze became pinned to his hands, which rested in his lap. "Have you seen Temari? Did she tell you I had to face Father?"
"Yeah, man. She didn't say a lot about it, only that he 'tested' you and you sealed him." Kankuro watched his brother's face closely. Depending on how upset Gaara was, and what kind of upset, Kankuro either needed to give him space or to hover at his side. If his brother had to exorcise pent up emotions — given he was too good at bottling them up — then he required space and a listening ear. If he were already emotionally spent and required comfort, Kankuro needed to sit at his side and help talk him through it. And despite Baki's exasperation over Kankuro's hotheaded and brash nature, the truth was that he could be an excellent listener. "What happened?" he ventured, opening the door for his brother to speak.
"He asked what happened to Shukaku, and we fought." Gaara paused, the silence stretching between them. "When I managed to prove my 'value' to him, his entire attitude suddenly changed." Another pause. His brow wrinkled further. "No, that's not quite right. It was when I used a restraining jutsu on the other Kages and him." The glaze over his eyes changed to a haunted expression. "I shaped the sand into a likeness of our mom. He was shaken by it."
Comfort. Definitely comfort. Kankuro stirred himself out of the near-trace he'd fallen into as he imagined the scene Gaara described; he patted the bed. "C'mere."
Without complaint, Gaara transferred from the chair to the bed, sitting by Kankuro's thigh and facing him. "From there, it seemed like my entire universe got turned upside down. Father said everything he did was a mistake. That he had decided what mattered to me and what didn't and that he stole my feelings for my mother and my connections to other people."
Kankuro flinched. He decided what did or didn't matter to you . . . That sounds familiar. For a moment, Kankuro was a child again, facing his father and arguing with him about what jutsu he would learn.
"He said all I had to associate with my parents were the wounds in my heart." Gaara's voice was growing rough, and he stared hard at the mattress. "But he also said that even in death Mom protects me and believes in me — she's in the sand — and that he ordered Yashamaru to lie about Mom and say she didn't love me. Then he admitted he was never a father to me." Tears were collecting on his eyelashes. "Which is true, except that in the very end, he told me the truth. As a result, I'm finally free." The tears escaped.
"Gaara . . ." It utterly broke his heart to see those tears tracing down his ototo's cheeks. Kankuro had only seen him cry a few times, but it never failed to make him ache. He reached out and pulled Gaara into his arms, holding him tightly.
Having long since adjusted to his siblings' hugs, Gaara simply encircled his waist with his arms and rested his head on his shoulder. "I feel so relieved, and yet I feel exhausted all the way down into my soul." A deep, shaky breath. "Mom loved me, nii-san. She actually did love me."
Feeling tears in his own eyes, Kankuro rubbed his brother's back as all of Gaara's pent up emotional fallout poured from him. All he knew to do was hold his ototo until the storm was spent, but deep inside, he hurt also. He hurt for never knowing his mother and never having resolved anything with his father. However, from the depth of love he held for his brother, he could set aside his pain and focus on the one among them who'd been the most wounded. "Of course she did," Kankuro finally said, keeping his tone confident yet gentle.
Although Gaara had told him what their uncle had said, Kankuro had not wanted to believe it. He hadn't wanted to believe that his mother was capable of that level of cruelty and hate toward her baby and village. Throughout his childhood, Kankuro had looked at pictures of his mother holding him or playing with his sister and him, and he'd imagined that she had been a wonderful person. There was something about the look on her face in the photos that suggested a proud, loving mother. The story that Gaara had passed on from Yashamaru had made him feel ill, and he realized he now felt relief to know for sure it had been a lie. In addition, he consoled himself that if his mother loved Gaara that much, she must have loved her other children as well. He had no memories of her, and he had no sand to automatically protect him and demonstrate that love from beyond the grave. However, he had proof now that she was a loving person who would do anything she could to protect her child. Surely, surely she would have done the same for him — and Temari.
For a long moment, neither of them moved, silently offering support to each other. Then Gaara sat up and gave Kankuro a tiny smile. "Well, enough about me. I saw the reports about the ambush squad; your performance has received praise from all sides. When I suggested you for the position, it was because I believe in you, but it's still an honor to Suna that you both succeeded and performed so well."
"Thanks, man." Kankuro grinned, deeply complimented. Gaara was rarely so forthcoming in his praise, and it always meant a lot to him when he was. It threw into contrast how much things had changed. He remembered a long-ago incident when he and his siblings had arrived in Konoha for the Chuunin Exam and Kankuro had nearly started a fight. Gaara had told him he was an embarrassment to Suna, then threatened to kill him. Those old wounds were closing now, inch by inch.
Gaara's smile had grown more pronounced. "Father said that Yashamaru was his right arm. But you and Temari are my right and left arms, if I can say it that way. I couldn't do without you."
"Hey, now . . ." Kankuro felt a faint blush come to his cheeks, and he reached out and gently cuffed Gaara on the shoulder. "You know we'll always stand by you. Always."
"I know." Gaara's smile solidified, banishing all remaining traces of tears and sadness.
Seeing that, Kankuro realized that he actually didn't need to talk his father or mother to heal his wounds. Gaara, Temari, and he would find their way through it together, supporting and encouraging one another. Gaara had told him that love was medicine for wounds of the heart, and if so, then they were all treating each other. "We'll all be fine," he said, not caring that his reply didn't flow with the conversation.
Gaara seemed to follow his logic, anyway. "I think so, nii-san. I know so."
A/N: Thank you to all who read and review!
A special thanks to jkl and MidniteCurse4Eternity for their reviews of ch. 4 of "Divergent Paths."
For the most part, I genuinely like the newest chapters on Gaara, and I know it was his great moment of revelation and restitution. However, I do wish that Kankuro and Temari had been more involved that Temari's one-liner. As others have said, it was kinda like Gaara was an only child, and it really left me wondering how the other two would react and what their relationship with their father was like. Also, how would they react to Gaara's news? Needless to say, a fanfic response was a must.