Always Already There
By Ariel D
Description: After being returned to life, Gaara faces the implications of his thoughts during death and realizes that what he was searching for was by him all along. Gaara and Kankuro brotherly love fic.
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: So I was discussing with a fellow fan how Temari and Kankuro are basically totally left out of chs. 546-548, almost as though Gaara was an only child. I began wondering what would happen if one or both of Gaara's siblings actually felt either frustration or jealousy toward Naruto, and this story popped out. However, I decided to set it earlier in the series.
Thanks to Kgemini/Chi for betareading.
Translations, jic: "ototo" means younger brother, and "nii-san" older brother. "Jan" is the syllable Kankuro adds to his sentences because he speaks in a Yankie/punk accent.
Thank you in advance to any and all who read and review.
The bomb, when it was dropped, hit Gaara suddenly and without warning.
Only three days had passed since Chiyo's death and his own return to life, and Gaara had been hard at work processing intelligence reports on Akatsuki, damage reports on the village, and backlogged mission summaries. His body had forced him to sleep, much to his horror, and he made sure he stopped and ate regularly so he didn't overtax himself. Despite the business and complications, all seemed to be going well when Temari whisked into his office as he finished up lunch; even her opening question seemed ordinary and mundane.
"How are you feeling?" She stopped in front of his desk, glancing over his empty bento box with a critical eye. "Did you get enough to eat?"
"Yes. Thank you." Gaara appreciated her efforts to fix him a homemade bento, especially when cooking was not her forte. He began methodically repacking his box and cleaning up his desk, having not bothered to leave his office so he could work as he ate.
She nodded once. "You're welcome. I know it's not as good as what Kankuro can make, but I do my best." She grew silent, staring at him pointedly, and crossed her arms.
Gaara wondered what kind of message he was supposed to get from that look. "It was quite good," he assured her, supplying what he'd learned to be the appropriate response, and it wasn't a lie.
Frowning, Temari remained silent.
Although Gaara had yet to learn much about women, he did know his sister. Somehow he'd failed to provide the reply she was seeking. He decided to switch topics, hoping to salvage her mood. "I suppose Naruto and the other Konoha shinobi should be close to home by now." It was something that had crossed his mind more than once that morning. He'd been stunned to regain consciousness and find Naruto at his side, and he'd been overwhelmed by the entire experience. He really is my friend,he found himself thinking yet again. It was strange, but he couldn't stop his mind from replaying the scene over and over.
A virtual thundercloud stormed across Temari's face, and in an instant, Gaara realized he'd somehow managed to say something even worse. "Look, ototo," she said. "Naruto is an amazing person. Whatever he said to you changed you forever. Whatever he said to Chiyo-baa caused her to reverse her entire attitude toward the village and save you. I get that. And I'm more grateful for that than I can ever, ever say."
"But?" Although he was utterly bewildered by his sister's reaction, Gaara could feel the "but" coming.
"But nothing. I'm thrilled you have a friend who understands you, and as much as it hurts me to admit it, I know I can't understand you the way Naruto can. Chiyo-baa said it: Naruto is the only one who can understand your pain, and you're the only one who can understand his pain. It hurts me to know I'm forever shut on the outside of that understanding. It hurts to know that there's a piece of you I can never comfort or help because I haven't walked the same path you have. But what is, is. I can't change that." Dropping her arms, she clenched her fists, her arms shaking faintly. "Although if I could, then I'd go back in time and make sure that damn bijuu was never sealed into you in the first place!"
Gaara's eyes grew wide with his shock. "Temari . . ." Pushing his chair back, he stood and held out his hand toward her vaguely, although he didn't step from behind his desk. "Being a jinchuuriki is not an exclusive, elitist club. I'm not — we're not — trying to shut anyone out or keep them on the outside because they don't understand our pain. We're trying to open up and let people in so that we can share our sadness and pain, as well as our happiness and joy, with others." He let his hand fall and shook his head slowly, wondering where her sudden speech had come from. "No, it's nothing like shutting you on the outside. We share a brotherhood of suffering, I suppose, but it only means we can help each other in a unique way. We can encourage each other in a unique way. My making Kazekage shows Naruto that he can achieve his dream of being Hokage, just like Naruto's making friends and telling me that they saved him showed me that I could make friends and build bonds, too."
"And in all that study of bonds, what have you learned is the greatest act of love?" Temari crossed her arms in that way that showed she still had a point to make.
Gaara didn't even have to think about his answer. "To die to save another person. Just like I am willing to die to save the village, I would die to save my friends, too."
"Only your friends?" Temari asked quietly, a small frown tugging her lips. "You speak much of your friends and even more so of Naruto. You've walked around in awe for days now — awe that the villagers rushed to save you and downright hero-worship of Naruto and the role he played."
Gaara's brow furrowed, and internally he flinched at her tone. "That's unfair, Temari. Kankuro and you are my siblings, but don't you think I count you as my friends, too? You can have a sibling without being friends with them." He suffered a moment's irritation, wondering why she was riding him about this so much, and leaned forward, pressing his fists against his desktop. "I'm not blind to Kankuro's and your dedication and support, nor did I fail to notice that you two were standing right by me when I was revived."
Temari didn't even blink. "Then consider being a bit more transparent about it with your nii-san. He doesn't say mushy stuff; he mostly lets his actions speak for him. But do you realize what he did for you? I thought Baki briefed you on it, but maybe I'm wrong. Reckless and ill-advised as it was, he rushed after you to save you when Deidara abducted you, not even waiting for reinforcements. He knew perfectly well that if you couldn't defeat your foe, he didn't stand a chance, but he loves you too much not to try, regardless of the odds. He could have never abandoned you in that moment. He was willing to die to save you, and he nearly did. If Sakura-san hadn't come, we would've been burying your nii-san along with Chiyo-baa. By your own definition, isn't that the greatest act of love?"
Gaara grew painfully still. Baki had mentioned that Kankuro had been injured in the scramble to save him, but he hadn't specified any of the details. Until that moment, he hadn't realized that his brother had practically died in a desperate and immediate attempt to stop his abductors. He willingly risked his life — almost willingly gave his life — for me?
"Do you know why Kankuro adopted Sanshouo?" Temari continued more calmly. "He admitted to me that most puppet masters wait until their fifth puppet — assuming they can master five — to add a defensive type. They focus primarily on offensive puppets and rely on concealment and genjutsu to defend themselves. Their ranking within the Puppet Corps is even based in part on what puppets they use, in addition to their skill and how many puppets they can control. Given his skill, when Kankuro reached three puppets he should have been a rank 9, and his entire life, he's had the goal of reaching rank 30, which has only be achieved by Chiyo-baa and Sasori. But he's only a rank 7, and it's because he chose Sanshouo."
To Gaara, the sudden shift in their conversation was puzzling at best, but he knew his sister didn't wander off on tangents. He straightened his posture, schooling himself into calmness. "I don't understand."
"It's because Sanshouo is defensive." Temari dropped her hands to her hips. "But Kankuro didn't choose Sanshouo to defend himself; he chose it in case he ever needed to protect you. If you grew chakra-exhausted or managed to take a serious injury, Kankuro could literally put you inside of Sanshouo's body if needed — or at the very least station it in front of you like a shield. Even with as much pride and ambition as he has, Kankuro sacrificed his climb up the ranks for your sake, and he did it without a second thought."
Gaara's gaze slid to the side, a frown bending his lips. Because of his discomfort, the cactus on his desk was suddenly looking very interesting. His sister was working her way to her main point; he recognized it in her tone of voice. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying admire Naruto. Be his friend. Help each other." Temari threw up one hand. "But for fuck's sake, get your head out of his ass. There are people right here who love you enough to die for you, and it wouldn't hurt you to acknowledge them, too. As soon as Kankuro could walk again, he joined me in a mad dash across the desert to find you; he immediately resumed his efforts to save you. He pushed himself too far, too fast, and now he's laid out in bed again." She sighed. "So pay him a visit, will you? And even though I know Kankuro's not jealous of Naruto and feels genuine gratitude toward him for saving you, please leave Naruto out of the conversation for once. If you keep extolling Naruto's virtues so much, people are gonna start thinking you're inlove with him instead of loving him as a friend."
Stunned by that warning, and more than a little stung by his sister's brusque assessment, Gaara left his office without a word and headed toward Kankuro's room. Over the past three years, Temari's interest in Gaara's growth and her general dedication to her brothers had taken an almost motherly tone. As a jonin, she'd set aside most of her aggressive front for an air of cool command, and aside from a bit of mother-henning, it had been a good thing.
But as she had just proven, Temari was still not above hitting her brothers over the head with hard truths or bold opinions, whether they wanted to hear them or not.
The thing about family was they could shoot straight from the hip. Right or wrong, appropriate or not, they wouldn't always be on hold, wouldn't always spare feelings, and wouldn't say only those things one wanted to hear. That quality was one Gaara had suffered in excess at his father's hands, and even while Gaara was insane, Kankuro had occasionally been forthright with him. Now, though, neither of his siblings was afraid of him, and real bonds had begun forming. And as Gaara wound his way through the circular hallways of the Kazekage Complex, he knew that regardless of whether Temari's assessment was correct, she had honestly expressed a fear that tormented her and apparently his brother as well.
Gaara glowered at the floor as he walked, not even noticing the rich wooden floors that ran through the personal wing. Most of Suna's homes and buildings were made of adobe and had stone or tatami floors, but imported wood of a warm hue covered the hallways and some of the mansion's rooms. Today, though, Gaara was too lost in thought to take notice of the golden glow awakened by the sunlight pouring through circular windows to hit the floor. And his thoughts centered on what he knew to be his two main problems, the first of which was that he maintained a level of silent stoicism that either disturbed or confused others.
It wasn't intentional — well, not anymore. Pictures from his early childhood showed him to be quite expressive, but after Yashamaru tried to kill him and talked to him about his mother, all his pictures portrayed either an angry or expressionless child. Being told that his mother hated him had killed part of his soul; having his father judge him as worthless and try to kill him plunged him into further hate and mortal fear. To defend himself, he had shut down as much of his body language and facial expressions as he could. No one can know what I really think, he had told himself repeatedly. No one must know how I really feel. I can never let them know when they hurt me. I won't let them see me cry again. They won't get that satisfaction.
Now it was second nature. He had done it for so long it was as automatic as his sand shield. Since he wasn't particularly verbose unless greatly provoked, all that remained to indicate his feelings were his actions. Until now, he had assumed that would be enough.
Now that I consider it, it seems a bold assumption on my part, he thought, stopping at Kankuro's bedroom door. Although both my siblings have proven that they share that same sense of duty and responsibility to their family, friends, and village that I do, their personalities are quite different. Of course they would have different needs. It was obvious once his attention was drawn to it. Inhaling deeply to steel himself, he knocked on the door.
"Come in!" Kankuro's voice sounded hoarse at best.
Opening the door and slipping into the room, Gaara glanced around. His brother often left the door open, which was a standing invitation for family to enter at will, but when the door was closed, it usually indicated one of three things: sleep, crankiness, or maximum concentration on puppet work. In this case, though, Kankuro was laying flat on his back staring at the ceiling. "How do you feel?" Gaara ventured.
A weak grin turned up one corner of Kankuro's mouth, then morphed into a smirk. "Like I got poisoned, nearly died, and then ran across half a nation and into another one and back." He struggled to sit up, then thumped back against his headboard. "What about you? You're the one who . . . who actually did die." He stared at his lap, a frown ripping away that signature smirk.
Temari had been right, Gaara decided, although perhaps not entirely for the reason she had proposed. His nii-san wasn't doing well. "I'm still tired. All day, every day." He walked over to his brother's bedside. "The med nins are arguing about whether it's because I died or because I fail at sleeping properly."
Gaara stopped by the bed, his movements frozen by Kankuro's eerily accurate guess. He hadn't planned to bother his siblings with that little tidbit. "Yes. How did you know?"
One shoulder lifted and dropped in a haphazard shrug. "People who skip sleep a lot have nightmares. You skipped sleep for fifteen years." Dark eyes remained trained on his lap. "Besides, I'm having nightmares, too. If I am, you gotta be."
As though a lead pipe had suddenly attached to his spine, Gaara plopped onto the mattress' edge. "You're having nightmares?" In his shock, his voice wasn't much more than a whisper.
Kankuro began picking at the hem of his black t-shirt, unraveling the thread there. It was an old shirt, faded almost gray with repeated washings, and it fit tightly thanks to his growth spurt. With the way he picked at it, he accidentally revealed part of his stomach and the bandages still there. "I see you die every night in my dreams, and Chiyo-baa isn't there to save you. Instead I'm attending your funeral, and everyone is walking past me crying. But there's no hope, no wild tensei jutsu to reverse the damage." His voice was too, too quiet, and it was slowly beginning to shred. "So they put you in a barrel and bury you beside Father."
Again it wasn't words that came to Gaara, but actions. He reached out and gently pulled his brother's hands away from his shirt, sparing it further damage. At first, those long fingers were limp in the grasp of his smaller hands, and then they clenched around them almost painfully. For a moment, Gaara couldn't find his voice. Temari's words seemed to echo in his mind: "He could have never abandoned you in that moment. He was willing to die to save you, and he nearly did. If Sakura-san hadn't come, we would've been burying your nii-san along with Chiyo-baa." With some effort, he managed to speak. "But I'm alive."
Kankuro nodded without looking up, and since he didn't have his face paint on, Gaara noticed the dull, gray circles bruising the skin under his eyes.
I thought I'd be burdening him if I came here and talked about my nightmares, Gaara thought, abashed. But by my own definition of bonds, pain must be shared, and it never even occurred to me he might need me, too.
"I'm sorry you're tired," Kankuro murmured, staring at their clasped hands. "But I'm glad you're . . . you know . . . still here."
"When I was dead, I couldn't figure out where I was or who I was." Gaara paused, shocked by his own sudden admission. He had wanted to say something, but the words that emerged had not been planned. However, what he'd said was truth. He'd wanted to be needed by others to the point of basing the entirety of his new life on being needed by them. He knew himself only by his bonds with other people, so when he hung between life and death, alone, he wasn't sure what he was or what he had ever been. "I didn't know if I had been needed by anyone or if my life had meant anything at all."
Kankuro glanced up, his eyes wide and haunted by something bordering on horror. "Gaara . . ."
Although he hadn't been sure he could share this part, once he'd begun speaking of it, Gaara found he couldn't stop. "Had I succeeded? Had anyone needed me?" His voice grew thready, and he paused. For a moment, he was caught in that world in between again, unable to remember why he'd wanted to be needed so badly. "I realize now that, to a certain extent, I have no identity except the bonds and roles that define me: Kazekage, friend, leader, protector . . ." Hated son, he thought but didn't speak aloud. "But who am I? What is 'Gaara?'"
Kankuro tightened his grip on his hands once more, although this time more gently.
"I heard a voice calling my name then," he continued. He'd been asked not to speak of Naruto, but he couldn't avoid it. "I heard Naruto, felt his hand on my shoulder."
An impossibly sad look washed over Kankuro's face, and he released Gaara's hands. "Sorry, man. I wanted . . . I wanted to save you. I tried, but —"
"He was willing to die to save you, and he nearly did." Gaara interrupted him gently. "You refused to let Akatsuki just carry me away. And when I came to, you were all there. I could barely comprehend it. But there you were, standing near me, smiling. Do you remember what you said?"
Kankuro looked back at him, but his gaze was pinned to his collarbone instead of his face. "I said I'd always worry about you."
"You said more than that." Gaara felt a faint tug at his lips as he remembered. He knew what his second problem was, too: although he'd recognized that his brother often worried for him and was aware a bond was growing between them, he had failed to accurately judge the depth and breadth of that love. It had been the same with Temari and the villagers. As he died, he had wondered if anyone had actually needed him, having failed to notice that they already did.
As a result, his siblings weren't entirely sure where they stood in his affections, just as he hadn't been sure where he stood in theirs. Except now Kankuro had made the clearest possible demonstration of love: he had risked his life to save him. Not only that — he had also stated in no uncertain terms that he would always worry for him, which in Kankuro Language was tantamount to an "I love you," and had finally named him "brother."
"I did?" Kankuro finally met his gaze, although he seemed confused.
"You called me 'ototo,'" Gaara replied quietly.
Kankuro sat up a touch straighter. "Of course I did, jan. You are my ototo."
Gaara could almost hear the word "precious" hiding in that sentence, and he felt the tug at the corners of his lips again as he nearly smiled. A warmth settled around his heart like a blanket, assuring him once again that he was loved. "Perhaps, then, part of my identity is 'ototo.'"
"It is." Kankuro seemed grave suddenly. "But you need an identity that is yours alone — something outside of everyone, separate. You can't be defined only by what others think of you, like you were as a child, or what role you play for them and what gift you can give them as friend or Kazekage. There is a Gaara that is just you, a Gaara that will exist and continue on regardless of all external factors in life or death."
Stunned by the gravity and truth contained in that statement, Gaara found he couldn't reply.
Kankuro grinned suddenly. "And as your nii-san, I'll be protecting you while you find it. Ototo."
Gaara realized Temari had been right on at least one count: there were people at his side who loved him, people who were precious, and people who might not have understood the particulars of what he'd suffered but who supported him every day now. "You're my nii-san and my friend both," he said, his fledgling smile wavering a bit with the impact of his revelation. And you're precious.
Wide, wide eyes met this proclamation. "Gaara . . ."
In a normal conversation between them, Kankuro would often make a joke or say something smartass to break up a moment that was too grave or heavy. He was a born performer, the life of any party, a wonderful storyteller. But then there was the flip side, the hidden side — the one that was protective of his family, took on responsibility easily, and upheld family traditions on holidays. One side knew how to cheer Gaara up; the other side responded with quiet care. Gaara waited to see which version of his brother would emerge, and to his shock, an even gentler streak showed itself. Kankuro reached out and embraced him, hugging him close.
Gaara recognized that touch from his resurrection: the hand on his shoulder, the calling of his name, the unspoken love. And as different as Gaara and his brother were, they were also alike: action over words. So Gaara accepted the embrace, even returned it — the first true hug of his life. He rested his cheek against his brother's warm shoulder, felt those strong arms around him, and tightened his own arms. "As Kazekage, and as your brother, I'll be protecting you, also," he whispered.
"Okay," was the simple reply, and then they sat holding each other, both giving and receiving strength and support.
Although Temari had initially hurt his feelings, Gaara found he was grateful that he'd taken the time to check on his brother at midday. Kankuro had been asleep by the time Gaara left his office for the last three nights, meaning they hadn't seen each other at all. With some shock, he realized his brother likely had been worrying about him during that time but had been unable to check on him personally; he had most likely wished Gaara would stop by so they could check on each other. With sudden insight, Gaara suspected that Kankuro's third-party inquiries about his wellbeing had probably been what set off Temari, who would have been irritated that Gaara hadn't made time to see his nii-san. The deal with Naruto had perhaps merely been the trigger.
"Sorry I didn't check on you sooner," Gaara said, sitting up and releasing his brother.
Kankuro shrugged and smiled. "Hey, man, I'm just glad to see you're okay."
He's been worried, Gaara thought, seeing straight through that performance.
A frown replaced the smile quickly. "Or mostly okay. I won't ask about it right now — you probably have work left to do — but I want to talk to you about your nightmares, okay?"
Correction, Gaara thought, touched. He's still worried. "All right." Although he didn't want to cause his brother problems, he knew his nii-san would want to help, and there was also the issue of Kankuro's own nightmares. "But if you're asleep already —"
"Then wake me up." Kankuro seemed resolute, so Gaara didn't argue. "Later, jan. Thanks for dropping by."
Gaara found a smile coming to his lips. "Yes, later." He stood and headed to the door, feeling his siblings' support and love like a physical entity protecting him.
Hopefully, soon they too would feel his love and protection in return. It was a new challenge, a new goal, and one Gaara accepted gratefully.