Author's Note: This story has Ariel D's version of Yondaime Kazekage, Hirohiko. Used with permission.
You Don't Give Up
Winter again. Hirohiko found himself wrapping presents. It was half an hour before bedtime for the kids; the only time he got to himself while the kids were awake was the time during the evening when the nursemaid gave the children their baths, helped them brush their teeth. Before that, it was dinnertime, and afterwards, it was time for him to tuck the children in and go to sleep himself. He was invariably exhausted, but even if he wasn't, there were sleeping pills. The Kazekage always got up early.
So here Hirohiko was on the floor of his bedroom, kneeling in front of a package nestled on bright paper, strips of tape on his fingers. He was trying to consider how much paper he needed carefully this time, before cutting and hoping. Three years, and he was still so bad at this.
Hirohiko didn't celebrate Christmas. It wasn't a traditional holiday in Suna; it was foreign. Belonged to the Western territories across the sea. Karura celebrated it. She thought it was fun.
He'd been drawn into her light and warmth and acquiesced to whatever she wanted.
The kids had already been conditioned to want Christmas; he firmly believed that, even if Temari had only been three, and Kankuro two. He could not take such a holiday away from them now. There must be presents, and they must look pretty.
Hirohiko wrapped the boxed gift with determination, folding and tucking and taping. He surveyed the packaged gift. The sharp corners and sleek smoothness was like something Karura could have managed. He picked up the present and put it on his bed, where he had a small pile of other gifts. Glittering blue, gold, green, all in row, marking his progress from messiest to neatest.
He knelt back on the floor and reached out to roll up the paper for the night, his fingers trembling.
"Dad, why are you crying?"
Hirohiko got to his feet, horrified. "I'm not." He wiped away the errant tear. He swung around to face his son. He hadn't heard the bedroom door open.
Kankuro scowled and clung more tightly to his stuffed cat. "You are too. Why do you lie all the time?"
Hirohiko was taken aback. Before he knew it, his shoulders slumped imperceptibly. "Do I lie so very often, Chakunan?"
Kankuro nodded. "You do. It's a really bad habit."
Hirohiko snorted. He teased, "Or maybe it's a very good habit for a shinobi."
Kankuro pouted. "No. I want you to always tell the truth. To me…" He trailed off uncertainly.
Hirohiko took pity on his son. He scooped Kankuro up into his arms. "To you, I will always tell the truth. I cannot guarantee that I will tell anyone else the truth, but for you, I will. How is that?"
Kankuro traced Hirohiko's cheek with a childish hand.
"I cried because I was missing your mother," Hirohiko said, dutifully keeping his promise.
"How come you miss her so much?" Kankuro asked.
"She was wonderful," Hirohiko said.
Kankuro thought about that. "Then I miss her, too."
Hirohiko nodded. He kissed Kankuro's forehead. "I would expect you to. She was very good at singing you lullabies."
"Will you sing me lullabies?" Kankuro asked.
"I'm very bad at singing lullabies," Hirohiko said gently, a smile tugging at his lips.
"Sing them anyway," Kankuro said.
Hirohiko laughed. "Okay." He hefted Kankuro in his arms and carried Kankuro off to bed. Kankuro happily clung to him and resisted being tucked into bed. Hirohiko compensated by sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling the covers up over his son again. "Now, do you want a lullaby or don't you?" he teased.
Kankuro lay obediently still, lying on his back and looking up at Hirohiko with attentive eyes, waiting.
Hirohiko cleared his throat. "I'm not any good at this."
Kankuro was silent, waiting.
Hirohiko bit the inside of his cheek and thought of what Karura had sung. He didn't know if he could. Or rather, if he could bear to. So he thought instead of a song he had heard on the radio when he was a jonin, out with his team, during the war. It had been on the radio; they'd been riding their leader's summon, a lion large enough to seat all of them on his back. The wind had been blowing, ruffling back Hirohiko's hair, and the sky had been so clear…he'd been enjoying himself for once. One of those rare moments during the war when it was like a vacation with your best friends. You could forget that you were on your way to kill people.
This tune had come on the radio, catchy and too entertaining to turn off, even though it was much too cheerful. Cheerfulness did not befit Sand ninjas.
Hirohiko smiled, his gaze drifting to Kankuro's bedside lamp, the latest drawing he'd framed and stuck on Kankuro's wall, the colorful scrawl done in Kankuro's own hand. He saw in his mind's eye his team. By the second verse, they'd all been singing along with this stupid song.
"You don't give up, that's not what you do," Hirohiko whispered, his voice rising and falling in the remembered cadence of the singer. "You don't give up if your heart is true. If anyone asks, just wink and laugh: I get what I want. That's the kind of girl I am." He smiled wryly at Kankuro, but Kankuro seemed fascinated.
"When I was young, I used to say: Hey. It's okay to let other people have their way. If that's what they want, then good for them. Good for them…" Hirohiko took a deep breath. "But all that buys is crying, and I would be lying, if I said I didn't want it too. So…You don't give up, that's not what you do." His voice gained a little strength at Kankuro's lack of criticism. "You don't give up if your heart is true. If anyone asks, just wink and laugh: I get what I want. That's the kind of girl I am." Hirohiko flushed slightly; the gender being wrong still embarrassed him. However, he was somehow loathe to change someone else's song.
Kankuro waited for a few moments. Then he said, smiling, "I like it. Will you sing it to me again tomorrow?"
"Maybe," Hirohiko said. He cringed slightly. "Maybe I'll come up with another song to torture you with."
Kankuro giggled. "It's not torture. I like it." He squirmed underneath the covers.
Hirohiko could only be glad that five-year-olds were not discerning music critics.