Family dinners. The single most painful thing in Yondaime's existence. Which he also refused to give up. He was not going to allow tension and pain to rob him of the one thing that also reassured him that there was a family to be found here among the wreckage. Dinner was the one time he could convince Temari to wear a yukata, convince Kankuro to take off his uniform and wash his face, and convince Gaara to sit in the same room with him. He sat at the head of the table, where he was expected to sit, since he was their father. Temari and Kankuro sat along the side of the table to Yondaime's right. Gaara persisted in sitting at the other end of the table, across from Yondaime, and glaring at him the entire time.
"Father," Gaara began in that soft, dangerous voice.
Kankuro froze. He'd been pouring soy sauce into the tiny dish beside his plate of sushi.
Temari caught his wrist and kept him from filling the bowl to overflowing.
He gave her a grateful glance. Then he passed on the soy sauce to her and mixed wasabi into his dipping bowl, keeping his head down.
"Yes, Gaara?" Yondaime asked evenly.
"There was a man in my room last night," Gaara said.
Yondaime ate a piece of sushi without any condiments on it at all, barely realizing he was eating the salmon roll plain. "I am aware. The maid was distraught at having to clean the blood out of your carpet."
"I had to kill him," Gaara said.
Yondaime swallowed with difficulty, the sticky grains of sushi rice getting caught in his throat. "I appreciate that. I would rather you kill an assassin from Iwagakure than allow him to take your life, my son."
Gaara smiled and bowed his head. "Iwagakure."
"Yes," Yondaime said. He was only repeating what the Council and his ANBU contacts had told him this morning at the meeting.
Gaara raised his head and gave Yondaime a piercing look. "Are you sure there isn't something you would like to tell me, Father?"
Yondaime paused. He ran over what he'd told Gaara in his head. "No. I have expressed my relief that you are alive. I have also explained the identity of the man who was in your room last night, which I believe was the implied question –"
"It was not," Gaara said, looking at his siblings and his father in one sweeping glance, "the question."
Everyone at the table froze.
Gaara turned his attention solely to Yondaime and scowled. "My question was, why are you trying to kill me? I graduated the Academy."
"And the answer is," Yondaime said, attempting to keep from sounding as if the pain in his chest were choking him, "dear son, I was not trying to kill you. You have graduated from the Academy, in spite of all the difficulties you have faced, and I am proud of you. However, my pride does not transfer to the other nations. Particularly Iwagakure. They would wish it that you die before ever being assigned active duty. I apologize. I shall assign you a team of four bodyguards until –"
"Don't bother," Gaara said. He went back to eating his sushi, picking at them and chewing with a sulky expression.
Kankuro grudgingly relaxed. He ate his own dinner with a withdrawn expression Yondaime knew only too well. Kankuro was counting the seconds until this meal was over.
Yondaime knew he was talking to someone who was determined not to listen to him. That didn't stop him before, and that wasn't going to stop him now. "Gaara, there have been no assassination attempts that originated from within this village."
As far as he knew, as far as the Council and his contacts avowed, this was true. He had to believe what everyone but Gaara was telling him, didn't he? He had to believe in the veracity of his sources. If he couldn't trust them to tell him what was going on, how could he do his job as Kazekage?
And the possibility Gaara unintentionally suggested, that he was a mere figurehead and his own government was doing everything around him without his consent or knowledge, was simply too terrifying to accept.
Gaara was silently staring at him.
Yondaime took a deep breath and continued. "As I have explained before, we have many enemies. I am sorry. According to our intelligence, assassinating you is an S-Rank mission in at least two countries. It's going to stay on their books until someone succeeds, or you grow too powerful to be perceived as someone who can be assassinated."
Gaara looked incredulous.
Yondaime attempted a reassuring smile. "We have discussed this before, many times, which is why I have repeatedly helped you with additional training. Advancing in rank to chunin will also help discourage our enemies. You are advancing as quickly as can possibly be hoped –"
"Shut up," Gaara said.
As usual, that simple retort stole the breath from Yondaime's lungs. It stung. No child should ever tell their father to shut up. "What?" In his dazed stupidity, that was all that would come out.
"If you want to lie, don't say anything at all," Gaara said calmly. He picked up a piece of sushi with his chopsticks, dunked it in combined soy sauce and wasabi, and ate it.
"Stop it!" Kankuro burst out. He glared at his brother, apparently too fed up to take any more. "Stop calling Dad a liar just because you're convinced we all hate you! We don't hate you!"
"If you want to die, keep talking," Gaara said. He glanced around the table. "What I said goes for all of you."
Yondaime grimaced and gestured at his two eldest children. It was the shinobi hand signal for: Lie low and hide.
Kankuro nodded slowly, took a deep breath, and pressed his lips together in a small, pained smile.
Temari acted like nothing was happening. The only betrayal was that her hand was trembling, and she repeatedly dropped her pieces of sushi.
Yondaime slowly exhaled and bowed his head.
Another family dinner, another failure.
When was he going to learn to keep his mouth shut in the first place instead of trying to reason with Gaara in front of their entire family and making targets of Kankuro and Temari when Gaara grew annoyed? He didn't want Gaara to hate Kankuro and Temari, too. If nothing else, Gaara should bond with his siblings. Even if he wanted to push away his father and declare them mortal enemies.
He couldn't blame Gaara. The Council-mandated test when Gaara was six had been too horrible for anyone to bear. He should have simply stopped it from happening. Not given Yashamaru the order to test Gaara's strength by taking Karura's memory away. Never mind that had Gaara succeeded in retaining control, Yashamaru would have been allowed to explain the lie and the test and take Gaara to the Kazekage mansion. Never mind that in Yondaime's guilt, he brought Gaara home anyway, even though the Council had raised hell and threatened to remove him as Kazekage for bringing a dangerous, unstable jinchuuriki into the Complex. Never mind that he'd given Gaara everything Gaara ever wanted or asked for ever since.
Nothing would make up for that one day of betrayal.
Yondaime could understand that.
He still hoped that one day, Gaara would forgive Kankuro and Temari, simply for being born his other children.
Though his death brought about an invasion he never intended, responsibilities he never wanted to pass onto any of his children, and grief he never wanted to inflict on another human being the way Karura's death had been inflicted on him, he would have been grateful to have known his death also brought his children closer.
And one day, unexpectedly, he found himself walking the earth again, and he got to apologize. Not for everything, but for the most important thing: that one day they both wished they could forget.
Gaara finally understood him.
Instead of crying alone in their separate rooms, at separate times, over separate hurts, they cried together over the same hurt.
When that happened, Yondaime finally felt his soul achieve peace.