Author's Note: This version of Yondaime Kazekage is called Hirohiko and belongs to Ariel D. He is used here with permission.


A Father's Prayers


For most parents, the most feared question to hear out of a child's mouth was, 'Where do babies come from?'

For Hirohiko, the question was much different. But he feared it as much – if not more – than other parents feared explaining reproduction. Because it was a question no one else faced, there were no set answers for except the complete, unabridged truth, and handing a child completely unabridged truth was a recipe for disaster.

Especially this truth.

Hirohiko led his son away from Yashamaru's house after one of their weekly visits. Kankuro and Temari were brought to visit Gaara on different days so that Gaara didn't get overwhelmed. Gaara was lonely, and needed the visits with his siblings; at the same time, Gaara was an extremely timid child.

Most of the people on the street ignored them. Hirohiko did not require people to bow when he walked down the street, nor did he expect such treatment. He simply didn't inspire that kind of respect.

The tall buildings of the village somewhat shielded him and Kankuro from the afternoon sun, casting thick shadows across the streets. The winds were still today, leaving the sand underneath their feet restless, coiling with soft eddies and subsiding like cranky snakes disturbed from their slumber, too tired to give chase and bite.

Hirohiko squeezed Kankuro's hand instinctively at the sight of three military police standing on the corner, surveying the passers by with severe expressions. The ninjas in the village were harder on him than the civilians; ninjas knew what was going on, more or less appraised of the content of Council meetings and what exactly their village's position was relative to the other Shinobi Nations.

Kankuro watched one of the jonin stationed on the corner glare at them until they were out of sight. As soon as they'd turned the corner, headed the opposite way down the street, Kankuro watched his feet, but Hirohiko knew his son still felt the scrutiny.

"Would you like to get a shaved ice before we head home?" Hirohiko asked, hoping to defuse the tension Kankuro felt.

Kankuro looked up at him and studied his face with a furrowed brow. "Dad?"

Hirohiko steeled himself. "Yes, son?"

"Why does everyone hate Gaara?"

Hirohiko tried not to flinch. He faltered in his step for a moment, and then compensated by walking slightly faster. "No one hates Gaara, Kankuro."

"Yes, they do," Kankuro said. "A lot of people hate me, too, just because I'm his brother. They hate you 'cause you're his dad. They hate Temari, too. People picked on her at school."

Hirohiko tried to find words for that. He redirected. "How come you and Temari didn't tell me people were picking on you?"

Kankuro shrugged one shoulder. "It wouldn't do any good, would it? If you talked to them, they'd just get madder."

"Well…but I still need to," Hirohiko said.

Kankuro shook his head, then looked at the ground passing underneath his feet.

"Please tell me, at least," Hirohiko said. "Even if you don't want me to do anything about it, I still want to know. I'm your father. I need to –" The words suddenly weren't there anymore. His throat filled with dry desert air. – protect you? Where do I get off trying to say that when I can't even protect Gaara? And I've got Yashamaru shielding him for me. Even with Yashamaru's help I'm failing.

"How come?" Kankuro asked, not looking at him. "How come everyone hates Gaara? He's just a little kid."

"Well, hatred isn't logical," Hirohiko said, and then wished he could take it back. That was much too harsh an idea to fill a child's head with.

"It should be," Kankuro said. "People should think before they say things. Or do things." He frowned. "They should think before doing bad things."

Hirohiko knew Kankuro was upset because of the visit to Gaara. His sons had played a game together called Throw Things. Kankuro had asked how Gaara came up with the idea to practice with his sand by having things thrown at him, because Gaara was too young to handle shuriken and kunai. Gaara had told Kankuro about all the people who threw things when they saw him on the street.

Yashamaru had shot Hirohiko a pained look over the children's heads. He'd taken Hirohiko into the kitchen for a moment to explain and apologize; Hirohiko had waved the apologies away. It wasn't Yashamaru's fault. Yashamaru wasn't the Kazekage.

"People should think before doing bad things," Hirohiko said to Kankuro quietly. "I agree. I'm sorry."

Kankuro looked at his father suspiciously. "What're you sorry for?"

"For doing bad things without thinking about them," Hirohiko said.

Kankuro frowned. "Like what?"

I'm sorry for making Gaara a jinchuuriki. Hirohiko couldn't say that. Kankuro didn't know what a jinchuuriki was. His son wouldn't understand how one was made, even if Hirohiko explained. Creating a jinchuuriki was such advanced ninjutsu that Hirohiko didn't understand how it worked, and he had been there to witness the ceremony. Unless one specialized in seals, the process was completely mystifying.

"Like…" Hirohiko hesitated.

Kankuro waited with wide eyes, chewing his lip.

Hirohiko admitted defeat under that kind of assault. He looked away. "Like being the reason why people hate Gaara. They have him because of me. It's my fault. I did something bad. I'm sorry, son."

"So they're mad at him because of you?" Kankuro protested. "Why don't they leave him alone, then?"

Hirohiko sighed. "Because anger isn't rational."

Kankuro scowled. "It is, though. People are mad because of things that happen. And if they were really grown ups, they'd control their anger like we learn to at school."

Hirohiko looked at Kankuro, startled.

"We can do it," Kankuro insisted. "Teachers say to count numbers and breathe and remove yourself from the situation. We can't do anything adults can't do."

"Well…" Hirohiko felt immensely guilty. Because he frequently grew angry, and his solution was to shut himself in his office. "Removing yourself from the situation isn't always a good idea. Doing too much of that is just avoiding the problem." And the problem is that very soon, the Council is going to force me to put Gaara to the test, and he's not ready.

"But doing things when you're angry isn't good, either," Kankuro said.

Hirohiko nodded. "No, it's not, is it?" He paused, an idea occurring to him.

Kankuro stopped in his tracks and waited for his father.

Hirohiko placed his hands on Kankuro's shoulders. "Kankuro…You and Temari are angry because others aren't treating Gaara the way you would like them do. Is that true?"

Kankuro nodded.

"Please don't do anything out of anger," Hirohiko said. "It is important to me that you and Temari conduct yourselves well. Getting into fights or arguments isn't going to change their minds or make them treat Gaara any better."

Kankuro hung his head, defeated. "Okay."

Hirohiko squeezed his shoulders, hesitated, and then pulled Kankuro into an awkward hug.

Kankuro clung to him. "Daddy, are they going to hate Gaara forever?"

"No," Hirohiko said, having no idea how he was going to keep this promise. "They're not going to hate Gaara forever." He hoisted Kankuro into his arms, even though in a year or so, he wouldn't be allowed to. Kankuro would be a shinobi in training, not a child he could treat as he pleased. To complete his training successfully, Kankuro would have to set his childhood aside.

Hirohiko hugged his eldest son to his chest. But for now… "Someday, everyone is going to love Gaara." He stroked Kankuro's hair softly and carried his son home.

All he could do to make that wish come true was pray.