Naruto Fic: Diplomatic Relations, Side Story
Side Story: A Family Reunion
Kankuro cursed little brothers, bowl-cutted Leaf Jounin, that stupid thing called love and the distance between Suna and Konoha. Particularly the latter.
Where the hell was his Kazekage?
Kankuro was bone-tired and annoyed, and he wanted a shower. The air in this forest-bound village felt too damp and stifling, even though the temperature was cool enough. Kankuro wanted some real food, a good bed and twenty four hours of sleep. Since those were out of his reach, he'd have settled for just five minutes to lean against a wall to catch his breath, but he was damned if he was going to show a weakness to the three Konoha ANBU who were escorting him, so he wasn't even going to get that.
The ANBU ahead of him leapt forward towards another roof barely visible in the pre-dawn conditions. Kankuro followed, and so did the two at his back. A few people walked through the streets below, but they didn't look up at the movement above, any more than they did in Sunagakure. It appeared his guides were leading him towards the centre of the village, towards the Administration buildings, the barracks, and probably the jails. Kankuro let loose a few more choice mental curses, though he kept his face carved into a mask of uncaring.
His three silent shadows hadn't told him where Gaara was, and that worried Kankuro as much as it pissed him off. By his calculation, he was only two-three hours behind his brother; he'd made a pretty damn good time if he said so himself. He'd left Gaara's bodyguards as backup outside of Konoha territory, and ventured to the border alone. The ANBU had picked him up there with absolutely no sign of surprise or any pointed questions, which meant Gaara had indeed arrived before him and warned them of his arrival. Kankuro was a foreigner here, without travel papers, so he had to obey their silent injunctions, but if someone didn't tell him where his brother was real soon-
Kankuro started to leap towards the next roof, and then caught himself short. His escort had stopped. He glanced at the white masks in surprise, and then followed the direction of their gaze and looked down at the street below.
Gaara! And Lee. Thank god...
"See 'em. Thanks for the walk, fellas. And for the sparkling conversation," Kankuro threw over his shoulder before dropping down into the street ahead of his brother and Lee.
They both looked unharmed. Kankuro could feel other ANBU about, but there was no hostility or killing intent in the air, and the cork was in the gourd. The Sand Jounin felt that knot of tension over his spine relax for the first time in nearly three days.
"So, did it go okay?" he drawled, straightening up and putting his hands in his pockets.
"Yes," Gaara answered shortly, almost murderously.
Hell, Kankuro thought, if that's how he takes it when it goes fine, what would it have been like if it had gone badly? He didn't voice the quip, though, because there was always the possibility his brother might give him a straight answer, and Kankuro would sleep better at night not knowing.
"Is the problem all sorted?" he asked lazily, trying to spot and count the high-level Shinobi around them without being overt about it.
"Yes," Lee said, after a small hesitation and a look at Gaara that Kankuro couldn't interpret. Gaara nodded once in agreement.
Kankuro let the two walk on and fell into step behind them. That's when he noticed they were holding hands. That was almost cute. In a really bad contact-embarrassment kind of way. Damn it, they were in the middle of a foreign village - not that that would be any less mortifying in the middle of Suna. Act tough, guys.
A second glance informed him that this wasn't 'skipping along the road' hand-holding, it was an anchoring death grip, and it wasn't even clear who was anchoring whom because they both looked pretty ragged. The sooner they got out of this village-...wait a minute.
"Hey, guys? Where we going? The gate's thataway."
"We're going to see Gai-sensei," Lee said, giving Kankuro a quick glance over his shoulder.
"Reeeaaally." Oh, this day just got better and better.
Kankuro thought of objecting, maybe pointing out that it was four in the morning, and not a time to get senseis out of bed, so maybe they could come back another day. But something in Gaara's silence, in the small line between Lee's impressive brows, and the way their hands gripped, triggered Kankuro's instincts, and he decided to keep his peace. They'd go see Gai-sensei, and hopefully the man wouldn't be quite as weird as Kankuro remembered him.
Kankuro kept a hold of that slim hope until Lee had diffidently knocked on the door of a suite of small apartments, and it burst open to reveal the man himself, larger than life, big eyebrows and bowl-cut and all, in pea-green pyjamas decorated with small yellow stars.
Kankuro rubbed his eyes and debated waiting for them at the gate. But Gaara was his Kazekage; Kankuro had sworn to lay down his life in his defence, all that. What kind of Shinobi would he be if he left his leader by himself with a strange (make that a very strange) Leaf ninja?
A sane one, Kankuro concluded, dropping his pained gaze away from the enthusiastic and technicolored hug. Gaara would be perfectly safe. And somewhere in this joint there had to be an open eatery and breakfast with his name on it-
Kankuro's hands shot to the straps on his shoulders as he suddenly felt/heard/sensed a presence behind him. He spun around. Karasu was half off his back, and his left hand was wrapped around Kuroaki's scroll. Son of a bitch! How had this guy gotten this close without them hearing him!
"Yo," the guy said, barely looking up from where he was pulling on his gloves. He wore a mask over part of his face, a headband over one eye, and an air of having seen it all. It was the latter which triggered Kankuro's memory. Three years ago or more now, when Gaara had been taken by Akatsuki, this guy had come with the Konoha contingent. Kakashi. Hatake Kakashi, Naruto's Jounin cell leader.
At Kankuro's back, Gaara's Sand growled in its gourd and there was a small 'tck' noise of the cork edging out of the container's mouth. The Kazekage had been startled too, and that wasn't a good thing in the present circumstances.
"Gai," Kakashi added, apparently oblivious of the reaction of the two Sand nin, "why don't we take this inside before you wake up the whole neighbourhood?"
"Good idea! Oh, a thousand apologies, Kazekage-sama, I was so caught up with greeting my beloved pupil that I forgot my manners. Welcome! Please do me the honour of entering my residence!"
Gaara was his usual polite self: he didn't answer the apology, or the greeting, or Gai's courteous gesture. He just stared at the Leaf Jounin as if he were an interesting new species of bug until Lee walked past his teacher, and then he followed. Fortunately for Kankuro's peace of mind and Suna Shinobi pride, they weren't holding hands any more.
"After you," Kakashi murmured to the Sand Jounin, making a gesture towards the door.
Kankuro didn't budge. "What the hell are you doing here?"
That probably wasn't much more polite than Gaara's reaction, but Temari was the diplomat in their little family; Kankuro was just the guy who'd been running for three days straight through desert, savannah and forest, and who didn't like being startled.
"I'm Gai's next-door neighbour. We've met before-"
"Yeah, I remember." The man's stats and details had been retrieved from the mental filing system every ninja kept in their head. Copy-nin Kakashi, genius of a thousand jutsu, with an impressive number of recorded kills. No wonder he'd been able to get on their six like that.
The visible eye curved into a friendly line as the man repeated his gesture of invitation. "Come on, let's go in, no need to disturb the other neighbours."
None of those other neighbours had poked their heads from their doors to see what Gai was bellowing about at this ungodly hour of the morning. Apparently they were used to it. But that didn't make standing out in the hallway any more useful or judicious. Kankuro looked at the open door reluctantly, but he really couldn't leave his leader alone with two foreign Jounin under these odd circumstances, so he put a hand beneath the strap keeping his weapons on his back, squared his shoulders and entered the Beast's den.
It was so very much like Lee's room in the Suna barracks it was almost creepy. Kankuro looked gloomily at the training weights, the books on martial arts, the green uniform hanging from the door of the dresser...the only difference was the style of the sparse furnishings, a lack of cactus and the presence of several full-length mirrors (good god, why?!)
I should have gone for breakfast, Kankuro thought, but put his back against the wall near the door, attentive and dutiful. The other guy, Kakashi, sprawled into a low seat a few feet away, looking completely at home. What he was doing here in the first place was a mystery, but neither Lee nor Gai commented on his presence. Gaara hadn't either, though he'd positioned himself where he could keep an eye on both Leafs and have a clear strike without endangering Kankuro or Lee. Since that was Gaara's usual approach to diplomacy, Kankuro didn't pay it much note.
"Gai-sensei," Lee interrupted his teacher's magnificent and loud greeting mid-stream, in a tense voice that brought Kankuro's attention back to him. "I'm sorry, we can't stay very long."
Thank god, Kankuro thought, seeing a light of hope in the darkness.
"But before we go, I have something I need to tell you," Lee added, face all screwed up.
Kankuro concluded that the light in the darkness was a fire jutsu coming at him full blast. If he'd known it was going to be this kind of visit, he'd have definitely gone for breakfast, or even waited for them outside the door and out of earshot of anything really cringe-worthy that was sure to follow.
Still...now that he was here...The thought insinuated itself into his mind. This nutcase over there was one of the most important people in Lee's life, and if he didn't take Lee's confession well...or if he disapproved of Gaara...Kankuro realized he was going to have to stay, because there was always the possibility that his brother or Lee might need moral support in a few minutes. Damn it, Kankuro concluded, slouching against the wall and getting ready to weather the worse; family sucked.
"You have to leave already? But you must have only arrived a few hours ago at the most." Gai looked honestly unhappy at the thought. "Were you here on a diplomatic visit? If I'd known, I would have-"
"Um, something like that. Gai-sensei, there's no easy way- I have to tell you- I'm gay!" Lee blurted out.
Gai stared at him wide-eyed for a few seconds- Kankuro's attention was drawn to the side by a small noise, and he glanced down to see that the other Leaf Jounin had produced a book from somewhere and was flipping through the pages.
"Well, Lee, this is quite a surprise," Gai said gravely. Then his face seemed to explode into this huge shiny smile. "But I am glad! Glad that you have found yourself and grasped the full flower of your youth-"
"You don't look surprised," Kankuro muttered to the masked guy, tuning out the speech.
"Hmmmno. I was pretty sure the kid swung that way," Kakashi murmured. "Gai had a clue as well, but he was being polite and pretending he didn't know until Lee told him. Might have been hoping he was wrong and that he'd get some big-eyebrowed pseudo-grandkids one day. Do you want this seat?"
"Did you want to sit down?" The Jounin flipped the page over, he'd not glanced Kankuro's way since they'd come in. "You look a bit tired and footsore, leaning there."
Kankuro decided he didn't like this guy. Way too cool for having been awakened at four in the morning to hear Lee confess his sexuality to the Lord of Eyebrows over there. Kankuro normally admired cool, but today he was all cooled out, what with the three day trip and the worry and Gai's pyjamas and all the rest.
He realized that Gai had fallen silent after his long and enthusiastic endorsement of gayness in general and Lee's in particular. Now Lee was straightening up and taking on that 'Challenge' position, which meant the corker was about to arrive.
"Gai-sensei, I've found my special person. The one for whom I would d- I mean, defend with all my strength, and who'll always be in my heart. Um-ah-you see-" and then he very unadvisedly put his hand on Gaara's shoulders and nudged him forward as if that was easier than saying it. To his credit, Gaara didn't blink or let an expression cross his features.
Gai staggered back in a way that could only be described as 'theatrical'- Kankuro's eyes were once more drawn to the other Jounin who'd tilted his book to better catch the light from the overhead lamp.
"You're still not surprised," he hissed at Kakashi.
"I have eyes. Two of them. One of them's quite good," the other Shinobi said, still without looking up.
Kankuro's attention returned to the main event. Gai had finished his stagger and was now examining Gaara with a serious look on his face. Gaara was staring back in a way that made Kankuro's nerves prickle ever so slightly.
"I see. Kazekage-sama…in the circumstances, may I call you Gaara?"
Gaara nodded slowly.
"Gaara. Do you return my adorable student's affections?"
Oh damn, he just had to ask-
Kakashi lifted his head from his book, looked at Gaara and then glanced over at Kankuro.
"I'm a bit surprised now," he offered helpfully.
Bastard, thought Kankuro, trying to hide the fact he was a hell of a lot more surprised than Kakashi appeared to be. From a couple of their conversations this past month, Kankuro knew that his brother was still struggling with a lot of the basics, and that a concept like 'love' was as alien to him as the far side of the moon. But then again, big-brows had used the word 'affections', not 'love'...and maybe Gaara had finally figured that much out at least. And of course, being Gaara, he would just say 'yes' without the slightest hint of self-consciousness.
"Wonderful!" Gai threw his arms wide- for a heart-stopping second, Kankuro thought he was going to hug the Kazekage, but apparently Gai had the survival instincts you'd expect in a Jounin, and only made an enthusiastic gesture in Gaara and Lee's direction.
Kankuro found himself wondering how his and Gaara's own father would have reacted, which was a very strange thought indeed. Maybe the dead could see what happened to their descendants. Maybe their father was watching this scene right now. If that was the case, the bastard was probably spinning in his grave. Good.
"Congratulations to you both!" Gai actually had tears of joy in his eyes. "May this youthful love strengthen the bonds between our two villages until nothing can-"
"Ah, we're not supposed to tell anybody. Not just yet," Lee said quickly, with a glance at Kankuro and Kakashi as well.
The green loony stopped dead in his tracks, and in his eyes Kankuro could read a quick and probably very accurate assessment of that statement and what it meant; after all, the guy couldn't be as crazy as he appeared, because Konoha still had some standards for their Jounin, surely, and so he had to be able to add two and two as well as anyone.
"It's only until the attack on Sound," Gaara said, voice its usual charming monotone. "After that we won't care who knows."
"Well said!" The Beast bounced back quickly. "And then we shall celebrate openly the wonderful-"
"He seems to have taken it well," Kakashi murmured, putting away his book and getting to his feet. Kankuro wondered if the purpose of Kakashi's presence here had mirrored his own; potential moral support for Gai, his fellow Jounin. It must have been obvious, spotting the three of them knocking on Gai's door just before dawn, that something heavy was about to go down.
"-match worthy of my beloved pupil-"
"He's going to go on like that for awhile," Kakashi commented. "At some point, he might even get serious, and that's even worse. Do you want some breakfast?"
Kankuro might not hate this bloke after all. "Hm, okay," he said, with the air of one granting favours.
Gaara had been staring at the Green Beast with eyes a trifle wider than usual in their dark rings. He glanced back slowly in Kakashi's direction.
"Would you like something to eat? I live next door; Lee can come over when he's finished."
Lee was standing there, eyes wide and as full of stars as Gai's pyjamas, drinking in his sensei's every word. Gai hadn't missed a single beat despite having Kakashi speaking in the background. He was now talking about the Springtime of Love. Kankuro hastily tuned him out again, because having someone talk about the Springtime of Love in reference to Gaara of the Desert was a bit too traumatic for four in the morning.
Gaara appeared to think the offer over, and then he shook his head shortly and turned back towards Gai.
The single visible eye widened and briefly lost that 'seen-it-all' air that clung to him as much as the mask. Kankuro smirked, since he wasn't surprised at all. He knew his brother; he could read beyond the mask. Gaara was tired, in unfamiliar territory, and something earlier today had alarmed him; from the way he'd held Lee's hand before, it had probably concerned the Jounin. Gaara's protective instincts were now on Full, and it would take something more important than breakfast or more terrible than the Green Beast of Konoha to get Gaara to let Lee out of his sight for another few hours.
"You mentioned some chow?" Kankuro purred, hands in pockets and relishing the brief reversal of the situation.
"Hm-hmm, right this way." His opponent had recovered fast, but Kankuro still felt this victory to be his.
Kankuro followed him out the door, with a last glance back. Gai and Lee were having some kind of back-and-forth, where Gai was barking out enthusiastic questions - Kankuro caught 'to have and to hold' before his hearing shut down again out of self-preservation - and Lee was answering 'Yes Gai-sensei!' with his fist and his voice raised high, face shining with serious fervour. Gaara was standing next to Lee and looking on, impassive. Not only did he not seem to be having second thoughts about shacking up with that chip off the old crazy block over there, he seemed to be listening attentively, as if there was something here he was trying to understand.
Kankuro followed Kakashi, lured out by the promise of food. But at the back of his mind, he was doing something very unusual for him. He was praying. Kankuro was used to facing life and death situations without relying on divine intervention, but in this instance, he was praying to the Gods of their barren desert home that whatever was in that room wasn't contagious and that his Kazekage wasn't going to go all round-eyed and start talking about the Springtime of Love. Because if there was ever a reason to go missing-nin, that would be it.
Trusting that there were some things that were against the very laws of nature, Kankuro closed the door behind him, and concentrated on the possibility of breakfast.
End Side Story
It will be two weeks, maybe three until I have the epilogue out, it's slow writing. But I should post the first chapter of the new GaaraLee, Kindred, next weekend, to compensate.