A new chapter of Kindred. Enjoy ^_^
Disclaimer: Naruto is the brainchild of Kishimoto-sama, and I am not worthy. I merely borrow the manga's characters and situations, and make no money off of them.
Day One - 4AM
"Go home, Gaara," Temari had said. "Get some rest. You look like you need it."
Gaara wondered what he looked like now, and what his sister would have to say about it.
He walked into his study on the ground floor, stretching as he went. The capital had been noisy, and the Daimyo’s guards had thought it their duty to make patrols around the VIP rooms. Not only did Gaara not need their protection, the noise of their marching feet had made his psychotic tendencies twitch by the end of the first week. Finally he’d taken to dozing for twenty minutes on the roof of the highest tower just before dawn. It hadn’t done much to improve his mood, but it had kept him from getting homicidal after a fortnight.
Gaara grabbed a large cushion from the couch and tossed it into a windowless corner. The gourd made a small thud as it landed next to the improvised seat. He sat down on the cushion and leaned back against the wall, arms crossed, while a thick trickle of Sand pushed out the cork, hopped from its container and swept into a half-circle around him; an old habit that predated Lee. Gaara glanced around in resignation, bowed his head and closed his eyes.
Like a traveller moving from bright sunlight into the darkness of a maze of ravines, Gaara sank into the depths of his own mind, where Shukaku waited for him.
Few people truly understood a Tail. Despite his favoured form, Shukaku wasn’t an animal. Animals did not have that rabid appetite for destruction, that exultant joy in suffering and misery. Shukaku was pure chakra and malice; born from the pain of the world, from hate and madness over a century ago. To think of him as an animal, with material wants, was a mistake. Though he did have some instincts that were, coincidentally, somewhat similar to those of a creature of flesh. He was territorial, for instance. All Tails were, even though their territories were the size of countries. It kept them from meeting each other. Balls of destructive chakra had neither need nor instinct to socialize and mate; any encounter would end in mutual destruction, hence an ingrained avoidance.
Shukaku did not want to die, either; the most primordial instinct that every living being shared. It led him to help keep Gaara alive, since their destinies were now bound. After their defeat at Naruto’s hands, Shukaku must have realized that taking over Gaara would most likely lead to both their destructions, so he’d somewhat modulated his attempts to destroy his host’s mind. The One-Tail could not live in peace; it was too foreign to his nature. But unlike an animal, he could think, compromise and accept a complicated and unspoken status quo. Gaara had also acquired some maturity and stability these past few years that shored up his mental resistance; it had given him the cold wisdom to accept what he couldn’t change, and use it to protect what he had. It was an accord of sorts, though neither party felt like acknowledging it.
Gaara sank into sleep and the battle started, but it was now ritualized, like a bout of kendo or the formulaic battles in the Kabuki theatre. They went through the motions, and though Gaara could never claim to have gotten a good night’s sleep in his life, at least he was no longer flirting with insanity when he woke up the next morning.
Lee had told him that he was almost unnaturally still while he slept. His eyes flickered beneath the dark-stained lids, his fingers would tense; those were the only signs of the internal struggle. Lee had admitted that watching him sleep was rather creepy. The Jounin knew more of what lurked in his lover's soul than anybody else, including Gaara's siblings; he knew that Gaara wasn't taking a nice peaceful nap just because there was an absence of tossing and turning. But still Lee insisted that they share a bed on the brief occasions when Gaara slept, and though it had been very difficult to start with, Gaara had gotten so used to it that he had to work extra hard tonight to find his centre and take up his designated battle lines.
He lasted about thirty minutes before giving up. He felt a flash of annoyance from Shukaku behind the creature’s scorn at his shattered concentration. The demon’s life was pretty debilitating, caught within a human host; sinking his claws into Gaara’s psyche was just about the only pleasure left to him. He gave a growl as Gaara disengaged their minds. They didn’t communicate though. The jutsu barriers between them were too high while Gaara was awake, but even when he slept they never addressed each other. They already spent every single instant in each other’s company, even though the natures of Tail and human were completely antagonistic; interacting would only compound the mutual dislike and compromise the reluctant symbiosis that had developed between them.
Gaara opened his eyes and glared at the ceiling, his expression flickering between the man the village respected as the Kazekage and the creature known as Gaara of the Desert, the one that had adapted himself a bit too well to the One Tail inside of him. He didn’t know which of the children was wailing like that, but what he did know was that if the small creature didn’t shut up-
Gaara woke up a bit further and automatically reined in thoughts of blood and a sudden silence. He settled back against the cushion, eyes closed, and tracked Lee’s movements with his ears and his sixth sense as his lover made his way towards the bathroom. Lee’s presence was soothing, even under these circumstances. Gaara let it appease him for a few minutes. Then he got up to get some work done. At least he’d snatched a bit of sleep from Shukaku’s jaws before the noise had woken him; not enough to keep a normal man functional, but enough for Gaara, who'd adapted to it.
The night was further punctuated by trips to the lavatory, talking, crying and Lee’s hushed voice trying to keep things quiet. They were in the other wing of the house, past the large reception room and up a short flight of stairs, but Gaara’s ninja-trained senses were just too sharp for his own good. Gaara spent the night working at his desk and trying to put it out of his mind. He would get used to the children’s presence; they did not feel threatening to him, so he just had to learn to ignore the disturbance. In the meantime, he could go sleep a couple of hours in his office tomorrow night, if they were still this loud. He’d have to do so very discreetly though, because he had the faint notion that Lee might feel guilty over it if he found out...
Lee was prone to glorious exaggerations, but when he’d said that kids made life complicated, it appeared he was being remarkably factual.
Gaara tapped the wooden end of his steel-nibbed pen on the half-written report detailing the results of his diplomatic trip. He wanted to give it to the council this afternoon, and there were several key points to debate, but he was having a hard time concentrating. There had been a fair amount of noise from upstairs, just as dawn gave way to morning, then Lee had come down a couple of minutes ago, the sound of a young child trailing him. They had stopped about six feet away from the curtain closing off Gaara’s study, and Lee appeared to be whispering.
Chiro’s voice, sounding loud compared to his cousin’s attempts at being quiet, interrupted him. "What’s a Kaza...Kage?"
"Kazekage," corrected Lee. There was some more whispering. Gaara wished they’d just come in already; it wasn’t as if he was going to get any work done in these conditions.
"Like the Hokage?" Chiro asked, apparently echoing something Lee had said.
"Yes," Gaara heard Lee murmur. "So be sure to show proper-"
"He doesn’t look like the Hokage," Chiro said, sounding sullen and confused.
Gaara imagined himself standing next to Tsunade for comparison, and agreed that he made a very unlikely Hokage in view of that logic. Lee must have perceived some sort of slur against Gaara though, because the whisper that followed was quite stern and so low that Gaara couldn’t make it out, even when he trained his hearing to its limit.
He put away his work, stood up and headed towards the curtain. Lee stopped speaking and glanced up apologetically when Gaara walked past him. Chiro looked torn between petulance and remnants of last night’s fright, moving to hide behind Lee.
"I’m getting something to eat," Gaara stated. "Omelette?"
"Sure! Oh, Gaara, wait-"
Gaara made his way towards the kitchen without stopping. He had no patience for what was going to be Lee’s attempt at another formal presentation. Lee had this highly developed sense of etiquette...Gaara knew who the kid was by now; he didn’t need an introduction. He never bothered with them unless he thought the mention of his name might frighten off a weaker opponent and avoid a fight Gaara had no interest in.
He heard Lee trail him with Chiro until the boy made some sort of squalling noise. Lee crouched down and started whispering again; Gaara didn't listen to the words, but the tone was positive and reassuring. Gaara doubted it would make a difference. Maybe it would be better for all concerned if he went to eat breakfast at the admin compound cafeteria. Or he could go raid Kankuro’s fridge. See how his brother had been faring during his absence; maybe stay there for a few hours...
No. If he’d told Lee not to move out, Gaara was damned if he himself was going to, even by instalments. The children would get used to him, and vice-versa.
Lee appeared at the kitchen entrance, holding a visibly reluctant Chiro by the hand. Gaara didn’t think the boy’s attitude stemmed from disrespect of the Kazekage’s office. He wasn’t sure Chiro had quite gotten that part through his little head yet; the boy was still trying to cope with the whole demon thing. Seeing Gaara without the gourd, dressed in training pants and the yukata, and poking around in the fridge, must not make for a very credible demon. The kid looked confused.
"Okay, let’s start this again!" Lee said cheerfully, soldiering on despite the obvious disinterest of both parties. Gaara appreciated the reappearance of Lee's legendary determination; when Lee behaved true to himself, it was as if a piece of Gaara's world was once more whole, sound and stable. "Gaara, may I introduce-"
"What’s he doing?" Chiro whispered, in what sounded like a blend of suspicious fear and disbelief.
"He’s just making breakfast. Gaara, let me take care of the omelette; you go sit down."
In the same tone of voice as before, Chiro asked: "Why?" He had this nasty habit of yanking on Lee’s hand for attention when he asked a question. It was annoying Gaara already, and Chiro wasn’t even doing it to him.
Lee’s voice was getting rather distracted. "Chiro, please be polite. Gaara-"
"He’s got eggs," Chiro whispered in an incredulous tone, doing the yanking thing again.
Yes, I’m all out of baby’s blood, Gaara thought with a trickle of caustic irony, the closest he ever got to a sense of humour. He kept it to himself; saying such things aloud tended to make people nervous, as they couldn’t always tell when he was being serious or not.
Lee made a small noise of defeat. He picked up the kid and plunked him down in a chair, then went to Gaara and tried to get the spoon from his fingers.
"Here, give me that and please go sit down. You only just came back from your mission."
Gaara gave him a Look.
Lee wilted a bit as he was reminded that he was still in the doghouse for his own voyage back from Konoha in an undisclosed but probably insanely short amount of time. He meekly relinquished the spoon and went to sit down with Chiro.
Gaara continued adding eggs to the bowl and whisking them together. "Where’s the other one?"
"Oh, damn, Aki. Just a sec, I left him in the bath."
"What does he eat anyway? We don’t have any milk." Gaara picked up an egg-
It crunched between his suddenly tense fingers. "In the bath?"
"There’s no water in it. I- he crawls everywhere, and I wanted a word with Chiro-" Lee was speaking from the door, all but running on the spot in his impatience to get upstairs. "I put in a blanket and he was playing with the plug- it also makes a good place to change the diapers, easy to rinse down afterwards. Gotta go. Chiro, stay here and be polite, please. Your behaviour reflects on me, remember." The last was shouted from the foot of the stairs.
Gaara washed egg off his hands and the counter and added a few ingredients to the bowl somewhat at random, hoping it wouldn’t taste too bad. He wasn’t a picky eater, and Lee, like anyone personally trained by Maito Gai, could eat just about anything, and usually did. As a result, Gaara had never mastered any of the basics of cooking beyond insuring it wasn't toxic. But the children would undoubtedly be more difficult. Gaara didn’t know this for a fact, but he was willing to bet that if there was a way these kids could make his life more complicated, they probably would.
He picked out a bowl of noodles from the fridge, sniffed it and threw it away. There wasn’t much else, certainly nothing edible after they’d both been gone for a week or more. There was a packet of natto left in the fridge and a box of instant rice in the cupboard. Along with sliced omelette, there’d be enough for four, presuming the children didn’t eat as much as Lee. Then again, they were Rocks...
A flicker of chakra from outside.
Gaara glanced over his shoulder at the kitchen window.
"Is it urgent?" he asked.
Chiro, who’d been sitting in silence at the table all this time, looked up in surprise.
Another flicker, coming from a hidden corner of the courtyard. A negative.
"I’ll be back in my study in half an hour," Gaara said.
The presence disappeared.
Chiro was staring at him, his eyes round in alarm and without that dubious disbelief he’d shown earlier. Suddenly talking to thin air had apparently restored Gaara’s credentials as a reputable demon. Chiro was too young to sense chakra, so it was bound to be confusing, but it would have been more logical to conclude that the Kazekage was stark raving mad. If this was the kind of reasoning one could expect from children, then it was a good thing Suna had an Academy to train them out of it.
Gaara filled a pot full of water and set it on the hob next to the cooking omelette. His movements slowed; some dark unnamed instinct made him glance over his shoulder. Chiro was staring at the kitchen table again; he seemed to be tracing the grain of the wood with his fingers, absorbed, unblinking.
Whether he thought Gaara was crazy or a demon or both, it was strange for the kid to ignore him. Lack of survival instinct, Gaara thought, trying to dismiss the child and his behaviour from the focus of his attention so he could get back to boiling water and other such mundane and more comprehensible tasks.
Then Chiro noticed he was being observed and he scowled up at Gaara, sullen and still frightened.
"I’ll tell Lee!"
This was presumably a threat to insure Gaara wouldn’t harm him. Good; if Chiro believed Lee would protect him, it would give the boy a shelter from his fears, until he’d figured out on his own that Gaara wasn’t about to rip his heart out or bleed him dry. Gaara wasn’t going to bother trying to convince the boy otherwise; he wouldn’t believe himself if he was in Chiro’s shoes.
Gaara was adding the rice to the water when he heard Lee come through the door. The baby was awake now, bright eyed and squirming, his face more expressive and individualized than last night.
"We’re here!" Lee announced. Gaara noted how harried his lover looked. Hopefully Lee and the children would get into some sort of natural rhythm soon that would allow the Jounin to get some decent rest. And god only knew what they’d do if Lee had a mission. Hopefully Lee had requested some leave; Gaara would have to check that with him.
Lee supported the child on one arm, holding the small body against his own, and walked towards the Kazekage. "Gaara, this is Aki -"
Aki took one look at Gaara and started to whimper loudly and struggle against the blanket around his legs.
Lee had instincts too. In a smooth move that looked almost completely natural, he changed his trajectory to go and sit down at the table with the baby on his lap.
"- he’s ten months old. Isn’t that right, Chiro?"
"Huh-huh," Chiro answered, still staring at the table. Gaara wondered if he’d even heard the question.
"What’s for breakfast?" Lee asked brightly. "Natto? Excellent! Do you like natto, Chiro? Oh wait, Gaara, let me set the-"
Lee sat back down again resignedly, the baby on his knee, while Gaara went to get their dishes and mismatched tableware.
Gaara paused as he turned back towards the table. Chiro had lifted his head and was staring at Lee and his brother. He had last night's brittle look about him again, as if he’d become hollow.
Probably the fatigue. The kid hadn’t slept much last night, and the trip over here would have exhausted even an adult. Lee had the same empty, dazed look about him from lack of proper rest when he’d sat down, though now he was staring in a puzzled way at his lover standing there three feet from the table with the plates in his hand.
Gaara walked to the table and plunked down the dishes. Chiro was looking at him with suspicion again; that odd moment had passed.
He started to set out the plates, then realized the baby probably didn’t need one. Aki stared at the plate in front of Lee and reached for it hopefully, fingers grasping. Lee pushed it within his grasp, though he kept a prudent grip on it. The baby shifted on his lap, rattled the plate and chattered gravely, a sound that probably made sense if you were a primate of the same species. Lee grinned in delight.
Gaara fought down a sudden urge to rub his eyes and wake himself up; wasn't there a slight chance that an enemy had gotten him through the Sand Barrier and he was lying concussed on the battlefield and merely imagining all this...? Gaara had some imagination, twisted and strange, the result of his lonely upbringing, but he didn’t think he had this much, even with massive head trauma factored in. He turned away and went to get the food.
"What does the younger one eat?" he asked, setting the pan of warmed rice and the skillet on the table.
"Shizune - she helped me pack when we left; she said Aki would eat some of the stuff we do, as long as it’s mashed or cut up real small and can’t choke him. Also watered-down fruit juice and lots of formula. I’ll shop for some more when we’re done here; we finished the stuff I brought with me yesterday."
Gaara decided he didn’t want to know what formula was. "I’m surprised she let you leave with two small children like that."
"Shizune understands," Lee said softly with a glance at Chiro, who was still staring at the table even when Gaara approached to dump some food onto his plate.
"Itadakemasu!" Lee said, nodding at Gaara when the latter sat down.
"Itadakemasu," Chiro repeated like an automaton, looking dully at his breakfast. The baby blabbered something and tried to get his fist into Lee’s food.
Gaara grunted and started to eat quickly and without much interest. Food had always been a functional necessity for him and he took no pleasure in it, eating enough to keep himself operational and little more. His and Lee’s diets were uneventful; whatever Gaara could throw together, or the health food recipes Lee prepared, which did their bodies a lot of good even if it chastised the taste buds. Gaara had the feeling that this stolid state of affairs was about to change; for starters, something called formula was about to creep in...
On the opposite side of the table, Chiro picked up his chopsticks, which looked way too big for his hands. He stuck them together, held them a little apart and then used them to scoop up the food quite adequately. Since the plate was only a little below his chin, it wasn’t that hard. Despite Gaara's expectations, he made no comment about the taste of the omelette. He ate very slowly and mechanically, staring at his plate, or glancing up in silence at his brother when the latter spat something out on himself and Lee.
"No omelette," Lee concluded, using his napkin on Aki’s chin and chest, and the sleeve of his green uniform. "I don’t think you’ll like natto either. How about some rice?"
That seemed to go down a bit easier, though Aki still wiggled and screwed up his face and whimpered as if he was far from happy with life in general and breakfast specifically. Gaara noted that Lee had yet to swallow a bite himself.
Gaara finished breakfast and went to get some tea out of the brewing kettle.
"I need to go, I have something to attend to," he said, pouring two cups. "Can you manage?" Feeding two children seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, compared to feeding two fully-grown Shinobi.
"Oh sure! We’re fine. I’ll clean up afterwards, too."
"You have your hands full. Leave it. We’ll do it tonight," Gaara said in a tone that left no room for argument. He put the cup of tea near Lee’s plate, out of reach of the pest on his lap.
Lee gave him a steady ‘you’re being bossy again’ look.
Gaara stared him down, silently reminding him of the doghouse.
Lee rolled his eyes. "Okay, we’ll do it tonight. I have to go do some shopping. I-"
He strangled a small noise of surprise when Gaara reached over and let a finger trail down the strong neck, just above the collar of the green uniform, then up to brush the silky-smooth black hair. Lee’s big eyes darted from Chiro - whose dull gaze was fixed on his plate as he ate - to the baby who was busy examining something he’d dug out of his mouth.
"Um, Gaara, we shouldn’t-..."
Gaara was already out of the kitchen, trying to maintain a certain amount of equanimity over the whole invasion. He had a feeling he was going to need it over the next few days.
I found scaring young children to be very amusing. Disrupting Gaara and Lee's lives was also quite fun :P Note, incidentally, that Lee is making up child-caring as he goes along. He's doing his best. That being said, please never ever do anything he does taking care of Aki, or even Chiro, I don't think it'd be recommended in any parenting book I know of ^^;