I didn't have much time to write in the past few weeks, but I managed to polish this up a bit. It's still weaker than the rest of Kindred, IMO, but it had some fun bits, and it's got smexing, so really, what else is needed...? Situated a few months later than the epilogue I'd posted previously. Typos may lurk throughout the text, as I was pretty tired during the rereads.
Disclaimer: I really don't own Naruto. If I did, I'd be rich and I could tell my customers to stick it. But I don't so I'm not and thus I can't -_- I don't make any money from this fic either, in fact I pay a bundle for Naruto manga/anime. This is the price of addiction, kiddies. When someone offers you manga outside the school gates, Just Say No.
Day Eight Hundred and Sixty One - 3 PM
Years ago, Gaara's approach to strategy had been 'kill it'. But the battles with Lee, Naruto and that persistent bastard Kimimaro had all taught Gaara that a true Shinobi might have to outthink his adversary before he could get to the killing part. Strategy, tactics and diplomacy had been further forced upon him when he'd taken the leadership of Sunagakure. He'd been the Kazekage for nearly ten years now- the inhabitants of Suna were preparing some kind of festival in honor of this - and he had learned his trade with dedication.
So he really should have seen this coming...
He blamed his lack of foresight on the forty straight hours working with the council and his intelligence staff on that international treaty. He'd come home and ended up in the shower, trying to scrub visions of seals, signatures and yards of legal writ from his head with the help of a bit of water and shampoo. To distract himself from the mild pain between his eyes, he'd wandered into the bedroom to wake Lee up from his nap and see if the Jounin wanted to help him put together and demolish a late lunch. And that's where he'd made his tactical blunder. What with their respective duties and the mission Lee had just finished late last night, they hadn't had sex in what currently felt like forever; Gaara should have anticipated how Lee would react to the sight of his freshly-showered lover wandering into their room wearing 'nothing but clinging slacks and a towel', as Lee had put it shortly before he'd caught Gaara by the waist and toppled him onto the bed.
Lee's hand slid down Gaara's bare side to grope his thigh. The Jounin moved his hips, easing his weight to the left and igniting prickles of heat up and down Gaara's skin, which only grew when the intent of the move turned out to be to allow Lee room to maneuver; his wandering hand ended up between Gaara's legs and the Kazekage decided it all wasn't so much a mistake as a fortuitous miscalculation.
"Gaara," his lover whispered, sending ripples of emotional need to meet the physical ones.
"Say my name like that again," Gaara mouthed into Lee's ear, his fingers slipping beneath the light cotton t-shirt Lee had worn for his nap, to touch skin.
Lee drew in a shaky breath to oblige- but paused at the sound of footsteps trotting down the hallway. Instead of going on towards Aki's room or the bathroom or the stairs or any other part of the house, those footsteps stopped right outside their bedroom.
Gaara and Lee stared at each other for a split second, sharing a look that had only one meaning: 'Did you think to lock the door?!'
Fortunately, when it came to speed, few people on the planet could beat Rock Lee. When the door slid open with its usual bang, he was leaning against the wall with his hands behind his back, face a fetching red but otherwise the picture of innocence.
Gaara, who wasn't quite as fast, was still where Lee had spilled him on the bed, bare-chested, with his wet hair mussed and the towel somewhere on the floor, though fortunately he'd managed to sit up in time to sort of hide the bump in his pants. Not that it mattered; Chiro was gifted with the utter self-absorption of any seven-year-old. He didn't pause to wonder what his foster fathers had been doing in their room, or why Gaara was half-naked on the bed, or why Lee was standing there with his clothes all rumpled and looking like a tomato.
"I did my essay and I drew the map to go with it. Can I go play with Yuudai n' the others?"
"Yes! Good idea!" Lee answered, just as Gaara said, "Go."
That earned them a bit of a strange look, but apparently there was still nothing that struck Chiro as all that thought-provoking about the scene.
"Take Aki with you," Gaara added, which showed that his tactical abilities had returned. There was only so much a three-year-old could do on his own before he decided he needed his favorite foster father to play with him again. If Gaara wanted Lee for anything, he was going to have to plan ahead.
Chiro spun around and made a face- caught sight of Gaara's and put the rebellious expression away again. "Oh okay," he muttered.
Lee pushed away from the wall. "Stay within the perimeter."
"Make sure you take your tracking tags," Lee added, following him out the door.
"And watch out for Aki, don't let him go off on his own," said Lee from the hallway.
"I know. C'mon, Aki, we're going outside."
There was the sound of toys getting tossed down, something fell over with a clatter, and then small feet tore through the hallway outside with enough noise for a garrison of armored men.
Gaara took a steadying breath, got up and went to watch the exodus. Lee was leaning against the railing, looking down into the reception room at the boys who were getting ready near the front door. The Jounin was smiling benignly, but his fingers on the wood were tight enough to make it creak. Gaara joined him, still bare to the waist. His naked chest seemed to magnetically draw his lover's gaze, before Lee shook his head sharply and brought his attention back to his sons again.
Aki managed to put his outdoor tunic on backwards. Chiro made an aggrieved noise and went to help.
"Looks like we're going to have some time alone," Lee breathed. "And we didn't even have to arrange for a sitter."
Gaara had been thinking along the same lines, with considerable anticipation. Even with the lock on their door, Lee still had a hard time letting making out evolve into making love while the kids were in the house. Not that the two lovers had much time for the 'making out' part either, as it were, between their duties and the kids. Aki needed a lot of supervision during the day, and at night, Chiro had slept in their bed on and off for almost a year after they'd taken him in. He'd only stopped a few days after entering the academy, as if suddenly realizing that he'd taken a step towards adulthood and should no longer do something as baby-ish as sleeping with his adoptive parents.
"It's easier now that they can go out and play by themselves," Lee said, a fond look on his face. "Chiro's good at looking out for Aki."
Gaara watched Chiro apparently trying to strangle Aki with his outdoor tunic. "It will be even easier to screw when they'll both be at the academy," he said, keeping his voice low so Lee wouldn’t get on his high horses with him about Subjects Unfit for Children's Ears. "Then we can do it any time of the day we want, like we used to. And anywhere in the house."
Something like longing crossed Lee's features, but he quickly regained his encouraging smile as Chiro got the knots right on his brother's tunic, and then went to fetch his. Both boys were thoroughly tanned by now, but their Konoha skin could still burn at this time of day.
"We shouldn’t be in such a hurry to see them both in the Academy," Lee muttered, sounding like he was trying to lecture himself. "We should be living in the moment. They'll be all grown up way too soon as it is. Being parents can be constraining, yes, but the glory of raising two wonderful youths-"
Constraining? That it was. The lovers had to share themselves with the children, make room in their lives and timetables, care for them, protect them, and in Gaara's case, live with the fear of permanently scarring their little minds on one of his bad days. It was hellishly constraining. Most bonds were, after all; that was their nature. Gaara had lived without constraints for most of his childhood and next to that, dealing with a couple of brats and juggling what felt like several full-time jobs was in fact a distinct pleasure. There were moments that made up for the constraints. This was not one of them, but there were moments.
"-yes, we are truly privileged to be able to guide and direct them on the path of Life." Lee's impromptu speech had reached a level of declamation that threatened to reach the children's ears. "And we still have time to ourselves, after all. When you come down to it, what have we really given up?"
"The way we'd screw each other senseless in sandstorms," Gaara answered, after a moment's reflection.
"Gaara," Lee said in strangled protest, his eyes blind and no longer really fixed on the kids. Gaara gathered from his lover's reaction that the question had been rhetorical. Below, Chiro was fitting on his sandals and Aki was waiting with his footwear in hand for his brother's help. Lee's paternal smile was getting strained. Gaara studied him and noted the flush staining his lover's cheeks and the back of his neck, and the way Lee's fingers were causing the wood beneath them to groan.
"For instance, the way you managed to pin me down with the gourd's strap that one time," Gaara added, somewhat experimentally.
That got him an aggravated look, and Lee shuffled his feet as if suddenly uncomfortable.
"Can't you do this by yourself yet?" Chiro muttered, fitting on the three-year-old's sandals and tying the straps.
"You won't teach me!" Aki said, giving his big brother a shove that Chiro ignored.
Though Gaara wouldn't stoop to fidgeting, he could feel his own patience wearing thin. Minne had had a third child a few months ago, and all other potential babysitters were out on missions or had refused to let themselves be intimidated by Gaara of the Desert, so quality time was a bit sparse these days.
Quality time with Lee was not something Gaara had ever had in abundance, between the impositions of their respective duties, so that in itself wasn't as much of a constraint as it seemed, but...Gaara did miss those times Lee would follow him out into the storms. It was such an absolute proof of love, even if it was completely crazy. The memory brushed him, an almost physical thing raising the hairs on the back of his neck and, like an extension of his body, causing the Sand in the study downstairs to coil and writhe in its gourd.
But back when Gaara had wandered the storms, half-crazed and wild, there had always been a safety net at the back of his mind: 'If I truly lose it, Lee and the others have the combined strength to kill me'. That thought, mostly subconscious, had allowed him to cut loose, get that little bit closer to the abyss. Living with two children had forced him to realize just how fragile these small entities were, and the safety net had sprung a hole; it would be so very, very easy to snuff out one of those fragile lives before he could be stopped. At Gaara's insistence and for everyone's peace of mind, Lee now stayed home and watched the boys during storm season. As for Gaara, he still patrolled the village and walked through the howling winds and lashing sand, but madness no longer walked with him; the effects of the storm were muted. The darkness inside his soul muttered that he was like a warhorse broken to the plough, domesticated until his desire to fight and kill were hopelessly dulled, and Gaara prayed that one day this would be true...
"I'm leaving!" Chiro shouted. He usually shouted if Gaara and Lee were further than ten feet away. A year at the academy - and over two years of parenting that had mysteriously yet infallibly caught him as soon as he started doing something stupid - and yet he still hadn't figured out how sharp Shinobi ears could be.
"You have your tags, right?" Lee asked, as Chiro took one step towards the door.
Chiro turned back towards them and nodded seriously. Lee had put the boy In Charge of Security, at least as far as making sure he and his brother wore their tracking tags when out of doors, and Chiro treated the responsibility like it was his first mission as a Shinobi. "Yeah, I put it around his upper arm and tugged and it won't come off. I have mine, too. Aki, they don't need to see it, I told them I put it on so you don't have to show it, you're not supposed to show it to people like that, nobody is supposed to know about it-" Aki dropped the tunic and sleeve over the thin innocuous strip of leather and gave Chiro a pout that was both guilty and rebellious.
"Good. Go," Gaara said.
"Have fun!" Lee added, letting go of the banister and edging towards Gaara.
Chiro grabbed Aki's wrist, still lecturing in a superior, big-brother tone. He tugged the three-year-old by the hand, opened the door - Aki tore away and was outside like an arrow fired from a bow.
"Hey, wait for me," Chiro said, hauling at the knob, the door swinging shut behind him.
Gaara was grabbed, spun around and pressed against a firm body in the next instant. Lee's mouth covered his, tongue diving deep. Then they stopped, as their Shinobi senses informed them, a bit belatedly, that the door hadn't actually closed.
They glanced down at the lobby where Chiro had stuck his head back in. He was looking up at them with an expression on his face that could best be described as 'Ew'. Then he studiously contemplated the geometrical pattern of the wooden banister.
"How long can I stay out?" he asked, in the voice of a patient and well-mannered child who was unfairly put upon by adults doing gross things to one another. It was the look and tone the little snot always adopted the rare times he caught them kissing. One of the friends Lee had made outside the Academy gates had told him that pretty much all parents got that treatment from their progeny; it was apparently normal.
"You can play outside for at least an hour. Preferably two," answered the Kazekage, leader of his village and survivor of many battles in which strategy had been required as well as brute force.
Out of Chiro's line of sight, Lee pinched Gaara reprovingly. "Don't stay out in the sun for too long, though, and be back by five."
The door closed. Both men looked at it suspiciously for a few seconds, and then broke apart and walked sedately towards the bedroom, just in case.
Lee closed and locked the door as carefully as the village treasurer securing the safe. A fraction of a second later, Gaara was back on the bed, on the edge of getting whiplash; Lee was propped up above him, his hands digging into the mattress on either side of Gaara's head, looking down at him, breath fast and light.
Gaara reached up, fisted the green t-shirt and tried to pull Lee towards him, but his lover caught his hands and loosened the grip with unconscious efficiency. Gaara tensed, chakra coiling in his muscles; was this the opening gambit of a minor scuffle...? His Lee liked the occasional challenge in bed. But Lee merely kissed Gaara's wrists before laying his lover's hands back onto the sheets.
"We have an hour," Lee whispered, his fingers drawing little thrills of sensation as they drifted down Gaara's naked arm.
"Don't count on it. But one hour...we can take a little time..."
Lee's fingers made their way to Gaara's face, where they brushed the dark rings of his eyes. They traced his cheekbones, the lines of his jaw, lingered on his lips until Lee leaned in and kissed him, long, slow and deep.
His hands traveled again, gentle but with a determined goal; the exploration of every inch of Gaara's body. Gaara shivered as his lover's fingers swept over unscarred skin, so often encased in Sand Armor. He blinked slowly at the ceiling while Lee kissed his throat and collarbone and chest; then he reached up and combed the black hair with his fingers, the sensation pleasant on his palm, until Lee complained it was too distracting and making him forget all the good things he wanted to do to Gaara. Knowing what Lee was like when on a mission, Gaara let his hands fall back to the bed. Lee returned to his glorious challenge; Gaara reached back, grabbed a pillow and put it beneath his head so he could watch Lee go at it without craning his neck.
Lee touched him; with fingertips and nails, palm, mouth, teeth, tongue and with utter dedication, from the lobes of Gaara's ears to his feet, as if he was trying to make up in one hour for twelve years of touch deprivation and solitude. Gaara watched. And felt. It was all that was being asked of him. The shivers of sensation went from his skin all the way to what passed for his soul, as if Lee was reaching deep inside and not just playing on the surface...Gaara let his lover do as he pleased for as long as he could hold out. He finally reached out again and got Lee out of his clothes; Gaara's contentious slacks, whose thin, clinging material had - so Lee claimed - provoked all this, were already on the floor. Once the Jounin's training pants, t-shirt and underwear had joined them, Lee wrapped himself around his lover's body and the realm of touch found a whole new dimension.
Gaara's fingers traced scars and muscles with no conscious thought, like a path so familiar he could tread it without thinking. His skin was feeling extra-sensitive from all that attention; Lee's touch, his slightest breath made the blood pulse and shiver through Gaara's body. Annoyingly though, he wasn't able to entirely lose the awareness of time slipping by; they only had the one hour (preferably two, but Lee was right, better not count on it). He finally squirmed away. The ripple and fold of the sheets felt like ridges and ravines against his sensitized skin as he crawled to the side of the bed. He fished out the lube from the drawer and held it out to a waiting hand.
"Thank you," Lee said, tone polite and eyes warm as he opened the bottle. Gaara rolled back to his former position and tilted his legs and hips up, which made Lee fumble and drop the cap, his eyes wide and fastened on the sight.
He didn't take long to recover, though. He conducted this part of the operation as slowly and tenderly as he'd started, kissing Gaara's knees and thighs and erection, while his fingers gently slicked and stretched. He took a good ten minutes at it; no rough stuff today. He finally put down the lube, after conscientiously screwing the top on again, and then he looked down at Gaara, fingers idling over pale skin. He leaned in for a kiss, and rolled them over without breaking it until Gaara was straddling him. Then he changed his mind again; an instant later, Gaara was on his back, looking up at his lover.
"Like this? Is this okay?" Lee always asked, though he had to know by now that Gaara had no preferences whatsoever.
"Do it." The familiar brevity of the response earned Gaara a grin.
Hands fastened on Gaara's hips, and Lee's shoulder nudged one knee back. There was that peculiar little shove as his lover pressed through the ring of muscles. With exquisite control, Lee moved in, one slow push ending in a bitten-in gasp. Then he stopped, eyes on Gaara's, waiting. The small niggles of stretching pain were perfectly ignorable as far as Gaara was concerned, but if Lee wanted to wait and make it entirely painless, he had nothing against that.
Lee tested his own flexibility by leaning in and kissing his lover. Gaara's tongue was captured and gently molested, until he tilted his head away to see Lee's face. His lover knew his need to see, and straightened a bit. The look in those big eyes was warm and tender and understanding.
It made Gaara feel coveted, loved, meaningful - the need to see that was a hunger, a wound in his soul only Lee had ever been able to fill in quite this way. But over the years, Gaara was getting tired of his wounds, of his scars; they were still there, but his life felt too full, too busy to be constantly catering to the past. Or maybe it was just that Lee's habit of constantly challenging himself and accepting no limitations had rubbed off on him...The look on Lee's face, two months ago, when Gaara had demanded to be taken from behind for the first time; even Gaara, with his embryonic and twisted sense of humour, had managed to find that look amusing. Behind Lee's fish-in-a-bowl expression was a lot of temptation, though. Gaara didn't need masses of empathy to guess that Lee had wanted to try it that way for some time without ever wanting to raise the issue.
...Gaara had been on his knees, trying not to crush the headboard between fingers that seemed to want to clench too hard or tear or shove away. Lee had said the position would be 'less vulnerable', and Gaara was sure it was less vulnerable than being shoved onto his forearms with his ass in the air, but vulnerable wasn't the problem. Neither was it the physical side of things, because that had been good from the moment Lee had wrapped his arms around Gaara's waist and angled his hips to thrust and close in. They could get much closer than face to face; Gaara had been embraced, covered, pressed warm against Lee's chest, with his lover's skilful hands all over him, and the way Lee's cock fit all the better that way - but he couldn't see Lee's face, couldn't see the one person who loved him this much - but surely, surely he could do it, it wasn't that much to bear, surely he could give this to his lover- this proof of love, of trust-
A lover who knew him so well. In a voice heavy with desire - and tinged with self-consciousness - Lee had started to talk. Saying what it felt like, what he felt, what Gaara made him feel- and the noises he'd made near the end - and the pleasure, shared...At first, Gaara had wondered if he'd be able to get off without being able to see Lee. But hearing those long groans ending in a gasp shaped around his name when Lee thrust in fully- after all that, Gaara had been the one to come first, which normally never happened unless Lee got one of his 'challenges' in his head.
Gaara could feel his body warm and shiver with the memory even now. He hadn't expected it to be like that at all; the odd fear and sense of loss had been greater than anticipated, so had the pleasure. He was going to chew it over until it felt safe to try again, but they would most definitely try that again one day, when he was ready, and Lee would wait until he was. Lover, companion, partner, friend - co-father - and always willing to give what Gaara needed.
Speaking of which...Gaara focused on his lover's face in the here and now. The cords in Lee's neck were starting to stand out a bit, his cheeks were brick red, and Gaara could almost feel his lover vibrate with the effort of keeping still.
"Gaara?" Lee finally gasped. "Are you okay? Am I hurting you? Do you want to switch?"
Gaara tilted his head to get a better view of a bead of sweat glistening near Lee's ear and about to break and slide down to his chin. "Hm?"
"You're not moving."
"…Fine? B-but- can I start? Why-"
"I'm giving you an opportunity to show off that vaunted determination and endurance of yours. I thought that was obvious."
Lee's eyes widened adorably, and then he gave a twisted smile. "Why you little-"
Gaara pulled him down for a kiss before his lover went and said something to the Kazekage of Sunagakure that would be below the dignity of the office.
Lee got his own back anyway, with a quick pull back and thrust that almost had Gaara biting him by accident. Gaara's senses, heightened by a lifetime of training, could feel the quiver in Lee's frame to control his movements, could feel the nudge deep inside, could feel Lee deep inside, the feeling fading where nerve endings were fewer, and crackling to ecstatic life when Lee's cock brushed the place where nerve endings were quite numerous and excitable indeed. Gaara tensed against the sheets, breath rattling in his throat, muscles twitching and tightening around Lee's cock. He threw out his arms to steady himself, and his legs wrapped around Lee's lower back. Lee's next thrust was aided and abetted by a flex of Gaara's legs, forcing him deeper, moving together.
Lee gave a strange little groan. "Oh...we should have-...done this sooner-..."
Gaara nodded in mute agreement. It always seemed obvious- with one of them deep inside the other - that they should do this more often. They should be doing this all the time. But it was just as obvious, once they were out of bed, that they were both exceedingly busy. The few rare moments that weren’t sacrificed to duty were spent with the boys, family, friends-...the details of Gaara's life suddenly broke apart like a shell as Lee shifted his stance, lifted his lover's hips higher and his next thrust pushed against Gaara's prostate at just the right angle to make such a distraction as thinking deeply sacrilegious.
Lee hummed, pleased with the effect, and did it again, and again. Pleasure ripped up inside Gaara, from the tender nerves clenching around Lee's sex, up into his belly, coiling around his spine like wire, squeezing his lungs. Lee leaned back without losing that angle of attack, his gaze on the point where their two bodies joined. One hand held Gaara up without effort as Lee trailed his fingers - tease! - down the length of Gaara's cock, smearing the beads of liquid at the crown, down to the root and the balls, but only a light touch, just enough to excite and not enough to- to-.
A bead of sweat - his own or Lee's? They were too close to tell - trickled down the sensitive skin of Gaara's hip. It was hot in the room and getting hotter. Lee's skin felt feverish as Gaara caressed it, reached up to his lover's face. Lee stopped doing delectably torturous things to Gaara's cock and caught and kissed the fingers brushing his lips.
"I don't think it was very smart of you to challenge my endurance," he murmured into Gaara's palm.
"I have…a lot more patience-...than you do," Gaara said, knowing full well he was going to be made to repent those words by the time Lee was done with him.
Lee shifted his weight suddenly, eased fully into Gaara, and then ground upwards. Gaara's vision went white. He squirmed against the bed, twisting his head, body movements meaningless, gasping, the air shaping into a moan as it left his mouth. He harshly blinked the world and his lover into some kind of focus to find Lee watching him. Gaara's pleasure giving Lee what he wanted; Lee's satisfaction and pleasure reflected in his eyes, giving Gaara what he wanted in turn; back and back and back again like an endless hall of mirrors. Gaara closed his eyes for a moment to break that intensity - he would be too close otherwise- Lee's mouth was suddenly against his, hard, nearly a bite as it descended along his jawline to his throat-
Then Lee's head shot up again; the front door to the house had just slammed open.
"Gaaaraa, Leeee! Aki fell and hurt himseeelf!" There was a certain amount of sniffling to be heard as a counterpoint.
The lovers stared at each other. The look on Lee's face suggested that he was struggling against his polite, formal nature for a swearword that might rise to the occasion. Finally, he just let his forehead sink against Gaara's chest, hot skin flush against hot skin. "Please remind me that I love them..."
"You love them."
"Thanks…How bad?" he shouted at the door.
"It's bleeding," Chiro yelled from what sounded like the top of the stairs. The crying picked up a good deal at the words.
Lee took in a deep breath. A very deep breath. When he spoke, his voice was remarkably steady. "Chiro, please take your brother into the bathroom and wash off some of the dirt and blood. I'll be there in a minute."
"Okay," Chiro said, dragging Aki past the door.
Gaara made a dangerous noise deep in his throat. Lee's cock was two-thirds buried in him, they were both fiercely aroused and quite ready, there was no way- Lee looked at him apologetically.
"I better go. Don't glare like that, I can't help it. Uh, tell you what," he added, speaking carefully and wincing under Gaara's deadly unblinking stare, even as he sloooowly started to ease out. "I'll...go take care of Aki and then let's go out into the desert tonight, once the kids are asleep. Your bodyguard can watch them, just this once."
Gaara kept up the glare for a few more seconds, but then he decided that that was acceptable. From the level of noise, Aki wasn't badly hurt, but one never knew. And if Gaara was patient now, they'd head out into the desert after nightfall and there...Lee was still cagey about making love out of doors, but necessity was a good destroyer of inhibitions. When they went out into the desert, it was ostensibly to train; at least that's what they told the guards to avoid anybody investigating the area if they felt unusual chakra leaking from it. Training was usually how it started, too, but it ended in a wild and very satisfying screw, and at least they could be as loud as they wanted to be.
"Fine-" the word ended in a gasp as Lee withdrew swiftly. A naked blur was quickly followed by a clothed blur as Lee used the discarded towel on himself, threw on his clothes, then lunged at Gaara, planted a quick, loud kiss on his lips, and was gone in a hasty 'Thanks I swear I'll make it up to you later!' and the slam of a door. About four seconds had elapsed.
Gaara turned his glare to the ceiling. Lee, with his wonderful physical control, could get rid of a hard-on pretty fast, but Gaara wasn't quite so fortunate, and he'd been very hard indeed. Not that that was going anywhere now, without Lee. With some resignation, he triggered old control routines, bequeathed to him by some past caretaker (now deceased) who hadn't liked the thought of the bearer of Shukaku getting horny. Chakra coiled in his body like cold fluid running down his skin, through his muscles and into his loins. He hadn't used it in quite a while, and it took him a few seconds to get it working properly. Finally he got up, got dressed and trudged to the bathroom.
Chiro was off to one side, holding the first-aid kit with the seriousness of a nurse assisting surgery. Lee was doctoring a scraped knee. No stitches required this time, Gaara judged at a glance.
Aki was sniffling, a big fat tear occasionally running down his cheeks. Lee - and even Gaara, to some extent - had become fine-tuned to the nuances of crying; they could tell when there was real alarm and pain behind it. These were the sort of tears that indicated that Aki was being brave not to bawl, even though it did hurt, right, and he wanted to be the centre of Lee's attention for a little while longer. The Kazekage had discovered these past years that, when leveled according to age and years of experience, kids were manipulators on a scale that left many a veteran interrogator standing at the gates.
"You were supposed to watch your brother," Gaara told Chiro, without much reproof. Aki had inherited his mother's looks, but when it came to running full tilt in straight lines with all his youthful energy and despite potential obstacles, he was all Rock.
"It’s not my fault," Chiro answered; the four favorite words in his entire vocabulary, or so it sometimes seemed to his foster parents. "He was running after Miko and she jumped over a rock and I told him to stop but I was playing Prisoner with Yuudai- I won, too, he couldn’t hold me, not even with Isamu helping - and then he tripped over the rock. Aki did."
"He didn't bang his head, did he?" Lee asked, ruffling Aki's hair. Aki smiled through his tears and burbled that Miko hadn't waited, or something. Gaara had a hard time understanding Aki when the boy shouted with excitement or yelled or bawled or laughed or ran around bumping into things, which seemed to be his primary states of existence. Lee and Chiro didn't seem to have any problems figuring out what the three-year-old was saying, so maybe it was just him.
"No, just his knee, and his hand a bit."
Aki's face crumpled as he glanced down at his balled-up fist.
"Oh, let me see." Lee gently unfolded the small fingers. Aki sniffled loudly and bravely held out his palm so that Lee could fuss over it.
Gaara turned to go. Lee was definitely going to make it up to him tonight, so Gaara wanted to get ahead on his workload and leave them both lots of time. "You don't need me here for this. I'll be in my study if anything actually falls off."
There was a snort from his lover, but it was a given that for this sort of thing, Lee was the prime parental authority and Gaara was just the slightly perplexed bystander.
Lee was giving Aki a speech on Balance, Inner Core Strength and Bravery in the Face of Pain and Adversity; his voice resonated throughout the first floor and followed Gaara down to the study. The Kazekage seated himself at his desk a bit gingerly. He scowled at a spot on the opposite wall for a few seconds, then he picked up some of the mundane tasks that had accumulated while he'd been working on the treaty. He made some foray into what would have been his nightly workload, but it seemed he wasn't going to be allowed to finish this either. One look at Chiro's face, as his foster son wandered into the study, told him he was about to get interrupted again.
Gaara put down the contractor's estimation he was reviewing and waited. He knew he wasn't prime parent material; he couldn't guide, encourage, show affection, make the nightmares go away...the best he could do was not give the kids any more of the latter, and let Lee take charge of their care, love and education. And he could answer Chiro's questions. They ranged from the strange to the obvious, from the mind-bending to the puerile, from terrible to oddly elevating. They eddied up from the abnormal places that still lurked deep within the boy's mind. Answering those questions might be the one thing Gaara was good at, perhaps because he understood why his otherwise perfectly normal foster son still had those questions, when most other people assumed by his everyday behavior that he'd forgotten the past by now.
Gaara knew that the past never really let go. It only sank deeper into the soul, growing distant with the passing days, but still festering if it was not allowed to spill out from time to time.
The last time had been a few weeks ago, when Chiro picked up an apple in the brightly lit kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, stared at it and suddenly said: "My father's gonna kill me one day, isn't he?" Not even that much of a question, really; more a statement. Fortunately, Lee had been out of the house. Gaara had explained that Chiro should never see Katsuro again, and that even if he did, his father had no particular reason to harm him, but the discussion left him feeling a little uneasy, and that took quite some doing. Most of Chiro's questions didn't sink to that depth, fortunately.
Chiro kicked his heels and came to lean against the desk, and Gaara waited to see what this day had brought them.
"There were older kids in the playground," Chiro said abruptly, as if Gaara had asked him a question. "They were playing King on the Rock. They wanted me to play- not Yuudai and the others though, because they said they were too small, but they wanted me to play with them. But I said I can't 'cause I had to watch Aki."
Gaara nodded his approval. Even supervised, Aki could end up in the clinic at the drop of a hat.
"They said..." Chiro's voice trailed off, he looked at Gaara from beneath his bangs. "They said I was going to follow in your footsteps, so I had to be strong. They said I had to be a really strong Shinobi, though I can't be the best because I'm from Konoha, so I can't be Kazekage like you."
Lee would have immediately interjected at this point, telling Chiro all about Goals and Determination and Naruto's Dream of Becoming the Next Hokage. Gaara waited. They were circling the question, but this wasn't it yet. Chiro stared hard at his tracking tag, tracing patterns with his fingers on the leather. The inside of the innocuous-looking bracelet was decorated with the curlicues of a small chakra seal, that would release in a warning if the children left - or were carried over - the perimeters of the walls. The seal looped and flowed, but the pattern Chiro was drawing didn't follow those fluid lines, it was rigorously geometrical; the gesture a throw-back to older behavior and a mild warning sign...
"Do you- I mean, I don't want to be Kazekage- but do you- I-...do I have to be?"
"No," Gaara replied, since that was the answer, and the surprise he felt at the question would not change it.
Chiro gave him another long look from beneath his bangs. Gaara waited; he thought he'd answered the question - it had been pretty straightforward, however unexpected. But Chiro's attitude seemed to indicate Gaara hadn't addressed it, not quite.
The boy took in a deep breath, scrunched the tag in his hands. "What do you want me to be?" he asked precipitously.
Sane, was about as far as Gaara had fostered any hopes. "That's up to you to determine. We have several professions available in the village, in and out of the academy training."
Chiro mulled that over, eyes still searching. "…You want me to be a Shinobi?"
Gaara was about to repeat that it was Chiro's decision - sometimes, his first answer just didn't seem to reach the kid's ears for some reason, and Gaara was used to having to repeat himself once or twice before the boy understood and believed him. But then Gaara realized...there was something he wanted.
"I want you to be a very good Shinobi, or not at all. Inept Shinobi die young. As long as you don't do that, you can do what you want."
"You won't be..."
Chiro struggled over his question. Gaara waited. It occurred to him that he might make it easier for his foster son to spell it out, but Gaara didn't know how.
"You won't be mad?" Chiro finally asked, hesitating over the last word a fraction. "You won't be sorry?"
"You mean, disappointed? No." Gaara didn't add anything; it was understood that if the boy wanted elaborate encouragements or rousing speeches, he should be talking to Lee. All Gaara would give him were answers.
Chiro looked at him carefully, analyzing Gaara's response as he always did. Then he leaned his arms on the desk and smiled. It was these moments that made the constraints worthwhile...
"Can I be an explorer?"
Gaara opened his mouth to ask what kind of job that was supposed to be, but then he remembered a book of adventures 'Uncle Gai' had sent for Chiro's birthday.
"If you want." There were a few areas on both continents left to discover. Presumably people were paid to do this.
"Can I be a samurai?"
"No. You could have been a century ago, but these days you have to be in the service of one of the Daimyos for that, and any honor he gave you would only transfer the title of samurai to your descendants."
"Samurai always lose to Shinobi anyway. Can I be an actor?"
"Can I be a medi-nin?"
"If you want to," Gaara answered, with the patience for inane questions he'd miraculously developed these past years, to the surprise of everyone who knew him, "but you have to be a Shinobi for that."
"Oh. But..." Chiro bit his lip in concentration and stared at the desk. Gaara picked up the contractor's projections and straightened it with a rustle of rice paper. Either his foster son took the hint or else he'd had his fill of questions at this point; he wandered out of the study again and headed towards the kitchen.
Gaara watched him leave. Three months ago, all the boy could talk about was being the greatest Shinobi ever; a sound ambition, or maybe a sign Naruto had been his baby-sitter a bit too often. This new decision of his might just be some phase or other, and he'd be back on the path of the ninja tomorrow. Or maybe this was a permanent choice, to not follow in his father's footsteps. Not his foster fathers. His real one.
If this was a permanent thing, Lee would be mildly devastated, but he'd bounce back and then he'd be one hundred and ten percent behind whatever decision Chiro took. As for Gaara, he really didn't care one way or another. In fact, if he had any preference, he'd rather not have his foster son in the line of fire, or be in a position where he would have to send Chiro on a suicide mission for the survival of Suna. Beyond that...so many possibilities...
"Can I have an orange? Please?" Chiro shouted up the stairs. Lee's 'Yes' echoed back.
Gaara called his wandering thoughts to order and turned back to his work, letting the future attend to itself.
I now go to correct all the typos that alert readers have spotted in DR and Kindred ^_^ Huge thanks to Hercat in particular for all the work <3 After that...not much planned on my writing schedule, but things should ease up in the next two weeks and then I hope to be back in the saddle with whatever grabs my fancy first!