This here is a side story. It was written months ago, when I was mentally mapping out the end chapters, and Chiro marched into Gaara's study in my head and asked the question that's the basis of what follows (not The Talk as such, but just as 'fun' to answer for any besieged parent). It's written from Chiro's POV, because I thought it would be interesting to show Gaara from the perspective of someone who doesn't have all the filters, logic and pre-judgments an adult has. I tried to give the logic and phraseology a more child-like feel to it, but I didn't use a child's vocabulary except in dialogues, since that would rapidly give me (and probably everybody else) a headache. I hope it's readable this way.
Disclaimer: The usual, don't make money off of them, Naruto characters belong to Kishimoto-sama and co.
AN: This side-story or one-shot or whatever it is, is dedicated to all you educators out there who've ever had to handle this and other similar questions...
Chiro peeked into Gaara's study. His foster father was where he spent most of his days, seated at his desk; he was applying smooth quick brush strokes to a scroll. He didn't look up, but of course he knew Chiro was there.
The boy leaned back out briefly and glanced up the stairs. Lee was in the bedroom, in the little nook where he'd set up his own small desk and kept his weights. Chiro had poked his head through the door and seen his foster dad bent over a heap of papers, frowning in studious concentration. Lee had told Chiro that he didn't like that part of his job much - writing reports and sorting out information cross-references, whatever that meant- but it was important to do A Good Job Anyway. Chiro had never wondered at his new father's ability of making even ordinary sentences into a speech; it was just a part of life.
It was crucial that Lee stay up there for a little while longer. That was one of the rules. The rules had never been officially decided upon, or even spoken of, but there were rules nonetheless: when Chiro had one of those questions for Gaara, he had to make sure nobody could overhear, particularly Lee. The questions were an almost physical presence in Chiro. A need. He knew that some of them were a bit weird, and some of them were even Wrong and would upset other people, so he followed the rules and waited until he was alone with Gaara to ask them.
Gaara was still trailing his brush across paper. Chiro walked into the study and hopped up onto the window seat to look out into the garden while he waited. When he'd been young, he'd peppered Gaara with childish questions even while the latter was working, until Gaara would have to tell him to stop. Now that Chiro was grown up, all of six and a half years old and in the Shinobi Academy, he knew better. A boy who wasn't even a Genin should not interrupt the Kazekage with a stupid question - and it was a stupid question. He really shouldn't be asking it. It was stupid. Those jerks were stupid. He should go and meet up with Yuudai before supper, and maybe they could go throw stones at those jerks.
But the question wouldn't go away even if he did. Once the questions got deep inside Chiro's head, they stayed there, even those that were simply strange or trivial. They only went away once Gaara answered them. Chiro didn't have to wonder why this was, it was also just a part of life.
There was a small click behind him. Chiro glanced over his shoulder. Gaara had put down the brush on its inkstone and was looking at him.
Chiro knew it was going to be a stupid question, but he hopped down from the window seat and walked over to the desk. At least Gaara would not laugh at him or scold him.
Chiro took it as a given that everybody was afraid of Gaara. Gaara was, after all, scary, though Lee, who was the only exception to that rule, said it wasn't fear people felt, but respect (which led Chiro to define 'respect' as 'being afraid of someone who's promised not to hurt you because he's Kazekage'). For Chiro, Gaara was scary and he was also the most reassuring constant in Chiro's world. Gaara could be harsh, and Chiro would never dare to disobey him, but the boy also knew that Gaara would never make him feel like an idiot or hurt him or lie to him. Chiro felt much safer with Gaara around, especially in these moments when Gaara's attention was focused on him, and his words made the world clear and free of traps.
Chiro had once asked if Gaara would ever stop answering his questions. Gaara had actually looked surprised at that, a rare event, and Chiro had been suddenly terrified of the answer. But once asked, a question had to be answered, those were the rules. Gaara had finally told him that as long as Chiro had questions, he would answer (it was understood that this meant when convenient and not during an emergency). A bit reassured, Chiro had wondered out loud if he might run out of questions one day, and Gaara, sober and serious and unsmiling as always, had said that that was a possibility, but he hoped it would never happen.
That answer had stayed with Chiro for days, solid and reassuring as the small gourd on its pendant beneath his t-shirt.
A small heap of fine sand at the corner of the desk slithered across the wood and tamped down the ink on the scroll, fixing it and insuring it wouldn't smudge. Chiro leaned his elbows on the desk and watched without really noticing. He was way used to stuff like that.
Gaara rolled up the scroll and gave Chiro an interrogative glance that was permission to ask his question. Chiro hesitated. It was a stupid question, and one he felt that just maybe he shouldn't be asking, but the rules were, once he was here and Gaara had made time for him, he had to ask. The question wouldn't go away otherwise. It would always be taunting him, suggesting that maybe this one time Gaara might not have answered, or lied. Chiro had to know for sure this wasn't the case.
Chiro looked up casually through his lashes, shrugged ahead of time to indicate he already half knew the answer and didn't really care either way, and asked the question.
"I'm not a faggot, right?"
There was a slight scrunch. Chiro looked at the scroll in his foster father's hands. Should it be wound that tight? They told him in school that it damaged the holders. He looked up at Gaara's face, but Gaara looked the same as he always did.
"No," Gaara answered, putting the paper down.
"Yeah, I knew that," Chiro said, loud with relief. Of course those jerks had been lying, they'd been lying about it all, he knew it. "It's just this stupid idiot who said I was a-"
There was a hand in front of his nose, making him blink. Gaara was motionless as he held that silencing gesture. In Chiro's wide experience (he had lived in two Shinobi villages, after all), nobody moved like Gaara. Gaara could sit, motionless, in a way that was just a little bit frightening, and this aura stayed with him when he moved, so that even when he was walking around or writing or putting plates down on the table, that stillness was still there, on the edge of perception. It was just a part of life once more, something Chiro had gotten so used to that it surprised him when he occasionally noticed it again.
Gaara's head was slightly tilted as if he was listening out for something. After a moment and a glance out the open window, he put his hands on the desk and turned to look at Chiro, all with just the right amount of movements, and that stillness at the back of it all.
"Do you know what that word means?"
"Yeah," Chiro said. Because he did. Sort of. The shape of the explanation was in his mind, he sort of knew what it meant, and of course he didn't want to say he didn't know, since it was obvious, everyone knew what a faggot was- then it occurred to him that Gaara might well ask him what it meant, and though Chiro knew - of course he knew - he suddenly realized that, well, he would have a hard time explaining it. "...I think," he added prudently under Gaara's unblinking gaze.
Oops. Chiro had thought the question was just stupid, but the appearance of his full first name meant it was considerably more serious than that. Chiro swallowed and looked up at Gaara.
When Gaara had all of his attention, he said, voice neutral: "Never use that word around Lee. Please."
'Kichiro' was bad enough. The addition of 'Please' probably meant the end of the world or something.
"I won't," Chiro said because he hadn't planned to anyway, and because right now he'd agree to anything. He watched his foster father cautiously, trying to determine if Gaara was angry. It was hard for Chiro - for most people - to know what Gaara was feeling until he said something. He didn't think Gaara was angry, though. No, he probably wasn't. When Gaara was angry, it was scary and cold. The only feeling here was seriousness.
"It would hurt Lee's feelings. It's an insult."
"Oh, I knew that," Chiro said, his small protest still rather cowed.
"What it means is a man who prefers to have sex with other men."
Chiro had known somehow that sex was involved, although he could not have said how; knowledge somehow picked up from the hive-mind that was a group of children in a close-knit village. Chiro - all children - knew more than the adults explained. It was part of some kind of overall scheme of life: adults knew everything but waited until children were grown up to tell them, and children sort of knew in the meantime and talked about it only amongst themselves.
Chiro swayed from one foot to the other, a bit embarrassed for a reason he couldn't quite define, but he was hardly surprised that Gaara would smash that unspoken convention to bits without hesitation. Gaara was like that.
"Better words for that are homosexual or gay," Gaara added, voice as composed as always.
"...I know those too." They had not been said in a favorable context either, but Chiro decided not to mention that.
"Did you know what they meant?"
"Now you do. It means men who have sex with men. Like Lee and myself."
Chiro had been right. It was the end of the world.
"Lee n'-" it ended in a squeak.
Gaara frowned. "You didn't know that?"
"I-I did," Chiro stuttered, because even though his world had just turned upside down, he had known.
"You should. I told you we were lovers a couple of years ago. You never asked any questions about it. I assumed you understood."
Like the knowledge of what that stupid word had meant - and Chiro wished he hadn't asked this question just for once- the knowledge had also been in his head. It was part of his life; a big and important piece of it, and so present and obvious that Chiro had never had to think about it. It was the reason Lee and Gaara lived in one house and had taken Chiro and Aki in. Gaara had said it, the day he said he'd be sleeping in Lee's bed from now on because they were lovers. It was in the way they spoke in whispers sometimes, and touched and kissed, though fortunately that hardly ever happened because that was icky and left Chiro feeling strangely left out and a bit angry. It was why they dropped Chiro and Aki off at the sitters regularly - which was cool, because he could sleep in Yuudai's bed, or else play with Kankuro till way later than Lee usually let him stay up. But when Lee and Gaara left him there, they walked a bit closer together than they usually did as they headed down the street, and deep down Chiro knew why. The knowledge had been there, intangible, like other things that hovered in a child's mind until a teacher or a parent said something that suddenly made sense and everything clicked and he could finally say what the knowledge was.
The knowledge - and the words 'lover' and 'sex' and even 'faggot' - crashed into the texture of Chiro's life and suddenly it was very, very real and Chiro knew exactly what it meant. Sort of. It meant that Lee and Gaara shared something that didn't include him...Chiro stared down at the grain of the wood. He'd known that...but still, now that he could put a name to what that something was, it seemed to be a bit daunting. A bit unfair. But it was also comforting. It meant that Lee and Gaara would...would not...would not leave or hurt each other...Chiro's thoughts orbited a patch of pitch-black pain in his mind, and finally avoided it. He concentrated instead on the new knowledge, and immediately found the flaw in what Gaara had said.
A good five minutes had passed while Chiro made these discoveries. Gaara had filled in a piece of paper, wrapped it around the scroll, tied it up with ribbon, and now he affixed a warm blob of wax on it. Chiro looked at him hopefully. Metaphysical questions aside, there were some things that were more immediate, such as licking the bowl when Minne made cookies, or using Gaara's seal to close important-looking letters.
Gaara gave Chiro his ring, and Chiro, head filled with consequence, carefully applied the knobby end embossed with the Suna symbol into the warm wax. He gave Gaara the ring back, and only then asked the question.
"But why do you and Lee do that together? Only women do that. To have babies."
Halfway through the question, he'd noticed Gaara's hand in front of his face again, urgently trying to shush him, but Chiro's stupid mouth continued on before he realized he should stop.
There was a funny noise behind him. Chiro glanced over his shoulder.
Lee was holding up the curtain to the entrance to the study, and he seemed to have borrowed some of Gaara's utter stillness, because his mouth and eyes were wide open and he looked like he was in the middle of taking a step forward, but he was not moving a muscle.
"Yes?" Gaara asked him.
Lee finally moved, just his mouth. "...was taking a break...thought you might want some tea..."
Gaara shook his head.
Lee straightened up and put his shoulders back, just like he had done when he'd gotten up from the table after lunch and said: "I have to work on those reports". Because he didn't want to, but he wanted to do A Good Job Anyway.
"Do you need me here?" he asked, voice firm.
"Always," Gaara answered softly, with a strange look in his eyes as they rested on Lee. Lee went a bit red in the face, both flustered and pleased. Then in a normal voice, Gaara added: "But I can handle this, if you wish."
Lee took a quick step back, his eyebrows drew together and he looked really relieved. "Ah...if that's okay, thanks. But- um- call me if- um- any questions- um-"
Gaara nodded and Lee was gone so suddenly it made Chiro blink.
He turned to Gaara, fearing parental retribution. "I didn't say that word. I didn't say anything."
"You didn't insult him, you just startled him." Gaara said, and once more he didn't sound angry. "Lee doesn’t like talking about sex. It embarrasses him."
"Why?" The subject made Chiro a bit uncomfortable, because it was one of those things adults never talked to kids about, it was one of those things lying beyond the barrier of Grown Up. But surely the adults shouldn't feel embarrassed about something that belonged to their realm.
"I still haven't figured that one out," Gaara said, looking at the empty doorway a while longer. Then he turned towards Chiro. "To answer your question, sex isn't just about reproduction - having babies - though that's most of it. Do you know what sex is?"
Chiro knew (everybody knew that), but he didn't want to tell Gaara, or say it out loud, or have this conversation. But he was still hung up on the whole 'faggot' question, and this was Gaara, who never laughed or looked uncomfortable or told him to shut up because he'd find out when he was older.
"It's when women have babies," Chiro mumbled to the inkstone, repeating half-heard jokes the older boys bandied and ten words of explanation from a flustered Temari one day when Chiro had asked why Minne's tummy was getting so big and why she said Yuudai was going to have a sister. "They sleep with men and they...have a baby."
Chiro hoped more explanation would not be required, because he wasn't sure why sharing a bed would produce someone like Aki, but he knew that sharing a bed was part of it. Which was probably why Lee and Gaara did it; one more piece of the puzzle made sudden sense.
"There's more to it than that," Gaara said. "I think you have a seminar about it in school at some point."
"That's in third year." The kids in fourth year were always trying to scare the three years below their classes with rumors of its contents, saying that the teachers asked all the boys to take out their thingies and then the teachers would measure it, and this was horrid and shameful (Chiro didn't know why, but it certainly didn't sound like something he necessarily wanted to do).
"The instructors will explain it to you then," Gaara said, meaning he was not about to explain it now. Chiro felt both relieved and disappointed. "Sex is something people do together because they enjoy it. For some, it's a sign of love. That's what being lovers means, and that's why Lee and I live together and have sex."
"Oh." Once more it made sense and revealed knowledge that Chiro already had, so he wasn't even all that surprised.
"I won't go into the mechanics. The teachers will do so. If you have questions on what you were taught, ask me afterwards." Then Gaara hesitated, which was not something Chiro or anybody was used to seeing. "Although I may not be the best person to ask. I've never slept with a woman, and my sexuality is abnormal. So is my emotional make-up. If you have questions about love, you should ask Lee. He'll tell you all about it. If you have any questions about sex, you should ask...ask Kankuro."
Chiro didn't appreciate that suggestion. Kankuro was nice, but he was a grownup. It was hard to talk about those things with grownups other than Gaara. If Chiro had questions, he'd ask Matto. Matto was Yuudai's brother, he was three years older than they were and he knew a lot.
Chiro looked at him quickly. Gaara waited.
"But I'm not a... gay. Am I?"
"No. You're too young to be anything yet. Chances are that you're not, and that you'll get married and father children one day."
That piece of knowledge went in one ear and out the other. Fathering children was something Grown Up. It was beyond Grown Up, it was something so big that it changed all the rules. Chiro didn't want to father children. Babies were stupid. Besides, he dimly felt that if he fathered children, he'd be expected to be their father and then nobody would be his.
"Chiro? Who said you were gay?"
"Somebody," Chiro answered, still wrestling with a lot of very strange concepts.
Chiro glanced up at Gaara. His guardian was looking at him with a strangely intent expression, but Chiro couldn't tell him. "Can't remember," he said, trying to be evasive.
Chiro flinched. Being evasive or lying never worked with Gaara. "Just somebody," he mumbled.
Gaara's eyes narrowed and the small pile of sand on the desk rustled oddly. "An adult?"
"Oh no!" Chiro was so surprised at that suggestion that the words came tumbling out. "Just some idiot from third year at school. Him and his big friends. They're jerks. I'm going to beat them up!" Chiro declared with sudden ferocity.
"Him and his big friends..." Gaara echoed, and Chiro felt that Gaara would like to know who that was, but he wouldn't ask. Chiro wasn't a tattletale, and though Imadaya Goro and his two big bully friends didn't really deserve the unspoken protection of the Rule of Silence, Chiro still wasn't going to rat on them. Gaara understood that. Kids who had civilian parents got asked who beat them up or tore their clothes or broke their glasses, and they were in trouble when they didn't answer, but Shinobi parents respected the Rule of Silence.
"Why did they say that?" Gaara asked instead.
Chiro knew he shouldn't say it, but he was angry again now, so angry the words seemed to well up anyway. He clenched his fists and scowled at the desk. "They said I was a...that. Um. Because...they're jerks! I didn't believe them."
"What did they say?" Gaara repeated in that very soft uninflected voice that scared even the teachers at the academy a little.
Chiro swallowed, he felt a bit scared too, but he also felt angrier than ever. He didn't want to say it, but Gaara's green eyes would not allow him to stay silent. "They said..." Chiro looked down at the desk and spoke in a voice dull with anger. "They said I was a faggot for sure, because Lee was and everybody knew it. But I'm going to shut them up next time I see them."
"I see," Gaara said in his precise tone of voice. Chiro suddenly had the intuition that he could get Goro and his friends into a world of trouble, more trouble than anything anybody could ever imagine, if he said their names right now, but unfortunately Chiro wasn't a rat. Damn it, he thought, using Lee's favorite swearword, the one the Jounin used when he was really annoyed. Damn it all to hell.
If Gaara was the refuge, the dark hidden space under the window sill that protected, Lee was the strength, the one who dragged Chiro out and made the danger disappear. Lee was always loud and proud and determined, and nothing ever, ever scared Lee. No, not ever. But Lee...A nasty little piece of knowledge was falling through Chiro's head like a dead leaf, and he didn’t want to ask this question, he was going to get in trouble with Gaara, but...
"But..." he gave his foster father a beseeching look. "But Lee isn't...I mean, he's not..."
"Lee is gay," Gaara said bluntly. "But those boys were insulting him by calling him a faggot."
"I knew that! Um...but why..."
"Why is it an insult if it's true?"
"Yes," Chiro said, trying to be brave, but he was afraid he'd crossed a line there. He wasn't supposed to use the word around Lee, so was even distantly associating that word with Lee wrong...?
"It's an insult because of a preconception. A man who has sex with another one is seen as taking on a woman's role. In our history, and many cultures, women are considered weaker than men and less worthy. A man who would do this deliberately is seen as being unnatural and submissive. So what they meant was that Lee is weak. More or less. My brother explained the nuances to me a few years ago. I wouldn't have figured it out on my own, that attitude is foolish and very dangerous if it can make you underestimate an adversary based on his sexual preference."
Chiro didn't understand many of those words, and the words he did understand made absolutely no sense. "Weak?! Lee could beat them! He could really beat them! He can beat almost everybody!"
"So could my sister," Gaara said, unrolling a new scroll on the desk. "Yet she tells me that one of her greatest assets in a fight is that men constantly underestimate her because she's a woman."
That made even less sense. Lee could beat up anybody in the world, except for Gaara and maybe some really tough monsters, but Lee was always kind and encouraging, and he believed in people. Temari-san was a lot scarier.
Deep down, Chiro had known what 'faggot' meant. Sort of. It meant you were Wrong. It meant that your friends wouldn't like you anymore because there was something Wrong about you. It meant - yeah, it meant you were weak and people were right to laugh at you, and it had something shameful to do with sex. Chiro had only been bewildered when the boys had called him that - and a bit scared that somehow it could be true, because he had something in his past that was Wrong, a shame to his family name he was supposed to never talk about, and in his child's logic it might mean he was Wrong all over, even that way. But when those boys said that about Lee- even made out that it was Lee's fault that Chiro was like that-...He'd been about to launch himself at the bigger boys and beat them bloody, but Yuudai and Kiriko had held him back, and then the teacher had shown up and the older boys had left.
Now he was more confused, because it turned out Lee was gay, and that was okay because it meant that he and Gaara would always stay together, but- but when the boys had said that, they meant the other stuff, all the Wrong stuff, and it involved sex and calling people a girl and something really, really bad because Gaara had asked him to not mention that word around Lee, and had called him Kichiro and said Please, it was that important and serious, and those third-year students were going to die!
"You are not going to fight those boys, Chiro." Gaara seemed to have guessed what he was thinking.
"But they said Lee was- they said a bad thing about Lee!" Nobody was allowed to insult Lee in his presence. Ever. Or Aki, even though he was a baby and really annoying sometimes. Or Gaara, though by no stretch of the imagination would anybody ever do that.
Gaara was giving him that look again. Chiro had had this lecture before from both his parents; he wasn't supposed to get into fights like that. Chiro was big for his age, all the teachers said so, and he was strong too (though they often added 'it's a pity he's rather clumsy, or we could advance him a year'). Chiro could easily beat up any kid his age, and many who were older, too. And that made the kids scared of him, and a part of him liked that.
Chiro only had a few friends, those who'd known him since he arrived in Suna (which, most days, felt like forever). They stuck by him, played with him. They listened in awe to details about living with the Kazekage, the little that Chiro could tell them, because Gaara trusted him with information and Chiro was not a tattletale. There was a lot more he didn't tell them, though, things he only told Gaara; secrets, like the gourd around his neck. He was just a little bit outside of their gang, and he didn't mind. He liked it when other kids said he was weird or avoided him. He liked to walk behind Gaara, knowing it was Gaara, his foster father, but also Gaara of the Sand, the one they told scary stories about. Deep in Chiro's soul, he knew that being feared was a power, a clear space around him that protected him. And being afraid, well, being afraid meant that he had fully understood a danger, and it was no longer quite so dangerous as before. It could not take him unawares and turn his entire world into a lie and take it all away again...
Kids rarely picked fights with Chiro these days, because he won even against older boys; they were afraid of getting hurt, while Chiro knew that getting hurt didn't really hurt all that much, and he feared things that were a lot more powerful. Chiro could have gone about winning every fight in his age group and beyond, and become leader of a lot of his peers - something perfectly acceptable in a Shinobi village, it would have been seen as 'potential' by the academy teachers. The problem was, Lee, who had taught Chiro how to fight, had told him that he would never, ever accept Chiro hitting kids who were weaker than he was. While Gaara had told Chiro on several occasions that it'd be stupid hitting people who were stronger than he was; Chiro should never start anything unless he knew he could finish it. As a result, Chiro didn't get into a lot of fights of his own volition, because it wasn't easy finding someone who wasn't excluded by one or the other of those criteria.
But what those kids had said meant that he didn't care any more. Even if they'd been weaker, he'd have incurred Lee's disapproval and beaten them up. Damn it all to hell!
Gaara repeated his name until he had the boy's reluctant attention. Chiro didn't want to hear his guardian forbidding him to fight, because Chiro really had to now.
Gaara didn't forbid it, he did worse. He explained it rationally. "A Shinobi never lets himself be provoked by words. He keeps his sword sheathed until the danger is real. If they use words, answer them with words."
"...Like what? Meatheads?"
Gaara's lips twitched and he gave his foster son a look Chiro couldn’t quite decipher but which made him feel warm. Even more so when Gaara reached out and swept Chiro's bangs away from his forehead. Gaara didn't touch other people very often, and it was special when he did.
Up close, he smelled just faintly of rocks under a hot sun. That scent, barely there as it was, instantly meant Comfort to Chiro. It meant Refuge. It reminded him of Gaara carrying him around when he was young. It meant Safe, and it even meant Cared For, in a way that Chiro - and maybe even Gaara - could never put into words, even though the knowledge was there between them. Chiro was a grown boy now, and in the Academy, so he walked everywhere on his own two feet. He was no longer a baby to be carried everywhere like Aki riding high on Lee's shoulders. But in secret, when his parents took him to see Kankuro, Temari or Naruto and they stayed until nightfall, Chiro would pretend to have fallen asleep when they left. And Gaara would always pick him up without a word and carry him home, even though he probably knew Chiro wasn't really sleeping. Chiro would stay awake for as long as he could, keeping his eyes closed so that he could get Gaara to hold him a little longer, and when he did nod off, that hint of sun-baked rocks and sand meant he would sleep without nightmares.
Gaara cupped Chiro's chin and looked at him gravely, but there was a smile somewhere deep in his eyes.
"If anyone insults you or Lee like that again, just remind them that Gaara of the Sand is gay as well. If they believe this makes me weak and unfit to be Kazekage, then it is their duty to challenge me for that position."
"And that will shut them up?" asked Chiro, who didn’t think that sounded like much of an insult.
His father had a strange, dangerous crooked twist to his lips, one that seemed to include Chiro into a powerful secret. Chiro thought about it some and then grinned back.
"Okay, I'll tell them that!"
"Good. Now, go and play outside, Lee and I both have work to do. But first, drop by Lee's room and tell him I said it's safe to come out."
"Okay!" Chiro said, not really considering the import of the message as he sped off, feeling a whole lot better.
Huge thanks for all the reviews for Kindred and other side-stories. You guys make my day, each and every time ^_^