Author note: Dun dun dun! Final chapter. It's about time.
~Path of Sand: A Kankuro story~
Chapter 5: Shadow of Memory (part 2)
Kankuro threw himself onto his bed, the voices of the council running through his head like shrill bells.
"We only allowed him to become Kazekage to keep the demon happy."
"With Gaara gone, We are safer now than we were before. . ."
"Maybe this is all for the best. . ."
How could they think that?! They used every excuse in the book; 'we have low military strength', 'we must concentrate on guarding the village', 'we don't have enough information to go after the Akatsuki. . .'
Then they flat-out admitted that they really didn't care what happened to Gaara at all, they were even glad he was gone.
Well to heck with the council!
Sitting up quickly, Kankuro swung his arm around in anger, hoping to hit something. He cringed as the shattering of glass rang through his cluttered basement bedroom. He stared numbly at the broken picture frame at his feet. The bits of broken glass running across his and his sibling's faces like a scar, centered at Gaara like a huge gaping hole. Trembling, Kankuro picked up the picture frame. Chunks of glass fell to the floor.
I wonder if he knew. . . Kankuro thought, staring at Gaara's face. His brother had his almost-but-not-quite smile caught on camera the day he became Kazekage. Kankuro couldn't help but wonder if the smile was truly a mask hiding the knowledge that the council just didn't want to get hurt, wanted to keep him satisfied.
Kankuro's fingers curled around the frame. He didn't know what to do. He wasn't sure what was real, what was truth. He'd never hated everyone so much before; hated the council for their carelessness, Temari for her selfishness, Gaara for his weakness, and most of all he hated himself.
While he was off in La-La-land, trying to change the past, the future had kept going. . . And now it was too late.
". . Kankuro?"
"What?" he snapped as his sister walked in, taking a seat beside him on the bed.
"I'm ready to help you now," she said quietly.
He looked away, frowning.
The blond kunoichi clasped her hands in her lap, playing with her red sash, "You were wrong you know. . . I do care. Gaara's my little brother. . . And as much as I used to hate him. . . To be afraid. . ." She looked up sadly "I have not been afraid for a long time now. You know that."
Kankuro let out a breath, "I know Temari. . .It's just. . ./"
"It's just the council put me in charge of the village's defense!" Temari said quickly "Don't you think it would be good for Gaara to have a village to come home to?!"
It was clear she was still angry at him.
"I know Temari. I'm just. . ./"
"You're just what?" she demanded. Her voice was still rather quiet sounding, which was almost as freaky coming from her as yelling was.
"Let's just say I have a clear recollection of what life USED to be like." Kankuro said bitterly, setting the picture frame face-up on the nightstand.
"Well none of that's important now." Temari stated bluntly.
Kankuro cringed. She was wrong, she had to be. There had to be some importance to the past, if not then why. . .
"The council was right in one respect," he said quietly. "We don't have enough information to make a proper rescue. . . We don't even know where he is."
"And we don't have the man power," Temari added, her voice calming. "I mean, Gaara kept a lot of the high ranked shinobi around this last week. I think he even refused a couple 'A' ranked missions to keep them here; but they've all been sent out to guard the village and outposts.
"Then we'll take anyone we can get." Kankuro said, "The council might not care, but there's a ton of genin ranked ninja, and young chunin who remember Gaara from academy. They'll do something about it."
"Especially the girls," Temari mumbled behind a cough, almost earning a smile from her brother; though his mood darkened again instantly.
"Alright then. Temari, you gather up the kids, I'm going to grab some intel." He stood up, "Oh and. . . Temari. . Thank you."
"Hey, I'm not a horrible person you know."
Kankuro nodded once "We've all learned a lot over the years." he stated; then left his sister sitting on the bed with a slightly confused look on her face.
"What do you think you're doing?!" Kankuro demanded. He was standing in the doorway of Gaara's office. Three newly ranked chunin were going about the room with boxes, moving things from shelves and gathering up papers, pulling some them from their neat positions in their pigeon holes and setting them on the desk in wayward stacks or putting them into heavy cardboard boxes. At Kankuro's voice, they all turned and stared at him. The puppeteer walked into the room, staring at the walls where the missing items glaring obviously and blankly back at him.
It wasn't like Gaara had many personal items anyway. Kankuro walked to one of the boxes on the desk. It was nearly full, holding a couple old books, a scrap of paper with a short list in Gaara's hand writing, and two small picture frames - one matching Kankuro's broken one. The other was older . . . A picture of their mother.
Kankuro looked up from the box. "What's going on?" He asked through gritted teeth, feeling that he had a good idea already about what was happening.
"The Council needed Gaara-Sama's paperwork." One young man stuttered.
A dark haired girl set her box down with a clunk. "They wanted the room cleaned up so they could use it."
"Get out," Kankuro said, grasping the edge of the box in a shaking hand.
"Get out!" He yelled again when they didn't move. They looked at him, then set their things down quickly. The girl stared at him stubbornly. Kankuro made a low growl, feeling the box crease under his touch. "Are you deaf? I said get out! Now!"
They darted away at his fury. He slammed the door as hard as he could behind them, pounding his fist against the wood.
Yes, Gaara I'm banging up your office. Serves you right for not being here.
Throwing off his hood and tossing it onto the office chair, Kankuro marched over to the desk, nearly tripping on a fifth, smaller box where a small potted cactus, and Gaara's genin forehead protector were being stored. Kankuro hit the table, causing the boxes to rattle. He swore quietly, but it didn't help.
Gaara never kept many trinkets, but the few things he had; the plant, the headband, the pictures. . . They were his. It was proof to Suna that he could truly grow attached to something of material value, that he didn't see everything as something to destroy, that he existed! This was Gaara's room. He'd been gone what? Not even a week; and not only was there no attempt at a rescue, they were moving his stuff out without even bothering to think what he might feel coming back.
Kankuro took a few breaths, trying to calm himself. He moved each box out of the way under the desk; replacing the cactus plant on the shelf, and the pictures on the corner of the desk near the lamp. Then he knelt by the filing cabinet to start in on the task he had originally intended.
Kankuro cursed quietly. No Akatsuki file was listed. "Your filing system sucks Gaara." he whispered. He tried other keywords, 'attack', 'securities', 'rank S'. . . He had to go through each file one by one, as nothing was in alphabetical order.
Kankuro's search came to a halt when he heard footsteps nearby. Looking up, he found Baki standing by the door, a thin folder in his hands. "Looking for this Kankuro?"
Kankuro straightened, still feeling minor pains from his three days of near death. He snatched the folder from Baki's hands and flipped it open.
Only two Akatsuki members were known, thanks to information from Konoha. No other names were listed, though there were some sketchy descriptions of suspected individuals.
"They've been after tailed beasts the entire time it seems, which was why they attacked the leaf three years ago. No one knows what they're planning," Baki said.
Kankuro scanned the reports. There wasn't anything to go on. "But Gaara. . ."
"He's a jinchuuriki, you know that. That made him the target all along. It wasn't the village, or even the Kazekage they were after."
Kankuro snapped the folder shut, holding the paper tightly, "So they're after him just because of Shukaku?!" His voice rose, and he could hear the tremble in it. "Someone else should have fought them then," He said, "Gaara should have hidden."
Baki chuckled wryly. "You saw how powerful that man was, Gaara couldn't even defeat him. The entire village would have been in ruins, hundred of people would have died, and the end result would have been the same.
Kankuro turned away. "It's not fair." He muttered, knowing he sounded childish but not caring. He tossed the file onto Gaara's desk. The file folder skid several feet across the surface, hitting both picture frames and sending them crashing onto the floor.
"Crap!" Kankuro looked down at the broken glass, he knelt, carefully picking up the pieces.
Baki watched, unamused. "You're a shinobi Kankuro, since when ave things been fair in your world?"
"I don't want to hear it." The puppeteer snapped, shaking the pictures off as glass clattered to the floor.
A folded piece of paper fell to the ground near his knees.
Kankuro gasped quietly, picking it up. The handwriting was very familiar, as it was his own. Baki leaned over his shoulder to get a better look.
The note he'd written to Gaara, warning him about the Akatsuki. . . It seemed like just two days ago, and yet a lifetime all the same. The paper was old, one edge torn slightly. He turned it over in his hands, freezing in place as he realized that not only was this real, not only did this mean that the last few days of his life weren't just a fevered dream, but the back side of the paper was no longer blank. A thin line of Gaara's neat handwriting ran across the upper half of the page.
In case I can't change what happens tonight. Thank you.
Take care of Suna for me.
Kankuro let the paper fall to his feet. He'd known?
So it wasn't just a dream. . .
Baki picked up the letter. "What is this?"
Kankuro took it from him, stuffing it into his pocket. "The Council will do nothing? They'll move him out when he's not even dead?"
"Kankuro. . ."
"I'm going after him."
"Give the Council time Kankuro!"
"I'm done waiting." Kankuro said angrily. "They don't care."
"Of course they do."
"NO! He's the jinchuuriki right? Our 'human sacrifice'? Well, I'll tell you what Gaara is. He's my brother. Got it? My family. I don't care what the Council decides. I have some promises to keep, and they're long overdue."
Kankuro marched past Baki, towards the door.
I had one more chance. . .wasted it. . . It won't happen again.
"You would leave without the permission of the Council?!" Baki yelled after him, hurrying to catch up. "abandon the village?"
"For only two reasons; Gaara or Temari." Kankuro replied without looking back.
Baki grabbed Kankuro by the shoulder, yanking till the two faced each other in an awkward, half toppled over sideways position. "You'll become a missing nin if you leave without permission. Don't throw your life away."
Kankuro shrugged away and kept walking. The words didn't even sting. Several plans were forming in his head, several that might just work.
"Kankuro wait! Give me an hour." Baki caught up with the young man once more. "An hour to convince the them to gather a team."
"I'm gathering my puppets now," Kankuro replied, " I'm leaving in half an hour."
"Kankuro you can't do this."
"I am doing this." Kankuro said, finally turning to face Baki. there was almost a smirk on his face, eyes determined under his spiky brown hair. "Better hurry with the Council." he warned before marching down the hall. "Because I'm not sitting back and watching again."
Kankuro entered the test lab of the hospital. He'd passed the medics easily as they all knew who he was and just felt grateful he was still alive.
Opening a small drawer, Kankuro found the vial he was looking for. It was small, marked with warning signs, and filled with some odd colored liquid. Sakura had signed the label, certifying what it was.
Clutching the sample of poison in his hand, diluted with his own bodily fluids as it was, Kankuro shut the lab door and walked outside. He hoped he wasn't going to need it. He had no clue how the poison had worked or if it would work again, but he had to have some sort of backup. It was going to take him a while to catch up with the leaf village team.
"There you are!" Temari ran up to him as he stepped down the hospital steps. "Baki's been looking everywhere for you."
"Kankuro, He got us a team."
His sister rolled her eyes at him "Ya baka, come on," she led him down the street. Near the gate, countless faces stared at him, waiting impatiently. Kankuro recognized several from his days as academy instructor. Several others were shinobi from a team Gaara had assigned him for a couple missions a few months back, and puppeteers from his core.
Baki walked through the crowed, "The second team will follow in a few hours. Give them time to get their stuff."
"S. . second team?"
"Ya." Baki said, holding out a hand. He held Kankuro's black hood, "You left this in the office."
Kankuro took it, adjusting it on his head so that the forehead protector sat straight ."Thanks."
"hm." Baki turned, gesturing for Ebizo – the Honored Grandfather himself, to take charge.
"Let's go let's go!" a young voice from the crowed shouted.
"Ya let's hurry!" another agreed.
Temari folded her arms in front of herself and smiled at Kankuro "Is your sister good, or is she good?"
"uh? Did my sister do anything today?" Kankuro teased, making a quick headcount.
"I hate you."
"What's that?" Temari asked
He looked down in his hand, where he still held the small vial of poison. Quickly, he stuffed it into the pocket of his trousers. "Just some extra stuff," he replied, glancing over the dense crowed of shinobi once more ". . . I don't think we'll need it though."
Gaara was dead.
Gaara lay stiffly in the grass, his eyes closed like two dark holes in his face, as if he could have been sleeping. But the small fact that Kankuro noticed most?
Was the complete lack of sand around Gaara's person.
There was no thin layer of sand shield, no stray grains floating along his face. . . No sand. Which meant, more then anything else did, that Gaara was really and truly dead.
Kankuro averted his eyes, counting shinobi in their group as if planning their return, Baki hadn't lied. The second group of Suna nin, twice as large as the first, had got there quickly, catching up to them just a few hours ago. His fingers curled around the small glass vial tucked deep into his didn't help. Right now, any other potential plans seemed dull and flat. . . Lifeless. He tried to find something to distract himself with. He acted as if it didn't matter, as if he didn't care; acted like he couldn't hear the girls on the other side of the clearing, sobbing. He couldn't ignore them, the sound tore through every part of his body.
Biting into his sleeve, and clutching the last bit of hope in his pocket, Kankuro sunk to his knees, giving up even on that because it obviously hadn't worked the first time. . . He hadn't managed to salvage anything.
Feeling Temari as she knelt beside him he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
He thought about his young self, refusing to play with his little brother. That Kankuro wouldn't have cared if Gaara had died. Six years after that, at the chunin exams, Kankuro and Temari probably would have been relieved that their brother was gone, no longer trying to kill them.
However, these last three years: Gaara becoming Kazekage, the small house in Suna they shared together as siblings, their training sessions practicing with and against each other, and the evening nights when Temari and Kankuro would help Gaara with his paperwork – and usually end up talking or yelling instead. . .
Everything had changed. All Kankuro's time in the past meant little. It was the now he hated most, the knowledge that his future would be one without his brother.
"Gaara. . . Gaara!"
It was Naruto's voice.
Kankuro stared, he couldn't believe what he was seeing, Lady Chiyo used. . . That jutsu.
"Gaara come on." Naruto urged, giving the Kazekage's shoulder a small shake. With that, Gaara's eyes opened, and he slowly sat up. Temari gasped and Kankuro ran forward, kneeling at his brother's side, though for some reason he couldn't quite touch him, for fear he might disintegrate away. "Gaara, you alright?"
His brother stared at him, blankly, shaking a little.
"Move, give him some space! Show some respect!" Temari shoved Naruto and Kankuro out of the way, while still managing to block a couple kunoichi with her outspread arms. She leaned forward, placing a hand on either side of Gaara "Gaara talk to me! Do you feel okay? Are you alright?!"
Kankuro rubbed his head, glaring out of habit, but still nervous that Gaara hadn't answered yet. Slowly, Gaara nodded and Kankuro sighed in relief. He wasn't sure what being dead did to a person.
The puppeteer turned, walking over and helping Naruto to his feet. He laughed lightly, sounding strained and fake even to his own ears. "You know they always go for the elite type. Don't let it bother you."
Slowly, his hand released the glass vial of Sasori's poison, leaving it in the depths of his pocket
In the darkness, lit only by a scattering of campfires, Kankuro sat still, his back turned to both his siblings as he spun the poison capsule around in his fingers, balancing it on his raised knee.
Around him dozens of shinobi were either resting or actively guarding their campsite. Somehow, even those awake seemed restful. The people of Suna made a large, protective spiral with their Kazekage as their center.
Anyone would be a fool to try an attack. Someone looking for trouble would have found some, but would not have lived long enough to know it.
So what was the point? Kankuro wondered, watching the liquid in the vial move and swirl as he spun the bit of glass. The note he'd written to Gaara two days/nine years ago was still inside his pocket; he could feel it like a weight sitting there, pining his thoughts to the subject. Somehow, it all seemed so pointless at the moment. It hadn't helped at all and yet. . . Things had managed to work out. He felt like it had to mean something.
That was his biggest question now. Why had he been given a chance, and yet fail so miserably? What was he to do with the information he had about Gaara, about Yashamaru?
If he felt to. . . Could he use the poison one more time to try to do better?
Gaara's voice was so quiet that it took Kankuro a moment to realize he'd said anything. Turning, Kankuro leaned forward to hear better, as his brother was resting on the ground under several light blankets.
At the same time, Temari turned from where she was sitting at Gaara's feet and rolled onto her stomach, nearly hitting Kankuro in the head with her fan "What did you say?" she asked with concern.
Soon, the three of them were breathing in each others' faces, As Gaara refused to talk in anything more than a mere whisper.
"Shukaku. He's gone. That's what the Akatsuki were after. . . that's why I died." Gaara's voice fell bluntly silent, his eyes a sort of sleepy gray-blue, Kankuro had never seen his brother look so tired. . .or so worried.
Gone. . . Kankuro watched Gaara for a moment, then glanced at Temari, who had a grim, sort of shocked look on her face. The sand demon's gone. . .
"Don't get excited Kankuro," Temari hissed quietly, "Who knows what they'll think if the Council finds out before we decide what this means."
"Hey, I'm not saying a thing." Kankuro whispered back, glancing over his shoulder once. He turned back to Temari, their foreheads close. "But don't you think they'll be happy about it? Heck, good riddance!"
"Well ya, but darn it Kankuro. We don't know how this will affect Gaara yet. We're going to have to be careful. As far as the Council's concerned they might have just lost their biggest strength"
"Alright, We'll keep our eyes open. We won't let anyone know till we figure out what this means for Gaara's chakra and the sand: but they're going to have to know eventually because if the Akatsuki are capturing Bijuu. . ."
Temari nodded slowly, "That means they're planning something big, and probably going after everyone else too."
Kankuro nodded, "Right. We need to talk to the other kages, see what everyone knows. Rather they like Suna or not they can't ignore this," He turned to his right slightly, "Little bro, I think this means we need. . . Gaara?"
"SHH!" Temari hissed.
Gaara was sound asleep.
~Thanks for reading~