He broke the seal and eased off the cap as if the liquor inside might explode. He'd gotten drunk a grand total of twice in his life; it wasn't something you made a habit out of when you had his kind of job.
He knocked one back then and there with an exaggerated shudder. It was some kind of weird barley distillate mixed with an unknown citrus fruit; at thirty percent proof, it didn't get you drunk fast enough to help you get over the taste. He put down his glass and headed towards the shower. Then he doubled back and took another one for the road.
He scrubbed his wet hair and scalp until it ached, trying to not think about- about it.
He'd only caught a glimpse, but a Shinobi had perfect recall for details, even when he really, really didn't want to, so he kept seeing flashes of his little brother pinning Rock Lee to the wall - don't think.
Lee had had his hand up Gaara's shirt- just forget about it.
Not that he'd actually looked, but there had been tongues involved, he just knew it- ugh- and- and a certain hint of hip grinding- damn it stop visualizing!!
When he came back out into the main room, dressed in clean trainers and a towel around his neck, it was to find that Temari had snuck in and was drinking out of his glass. The gall. The only reason he didn't kick her out of the house was because she'd picked up the clothes he'd dropped on his way to the bathroom. Not that he was grateful for that - he didn't give a shit - but it was the sort of fussy gesture that reminded him that Temari was his sister. Yeah, they were family, kin, bound by ties of blood, so he had to put up with her and one day he might even forgive her for making him give Gaara The Talk. Right after she died horribly, of course.
But the situation called for commiseration among people who'd just been through the same shock.
"Well," Temari said coolly, tapping her nails on his counter.
"Well," he echoed ironically as he got a new glass from the cupboard.
"Rock Lee, huh?"
"Shut the fuck up, I'm trying not to think about it."
Kankuro grabbed the bottle while his mind sped like a hamster on a wheel. Gaara. Gaara had fallen for someone. Gone the distance too, and let someone in. Ugh, stupid innuendo; not thinking about that. But yeah. The all-powerful Kazekage; utterly controlled, dangerous, untouchable- lying panting on his back and taking it- notthinkingabouthat! God. Gaara. His little brother. Gaara had had sex. With a guy. With Rock Lee! Gaara! Gaara had fallen for someone- had Kankuro really returned to the right village?
Temari pushed her glass at him for a refill; they were teacups, not really what you should use for this type of alcohol but who the fuck cared.
"I like Lee. So do you," she challenged.
"Sure," Kankuro answered loudly, spilling drops as he put the bottle back down with a clunk. "He's okay. But he's Lee, for fuck's sake! He's-he's- come on!"
Lee was normally this energetic green streak in the background, as far as Kankuro was concerned. Alternatively cheerful, stubborn and oh-so-earnest, sometimes all three at once. But he'd become Gaara's friend, and for that Kankuro would have put up with a lot more weirdness than Lee's constant self-imposed challenges. Crazy Leaf, always practicing like a maniac. But he was okay to chat with if you'd had a hard day and just felt like not thinking about the darker side of being a Shinobi for awhile...In fact, he'd sort of become Kankuro's friend, too, though the Sand Jounin didn't like to admit it to himself, because sometimes friends died, and also because, well, he was Lee, all bowl-cut and legwarmers and grand declarations. He was easier to tease than treat as a bosom buddy, but yeah, Kankuro did like the freak, most times-
But Lee and Sex just didn't go together in Kankuro's mind. It was almost as unimaginable as Gaara and Sex. And the thought that Lee had gotten it on with Kankuro's little brother- Gaara- Lee and Gaara-Gaara and Lee- K-I-S-S-oh for fuck's sake.
Kankuro took another drink, glumly aware that the full breadth of the shock still hadn't penetrated his mind. Probably because it was too big. He was counting on the alcohol to dull things until he woke up tomorrow with a hangover, and all this would have settled down in his head as something you could possibly get used to.
"There's nothing wrong with Lee. He's a serious and dedicated Shinobi. You're just jealous because he found someone before you did," Temari sniffed.
Kankuro spilled alcohol all over his chin and boggled at his sister. "What the fuck? What does that mean? I see plenty of action."
"Oh please, as if those...indiscriminate flings of yours did anything to you above the beltline."
"Well at least I'm getting laid," Kankuro pointed out. "How's what's-his-name? Still dancing around with 'just friends'?"
Temari shot him a look that would have rendered a lesser man to jelly. But Kankuro had grown up with Gaara of the Desert, so he just smirked.
He knew his sister was rather taken with 'That Guy', which was how Kankuro had mentally dubbed the Sand Jounin in question. She was waiting for That Guy to make a pitch and take her out, because she was too proud to be the one who asked first. But since That Guy was worried about Gaara's reaction, nothing was happening. Which proved how stupid That Guy was. Gaara didn't even know he existed. He should be more worried about Kankuro, who was starting to think that a man who couldn't deal with the chick's younger brother being the head of his village, a demon-possessed powerhouse and a one-time homicidal psychopath, was probably not worthy of Kankuro's sister.
Kankuro opened his mouth to mine this familiar vein of sibling rivalry some more- when the thought struck him. From the way Temari suddenly emptied her glass, it had struck her too.
Kankuro poured some more for both of them in silence and stared at the vile, yellowish drink.
"Our caustic, Tail-ridden, one-time nutjob of a little brother got shacked up before either of us," Kankuro finally said. "What the hell happened here?"
"They're not shacked up," Temari muttered sullenly into her glass.
"You know that's just a technicality," Kankuro said, and then noted how he'd had to negotiate the word 'technicality' like it was foreign territory. Finally this stuff was kicking in. It had to be, because for starters he could see some humour in the situation. "I mean, this is Lee we're talking about. You could use him for definitions of the words dependable and faithful. And if nothing else, he's as tenacious as a, um, well, as a rock, haha, and Gaara's now gonna hang onto him like a limpet, because who else would have the guts to feel him up like that, so really, all we're waiting for is to have a party where the Kazekage comes out to the village - oh man, that'll be fun - and-"
"We tell nobody." The words cracked around Kankuro's small kitchen area like a whip.
Kankuro stared at her. This wasn't the sister he could tease; this was the Jounin and Gaara's second in command speaking.
"Why?" he asked, eyes narrowing, senses stirring out of their gathering haze.
Temari spoke crisply, but her gaze was turned inward. "There could be consequences. For both of them. Consequences we cannot afford at present. Not right now. We need a few months. At least. And I don't know-...it's going to take some negotiating. I'm not sure how Suna will react, either. Everybody's been worried about Gaara-"
Temari suddenly broke off and bent her head so that her blond bangs hid her eyes. Her mouth was pinched and tight. Kankuro looked at her in alarm.
"You okay, sis?"
"Yes, of course," Temari snorted. She rubbed her nose viciously, making it redden.
"Yes, of course, sure, why not. Look at me, Tem."
Temari's head shot up and she glared at him as viciously as the drink scrubbing the enamel from his teeth. Kankuro upheld the glance, and looked at her. Really looked at her. He'd been too busy before, getting his worn-out unit home, giving her a summary of the situation, popping off to see Gaara, suffering a major cardiac incident in Gaara's office, Lee and Gaara, Gaara and Lee...
And Temari. Who, now that Kankuro was examining her, looked a lot closer to a meltdown than he'd seen her in ages.
Temari tried to keep up the bold, sarcastic stare that characterized her, but Kankuro told her with no more than a snort to cut out the bullshit. That didn't work on brothers. Temari's eyes flickered away from his and she rubbed her forehead. Her voice tried to be steady but her lips were trembling and she looked really tired.
"Damn, 'Kuro, I-...I'm glad you're back. There's been so much going on here. I thought I was going crazy- well, no, I thought Gaara was going crazy, which is a whole lot worse. Now I know he was just sleeping with Rock Lee. Whoopee. What is this stuff? Tastes like citric acid. Do you have anything stronger?"
"You're the one who just said you liked Rock Lee," Kankuro pointed out mildly, still waiting.
"I think they're both crazy. I'm just glad Gaara didn't hurt him. Seriously, it's been scary here." Temari's voice had fallen to barely more than a whisper. "He went ballistic on a stretch of desert two weeks ago. Sheer destructive frenzy. I could feel it build since they'd removed the seal, but I didn't know what the problem was or how to defuse it. And then his chakra went completely wild, we could feel it a mile away, it felt like-...You know. I kept everybody inside the gates and ready to-..."
Temari stared at the table, and Kankuro poured her another drink.
"S'okay," he muttered.
He knew what she was saying, though this wasn't something they discussed. Since they'd become Genin, he and Temari had lived with a sombre possibility before them, that they might one day have to protect their village at the cost of fratricide. Though it hardly felt like it would be fratricide at the time. Their job had been to half-bait, half-cajole the dangerous creature that shared their bloodline into finishing missions and not ripping the head off of anyone he fancied, themselves included. You didn't feel brotherly towards that. Except on the highly rare occasions when you caught him sleeping and his face reminded you of the half-forgotten face of your mother...
These past few years, the possibility had become a distant thing, a bad memory, as Gaara changed both radically and in other, more subtle ways. Kankuro had watched the dangerous creature slowly reach out to them; become family, and then their Kazekage as well, a man Kankuro respected and whose leadership he followed. The thought that the possibility was there again, suddenly before them, would have been hard to bear now that Gaara was no longer an unstable, wounded monster but their brother. And Temari had faced that possibility alone. Kankuro hated Sound right now as much as he'd hated them when he'd heard of the attempt on Gaara's life.
"And now I find out I was worrying for nothing." Temari laughed, a tad bit hysterically but it banished the bad memories. "It just turns out he's screwing Rock Lee!"
Kankuro was glad for the distraction from his darker thoughts, ones he tried not to dwell on. That was the past.
He shook himself and muttered a derisive "Other way around, sis, other way 'round," before he emptied his glass and filled it again.
He was getting completely buzzed. But he could still remember every goddamned word from their 'talk' earlier. Kankuro still hadn't figured out which part of the 'talk' he was most desperate to forget: the sheer shock-induced vapidity of his 'You see, Gaara, when two people really like each other a lot' speech, or Gaara's answer to that. Probably the latter. Then again, Kankuro would undoubtedly remember Gaara's answer until the day he died, unless the alcohol really did a number on his brain cells.
Temari watched him with progressively wider eyes.
"You're joking," she gasped. "Are you saying that Gaara is the one who got-...umů"
"Why don't you go ask him? Trust me, he's not shy when it comes to the details."
"Are they both insane?!" Temari burst out. "What about the Sand Barrier?"
"Can we please not talk about this anymore? Or ever again? They managed. Lee's still alive, and not missing any essential bits. 'nuff said."
Temari stared at him for a long time, then her gaze became thoughtful, in a not entirely sober way.
"Which do you find most disturbing?" she mused. "The fact that Lee is sleeping with our little brother or that he's sleeping with Gaara of the Desert? I'm having a hard time deciding."
They were silent for a spell, trying to fit this piece of knowledge into their lives. It was just such a massive change to what they'd thought was the way the world worked.
Not that Kankuro was unhappy about this change; far from. He'd been hoping that Gaara might one day show some interest in chicks, because, when all was said and done, Kankuro did kinda love the scary, overbearing little bastard, and girls were part of what made life fun. But his brother's emotional control had seemed so absolute and central to his current character. You couldn't imagine him falling for someone; it was like imagining the desert deciding to kick back and chill. And what chick would give a chance to a guy prone to staring fixedly at people until they did what they were told or passed out...? Come to think of it...Rock Lee had never taken any shit from the Kazekage, and fought him toe to toe. It was almost inevitable. In a really fucked-up kind of way.
"Can you give me a brief rundown of the situation before you get completely toasted?"
It took Kankuro a few seconds to realize Temari was referring to the Sound thing, and not their little family trauma.
"Oh. Which bit?"
"All of it."
Kankuro sighed with the drama of a brother being unfairly put upon by unreasonable sisters, and gave her the telegraphic version.
"It was long and hard, even with Konoha giving us a hand. After dozens of false leads, our combined forces tracked Sound down in Stone Country. But they're in there deep, and they have some sort of alliance with Iwagakure. We didn't spot Orochimaru, but we know he's there. We think he's taken over someone's identity again. Maybe the Tsuchikage, if we're really fuckin' unlucky, and don't that bring back old memories. So we pulled back before they realized we were onto them. They're not going anywhere; they're planning something big. Probably a war. Tsunade gave me letters for Gaara, but me and my Konoha counterpart, we know what they'll decide and we've already taken steps.
"This time, we do this right. This time, we take it slow, infiltrate all levels of his operation, find Orochimaru, cover every single one of his possible boltholes and then wipe him off the map. He's not getting away again. It'll take months to get the info we need, and a lot of high-level guys- and we have to keep security tight, because there are signs the snake has eyes and ears in both our villages, damn his hide. So we set up counter-information units, and a spy network around the Stone capital and Iwa, and along-"
He stopped speaking as he noticed Temari's frown of concentration.
"What are the chances that they'll send Lee out?"
Oh boy. Kankuro hadn't thought of that.
"Donno. Both our villages are still kinda undermanned for a really big operation if we want to keep the cash coming in with regular missions as well."
"And these will be joint missions between our villages; this is exactly the sort of thing Lee's post was created for. Damn." Temari had leaned her fan against the counter, and she was rapping a quick tattoo on its wooden frame with her fingernails. "I can't think of a way to get Konoha to not haul him out into the field once his sick leave is up; that's the day after tomorrow if I remember right."
Kankuro watched her in silence.
"Konoha must not realize what's going on either, or they'd have pulled him back to Leaf faster than you can say 'diplomatic pitfall'. And then...But if Lee leaves on a mission, that's hardly better than having him recalled. We have to find a way- in the short run, perhaps I can have our clinic run a check-up on him next week; I'm pretty sure he's not mission-fit at present, whatever he says. But in the long term, we have to find a way to-"
She continued to stare at the counter and mutter to herself until he repeated her name again, and then she glanced up distractedly.
"Temari. We can't protect him from this." He wasn't talking about Lee.
Temari stared at him, her mouth turned down in the corners in an expression of immovability that reminded him of their little brother.
"Gaara is not stupid," Kankuro told her steadily. "He's emotionally stunted and he's still unstable, but he's not stupid. You know him; you know he's thought this through. I don't know how badly he'd react if-...Let's just say I really don't want to see Lee get himself capped."
In part because, as much as he wouldn't admit it out loud, Kankuro did like Lee, and he didn't want to lose a friend...Now that the alcohol was relaxing some of the strictures a Sand Shinobi kept around his emotions, Kankuro was even ready to concede that Lee was near the top of his very short list of guys he would not kill if he caught them pawing his little brother. Kankuro's main concern, though, as a Jounin of Sunagakure, was Gaara-related fallout in the case of Lee's death, because that was the kind of emotional hurt that left holes in the ground or in buildings. But...
"But Gaara's made his choice," Kankuro concluded, as he had concluded over an hour ago already, meeting Gaara's steady gaze. "And we can't protect him forever."
"We failed to protect him for twelve years," Temari whispered, glaring holes in his counter, not that he was fooled by her expression.
"That wasn't really our fault," Kankuro told her gruffly. "We were kids. What the hell were we supposed to do. Huh? We were able to help him after that. After Uzumaki did what we couldn't do and pounded some sense into his skull. We helped him find his place in the sun; we protected him from the worst of Suna's reaction, from situations which he wasn't up to coping with yet. We helped him get this far. But now...now, he's got to take his chances like the rest of us."
Temari blinked quickly, but then her face was all resolute determination again and her fist hammered the counter.
"You may be right, but we can protect them for just a bit longer!"
She leapt to her feet with a show of decision, while Kankuro smirked at her choice of words. 'Protect them', huh? Damn, enough liquor, he was maudlin. Kankuro immediately disregarded his own decision and took another shot.
"I have a lot to do," Temari announced, fastening her fan on her back with a bit more concentration than was usually required. "First off, I must have a word with his bodyguards."
Kankuro choked on his drink. "Oh shit, I completely forgot them- do you think those poor bastards saw anything? What do you think they know?"
"Nothing, if we're very lucky, but I don't feel lucky," Temari grumbled. "I need to know who they told. Then I need to know how to shut everybody who knows up. And then-"
Kankuro watched with interest as his sister swayed gently and grabbed the counter for balance. They'd emptied half the bottle between them already. Shinobi tended to metabolize poisons rapidly, but this stuff kicked like a mule.
"Maybe you should do that later," he told her with a smirk. "You look a bit wasted."
"I am not wasted," Temari declared with dignity.
"Neither am I. I can still remember Gaara telling me what Rock Lee did to him before I begged him to stop talking, so I know I'm definitely not shit-faced enough."
"I don't have the time to get drunk," Temari declared scornfully.
"Too late, I'd say. Come on, intimidating people into shutting up can wait until tomorrow. Have another drink."
"You may need to look at this situation through the bottom of a bottle, brother," Temari told him haughtily, "but I do not feel the need to squander my mental resources-"
"Did you get a good look as you jutsued in? I could swear they were tonguing each other. Isn't that the last thing you ever thought you'd see Gaara do? Oh, and our little brother knows how to give a blowjob now. Don't that beat it all?"
Temari stood frozen to the spot for a few seconds, staring at him with round, horrified eyes- same expression as Lee when he'd seen them pop into Gaara's office, come to think of it. Then she went very red, and gave him a look of pure loathing as she sat down and reached for the glass he'd just filled.
"You are a vile and disgusting creature, and I cannot believe we're related."
"Yeah, we're a weird family."
"Since we both know he's dependable, Rock Lee is also somewhat part of our family now," Temari declared, getting some of her own back. "He's virtually your brother in law."
Kankuro thought that was immeasurably funny, which had to mean he was well on his way to completely drunk.
"Make that a very weird family," he said cheerfully. "Hey, he'll fit right in."
"You may be right. Don't you have any sake? This stuff is horrible."
At the bottom of the bottle was a long yellow worm. Years later Kankuro would still feel queasy at the sight of one, and he never did figure out if it had been put in there on purpose or by accident.
End Side Story
JB's note: Want to know what Gaara and Kankuro talked about? Well, Mal wrote an LJ exclusive, so you'll have to head over there!
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