Foreword: If you listen to music when reading, I suggest Witch Hunter Robin - Shadow. It's what I played as I wrote it.

Dark. Always dark, because real Shinobi did their best work in the dark. They did it silently, discretely and without collateral damage. As Baki sometimes said, stealth is more important than being able to level six city blocks with one move. That was what seperated him from his siblings. Both of them were fit for the battlefield, but as far as actual ninja skill went, they were sorely lacking. Gaara's stealth consisted of teleporting around and sitting in a shadow while crushing people with sand. Temari's idea of stealth was sitting at a safe distance from the enemy and blowing them off the map with her fan. Suffice to say, when a situation got hairy, neither of them were prone to holding back for the sake of invisibility.

Probably why they were never allowed to come along during missions that required stealth. They were more in their element on a battlefield, or in some sort of warzone, where mass destruction was preferable and surgical strikes were defined as square miles of terrain needing to be drenched in blood. As Shinobi go, both lacked the kind of talent that he had.

To be a Shinobi, stealth is required.

Kankuro had stealth. He had it in spades. Ever since the battle with that bug-eyed freakshow on the outskirts of Konoha, he had been improving that stealth. He was now the only person in the Village who could get the drop on Gaara without having absurdly high speed. He had even gotten in the act of using sand as a weapon, though his methods were shadier than the raw power wielded by his little brother.

As a matter of fact, he was trying to make use of those methods right now. Because he was on a mission. Alone, deep in the heart of 'friendly' territory.

The mission entailed assassination in spite of heavy odds. It also required near-surgical precision to make sure that the message of it got through intact. Assassination was useless if it resembled a natural disaster, like the trails of mass destruction left behind by his siblings. A body needed to be intact enough to identify without special testing. The casualty count around an assassination also had to be as low as possible to ensure that no attention was diverted away from it.

At present, the mission also entailed the need to stay in the dark above the target. It was midnight right now. The guards were changing, the target was asleep and the only light in the room was that of the moon through suspiciously open curtains. Kankuro had figured the balcony to be laced with traps or something, that or the target was just an idiotic security risk. Or the floor was littered with 'singing boards,' a fad security trend that had been responsible for the recent trend in Genins learning to wall walk before they could do anything else.

The target lay in bed. Kankuro was hidden in the ceiling, balanced in a precarious kind of split between two wooden support beams. It was precarious because he was also bent forward, hands busied between a small ceramic bottle and a barely visible blue glow emanating from one of his fingertips. Eyes narrowed in intense concentration, and the weight of the puppets on his back was almost enough to make him start sweating. With a delicate handling that most guys his age were simply incapable of, he began to pour the sand onto his fingertips. Not a single grain was left to fall away, and what little he poured out was stuck in place with chakra.

It was a time consuming process. On a battlefield, he'd've been unable to do anything this complex. In an assassination though, time was on his side for as long as the target kept sleeping. If she were to awaken and look up, he would have to deliver a far less subtle death at the tip of a kunai or something before she could scream. That was because Kankuro had to remove a wooden panel from the ceiling just to get a clear line of sight at her.

A real lucky break that they hadn't used a solid wooden ceiling or even one made from specially treated paper. Proof that the minister was a penny pincher if there ever was one.

Finally, he was ready. Without a word, he eased the bottle back into place on his belt, then gathered all of the sand onto his index finger. Delicately, he touched his other index finger to the sand and then drew them apart, chakra now barely visible on each as the sand began to spread between them until it too was only barely visible.

With that, he began to lower the string. Inch by inch, it dropped down from his place in the ceiling. It never swayed, even when the wind breezed into the room. Kankuro was too steady for that to happen. Instead, it eventually came to lay across the target's neck on either side, so light that she didn't even notice it. With more patience than a fisherman, he gave the lines slack until each one also lay to either side of her head as well.

After that, he waited. It was all he could do for now.

It was a shame though. The woman was the minister's oldest daughter. Slender and elegant, beautiful and charming. She was considered to be one of the most attractive young women in the court, and also the most eligible. She even looked rather naive when he'd first seen her in the mission briefings. Her hair was dark, her eyes were brown(albeit presently closed) and her lips were some of the best he'd ever seen in his life. Had that natural pout that some women, his own sister included, would've killed for.

If the world was different, Kankuro might've actually considered asking her out. Maybe they'd go to a movie or a play. He could woo her with his skills and charm, buy her a good dinner with a bit of help from the family fortune and maybe even get to second or third base on the first date. Who knew, maybe he could've even come to like her for things that went beyond the pretty face and the pouty lips.

But the world wasn't like that.

And neither was Kankuro.

In his mind, right now, this woman was little more than a doll with some blood and guts in it. Not much different from his own puppets. Hell, she was a puppet for that matter. That was the whole reason she had to be killed.

The minister had been getting far, far too friendly with the Fire Country. He was in negotiations to marry his daughter off to the son of the Fire Country's government as a gesture of good will. It would've meant even more outsourcing of Shinobi jobs to Konoha. Villagers would've started leaving, and Kankuro's fellow Shinobi would've eventually become impoverished. Put simply: The minister was in too deep with foriegners. Someone had to remind him that the home front always came first. Especially when the home front could kill you without anyone knowing it.

Kankuro had nothing against Konoha anymore. He never did for the most part, though he still wanted to kick the crap out of a few choice ninjas living there. Business is business, however, and politics are politics. He liked his own village more than Konoha. That was all there was to it.

Baki had recommended that he do this alone. Considering that it was an S-Class mission that wouldn't be recorded even in the Sand's archives, it was something that probably should've been handled by a Jounin. Maybe even the new Kazekage.

Baki thought Kankuro had a shot at being Kazekage one day. That thought alone was enough to make him accept the mission. He didn't care much for being Kazekage, but he was the only one in his family who was regarded as having the potential. Gaara had the power, of course. Temari had the ruthlessness for it too. Neither had the actual mindset needed of a Kazekage though.

Kages give everything for their villages and expect nothing in return. While some, like Kankuro's father, make a small fortune from the job, they don't really get that much. The only rewards are the love of the people, unquestioning obedience from those beneath them and thanks from anyone who lives in and around the private, violent world that ninjas call their own. Gaara didn't care about the village, and it hated him. Temari's goals were as vague as her fighting style was violent.

Kankuro though...

Rokudaime Kazekage Kankuro. Had a nice ring to it.

He wouldn't even mind wearing the hat...

"Shit," he thought, snapping back to reality as the target shifted. Her right arm and left leg slipped out, and her head lulled to the side slightly. Unfortunately, she still didn't roll. He needed her to roll, regardless of what direction it was in. The string wouldn't catch otherwise.

After a few seconds, she stopped. Kankuro felt his heart slow back down and, for the thirtieth time in one night, swore to train his legs to be more flexible and lose some of the weight. Splitting like this was killing his knees...

And what was her name again? The thought caught him unprepared, somewhere between suppressing the urge to scratch an itch underneath the back of his headdress and the even more powerful urge to break wind. Knew he shouldn't have eaten that pork ramen.

Something-chi. Her name had a chi somewhere in it. Almost made him want to watch the news more often, really. Or pay more attention to his briefings. Faces were one thing - Kankuro never forgot a face - but names were another all together.

No, it was something with a ki in it...

"Aki," he thought at least. "Kazuki Aki," he confirmed to himself.

Almost as if on cue, Aki rolled onto her side. Kankuro shifted and guided his right hand in kind, drawing the string from beneath her head and neck, then joining his fingers together. The string promptly fused into something resembling a noose of chakra and sand.

"Well, Aki... This is the end for you," he thought to himself, widening the base of the string to encompass all five of his right fingers, then forming another string on his left index finger. This time, he almost casually guided it to wrap around the first, drawing excess sand from it in the process. After a few seconds, the new string had anchored itself to the front of the noose.

With that, Kankuro let out a deep breath and the chakra-lased sand of the noose promptly dug into Aki's neck, anchoring it in the same way his strings had anchored together. The sudden stinging sensations were enough to wake her up, but by the time she had even opened her eyes, Kankuro had yanked the strings against each other. Her neck twisted violently to one side and her body's own weight and positioning did the rest.

"Nothing personal."

A snap echoed through the mostly empty room. The strings broke away and the sand that they carried went as well, leaving behind only a faint looking friction burn on the woman's neck as proof that her death wasn't a random act of god.

With that, he hastily shifted all of the sand into one string, drew out the open bottle and emptied it back inside. Then he corked the bottle, tucked it into his belt and slid the ceiling shut once again before making his way back onto the roof thanks to a single loose tile.

Once outside, the puppeteer let out an almost ragged sounding wheeze. Then he took three deep breaths and killed the annoying itch on the back of his head. A rather abhorrently loud fart sounded a few seconds later, and then...

"... I'm never eating pork ramen again," he thought ruefully while making his way off the roof and out of the palace.

It was dark. It was always dark, because real Shinobi did their best work in the dark. They did it silently, discretely and without collateral damage.

It was dark, and Kankuro thrived in it.

Author's Note: Kazekage Kankuro. Yes. I believe it's more possible than Kazekage Gaara. Why, you ask?

Because Kankuro's the only member of the Sand Three who has all the virtues of a Hokage(let alone a Chuunin). He's mindful of his comrades(he noticed Gaara losing it before anyone else), he's willing to sacrifice for a mission(when he stayed behind in order to take on Sasuke and buy time for Gaara and Temari's escape) and a host of other things I don't feel like mentioning right now(as it's 7:37 AM when I wrote/posted this o.O). That said: Kankuro is even more unloved and underappreciated than Chouji. At least people take Chouji seriously sometimes.

Sh33p out.