Note: inspired when I ended up sewing my brother's shorts…for the THIRD time. XD Enjoy, and reviews would be lovely, as always!
Sighing, Temari ran her fingers over the tear in Kankuro's shirt sleeve, the fabric worn and soft in her hands. Squinting, she carefully threaded a needle, kneeling forward into the light of her lamp as she started sewing.
More than anything else, Kankuro depended on Temari to keep his clothes in one piece, especially since every other mission practically left them in shreds.
The shirt she was currently mending had been in her hands once or twice before, the old thread fraying. A pile of some other shirts and shorts in need of mending were bunched in her lap, soft and clean, fragrant with the clean summer air.
Raising the thread to her teeth, she severed it and examined her stitches with satisfaction. Folding Kankuro's shirt, she set it aside and picked up a black shirt from her lap.
She blinked, momentarily surprised when she realized the shirt in her hands to be her youngest brother's.
"When did Gaara…?" she said aloud, examining his black shirt with a furrowed brow.
Her brow receded, her face growing expressionless when she spotted the tear in the shoulder.
A memory of seeing his bleeding shoulder rose in her mind's eye, fresh from the Chunnin exam two months ago. Bringing the shirt closer, she faintly recalled telling him to dump his shirt in the hamper after noticing the tear, a few days after he had recovered.
Wondering why he'd bothered to do so two months later, she ran her fingertips down the frayed edges of the torn fabric, seeing the slightest tinge of brown on the graying threads.
Her eyes softened slightly, and she took extra care in carefully mending the tear.
The needle moved slowly through the cloth, thread winding and bringing the two separated edges together in a nearly seamless line.
Tugging the thread, she tightened the mend and bit the thread, holding the shirt up.
For a moment, she just looked at it, expressionless.
Then almost regretfully, her fingers traced the faint seam, realizing it to be probably the last time she'd ever mend one of Gaara's shirts.
This responsibility, this chore she undertook for the sake of her brothers, was one of the few things that made her feel needed. And for the first time she felt like a sister to him, helping him with something he couldn't care to do himself.
But Gaara would only grow more powerful, grow more distant and even less dependent on her or Kankuro, and the thought was bittersweet.
It hurt to think that the moment of her importance was over within a few stitches of thread.
Slowly, she folded the shirt and set it on the bed beside Kankuro's, continuing with the rest in silence.
Gaara had become extremely reclusive after their return, leaving his room only to pick up his meals and disappearing into the desert throughout the night.
Any question or concern of his siblings was met with muffled, quiet sounds, not even words. His eyes, once so blank and glassy, would avoid them, choosing to look at the floor near their feet or the walls behind their heads.
Neither Temari nor Kankuro had heard a sentence out of him since he had apologized to them for the first time, and both became accustomed to exchanging uneasy glances every time he left the room.
"He feels guilty," Temari murmured to Kankuro one night, poking listlessly at her dinner. "That's why he won't look at us."
Kankuro's brow furrowed, lips pressing into a thin, worried line.
"You don't think he's getting more unstable, do you?"
Slowly, she shook her head, resting her chin in her hands and looking thoughtfully out the window.
"Baki-sensei said a few Jounins follow him when he leaves at night…and he hasn't done anything to them."
"I try talking to him," Kankuro muttered, following her example and resting his chin on his hand. "But he only looks at me for a second, then turns away. The most he said to me in months was yesterday…"
Temari blinked in question.
"I gave him his shirt…you know the one you fixed? Yeah, well, he gave me another one, and all he said was to give it to you."
"What do you mean?"
"Like I said. He just said give it to Temari. Then he locked himself in his room."
Her brow furrowed, and she faintly wondered what he'd done to get another shirt torn, but the thought was discarded when she saw the worried look on Kankuro's face.
"He'll get better. Give him time."
"It's been two months already," he muttered.
"Two months is nothing compared to what he's been through," she said quietly, and heard her brother exhale heavily in agreement.
"But it has to stop soon," Kankuro said after a moment's silence. "He's starting to look…sick."
"Keep an eye on him. Make small-talk."
She hesitated. "Maybe you should keep an eye on him…without him knowing?"
He frowned at her.
"I mean…" she trailed off, not knowing how to continue.
"What makes you think he won't notice? He has Jounins following him and he noticed them," he snorted.
"Just try. I don't think he's trying to hide anything…" she traced the rim of her glass, eyes on the floor. "Maybe he wants us to pry…because he's too afraid to approach us."
"Afraid?" Kankuro sounded incredulous.
"Not that kind of afraid, moron," she said waspishly. "I meant that…"
She paused. "I meant that he's afraid of rejection, or what we'll say."
Kankuro sat up straighter, giving her an inquisitive look.
"And what will you do?"
Temari glanced at him, then peeled the bandage off her index finger.
"Give him what he wants. I'll fix his shirt."
When Kankuro handed her the shirt, Temari stood there for a few seconds, staring at it in faint surprise. A tear started from the middle of the hem and ended two inches into the middle of the shirt.
"What?" Kankuro asked, after seeing her surprised expression.
"Nothing," she answered, still staring at the torn shirt. "I'm just wondering how he ripped it…"
"Caught it on a nail, probably. Who cares?"
"Okay," she said, sounding unconvinced. "I'll give it to you when I'm done."
Turning away from him, Temari took the shirt back to her room, plopping herself down on the bed. Threading the needle, she hesitated, bringing the cloth closer to her eyes, examining the frayed edges.
Pushing her troubled thoughts to the back of her mind, she clicked on her lamp and began to sew.
A little later, Kankuro came and took the mended shirt from her, and the two exchanged looks before he departed towards Gaara's room.
Temari sat and waited anxiously in her room, part of her wanting to run up the stairs too, and just when she had jumped to her feet and crossed the room, Kankuro appeared at her doorway.
"Kankuro? What…?" she stopped when he held out his hand, and she blinked in astonishment when she saw what he held.
Kankuro just shook his head in disbelief. "I talked to him about our next mission, asked him if he wanted anything to eat….and all he said was to give this to you."
He stopped when he noticed the shocked look on her face.
She raised her eyes from the shirt, brow furrowed in confusion.
"Kankuro…he hasn't worn this shirt for five years."
The puppet master only managed to blink. "What?"
"He doesn't wear it anymore. It doesn't even fit him."
"But it's ripped…"
Lowering her eyes to the faded red shirt, Temari found the rip at the collar, descending halfway down the shoulder.
"Did he rip this one on a nail, too?" she asked sarcastically.
Kankuro looked at it uneasily at first, then slowly regained his look of stubbornness and determination.
"You just sew it. I'll take it back to him and keep trying," he said resolutely, and Temari couldn't help but smile. Giving her an exasperated look, he turned away and both walked back to their respective rooms.
The next day, Temari handed Kankuro the mended shirt, and again he went to Gaara with hopeful words and friendly banter, only to return again minutes later with another shirt in his hands.
Temari stared at it in shock, realizing it to be the old, black, high-collared shirts that were reserved solely for funerals.
Gaara had never worn it, not even to his father's funeral, something neither Temari nor Kankuro had dared tried to make him attend.
"Kankuro, this is"—
"I know," he said tiredly, looking just as troubled as her.
"What did you say to him?"
"I knocked and he only opened his door halfway. He stood in the doorway, looking at the floor, and wouldn't let me see into his room. Then he gave me that," Kankuro summarized, gesturing tiredly to the shirt.
It seemed ridiculous to her that ripped shirts were starting to make her feel increasingly uneasy.
Looking down at it, she found a small rip in the sleeve, descending an inch from the cuff.
"What do we do?" she asked, finally.
Kankuro sounded annoyed, if not more determined.
Days passed, and Kankuro kept returning with various articles of clothing, ranging from pants to shirts to shorts, some of which Gaara hadn't worn for years and some of which he hadn't worn at all.
The small rips were increasing in size, growing from small, one-inch tears to long rips that were impossible to fix.
The sight of these rips increasing in size only made Temari's uneasiness grow, but Kankuro remained stubborn.
"He wouldn't let me look into his room, still, but he talked to me," Kankuro said upon entering her room the next week, tossing a long-sleeved blue shirt onto her lap.
Temari raised her eyes in surprise, hope coiling uncertainly in her chest.
"I didn't want to ask him how he was ripping his clothes…I think that would have scared him off…"
Temari smiled at her brother's wisdom.
"So I asked him if he wanted to borrow anything," Kankuro said with a satisfied smirk. "And he said he might, if I had anything in his size."
Temari stared at him.
"What? At least it's something other than give this to Temari. It's progress!" he said heatedly.
She sighed, looking troubled. "Kankuro, have you noticed the state of the clothes, recently? They're practically torn in half. It's starting to…scare me."
Blinking uncertainly, he opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again when Temari raised the shirt in her lap, showing the rip that had practically severed the shirt into two pieces.
"I can't fix this, Kankuro," she said softly, the frightened look on her face and her words forcing him to swallow the painful lump in his throat.
Silently, he watched her roll the shirt into a ball and discard it in an overflowing waste bin, and the sight of all the torn clothes made him clench his jaw.
"Tomorrow," he finally said, after a minute's silence. "I'm going to find out how he's getting his clothes ripped, what he's hiding, everything."
Almost hesitantly, he touched her hand when her head bowed in worry, his voice reassuring.
"Don't worry, Temari. He'll be okay. We'll be okay," he murmured, when her other hand settled over his. "I'll find out what it is…then…"
He didn't finish. He didn't need to, and Temari could only thank a higher power for giving her Kankuro for a brother.
Gaara didn't come down for breakfast the next day, or lunch or dinner, and Temari hesitated about letting Kankuro go by himself later that night.
"I want to go, too," she said, ignoring Kankuro when he shook his head.
"It'll just make it more difficult for him to talk. It took him so long just to get used to me," he replied, only to flinch when Temari glared at him.
"So what am I? Your opportunity to get to know him? I'm his sister, I'm older than both of you, and I say I go. Problem?" she asked, eyes narrowed dangerously.
Kankuro merely sighed in defeat, then beckoned for her to follow.
Ascending the stairs quietly, they both crossed the hallway and stood before his closed door, hesitating and indecisive. Though neither spoke, both could feel the uneasiness in the air, nearly palpable and suffocating.
"Maybe…" she whispered, hesitant. "Maybe you should just open it? Then maybe we can see…"
The suggestion made the colour drain from Kankuro's face, but he slowly nodded.
"But I think I should go first," he whispered back. "Just because…I'll call you when it's okay, okay?"
Temari could only nod, moving back a few paces as Kankuro's hand settled on the doorknob.
A wave of dread overcame him at that moment, and in total disregard for his safety, he turned the knob and threw open the door, rushing in.
Almost immediately, he stopped, freezing in shock.
At first he didn't realize what he was looking at…then came to recognize that there were clothes strewn all over the room. Torn shirts and pants littered the floor, bed, and desk, and the dresser laid over-turned, drawers removed and closed spilled.
Shocked at the sheer chaos of the room, he finally came to realize that Gaara was nowhere in sight. Then a muffled, ripping sound met his ears, and a wave of sickness and fear engulfed him when he spotted his brother's legs stretched out from behind the bed.
Slowly, he backed out of the room, turning wide eyes to Temari when she rushed forward, alarm registering when she saw the look on his face.
"Something's wrong"—he started, voice hushed, choked, but Temari didn't let him finish, grabbing his hand and rushing into the room.
Kankuro's gaze went back to the corner as Temari froze, gasping at the sight that met her eyes.
The ripping sound had ceased, and the remnants of a black shirt could be seen strewn over Gaara's knees.
Almost unconsciously, he tugged on his sister's hand, hesitantly walking towards the other side of the bed.
His throat closed off completely, and he heard the air leave Temari's lungs when they came around the bed, Gaara's legs coming into view.
When they stopped at the foot of the bed, they could only stare in silence.
Gaara sat with his back to the wall, half-naked, face buried in a torn shirt he held in his hands. The stark paleness of his torso contrasted vividly with his surroundings, shoulders frail and shaking.
Clothes littered the floor near him, the shirt off his back clutched in his hands, the sight so disarming that the room remained silent for nearly a minute.
"Gaara…" Temari managed to speak first, voice thick, sounding as though she were on the verge of tears.
She took a step forward, trying to ignore the shredded clothes beneath her feet. Her hand remained in Kankuro's, sweating and trembling, and he could only follow when she took another step forward.
"Gaara," Kankuro unstuck his throat, finding his voice hoarse. "What…why did you…why are all your things…?"
There was no response, except for the trembling of his hands as he clutched the torn fabric to his face.
Their grips gradually weakened on each other, and slowly their hands came to rest by their sides. Temari stepped towards the right as Kankuro took the left side, both approaching cautiously and hesitantly towards the enclosed space.
Kankuro stopped first, coming to his knees near his brother's side, hand outstretched uncertainly.
Temari knelt at the opposite side, touching her fingers to his hand, furiously blinking back the wetness in her eyes when she saw his grip tighten on the shirt, knuckles whitening.
"Please, let go, Gaara," she whispered, gently wrapping her fingers around his wrist. "Look at us."
Biting his lower lip, Kankuro steeled himself before reaching forward and grabbing his brother's hands, pulling them down.
The shirt fell from his hands, and Kankuro froze, grip slackening on Gaara's hands.
Tears streamed out from beneath tightly closed eyelids, the skin beneath them raw and swollen. His brow was contorted so forcefully that veins stood out in his neck, in an attempt to fight back whatever emotion he was trying so hard to keep bottled inside.
Lips were pressed tightly together, eye teeth nearly drawing blood from where they dug into the tender flesh.
Without the shirt to absorb them, the tears dripped freely down his face, falling onto his bare chest as he did nothing to stop them.
"Gaara"—Kankuro hated the way his voice shook, taking no notice of the tears staining his hand when he held his brother's chin. "Look at us."
If possible, his eyes screwed closed even tighter, his muffled voice managing to escape between his lips.
"Leave me, Kankuro," he whispered hoarsely.
Temari flinched when she touched him and he recoiled, gathering the pieces of clothes in his lap and dragging them up like a shroud.
"—please," he breathed, near-silent from behind the cloth.
"Damn it, Gaara!" Kankuro suddenly shouted, wrenching the clothes out of his hands. "What are you doing? What have you done?"
"Kankuro," Temari said haltingly, falling silent when he held a hand up.
"Why won't you look at us? Why won't you talk?" his hands reached out, settling on his pale shoulders as Gaara's head bowed towards the ground.
"Why did you do this?" his voice weakened as he gestured to the ripped clothes.
His head remained bowed toward the ground, his soft, ragged breathing the only sound in the room. His lips parted, and a shuddering, weak breath escaped him, the sound painful to hear.
"So you'd know…" he whispered.
"Know what?" Temari pressed, hand hovering uncertainly over his shoulder.
His voice cracked, torn clothes absorbing his tears.
"…that I'm alive."
Neither of them could think of a way to respond to that, and they listened, not daring to breathe as he continued.
"I'd see you," he murmured, to Kankuro. "You'd talk to me…"
His hand clenched a fistful of his shirt.
"Temari…you'd tell her. Tell her about me…she'd know I'm alive. And each time…" his fingers touched the rip in the shirt.
"Each time you came back…" his head bowed lower, voice breaking further.
"You'd know I'm alive."
Kankuro stared at him, speechless, the agonized look in Temari's eyes only adding to the pain building in his chest.
"Why didn't you just say something?" Kankuro asked, voice hushed. "I came, because we wanted to hear what you had to say."
"Why would you?" he asked back, voice dead. "After what I've done?"
Silence blanketed the room, and Kankuro sagged against the side of the bed when he realized that Temari had been right.
"Gaara," Temari's voice shook. "We're your siblings…"
"What does that mean?" he breathed, weariness smothering his voice. "Because I don't know."
A tear slid down Temari's cheek, and the sight forced the pain to tear through Kankuro's chest and out his throat in a harsh cry. His arms reached out, surrounding Gaara and forcing him against his chest.
"It means we love you!" he shouted, voice cracking. "Why the hell can't you understand that?"
Gaara remained motionless in his embrace, silent as Kankuro breathed heavily, trying and failing to suppress the burning in his eyes.
"We forgave you…forgave you that day we came back from Konoha…when you said you were sorry…" his eyes rose to Temari's, who watched him with something akin to awe, her eyes bright and wide and painfully reminiscent of their mother's.
"One apology was enough," Kankuro continued, looking down at his crimson hair. "For all you did…for everything you put us through…all you needed to do was say sorry once, and we'd forgive you."
"And you said sorry," Temari managed to find her voice. "You don't need to do anything else. You just…" she reached forward, touching his shoulder.
"Don't…don't do this to yourself," she pleaded. "This hurts more than everything else. Please…"
Another hot tear slid down her face.
Kankuro loosened his hold slightly, pulling back slightly.
"This is what makes you alive. Not—not hiding away and avoiding us. Not pretending. Not being scared of your own brother and sister. Gaara…" he pulled back, looking down to see Gaara staring at him, eyes wide and wet.
"Clothes won't talk for you," he said. "So please…" his eyes rose to glance at Temari, and she moved forward.
"Don't do this to us."
It was almost painful to look Gaara directly in his eyes when he looked so vulnerable and damaged, so depraved and yearning, but Kankuro forced himself to anyway.
Gaara's eyes moved to Temari when she knelt in front of him, looking afraid and just as vulnerable as him, and as Kankuro released him, her arms rose, unable to use words and not needing to as her eyes told him everything.
"I'm sorry," Gaara found himself saying. "I'm sorry."
Temari's arms surrounded him, and his voice grew muffled and cracked, emotion spilling into every syllable as his body wilted, letting loose the agony that was ripping him from the inside.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm"—
Temari merely shook her head, rocking gently, her hands warm on his back.
Kankuro tried to smile, lips upturning in a weak half-smile instead as he rested a hand on his brother's shaking shoulder.
"Stupid…" he whispered, as Gaara's apologies faded into muffled cries.
"Your first apology was more than enough."