"If you are going through hell, keep going." -Winston Churchill
The plastic bowl spun slowly in its tiny prison, steam rising from the holes punched in the brightly colored lid. The microwave screeched in pride as the entree finished, apparently wanting to let the world know of its great triumph. Temari shut it up with a slam of the door as she plucked the instant ramen out and fumbled for a pair of chopsticks among the other cutlery in the cluttered drawer. Popping open the container, she slammed the drawer shut with her hip and slurped up a few noodles. Another exciting night for the Suna rejects, Temari thought with fake sincerity. Miffed, she blew through her nose and sat down on top of the old table, using the back of a chair for a footrest.
She perked up her ears as a faint noise from outside made its way through the walls. Shuffling, cursing. Definitely Kankuro, and back from his mission. Temari sighed and savored the last few seconds of silence before her fat pig of a brother destroyed it.
The door flew open with a loud crack, causing her to raise an eyebrow. Kankuro didn't even bother to wrap Karasu and instead simply dropped him on the floor unceremoniously. The puppet was stained with blood, dripping all over the floor Temari had just mopped. She ground her teeth and shot an annoyed glance at him.
"Care to pick it up?" she asked, voicing it not as a question but a command. Kankuro ignored her, slamming a cupboard hard and emerging with a box of cereal. Ripping it open, he kicked one of Karasu's arms out of his way.
What in the heck is his problem?
"Do it yourself," he muttered crossly.
"Do it yourself."
Temari got up off the table, throwing her chopsticks into the half-finished bowl. "Who shoved a stick up your butt?"
"It's nothing," he ground, gripping the cereal box until there were dents in the flimsy cardboard. "Just leave me alone."
"I'm not cleaning up your doll," she said, worlds sharp and hard like steel. "And unless you want Gaara to see it and Shukaku to pull a Houdini, I'd make sure it's gone in the next few seconds." He flinched, knowing the truth in her statement. The Shukaku would go nuts when Gaara saw the blood. Funny thing was, he didn't care.
"Screw you!" he shouted, throwing the cereal box at a wall and hearing the crunch of crystallized, sugary flakes being crushed under his black sandals. "Do it yourself if you're so concerned!"
"Screw yourself!" Temari screamed, not caring if the neighbors woke up. But in her rage, the one person she didn't want to disturb was in fact, disturbed. And she missed two crucial details: one, Kankuro's unsteady twitching, and second, the soft sound of feet padding down the stairs. "In case you didn't notice, this place isn't self-sufficient! Nobody will pull your weight for you so get off your butt and do it yourself!"
"Just. Shut. Up." Kankuro ground, back turned to Temari and his hands gripping the table.
"That's exactly what Dad would say to Mom." she said quietly, fury creeping into her voice and growing in volume. "You're just like him!"
Maybe it was the red dancing in front of her eyes, maybe it was the simple fatigue in her bones, but Temari's shinobi reflexes didn't quite catch Kankuro's hand fast enough. Whipping around, he slapped her hard in the face with the flat of his palm, the loud smack echoing in the kitchen Her steps faltered and she hit the counter hard, the edge connecting solidly with her hip. But she didn't really notice. Both siblings stood in shock, Kankuro staring dumbly at his hand and Temari staring dumbly at her brother. If he had been looking up, the puppeteer would have noticed that his sister was shaking slightly.
Then, a choking gasp. In a comically synchronized motion, brother and sister turned and saw that Gaara had made his way down the old stairs, most likely for a midnight snack. It wasn't the aroma of food, though, that hit him.
It was the coppery, metallic scent of blood.
Gaara reeled back, clutching the railing with one and his hand in the other. Shukaku literally and metaphorically threw himself at the psychological bars of his host, the bloodlust attacking instantly and intensely. It was all Gaara could do to stop himself from killing anything and anyone in sight.
"Gaara!" Temari screamed, lurching, then stepping back suddenly, caught between rushing to help her brother or the instinct of self-preservation. Obscenities coursed through her thoughts, but she was too frightened to speak. "Gaara?" she said again, now in a small, mouse-like squeak. She took one step forward, then another. Tentatively, she moved to place a hand on his shoulder.
The sand blocked her instantly, snapping up her wrist and wrapping itself around her waist. I should've stuck with the self-preservation. It tightened around her waist and snaked up her neck in the Desert Coffin spell she knew so well. "Don't speak." he ordered harshly, voice in a grating rasp. "Don't... move." She obliged, trying to stifle the sigh of relief as the sand receded slowly, slowly into the gourd and dissipated into the floor. Carefully, Gaara pulled himself up, still clutching his head and his breath coming hard and fast. He dragged himself up the stairs, mentally beating the Shukaku into submission.
Temari didn't move from that spot for a long while. In her glazed stupor, she noticed that Kankuro was gone. Long gone. Coward... Or genius. Depending on what view you decided to take of the situation.
She finally shook herself, her hand straying to her face. It was still red from the slap. She squeezed back the emotion and sighed, allowing the stony bliss of apathy to drape over her like a blanket. Temari walked to the fridge, pulled out a gallon of marshmallow swirl ice cream, and got a spoon. Heck with diamonds. Ice cream is a girl's best friend. She plopped onto the couch and groped for the remote, punching the power button and flicking through the channels. She really did hate Kankuro.
Gaara sat slumped against the sandy wall of his bedroom. Bedroom wasn't really an appropriate name for it, though, as the bed has been thrown away years ago from lack of use. When he was ten and still not quite used to the insomnia, Gaara had drawn up a list of what the place was to be called, since it obviously couldn't be 'bedroom'. Upon the list had been "lair of the beast", "dry hellhole", and "(beeping) piece of crap".
People probably shouldn't know what really went on in his head on long nights. When you haven't slept in more than a decade, strange things can happen. In the end, Gaara decided on calling it The Room. With a capitol T and a capitol R.
Mother had finally quieted and Shukaku was still. Gaara was hesitant to move, as if the slightest twitch may break the spell and spill the beans from the metaphorical scale. It had happened before. Finally, he reached for the cork for the gourd, which had popped off in the confusion. The sand swirled around his hand slowly, sensing his... what was the word? It was strange, foreign, an alien in his thoughts. The closest emotion he could identify with it was 'concerned', like how Temari was always a bit short on nights Kankuro had come home late, or Kankuro on nights Temari came home late. He never really understood it, it made his head hurt, so therefore it was stupid.
Sabaku no Gaara slowly rose, using the wall as a brace. Pushing open the door of The Room, he listened intently. The drone of the television wafted up the stairs, but the words were unintelligible. He slowly advanced. It had been an hour, probably, since... since before. If Kankuro had decided to show his face, he would be back by now.
The redhead emerged into the den silently, scanning the room. A nature show was showing on the TV, but no one was watching. Temari hated nature shows, saying that they reminded her too much of real life. Kankuro had laughed and asked what part? The killing, the maiming, or both?
Temari had smacked him.
On the couch across from the television, a carton of ice cream sat, half-melted. A spoon stuck out at a crazy angle, the tip scraping against the side of the container. Gaara sighed inwardly. So she had went out looking for that paint-covered freak. He had crazy bakas for siblings.
Picking up the ice cream, Gaara pulled out the spoon and stuck a chunk of the chocolatey, marshmallow-y crap in his mouth, chewing slowly. They should be home in about an hour.
Temari wove through the alleys of Suna, plotting all the ways that she was going to kill Kankuro. I'll dip him in a vat of acid, let him stew, then stab him with a kunai. Or maybe I'll make him sit and watch Blues Clues for three hours. In her secret opinion, all that 'clue-finding' that Kankuro had done with Steve when he was a toddler was responsible for the Kankuro today: catlike hood, black jumpsuit, and of course don't forget the freakish purple paint. After killing Kankuro, Temari decided to take a little time off and hunt down Steve. Who knew how many more children were falling for cute little Paprika?
She decided to deny ever thinking that. Like anyone would ask. She could imagine it: Gaara striking a Lee pose and asking her about Blues Clues. The thought was almost enough to make her laugh. Almost.
Stupid, stupid Kankuro... where had he gotten to? A tiny knot wormed its way in her stomach, twisting and turning. Temari had checked absolutely everywhere: the training grounds, Baki's place, even the grocery store. Nothing. Sighing, she switched direction and headed for home. If you could call it that. Veering left, Temari opted for the long way around. She skirted past the dunes in a blur, a shadowy silhouette the only evidence that anyone had been there.
Another shadow cast a dark blanket on the dunes. She stopped abruptly, instinctively grabbing for her fan. The figure was crouched by a stone, a flat, oblong slab of granite. Knees were pulled to the chest and short brown hair was tousled almost affectionately by a cool night breeze.
Kankuro... at the graveyard?
Her anger quelled and stilled, replaced by a curious sensation. Like a mix between worry, frustration, concern, fear. Temari approached him silently, crouching by his left flank. She bit her lip and stopped the flurry of questions and accusations ready to pounce her little brother, and waited for him to speak.
He didn't say anything for awhile. Hair covered his eyes, making his expression unreadable. Kankuro took a breath, started to speak, then stopped. "I..." He blew out through his nose, body shuddering. Temari reisted the urge to put a hand on his shoulder, pull him close and hug him tightly. Emotions equal weakness. A shinobi cannot be weak. Rule twenty-five.
"I was assigned an assassination mission today," Kankuro blurted, as if the words had a mind of their own and he was just listening as they burst out. "It was in the Land of Mist."
She nodded, motioning for him to go on. Perplexed and frustrated, Kankuro tried to piece together his thoughts coherently. He hadn't had much practice. "So I went. Only took Karasu, because I was told it would be easy.
"I get there and expect this big place, or at least someplace decent, you know? To offer money to have someone killed, the someone must be important?" He didn't wait for an answer. The words spilled out now, a rushing river. "All I see is this little shack. A hovel. There's a rickety chain-link fence there and something attached to it. I don't know what. So I sit there and wait for my contact. He comes and points to the thing on the fence. It was weird, but I unwrapped Karasu. The guy streaked off. He looked majorly freaked, like when Gaara's spooked someone."
Temari nodded again, all too familiar with the expression. "Go on."
He averted his eyes and played with his black glove. "I'm going down for the strike, quick and silent. Then I stop."
"You stopped?" She creased her brow. "We've done assassinations before, it wasn't hard-"
"It was a six-year-old kid, Temari. A six-year-old! Like Gaara! Like that stupid kid from Leaf, the one who railed me!" He was almost shouting now, but then he caught himself. "He had some kind of kekkei genkai. There was two steel bowls there. One was half-filled with water and the other one with something. I don't know what. Food, probably. If you could call it that." His voice had dropped to a whisper. "He just sat there, looking at me with these huge eyes. He didn't know what the heck was going on. I couldn't do it." He clenched his fists tightly, nails pressing into soft skin. "I couldn't kill him."
Temari was silent, but her thoughts were far from it. Screaming, whirling: a kekkai genkai? Chained to a fence? A six-year-old? The pieces wouldn't slide together. Kankuro tried to finish.
"I just snapped, started sawing the chain with a kunai. The kid's really starting to freak out now. The guy who told me about him must've still been hanging around, 'cause I heard a yell and all of the sudden, these three Mist ninjas were jumping me and the kid. The kid gets this really weird look in his eyes, you know? Then there's a flash, like a huge bolt of lightning, and I'm just sitting there, stunned. He's really scared now, clenching the chain like his life depended on it. The three guys next to us don't move. Their hair is smoking and stuff." He took a shaky breath. "So I keep sawing. The chain finally breaks and I yank it out, trying to get the kid to run. He just sits there, staring at the ninjas. Like they're his worst nightmare, and would spring up and stab him in the neck. He's shaking now, and making these weird, squeaking noises. Animal sounds. Panicking."
Memories clawed at the surface of Temari's mind, and she tried frantically to suppress them. The stained red floor of Gaara's room, assassination attempts, Yashamaru's funeral, animal sobbing at night. "Kankuro...?" Please... don't tell me he killed him...
"There must have been night sentires out, and they heard us..." Kankuro mumbled. "The kid was going nuts and couldn't think, couldn't use his bloodline ability. Karasu moved on his own, I don't know-" He continued to stammer, until Temari placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. His speech finished itself, echoed in his eyes and spoke in a language only a sibling could understand.
I killed them, he seemed to scream. They hired me, I killed them, all of them. All for this stupid little kid! It wasn't my fault, Karasu moved on his own. Don't think I'm weak, don't despise me...
He truly spoke this time, voice barely audible. "It was a blur. The next thing I know, the kid's sobbing and clinging on my leg like a toddler, and there's blood all over me. He's staring at the corpses and sobbing. I grabbed him, screamed at him to run and never come back. He did. And he's probably dead right now." Kankuro tried to say something, but his throat closed up with a lump that wasn't normally there. He stuttered something unintelligible, tried to speak-
He was cut off as Temari pulled him close, a tear that wasn't his dripping onto his cheek. "Ssshhhh." Kankuro's body was stiff. What's she doing...? The concept was so foreign, so strange...
She was hugging him. Really and seriously hugging a bloody puppetmaster.
And the weird thing was that he sort of liked it.
She rubbed his back and he felt himself slump, hair falling onto her shoulder. He clenched his fists. "I'm sorry," he choked. Kankuro felt himself totally losing it. Gah, stupid, stupid, stupid... "That I slapped you. That I didn't care, that I didn't-" She shushed him again, rocking slightly.
"You didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?" Temari bit her lip, smiling through tears. "I'm your sister, you moron."
Again, so strange. Maybe she was PMSing, she wasn't usually this emotional. But neither was he, really. She murumured something softly into his hair. "Hmm?"
"Y-you're... you're not really like him at all."
They sat there awhile, bound by horror and blood. Pushing out of their minds for just a small slice of time where they were going, the rules of a shinobi, the family line, everything. Shutting out the smell of blood, the sound of screaming, the aura of fear and anger that blanketed Suna better than the sand. For the first time in six years, the two took on not the role of fellow shinobi but sister and brother. The silence was not uncomfortable.
Kankuro felt Temari shift slightly, pulling away. "We should probably get back," she whispered, rubbing at her face. He said nothing but nodded, pulling on his cat-hat, the one that she always teased him about. Freaky cat-man. He should have been mad. But the stupid brother he was, Kankuro just smiled slightly to himself.
Temari offered her hand and helped him up, both shaking their clothes free of the sand automatically. As they walked away from the gravesite, Kankuro turned for a moment, backtracked, and spit on the Kazekage's grave. On all of all the memories, the pain, the inhumanity.
It was nothing, really. And yet it was everything.
Hmmm... my longest one-shot ever. I'm on a Sand Sib high. Review and you'll get a cookie. And trust me, these are freakin' awesome cookies.
Akiko (The Mistress Of Flying Spork Projectiles)