By Ariel D

Description: SANDSIBS fic. Kankuro has hurt because of Gaara several times, but every time the pain is different. Spoilers through Shippuuden ep. 32. Hurt/comfort and angst.

Disclaimer: Gaara, Kankuro, and the Naruto-verse are copyrighted by Masashi Kishimoto and Weekly Shonen Jump. I am making no profit; this is just for fun.

A/N: Covers three separate time periods in the series. This is not the sequel to "The Blood of Brothers," but I will post that story next.

It hurt.

It always hurt.

Kankuro pressed against the kitchen wall, gasping, trying to breathe through the piercing agony. Gaara stood before him, his impassive face cracked by a maniacal grin. Narrowed aqua eyes glared death at him as sand circled his torso and squeezed his ribs.

"You must want me to kill you," Gaara said, his voice a soft growl. "Disgrace that you are, you tempt me to spill your blood. I can almost taste it."

Kankuro worked his fingers, trying to move Karasu, trying anything to stop his certain death. He could feel the puppet shift on his back, but it wasn't enough. It could never be enough. He was going to die just short of his thirteenth birthday, leaving his guts all over the kitchen counters, and only because he'd come home after midnight and wanted a riceball before going to bed.

Moonlight poured through the window, illuminating Gaara's pale face. He shone like an apparition, a ghost haunting the night. A full moon . . . it always got restless during the full moon.

"Gaara," Kankuro gasped.

Gaara squeezed harder, his grin nearly a snarl. Black-rimmed eyes watched him with pleasure. "Say it. I want to hear you say it. All your stupid excuses and your pathetic pleadings for your useless life."

Kankuro grunted involuntarily; he could feel his joints ache from the pressure of the subaku kyuuthat was slowly forming around him.

Gaara leaned into Kankuro's face. "Say it."

"G-Gaara . . ." Kankuro tried to save his pride, tried to hold back his scream of pain. If this monster wearing his brother's body was going to kill him, he wanted to at least die without crying or shrieking like all the other victims.

"Maybe I'll lick your blood off the counters afterwards," Gaara said, passing his tongue over his lips. "Your blood . . . the sign you lived. That you existed. That you were real."

Kankuro whimpered. He didn't mean to, but the sound of agony slipped out when the sand wound around his throat. He was terrified; sweat poured down his temples and back. However, he wouldn't, wouldn't, wouldn't scream.

"Say it," Gaara demanded, clinching his fist slightly.

But Kankuro wouldn't say it.

It hurt.

It always hurt.

Kankuro stood behind his younger brother, watching his red hair rustle in the breeze. The sun set over Suna, throwing the city into a sea of orange and crimson. Only two hours earlier, they had returned home after their failed attempt to help the Konoha shinobi retrieve Sasuke, and Gaara was unusually pensive.

"They must still want to kill me," Gaara said, gazing at the houses from their vantage point on the western parapet. "I want them to need me; I want to prove useful to them. But they still fear me. I can almost taste it."

Kankuro opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He still didn't know how to react to this new version of his brother: the brother who had stopped threatening his life, the brother who shared his thoughts and dreams with him. Kankuro wanted to help, but he didn't know how. "Gaara . . ."

The boy turned toward him, revealing large aqua eyes that begged a question. "Say it. We both know it's true. I'm still nothing more to them than a tool and a monster."

Kankuro grimaced but didn't reply. He knew how hard Gaara was working to change, and he wanted to support him. But he couldn't lie about the villagers' feelings, either.

Gaara reached toward him, sending a thin spiral of sand out to encompass Kankuro's arm.

For a moment, all Kankuro could see was the subaku kyuuand all the many times Gaara had threatened to kill him. "G-Gaara," he gasped, trying to step backward.

However, the boy did not let go; instead, he dragged Kankuro closer to him. "Say it," he said, his voice utterly flat. Hopeless. "Tell me that you, like everyone else, are still afraid of me."

Kankuro clenched his teeth as the sand clamped down on his arm, but he didn't resist Gaara when he pulled him within arm's reach. He couldn't reveal his lingering fear. He wouldn't. He refused to depress his brother further.

"Say it," Gaara demanded, his voice edged with pain.

But Kankuro wouldn't say it.

It hurt.

It forever hurt.

Gaara sat on his bed before him, his blue and white Kazekage robes wrinkled, and stared up at him with lifeless eyes. Kankuro watched him intently, noting that the dawn light which pierced the window added no color to Gaara's face.

"They killed me again," Gaara explained. "In my dream. They were extracting Shukaku, and I was slowly dying as the beast was being ripped out of my mouth and eyes. I could taste the evil spirit." He sighed. "Every time I fall asleep, it's the same dream. I don't want to sleep ever again."

Kankuro frowned at his brother, wanting nothing more to take away his nightmares. However, he knew of nothing he could do, and the Kazekage looked worse for wear. The black circles around his eyes were darker than ever. This disturbed Kankuro by itself, but to make matters worse, they were expecting a delegation from Kumo. The Kazekage had to look his best.

"Gaara . . ."

"Say it." Gaara gazed up at him with a look of anguish, his brow furrowed. "I'm unfit for my position now. The council has likely noticed my erratic behavior, and I still don't have my chakra back under control." He slumped. "They could have me assassinated now, and it would actually succeed."

"G-Gaara," Kankuro gasped. He stepped forward and put his hands on the boy's shoulders. "It would not succeed. You're regaining more strength with each day, and Temari and I are here to protect you."

Gaara looked away, his expression turning blank and emotionless as though he'd failed to register his brother's words. "No. Just say it."

But Kankuro wouldn't say it. He turned to his chest of drawers, opened the top drawer, and pulled out his face paint. Although he preferred purple, he — like most puppeteers — actually kept several colors. He grabbed red and white, then returned to his brother.

Gaara blinked and gazed up at him with confusion, but Kankuro didn't explain his actions. He opened each container, then clasped Gaara's chin between his fingers. His brother stared up at him, speechless, as Kankuro dabbed the red around his eyes. Silently, methodically, he slowly traced Gaara's eyes, cancelling out some of the black with the red. Then he dabbed his fingertips in the white paint and brushed them over the red, diluting the color and turning the rings almost skin-toned. Only a faint shading remained.

Gaara watched his brother with growing wonder during this entire process. With a small smile, Kankuro stepped back over to his drawer and grabbed the tan.

"What are you —?" Gaara started to ask, but Kankuro grasped his chin again and held his face immobile.

"I'm not a performer for nothing," Kankuro murmured. He dipped his fingers into the tan paint and traced his brother's cheekbones and then ran a line down his nose. This accomplished, he ran the heel of his hand over the lines, smudging and lightening them to highlight Gaara's face and add a natural-looking color to his complexion.

Gaara faintly blushed under this intense scrutiny. "Kankuro?"

Kankuro stood him up and made him face the mirror. "See? You can wear a 'face' for a short time until you're fully recovered, and no one will be the wiser."

Gaara reached up and touched his cheeks lightly, clearly dazed by the change in his appearance. "A mask?"

"Temporarily. Now say it: you are an excellent Kazekage, and you will remain so for the rest of your days."

Gaara turned to face him, frowning. He stared at his chest, not meeting his gaze. "K-Kankuro . . ."

"Say it." Kankuro grabbed him by the shoulders and wouldn't release him. "I want to hear you say it."

But Gaara wouldn't say it.

Kankuro sighed and pulled the boy into his arms, hugging his small frame. "I promise to stand by you until you're well again. Now say it."

Tentative arms snaked around his waist as Gaara tried to adjust to such unfamiliar and intimate contact. After a moment, he relaxed against his brother. "You'll remain by me while I recover," he repeated.

Kankuro knew his brother was purposely pretending to misunderstand, but he liked this version better. "Good. And you will remain an excellent Kazekage. They'll erect a statue of you: a sign you existed, that you lived, that you were real. And most of all, a sign you mattered."

Gaara froze for a moment, as though he were shocked, then he relaxed once more and tightened his arms around Kankuro. "Nii-san . . . thank you."

Kankuro smiled.

A/N: Thank you to Darkhelmetj for betareading and anyone who reads and reviews! Like I said earlier, I'll be posting the sequel to "The Blood of Brothers" in a few days. It's called "Requiem for Atlas," so please watch for it.

Nii-san=older brother. Kumo[gakure no Sato]=Village Hidden in the Clouds.

In case you're curious, Kankuro was saved by near happenstance in the first scene: the Forth Kazekage was up late working, heard the commotion in his kitchen, and came to find out what was up. His presence managed to redirect Gaara's rage away from Kankuro, thus saving his life.

Hn. I know I'm not the only one fascinated by the concept of Gaara wearing Kankuro's makeup, so my acknowledgements to Furuido and her fic "Kaaramari," in which Gaara decides he doesn't like the black around his eyes. It's definitely worth a read.