By Ariel D

Description: SANDSIBS fic. Gaara has experienced and dealt out unimaginable amounts of pain during the course of his life. Can Kankuro help him find any peace? Spoilers through Shippuuden ep. 32.

Disclaimer: Gaara 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 different periods in the series. This is a companion piece to "Hurt," but you do not have to read "Hurt" to read this.

Translations (jic): "ototo" means "younger brother" as literal translation or "little brother" as a cultural translation; "nii-san" means "older brother."

Pain. For the entirety of his short life, Gaara had inhaled it like miniscule grains of sand that would irritate his lungs and exhaled it so that it burnt his nose. With the active imagination of a six-year-old, he thought sometimes the sand drew blood that seeped through his lungs to surround the fluttering organ that was his heart.

His heart. That was what had always hurt — a pain he couldn't understand or name until his Uncle Yashamaru explained it to him.

He sat on his haunches in the sand, scrubbing tears from his face, ordering himself not to cry. No one loved him; his uncle had revealed that fact to him only hours earlier. He'd wandered through the streets until dawn, slaughtering any villager who so much as sneered at him, but the truth was, he now felt nothing at all. Nothing. His hands were numb; his legs were numb. He couldn't even feel the pain of kanji he'd burnt onto his forehead. The blood had dried upon his face, crusting around the symbol for Ai. Love. What a joke it had been . . . no love existed in his world. Not from his mother, who had cursed him, nor from his father, who'd ordered he be assassinated. And definitely not from his uncle, who had spoken beautiful lies, liquored and sweet, then betrayed him and tried to kill him.

Gaara forced himself to his feet and wandered back to his uncle's empty house. His only friend in the world lay on the floor, abandoned. His teddy bear. He picked Teddy up by the arms, overcome with the urge to rip it open and spill its cotton guts. But tears welled in his eyes as he started to pull on the arms; the sound of the stitches popping reminded him of cracking bones.

He couldn't do it.

He stopped and hugged Teddy against his chest, sinking to the floor as he sobbed into the bear's shoulder, the pain returning in a crashing wave. But the stuffed animal could not comfort him. It could not explain all the confusion and anger that burned in Gaara's chest: the boy who struggled with his uncle's explanation of love and the monster who begged him — screamed in him — to slaughter every last villager in Suna.

But Gaara had wanted that love. He had watched mothers hold their children's hands or pick them up, and he had watched fathers lift their children into the air or hold them close to their chests. The children were so small by comparison, but their father's big, strong arms would wrap around them, hugging them, making them feel safe even when a monster like Gaara passed by.

Gaara wanted that touch.

However, that touch would never come. Gaara could hug Teddy that way, but Teddy couldn't hug back. Teddy also didn't have a heart to bleed or a trust to break. Teddy could neither hurt him nor love him.

Gaara would love only himself.

Pain. For years, Gaara had known countless kinds of pain. He knew the pain of Shukaku trying to rip out his mind, the pain of haunted memories, and the pain of continued rejections — rejections he told himself he didn't care about, except he'd never been good at self-lies. Now he even finally knew physical pain. His exam opponent, Sasuke, had injured him, and then Naruto had injured him in order to save the lives of his friends.

His friends . . .

Gaara rested against the tree, watching shadows dance across the forest floor. The sun was setting, causing crimson rays to pierce the tree leaves like stretching fingers of blood. Kankuro and Temari had carried him as far from Konoha as their strength would allow, and now they were resting side-by-side against the tree across from him. Their eyes had drifted shut a few minutes earlier, and Gaara remained quiet and let them sleep. No one was pursuing them.

They could have been rid of me, Gaara thought, watching their bruised but peaceful faces. All they had to do was stay back until Naruto finished me off. And despite his injuries, his determination would have been enough. I had no chakra left, not even enough for the automatic sand shield, and I think he really would have killed me to save that girl . . .

"He cared," Gaara whispered, thinking of the blonde boy's snarl. Naruto had dragged himself across the forest floor on his stomach, using nothing but his chin, but he cared enough for the pink-haired girl to keep moving. "Is that . . . love?" Gaara frowned to himself, the same thought cycling through his mind over and over: Is that what makes him so strong? Love? His connections to other people?

He refocused on his sleeping siblings. They could have left him to die, but they hadn't. Gaara had dealt them endless pain, even during the exam itself: he'd threatened to kill Kankuro yet again; he'd slammed Temari away from him. He had caused them so much pain, and he'd always assumed they stood by him because they feared him. Because they'd been ordered to form a team with him.

But in that one moment they could have been free of him forever. All they had to do was stay clear and then tell Baki they hadn't reached him in time to save him from Naruto.

Gaara frowned, and an old familiar pain jerked through his chest so hard he gasped. "I-it hurts!" He hadn't meant to say anything, but the words slipped out as he clutched at his chest. At his heart.

Kankuro stirred at the sound and opened his eyes, gazing blurrily at him. "G-Gaara?" He lumbered to his feet, stumbled a few steps, but managed to walk over and kneel by his brother. "Are you still in pain?" He pointed to the wound Sasuke had given him, no doubt noticing the way Gaara was touching his chest near it. "It hasn't started to bleed again, has it?"

Pain . . .

Gaara gazed up at his brother, who had obviously been wounded in his own battle, and wondered if he cared. After all, Gaara had utterly lost and had blown their entire mission. Yet Kankuro, along with Temari, had not only stepped in to stop Naruto, he had carried Gaara away. "Kankuro?"

The puppet master squeezed one eye shut in his habitual mannerism. "What?"

Gaara didn't know how to ask the question. "I . . ." A strange feeling welled up in him — one he didn't recognize. A second feeling accompanied it, though, and he recognized that one: he was glad. He was happy they'd chosen not to leave him.

Kankuro's brow furrowed when Gaara didn't finish his sentence. "Let me see." He reached out — slowly and gingerly — and moved Gaara's hand away from his chest.

The boy stared at his older brother's hand, his small hand inside of Kankuro's larger hand. And with sudden painful clarity, he knew he had never stopped wanting that touch. The touch of a father and mother . . . or maybe a brother and sister.

"It's already started to heal," Kankuro said quietly. "By the time we reach Suna, Shukaku's power will have healed it entirely."

Gaara didn't speak; he was too fixated on Kankuro's hand. Noticing this, the older boy released him and chuckled nervously.

"Sorry," he said, sitting back and scratching his head through his cat-eared hood.

"It's . . . all right," Gaara replied, hurt somehow by the broken contact. He didn't know how to express his feelings, though. He returned to the only thing he was for sure he could say. "I am sorry."

Kankuro's eyes widened, just as they had when Gaara had said those words hours earlier. "It's okay."

Gaara turned his gaze to his lap, wondering if there was any room for his siblings to care for him or for him to care for them. He wondered if he would always only love himself and be loved only by himself.

Pain. After all these years, Gaara still hurt. Sitting behind his desk, clothed in his Kazekage robes, he found himself aching less than normal, however. Night had fallen upon Suna, casting his office into darkness, but Gaara didn't move to turn on a lamp. Instead he sat, a pile of unsigned requisition reports in front of him, and stared at his desk.

"They came for me . . ." he mumbled to himself. The awe had not worn off. Two days earlier, he'd been revived from death by Chiyo-basama and awakened to find Naruto, Kankuro, Temari, and dozens of Suna shinobi surrounding him. Several of them were crying tears of joy or yelling in excitement over his recovery. It was a scene he'd dreamed of, worked toward, but never quite believed could happen.

The image of the reports swam in Gaara's sight, and he realized tears were standing in his eyes. He blinked them back, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. These new feelings were overwhelming, plunging him into both agony and happiness. To be needed, to be wanted, to have forged a connection . . .


At sound of Kankuro's voice, Gaara opened his eyes. His brother stood in the office doorway, looking in with uncertainty and a touch of concern.

"Kan . . . kuro . . ." The young Kazekage stared at his brother. Of all the things said to him after he'd awakened, Kankuro's words had impacted him hardest of all: "You're a little brother I'll always have to worry about, huh?"

Little brother . . . ototo. . .

Kankuro entered the room and walked up beside Gaara. "Hey, I know you have all this missed paperwork to catch up on, but without Shukaku, you really need to sleep, not stay up night after night like you used to."

Gaara gazed up at his older brother, unable to formulate a response. In his mind, he heard his own words of years before echoing: "I've never thought of the two of you as siblings." Gaara frowned, wondering how he had gained his older brother's affections and how he could return them.

Because in the end, he still longed for that touch. He could never have a mother to hold his hand or a father to toss him into the air and catch him; he was too old, and his parents had not been and never could be those people. However . . .

"I know you don't want to go to sleep," Kankuro said, apparently misinterpreting his younger brother's frown. "But you kinda don't have a choice now."

Gaara continued to stare up at him. How did one go about revealing care? He had no idea. "Thank you," he said simply.

The puppet master blinked. "For what?"

Gaara turned back to stare at his papers. "For being worried. About me." The words felt awkward on his tongue, sounded foreign to his ears.

"Hey . . ." Kankuro cocked his head to the side and grinned. "No problem, ototo."

Gaara's breath hitched. That word again. Little brother. He stood abruptly, pushing his chair backwards, and Kankuro jerked in surprise. He looked toward his older brother, a powerful feeling welling up inside him, and knew he had to, had to, express it somehow. He took a step toward Kankuro, who watched him with wide eyes.

"Gaara? What is it?"

He reached one hand toward Kankuro then hesitated. The only kind touches he'd received in his life had been his brother or sister carrying him when he was chakra-exhausted, Naruto supporting him and helping him to stand after he'd been revived, and shaking Naruto's hand. How could those things be applied in this situation?

Gaara could feel his brow furrowing, but he resumed his actions. He reached out and simply grasped Kankuro's upper arm and squeezed. "No, I truly appreciate it . . ." His voice dropped to a near whisper. ". . . nii-san."

Kankuro stood completely still, as though hypnotized. His eyes grew a fraction wider, and then he seemed to find his voice. "Gaara . . ." He reached out and clasped his younger brother's shoulder. "It's — you're welcome."

Gaara released his arm and looked down at his feet. It wasn't enough. That simple sign, those simple words — they weren't enough to express what he really felt. To express what it meant that Kankuro had supported his efforts to change and become Kazekage, that he'd nearly died trying to rescue him from Deidara and Sasori, and that he'd resumed his rescue attempt the instant he'd recovered. That he'd called him "brother."

Kankuro released his shoulder, and an awkward silence filled the room. After a moment, he spoke again. "Gaara?"

The younger boy closed his eyes, trying to hold in his emotion, his frustration at being unable to communicate fully. "Sorry," he said, opening his eyes after a moment. He couldn't explain what he was apologizing for, but he felt the need to do so anyway.

"Ototo . . ."

Gaara's heart lurched once again. He grimaced at the pain.

Frowning, Kankuro stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Gaara's shoulders, slowly pulling him into a hug. "What's wrong?"

Gaara froze this time, shocked senseless. The touch!

Kankuro ran one hand down his back, then back up again. Gaara could tell he was nearly holding his breath, probably because of his younger brother's tenseness, and so he tried to relax. To give himself over to this touch he had always wanted.

"What's wrong?" Kankuro repeated.

Gaara reached up and grasped the sides of his older brother's shirt. "I . . ." How could he explain? He rested his head on Kankuro's shoulder and exhaled deeply. "Nothing . . . now."

A moment's silence followed this declaration. Then: "Good."

Strong, strong arms tightened around Gaara's shoulders — the arms of a brother, but powerful like a father's — and held him close. The touch. He smiled to himself and wrapped his arms the rest of the way around his older brother, hugging back. Kankuro smelled faintly of sawdust, probably from working on puppets, and it was a familiar smell, part of Kankuro's scent. It was oddly comforting.

"So . . . I'm a little brother you'll always worry over?" Gaara asked, feeling terribly relaxed.

"Hn." Kankuro chuckled. "Obviously."

Gaara felt the smile hovering on his lips. "Okay . . . nii-san."

This won him another squeeze from the hug. Gaara felt a laugh trying to fight its way to his lips, but he ended up yawning instead.

"A yawn!" Kankuro's tone was teasing. "Told you that you needed to sleep."

"Um-hm," Gaara mumbled.

Kankuro released one arm from around him but kept the other around his shoulders. "Come on," he said, using the arm to steer him toward the door. "You're going to bed."

He didn't bother to argue. He had what he wanted: a family's love.

A/N: Thank you to Darkhelmetj for betareading and to anyone who reads and reviews! The sequel to "Requiem for Atlas" is underway . . . I guess that means I have a trilogy now.