A Shoulder to Lean On

By Ariel D

Description: SANDSIBS fic. Both Gaara and Kankuro need Temari to fill the role of older sister, but neither can tell her. Post Sasuke Retrieval, pre Shippuuden.

Disclaimer: Kankuro, Temari, 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: Not Sandcest. Set four months after the rescue Sasuke arc. This will be 2 chapters, with the first focusing on Kankuro and the second on Gaara.

Translations (jic): "ototo" means "younger brother" and "nee-san" means "older sister."

Part I: Kankuro

Sometimes he just needed her. He wouldn't tell her; in fact, when the need hit, he wouldn't even look at her. But sometimes he wished she'd just walk up and hug him or that he could thunk his head down on her shoulder and let her hold him. Some days he needed his big sister, but he held the emotion in. Suna shinobi were made of tougher stuff than that, and it wasn't something he should want or need.

Kankuro sighed and glanced at Temari as they crossed the desert toward Suna. In the light of the full moon, his sister's grim expression was clear. Since Gaara was getting himself assigned to different teams regularly, they had taken a C-rank mission as a two-person team. Kankuro was proud of his younger brother for working so hard to make a connection with the skittish villagers, but because of Gaara's absence, this mission had gone harder than he and Temari had expected. Kankuro was covered in gashes and bruises, and his sister had fared little better.

Temari returned his glace. "Don't slow down. We have to reach the oasis before dawn, or we'll die out here."

Kankuro stared at the flat expanse of sand around them and sighed. "I know." Push on, don't stop, don't admit to exhaustion or weakness,he internally recited to himself.

His sister didn't reply, and he didn't expect her to. She could always sense if he was falling behind or losing resolve. She smelled it on him like a dog could smell fear in a rabbit. All their childhood, from the time they entered training together, she had pushed him ruthlessly. And he had always pushed back, challenging her, giving her as much attitude as she gave him. It had been their mode of defense, of survival, at the hands of an uncaring and demanding father.

Still, sometimes he wished he could turn to her for comfort . . .

"Don't wimp out on me now," Temari said after a minute.

Kankuro realized he'd fallen a step behind her again. "Don't be that way. I lost more blood than you did."

"You have more to lose."

He knew she was teasing, giving him lip — it was their game. "Never thought I'd hear you say you're scrawny."

"As if." Temari smirked. He'd won that round, but he knew she'd get him back. "The oasis is just about a mile away. Even you can make it that far."

Round two had already commenced. "Don't start that again. Two puppets are equally heavy as an oversized metal fan."

She snorted. "Men are supposed to have better upper body strength."

Kankuro grinned at her ploy. "Women are supposed to have better lower body strength."

"So you admit I run faster?" She cast a smile over her shoulder. "Or you admit I have better running endurance?"

"Neither." She'd won that round; one-to-one.

Temari just laughed and kept her pace, and Kankuro fought to stay with her. Still, by the time they reached the oasis, his blood loss had gotten the better of him. With trembling legs, he sank by the pond and cupped the fresh water to his mouth. He closed his eyes, finding relief in the cold drink but feeling decidedly weak.

Temari knelt by him. "You're ghostly pale. You weren't joking; you really did lose too much blood."

Kankuro shrugged. He was supposed to dismiss it as nothing — that was the way of a shinobi.

"Idiot," Temari muttered, pulling out some dried beef jerky from her pack. "Here. Eat this and rest up. In our condition, we can't travel any further for awhile, and with daybreak approaching, we shouldn't anyway."

Kankuro stared at the food. "What will you eat?"

She shoved it at him. "I have more."

Arguing with her had always been useless. "Fine." He accepted the jerky and bit it, tugging off a piece. As he chewed, he moved back to a small rock outcropping and situated himself against the smooth stone, using it to support his back. He allowed his legs to slide out straight before him, and he stared at them as he ate. He'd always been solidly built but never fat; however, over the past few months, he'd taken a severe growth spurt, shooting up a full two inches. Now his pants were getting a bit high on his calf, and the waist was getting too loose. If this continued, he'd have to replace his favorite bunraku outfit.

The worst part, though, was the way he was hungry all the time. He could eat six times a day and still lose weight. So even as tired as he was, he nearly inhaled the beef jerky and still felt famished.

Temari was watching him with concern. "What is it?"

"Still hungry," he admitted. "It's like an epidemic."

She grinned. "What did the med nin say at your last checkup?"

Kankuro cringed. "It's normal. They say I'll be taller than father was and probably broader in the shoulders."

Temari laughed. "Uh-hm. So my ototowill be the tall and muscular type?"

Kankuro considered that mental picture for a moment and decided it wouldn't be a bad thing. "If I survive the part where I feel like I'm starving all the time."

"I can handle that." Temari stood up, opened her fan, and aimed a swing of cutting wind at the nearest palm tree. Several coconuts rained to the ground. "There. That should help."

He grunted, realizing that he'd been so dazed that he'd failed to consider the natural supply of coconuts. Since his strong suit had always been information gathering, it underscored for him how zoned out he was.

Temari cracked open a few coconuts, then carried them over and set them beside her brother. "Here you go."

"Thank you," Kankuro said, picking up one half and drinking the milk out of it before biting into its flesh.

Temari knelt beside him on his left and pulled out a tin of medicinal ointment. "Let me treat those wounds."

Kankuro paused, knowing he should maintain his tough-guy act, pretend he didn't need help, and brush off his injuries as insignificant. But in truth, he wanted a bit of care.

His sister apparently read his intentions. "Don't you start in with your attitude," she said, opening the tin.

"My attitude? Like you can talk," he replied, but his rebuff sounded half-hearted even to himself.

His sister smirked. "I'm the eldest; I can have as much attitude as I want."

Kankuro glanced at her, seeing the amusement glittering in her green eyes, and relaxed against the rock face, setting down his half-eaten coconut.

"Better," she muttered, then dipped her finger in the ointment and reached out, treating the wounds on his forehead and cheeks. "You did take quite a beating," she commented as she worked around his face paint.

"So did you." Kankuro felt a flash of irritation.

"Don't be so moody," Temari replied, snorting. "It was an observation, not an insult. That turned out to be harder than a C-rank mission, and our pay better reflect it."

Kankuro nodded, feeling more and more tired. "Yeah . . ."

Temari picked up his left arm and gently treated the gash racing down his forearm. "You might need stitches for this."

He grimaced; he despised stitches. "Don't say that. Just bind it tight."

She nodded and pulled out a roll of bandages, wrapping his arm firmly. Kankuro watched her work and wondered if moments like these — moments in which his older sister looked after him with such unspoken care — was what it felt like to have a mother. Since he'd been two when his father had ordered his mother killed, he couldn't remember what it felt like.

Temari glanced at him and must have seen something odd in his expression; she paused after tying the knot on the bandage. "What is it?"

Kankuro glanced away, embarrassed. "Nothing."

She hesitated, then reached out and wrapped her arms around him, pulling his head against her shoulder. "It's okay, you know." She pulled off his hood and kissed the top of his head.

Kankuro squirmed a second, struck with a teenager's urge to avoid such obvious shows of affection. "Nee-san . . ." However, his resistance lasted only a moment, his willpower losing completely to his need to have someone who cared for him. He relaxed against her, letting her embrace him.

"I said it was okay," she repeated softly.

She knew. What was more, Kankuro realized, she understood and felt the same way. He didn't reply; he simply wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her back. "Nee-san . . ." He couldn't quite bring himself to say it — to tell her that he loved her.

"Ototo," she said in the same soft voice, and he knew she once again understood his feelings and returned them. She always had, but they'd never vocalized it once in their lives.

"Thank you," he said simply, closing his eyes and letting the cool desert breeze wash over him.

"Always," she replied just as simply, settling beside him without releasing the embrace.

Kankuro smiled and let himself drift to sleep, secure in the knowledge that even though they'd grown up isolated in the world, trapped with a cold father on one side and an insane brother on the other, they had always had each other and always would.

A/N: No standing insult to Gaara there, of course; Kankuro knows he's changing. Speaking of which, Gaara's scene with Temari will be next.

Thank you to Darkhelmetj for betareading and to anyone who reads and reviews. I wrote this specifically for the people who asked me to write Temari — you know who you are!