A Shoulder to Lean On, Part II

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: Set four months after the rescue Sasuke arc. Part I is Kankuro, and part II is Gaara. Part II refers briefly to the events of Part I (i.e., Kankuro being injured).

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

Part II: Gaara

Gaara hovered in the kitchen doorway, gazing at Temari, who was collecting pots and pans, knives and food as she prepared to cook supper. A question had been plaguing him for months, and as he watched his sister, it returned to him again: What did it mean to have siblings? Up until he'd fought Naruto, his bonds with others had irritated him at best and often provoked homicidal urges. Now, though, he found himself watching Kankuro and Temari and wondering what it would feel like to engage in a familial bond with them. And the longer he pondered it, the more he needed it. With Kankuro, he had taken a chance and shared his dreams, and to his utter relief, his brother had both listened and taken him seriously. But ever since the invasion of Konoha, when Temari had last seen him transform, Gaara found his sister less approachable. Still, he wished he could connect with her.

Gaara watched Temari set about chopping vegetables for stir-fry and frowned at her awkward movements. "Would you like help?"

Temari paused and glanced at him in surprise. "Sure."

"What do you need me to do?" Gaara gazed down at his feet, uncomfortable with his own initiative. When their father had died, the siblings had been forced to dismiss the household servants and learn to cook and clean for themselves. Temari had organized a task list, tentatively approaching Gaara with his third of the responsibility. However, Gaara had accepted his role without comment, seeing the assignment as a practical necessity. Where he'd failed horribly, though, was in cooking. Temari was an awkward cook who could cover the basics; Kankuro had a flare for it, showing an inexplicable understanding of what spices to experiment with. Gaara burned everything he touched.

Still, Gaara knew he had to help today, so he joined Temari by the kitchen counter. Kankuro had been injured on his latest mission with Temari and was asleep, trying to recover from blood loss.

"Why don't you chop these vegetables?" Temari handed him the knife.

Gaara looked up and nodded, accepting the knife and slowly cutting up the vegetables while Temari put rice in the rice cooker and set about grilling some fish.

Efficient, practical, no nonsense . . . this was his sister. Gaara frowned at the red peppers he was slicing, trying to figure out what he could even say to her. Of the last two people he'd tried to connect with — other than his recent attempts with Kankuro — one had slammed the door in his face and the other had tried to kill him.

Gaara paused, uncomfortable. What did he and his sister even have in common? They were both shinobi, but talking about work seemed impersonal, even to Gaara. Past that, the only thing they shared in common was . . .

"Kankuro," Gaara said quietly.

She glanced at him. "What about him?"

Now what? Gaara forged ahead. "How . . . how severe are his injuries, exactly?"

"Nothing a few days of rest and meals won't cover." Temari smiled at him — a genuine smile. "You know Kankuro. He may have a bad attitude sometimes, but he's impossible to keep down."

"True." Gaara resumed chopping the vegetables, feeling at a loss. Awkward, awkward silence. He couldn't think of anything to keep their conversation going. How was he supposed to discover these precious bonds Naruto spoke of if he couldn't hold a conversation on anything other than violence and death?

With a small sigh, he picked up the cutting board and slid the peppers into the frying pan. Then he began slicing carrots, thinking that his only choice was to try to generate more talk of their brother. "Since I . . ." He frowned, feeling an unexpected pain flash through him — an old pain. "Since I was kept isolated from you two, I don't know. Did Kankuro always have such a bad attitude?"

Temari paused over the fish she was grilling, her wide eyes showing her surprise.

He pinned his gaze to the carrots. He knew his behavior was decidedly uncharacteristic, but lately he had wondered about his siblings.

Temari turned her attention back to the fish, flipping each one. "Funny you should ask. I was thinking about that myself during our mission." Her expression softened. "No. When he was a young child, he was sweet." She stared at the fish as though she could see through them into the past. "He was always first to greet Baki when he arrived to train us, always managed to remember everyone's birthdays, and always gave people random presents just because he knew they liked something." She paused, her voice growing quiet and sad. "Baki has a secret weakness for sweet dumplings, and Kankuro would bring him some. He was never sucking up . . . just happy to make others happy."

Gaara felt a looming sense of trepidation. "What happened?"

Her eyes narrowed, and she clenched her jaw momentarily. "Father considered him too soft and set about 'toughening him up.' It worked quickly and effectively. By his eighth birthday, he'd become sullen and irritable, and by the time he was ten, he became really smart-assed."

Gaara accidentally dropped the knife. "'Toughening him up'?" he repeated, and in his mind's eye, he saw the endless barge of kunai, of swords, of poisoned needles — the hundreds of ways his father's assassins had tried to kill him. Knowing how ruthless his father had been, Gaara couldn't imagine that his brother had undergone anything other than extreme cruelty. In that moment, he felt like he shared something more than blood with Kankuro.

Temari stepped toward him, looking worried. "Gaara? You okay?"

He started to dismiss her concern, then realized it was her care that he wanted. What he really wanted was a bond, because he knew better than anyone that people couldn't win against their loneliness. "Not entirely."

She reached toward him, paused, then squeezed his arm. "It's about Father, isn't it?"

Gaara gazed at her hand, struck by how something so simple made him feel like he mattered. "Yes." He hesitated, realizing the significance of the entire conversation. "Father wasn't . . . kind to any of us, was he? He tried to kill me, but he was hateful and cruel toward you and Kankuro, too."


Gaara realized he had a third and unfortunate thing in common with his sister. "I'm sorry. I never stopped to even consider it."

"Hey . . ." She smiled, biting her lip for a moment, then drew him into a loose embrace. "You had more to deal with than either of us, and it's enough that you're considering it now."

Gaara froze, shocked senseless by this unexpected and unfamiliar physical contact. Still, the hug felt warm and safe, and he found himself slowly relaxing against her. Suddenly, she didn't seem so standoffish and blunt; he could sense something else in her — some type of guardian instinct. In that moment, he wanted nothing more than to understand what it meant to have an older sister.

Temari reached up and ran her hand through his hair, gently separating the locks and pushing them away from his face. At the kind touch, the lifelong pain that burned in Gaara's heart exploded, stinging his chest as though he'd been shot with poisoned needles. He gasped and started to jerk away from her, but he couldn't quite make himself do it.

"T-Temari . . ." He couldn't find the words to tell her how it hurt, and yet how he needed her at the same time.

"What is it?" she asked, her voice filled with concern. She hugged him tighter, rubbing his back with her palms.

Instinctively, he reached up and wrapped his arms around her waist, trying to draw comfort from the embrace. "Do you . . . ?" he began, but he couldn't bring himself to ask the question: do you love me? He didn't understand what love was, exactly, and he was afraid of her answer.

She seemed to sense his distress. "It's okay, ototo," she whispered. A long pause followed, and when she continued, her voice remained quiet. "I . . . I'm here now. By your side. If you want me to be."

The words seared through him, cutting through his chest as surely as any katana. He hugged her tighter, squeezing his eyes shut in pain, knowing that his heart remained broken. After a moment, however, the pain began to drift away, slipping away from him like sand through his fingers.

"Yes," he finally replied, and it was all he could say. What he wanted and needed, what he dreamt of and worked toward, he couldn't quite verbalize to her. He didn't know why, since he could talk to Kankuro about it. Had knowing his mother cursed him left him more vulnerable to women's words? Or had he somehow always sensed what Temari had spoken of — the deeply buried and battered sensitivity that Kankuro hid under his punk attitude and Kabuki paint? Something, though, made Gaara only able to open himself to his brother.

And yet . . . and yet . . . as Temari embraced him, he felt his pain, like grains of sand, float away in an unfelt breeze.

She released him and gave him a grin — the wide kind that revealed her perfectly straight, white teeth. Gaara recognized the smile as the one she reserved for moments when she was truly happy . . .

. . . and ready to tease someone.

"Let's finish supper, ne?" She turned back to the fish, flipping them again, then glanced at him sideways. "Before it all burns again."

Gaara snorted quietly but couldn't help feeling amused. "If I touch it, it automatically burns." He kept his tone flat, deadpan. "Your stir-fry is doomed."

Temari chuckled, and as Gaara watched her green eyes twinkle, he dared to hope that one day, even if it were years in the future, he could look at her and call her nee-san.

A/N: Thank you to Darkhelmetj for beta reading and everyone who reviewed and/or faved Part I. Again, this is dedicated to those who asked me to write about Temari and her bonds with her brothers.