Chapter Four: Blood of My Blood

Koji of the Aida Clan frowned at the hardened sphere of sand. Suna's Godaime Kazekage was proving more resilient than Taro's reports had indicated. Perhaps the traitor had double-crossed him, but the Oracle had ensured him that Taro's information was true and his intentions straightforward. Taro's ambitions and hatred Koji could understand; the Kazekage's efforts to protect his clan he could both understand and respect. But this sudden show of strength was puzzling.

"Simple force will not be enough," Koji said, signaling for his men to stop attacking the sphere. He gazed at the sand eyeball that watched him. "He knows what we're doing anyway. We need to be quick and forceful."

At that moment, a scream erupted from within the sphere — a howl like an enraged but dying animal. Koji crouched and drew his katana; his warriors hopped backwards and took fighting stances.

The entire ground began to shake; the sand jumped and shifted like in an earthquake. A shiver passed through Koji as though a ghost had walked through his chest, leaving him cold. "A spirit moves," he whispered to his men.

The air vibrated with a dull roar, and through the sand sphere came a growl of a voice:

"Ryusa bakuryu!"

The sand beneath Koji's feet exploded like a geyser, hurling him and his men into the air. Koji twisted mid-air, trying to right himself, but an avalanche of sand crested high above him like a tsunami. As his warriors yelled in fear, Koji looked upon the wave with calm acceptance.

"For his brother," Koji said in realization. "He has called upon his ancestors for vengeance." He drew back his katana and called upon his own blood, upon all the spirits of his family that he believed dwelt within him. Blood to blood, flesh to flesh — the passing of chakra through generations of funeral rituals. He raised his blade above his head. "Chi no ken!" With those words, he slashed downwards, cutting through the sand with a blinding red chakra.

But the sand kept coming: a desert's worth of grains, a brother's grief, a monstrous force that could not be stopped. The sand tsunami crashed into Koji's body and began to bury him along with his warriors. He tried to draw breath, but the sand was so thick that no air reached his lungs. In his last seconds of consciousness, however, he heard the Godaime Kazekage's voice:

"Sabaku taisou."

Koji felt the crushing weight of the sand upon him, and the pain surpassed all he could have imagined. Then Ito Koji of the Aida clan went to meet his ancestors.

Gaara stood on a flat plane of sand, his brother lying behind him and puppets lying around him, and panted. All his enemies were buried beneath him, crushed to death by tons of compacted sand. He stared at the ground, his arms hanging limply before him as he hunched from exhaustion and tried to feel some satisfaction in their deaths. None came. Even if he killed all the people in the world, it would not bring his brother back to life.

His breath hitched, and he gasped, tears standing in his eyes. He had what he wanted: the power to defend his village. Yet it meant nothing because one of the two people he most wanted to protect was gone. He turned toward Kankuro and collapsed on his knees beside him.

"Nii-san," he whispered, feeling far greater agony than he had the day Yashamaru had betrayed him. He tried to raise his hand to his chest, to cover his aching heart, but he'd drained himself so completely he lacked the energy. He hands and body shook with a pain that he couldn't begin to express.

For a fleeting moment he found that, very selfishly, he hoped he died of the chakra exhaustion. He didn't want to pass out to simply have to wake again to the knowledge his brother was dead. He didn't have the strength, now or ever, to even begin to accept it.

However, as he gazed at Kankuro, he realized suddenly that his brother's chest was moving. Gaara's eyes widened, and he thought for a moment he was hallucinating. He reached toward Kankuro, only to fall face first onto the ground beside him. Still, his hand found Kankuro's hand, and he squeezed it. Warm. It was warm. Gaara's fingers reached to the wrist and felt for a pulse, and beneath his fingertips, he felt a faint but steady beat. The pulse throbbed in his hand, and he gasped. With his other hand, Gaara tried to claw his way closer, but it was impossible. With all his soul, he reversed his decision, desperately hoping he'd survive the chakra drain. However, the world was beginning to look odd, as though the moonlight was being extinguished.

"No," Gaara rasped, squeezing Kankuro's hand again. "Nii-san . . ." He needed to help his brother. He needed to feel that warmth.

But the world spiraled away from him.

Temari sat in the chair usually reserved for Gaara and stared at the councilmen. With Baki's support, she'd managed to convince them to allow her to handle some of Gaara's paperwork while he recovered in the hospital. Given that he'd already been unconscious for three days, this had proven wise.

"Report, Rai-san" she ordered the newest Security Chief. A talented kunoichi, Rai had been an academy student with Temari, and Temari had vouched for her character in the hopes of lending some reliability to the position. She had no intention of supporting another traitor, unintentionally or otherwise.

"The Aida Clan has fully retreated," Rai replied. "With the loss of their leader, Ito Koji, along with half their forces, they have been severely weakened. Kazekage-sama's overwhelming attack against them demoralized their surviving warriors, and they show no signs of further aggression. I suspect we can expect a representative to arrive shortly requesting a treaty."

Baki nodded. "I concur. After witnessing Kazekage-sama's ryusa bakuryu and the death of their chieftain, they withdrew in a disorderly panic. Hopefully they will rethink their aggression toward us."

Temari jotted down a few notes. "Good to hear." She looked to Baki. "What is our official fatality count?"

"Twenty-one," Baki replied. "Fewer than I expected, to be honest."

"And we may count ourselves fortunate that Kazekage-sama wasn't one of them," Rai added.

For once, all the councilmen agreed, which pleased Temari. Maybe the jerks were finally becoming convinced that Gaara was a genuine asset to the village. "Indeed," she said, deciding to prod them a bit more. "He did, after all, almost singlehandedly win the war for us."

A contrite silent fell upon the room, and Temari hid her smirk. Even if it took the rest of her life, she'd convince them that Gaara was the best Kazekage to ever rule. She'd make sure they made a nice statue of him and wrote a good history for him in the children's textbooks. Her brother had proven twice over that he deserved their respect, after all.

But more than that, Temari would see her will done because she loved her youngest brother. In fact, she couldn't imagine what she'd do if either of her brothers died. Temari silently thanked Kami that was not the case, then redirected her attention towards the meeting. She nodded at Rai to continue and readied herself to take more notes.

Gaara was first aware that he existed. The existence, however, was formless and black. This disturbed him, and he tried to push outward, to touch something with form or meaning. He then realized he was under layers of darkness.

Who . . . am I? he wondered with a moment's panic. He clawed upwards, trying to reach something . . . light? He needed to . . . to awaken. Yes, that was it. But where was he? And —

Gaara jerked awake, opening his eyes wide before the darkness could engulf him again. Consciousness, however, smacked him hard. The room around him was white and glowed brightly with dawn light. He knew immediately something was wrong, didn't want to remember what, then did: his brother might be dead.

A shooting pain struck his gut, and he gasped. "Kankuro!"

"Ototo," replied a hoarse voice.

Gaara snapped his head toward the voice, desperately hoping to confirm what he'd heard. He blinked several times, and his mind and eyes cleared further. Across from him in a hospital bed was Kankuro.

His brother, who was covered in bandages and bruises, smiled at him. "It's 'bout time you woke up," he rasped.

"Are you all right?" Gaara struggled to sit up, but he kept his gaze trained on his brother the entire time. The world swam slightly, and he took several long breaths to force the dizziness to pass.

"Yeah." Kankuro cleared his throat. "Apparently I was touch and go for awhile, but I'm just sore now." His voice was stronger this time.

Finally stable, Gaara tried to crawl off the bed but stopped when his knee collided with something hard. He winced and glared at the metal sidebar on his bed, irritated at the obstacle between himself and his brother. He forced his stiff body to obey him and lumbered over the rail, practically losing his hospital gown in the process.

Kankuro chuckled. "I knew you'd do that." He still sounded tired. "I told them to put us in a double room or they'd face your wrath."

"Good," Gaara said, not disputing the truth of the claim. He forced himself to stand straight and cringed as several muscles refused to move properly. "I'm stiff. How long have I been out?"

"Three days."

Gaara found he didn't care. Nothing in the world mattered except his brother was alive and talking to him. He stumbled between the two beds and crawled over the rail of Kankuro's bed.

Kankuro shifted sideways to make room as Gaara fought the sheets. When Gaara turned back toward him, he found that Kankuro had managed to lift one arm. For some reason he couldn't explain, this made Gaara feel teary. He lay down and rested his head on Kankuro's shoulder as his brother wrapped his arm around him.

"Someone's going to walk in on this," Kankuro said.

"Don't care," Gaara mumbled, tightly encircling his brother's waist with one arm yet careful to avoid the bandages on his chest. "Thought you'd died." He couldn't seem to talk louder than a whisper. "It was the worst moment of my life."

Kankuro hugged Gaara to him. "Now you know how I felt when I came up on the sight of Chiyo-basama reviving you. For a moment . . . time stopped for me."

Gaara shuddered. "Never. Again." He closed his eyes and inhaled Kankuro's scent. The bleach on the sheets had replaced the trace smell of sawdust often found in Kankuro's clothes. However, the inexplicable scent that Shukaku has always simply termed "male" was there — a faint scent, almost like a musk, which Shukaku had specifically tagged as "male, Kankuro" and Gaara associated not only with comfort but also with strength.

Gaara exhaled heavily and relaxed. "You smell like you." A tiny smile worked its way onto his lips.

Kankuro chuckled again. "I hope so. I'd hate to think I'd absorbed the smell of this hospital." A pause, and Gaara suspected his brother was remembering the way he had once commented on Kankuro's bedsheets smelling like him. "That is a good thing, right?"

"Hn." Gaara resisted the urge to tease him otherwise.

"They tell me you buried half the Aida Clan's forces after I passed out," Kankuro said after a moment.

Gaara frowned. "Thought you'd died," he repeated.

His brother squeezed his shoulders again. "No, I mean you proved you're as strong as ever."

Kankuro was right, and yet, to Gaara, the realization was unimportant. "Doesn't matter if you're not here," he told him bluntly.

A long pause followed this proclamation, then Kankuro kissed his forehead. "I know what you mean."

Gaara opened his eyes but couldn't meet Kankuro's gaze. "You said you'd protect me."

Kankuro reached up and placed his other hand on the arm Gaara had wrapped around his waist. "Yes, I will."

"I'll protect you, too." Gaara closed his eyes again, relaxing further.

For a moment, Kankuro seemed to hold his breath. "As you wish . . . Kazekage-sama."

Gaara snorted and nudged him with his nose. "Don't you dare call me that."

His brother laughed, and the sound had never seemed more welcome.

"The blood that flows in your veins in the same that flows in mine," Gaara said, repeating words Kankuro had once said to him. "You'll always be under my protection, whether I'm Kazekage or not."

"Stop it," Kankuro whispered, "before you make me cry. Or I'll make you buy me a teddy bear. If you want things to go both ways, ototo, it'd better be everything."

This time, Gaara smiled. "All right, nii-san."

Kankuro hugged him closer again, and Gaara allowed himself to grow sleepy once more. Waking up would be no problem now that he knew his family was intact. Kankuro's body was warm, and with his head against his chest, Gaara could hear his brother's heartbeat.

Blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, Gaara thought as he drifted to sleep. I think I can somewhat understand the Aida Clan's passion. My siblings are precious to me . . .

And Godaime Kazekage knew that things would, for once, be truly all right.

A/N: Once again, I'm sorry it took me so long to post this story. I got stuck in the middle chapters because I wrote 12 action stories for Forgotten Realms before I ever got to Naruto and basically got sick of writing fight scenes. I just had to work up the energy to deal with more fight scenes . . . again. I think I'll stay away from action stories a bit longer until I recover.

Anyway, thank you to Darkhelmetj for beta reading and for RPing half of chapter 3 with me so I could force myself through the fight scenes.

Also, thank you to every one of you who left me reviews and encouragement or faved me. I really appreciate all the support. You guys have been great.

OCs' attacks translated:
Kaze ken — wind sword
Chi no ken — sword of blood
Kaze shi no naginata — naginata of deadly wind (literally "wind death")