Disclaimer: I do not own any characters used in this story.

This takes place after Kankuro's battle with Sasori in Shippuuden.

Almost Like a Father

"That idiot!" Those were the first words Baki spoke after learning of Kankuro's condition, and those same words ran through his head every few minutes as he watched the medical ninja try to save the impulsive young man. This never would have happened if the puppet master had only followed his instructions. Instead, his disobedience might lead to his death. Baki internally cringed at the thought. The very idea was awful, and yet it seemed imminent.

His thoughts were so focused on Kankuro that he did not even notice that one of the doctors had come up to him. "I'm sorry, sir." He cleared his throat. "We're doing… We have done everything we could, but he…"

"Don't talk as though he's already dead!" Baki interrupted sharply. He felt the urge to grab this man by the shirt collar or bang his fist against the wall, but he controlled these impulses. Still, something in his visible eye alerted the other that he had better get back to the patient immediately. Excuses were made, and he hurried away.

Baki sighed as his attention returned to Kankuro. He had known the boy for a long time and therefore believed he had a better idea than most about what made him tick.

Although not as tragic as Gaara's, Kankuro's life had not been an easy one. He lost his mother at an early age. While Temari loved him dearly, she was only a child herself when it happened and could not be expected to replace the love and care he had lost. His father was cold and indifferent. Lust for power overcame any parental affection. And Gaara… The two older siblings were kept away from him, often being told that he was dangerous. Years later, the reality proved more frightful than the warnings, and they often feared for their lives.

Kankuro hated his father and his brother. They both made him feel weak in their own way. But he hated himself even more because he also loved them, and nothing any of the three said or did could completely erase that. He longed for his father's approval. He worried about Gaara and wanted to be closer to him.

The ways of the Sand Village did not allow for such weaknesses and tender feelings, and so Kankuro wore a mask. As hard as he tried to keep it in place, there were times, especially around those he cared for most, that it all fell apart. Right then for instance. Kankuro called out to his younger brother in his sleep as if he would get up off the bed and go after him again at that moment.

Baki shook his head. He had always believed that his student's attitude would get him into the most trouble, not his heart. He remembered having to deal with that attitude quite often. When he started training the siblings, Kankuro had the audacity to ask him why he wore a cloth over half his face, but it only happened once. Baki gained his student's respect very quickly.

That did not mean Kankuro would not challenge his patience and self-control in other ways. He complained. He talked back. He tried to shirk his responsibilities and often did not give the proper respect to his superiors.

Even Baki did not always know how to handle him. Kankuro was talented. He was even intelligent when he decided to put his mind to use. But he was also impetuous. He was arrogant. He was… He was the closest thing to a son Baki ever had.

The thought surprised him, but the almost fatherly concern he felt seemed natural. He was not the emotive, overly affectionate father figure he knew Kankuro often longed for as a child, but he was there. He would continue to be there for him in his own way.

"Keep fighting," he said softly to the boy across the room. "I'm not going to lose you."