Coping

Chapter 1: The Trapdoor Spider

Sabaku-no-Kankuro had a problem.

He worked too much.

You wouldn't think it by looking at him; in fact you would assume that he was a lazy slacker of the kind who would hang around the training grounds all day, trying out new pickup lines on the younger kunoichi. And if you were to reiterate this assumption to either of Kankuro's siblings, they would either laugh hysterically or threaten you with vast amounts of sand, depending on the circumstance. Temari could count on one hand the number of times her younger brother had willingly left his 'lair' and still have plenty of fingers left over.

But it was true, Kankuro was a bit of a workaholic. He had been known to disappear inside his underground workshop for days, not surfacing for air or food or sane company until whatever he was working on was done. This, Temari had always assumed, was his way of coping- with their father, their brother, everything. She had always assumed that Kankuro's slightly unhealthy tendencies would alter as he grew, become less fanatical, less..less like their father.

But they didn't.

To date the puppeteer's longest stay inside his dungeon was roughly a week.

He hadn't been seen for almost two when Temari took her concerns to Gaara.

Gaara had long ago noted Kankuro's odd stints underground as he noted all other details- the insignificant things that didn't help him exist in any way, shape, or form. But after Naruto and becoming Kazekage, Gaara couldn't deny that things like his brother sitting in the dark working on something for so long he might have forgotten about the sun worried him immensely. Because Kankuro had become what Rock Lee termed a 'special person'.

And one of Gaara's special people had, theoretically, gone without food for over seventy two hours.

Which meant, naturally, war.

oOo

Temari glanced over at Gaara. He nodded at her. He'd foregone his kazekage robes when she explained the plan to him, and was now wearing his more battle-ready maroon overcoat and pants. She herself had two smaller tessen hand fans and numerous projectile weapons. Both siblings had breathing masks, like the ones worn daily by rain ninja, hanging around their necks.

"Ready?" she asked.

"On three," Gaara agreed. "One...two...THREE."

Both launched themselves at the tall wooden door. Temari felt the tug of a hidden string and cursed; sand wrapped around her, senbon bouncing off of it as Gaara made for the doorhandle. It was locked. With a quirk of his lips sand grains filled the mechanism. The Kazekage cursed when he heard the low hiss of hidden vents and yanked his mask up as dark blue fog filled the corridor; he continued to bang on the door as Temari joined him, sidestepping the thin column of shooting kunai spat from the doorframe.

Gaara let out a little 'hn' noise as the handle gave way. The sand tugged the door open- and both siblings flattened themselves against the walls as chakra charged detonation tags shot past them to explode harmlessly in the middle of the corridor.

Silence fell. Temari tried to even out her breathing as Gaara pulled carefully away from the wall. They both stuck their heads forward.

"Kankuro!" Temari called.

Nothing.

"KANKURO!"

Nada.

"Kankuro, I swear if you don't come out of there NOW we're going to-"

She didn't have time to react to the wakizashi headed right at her forehead.

The blade was inches from Temari's face when the sand shot out, wrapping around the weapon and flinging it into the old stucco. Pieces of the wall flaked off as Temari's instincts finally kicked in and she ducked into a roll. The blonde sat up, snarling. "Oh that is IT puppet boy! When I get my hands on you I'm gonna tear your heart out, you hear me?!"

There was no response.

Gaara could see the panic rising on Temari's face as he felt a strange tightness in his chest. Without another word the two charged into the room. Temari groped for the light switch and found it, the dull hum sounding hollow in their ears as dim yellow runner lights came to life.

There were cabinets and hooks lining the walls; puppets hung from the ceiling, in pieces or whole. Some were painted, some were not. There were scroll racks and saws and pots of poisons, all tools of a trade Temari showed no affinity for and Gaara had no patience to learn.

That wasn't what they were focused on.

Instead their eyes went straight to a table closest to the door.

Gaara blinked a few times, then cautiously stepped further into the room, making a beeline for the red-headed doppleganger laid out as though in state across the wood. He could hear Temari behind him and felt her pause next to him as they stared down at Gaara- Gaara with his black ringed eyes closed peacefully as though sleeping. His flawless skin was the perfect shade, his fingers just the right length. Even the 'ai' scar was perfection, right down to its narrowed edges, scoured by sand so many years ago. The Kazekage was fairly sure he recognized the coat the clone was wearing- it could only have been lifted from his personal belongings.

Fascinated, Gaara reached out a hand.

"I wouln' do tha' ifIwesyou."

Gaara stiffened and jerked around as Temari did. Leaning against the far wall, half bent over with bloodshot eyes, Kankuro observed his siblings mellowly. Temari cursed quietly. If they'd been able to catch him off guard, like the last few times they had removed him forcibly, he would usually go without much of a fight, a trapdoor spider dragged from his den.

But catching Kankuro off guard was like trying to weasel out of buying Uzumaki ramen.

"y'might breakim." Kankuro said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was slurring horribly. "I hav..haven' got the eyes right yet, ja.." He gestured with one hand; a kunai on the nearby table flipped up and began tapping a nonsense rhythm in automatic reaction to flickering chakra strings.

Temari and Gaara glanced at one another; it was mutually decided that Gaara would approach their worse-for-wear brother. The Kazekage walked forward on confident feet, although a constant ring of sand surrounded him, wary of any unseen projectiles flung from the shadows.

He was about three feet away from Kankuro when the scent hit him like he'd just walked down the main street of the redlight district well into opening hours.

"Brother," Gaara said, "Are you drunk?"

Kankuro rose a brow at him; Gaara realized with a soft jab of pain to the gut that there were lines in his pristine white and purple paint. Teartracks.

"Shaddap, bro." Kankuro said amicably. "You're dead, ja."

And then the puppeteer fainted.

A/N: Okay, okay, I admit it, I have a fetish for imagining all the different ways that Kankuro's workshop could look. DON'T JUDGE ME. This will be another multi-chapter, although I already know how it's going to end, so you won't have to wait for very long. At least, I hope you won't. Read and review!