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

Spoilers through about chapter 515. Everything else is made up.

A Heavy Burden

"I can't do this!" Kankuro slammed his fist on his brother's desk.

Gaara's impassive eyes starred back at him. "You must," he said simply. "You have a responsibility to the people of this village to take up the mantle of Kazekage.

Kankuro clenched his teeth and glared down at the desk as his whole body shook. "But the people need your power. They need you."

"I am no longer fit to lead them." Both brothers' eyes drifted towards the gourd leaning against a far corner of the room. It had not been touched since being brought back after the war.

"He's right," Temari's voice came from behind Kankuro. He turned to face her and noticed she wasn't carrying her fan with her. It also hadn't been used since the war. Kankuro guessed his sister's weapon was probably in her room. It was as if no one knew what to do with it anymore.

"This shouldn't have happened," Kankuro whispered. He swallowed hard and looked at his siblings. "I should have been there. I should have protected you. I should have..."

"It would not have done any good," Gaara cut him off. "You would have suffered the same fate."

Kankuro grunted. He then asked his brother the question that had been nagging at him since that horrible battle. "Why didn't you put me on your team? Why did you send me so far away from where you and Temari would be fighting?"

"Do you remember what happened the last time I was in danger? You lost your head and got poisoned. You nearly died. When either Temari or I am in trouble, you tend to put us first. You lose concentration, and that puts everyone at risk."

For the first time in years, Kankuro honestly wanted to punch his brother. But he didn't dare. He wouldn't do anything that could send Gaara away.

Temari gave him a concerned look. She came closer and started to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he stepped away quickly and shrugged his sister off before she could reach him. It wasn't because he was angry with her. But she seemed so fragile right then, and he was afraid to touch her. It felt as if any physical contact would make her shatter to pieces.

She looked hurt, but when she spoke, her words were gentle. "Kankuro, you know Gaara would never say anything to hurt you. Not now."

The puppet master nodded but for a moment could not find his voice.

"I made you the captain of the ambush squad because I had faith in your abilities," Gaara amended.

"Heh," Kankuro snorted. "Yeah, you would say that. But maybe you had a point earlier. I live for the village, but I've always lived for you guys just a little bit more. What am I supposed to do? How am I going to get over the fact that I failed you again?"

"You didn't fail us," Gaara said simply.

"He's right," Temari agreed. "No one saw that jutsu coming."

Kankuro clenched his fists. "What was that guy's name again?" No answer came. He looked away from his siblings. "It doesn't matter. I've never even heard of him before. But now, because of him... Because of his power..."

"None of us knew," Temari said wistfully. She looked down at her hand and seemed to be in pain.

Kankuro rushed to her side and reached out to hold her, but he stopped. The fear of breaking her had returned. "Temari, please..."

She looked up at him and tried to smile. "Little brother, you really have to stop this. It's not doing anyone any good."


"I know it's hard," Gaara's voice reached him again. "But you have to live solely for the village now. The people need a leader."

Kankuro threw his hands up in exasperation. "I just can't. You guys know my temper. I've physically threatened members of the council before. It'll get even worse now." He turned to Temari. "You've always been the voice of reason in this family."

"That'll have to change," she said softly. "I can't pull your hide out of the fire anymore."

Kankuro starred down at the floor, feeling tired and defeated. "I just don't want to be alone."

Then a knock sounded at the door of the office, and Baki walked in. His eyes narrowed on Kankuro, ignoring the other two. The puppet master saw him nearly bump into Temari and felt anger rise in his stomach at the way he ignored her presence. "Are you all right? I heard voices." He placed a strong, firm hand on Kankuro's shoulder.

"We... I mean I just... I..."

"You're doing it again." Baki sighed. His expression held sadness and concern. "Kankuro, this isn't healthy. You have to stop."

"Yeah, that's what they said."

Baki now looked exasperated. "We don't have time to go over this again. You have to pull yourself together for the sake of the village. You have to accept that Gaara and Temari are dead."

"No!" Kankuro shouted. He quickly pulled away from Baki and looked at his siblings, but it was too late. Their images had faded and disappeared. Kankuro sank into his brother's chair and let his face fall into his hands.

"Kankuro," Baki tried again but was met with silence. "I'm sorry. I'll give you some more time. But we can't wait forever." He turned around and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

"How is he doing?" Ebizo asked.

"No better." Baki looked weary. "He's still doing it."

The old man nodded. "Throwing his voice, or rather his siblings' voices, into thin air. I've heard it too." He sighed. "I know how he feels. My own sister... However, the fact remains that he is in no condition to take up the position of Kazekage."

"But what other choice is there? You and I are the only other viable candidates."

"And I am too old, and he has surpassed you long ago. It's true. There is no other way. We must get him through this somehow." They walked off together in search of a way to help the puppet master.

Back in the Kazekage's office, Kankuro remained seated at the desk, his mind desperately trying to conjure up the image of his siblings once again.