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The First Shifting Grains
CADEL


CHAPTER 13


Swarming and suffocating, the jinchuuriki was surrounded by shinobi of every rank.

They crawled and stalked with weary caution, their blades still and ready. Some ran in fear, while others stayed by some miraculous bout of bravery, but none were delusional enough to believe they could fight off the demon vessel. The Jinchuuriki paid very little attention to the few squadrons scrambled around him in a defensive barrier. Their blades were the least of his problems as his sand deflected their flying projectiles in a rapid dance of pale gold.

They did not notice that his eyes were the only thing that moved. Searching and calculating.

The shinobi still brave enough to linger watched as the demon vessel snap his head towards the left, then watched as the infamous sand shoot at lightning speed and crush the shinobi that had been crouched on the roof not too far away.

It only took three seconds, and then the body dripped away through the sand and to the ground. Their fellow comrade was gone.

Then they watched it repeated all over again.

III

"Kankuro, get up!"

The puppeteer collapsed out of bed but quickly straightened himself when he noticed the stilted tone in his sister's voice. "Wha – What's happening?"

"It's Gaara!" She gritted out while throwing her brother's pouch of shuriken at him. He caught his weapons with ease as he pushed away the last dredges of sleep from his body.

"What?" he drawled.

The blonde kunoichi eyes shifted to the window outside and answered, "He's lost it again. Come on, we've have to go!"

Kankuro shook the sleep from his limbs and asked with some annoyance, "Whose he killed now?"

"Everyone! Now get up!" She hissed.

Kankuro gave her a blink then strapped his puppet to his back then followed his sister. It was when they got outside that the genin realised that the atmosphere was buzzing with mania. There were ninja nearly everywhere, silently prowling through the thin streets and gliding over the roof tops. There was also the bitter stench of ash and smoke permeating the atmosphere.

He also noted a most ugly scent had been mixed in the air. It was the revolting perfume of scorched flesh.

"What the hell is going on? Why are there so many ninjas outside?"

Temari looked at the scrambling shinobi, scattering about in frenzy and replied, "There's been an attack on Suna."

The genin whipped his head around to his sister. "What?!"

"I don't really know much except a few building had been on fire in the east sector. So far we've been lucky since none of the civilians have been caught up in the blazes." Temari leaped onto another balcony. "But that might not last much longer."

"How did this happen." Kankuro clenched his fist as he passed by a unit of shinobi's performing a water jutsu.

"There were a few explosions earlier."

"Bombs? Don't we have seals for that?"

"Well, it seems the wards aren't doing their job." Temari grounded out.

The bitterness is the air filled Kankuro's nose as he ran. "Do we know who's responsible, do we know which village?"

Temari shook her head.

"And what does Gaara have to do with all this?" Kankuro asked, not really wanting to know. "Why weren't we told sooner? The patrols are supposed to notify everyone immediately!"

"They're dead."

Kankuro almost halted mid-air at her blunt statement.

"Who's dead?"

Temari's eyes stared ahead, her face was calm but her eyes were worried. "The ninja's on patrol," They bolted past a shop with the sign covered in dripping crimson, its grotesque splatters reeked of salt and iron. "They're dead." She repeated. "He's killed them all."

When the two siblings rounded another corner they were met with their teacher.

"Baki-sensei!" Temari called out as they all landed together on the one dome.

"Temari. Kankuro." He greeted simply.

"Have we found a way to control the situation yet?" Temari asked her teacher.

"How about the bastards who did this?" the boy growled.

Baki shook his head and replied, "No, so far we've had explosions but no discernible source."

"Seriously?" Kankuro agitatedly added.

"There are multiple units looking as we speak so there's still a chance we'll find something."

Temari's frowned deepened, making her youthful features seem older. "Most explosive leaves evidence behind, residual liquids or materials expelled from the source of the explosion. There can't be nothing left to analyse."

Her sensei sighed and looked towards the village which was beginning to glow with an eerie fire light.

In a different situation, it might have look beautiful, but it only made the shadows look garish and mutilated.

"We've found no traces of chemical or metal traces that are usually left behind after the detonation. If there were any left behind, it would help us piece together what the explosive are made out of and where to find them." It was sounded more grim ask he spoke. "But so far nothing."

"What the hell is evening happening?" Kankuro bit out.

Their jounin sensei hesitated then added, "…it's hard to understand anything without all the information."

"How about the situation with Gaara?"

"I've been informed that he's in the outer ring, near the walls. He started killing about ten minutes ago. "

Kankuro clicked his tongue.

Hot air rumbled and slammed into them in a torrent of heat and debris. All three looked to their right and saw a building catch on fire, a halo of red and yellow illuminating the structure. A few windows had been shattered and smoke billowed forth from the stucco above.

"Isn't that an apartment complex?" Temari asked as she moved in closer.

After a moment Kankuro added with some alarm, "There are people inside!"

Without another word the blonde kunoichi snapped her fan open and then gave one large sweep, effectively clearing out the smoke. Now that his path was cleared, Kankuro jumped into the structure without breathing in the rancid smoke and began his search in the damaged section of the building. The rest of the dwellers were being herded outside by Baki but there were still a few people left in the hot zone. A man, woman and their daughter was luckily the only people that needed to be rescued.

"Are we in the clear?" Temari asked snapping her fan closed.

"You have to help me, please! Please!" someone wailed from behind.

"Apparently not." The kunoichi mumbled.

A young man was on his knees while another restrained him from going back inside the building. "Oi, don't go back in there you idiot!"

"No, no, no! Sumi's still in there!" he wailed tugging away from the other man. "Let go of me! She's still in there!"

Baki nodded. "Where?"

"Up there on the top floor!" The man answered pointing to the most damaged part of the apartment complex.

Kankuro frowned then answered honestly. "Well shit." The boy grinded his teeth, "I don't think we can get through man."

"Why not!?" the man wailed desperately.

"Look," the genin pointed to the roof. "It's the most damaged part of the complex, almost directly underneath ground zero. Even I can tell from here that the roof is about to – "

A loud crash, a plume of smoke then raining debris followed.

"…collapse."

The man next to them seemed to stare horrifically up at the now collapse top floor, a silence raining down on all of them. Another civilian put a hand on the poor man's shoulder in some semblance of comfort.

Baki turned to the man and bowed, "We're sorry, we couldn't -"

"No! She's still in there!" the man wailed this time grabbing onto Temari with shaking hands. "She sleeps in the back room further inside… she's there, I know it!" his crying was now borderline obnoxious as he pleaded to the three shinobi. "Please save my Sumi!"

The young man shook his head then suddenly let go of Temari's arm then bolted towards the building himself.

"Hey! Come back here!" Kankuro jumped in front of the man before he went further and pushed him to the ground with one sweep. "Don't be stupid."

The young man was still struggling underneath Kankuro till the genin let him go in snivelling miserable state.

Kankuro looked at the man then back at the building with air of extreme exasperation. Then he gave a dejected sigh.

"Fine." The boy gritted out with extreme distaste for what he was about to do.

The crying man snapped his head towards the younger boy and widened his eyes.

"But the moment I know that I can't go further, I'm not even going to try to penetrate that part of the building. Dead or alive. Got it?"

Before Temari could stop him, Kankuro carefully leaped up into the apartment complex and began searching. The genin coughed his way through the smoke, his throat scratchy and thick. Thankfully he could feel a rush of wind powered by his sister's fan clearing some of his way from down below and continued towards the back. The walls were still hot and the ground felt like it would collapse at any moment. When Kankuro could no longer move forward due to collapse rubble, he tried to slip through a small gap in the wall of stucco but stopped when he heard the roof showing signs of collapse.

With a curse he retreated before he antagonised the building further.

It was as he was turning around to leave that he heard it, a sound like whimpering and shuffling, it was too organic to be dismissed as anything else but alive.

The genin pushed a bit of chakra into his ears then closed his eyes to listen. It took him a few seconds to get a rough idea of where the sound originated from but still left him the problem that he couldn't physically go any further into the collapsed building.

"Come on Crow, time to shine." Kankuro unbound the puppet from his back.

The operation took a tedious six minutes and a lot of coughing but Crow came back with Sumi within its body.

Kankuro opened the belly of his puppet to inspect if anything was still alive in there, only to gape at his discovery.

"You've got to be kidding me!"

Temari adorned a heavy scowl as she waited for her brother to emerge from the smoke and rubble – that was if he did at all. She let a bit of the tension in her shoulders go when she saw Kankuro jump out of the building just as another section of the roof collapsed. The boy landed and rolled into a crouch whilst bits of clay and debris rained down on his head. He cursed then stood up with his puppet standing faithfully by his side.

"Do you have her? Please tell me you have her!" the civilian man cried as he ran to the genin.

Temari couldn't see anyone else with her brother; no other body had been carried down except his own.

Just as the civilian was closing in she watched as her brother growl at the man, "Oh, you have some nerve." There was a furious scowl on his face which was more menacing then the one on his puppet. She watched her brother pull the man by the front of his shirt and scowled into his face, "Next time remember to give more accurate details you little piece of sh –"

"Kankuro!" his sister warned before he could go any further.

With a quick flick, the puppet opened and Kankuro pulled out a small body from the belly of Crow.

"Here's your mutt." Kankuro threw the creature at its owner.

The man ignored the genin's ire and rejoiced at the reunion. Temari scoffed and shook her head at her annoyed brother.

"I almost got killed for a fucking dog."

Their sensei joined a few moments later and gazed at the building with a frown.

"That's the first explosion we've had this close to the centre of the village." Baki commented grimly. "All the rest have been on the outskirts."

Temari frowned. "This is the only one not in the outer ring to detonate?"

Baki looked at his student then back at the village scape. "Yes, so far, it's our only outlier."

"Does this mean the attack progressing to the centre of the village?" Kankuro asked.

"Let's hope this is the only deviant."

Temari watched the towers of lofty smoke rising sporadically over Suna. The kunoichi frowned, trying to make sense of the pattern within the chaos, she could see it…but she couldn't quite grasp it. Her sensei however suddenly stood up from his crouch the turned his eyes towards the plumes of smoke in the sky.

"What is it sensei?" Temari frowned.

Just as she finished speaking a large arc of sand whipped into the sky and twisted its way back down.

"That's Gaara isn't it?" Kankuro said grimly.

It was far away but they could spy a small figure standing immobile while gold whips lashed sporadically. A loose circle of shinobi had formed around the central figure of the massacre, no one engaging but trying to maintain some sort of barrier with their bodies.

Kankuro crouched on an adjacent roof top and narrowed his eyes as he scanned the horizon.

"What is it?" Temari finally asked, her body already turning away to take flight again.

"It's gotten quiet."

The blonde replied bluntly, "We're in a middle of an attack. What about all this seems quiet to you?"

The boy frowned at her. "The explosions have stopped." The puppeteer looked back at the hellish scape of the village.

All three listened and watched and indeed there was a hollow silence in the air.

"You think it's over?"

"I don't think so, the hits seem sporadic so far. They'll start up again." She answered bitterly then jumped up to begin running again.

"Hey wait!" Kankuro yelled out, "Gaara's that way, why are we moving in the opposite direction?"

"I don't think we should be moving closer to our insane baby brother right now." She answered as if it was the most obvious thing. "We're going to find father. So far everyone else is trying to either move civilians out of the massacre perimeter or control the fire damage. We're not needed there at the moment."

"Oh…I thought…" Kankuro let his voice trail off as he looked back at the chaos behind him.

"What?" Temari asked impatiently, not finding her brother's indirectness all that helpful.

The puppeteer paused for a moment them gave a shrug. "I thought we should go to Gaara first."

The young kunoichi gave Kankuro a strange look. "Why the hell would we do that for?"

Her brother glanced away and gave a flippant huff.

"Forget it." The genin brushed away.

Temari chose to ignore the odd expression that flittered across her brother's face.

III

When Baki and his team arrived at the Kage dome, they were met with a cool faced jounin captain instead of the Kazekage.

"Captain Seiichi." Baki asked landing next to the other man. "Where is Lord Kazekage?"

"The Kazekage had left to deal with the jinchuuriki only a moment ago. He asked me to tell you that your intel is to be passed on to me while he is absent."

The jounin nodded and replayed the collected data from his recon.

"My team had just left a burning apartment complex only a few kilometres from here. There's a possibility the threat is spreading further into the village."

"Which sections have taken the most damage?" The captain asked as he clasped his hands behind his back.

Baki replied, "The entire outer ring has been under fire from the beginning and a total seven buildings were damaged in the attack, however, most have been put out immediately. The entire eighty degree arc of homes along the outer wall west of us, have been the most effected."

"Eighty out of a three-sixty degree village is not good... but not bad either." Seiichi muttered. "Only the west?"

"No, the north and east are burning as well but manageable enough that there's only about two units needed to contain and the area."

"How about the south?" the young kunoichi suddenly asked not even looking at two superiors.

Both jounin turned to her then glanced over the sprawling scape of stucco domes southwards. There was barely even a blaze in sight. However it was far from peaceful.

Baki decided to answer. "The south is the only section that has next to no explosive activity." The man paused then continued. "However, that part of the outer ring is currently being terrorized by Gaara as we speak."

Temari's eyes narrowed at the piece of information, her analytical mind was racing away, trying to pick apart the puzzle before her.

"Is that so?" Captain Seiichi hummed.

There was silence that had covered the village left an unnerving taste in the back of Temari's throat. No one believed it would be permanent.

"Alright," Baki suddenly announced. "My team will be helping the few sections in the civilian sector that have been affected by the attack."

Temari nodded and poised to jump when she suddenly realised something glaringly obvious.

"Where the hell is Kankuro?"

III

"Pull your men back!"

It had been three minutes since the last explosion and an eerie silence had blanketed the village.

"Don't get too close!" warned a jounin flanking the left of the boy on the roof.

Several shinobi were crouching a fair distance away from Gaara who had perched himself on the roof of a local civilian school. He didn't move but his sand shifted and swayed in undulating waves around his body, the sand stained deep crimson and the smell of iron radiated off the grains.

The bodies of their dead comrades were only recognisable by pools of red.

It was within this lull, a lone jounin who had been hidden in the child's blind spot edged closer to the jinchuuriki.

He just might be able to take the demon vessel by surprise. Unfortunately, it was premature thought. He got three steps closer than froze when a pair of pale eyes snapped in his direction. His comrades could only watch as Gaara's sand curled around the ninja, then tossed him over the roof to some far off distance like the jinchuuriki was skipping stones.

Then he turned away.

III

Kankuro was a few blocks away when a man fell down from the sky.

"What the hell?!"

The genin peered closer at the shinobi now rolling onto his back. Surprisingly, he was alive.

The ninja just groaned.

"Raining nin," Kankuro mumbled as he crouched down. "World's going down the shit hole."

The man should have been obliterated at impact but he just seemed a little shocked and bruised.

Kankuro suddenly noticed a soft bed of sand underneath the man. It smelt of rust and salt. He crouched nearer, ignoring the man entirely. There was no doubt the sand had cushioned his fall.

From the blood stains in the grains, he knew who it belonged to.

With a heavy frown Kankuro pushed forward to find his younger brother.

III

The Kazekage arrived in a flurry of sand and wind.

His imposing figure loomed above as he overlooked his soldiers surrounding their misbegotten jinchuuriki.

"How long has he been stationary?"

A chūnin with cropped hair answered, "A few minutes Kazekage-sama, he hasn't moved since his last attack."

If Gaara noticed his arrival, he did not turn his way. The child remained gazing off to some place far away, seeing something no one else could see. The sand danced around his body in soft movements, only just brushing gently against the stucco, the movements ironically demure and placid.

The village leader stepped forward and extended his hand. It was all distastefully familiar.

The Kazekage didn't need to speak, the area cleared instantly without a word. There was no fanfare, no speech, no pleads or warnings. He had done that years ago and they always fell on deaf ears. He will end this quickly and relatively cleanly if possible. A cloud of glittering gold spun out in a graceful wave. Then with a deceptively small movement of his wrist, it lashed out in a lethal arc towards the lone boy standing on the roof.

As expected, the pale sand met gold in an explosivly. Gaara's eyes shifted towards his father, giving him his full attention.

Then his son did something the Kazekage did not expect.

He retreated.

Tightening the sand around him, the jinchuuriki leaped back and crouched down on another stucco dome much further away. His sand did not lash out in retaliation. It just hovered in sweeping meanders around his small frame, a little agitated but clearly on the defence.

After a moment of silence, the Kazekage executed a second round of attacks. Gold dust twisted and barraged against the wall of sand that his son put up.

Gold was heavier and denser then silica, eventually the wall always broke.

When the Kazekage's gold breached the boy's defences, he was met with another reinforced wall of hard sand. With a twitch of his fingers, the older shinobi spun looping curtains of gold around the boy and began to pelt the genin's cacoon from all directions.

The Kazekage was relentless.

Then Gaara finally attacked.

The jinchuriki slid his sand from beneath his feet and shot a heavy line towards his father.

It was a weak attack but it was meant as a distraction while Gaara broke away from the man's gold barrage and retreated even further.

The crease on the Kazekage's brow deepened.

The boy was running.

The whole fight was becoming increasingly bizarre. Despite all the killing, Ichibi's presence had never appeared. Not once. That was the one distinction that made the massacre different to all the others that came before it. The detail had not slipped the Kazekage's attention.

It was exactly that one little detail that made the man cease his attacks and stand a few metres away from his son.

He eyes narrowed, assessing his son's face.

Small speckles of sweat sprinkled the genin's forehead and the bridge of his nose. His breath was laboured. Gaara was distracted, his pale eyes kept moving away from him, flicking towards the horizon far away.

The village leader noted with some curiosity that Gaara could barely stop the torrent of gold from pelting him when his father attacked again.

"Wait, fath-" he gasped. The Kazekage didn't hear him.

The genin raised his hand towards The Fourth but it was only seen as an attack and the gold dust only became heavier.

It was the most one-sided battle anyone had ever seen between the Kazekage and the jinchuuriki.

Both ninjas were a crazy powerhouse of chakra and raw skills. When they battled, Gaara was a near equal match for his father. It was his lack of sanity that made him most dangerous but it was also the same thing that made the Kazekage win every time. But as they watched, for reasons unknown, the jinchuuriki was barely managing to deflect and dodge his father's attack. The Kazekage slammed relentlessly into Gaara's sand which barely held up against the heavy attacks.

Eventually it was Gaara's unexpected use of a replacement jutsu that allowed him to escape the Kazekage's barrages of attacks. He rolled away and landed even further away from the village leader.

His small hands were shaking and his chest heaved with deep pants.

There was something wrong with their jinchuuriki.

Before anything could move forward, a blast erupted from the left, washing them in hot air and bitter smoke. When the Kazekage's attention went back to Gaara, he found the boy was already moving away.

Gaara met his gaze. His voice was so soft that the Kazekage wondered if it was meant to be heard at all.

"I'm sorry father."

A brief stillness seized the Kazekage's body. His surprise was quickly overshadowed by Gaara's sudden leap in the opposite direction which was followed by an explosion faraway.

"Stay back!" The Kazekage ordered when his ANBU tensed for a battle with the demon child. "The explosions had begun again. Half of you go and contain the collateral damage. The other half stays with me but do not interfere."

The soldiers obediently watched as their leader ran to pursue their jinchuuriki.

III

Kankuro dodged and flipped backwards only to be bombarded with debris from behind.

Damn, it was starting again.

It was only a moment later that he was startled into looking up and found Gaara leaping overhead.

He was stunned for a moment but the puppeteer leaped into action and followed his brother. When he rounded the corner, the genin quickly hid behind a stucco wall to watch his brother.

Kankuro grimaced as he watched an explosion of red spew forth from what used to be a man. The poor bastard couldn't even scream.

Not for the first time Kankuro wondered what the hell he was even doing there. Damn it. If it wasn't for his father's orders, he would have stayed with Tamari and Baki-Sensei. This was above his pay grade.

The entire place was near empty since Gaara's arrival.

Except for one kunoichi.

She was sitting on the ground, her back pressed against a wall, injured and barely conscious. She was not getting up anytime soon.

Gaara's eyes had found her. Kankuro's gut sank.

The puppeteer looked at the kunoichi and then back at Gaara crouching on a balcony not too far away. His eyes zoomed in on the woman like a hawk ready to strike.

She was only a few metres away. He could…he could try get to her…maybe he could grab her and run.

It sounded poor even in his own mind. He knew he would do no such thing. Kankuro was far too self-preserving to be a martyr.

He was a ninja. Not a hero.

The kunoichi coughed and wheezed then her eyes caught sight of her soon-to-be killer. The genin didn't need to see the suffocating fear in those unknown orbs to know that it was there. If only she didn't turn to look at Kankuro at that moment. But she did. And all Kankuro could do was curse.

He was a ninja, not a hero.

Damn it all to hell.

Kankuro bolted from his hiding spot and bee-lined straight for the woman. He could see Gaara's sand was already on a trajectory course towards them and all the puppeteer could do was crushing the overwhelming instinct to run away. He grabbed the woman and rolled out of the way just as the sand crashed into the wall, spraying in explosive waves.

"Get on your feet!" he barked out as soon as they were away from the sand.

The kunoichi wasn't responsive which irked the genin but he didn't let go of her till he hid himself around the corner.

"Get up! I can't carry you to safety ya useless woman!" his voice was now more panicked than concerned. There was something seriously wrong with the kunoichi, she was burning up and sweating from every pore. It was so bad that it was making Kankuro's clothes wet.

Another torrent of sand curtained over his head and began to descend onto him. Kankuro's eyes widened as his field of vision began to bleed away and all that he could see was pale sand. It never wanted to shut his eyes, but that was exactly what he did.

Then he waited.

When the next few seconds passed in silence, Kankuro dared to open his eyes.

And all he saw was glittering gold dust.

Spearing from the side, the Kazekage pushed Gaara's attack away and began to demand the boy's attention away from Kankuro. The puppeteer didn't need any more prompting and ran as fast as his legs could carry him with the extra weight on his back.

The Kazekage continued to hold Gaara under a constant fire of attacks. Sand and gold twisting and moulding into one violent dance.

The young jinchuuriki continued to dodge around the Kazekage's attacks but the older man wasn't a fool. Gaara's attention was only half in the fight. The boy's eyes kept drifting away, following towards the direction his older brother had run off to.

The leader's jaws clenched. He would make the boy focus on the true danger at hand.

ANBU and jounin alike surrounded the boy in a loose circle and supported the leader's constant barrage of attacks. The jinchuuriki's reactions were sluggish and weak; his body struggling to cope with the attacks and his face openly feverish and ill. Whatever was happening to their jinchuuriki was bad enough that a few shuriken and kunai thrown his way actually managed to get through his defensive wall and hit his body.

With a last explosive push, the Kazekage threw a spear of hard gold and drove into the sand wall. It obliterated the shield.

And speared right through his son's body.

It took nearly three seconds for everyone in the vicinity to register the golden spear skewering thorough Gaara's abdomen. Even the Kazekage couldn't seem to comprehend what had occurred. His attack was never meant to reach his son. Gaara's defence was always too strong, the throw would have never been lethal.

The jinchuuriki stumbled back and looked down at his stomach, dazed and choked. The Kazekage refrained from physically flinching when his son met his eye.

Then the Gaara dripped away into and puddle of harmless sand.

"It's a clone!" someone shouted from the back.

Immediately, multiple eyes darted rapidly looking for the real jinchuuriki only to find the boy leaping away in the other direction.

III

Kankuro didn't stop running till he nearly tripped over by the side of the road.

When the genin turned to look back, he was relieved to see no one had followed him.

The fear-induced adrenalin had worn off and he was starting to really feel the weight of the other body on his shoulders. He pushed the ill kunoichi down and propped her on the side of the street. She was half lucid and looked impossibly worse than before.

Suddenly a hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.

He pushed down the urge to snap bone.

The kunoichi's eyes were still closed, her shoulders slumped and her skin impossibly hot. Kankuro was no medic but he knew there was something dangerously wrong with her. No one should be that shade of pulp red.

She moved her lips. Kankuro moved in closer.

"I can't hear you."

The woman wheezed and choked miserably.

"C-can't breathe." Her voice was a husky sound that almost sounded human.

"Yeah, I can tell." Kankuro felt a bit of panic setting in. "Look, I can get you to the hospital, just hold on."

The boy's brow furrowed in frustration when she began to shake her head.

"What is it?"

"N-no, no, no."

Before he could understand what the blasted woman was rambling on about, he reached into his pouch and deflected a kunai shot his way. Kankuro turned around braced himself to be attacked again.

When he looked up, he saw his brother.

"Gaara." A heavy feeling began to sink in his gut.

Why was his brother here? Where was father?

The boy in question leaped down from the opposite building and shot another shuriken toward him. Kankuro barely manage to deflect it and the weapon managed to pierce the kunoichi in the shoulder. She didn't even scream, just huffed and wheezed as she strangled oxygen into her lungs.

He turned to look back at his younger brother and found himself wedged between Gaara and a damn wall.

"Kankuro, move."

The puppeteer shuffled back, his knuckles were bone white from clutching his kunai too tight.

Maybe in a different circumstance he would have been surprised to find that Gaara had addressed him by his name for the first time in many years. But of course his mind was preoccupied by other details.

"It's not safe, move." Gaara instructed in a quiet but firm command.

Kankuro nearly laughed. Of course he knew it wasn't safe. This whole damn village wasn't safe. Perhaps the adrenalin was getting to his head because he suddenly felt recklessly brash.

"Stay away!" His fingers shook much to his disgust. "Damn it!" He cursed. He ignored the woman wheezing next behind him. "Damn it all to hell!" Now he was just yelling at himself.

"Kankuro!"

Gaara's sudden bark managed to grab Kankuro's frayed attention but only for a moment because the kunoichi grabbed onto Kankuro sleeve and tugged weakly. Her skin was now red and glowing.

Glowing?

The puppeteer pulled his arm away from the woman as he watched in horror as she literally began to smoke from her skin, whatever moisture in her body was evaporating into steam.

The genin gaped with horror struck fascination. "What the –?"

Then she began to rip at the seams.

Suddenly Gaara was moving.

He pulled Kankuro towards him while wedging himself between his older brother and the woman. Kankuro felt his younger brother press his body close then commanded his sand to shield them in a hardened cocoon. However the sand didn't come up fast enough for Kankuro to miss seeing the kunoichi burst into a ball of flame and organic debris.

Even within the dark womb of Gaara's shield, Kankuro could feel the heat of the explosion seep through the sand and the ground shaking with shuddering tremors.

He was right. The world really was going down the shit hole.

Two brothers stood together in their cocoon and waited for the violence outside to calm. After several long seconds, the sand receded, revealing a scorched crater and burnt buildings caught in the blast radius. The only part left untouched was the small patch of hard dirt Kankuro and Gaara were standing on.

There were no traces of the woman left anywhere. Or more accurately, she was simply everywhere.

The uncomfortable feeling of sand brushing against his ankles broke Kankuro out of his stupor.

Gaara was shaking.

He had rivets of sweat trailing down his temples and his breathing sounded like rattling pebbles. Pained and dry. He was barely even looking at Kankuro who was standing awkwardly in front of him, unsure of what to do.

"Gaara?" Kankuro ignored the way his voice broke.

The younger brother wheezed, his red hair sticking to his forehead.

His eyes finally met Kankuro's

"I thought I was too late." Gaara whispered.

Something like a grimace passed his face as he swallowed. Kankuro could not recall what his brother voice sounded like. It was huskier then he remembered.

The young jinchuuriki stepped closer till his sweaty palms made contact with the older genin.

"My time has run out."

Kankuro physically flinched back when Gaara unexpectedly clutched onto his forearm but he miraculously remained still when his younger brother leaned in closer. The sounds of laboured breathing brushed his ear in wheezing puffs and the heat rolling off Gaara's body invaded his skin like slick mud.

"G-Gaara?"

Gaara leaned even closer till his nose was practically buried into Kankuro's brown hair.

"Listen carefully."

Kankuro's eyes widened as words were hushed into his ear, soft and jilted. A whisper of sounds that made little sense to the puppeteer but the urgency pressed behind it was hard to miss.

When all was said, the genin no longer felt the hot breath behind his ear.

He could no longer hear the pained wheezing or the firm grip on his arm.

Something in him became alarmed when Gaara's hand slackened its grip and fell away limply by his side. Kankuro eyes widened further when he was suddenly burdened with his brother's weight pressing down on his chest, russet red hair tickling his neck and a small bony chin jutting into his shoulder blade.

Then Gaara collapsed on top of Kankuro in a tangle of limbs – it almost looked like a strange embrace.

The puppeteer did not move even when several ninjas approached him. He did not move when the Kazekage crouched down to his eye level and watched both of them with cautious eyes.

"Kankuro." The deep sound of his father's voice managed to make the puppeteer look up. His father was watching him but his attention was undeniably on Gaara who was lost to the world.

"Kazekage-sama," Kankuro swallowed, trying to bring moisture back into his dry mouth. "I –"

The sound of the blast still echoed incessantly in his ear while the thumping of his heart could be felt through his shirt. The genin looked down at the small frame pressed against him and finally registered what was off about the dead weight on him.

The rhythmic sound of two hearts was missing. He could only hear one.

"Father…" Kankuro never addressed the Kazekage in such a manner unless in the privacy of their own home. The Kazekage watched his son's face morph from shock, confusion, disbelief and even alarm in such a short amount time, and then his face lost all expression.

"…I can't hear anything." He looked up at his father and repeated again. "I can't hear anything. Gaara's not breathing."

The other ninjas began to shuffle with disbelieving alarm, a few even stepped closer to see if it was true. Kankuro on the other hand surprised himself by clutching onto Gaara's body tighter.

The Kazekage reached to search for the pulse beneath his son's neck noticing that no sand came to block his movements. His fingers remained there for a few seconds then stood up.

"Father?"

"Carry your brother and follow me." The Fourth Kazekage looked at both of his sons. "We're going home."

Kankuro took a moment to gather himself then he looped his arms under Gaara's small body and lifted him up.

Every step he took, his brother's weight became heavier and heavier, and when he reached his destination, Kankuro buckled and fell.

III

"Find the captain."

"Destroy the source."

III

.


A/N: I've been suffering through some intense writers block. I started to plot my way through the story and realised that I backed myself in a dead end so I had to revise everything. Anyway, I've already started the next chapter so you won't have to wait as long.

NOTE - I've made a deviantart account:

I'm not much of an artist but I'll be putting up some fanart for my fics (and maybe for other people's fics) and you might even get visual previews to coming up chapters and what not. If you're interested check it out ^^
The link is on my profile.

It's currently 44 degree Celsius (111 degree Fahrenheit) where I live, I think all my enzymes have denatured and fizzled into nothing. It's going to be one hot Christmas here is Australia.

Thanks for all your reviews, your support has me frothing at the mouth with glee.

Keep it real.

CADEL

[EDITED – 16 APRIL 2015]