Oooh I'm back, sorry! Some more Sand Sibs FTW! :D I hope you enjoy!

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Strength

His down casted eyes to his hand, still trembling and callused, avoided the quizzical glances from his siblings. He'd remained quiet and distant the entire meeting. Not a word had escaped him in objection or agreement, which truly was a rarity. He knew when to hold his tongue in front of the elders, but he still remained highly opinionated. Especially when his younger brother spoke up. He'd jump at the chance to agree or second the motion or defend his brother. The most acknowledgement he'd given aforementioned brother was jumping reflexively half way through the routine speech upon realizing that his brother was indeed speaking.

Gaara and Temari exchanged apprehensive glances.

When the meeting commenced, both rounded the table to corner towards their still seated brother, who dully had not noted the meeting had been adjourned. At least, not until his sister purposely clicked her heels louder upon the limestone floor at her approach to give warning. Abruptly, he jumped a second time from his seat, the chair skidding backwards and nearly toppling backwards.

Before he could recover, Gaara spoke.

"Kankuro...are you alright?"

Clearly, he was not. This was evident alone in just how Gaara was questioning it. If you were alright, Gaara would not make note to question whether you were or not. Temari frowned, leaning on her hips and propping up her hand to said hips, biting the inside of her lip. She knew that look. The look currently plastered on Kankuro's face. She knew it far better than Gaara, who was slowly accustoming himself to the quirks and mannerisms of his siblings. Temari easily could read Kankuro's expression at the moment. In their youth, she'd turned a blind eye to everything and anything involving her brothers. She was slowly opening up to them, learning their ways, as much as Gaara was. It seemed only Kankuro truly knew his siblings-knew them sometimes better than they knew themselves. It was characteristic of him to observe others, watching from he shadows. Learning them, inside and out.

But he wasn't guarded at this moment, wasn't holding his mask to conceal himself. Not at all. And so, yes, she could easily read into his thoughts. She knew what those distant eyes, glued to the floor and his hand, meant. She knew that slightly open mouth, curved into the faintest of frowns, meant.

Guilt.

And in an instant, Kankuro was aware that he was not alright. He became aware that even Gaara had noticed. And he became aware that Temari knew.

So he eliminated any trace or hint at the weakness. His eyes squinted as his mouth grinned widely, hiding behind his mask of faux content.

"Of course, jaan."

All in instant, his guard was up and the mask was set. But, he'd been careless. For too long he'd left himself vulnerable. Temari knew better. As hard as he tried, and as convincing as he appeared, her gut feeling reminded her of the signs, and she knew better than to ignore her gut. No, something was wrong, and she could easily link what it was that was ailing Kankuro so.

She looked to Gaara. He flashed her the most subtle look of understanding, and silently they agreed. Agreed that Kankuro was not alright, and agreed that they'd look into this further. Once they got home.


The walk home was a silent one. Temari remained light on her feet, despite the heels. Gaara hardly made footprints in the sand. But Kankuro dragged his feet, unaware and unfocused on where he was going. He fell farther and farther behind the trio, who would occasionally notice and slip up their pace to allow the boy to catch up, though he remained oblivious to this fact. On one occasion, they even stopped walking altogether. He continued on, his eyes still focused at the ground under his feet, and nearly walked into a wall. Gaara coughed unsubtly to give warning. Temari winced at how obvious Kankuro was being. For a moment, she even questioned if it was forced, but knew better. Kankuro wouldn't seek attention in this way. If he meant his siblings to be aware of something troubling him, he would have outright told them. No, this was something outright troubling himself.

Back at the house, Temari was cut off as Kankuro abruptly, and rather loudly, announced he was feeling tired. He'd retire early. Temari pouted, turning to Gaara, shrugging as she asked him if he was hungry. Gaara politely declined, but when he saw her eyes flicker with disappointment, he remarked he'd help her prepare some light snack, for it was late. Secretly, she simply wanted company in the kitchen. Secretly, she wanted to speak to him about Kankuro's behavior. And secretly, he did as well.


After a brief comment on the council's discussions of the night, followed by an awkward silence as Temari pulled out some pots and filled them with water, Gaara made the decisive mood to speak on the elephant in the room.

"Kankuro seems...distracted."

Temari bit her lip.

"I think..." She stopped.

Was it right of her to voice her opinion? What she was theorizing and what could really be the problem might very well be two different things. She might be sparking a whole other problem, invoking tension if she was wrong. She avoided Gaara's blank stare, inviting her to continue. What if Gaara thought the same? If he'd already come to the same conclusion? Then it wouldn't matter, they could both very well be wrong. But, what if he hadn't. Would she be starting something?

"Temari?"

Too late to back out now.

"I...do you..." She breathed in, gathering courage as she whipped herself around from the sink to face Gaara, determination in her furrowed brows.

"I think it's something to do with your death."

That could have been sugar coated a bit, she bitterly thought.

Gaara continued to stare, his own hairless brows slightly folding together in questioning. Temari winced inwardly. Alright, so Gaara hadn't made the connection.

"Well...that thing, with the..." She looked down to her palm, "-hand. He does that thing, where he just...stares at his hand, and...and I've only ever really seen him make a habit of it when he talks about..." She trailed off, hoping Gaara could fill in the blank. His relaxing brow signaled he had. She continued. "That is, when I can get him to open up about it..."

Again, an awkward silence as Temari leaned backwards against the counter, waiting for Gaara to say something. Gaara crossed his arms over his chest, deep in thought.

"Should I talk to him."

It wasn't stated much as question.

"I don't know about tha-"

"I'll talk to him." With that, Gaara turned, walking down the hall. Temari lifted a hand in protest but no words found their way out, and she curled her fingers back to her chest, watching her brother fade into the dimly lit hall. Frowning, she turned back to her now boiling water.


Kankuro wasn't tired. If anything, he was wide awake. His head was swarming with thoughts, images. A voice in the back of his mind kept repeating the same thing, over and over again. "If only you'd been stronger..."

He gritted his teeth, starring at his shaking palm. What weak hands he hand! A puppeteer was supposed to be most proud of his hands, his fingers. But Kankuro was disgusted in his. These worthless hands, these useless fingers! They hadn't been enough to save Gaara.

He hadn't been enough.

He slowly brought his hand into his lap, his eyes looking to the ground. He could hear his father's words echoing in his mind. "Useless..."

He heard Gaara spitting venom, "Worthless..."

He heard the scoff of disapproval from Temari, and the chuckle of Sasori. He felt Baki's glare upon the back of his neck and the cold shoulder as Chiyo turned her back to him. Everyone he knew and loved and respected, all shunning him at his failure.

His eyes shot up, pathetically glancing to the mirror hanging above his workshop. He kept the thing so from time to time he could catch sight of certain angles when installing particular equipment into his latest creations. He wasn't one much to care about appearance. He also did find use for the thing when applying his face paint. Some of the designs got tricky, and though after awhile he could easily perform the lines blind in the dark with one hand, when he first began to new design the mirror was required.

Now, it's purpose served to remind him of the failure he'd achieved in becoming.

He hadn't been strong enough. No matter how much he trained or tried. It wasn't his fault. He would never be good enough. He'd never be strong enough.

He had failed his brother. All the while, that Uzumaki kid had succeeded.

Kankuro tore his eyes away from the mirror. He couldn't look at himself anymore. Damn, what a prick he was being! He snarled his teeth, clutching his fists tight against his knees as he let his head hang low. How weak! He scoffed harshly at his pathetic state. Here he was wallowing in how he was such a failure, rather than doing something about.

"But I can't."

When had his voice become so quiet, so shaky? He then realized how blurred his vision had become. Again, he smiled at the irony. No wonder he hadn't been able to save Gaara. Look at him!

He stood, shaking slightly as he applied pressure to one foot after the other, clutching for support at the edge of his work bench. Slowly, he brought his face up to again face his reflection. His smirk glinted with malice and mischief, and all the while he felt miserable. Softly, his eyes scanned the features of his face. He had no face paint to hide behind, not tonight. He never wore the face paint into the council chambers. Too intimidating for old men. But he knew. Only he knew. How the paint was just a front he put up. He really was weak, underneath that pride and confidence.

So weak he'd failed and let Gaara die.

His hand reaches out for the closest vile of paint, the lid shut tight. But, his hand is unsteady, shaking. He can't grasp his fingers tight enough over the jar, and it clangs out of his grasp. It bounces to the ground and rolls on it's side. He scoffs at his inability to grasp anything.

"Worthless..."

With no paint in reach, he ponders, again his eyes falling back to the mirror, if the mask will be enough. Sure, it hides him, his features, but he's still there. Still underneath the layers of dyes and liquids. The hood is useless. The headband is meaningless. Nothing, no amount of paint and cloth can hide him. Can he hide behind. He's still weak under all those facades. It's not the paint that defines him.

It's how weak he is. The strength he lacks. That's all he sees, past those masks.

And then a thought occurs. As he curses under his breath how weak and worthless he is, he slowly raises his hands into a seal. His lips curled up into a twisted smile, the shade of his hair giving his eyes a look of malice. He felt the chakra pump through his body as he completed the jutsu.


Gaara quieted his steps the moment he turned down the hall to Kankuro's chambers. He slowed his steps when he heard, from the slightly ajar door, a mutter. Treading closer, he could make out Kankuro's harsh breathing, though it sounded shaky, fatly. Peering in, he saw Kankuro stumble to his workbench. Gaara hesitated a moment when Kankuro reached across the desk. Gaara's hand shot for the door to enter when the jar clanged to the ground, but a moment's hesitation warned him against making his presence known. Gaara watched in horror as Kankuro looked up, his face visible. Gaara caught sight of the glimmer of tears threatening in the older boy's eyes, but still he did not move. Curious, he watched as Kankuro slowly brought up his hands, still cursing inaudibly under his breath.

Gaara had to stifle his own breath when in a puff of smoke Kankuro transformed. No longer was the handsome brunette puppeteer standing in the shadows of the dimly moon lit room. In his place stood Naruto Uzumaki. Gaara mouthed the name on his lips, but drew his breath in as he watched "Naruto" smile at his reflection. The blonde leaned back on his heels, standing taller; prouder. The jittery shaking had stopped and two hands perched themselves on the hips of the blonde. In a hollow impersonation, the blonde smiled cheekily, his eyes closing as the grin widened, goofy and clumsy.

Gaara frowned. Everything about this was wrong. What did Kankuro gain in transforming himself into Naruto? Suddenly, Temari's words came back to him.

"I think it's something to do with your death."

Gaara frowned. What had Naruto had to do with his death? Gaara couldn't quite make the connection.

Gaara admired Naruto. He'd understood his pain as only a fellow Jinchuuriki could. He'd opened his eyes to 'bonds' and 'love'. Gaara owed so much to Naruto. But why would his brother want to be him?

His thoughts were cut short when 'Naruto' spoke.

"Oi, Gaara, I'm stronger now, eh? I can definitely protect you, for sure this time, Datteboyo!" 'Naruto' Folded his hand over his raised elbow, a fist shooting into the air, striking a confident pose.

Gaara felt his bottom lip quiver. So, that's what this was about..? Temari had been right. The Naruto, his hands slumping back to his side, let his eyes fall again to the floor as his smile faded, dropping into a softer, sadder expression.

"But it doesn't work that way, does it, Jaan? Even if I pretend to be Naruto, even if I pretend to be stronger, I'm still me underneath. Still weak."

In a cloud of smoke, Kankuro had returned, but his stance had not changed. Gaara bit his lip to steady it. It was too late to make his presence known. He'd seen too much, and Kankuro would be too shaken. He'd jump and fumble if Gaara appeared now. Slowly and regrettably, Gaara turned on his heels and silently retreated, his eyes never leaving the floor.

Kankuro raised his elbow to his eyes, his own mouth curling down into a deep scowl and he stifled his own cries, violently shaking and shivering into his arm.


"Gaara-" Temari began when the red head re-entered the kitchen, but stopped when she noticed his expression. She set her utensils down, her appetite diminishing as Gaara slowly looked up to her after a long pause of observing the sand beneath his feet.

"Temari..."

"Did you talk to Kankuro?" She cut him off, a little too eagerly. His expression answered for him, and her hope fell.

"Temari," Gaars started again. "I think...I think I need your help."

Because he knew he wasn't strong enough to do this alone.


"This wouldn't have happened if you weren't drawn to poisoning yourself."

"You act like I do this on purpose. And like you're any different? You're hardly any better off!"

"At least I can move!"

"Small side-effect."

"You shouldn't have been forced to make that three day trip immediately in the first place. We should have stopped and rested, even if just in the forest.."

"Gaara needed treatment more than we did. We had to get him home."

She paused a moment. When she didn't immediately respond, he questioned her.

"What's wrong?"

"You called it 'home'."

He frowned.

"We were raised here, Temari. It's just a word. You're not going soft on me, assigning meaning to words beyond the technical terms, are you?"

She cringed slightly. Not that he was calling her out on a weakness, but that she was realizing how cold and hardened he was becoming. Exactly how they wanted him to be.

"It's just...look, you can't just put Gaara before yourself all the time."

Kankuro scoffed.

"Just because father may have not seen any worth in you, doesn't make you any less a person of value-"

"Temari, Stop." She bit back her remaining comment. "I know where this is going, and don't bother. I put aside my injury because Gaara is important to this village. Even if he is unstable at times," He sighed, correcting himself, "at all times, he's still the tool our village needs to turn the tides in power. As a nin, our first priority, our duty, is to our village. And that just so happens to be to protect Gaara. Therefore, my duty will always be Gaara above anything else."

Temari let her gaze fall to the table of re-dressed bandages and swath balls. Sighing, she picked at a bottle before turning the label in her hand, pretending to be intricately interested in the ingredients. Kankuro, waiting for a response, settled with none and sighed, twisting his head away from Temari and pretending to be asleep.


Temari scoffed at the memory. Then, she hadn't been able to comprehend fully how strong her brother was acting. He was always scared, yet always looking out for Gaara. He'd spent so much of his childhood living for Gaara. No, "childhood" wasn't the right word. She bit her lip in thought, trying to exactly define what their experience growing up truly was.

Training. Everything was always training.

Leaning back in her chair, she sighed again, breaking the silence that had filled between her and Gaara. He'd relayed everything he'd witnessed to her, and now they both awaited the other to respond or something. Temari dropped her eyes to her cold, hardly-touched tea. She didn't have the appetite to drink anymore, she noted. She placed it down and put her hands to her forehead. She was more tired then she'd thought. Perhaps sleep was best for now.

Like either of them could sleep.

"What are you thinking?"

Temari smirked under the shadow of her hands. Gaara wasn't the best at reading people. He had the curiosity to care and wonder what was on someone's mind, and he could tell when you were upset, but he didn't know how to translate those signs to mean anything, to pick up on anything. He just knew something was wrong or on your mind. And rather than try to examine you discretely to catch on, he instead would bluntly request you speak for yourself. Perhaps he lacked the patience.

"I was remembering about that time, after we came back from the first Chuunin exams..."

Gaara continued to stare at her. Looking at his face, her nostalgia continued as she noted he still looked so young, like he hadn't aged since those years ago, and yet he looked nothing like he did before. There was no bloodlust, there was no demon. He looked so tired, so noted. Was that how he'd always appeared, with those heavy rings about his eyes? Or maybe he was particularly stressed as of late. Or, perhaps, this was an after effect from re-awakening after death.

"When Kankuro and I..." And she stopped, the rest of the memory coming to mind. She smiled to herself faintly, and Gaara responded with a stare, awaiting her continuation.

"Kankuro and I, we...I was treating his wounds and...And then you walked in, don't you remember?"

Gaara furrowed a brow slightly. He didn't recall that at all. Temari suddenly brightened up, like an idea had fully formed itself in her mind.

"Kankuro wouldn't wake, even after I shook him, but I knew he was faking it. And then, you walked in...And before either of us could do anything, you asked if Kankuro was alright."

She remembers the fear she felt, Gaara's presence while neither she nor Kankuro had any tools on them. While Kankuro was injured and bedridden, and Temari herself was exhausted from dressing the wounds immediately upon arrival. She noticed Kankuro had stiffened, further supporting her theory he wasn't asleep really, but Gaara was too busy staring at the medicinal kit beside the duo. And he'd asked if Kankuro was alright.

"And I told you he was sleeping...which, didn't really answer your question. But, you didn't say anything about it so I assumed that was all the answer you needed.."

At the time, she'd wanted to run from that room as fast as she could, away from Gaara, who she wasn't sure how he was mentally. But she couldn't leave Kankuro. The idiot still was pretending to be asleep.

"And then you told me something that I thought meant you really were going crazy!"

Gaara watched Temari chuckle at the memory. It was fuzzy, but he slightly recalled that night, though little of those past days made sense or were clear to him.

"You told me, 'I don't know how to dress a wound'. I thought maybe you meant you needed help with your own wound, like a bandage had come off or needed redressing and that this was your way in asking my help to do it for you. I thought that's what you meant, the way you looked at that kit and the medicine. But, it wasn't. You weren't asking for help. You were admitting powerlessness. You..." Confidently, she looked at Gaara. "You were confessing, in a way, that you wanted to help Kankuro, but didn't know how."

Gaara blinked, the memory slowly rebuilding itself in the eyes of Temari. It's true, he'd never needed any medical skills. He'd never been hurt. His wounds healed remarkably fast anyway. The wound Temari and Kankuro had makeshift treated during their mad dash journey back to Suna had almost fully healed by the time night rolled around upon their arrival. He'd walked in on his siblings, immediately noticing his brother sprawled out and the medicine and bandages beside him. He didn't know the feeling at the time, but now he'd have to assume it was pity. Or regret. Towards his brother's state, and towards all that he'd been through. And the fact it was mostly all his fault.

"You were helpless." Temari rubbed salt into the wound and Gaara nearly visibly winced at the reminder. He'd felt responsible for Kankuro's state at the time.

"You blamed yourself, or at least were trying to. Because Kankuro only became like that because of you. If you hadn't gotten wounded, if the mission hadn't failed. If you'd stayed in control and we didn't have to carry you out into the forest..."

Gaara's scowl deepened. What was Temari trying to get at?

"I know, alright? I...I've tried to repent, I'm trying even now to set things right-"

"You don't need to."

Gaara met Temari's eyes.

"We never blamed you. Kankuro never did. He used to say it was his duty to the village to protect you. He was frightened a lot, yes, we all were. But he never regretted staying by your side. In that moment, when Kankuro was injured, you felt helpless because you wanted to be there for him. Because if not for you, this could have been avoided. Sound familiar?"

And all at once Temari's point was made. Gaara's mouth twitched open slightly, but he couldn't find the words to respond with.

Temari continued for him.

"You died, Gaara. That wasn't anymore Kankuro's fault than Kankuro's injuries from before were yours. But that 'what if'...that 'what if I had controlled Shukaku and completed the mission when and where I was supposed to'. That 'what if I had defeated Sasori right then and there and taken back Gaara before everything got worse'...those 'what ifs' are what you both blame yourselves for. You both burden yourselves with these 'what if' scenarios...rather than moving on from the past, from the mistakes."

Gaara lowered his eyes further, his head dropping at the sudden heaviness he felt.

"I don't know how to fix it."

He felt a hand lightly rest on his shoulder, looking up to find Temari leaning closer to him.

"Do you remember what happened after you told me you didn't know how to dress a wound?"

Gaara shook his head.

Temari smiled.

"Kankuro-"


"Gaara."

Temari snapped her head beside her, amazed that Kankuro had given up his false-pretense of sleeping. Gaara slowly eyed the boy as well. Kankuro rolled from his side, straining to lift himself in a more upright position. Temari reached out to help him but he signaled with a wave of his hand that he was fine. Instead, he raised his hand towards Gaara, forming a beckoning motion with his fingers. Gaara hesitated for a moment, and Temari found herself questioning what had possessed Kankuro to do such a thing. Slowly, Gaara stepped forward.

Kankuro's face was stern and brave, Temari thought. Far braver than the panic-stricken face she was wearing. She thought he looked so calm, so strong.

"Temari made the bandages too tight, I can't breathe properly. I'll show you how to redress them."

In silence, Gaara did as instructed, uncoiling Temari's most recent handiwork. For a moment, she was stunned at their cooperation. Then, the fear passed and she instead found herself insulted that Kankuro would dog on her skill. Next time, she'd be sure to tie them so tight he wouldn't be able to speak.


And just like that, Gaara learned the basics of dressing a wound, in the presence of Temari under the guidance of Kankuro.

Gaara thought for a moment.

"But...Temari, I-"

"When you lost the confidence in yourself, Kankuro helped you out of it by having you overcome it. Rather than allow you to wallow in your uselessness," Gaara frowned at the harshness but otherwise acknowledged it's truth, "He prompted you to accept the challenge you'd set yourself and overcome it. When one lacks confidence, the way you gain it back is by building it up. You know that, don't you?"

Gaara looked towards the hallway, dimmed by the little light of flickering candles. Determined, he rose.

"Temari, I'm going to speak with Kankuro now."

Temari smiled.

"And Temari...thank you."

With that, Gaara took his leave. Temari found herself returning to her tea, satisfied enough that her appetite had returned. However, after one sip, she found her tongue curling in disgust.

"It's cold!" She pouted.


Kankuro was submerged under sheets but wasn't anywhere close to sleep when a light knock informed him of a visitor.
For a moment, he weighed the consideration of pretending to be asleep. But, thought against it. No one would be visiting him at this hour if it wasn't important. He rose half from his bed, dragging his feet over the side as he called out, "Come in."

Gaara let himself in, prompting Kankuro to halt mid-action of rising from his bed.

"G-Gaara?"

Gaara quickly walked his way towards Kankuro, further rendering his attempt to stand useless. Kankuro fell back onto the bed just as Gaara reached him, standing right before him. Perplexed, Kankuro stared up at his younger brother's determined face.

"Gaara..? What's going-?"

Kankuro was answered by a puff of smoke, catching him right in the nose and mouth which caused him to go into a fit of coughs. Recovering, he looked up, only to find not Gaara standing before him, but rather himself. A mirrored image of himself, albeit there was no make up and he stood straighter, more rigid like this Kankuro felt too awkward being so tall and bulky. Blinking, Kankuro scanned the doppelganger, as if searching for where Gaara was hiding.

"Gaara..?"

Kankuro reached towards 'Gaara', stopping short just of his face. A faint smile crossed his lips and he retracted his hand.

"Gaara, quite playing games, ja? I'm tired, it's late. Why would you want to be me anyway...?"

"Why wouldn't I?" 'Kankuro' snapped back.

The real Kankuro frowned at the accusation, looking down at his retracted hand which now slung from the elbow down, propped on his folded knees.

"Gaara, quit it, ja? I don't know what you're getting at..."

"Don't you?"

Kankuro winced. So, he'd seen him earlier? Kankuro looked away, avoiding the eyes of his own face. Gaara stared harshly at his brother, refusing to back down.

"I said I'm tired, I don't want to deal with this right now-"

Gaara flared up, bending lower to edge his face closer towards Kankuro's, which was still turned away from his own.

"Why not? What's so wrong that you won't or can't talk to me about it? If not me, then at least yourself! Why won't you confront this, whatever it is?"

"It's not that simple!" Kankuro barked back, turning to face his brother. Kankuro was by far more aggravated, his breathing uneven and heavy. Gaara was more calm, yet his eyes looked dangerous, even if at the moment they were really Kankuro's.

Like a mirror, they stood still for a moment before the real Kankuro sighed, lowering his head in defeat.

"I couldn't protect you, alright?"

"Who's you?"

Kankuro snarled slightly. How childish!

"Gaara! I couldn't protect Gaara!"

'Kankuro' continued to stare at his seated self, waiting for him to continue.

"I...I was the only one. I had the only chance to stop them, to save you. Everyone else came too late. No one was that close on their trail. You...Gaara was right there!" Abashed, Kankuro threw his hands to his face, cowering into them as he grimaced.

"If I hadn't have failed, Gaara wouldn't have died!"

A puff of smoke and 'Kankuro' was once again Gaara, standing before his brother just as he had done a moment ago. He took a deep breath, as though to speak, but Kankuro beat him to it.

"The reality of it all is, I was the only one with the chance. I had the opportunity to save you, and I failed. And you died. And I don't know where to go from there!" He confessed, and Gaara saw himself in his brother. Temari had made this all seem so simple.

"I'm alive now..." Gaara mouthed, but that didn't seem right. He still felt cheated, or dirty. At what cost had he paid to be returned?

Kankuro scoffed through muffles.

"No thanks to me...If I hadn't have failed you, Chiyo would be here! Both your lives...both of them are on my head!"

Gaara frowned.

"You honestly think Chiyo blames you for her passing? Kankuro, she gave up her life for the hope of our generation, not to right the wrong of your failure!"

Kankuro stifled something of a whelp, his snuffles becoming irregular as Gaara crouched beside him, still unable to see his face.

"No one blames you for my death. I didn't die at your hands, I died at the hands of the Akatsuki! They can take the blame! But I'm alive because of Chiyo! I'm alive and I'm here now!"

"Chiyo isn't around to save you again if I fail!"

"-Then don't fail." Gaara warned. At this, Kankuro raised his head, leveling together their eyes. Gaara stared fiercely, unmoving as Kankuro's beady eyes flickered, searching for any form of guilt or blame. He found none.

"You don't get a second chance with Chiyo, so protect me. Stay by my side and no matter what, don't let anything happen to me."

Kankuro blinked, watching his brother. Gaara then, uncharacteristically, smiled.

"Because I'll only feel safe if you're by me. No one else."

Kankuro began to mouth "but-" though Gaara again cut him off.

"Because you're the strongest person I know."

Silence filled the room, and Kankuro slowly let his head fall again. Gaara, relieved, let out a drawn breath. In this moment, he had felt like the older brother, encouraging the younger.

Kankuro must have felt the same, because he instantly perked his head, rubbing his reddened eyes with a cheeky grin plastered on his face.

"When'd you grow so wise?"

Gaara grinned a bit wider.

"I learned from you two...you, and Temari."

Kankuro laughed.

"Good to know something good rubbed off me onto you."

"You've taught me a lot of things."

Kankuro scoffed.

"Oh really? Like what?"

"How to dress a wound."

Kankuro broke out into laughter, pulling Gaara down into a half choke-hold, half hug, which Gaara neither resisted nor retaliated.

Temari, from her position against the wall outside, smiled to herself.

Her family was noted for how strong they were individually on the battlefield, and during missions. But even more surprising was how strong they were at home; together.


A/N: Random facts about this story! I wrote up until Gaara first returns to Temari,a fter catching Kankuro, and stopped there for the longest~ time. I really had no idea where I wanted to go with this story at the time. My initial thoguhts for this story were two concepts-Kankuro and Naruto somehow connecting or comparing, and the harsh reality of the fact that Kankuro really was the only person who had a chance at saving Gaara. Everyone else was too late. One ngiht, awhile back, I finally just blurted out the rest of this story, and while at the time I thought the ending leaned too heavily towards awkward OOC bromance moments of manly tears, looking back now I find it alright. I'm satisfied enoguh with it, at least some of the ideas are original (Eh..?) I'm rather proud of the motherly Temari, with her wisdom, in this story. It mgiht be similar to my other latest piece, but eh, maybe that jsut means my next story has to be compeltely different (I won't make any promises, I won't torture ya'll like that :p)

Anyway, I do hope you readers enjoy this story! Review if you'd like! :D