04/16/09

Disclaimer: the characters in this fic such as Kankuro, Temari, Gaara, Matsuri, etc. don't belong to me, although if they did, then we would get to see more interaction between Matsuri and the Sand siblings. Gotta love Kankuro and his big mouth.

Dedication: God, my parents, my fans, Masashi Kishimoto for creating the Naruto series and giving us these colorful characters, and to my beloved friends, especially Musashi Sanada, Caitlin, T. A. Raskelt, Mooncatcher, Verboten Byacolate, Kzdatgurl, AnonymousNavi, Aideko, Zero-Nightmare, Deta Henkan, and all of you other wonderful readers!

Naruto: Family Dinner

By Tiger5913

"Uh, can you tell me again why we're putting on airs for this girl?"

No matter how many times that question was asked, the same answer came once again, "Because she's our little brother's girlfriend and we want to make a good impression."

A snort of dissent emitted, followed by the dispute, "Temari, it's not like we don't know her already."

Without bothering to look up, the wind mistress chided in a light, yet firm tone, "Kankuro, if you're not gonna help, then just be quiet. Can't you at least set the table? They'll be back any minute."

"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled and reluctantly peeled himself off the couch to head toward the dining table. "Take it easy, will ya? You'll give yourself a heart attack one of these days."

He grabbed the sets of utensils off the counter, and just as he placed the last one down, Temari carried over a large pot and positioned it in the middle of the table. "There's the soup. I have to bring over a couple more dishes."

Kankuro raised a brow at her. "Damn, you went all out. Even letting us eat here at your place and everything. How much food did you make, anyway?"

"There should be enough for everyone, even you," she quipped, making a reference to his bottomless stomach.

"Uh huh," he was unfazed by the remark, since he knew how much Temari liked mothering other people, and eating just happened to be the role of her "kids" – she would complain to high hell whenever one or both of the brothers even hinted at buying take-out. "Nice dress, by the way. You got a date after dinner, or you just felt like playing dress-up?"

"It might shock you to hear this, but people usually wear nice, clean clothes when they have company over. You're just too busy being a slob to notice. I don't want her to get scared off by how messy you guys keep the house."

He rolled his eyes as she was walking back toward the kitchen. "Haha, very funny. Our place doesn't look that bad. In case you forgot, you did teach Gaara how to clean before you moved out."

"Well, I had to," the wind mistress retorted dryly while sending him a knowing look. "I knew you wouldn't do anything."

That barbing statement was nonchalantly shrugged off – no sense in denying the truth. "Seriously, who're we trying to impress here? I know she's a girl and all, but is she really that high-maintenance?"

"No, she's not," Temari answered with some exasperation in her voice as she placed more plates down on the table. "But she is Gaara's girlfriend, and we need to make sure she feels welcome. He probably thinks we're going to tease them about being in a relationship or something. Why else do you think he kept it a secret from us all this time?"

The puppeteer considered her conjecture for a few moments before nodding and agreeing, "Yeah, maybe you're right. I mean, hey, who knows when he's gonna have another girlfriend? It took him long enough to get interested in girls in the first place. I was beginning to think his hormones weren't working."

She sighed and shook her head. "It's not bad to be picky, you know. Just because you like to chase everything in a skirt doesn't mean Gaara should be the same way."

"Hey, I don't do that," he protested, and then grinned impishly. "All I did was ask Gaara to point a few of his fangirls in my direction. He doesn't need them, right? Hell, he's already taken."

Temari smirked and opened her mouth to respond, but instantly snapped to attention upon hearing the front door opening and gave the table a quick once-over to check the last few little details. Satisfied that everything was in place and the dishes looked delectable, she ushered her younger brother away from the food and started heading out of the kitchen, intending to meet the young couple at the entrance, like a proper hostess. She purposely turned a deaf ear to Kankuro's complaints about making such a big deal with a small matter and just continued to drag him along the way, tugging his arm in a vice-like grip. When they arrived in the living room, they found the pair sitting closely together on the couch and talking quietly amongst themselves, as if trying to pass time before getting the dinner call.

They immediately stood up in acknowledgement of the new incoming duo, and it was then that Kankuro realized how seriously everyone regarded what really should have been a casual occasion.

Both girls were wearing kimonos with bright, flowery printed designs, while Gaara donned one of his more proper outfits, not even looking a little uncomfortable. As the only person in casual attire, seeing no need to throw on anything formal, the tall puppeteer almost felt out of place, but then he just decided to consider all of them bizarre. What the hell was the point of dressing up in fancy clothes when they were eating at home? Okay, so they had a guest, but she was hardly a stranger, for crying out loud, and Kankuro doubted she would really care about their fashion sense at a time like this, considering the occasion of the night. Then again, he did not think she would actually be nervous having dinner with people she already knew, and yet here she was with clear anxiety on her face. Seriously, what was the big damn deal?

"Um… Thank you for inviting me." Matsuri expressed quietly while bowing to the two older siblings in greeting, a gesture that was customary for her… a couple of years ago. Some habits were hard to break, apparently.

Kankuro waved off her unnecessary formality, never having been one to follow the rules of decorum very heartily, but he was surprised by the sight of his sister returning the favor. The hell? …Damn, it's just getting ridiculous now. Girls are way too fussy about this sorta thing.

"Uh, hey," he answered casually. "How's it going, kid?"

"Everything is fine," she responded with a sweet smile. "How about you?"

He shrugged and scratched the back of his neck. "Same old usual stuff. I've been tuning up my puppets, trying to see where I can store some more weapons."

"Oh, that's very dedicated of you," the girl remarked softly, and then turned to glance at her boyfriend knowingly as she continued, "Gaara told me you work on your puppets everyday. Are you making any new ones?"

"Heh, yeah, I got a couple I've been working on, but they're still in-progress," the tall puppeteer replied, his interest clearly sparked at this topic of conversation. "It'll be at least a month before I can take them out for a trial run. I'd show them to you, but then I'd have to kill ya."

Matsuri nodded in understanding and kept her smile, knowing full well that Kankuro was kidding about the last part, although it was common knowledge that he happened to be very protective and furtive about his work.

Gaara, on the other hand, shot his brother a reprimanding look, clearly not appreciating the latter remark. Despite the fact that sarcasm flowed through their house in abundance, the redhead was still inept when it came to humor.

"Take it easy, Gaara, it was a joke."

"…Hmm."

"Let's all go to the table," Temari commanded just then, taking charge of the situation before they could begin a glaring contest. "We can talk there."

Matsuri quickly nodded and followed her out of the living room with the two younger siblings right behind her – hopefully, they had already dismissed the minor issue – and a few minutes later, all four were seated around the dinner table.

"The food smells delicious, Temari," the bole-haired kunoichi complimented with visible awe on her face as she glanced over the various dishes.

"Yeah, so let's dig in already," Kankuro agreed, and started to reach for the ladle of the large soup pot when his sister suddenly tapped his knuckles with her chopsticks, halting his process. "Hey, what the hell-?"

"Guests get served first," she rebuked sternly.

He glowered at her in return, quickly losing patience; he had half a mind to start using his charka strings and mess around with her plate and utensils, but that would undoubtedly piss her off and spark a real fight.

Matsuri blushed slightly and insisted, "Oh, um, it's all right… If Kankuro is hungry, he can eat first."

The puppeteer smirked triumphantly. "See? She doesn't care, so quit worrying."

After he spooned up a bowl of soup and placed it down at his setting, Temari jabbed him in the side while whispering sharply, "She's just being polite. She's not going to come right out and say you're rude."

"Damn it, stop overreacting, will ya?" He fired back rashly in the same low volume while his eyes remained focused on the food.

The wind mistress was about to respond when she noticed the young couple looking at them with some curiosity, so she smiled to conceal her annoyance and encouraged, "Go ahead and eat, you guys."

Gaara nodded, and then to the surprise of his siblings, ladled a bowl of soup for his girlfriend before getting one himself.

Ugh… Who the hell taught him to do that? Kankuro wondered silently with a grimace as Matsuri shyly expressed her gratitude, and then when he glanced over at his sister to gauge her reaction, he saw her beaming, as if she was proud to witness the gentlemanly gesture. Oh, great. I bet Temari had something to do with it. So now she's some kinda etiquette teacher or what?

When everyone was about halfway done with their soups – the bottomless eater on his second bowl by that time – Temari turned her attention to her youngest brother and his girlfriend and initiated, "All right, let's hear it. How did you two get together?"

Is she serious? Kankuro rolled his eyes at the cliché question. Why do girls always wanna talk about that?

The couple exchanged a look and seemed to be silently discussing the matter just with their eyes until Matsuri finally admitted, "Well, it just… um, it just kind of happened."

Temari smirked in obvious disbelief. "Right, you two just woke up one day and decided to date out of nowhere. Okay then, who made the first move?"

Again, they gazed at each other for a moment before the redhead answered in a calm tone, "I did."

The two older siblings regarded him with surprise at hearing that response; somehow, they were having a little trouble picturing Gaara hitting on a girl, despite the fact that practically the entire population of young Suna females was chasing after him.

"Heh, good job, little brother," the puppeteer approved with a sincere grin of male pride. "Didn't know you had it in ya. Glad I was wrong."

Acknowledging the remark in earnest, Gaara nodded slightly. "Thank you."

That response earned him a raised eyebrow of wry amusement, since it was clear the redhead did not understand the significance of the praise. Looks like he's still got a lot to learn.

They all returned to eating after that, and for a short while, the only noises were utensils clinking against bowls as the course soon moved from the soup to the main dishes. From the way she watched the couple during their interaction, Kankuro could tell his sister definitely wanted to pry more, but likely restrained herself out of respect – either that, or she realized embarrassing them would not get her any clear answers. At some point, Matsuri made a comment on the spices used, which quickly struck up a conversation between the girls about the joys of cooking and how much one could deviate from recipes without losing the base flavor. The puppeteer scoffed at the boring topic and turned his attention to his younger brother with the intention of initiating a completely different discussion more geared toward their interests, but he found the redhead staring at his girlfriend.

Kankuro started looking at the couple suspiciously himself, and then he discreetly shot a glance toward his sister, catching the thoughtful expression on her face – the same inkling must have crossed her mind. The two seemed awfully comfortable with each other, as if they had already been together for a long time, based on their behavior and the underlying current of ease and accommodation running between them. Then again, they were friends before becoming a couple, which would explain the understanding and patience they had for one another, like Matsuri's tireless tolerance of his brother's social ineptness. Still, in spite of that, Kankuro sensed they were concealing some aspect of their relationship; he just had no idea what it could be, or why they would even have anything to hide, unless they did something really drastic.

"So you guys didn't run off and get married or anything, right?" He suddenly voiced aloud without inhibition.

Three sets of widened eyes immediately turned his way at that question, and it took a few seconds before the couple was able to respond in a coherent manner, with Matsuri blushing and shaking her head while Gaara answered firmly, "No."

Temari kicked her nosy brother under the table and threw him a glare that clearly stated, "You're an idiot."

O-kay… Time for a subject change. He really did not care to talk about this particular topic, but he knew it would effectively distract all of them from his little blunder. "Hey Temari, when are you finally gonna make a move yourself?"

Bewilderment preceded her wary suspicion. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Uh, the lazy guy from the Leaf?" Her blank look prompted him to continue, "Oh, I get it. You still haven't gone on a date with him."

"If you're talking about Shikamaru Nara, I'm not interested in him," the blonde replied in an exasperated tone. "Besides, he already has a girlfriend. I saw him with a blonde girl that was wearing purple clothes."

"So you just waited too long to make a move," Kankuro concluded.

The redhead glanced at his sister, seeming curious to hear her answer.

"She could be a friend or a teammate," Matsuri offered while regarding the older girl with sympathy.

"She is his teammate, but it doesn't matter. There's nothing between us," Temari reiterated, shooting the tall puppeteer a chastising look that conveyed her irritation. "We just work together to coordinate the Chunin exams. That's all there is."

"Whatever. Either way, you have terrible taste in guys, Temari," he quipped in response with a fearless smirk, clearly undaunted by her annoyance. "Seriously, who's next? Maybe the guy with the long hair and the weird white eyes, or that big-browed dork with the green spandex. Oh, and there's the dog-boy too. Ugh, make sure you stay away from the creepy bug guy. Those things will probably eat you in your sleep."

Gaara glanced at his brother warily, as if he disapproved of those references to the Leaf shinobi, especially considering the relationship between the two villages – aside from being allies, some of those ninjas were also considered to be friends.

Matsuri stayed silent during this exchange, although she did seem intrigued with the interaction.

"They do have names, you know," Temari deadpanned dryly.

"Damn, since when did you become their public defender?"

"She is likely concerned because the way you referred to our allies might be considered… disrespectful," their younger brother interjected calmly.

His girlfriend nodded in agreement. "I think they're nice… They've come to help us before. Naruto, especially, is an important friend to Gaara."

Kankuro grinned fondly at the mention of the hyperactive blond loudmouth and casually reflected, "Heh, that little squirt… He's all right. Anyway, Temari, if you do ever find a guy you wanna be with, let me and Gaara know so we can rough him up."

The wind mistress raised an eyebrow. "You wanna say that again?"

Gaara was obviously confused by the threat of physical violence and turned to his older brother for clarification. "What would be the purpose of harming Temari's potential suitor?"

"Eh, you know," he shrugged in an offhand manner. "We gotta make sure he doesn't try anything funny with her. Getting physical will show him we're serious."

The pensive redhead considered those words for a few seconds before he nodded in understanding, realizing the significance. "I see. If it becomes necessary, I suppose, though we should trust her judgment. Temari isn't careless."

The warm smile on Temari's face quickly turned into a confident smirk as she declared boldly, "Thanks, Gaara. I appreciate the thought and everything, but I can defend myself."

"Yeah, she'd send those idiots running off with splinters stuck up their-"

"Kankuro, we get the picture," the blonde kunoichi interrupted curtly.

It seemed like that would be the end of the discussion, when to their surprise, Gaara suddenly remarked, "During his last visit, Lee asked for my permission to date you, Temari."

She made a big show of looking nonchalant as she lowered her head to take in a bite of food, all the while hiding a smile.

"Wait, the green spandex guy?" Kankuro grimaced at the mental image of his sister walking around the village with that big-browed, fashion-blind Leaf shinobi by her side, screaming about the joys of springtime and youth or whatever. "You better have told him to get lost, Gaara."

The redhead frowned with bewilderment but calmly replied, "No. I told him it wasn't my decision to make."

"Hey, I know he's your friend, but come on," he protested in a lighter tone, wanting to drive the point across without upsetting his brother. "You gotta admit it'd be a… weird match."

Temari shot him a dark glare and started to reach into her kimono for a small fan secretly tucked near her bosom, which she planned to hit the puppeteer over the head with, if he spewed forth just one more disrespectful insult.

Gaara shook his head slightly. "I wouldn't know. Regardless, it is their choice, not mine. Nor yours, Kankuro."

"Temari, you can't seriously be interested in that geek, right?" He had just finished uttering the last word when he suddenly got struck in the back of his head with something that his sister quickly put away before he could identify it, although he could make a guess. "Ow! The hell are you-?!"

"That's enough insults for one night, don't you think?" Her stern demand was accompanied with a fierce look that indicated she would have no qualms hitting him again if he continued to be annoying.

Trying to deter her wrath, he grumbled a complaint under his breath and decided to shift the subject of interest over to their shy guest; still referring to the issue of protection, he remarked thoughtfully, "Since Temari's already knows how to intimidate people, I guess it's Matsuri we should probably worry more about, huh? Especially with those green-eyed fangirls."

Gaara looked up sharply at the mention of his girlfriend. "Explain."

Damn, has he really not thought about them at all? Tch, what a waste. "Uh, in case you hadn't noticed, Gaara, there's a bunch of girls hot for ya. Don't you think they're gonna be jealous as hell when they find out you're with Matsuri? They might, you know, rag on her or something."

Comprehending that realistic possibility, his light turquoise eyes immediately filled with concern as he turned to gaze at Matsuri, his facial features tightening in a conveyance of tension.

Kankuro caught the wordless exchange and clarified, "We are the only ones that know, right?"

"…Yes."

"Don't worry, Gaara," their sister assured in a firm tone, reaching over to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "No one's gonna hurt Matsuri. We'll make sure of it."

Matsuri smiled timidly at their protective nature; witnessing the adamancy of their support made her feel guarded and accepted, like they were treating her as one of their own, but she did not want to cause her boyfriend so much worry. "I'll be all right, Gaara… Those girls don't scare me."

"Not even that crazy one? Didn't you say she was your friend or something?"

"Kankuro," Temari was tempted to strike him for pursuing this topic.

The young brunette tilted her head to the side slightly in a curious gesture. "You mean Sari? Um, I don't think she'd react too badly… She'll probably just be surprised."

"Wear a suit of armor when you tell her, just in case," Kankuro jibbed with a knowing smirk – he had seen the way those infatuated, hormonal girls acted around his younger brother, and he seriously doubted they would take the news lightly. "Or you could play it safe by sending a clone to deliver the message."

"That won't be necessary," Gaara declared just then, clearly perturbed by the possible scenario, as his next words were, "I will protect Matsuri from harm."

The girl responded with a soft smile and started to slide her hand toward his over the table, but then quickly retracted after realizing they were being watched by the other two observers, her cheeks turning a mild shade of pink.

Great, he's already going sappy. The puppeteer saw his sister grinning with pride and he snorted in disbelief at the sight before opting to return his attention to the food – it was just like girls to get all sentimental and emotional.

Hearing the grunt, Temari nudged him in the side right then, as if demanding that he say something to encourage the behavior.

Kankuro threw her a nasty look for interrupting him in the middle of eating, but he grimaced at her evil eye and awkwardly scratched the back of his head while inputting, "Uh, yeah, do whatever needs to be done, Gaara. Protect your woman and all that. Just remember not to go overboard and make me an uncle anytime soon, okay?"

This statement made Gaara immediately pause his fork in midair as he turned to look at his brother with a strange expression; Matsuri, on the other hand, had been drinking tea and after hearing those words, she suddenly started to choke on the hot liquid, coughing loudly.

My bad. "You okay, kid?"

His light eyes widening with alarm, the redhead quickly patted her on the back until tremors no longer shook through her body, but when she finally glanced up, her face was red, causing the wind mistress to also look concerned.

"Hey, don't die on me now," Kankuro protested awkwardly.

"I-I'm sorry," Matsuri apologized with a mild wheeze. "I'm all right, really… I was just… a little, um, startled."

"It wasn't your fault," Temari insisted in a lighthearted tone, a sharp contrast to the dark glare she was directing toward the sheepish puppeteer.

He opened his mouth to offer the girl a joke to ease the tension, but suddenly yelped in pain at feeling a sharp kick land against his shin underneath the table – courtesy of his pushy sister, no doubt.

Gaara's tone was wary as he asked, "What is it?"

"Nothing," the puppeteer ground out irritably with a visibly aggravated look on his face, and the tension eased after he shot his own foot toward her position in reprisal. What the hell is her problem? I'm not her fucking punching bag!

She made a startled noise and glared at him, but he ignored her and went back to finishing his food with a smug grin.

Silence ensued throughout the rest of the meal, and toward the end, Matsuri smiled at the blonde kunoichi and asked for cooking advice, going back to their previous conversation. Temari was eager to share her wisdom and offered to hold a teaching session in the near future; she smirked knowingly when the young brunette remarked that she wanted to learn how to properly season salty food. Kankuro paid no attention to that mundane topic, but instead of doing something that would rile up his sister, he just turned to his brother and started talking about the construction materials for his puppets. The exchange quickly turned into a discussion of combat techniques, which caught the attention of their other dining companions, and while everyone expressed intense interest, the story sharing was civil and engaging.

It seemed as though the night would conclude on a peaceful note after all.

Until Kankuro felt his stomach rumbling, and then he suddenly let out a loud, long burp that resonated through the room.

The unexpected disruption caused his dining companions to turn toward him.

"Hey, my compliments to the chef," he remarked unabashedly. "So what's for dessert?"

Right at the end of that inquiry, Temari swatted him over the head yet again, and then swiftly concealed her weapon before he could grab a hold of the annoying thing and break it in half. How in the hell did she do that so fast?

Tch, that does it! "Hit me with that damn thing one more time, Temari. Just try it."

Fearlessly meeting his challenge, she brought out the small fan and raised her arm, poised to strike, then started to bring it down toward him.

Heh, she asked for it. A confident smirk crept over his expression when the puppeteer silently activated his chakra strings, extending his fingers to discreetly snare her wrist with the invisible thin strands.

He observed with triumph as her arm suddenly jerked to a halt in midair, and then abruptly started moving toward the opposite direction, the controlled wrist descending to smack Temari on her own head.

Matsuri gasped lightly at the unexpected occurrence and Gaara slid a wary glance toward his older siblings, seeming unsurprised by their behavior.

The blonde kunoichi growled and immediately leapt out of her chair, reaching for her mischievous sibling, but he anticipated her action and jumped away, darting off with a loud, mocking laugh.

Without hesitation, she took off after him, screaming in demand, "Get back here, you little animal!"

"Hah! I'm the animal? You're the one being a bitch!"

The young brunette looked thoroughly confused by their hostile exchange, which was understandable, considering the fact that she did not have any brothers or sisters herself. "Is… Is this how they usually act at home? They're a lot more serious out on the field…"

"They're not truly angry with each other," Gaara patiently explained while his line of sight followed the squabbling siblings around the living room. "This is merely their way of… bonding."

"Oh…" she considered the situation for a moment before inputting, "Um, it's a little strange…"

He sighed wearily. "I must agree."

"Are you… sure they'll be all right?"

The redhead nodded. "Yes. Though I must admit that I am surprised they lasted through dinner."

Matsuri turned to peer at him with surprise on her expression. "So this isn't the first time it's happened?"

He shook his head solemnly, and in a hushed tone, explained the routine of their frequent arguments while they both continued to observe the commotion.

Although the puppeteer did not have any weapons on-hand, he still had the capability of annoying his sister by snagging her arms and legs at random intervals and pulling her off-balance, causing her to fall on occasion. Temari was clearly at a disadvantage, distance-wise, until she climbed up the couch and retrieved a fan hanging on the wall – it was smaller than her usual combat one, but still large enough to make a difference. Armed with a much more effective weapon than his invisible chakra strings, she chased Kankuro through the room until he ran outside to the backyard, where he instantly started complaining about her being armed while he was defenseless. As the couple headed toward that part of the house, they heard a gust of wind blowing loudly, and they picked up their pace, arriving there just in time to see dust flying everywhere and Kankuro poking his head out from behind the only structure, a shed.

"You're his big brother! What kind of example are you setting for him, acting like a damn pig all the time?!"

"Hey, at least I didn't teach him how to be a fucking preppie!"

As the siblings kept bickering, the brunette watched them with clear concern and sought assurance from her boyfriend; "They, um… they won't let things get out of hand, right? Maybe I should try to stop them…"

"I will intervene if it becomes necessary," he informed her mildly. "You are unarmed."

"Well… all right. Then I'm going to start cleaning up while they're… bonding," Matsuri remarked softly after a few minutes of watching the fervent activity.

He paused for a moment, feeling mildly confused about the custom of having guests, since he thought the host was expected to clean up, although truth be told, this night had not exactly been conventional. "I will help you."

She smiled sweetly in gratitude and they worked together to clear off all the dishes from the table and then stored the leftovers in the refrigerator before washing everything and putting them away.

"There… all done." The bole-haired kunoichi sighed lightly, and then gave her boyfriend an appreciative look; although she had already heard it being discussed during dinner earlier, she was still a little surprised to realize that he indeed have knowledge of doing domestic chores.

Gaara nodded slightly in agreement before averting his attention toward the exit of the backyard.

"Oh, I think that's the dessert Temari prepared," she remarked just then, pointing to the small round cake sitting on the far end of the counter. "Um… When Temari and Kankuro are done bonding, maybe we can have cake and tea together. How much longer do you think…?"

"They have had enough time," he declared decisively and started crossing the distance that would lead him outside. "I will inform them."

"Okay," she replied and started looking through the cabinets for plates and a teapot.

Keeping a keen ear focused while the water was heating up, she heard a few swishing noises coming from the direction of the backyard, and then the sound of a familiar deep voice commanding quietly, but firmly, "Enough. Matsuri has asked to have cake and tea with us."

"Now that's what I'm talking about. The kid's pretty smart. She's a keeper, Gaara."

"…'A keeper'?"

"That means he approves."

"I see."

"Hey, does she have any cute friends?"

A short period of silence.

"Kankuro, she's not your matchmaker."

"Heh, doesn't hurt to ask. Don't gripe, Temari. You got lucky this time. A few more minutes and you would've been crying about ruining that dopey dress."

"Yeah, right! Keep dreaming, little brother."

Even with the gruffness of their tones, the young brunette smiled fondly at hearing the exchange. In spite of the teasing and banter thrown around so casually, it was obvious that the siblings loved each other.

Nevertheless, she could not help feeling a little worried when she caught sight of the formerly feuding pair traipsing back inside with visible evidence of their fight – not that there was any bleeding, but both had rather strained facial features.

"Hey," Temari greeted as she entered the kitchen and gave the younger girl an approving look.

"Oh, Temari… Are both of you all right?"

She smirked haughtily and nodded. "Naturally, I had the upper hand. But the chicken was running away the whole time, so he'll live."

"I heard that!"

The blonde kunoichi laughed and took over the position at the stove. "I got it here, thanks. You mind bringing the cake out to them? Kankuro's probably hungry again."

With a nod of compliance, she picked up the cake and carried it into the living room, where Gaara was sitting on the couch and Kankuro cozily lounged around in the single-person recliner.

The tall puppeteer grinned with mild amusement at seeing her concerned expression when Matsuri caught sight of the tears in various parts of his clothes. "Don't sweat it, kid. This is nothing. Temari fights like a girl."

"I am a girl, you moron," the wind mistress abruptly cut in over the hiss of the boiling water. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"Don't start again," Gaara warned before his brother could respond.

Kankuro gave a careless shrug. "Eh, I'll shut her up next time."

Matsuri giggled lightly at his blatant display of bravado, and then briefly left the room to retrieve a knife and four plates; she promptly returned with Temari by her side, who was carrying a steaming pot of tea.

"Get cups for everyone, lazy," the blonde kunoichi commanded after realizing how intently her disheveled younger brother was staring at the dessert.

He barely suppressed the urge to fire back a response – she was undoubtedly cruel enough to withhold cake from him if he provoked her any further – and trudged into the kitchen, coming back with the cups in hand.

After everyone got comfortably seated and had been served tea and a slice of cake, Kankuro picked up his cup and made a gesture toward Matsuri that looked like a toast, which elicited a curious gaze from his sister.

When the young brunette looked back at him with mild confusion, he smiled genuinely. This meek girl had survived a night of their rowdy, unorthodox behavior, and did not get scared off, surprisingly. More importantly, he could tell she was a good match for his little brother by the way she treated him, the amount of respect she showed, and how well they knew each other. If asked a couple of years ago when she was acting like one of the airhead fangirls without a clue, the puppeteer would have been a lot less inclined to give his approval. Those types of girls might suit Kankuro's preferences for casual fun, but he knew the redhead would want a bond that was substantial and meaningful. Even if Gaara did get soft and mushy from having a girlfriend, it was obvious that Matsuri made him happy, and in the end, that was what really mattered.

Yup, definitely a keeper.

"Welcome to the family, kid."

The End

Author's Note: Apologies again! School really has been overbearing lately, but I'm trying! Like with this story, I've been writing it during downtime at work and school, hehe. Oh, for those of you that have followed the timeline, this fic takes place in-between The End of Solitude and Expectation of Privacy. A big thanks to everyone that voted in my poll, asking for a GaaMatsu fic, and coming in second place, a story with mature content. Therefore, my next fic will most likely be the mature content one. The multi-chapter GaaMatsu story is still in the works; I just want to make sure I can commit to finishing the whole story instead of letting the interest die out in the middle and leave readers hanging.

To all you lovely readers out there, I'd be delighted to hear your feedback on this story as always, so please leave a review and let me know what you think!

With love for my fans,

Tiger5913