When Kankurou makes chuunin, Gaara gives him a gift.
It's not much, just a Suna hitai-ate plate to replace the battered one that Haruno Sakura had finally cracked in half during the final tournament. The sort of thing a normal younger brother might give a normal older brother.
Kankurou's always sort of thought normality was overrated.
He turns the plate over in his hands, running a thumb over the smooth, unscratched metal. Something catches, on the reverse side. Reflexively suspicious, Kankurou flips it over.
There's a small character scratched awkwardly into the back, lines and loops straggling across the otherwise unmarred surface. It's kanji for blessing and protection.
Such a normal, family thing.
It has Temari's mark all over it, and Kankurou wonders if she had to herd Gaara into it herself, or if Gaara asked her what would be appropriate in this situation. Then he wonders if it matters.
On a whim, he asks Gaara what he wants.
Gaara blinks. And answers.
Gaara doesn't know how to lie. He doesn't understand duplicity. The answer he gives his brother is honest, as honest as Gaara knows how to be in words.
"I want to protect everyone," Gaara tells his brother.
Over the next few weeks, returning to Sand from Stone and settling in at home in his new rank, Kankurou thinks.
How do you protect everyone, he wonders, working the broken plate off his hood and fastening the new one in its place. The kanji are still there, childish and awkward as he remembers them.
That sort of protection is metaphorical, he thinks. It only means something to him, and to Gaara, maybe. The best sort of protection is something solid. Something you can reach out and touch.
Or is it?
It's easy enough to get back into the swing of things. Even before that fateful chuunin exam, they'd been running high-ranked missions. Not much has changed, except that he's now sent on the occasional solo mission.
Kankurou's not as powerful as Gaara. He's not as battle-clever as Temari. He'll never be tall like his (dead) father, or strong like Baki-sensei. But he's quick, and he has his own brand of intelligence.
How do you protect everyone?
Perhaps he was wrong before. Maybe the best sort of protection you can have isn't tangible. After all, before that exam, no one had ever landed a hit on Gaara, and Gaara's still all kinds of screwed up.
But you can't protect anything if you get yourself killed, right?
Kankurou chews on his lip and thinks.
He realizes he's going about it all backwards. Of course, there are different ways to protect people, but all you need to protect people is power.
(And the capacity to care, so letting Shukaku take over is a definite no.)
Kankurou almost laughs when he realizes it. It's simple, really. Gaara wants to protect everyone, so he needs the power to accomplish that.
Gaara is already powerful, Kankurou knows. But it's not the kind of power Gaara needs now. Gaara's power is what Kankurou's come to think of as the 'small' kind, the sort that is only good for battles and fighting and killing.
Gaara needs the 'big' power, Kankurou thinks.
The 'big' power is something Kankurou's only recently come to acknowledge and understand. At least somewhat. It's not something ninjas usually have to worry about, after all. The 'big' power is power over other people.
And the only way to get that is through other people.
Kankurou worries about that for a while, because Gaara's attempts at normal human interaction tend to backfire horribly, and he doesn't really want to watch his little brother attempt diplomacy, but then he figures out the shortcut.
A few experiments confirm Kankurou's suspicions. He himself has a knack for politics. Really, it's a lot like puppetry. You just watch the strings, and figure out where they go. Once you know that, it's easy.
It's interesting, though, how a puppet will have strings leading to its puppeteer, strings that are easy for Kankurou to follow…only to discover that the puppeteer itself is a puppet as well. Multiple layers of puppets and strings, all waiting for him to untangle them.
Kankurou decides that this is Gaara's shortcut. Kankurou will learn this new battlefield, will gather all the strings into his own hands.
And then he will hand them over to Gaara.
Then Gaara will have both kinds of power, and will be able to protect everyone.
It's a brilliant plan, Kankurou thinks.
The execution is difficult. The Hidden Village in which Kankurou has lived all his life is not as stable as it appears outwardly, he comes to realize. There are factions behind the scenes, left flapping in the sandstorm that became of the old Kazekage's death.
They debate back and forth, each pushing their own candidates for the position. Kankurou watches, almost mesmerized, and traces strings.
It's not so long before he starts to cast his own lines, watching his own scenes play out like snatches of a kabuki play. It gives him a funny sort of rush that battle's never afforded him.
He's good at it at first. As time wears on, he gets better.
Kankurou has always been the quintessential middle child, always overshadowed by his more flamboyant siblings. He has to admit that finding his own skills, his own arena in which to test himself…it feels pretty good.
Truth be told, it's not as long as he expects before he's able to begin the final stage of his plan. Suna is dangerously low on Kazekage-prospects, and while Kankurou's somewhat disgusted on his brother's behalf that they're even considered his rivals, it does make things easier.
A few words in the right ears, a few scenes carefully scripted and staged for the public's benefit, and then all that's left is to broach the subject of Gaara.
After all, wasn't the One-Tail's vessel originally created to protect his village? Perhaps that's how it will end up, but with Gaara finally in control of his own destiny. Kankurou thinks they'll all be better off like that anyway.
It comes to a point where Kankurou has done all he can, then. And then it's up to Gaara.
It's more than possible at this point, Kankurou thinks. Gaara has been working to amend and negate his previous actions, ever since that exam. While Kankurou has been working his tail off to make the village elders see him, and not Shukaku, Gaara has been working just as hard at winning over the lower-level ninjas and civilians.
It's because of that that Kankurou knows Gaara will be a good Kazekage. He's working to amend things with no ulterior motive. Gaara has no idea what Kankurou's been doing. Even Temari just has a few suspicions, an inkling of what he's been working towards.
Kankurou plans on handing the Kazekage's hat to Gaara on his birthday. He just hopes the timing works out.
Endnotes: Mm, politics. Not an awful lot to say about this one. Except that Gaara is frighteningly easy to write...