The Blood of Brothers

By Ariel D

Description: What does it mean to be brothers? Gaara didn't used to consider Kankuro his brother, but their relationship has slowly changed. Can they cement their bond? Set post Shippuuden ep. 32.

Disclaimer: Gaara and the Naruto-verse are copyrighted by Masashi Kishimoto and Weekly Shonen Jump. I am making no profit; this is just for fun.

A/N: Not YAOI. Very much an exploration of brotherly love. As this is my first Naruto fanfic, be patient with me as I delve into their relationship, and I promise to give you guys my best.

Chapter One: A Smile

At first, Gaara noticed a tiny change he couldn't explain. It happened a week after he'd been returned to life by Elder Chiyo. Even with Shukaku gone, Gaara had not been able to bring himself to sleep, so he spent his nights catching up on paperwork he missed during his abduction. This night proved no different; the Kazekage sat at his desk surrounded by the uniform beige of his office walls and watched a beam of moonlight stretch across the stack of documents and scrolls at his elbow. Outside, the desert wind whipped around buildings in mournful wails. A sandstorm was likely passing near them.

I used to consider that sound appropriate for such a dead and cold village, Gaara mused, but now I rarely notice it anymore.

A knock sounded on the Kazekage's office door, and Kankuro's voice came through the wood. "Yo, Gaara, it's me." He let himself inside, not waiting for any kind of permission. Then again, he really didn't need permission.

Gaara, who was bored senseless by all the eventless border patrol reports, glanced up at his older brother and felt relieved.

Relieved . . .

Kankuro hesitated for a moment as though he'd been surprised by something, then smiled. "You gotta be kidding me, man. Paperwork at midnight? Even you need a break sometimes."

Gaara gazed at Kankuro, wondering at his own feelings. Why should it matter to him that his older brother saw fit to check on him? Yet somehow Gaara felt reenergized. "After tonight, I should be caught up. I never imagined the amount of reading and stamping a Kazekage would have to do." Indeed, the list was endless: supply reports, tactical reports, patrol reports, mission reports, and dozens of others Gaara didn't care to consider at the moment.

Kankuro grabbed a chair from the corner and pulled it up to the side of the desk. "Well, I never paid attention to Father's workload, or I would've warned you. I guess you didn't notice either, huh?"

Gaara's gaze dropped to his desk, which was piled with documents and scrolls. His official stamp sat before him, much like his father's had in the past. He didn't like to think about that man, to remember his cold eyes and sneer. "Definitely not."

An awkward silence fell as Gaara frowned to himself. In his mind's eye, he saw his father glaring down at him after he'd killed frightened and drunken villagers in the street as a child. Gaara took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, pushing aside the memory. This was one of the many reasons he didn't want to sleep, but without Shukaku's supernatural power and energy in him, Gaara knew it was only a matter of time before his body demanded the rest. However, he wanted to avoid as long as possible the nightmares he suspected would come.

Suddenly, a warm hand touched his arm. Gaara glanced up at Kankuro in surprise and found a sad smile on his older brother's face.

"Sorry," Kankuro said. "I didn't mean to bring him up."

Gaara blinked and glanced back at the hand, which had longer fingers and a larger palm: Kankuro's hand, muscled from practicing puppet manipulation and tanned from hours spent under the desert sun.

Kankuro snatched away his hand with a nervous laugh. "Uh, sorry."

Gaara started to speak, struck with the sudden, irrational impulse to tell his brother that he didn't have to remove his hand, but the words died in his throat. "It's fine."

Leaning back in his chair, Kankuro rubbed his palms against his black pants. "Actually, I'm here because Tamari and I are worried about the way you're refusing to sleep. Without Shukaku, you have no reason to avoid it, and your body and mind will both —"

"I knowthat." Gaara cringed internally; he hadn't meant to cut off his brother so abruptly.

Kankuro's shoulders stiffened, and Gaara felt strangely irritated with himself. He hated that tenseness; it reminded him too much of before. A mere three years ago, he would have taken satisfaction in putting Kankuro in his place, but now it disturbed him when his brother became uneasy around him. He didn't want to see that look of fear ever again . . . to see people running away from him just because he spoke to them. He didn't want to hurt others or have others be afraid he'd hurt them.

Gaara sighed quietly. "What I meant to say is that I realize I have to sleep, but I'm not sure I want to." He frowned, realizing he hadn't explained it well. "When you sleep, you dream, right?"

"Yeah." Kankuro visibly relaxed again, his shoulders dropping.

"Are dreams like memories?"

Kankuro's eyes widened faintly. "Oh, well, in a way. Dreams can include memories of the past or projections of the future. They're often mixed up and don't make sense to you when you wake up."

"Mixed up?" Gaara didn't like the sound of that.

Kankuro turned his gaze to the window behind Gaara. "Yeah." His eyes glazed over as though he were deep in thought. "You might dream something weird like being at the chunin exams and seeing our mom there even though she couldn't have been."

That settled that. "I'll go as long as I can without sleeping, then."

Kankuro glanced back at him in surprise. "It doesn't have to be bad."

Not bad? Gaara thought, although he didn't voice the words. Distracting himself, he stared at his brother with his face paint and cat-eared hood. Oddly, he was grateful that Kankuro preferred to dress like a performer, since without the paint and hood he looked too much like their father. Gaara realized abruptly didn't want to see anything of their father in Kankuro.

Apparently assuming Gaara's silence was caused by disbelief, Kankuro elaborated. "Hey, everyone has nightmares, but not all dreams are bad. A lot of people don't even remember their dreams when they wake up."

Gaara felt it again — that same twinge of relief he'd felt when Kankuro had first entered the room. He knew it wasn't Kankuro's words that made him feel better because he honestly believed that he would have nothing but nightmares. That only left one option: it was Kankuro's effort to reassure him that sparked the reaction.

But why? What did it mean?

Gaara set aside the confusing questions that his emotions caused him. "I'll try to remember that," he murmured. "I have to finish this paperwork, but later this week I'll consider your — and Temari's — request."

Kankuro smiled. "Fair enough." He stood and grabbed his chair, dragging it back to the corner. "But try to at least rest before morning, if nothing else."

Gaara nodded, and Kankuro bid him a good night. However, instead of finishing his paperwork, Gaara stared at the door, pondering why his brother's visit had improved his mood even though their discussion had not been on a pleasant topic. All he could determine was that their words weren't what mattered; they could have spoken about anything.

If that was so, then what did matter? Why did he have this feeling of relief or comfort?

Kankuro had meant to go to bed after checking on his younger brother, but after speaking with Gaara, he felt too restless to sleep. Instead, he retired to his workshop, where he both modified and created puppets, and walked up to his workbench. Behind him, wood files, saws, and cans of paint lined one wall and the slumped forms of puppets covered the other. Before him on the worktable lay the wolf puppet he was carving, feeling unwilling to face the onerous task of rebuilding the puppets Sasori had destroyed. He absently picked up the wolf, running his fingers across the wood to check for rough spots. However, he ignored his tools and ended up staring at the wolf.

"He smiled," Kankuro whispered to the apathetic puppet. Gaara rarely smiled or made any other facial expression, and so the few times Gaara did smile, no matter how faint, it never failed to stun Kankuro. He hasn't known much happiness,he admitted to himself, although he hoped that the way the villagers had rushed to save their Kazekage proved to Gaara that things had changed.

Kankuro set his new puppet back down. He smiled when I walked into the room. It was faint — he just lifted up one corner of his mouth — but he smiled like he was actually happy to see me.For most of his life, he'd never imagined that he could mean anything to his brother, so the mental image burned itself into Kankuro's brain: those aqua-green eyes gazing at him serenely, that small curve to his lips. No doubt about it: Gaara had been happy to see him, and he was cut to the core by those eyes and that smile.

"The child inside," Kankuro muttered to himself, finally picking up sandpaper and sanding the wolf puppet's back. Tiny flecks coated his fingers as he worked, and although the dust sometimes irritated his nose, the smell of wood was comforting. With the bijuu gone, it's like Gaara is recovering some lost part of himself. I swear it's like I'm seeing his softer side.

A softer side, a kinder side . . . for all Gaara's strength and bloody past, he still had a wounded heart that no one had understood until Naruto. And Kankuro knew that heart was still vulnerable to the people around Gaara, even if he no longer showed it outwardly. However, Kankuro could read into his brother's silences, his frowns, and his sparse words. He had spent his childhood analyzing them for the purposes of self-preservation, and now he used his knowledge to sense his brother's moods and reactions. The smile, then, had been tantamount to a loud exclamation — one he wanted to see more and more of.

Kankuro squeezed the sandpaper tight in his fist. "I'll protect you this time." He scowled, still hurting from the fact he'd been unable to save Gaara from his abductor. He never wanted to fail his brother that way again; the image of Deidara carrying Gaara away played a starring role in his own nightmares. The desperation he'd felt in that moment, knowing his brother was in mortal danger and that he couldn't help him, had hurt enough to make him nauseated. It had almost been too painful to bear.

However, he knew he was driven by more than the desire to save Gaara from physical danger. I also don't want to be like Uncle Yashamaru, he thought, knowing what had secured the loss of Gaara's smile. I won't crush what you offer to me. Irritated by the thought of Yashamaru's assassination attempt, Kankuro tossed down the sandpaper and wolf. He had trouble imagining what Gaara must have felt that day.

Of course, when Kankuro had first overheard the household servants speak of the assassination attempt years later, when Kankuro was twelve and Gaara was ten, he'd only felt sorry the attempt had failed. Thanks to Gaara, he and his sister had begun to live in fear. However, the older he became, the more disgusted he'd been by his uncle's heartless behavior; it reminded him too much of the way his father had so easily sacrificed his mother in order to create his living weapon. Finally, upon seeing Gaara's efforts to change, Kankuro had found himself trying to imagine how a six-year-old child would have felt to have his uncle try to kill him. As a result, Kankuro wished Yashamaru was still alive so he could beat him to death.

He had never felt this way about anyone. Because Temari was older than he and equally strong, he'd never felt the need to protect her, although he did still worry about her overall wellbeing. However, Gaara — especially this new Gaara who was working so hard to connect with people — inspired powerful feelings that Kankuro had difficulty understanding.

"You're my little brother," was all Kankuro could say to the absent Gaara. I'll get you through your nightmares, I promise.He sighed, thinking back to the conviction he had felt when he told the council that Gaara was his little brother, not just the Kazekage. His conviction had only grown since then.

I meant what I said that day, Kankuro told himself. Gaara is family, and I will see him through anything.

A/N: Thank you to anyone who reads and/or reviews. My chapters are usually three times longer than this, but I'm keeping the chapters short for this story. Still feels odd… Oh, well. I hope you enjoy.

Thank you to Darkhelmetj for beta reading.