Disclaimer: I do not own Kankuro, Gaara, or any characters used in this story.
Kankuro sat across the room from his little brother. He tinkered with his puppets while Gaara seemingly stared into space. Every so often he would glance up at the younger boy and open his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. It had been like this for the last half-hour since the puppeteer first came in.
After the fifth time it happened, Gaara glanced back at him curiously before he could look away again. "Did you want to say something?"
"Well, I…" Kankuro sounded unsure of himself. This was strange. He usually had no problem shooting off his mouth when he wanted to. But ever since their return from Konoha, Gaara's older siblings did not know how to act around him. Something had happened during the fight with that Uzumaki kid. Gaara had changed. It happened so suddenly. While they no longer feared for their lives (or at least not as often), they had no idea how to handle this new person.
Gaara and Temari had settled into a somewhat uneasy silence. There was an unspoken truce, as if they were both testing the waters around each other. But it was different with Kankuro. He seemed to want something more from Gaara. He would talk to him, often randomly and about nonsensical things.
Gaara always sensed there was something deeper his brother wanted to tell him but could not guess what that was. He had committed himself to learning to care for and understand others, but this was difficult. He did not know the first steps to take to form a bond with another person. Maybe if Naruto were here, he could tell him what to do.
Kankuro kept trying however. As it became clear that Gaara would not randomly decide to kill him, he would speak to him more often. He would ask about certain missions, their training, even about the weather. He seemed to be trying to find common ground with his younger brother, but the attempts were often awkward. He might find himself rambling on about something that interested him but then stop suddenly because Gaara looked disinterested. For his part, Gaara did not know how to carry a normal conversation. There were uncomfortable pauses where he could not decide what to say or if he should even say anything. This was one such moment.
"I was going to ask if you're feeling alright," Kankuro finally said. "I mean, I know it's been a while since that fight, but… Is your chakra level back to normal?" He scratched the back of his head. "Of course it must be."
Gaara looked at him questioningly. "I feel fine. You know that I recover quickly." He saw his older brother nod. "I do appreciate your concern."
"Yeah, I knew that weakling couldn't keep you down for too long." Kankuro realized as soon as he said this that it was a mistake, but he had been so relieved to have a positive response from Gaara that he spoke without thinking.
Part of him expected the younger ninja to lash out or challenge him in some way, but Gaara simply stared at him. Uncertain of what this look meant, he went on. "Of course he's not weak. He couldn't be. It's just that I'm not used to thinking of shinobi from other villages as stronger than us. It's part of our training. Temari was always smarter than to believe it. And I was impressed with how that kid…"
Another awkward pause. Gaara continued staring, apparently not angered by the near mention of his defeat.
Kankuro sighed. He remained quiet for a moment. "Look, Gaara, all I really want to say is that I know it isn't easy for you. Trying to change. And if you ever need my help… Not that you ever will necessarily… But if you ever do, I'm here for you."
"Thank you," Gaara finally replied after several long seconds. He felt something deep in his chest, something he could not quite describe. "I… I will need your help."
Kankuro smiled. "Anytime, little brother." Then the two settled into a more comfortable silence. They had a long way to go, but this felt like a step in the right direction.