GONE FISHING

Description: Fishing was Temari's idea of male bonding. Kankuro didn't buy it. Gaara didn't get it. Ironically enough, Temari was right. Summer fun and warm fuzzies abounds! Post Episode 32 Shippuuden. Sand sibs fic.

Disclaimer: All characters 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: Set after Episode 32 of Naruto: Shippuuden. This is a one-shot, but I might add a couple more one-shot chapters to it if I have time and or inspiration. This was written for a contest on Deviant Art. Also, thank you to Ariel-D for beta reading once again!

Translations (jic): "nii-san" means older brother, and "jan" is a non-sense word Kankuro puts on the end of some of his sentences (like how some Canadians say "eh?" sometimes).


GONE FISHING

Five days after Gaara had been resurrected, Baki suggested Gaara and his siblings take a holiday.

"Sometimes it is pertinent to relax," he explained as he stood before the Kazekage's desk. The noon sun filtered through the windows, casting a white glow on the older shinobi's face and the backs of the three younger ones facing him. "Relaxation enables you to rest and revitalize yourself for future endeavours."

Kankuro watched from beside the desk as his younger brother folded his arms across his chest. The shinobi's rust-red hair partially hung over his eyes, covering the love kanji and casting dark shadows over his cheeks. Gaara's expression was nearly always neutral, though today Kankuro detected tiredness in his eyes. He didn't seem pleased with Baki's suggestion.

"I have relaxed," Gaara said bluntly. His expression remained blank. "I took two extra hours yesterday evening to read before I went to bed." A flash of distaste crossed his face as he mentioned sleeping. "I, as Kazekage, can hardly afford to spend more time away from my desk than I already am."

Baki paused, then gave Gaara a dry look. "What did you read, if I may ask? Border patrol reports?"

Kankuro stifled a laugh as Gaara opened his mouth but did not respond. All the same, he knew Baki was right. Ever since Gaara had returned to the village, he had thrown himself headfirst back into the role of Kazekage. Kankuro suspected it was Gaara's method of coping with the trauma of the incident; if he kept busy, he couldn't think about what happened in too much detail. And while Baki had brought the subject up first, Kankuro knew they were both worried about Gaara's behaviour.

"Hey, Baki might have a point, ne?" he said with a quiet chuckle. "You're going to overwork yourself, and then we'll be picking up your pieces again. My little brother's got to learn to look out for himself."

Gaara turned to look at him with an expression of masked resignation. "It is my duty to protect this village." He paused, and his voice grew melancholy. "And since at this moment I am physically in no position to do that, the least I can do is keep the paperwork moving."

Gaara did have a good point, Kankuro thought. Ever since Shukaku had been torn from the younger boy, he had been unable to utilize most of his jutsus due to a lack of chakra. Kankuro knew Gaara would recover, but he also knew it would take time. The delay had been a source of anxiety for Gaara for days.

Kankuro opened his mouth to respond, but before he could Temari's sharp voice cut in from the side.

"Idiot." She had braced herself against the wall behind Gaara and glared at all three of them, her lips turned upward in a wry smile. "If you die again, what are we supposed to do? Learn to relax a bit. That is your duty right now – to get better. Besides, I don't want to see you dead again." Her voice grew quiet. "Kankuro is right. You need to learn to look after yourself. We can look out for you, but you have to realise that your life is just as important as anyone else's."

No one moved for a moment. Then Gaara tilted his head towards the desk. His hair covered his eyes fully now, and Kankuro couldn't see his expression.

"You're right," Gaara said slowly. His voice was emotionless enough that it gave Kankuro goose bumps. "I'm sorry to worry you."

"Hey!" Kankuro couldn't help himself. Temari had good intentions, but it was hard to keep quiet when Gaara seemed ready to put his head through the desk. "No worries! We know you're trying hard, jan." He smiled slightly. "Sometimes it just takes time to adjust to things. But Temari and Baki are both right. The best way for you to adjust is for us to get you out of here so you can focus on yourself more."

Gaara's response was to let his face fall forward onto the desk and to run his hands through his hair. Kankuro cringed and quickly added, "I mean, we just want to help you, little bro."

The younger boy shook his head in a faint imitation of a nod. His voice was muffled by the sleeves of his robes. "Yeah. I know."

"Excellent." Baki moved toward the door as though to leave. "The first step to recovery is acceptance. I'll make plans for your trip immediately." He bowed, then left.

Kankuro turned to Temari and snorted. "You two don't waste time, do you?"

"Shut up." Her voice was light, but she looked at Gaara's back with concern. "Better to do it now than never." She paused, walked forward, and raised a hand toward Gaara. She hesitated for a moment, then rubbed Gaara's shoulder with her fingers. "You'll like it," she said quietly. "I have a good idea of where he'll send us, and I think it will do you a lot of good."

Kankuro watched as Gaara nodded in return. A strange twinge passed through him as Temari massaged Gaara's shoulder. Over the last few days he had felt an urge to try and touch Gaara in the same way, to comfort him, but the situation was never right. Someone else was always there, or Kankuro couldn't tell if Gaara would actually appreciate it or not. And besides, he knew it wasn't appropriate, at least in their village, for men to provide that sort of comfort for each other. There was always room for an affectionate older sister, and even Temari could be gentle if she needed to be. What made Kankuro hurt was the apparent lack of room in their world for a physically affectionate older brother.

"I'll go pack," Kankuro said, the suddenness of the statement surprising even himself. He headed towards the door. "Wherever we're going, we'll probably need the same stuff, jan."

". . . Okay." Temari's voice sounded surprised, but he didn't stop to turn around to see if her expression matched. "I'll let you know when I hear more from Baki."

"Thanks." Internally cursing himself for his stupidity, Kankuro left the room and walked briskly down the hallway towards his room. He knew it was futile to try and do something he shouldn't, but some part of him just couldn't let it go. He had seen comfort between men happen, and he wanted to be a part of it, too.

"Damn it," he muttered, stopping in the center of the hallway and staring at the floor. He clenched his fingers and shook his head. Temari could touch Gaara on the shoulder. So could Naruto Uzumaki. Both had been there for his little brother. There was no reason he couldn't do it also.

"I'm not gonna fail you again," he said. "Not again, jan."

He had a whole vacation to manage it, he figured. He wasn't going to let the opportunity slip by him. Not this time.

GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

"Home sweet home!" Temari stood with her hands on her hips and surveyed the scenery. Her yukata hem swept over the ground, catching on the tall grass. The sun was beginning to set, and the entire land was bathed in an orange glow that seemed to set the leaves afire.

Kankuro was less impressed. He focused his eyes on the cottage that sat in front of them and frowned. "It looks like a dump." He ran a hand through his hair, which was flying around in the wind. He'd stripped his hat off hours ago because of the humidity, and his hair had been standing nearly straight up on end ever since. "Seriously. A dump, jan."

Gaara stood beside them both. He stared at the house with slightly wide eyes, then turned to Kankuro as if in agreement. "We're staying here?"

Kankuro had all but forgotten about the cottage their father had owned for travel through the Land of Fire. The home had been maintained as a way-point for the Kazekage to use if he were travelling to Konoha. Although it was technically owned by the Land of Fire, the Kazekage was granted freedom to travel to and from it as he wished. Their father, who had never liked the other country, had used it very little. While it had obviously been maintained in the years following their father's death, something about the rustic nature of the cottage made Kankuro cringe.

"Yeah," he said, finally responding to his brother's question. "I mean, look at this," he added, walking towards the small bungalow with some reservation. His sandals squished on fallen leaves that were wet from a recent rain. He hopped up the steps and threw the front door open. "There are . . . not many rooms. And . . ." He eyes settled on a side window, which overlooked a nearby river.

"And what?" Temari snorted, having followed him into the cottage. "You hate big houses, so why would you want a larger one? I think what you're hating the most is the water." She glanced behind her, then turned to Kankuro again and hissed. "Good, he's still outside. Besides, we're trying to make this nice for him. Quit making the house seem like a hell hole."

"It is one." He sighed and rubbed his face. "Relaxation is great, but he hates water as much as I do. Have you seen him try to bathe? I think he'd bathe in sand if he could." He stopped talking as the floor creaked behind them.

The two turned around and found Gaara standing at the door, looking around the home with a vaguely dejected look. He had forgone his robes for the trip, and Temari had insisted he leave his battle garments at home as well. The maroon t-shirt Kankuro had managed to find for him was baggy, and Gaara tugged at the bottom hem absently with his fingers.

"I guess it will be . . . fun?" Gaara looked at Kankuro as if seeking some reassurance of his words.

"Uh, sure!" Kankuro tried not to cringe at the obvious lie. "It'll be great."

"Definitely," Temari interrupted, pushing by Kankuro to stand before Gaara. "There are plenty of things we can do here. We'll be without any interruptions, meaning there will be plenty of time to read and relax. And since we only brought so much food, we can find our own. In fact," she turned again and walked toward a nearby cupboard. She opened it and peered inside, dug around in it, then pulled something out and waved it in Gaara's direction. "See? Fishing rod. You and Kankuro can go fishing. Have some quality male bonding time."

Kankuro nearly blanched but took a deep breath and maintained his composure. "Sure. Bonding time." Internally, he was terrified. He wanted bonding time, certainly, but he hadn't expected to have it shoved at him on a long, barbed pole. "Fishing?"

"Fishing," Temari repeated. She glanced at Gaara. "Fishing. It's easy. You know what it is, right?" She glanced momentarily at Kankuro but didn't hold his gaze. Baki had showed him how to fish several years ago when they were at Konoha for their second attempt at the chunin exams.

Gaara nodded and stared at the rod with wide eyes. "Yeah."

"Great! It's settled, then." Temari beamed at them both. "We'll crash for the night, eat what we have, and you two can get up and go fishing bright and early tomorrow morning. Fish apparently bite well at sunrise."

"Early?" Gaara seemed ready to croak at the thought. "But . . . I've been sleeping until noon."

"Which you've said you hate." Temari chuckled. "We need to adjust your sleeping habits back to something more natural and then you'll adjust. This will be just the thing to do it."

"Early morning is not natural," Kankuro muttered under his breath, feeling even more frazzled at the thought. "It's demonic, jan."

Temari whirled to face him and foisted him a dark glare. "Tomorrow morning. Fish. Food. Right?"

Kankuro glanced at Gaara and knew for certain they were thinking the exact same thing. It was useless to argue with Temari when she set her mind to something. And she was nearly always right. He sighed. "Sure. Fish. Whatever." He glanced at Gaara again. "Fish."

As he watched Temari nod and leave to check the other rooms, Kankuro sighed again. He was getting bonding time all right, but he suddenly realised he had no idea what to do with it. And morning, he knew, always came quickly.

GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

Kankuro wanted to kill the sun. In Sunagakure, the valley walls kept out the sunlight in the early morning until it rose high enough to shine directly on the homes. Here in the Land of Fire, however, the light came earlier in the morning. Kankuro had been determined to sleep through until his alarm went off, but he ended up staring at the ceiling as the sunlight poured through the window at least three hours earlier than what he was used to.

"Screw this." He rolled over on the bed, yawned, then pushed himself to his feet. He stretched a few times, blinked to clear his eyes, then looked around the room. His eyes fell to Gaara's bed, which was suspiciously empty. The sheets were rumpled, but when Kankuro brushed them with his fingers they were cold to the touch. Then he noticed a small sheet of paper left carefully on the pillow. He picked it up.

"Gone fishing," he read, reaching a hand to scratch his head. He frowned, suspecting Gaara had awakened even earlier than he had. He let the paper fall back to the bed, then pulled on a black t-shirt and a pair of black shorts.

The kitchen was quiet, as Temari was still in bed. Kankuro snorted at the irony, then fetched the fishing rod she had set out for them the night before. Gaara had already taken the tackle box, and Kankuro wondered, as he walked onto the front deck and pulled the door shut behind him, if the younger boy actually knew what he was doing. Gaara had over the years occasionally claimed to know things he didn't--likely out of fear of seeming incompetent, Kankuro suspected. And although Gaara consumed books the way the Uzumaki kid apparently consumed ramen, Kankuro had no idea if he'd ever read anything about fish.

The air was humid even first thing in the morning. It was a strange sensation for Kankuro after having spent so much time in the desert. The ground crunched under his feet, and little droplets of dew spilled off the blades of grass onto his exposed toes. He ducked under a low-hanging tree branch, then caught sight of the river. It seemed smaller than it had the previous night, although the water rolled with decent speed along the river bank. A small boat floated in the river, tethered in place by ropes that were fastened to the ground with kunai knives.

"Hey!" Kakuro smiled at the sight of his brother bobbing up and down in the boat, though his stomach churned slightly at the thought of potential seasickness.

Gaara looked up suddenly, startled. Then his eyes relaxed as he saw Kankuro approaching the river edge. "Good morning." He paused, then yawned loudly. Kankuro thought he saw a faint blush cross Gaara's cheeks, as though the younger boy were embarrassed by the noise. "I'm sorry. I would have waited for you, but I couldn't sleep."

"That's okay, jan! No problem." Kankuro studied the water, decided it was too rough to walk across without getting very wet, then stepped onto the rope. He pooled chakra around his feet and walked its length, taking care not to bounce the boat too much in the process. He stepped into the craft and settled on the seat behind Gaara's, his back turned to his brother's.

Kankuro opened his mouth to speak again but closed it when he realised he wasn't sure what to say. Gaara had on occasion confided in him in the past, but those conversations were always laced with serious themes. Now, when they were supposed to be relaxing and having fun, Kankuro couldn't think of what to say.

"Did the sun wake you up?" Kankuro cringed as soon as he said it. He reached to the side, grabbed a lure from the tackle box and attached it to his fishing line. The last thing he wanted to do was kill the conversation before it ever began.

"Probably." Gaara's voice was quiet and almost blended in with the soft bubbling of the water. "I haven't been sleeping well since . . ." He trailed off and didn't continue.

Kankuro frowned, and as he cast his line into the water and gradually let it out, he pondered how to respond. "That's not surprising," he said eventually. "Sleeping would be, well, weird if you hadn't done it before."

"Sure. I guess." Gaara paused and was silent for a long while before responding. "It's just . . ." He sighed suddenly and his voice took on a strange tone. "It's not the sleeping. It's . . . what I see when I sleep."

"You mean you dream?" Kankuro forced himself to calm down. He had expected this, but he still wasn't sure how to help Gaara fix it. "You . . . dream about bad things?"

"I dream I'm dead."

Kankuro nearly dropped the rod but managed to catch it after fumbling it. His eyes went wide, and his stomach dropped. "You dream . . . then why didn't you ever ask someone to sleep with ––"

His response was cut off suddenly as Gaara yelped loudly. Kankuro snapped around to see his brother lurch towards the edge of the boat, eyes wide like sauce pans. He quickly clued into what was happening.

"You have a fish, jan?"

"Obviously!" Gaara's voice matched his eyes: utter panic. He struggled with the line, growling as he pulled it backwards and attempted to reel it in.

Without thinking, Kankuro reached forward and took the handle of the rod in one of his hands. He placed his other hand on the spinner, intertwining his fingers with Gaara's so his brother couldn't make any rash movements. "Stay calm. Don't try to reel it in right away." He let out some line to demonstrate. "Give it some space. Tire it out."

Gaara stiffened as Kankuro leaned against him in order to manipulate the reel better. The stiffness slowly disappeared as the minutes passed, and Kankuro began to wonder if Gaara planned on melting right into him. It seemed so surreal to be battling a fish and be struck by a strange feeling of utter warmth at the same time.

"Almost there," Kankuro whispered. "Almost there! When we get it to the boat, you have to hold it. I'll grab the net."

Several moments passed, until a resounding thunk rang out from the bottom of the boat. Then the fish swam fully under the boat, the movement pulling the entire boat to one side. Kankuro swore at the top of his lungs as several lures from the tackle box tumbled overboard. The line pulled harder, and he realised Gaara had let go of it and was himself scrambling for the net. Kankuro grunted and used his sheer strength to wrench the fish back out from under the boat, hoping the line wouldn't snap.

It didn't. The fish jumped out of the water suddenly, its jaws snapping open and closed. Gaara swung the net quickly, capturing the fish in it, and throwing it to the deck of the boat all in one motion. His movement caused the boat to rock again. Gaara's face turned white as the boat lurched, bucked, and tossed him cleanly overboard.

Kankuro saw the younger boy hit the water and tried to process Gaara's apparent terror. He didn't like the conclusion he reached. "Damn it." He doubted Gaara could swim, but the more pressing concern was his brother's currently weak chakra. There was no way he could push himself to the surface.

Kankuro took a deep breath and dived into the water headfirst, using his chakra to force himself below the surface. He felt around, found an arm, then used his chakra again to shoot them back to the surface. The water exploded around them as they landed back on the boat. Gaara collapsed against the deck and coughed several times. Kankruo instinctively ran his arm around Gaara's shoulders, giving his brother the balance he needed as the boat finally began to right itself.

"It's all right," he said, running his fingers over Gaara's back. "It's okay. I've got you."

Gaara nodded feebly, coughed a few more times, then rolled over onto his back. Kankuro frowned at his brother's dazed look, and decided it was probably not the best idea to have him right against the floor of the bobbing boat. He took a seat, crossed his legs, and pulled Gaara onto his lap, resting his head on his legs.

"You have a penchant for getting into trouble, jan?" Kankuro said with a relieved grin. He brushed Gaara's wet hair off his forehead.

"Apparently." Gaara's voice was strained and raspy. He closed his eyes, took a few deep breaths, and relaxed against Kankuro. For a few moments, they were both silent. "It was because I didn't want to be weak. But I was wrong."

"Eh?" Kankuro blinked.

"You asked me." Gaara coughed again, wiping his mouth with his hand. "Before I got the fish. You were going to ask me why I didn't ask anyone to keep me company at night if I was having trouble sleeping." His voice grew quiet. "It was because I didn't want to be weak for the village. But I was wrong." A tiny smile crept onto his face. "I've tried to connect to others, to build bonds in order to become strong. But I always assumed that strength went one way. I never dreamt it would go both. When I awoke on the field and you and Temari and Naruto were standing there, along with everyone else, I thought I was dreaming." He laughed quietly. "But now someone is leaning over me again. I'm such a fool to make the same mistake more than once."

"Oh!" Kankuro felt his breath leave him. It occurred to him that he was doing just that – leaning over his younger brother, looking out for him and keeping him safe. He had done it without thinking. "Heh." He grinned, but inside a wave of relief ran through him. He hadn't failed Gaara this time. This time, he had managed to save him. As stupid as the situation might have been, he had been there when he needed to be.

"I guess you're right." He squeezed Gaara's shoulder, then went wide-eyed when he realised what he had just done. His grin widened, and a soft chuckle escaped his lips. Gaara hadn't shoved him away, and he had managed to comfort him after all. "A perfect situation for male bonding, jan?"

Gaara sat up and looked puzzled. "Eh?"

Kankuro chuckled again. "Nothing. Temari was right, as always." He glanced around the boat, and began to laugh louder. "And look, we caught a fish."

"I guess we did." Gaara's voice was exhausted and deadpan, but there was a slight twinkle in his eyes that warmed Kankuro to the core. "I couldn't have done it myself. Thank you, nii-san."

"You're welcome." Kankuro hesitated, then wrapped his arms around Gaara and hugged him tightly. The younger boy settled against him without complaint. He glanced around the river then nodded. "Home sweet home, ne?"

FIN