Failure to Communicate

By Ariel-D

Description: SANDSIBS fic. Kankuro wants desperately to connect and communicate with Gaara, but something seems to always get in the way. Covers pre-series all the way through Shippuuden.

Disclaimer: Gaara, Kankuro, 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 Sandcest. In a sense, this story can be paired with "Hurt" and "Pain" because it follows a theme through several phases of Gaara's and Kankuro's lives. Spoilers for Shippuuden ep. 32 and ch. 281, for which it provides Kankuro's POV.

Translations (jic): "nii-san" and "nii-sama" mean older brother; "ototo" means younger brother; and a "yukata" is a cotton summer kimono often used in bathhouses as robes or at home as lounging outfits (although with fancier obi they are also worn to festivals).

"What we've got here is . . . failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any better than you men."—Cool Hand Luke*

Kankuro hid himself, believing he employed master stealth, and peered around the corner at the playground. A group of children played ball, shrieking and laughing, trying hard to kick the ball past the goalie and score in the box chalked on the stone wall. Beyond them, however, was a red-headed child sitting on a swing. He clutched a teddy bear to his chest, his gaze crestfallen, a frown bending his mouth downwards. One child, all alone.

Kankuro knew who the boy was, of course. It was his little brother, Gaara, who the adults had nicknamed Sabaku no Gaara: Gaara of the Sand Waterfall. It fit, he supposed, given the way Gaara's sand would crest and crash forward like tsunami in ink paintings.

In fact, he'd seen the sand tsunami himself once. One day at the Kazekage's mansion, Uncle Yashamaru had left the room to attend to a maid who'd fainted, and Gaara had become upset when Kankuro wouldn't share his green tea ice cream. The red-head had only been four at the time, and Kankuro an equally stubborn six, but the result had been the same as all the other mishaps with the bijuu host: a storm in a teapot, except the teapot was now a boy and Shukaku was cracking his edges.

When Gaara had lost his temper, all the windows had shattered, and most of the furniture had broken under the impact of rushing sand. Kankuro had comprehended in an instant something few other six-year-olds had — the meaning of death. But somewhere in the blurred images, the echoing screams, the hissing sand, there was a black flash, and then their father was standing between his two sons, bodily shielding one and yelling at the other to calm himself. Uncle Yashamaru had raced into the room moments later, scanned the shredded tatami floor, apologized, and then scooped up Gaara and left. Left to take the boy away to his house, continually separating the monster from his siblings. A virtual prison.

Even after Gaara had been carried away, Kankuro had been too scared to keep screaming. Too scared to cry. Too scared to run away or vomit or pee in his pants. He'd stood like stone, a carved statue with wide eyes and a bleeding arm. The Honorable Yondaime Kazekage had glanced at him, nodded in approval at what seemed to be his son's stoicism, then left the room, ordering the household servants to handle the mess.

And Kankuro had not slept for three nights.

However, in the two years that had passed since then, Kankuro had pondered those three lost nights. In the end, it was that sleep loss that had driven him to slip across the village and seek out his little brother. Kankuro knew Gaara couldn't sleep, and he remembered that after three sleepless nights, he himself had become irritable, his mind fogged, his senses skewed. Before the med nin had forced him to sleep, Kankuro had even begun seeing things that weren't there. And for two years, he had wondered how Gaara stood it. Surely lack of sleep was part of his problem. Could he blame his brother for that?

Kankuro sighed and glanced around the playground, watching the other children playing happily in contrast to the sad, lonely boy on the swing. Gathering his courage, he stepped out of the alley and took hesitant steps toward his little brother. He had been allowed around Gaara only twice in the past two years, and he'd always kept his distance. A clash of conflicting thoughts swamped Kankuro now. On one hand, his father said that his mother had died giving birth to Gaara, and Kankuro resented not having a mother like other children. Also, Gaara inevitably did something scary every time Kankuro was near him. But on the other hand . . .

On the other hand, he'd always wanted an ototo. The older he became, the more he wanted one. A little brother to play with, to look after, to make mischief with.

Kankuro inched closer to the swings, and the other children ignored him. The Kazekage had insisted that his older son follow the legacy of Chiyo-baasama, a trusted advisor and respected village elder, and learn the puppet jutsu. But the other kids thought the puppet jutsu was creepy; they didn't like seeing dolls appear to come to life and move on their own. When Kankuro neared, they didn't run away screaming like they did with Gaara, but at the same time they didn't want to play with him. They ignored Kankuro, and his approach to Gaara went unheeded.

The red-head sensed his presence and glanced up, his aqua eyes wide with surprise. "Nii-sama," he muttered, his voice a tiny whisper.

Somehow, the elevated honorific made Kankuro feel cold, which was silly since Uncle Yashamaru, Temari, and he all used the same honorific when addressing Gaara. Politeness due to fear. "Hey, Gaara-sama." He bit his lip and stared at his feet, shuffling his sandals in the sand. His father would be furious with him if he found out about this meeting; since the Kazekage considered Gaara a failure, he'd placed all his hopes on his other son. Kankuro wasn't supposed to take unnecessary risks when he wasn't even a genin yet.

But Father didn't understand, and Kankuro couldn't seem to communicate his desire to him: he wanted an ototo. He neededan ototo.

"Who sent you?" Gaara asked.

The question itself spoke volumes. The child wouldn't believe Kankuro had come on his own. "No one. I just . . ." I just wanted to see my brother. I wished I could play with him like we were ordinary kids.

Gaara looked at him with such hope that Kankuro's chest ached. "Really? Father didn't send you?"

Kankuro shook his head.

A small smile brightened the boy's face. "Does that mean . . . does that mean we can play?" He glanced at the children kicking the ball. "I . . . I really don't like being alone. Can we play ball?"

He seemed so innocent, and Kankuro supposed it wasn't any fun to have to be by yourself all day every day. "Sure. But —" He knew there was no way they could play with those children. "But we can't butt in on their game. Let's get our own ball."

Gaara frowned slightly, but then nodded.

Kankuro felt relief. Would this work? Could he actually have an ototo? He motioned for Gaara to follow him; there was an abandoned ball at the far end of the playground. However, as Gaara ran to him, the game the other children were playing went awry. Kankuro saw a boy behind Gaara slip as he kicked his ball, and the ball flew off-course, heading straight for Gaara's head. The other children screamed, and Kankuro instinctively tried to warn his brother even though it wouldn't matter.

"Gaara-sa—" He never finished the word.

Gaara's automatic sand shield formed, protecting him from the blow. He turned toward the group of children with a confused look, his brow wrinkled. "Wh-what?"

"Bad aim," Kankuro explained quickly. "The boy kinda slipped as he kicked. It was an accident."

"Oh." Gaara didn't sound upset. He picked up the ball and tossed it back toward the children, but they all turned and ran away screaming.

"We made him mad!"

"He'll kill us all!"

"Wait!" Kankuro yelled, reaching out one hand. He understood their fear, but Gaara had only been confused, not angry.

For a moment, Gaara stood very still, his shoulders tensing. "Why?" he asked, clenching his fists. "Why are they running away? I just want to play. I'm not going to hurt them!" However, even as he said those words, the sand at his feet gushed upwards, then outwards, barely missing the last three boys as they rounded the corner into the nearest alley.

"Gaara-sama!" Kankuro bit his lip, then tried to sound calm. "They just got confused. Try not to be mad."

Gaara whirled around and glared at him, tears standing in his eyes. "But they always run away! Always! Are you going to run, too?" The sand rushed back to him and circled his torso. "Are you?"

Cold sweat broke out on Kankuro's entire body, then streaked down his spine. "I came to —"

It was too late; suddenly Kankuro remembered why he hadn't slept for three nights after the attack two years earlier. The sand rose like a wave behind Gaara, roiling in on itself, seeming ready to attack of its own freewill.

Kankuro ran. He didn't bother to scream; he knew he'd need all his energy to escape. So he ran as fast as his little legs would carry him, not looking back, and to his immense relief, he passed Uncle Yashamaru, who was racing toward Gaara, calling out to him.

Failure, again. With his father, with his brother . . . always a failure to communicate.

And for years the image haunted him: not the attacking sand, but the tears in Gaara's eyes.

The brat was at it again, Kankuro thought, watching Gaara grin manically as he tossed aside his blood-spattered umbrella. Damn, he hated kids. He had feared spending five days alone with Gaara in the first place, and just as he'd expected, his brother had needlessly attacked the first exam candidates they'd run across without even knowing whether they had a heaven or earth scroll. Useless fighting was a waste of time, energy, and resources, but Gaara didn't care He just wanted to kill things, and kill he had: the three ninja from Hidden Rain were nothing more than splatters now, and Gaara's eyes shone with bloodlust.

And that, in a nutshell, was why Kankuro hated being around his little brother: the endless, pointless death and bloodshed and the attitude that everyone else in the world existed to be defeated and slain.

Kankuro picked up the dead team's scroll, which was luckily the one they needed. "Okay, let's head for the tower. I want to get out of this forest as quickly as possible."

"Shut up!" Gaara glared at him. "I haven't had enough yet."

Kankuro sensed the presence of three other people in the vicinity and knew the death toll would rise quickly. What was worse, the amassing blood would tempt Gaara's control, and then that thing might come out. If it did, they'd all die. "Let's stop."

The younger boy narrowed his eyes. "Are you afraid, coward?"

Kankuro was losing patience fast. Only a complete idiot or a sanin wouldn't be afraid of someone like Gaara. "You may be all right, but this is too dangerous for us." Somehow, he always found himself falling back on logic, trying to appeal to his brother's rational side while it still existed. "We only need one scroll. Any more is —"

Gaara whirled toward him. "Don't tell me what to do, you piece of trash."

Something inside of Kankuro snapped. It was bad enough having to put up with the damn brat all the time, much less spending his time being insulted by him. Him — the monster! He stalked up to Gaara and grabbed him by his white sash. "Give it a rest! Why don't you listen to your older brother sometimes?"

And in those words, present for anyone to see, was the source of Kankuro's frustration: he'd never been able to connect, to communicate. His ototo had grown increasingly distant and hateful, more monster than human, and Kankuro had lost his only chance to have a little brother.

Gaara's reply wasn't much more than a snarl. "I've never once thought of you all as my siblings. Get in my way, and I'll kill you."

And in turn, Gaara's words cut Kankuro like no others could. It wasn't just that Gaara was withdrawn from him for now; it was that he never had and obviously never would consider him a brother. He glowered at Gaara, and the younger boy returned that glare, neither one flinching for a long moment. Then Gaara jerked away.

For another endless minute of his life, Kankuro was sure he'd die. How many times had this happened now? He'd lost count. Although Gaara had settled into a pattern of comparative stability over the last year, he still snarled and lashed out at minor provocations.

Kankuro held his breath while Temari managed to reason with Gaara, and then they resumed their trip through the forest. However, Kankuro couldn't shake his anger. Several things secretly bothered him — things he never revealed to anyone. In fact, he'd spent years covering them up, masking them, both figuratively and literally, until only a few inches of his bare skin showed and equally little of his real feelings. He resented the fact his father never listened to him and barely paid attention to him except to offer critique. He was angry that he was the only kid he knew that had grown up without a mother. Several had lost their fathers in battles, but only Kankuro's mother had been — as he now knew — sacrificed to create a monster.

But what angered him most of all was that said monster wore the body of his ototo. Above all the things he'd wanted in life, he always had and still did want nothing more than to be a big brother.

And that was the one thing he could never have.

The sun sat low in the sky, dousing it with crimson and orange, tinting the desert in a russet glow. Kankuro strode down the rock pathway with purpose. He was on a personal mission: he needed to talk to his brother, who earlier that day had informed Temari and him that he planned to petition the counsel for roving assignments. In other words, Gaara wanted to be assigned to various different teams, and that worried Kankuro greatly. He could only imagine how the other Suna shinobi would react, and he didn't want to see his little brother take even more abuse. At the same time, after watching Gaara get control of himself, Kankuro knew something was up. He just wasn't sure what.

Kankuro found the boy in one of his favorite spots: just outside the west gate of the village, on a rocky ledge overlooking the vast Wind desert. Gaara was watching the sun set, silent and alone, apparently caught up in his own thoughts. Kankuro often wondered what his brother thought about during his long sleepless nights and equally lonely days. Now that Gaara seemed to be regaining his sanity, Kankuro tried to talk to him sometimes, but he often found he didn't know what to say.

That hurt. Kankuro seemed to have been given a second chance to have a little brother, but he had no idea how to approach him. So many years had passed — almost a decade since his previous genuine attempt — that he was left desperate to communicate but still utterly speechless. In this instance he knew what to say, though, and being the way he was, he only knew one way to say it: bluntly.

He approached Gaara, who didn't acknowledge his arrival. This was typical, but Kankuro knew his brother always sensed his approach. "Hey, I need to talk to you about what you said earlier. You know, about going off on your own."

"Go ahead," Gaara replied, not looking away from his majestic view.

Kankuro took a silent, deep breath and steeled himself. At least he was comfortable in the belief Gaara wouldn't fly into a rage and kill him now. "I don't want to have to say this, but the people think of you only as a frightening weapon. To separate from us and to just go into their gang outta the blue like this . . . It'll be hard, man." Even though Gaara had his back turned, Kankuro held up one hand in a plea for rationality. "The superiors don't think very much of you anyway. When it comes to you, the majority of the village is embraced with fear."

Gaara was silent for a moment and still didn't turn around. When he finally spoke, his voice was deep and quiet. "I know, but . . . by just waiting I get attacked by an ever greater anguish. All one can do is create his own path through hard work, without being a loner and taking the easy route." He paused. "So maybe someday, I'll be like him."

Kankuro was too shocked to reply at first. "Gaara . . ." Although he was worried about his brother's fate, clearly Gaara was ready to face the challenge.

"That's why I, as one of Suna's shinobi, aim to be the Kazekage — to bond with and live for this village." Gaara's voice became louder, more resolute. "Through hard work, I want to be respected by everyone. I got that after seeing Uzumaki Naruto." His voice grew quiet again. "But up until now bonds with others have been nothing but an annoyance to the point I felt like killing. Still, for him to say, 'What's your deal with bonds!' . . . "

Gaara paused, and Kankuro listened in spell-struck awe. His brother was opening up to him?

"Now," Gaara continued, his voice even softer, "there's something I understand a little better. Hate, sadness, and even happiness can be shared with another person." He hesitated. "Uzamaki Naruto . . . from fighting with and watching him, I learned that. He knew pain like I did, and he taught me you can change your path."

Kankuro found he was holding his breath listening to this speech, hardly able to believe what he heard and desperate to be sure he wasn't dreaming. That this was real.

"I wish one day that I can be needed by someone." Gaara glanced over his shoulder, the smallest of genuine smiles bending up his lips. "Not as a frightening weapon, but as Suna's Kazekage."

Kankuro stared at that smile, the first sincere one he'd ever seen on his brother's face. "Gaara . . ."

And then it hit him like a chakra punch in the sternum. Kankuro gasped, putting one hand over his chest as the burning sensation exploded and then pulsed down his arms and legs. Pain, joy, hope, grief — a confusing swirl of emotions. For the oddest moment, he didn't know what to think or feel. Someone had reached into Gaara's darkness and pulled him out, and it hadn't been Kankuro. Gaara was trying to connect to others and live as a human being, yet just at the moment Kankuro was comfortable being teamed with him, he wouldn't be any longer.

However, most of all, he wanted to connect with Gaara himself. His desire to claim his status as nii-san made his teeth ache. But how? He couldn't just tellGaara what he wanted and how he felt. Even if he could be that honest about his own needs, he wasn't sure his little brother could comprehend it yet. After all, this was the boy who had told him that he'd never considered him a brother.

Gaara raised one hairless brow. "Kankuro?"

Kankuro took a slow, wavering breath and tried to calm himself. "It's nothing." Liar!his mind hissed. It was everything. For a moment, he felt like tears would spring to his eyes, but he fought the impulse down. He hadn't cried since he was eight, and he hadn't cried in front of anyone since he was six. He turned and started walking away. "I get it, man." He paused and smiled over his shoulder, almost mimicking Gaara's earlier expression. "You're tough. It'll be hard, but I'm sure you'll succeed."

Gaara's eyes widened slightly, and Kankuro nodded to him and walked back toward the village. Despite his momentary pain at having failed to be a nii-san, Kankuro was proud of his brother and feeling a bit thankful toward Uzamaki Naruto.

But most of all, he finally had some hope for the future.

Midnight came and went, and Kankuro lay awake. He stared at his nightstand, where the cracked picture of himself and his siblings sat. Gaara had been returned to him today, alive. Chiyo-baasama had transferred her life-force into Gaara, and in doing so had snatched Kankuro away from an abyss of grief.

Kankuro sighed, turning his stare to the beam of moonlight that arched across his room. It touched the feet of the puppets hanging on his wall, illuminating their smooth wood. He would have to use them until he fixed his usual puppets. However, for the moment, he wanted no reminders of Akatsuki, the traitor, the fight he lost, and most of all, his brother's death, even if that death had been interrupted.

With a sigh, Kankuro sat up, tossing his sheets aside as he did. It wasn't going to work. He couldn't sleep. It was as though Gaara's insomnia had been transferred to him.

Gaara's insomnia . . .

Kankuro cringed, threw a yukata on over his boxers, and padded silently into the hallway, heading downstairs to the Kazekage suite. Moonbeams slanted across the wooden floors from the circular windows, lighting his path. Sakura-san had indicated before she left that Gaara would need to sleep from now on — and soon. Gaara hadn't reacted to this information and seemed unbothered by it. However, Kankuro couldn't imagine that his ototo was having any better luck sleeping than he was. In fact, even if Gaara did manage to fall asleep, he'd likely have nothing but violent nightmares about dying.

"Fool," Kankuro hissed at himself, and he increased his pace. He should have known to look past his brother's impassive façade, to question him, or at least to think through the implications more.

He skipped down the stairs two at a time and jogged the length of the hallway, only to hesitate at Gaara's bedroom suite door. What if he had been so exhausted he'd just passed right out? Kankuro shook his head. Even if that were true, it didn't negate the fact Gaara would have nightmares. Still, he knocked softly.

A long paused followed during which Kankuro cursed himself, then Gaara's quiet voice drifted through the door. "Come in."

Kankuro wasn't sure if this was a good sign or a bad sign. He slid open the door, stepped inside, and shut the door behind him. A single oil lamp lit the room, shining through the slats of the bamboo curtains that divided the room. Kankuro pushed one curtain aside and found Gaara sitting up in his futon.

"Hey, man," he said, kneeling on the tatami floor beside his ototo. "Have you had any luck sleeping?"

Gaara stared at his own chest, as though studying the bamboo design racing across his black yukata. "No." He frowned. "I can't seem to bring myself to let go."

Without thinking, Kankuro reached out and squeezed his brother's arm. "I'm sorry. I can't imagine that it's easy, and well . . . I know I can't sleep, either."

Gaara had glanced up at the touch, and a curious expression crossed his face. "You can't sleep? Why not?"

Kankuro smiled suddenly — an instinctive gesture, totally hollow, that sprung to his face on those rare occasions that he felt near tears. "Ah, you know . . ." His voice was thready; he stopped and cleared his throat. "It's been a wild few days. I just have too much on my mind." He felt the smile return, followed by a burning sensation in his sinuses. "Not that I have anything to talk about, given the time you've had."

Gaara glanced toward the shoji lantern that threw dancing shadows onto the bamboo curtains. "I'm . . . alive. That is a great gift in itself." He reached out and ran his fingers over the rice paper on the lantern. "It is quite a bit to process, however."

"I'd think so." Kankuro stood suddenly, facing the window, but he didn't see the night sky beyond. Instead, he saw in his mind's eye the scene that had confronted Gaara when he'd regained consciousness: a large group of Suna shinobi, ecstatic that their Kazekage was alive. "But I'm glad you saw it. How much your people support you, I mean."

A long, awkward silence filled the room, and Kankuro sighed, wishing he could say what he really thought, what he felt: he was grateful his brother was alive. No, more than that: he loved his brother, but he'd never been able to say so. Or even show it. His only chance to show his love — his attempt to rescue Gaara from Akatsuki — had been a miserable failure.

Gaara finally spoke. "It was astonishing. I've worked so hard, but I never expected . . ." His voice trailed off, and Kankuro could hear the awe in it — and the pain.

"You won their respect step-by-step," he assured his brother. He continued to stare out the window, watching a cloud pass over the moon. "And the way you protected the village with that massive sand shield left quite an impression on many people."

"I . . . see." Another pause followed. "Kankuro . . . what's wrong?"

At first, Kankuro was shocked Gaara had detected his ill-ease, but then he had to admit that his brother was a highly observant and intuitive person. He shrugged and let himself speak. "I'm sorry." He crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at the bank of clouds that had now eclipsed the moon. "I chased after you and tried to rescue you, but I failed."

"There's no need to apologize." Gaara sounded genuinely surprised. "Temari told me what you did and explained what happened. It's fortunate you weren't killed. Why should that bother you so much?"

Kankuro remained facing away, but he felt his frustration leaking out. "Because I couldn't save you! Either time. Uzamaki Naruto . . ." He sighed explosively and let his arms drop. "Hell, that kid saved you twice. He understands you better than anyone else." He turned toward Gaara and found him wide-eyed. "Naruto reached out to you during the Konoha Invasion in a way I still don't understand, and then he made such an impression on Chiyo-baasama that she saved your life."

"But, Kankuro —"

He interrupted his brother. "I don't really get that kid and his effect on people, but . . ." He smiled ruefully. "I'll be honest and say I'm eternally grateful to him." He shrugged again. Thanks to the odd circumstances, this was his one chance to really communicate, he supposed, but he could barely get the words out. "And I meant what I said earlier. I'll . . . always worry about you, ototo."

And with those words said, their sentiment underscored, Kankuro's first impulse was to bolt. He had all these feelings — powerful feelings — that he hid under a punk attitude and a smartass mouth, but those moments when he forced himself to be genuine and honest made him feel naked. So he turned toward the bamboo curtains, crossing the tatami floor with silent footsteps, and threw a final comment over his shoulder. "Just tell me if you need anything, man."

"I need you to stay."

The bluntness of the words, their sheer simplicity, stopped Kankuro in his tracks. He turned back toward Gaara. "Ototo?"

Gaara blinked at the word, as though hearing it shocked him. "It's just that . . ." He hesitated. "You should know that you have had an effect. Naruto's influence upon me may be more obvious, or I may have been more vocal about it. But you have helped me, too."

Kankuro started to tell his brother not to placate him — his knee-jerk response to anyone who tried to make him feel better about something he believed he'd failed at — until he remembered there were three people in the word who would never try to pacify him: Baki, Temari, and Gaara. He padded back over to the futon and sat on the edge. "I hope that I have."

Gaara nodded solemnly. "I'm not quite sure how to tell or show people my appreciation. I have so little experience with it." He stared at the shoji lantern for a long moment. "I worked hard to earn others' respect, to be wanted and needed. But I never dreamed that I'd actually succeeded." He reached up and rubbed his temple with one hand. "So I'm . . . overwhelmed. I'm grateful, even happy, but I don't know what to do with it."

Kankuro listened quietly and then reached out to squeeze Gaara's arm once more. "Give it time. Like you said earlier, you have a lot to process."

Gaara turned his stare upon Kankuro's hand, then met his gaze. "But I wantto be able to express my appreciation to you. You were the first person in Suna to believe I could change; you accepted it even before Temari did. You listened to everything I said, and you were openly proud of me. You've even gotten to the point you won't let anyone insult me in your presence."

"Well . . ." Kankuro paused, a tingling sensation blooming in his chest, and blushed faintly. "I tried, man." He shrugged, but he felt a small smile tugging at his lips. He wanted to believe, more than anything, that he had been helpful. Useful.

"You did more than try." Gaara rotated his wrist, then squeezed his brother's arm in return. "Even when I was insane you kept trying to communicate with me. You said things I needed to hear, even though I refused to listen, and later when I needed to talk, you were there." He turned his stare upon his lap. "Naruto may have shown me a path I wasn't aware of — a path I wanted to take. But you were beside me every day while I walked it."

Kankuro opened his mouth, but he was so shocked, so touched, no words emerged. Was speaking really so hard? Perhaps he had no way to say what he really needed to say, but communication was more than words. And now that his brother was sane — now that he'd succeeded in taking his life back and making something of it — Kankuro could approach him like a brother. In fact, Gaara had chosen to seek out relationships, so Kankuro felt free to attempt a connection.

Therefore, he scooted forward and wrapped his arms around Gaara, pulling him against his chest and hugging him. "I just . . ." Spit it out, he ordered himself. "I just wanted to be your nii-san. I wanted an ototo."

For a moment, Gaara didn't move or speak. Then he slowly encircled Kankuro's waist with his arms, although the movement seemed stiff. In fact, Kankuro could feel tension in his brother's shoulders and wondered if he had pushed their communication too far . . . or too fast. But then his brother spoke.

"I grew to want you as my nii-san," Gaara whispered. "Or, I wanted it before I let Shukaku consume me, and then afterwards . . ." His entire body seemed to tense again. "But then I assumed I had been so cruel that you wouldn't . . . and even if you did, I don't know what do now."

Kankuro smiled. "You don't have to do anything." He rubbed Gaara's back with one hand. "Just accept that I'm your nii-san and that I—I care about you and will look after you. And let me be who I am."

Gaara relaxed suddenly, as though all the stress had drained from him. "Then . . . I'll tell you that I think of you as my nii-san."

Kankuro hugged him tighter, tucking his brother's head under his chin. "That's all I ever really wanted," he said quietly.

Gaara seemed to melt against him, and Kankuro rubbed his back again, letting his touch say what his words couldn't. He stared out the window as Gaara rested against him and watched as the clouds floated past the moon, allowing the natural light to illuminate the room once more.

After several minutes, Gaara stirred and yawned. "Nii-san, I think I can try sleeping now."

Kankuro helped him to sit up, then rested his hands on his shoulders. "Okay." He considered his brother's glazed and hooded eyes. "I think that's a good idea."

Gaara nodded once, almost an exaggerated movement, then lay back onto the futon. However, when Kankuro moved to stand, he grabbed his wrist. "I said I needed you to stay."

Kankuro nearly laughed because his brother suddenly sounded like a sleepy but cranky six-year-old. Still, he felt glad to be needed. "No problem, man." He climbed into the futon by Gaara, then grinned when his brother curled up beside him.

"I'm not sure what to expect," Gaara mumbled, his words slurred with his exhaustion. "What is dreaming like?"

Kankuro wrapped one arm around him. "It varies. But don't worry; I'll be right here."

"Un." It was a vague sound of approval, then Gaara's breathing began to even out and deepen.

Kankuro watched him sleep for a few minutes before his own eyelids grew heavy. He felt relaxed, relieved: he had his brother back; he had communicated what he needed Gaara to know. They would figure out the rest along the way — he was sure of it.

A/N: Cool Hand Luke is a 1967 film starring Paul Newman about a man in a rural prison who refuses to conform. The quote is actually spoken by the captain of the prison, so my use of it is ironic considering the captain wanted Luke to conform to an unjust and hypocritical prison system. Or perhaps I like the fact it's ironic because it does and doesn't fit what happens to Gaara in his life. The dual application of the quote to Kankuro is a commentary on his own refusal to conform to either his father's or brother's demands, even though it often gets his life threatened.

Thanks to Darkhelmetj for beta reading, and — as always — everyone who reads and reviews. Sometimes I don't have time to send out thank you PMs/emails, but I do still note and appreciate every review.

Exact dialogue is borrowed from a fan translation of Naruto chapters 58, 59, and 249 and is therefore technically copyrighted to Kishimoto.

And yes, I have a real obsession with pondering the different angles of Gaara's first few days and/or nights after being resurrected. Hope you guys don't mind that, especially since it generally leads to warm-n-fuzzy scenes. (smiles)