Disclaimer: I do not own Kankuro or Gaara and am not making a profit from this story.

This takes place after the Chunin Exams.

A Friendship Lost

Kankuro had been enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet while working on his puppets and waiting for the rest of his team outside of the training grounds when the sounds of children playing interrupted the tranquility. He sighed and looked up from the puppet he had been studying to see two young boys playing several feet away. Not very long ago he would have felt angrier about all the noise, but ever since returning from Konoha, his hatred of children had slowly faded. Not that he was ready to babysit the little brats or anything, but they no longer annoyed him as much as they once did.

Without this negative emotion clouding his judgment, Kankuro was now able to look at children with a more objective eye, and he had taken particular notice of the ones before him. He had seen them around several times. They were brothers. Their names escaped him right then, but they were about two or three years apart in age. They looked fairly similar except that the older brother had light brown hair and eyes, and the younger brother had dark brown hair and black eyes. Kankuro realized early on that they were very close. He never saw one without the other, and…

He nearly jumped when he noticed a shadow right beside him. "G-Gaara," he stammered. "I didn't hear you come up."

The other boy's demeanor remained neutral. "Temari and Baki will be out soon. He's teaching her a few more combat drills."

"Oh." An uncomfortable silence descended upon them. Kankuro had no idea what to say next, and so his attention inadvertently returned to the two children. They had started playing on some of the larger and sharper rocks. "Hey! Be careful over there," he called out to them. "You might get hurt." If one of them did, he would be obligated to go over and do something about it since he was the closest one in the vicinity. A disturbing thought. Kankuro had no idea what to do about a crying child. He had no experience in dealing with that kind of thing.

The boys looked guiltily in his direction and got back down to the ground. The younger brother waved at him innocently. "Don't worry. Our parents are coming soon. We'll be okay." Kankuro recalled that the younger one was usually the more polite and responsible of the two. He was a little shy but unusually intelligent for his age. The older brother was more adventurous, a braggart but also very protective of his sibling. If he would only listen to him more often. They would not get into half the trouble they often did.

"Gaara," Kankuro began without fully thinking the question through. "Have you ever asked yourself what life would be like if things were different?"

The other shinobi, who had barely moved since approaching him, frowned ever so slightly. "Different?"

Kankuro suddenly realized asking this could be a mistake, but it was too late to back out now. "Without Shukaku," he said and held his breath for a long moment.

Gaara did not so much as flinch. "No. I have found it is useless to question what could have been. One can only move forward."

The older ninja nodded. "That's true." He somehow believed that his younger brother was trying to be comforting, but the words sounded cold.

After several minutes, Gaara turned his head back to him. "How do you think things would have been different?"

The puppet master looked at him startled. Was he trying to humor him? "Well…" Truthfully, he had never dared to think of it before either. "I'm sure you would have been the good and sensible one. You'd have warned me against all my stupid little schemes, and I would have gone through with them anyway. You would have been good at everything you tried, and I would have resented you for it." Kankuro laughed nervously and scratched the back of his head. He thought again of those two boys, such different personalities and yet inseparable. He turned away from Gaara and said more softly, "Or maybe we would have been the best of friends."

Gaara did not respond, and Kankuro's attention returned to the children. They were performing strange little stunts, competing with each other. The older one was a little more athletic, but they both clearly wanted to impress the other.

"Do they bother you?"

"Hmm?" Kankuro turned back to Gaara.

"You keep staring over there. Do they annoy you?"

"No, I just…" He shook his head. "I don't mind kids so much anymore. Not since we got back home anyway."

Gaara looked rather puzzled. "Why not?"

Before Kankuro could respond, they heard a cry from the younger boy. He had fallen and skinned his knee. Kankuro started to stand and go towards him, but this proved unnecessary. The older brother knew exactly what to do. He had his sibling calmed down and laughing again in a matter of seconds. The child then reached up to hug his older brother. Kankuro was amazed at how easily the situation was taken care of and at the amount of trust the younger boy's eyes held for his big brother.

Would I have been good at that kind of thing?

He felt a sudden ache in his chest as he looked back at Gaara and wished they could have had something like that. They had missed out on so much, and now Gaara… Gaara probably did not need an older brother. He was stronger and more independent than most adults. Of what use could Kankuro be to him? He was relieved to see the kids' parents arrive to pick them up. He no longer wanted to compare what they had to his relationship with his own sibling.

The younger boy turned and waved at him one last time. "Thanks for watching out for us." He hadn't really done that, but Kankuro waved back anyway.

He then found Gaara looking in the opposite direction. "They're ready." Baki and Temari had finished their training and were waiting for Kankuro and Gaara to join them.

Kankuro glanced one last time after the retreating figures of the two boys and their parents. He could barely see them anymore. He then began following Gaara. One question stuck in his mind. Will you ever call me your brother?