Christmas in Suna

By Ariel-D

Description: Kankuro tackles giving Gaara and Temari their first Christmas presents and wonders if he's taken an S-rank mission. Post-Sasuke Retrieval, pre-Shippuuden. Humor/drama.

Disclaimer: Gaara, Kankuro, Temari, 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: The concept of burying someone in a barrel is not uncommon; remember that Sasuke is put in one of these coffins temporarily and that such a thing is also shown in the Shippuuden movie. As for the favorite foods, I got the Sibs' food preferences off the Viz character profiles.

Translation reminders: "kaasan" means "mom."

Kankuro stared through the store window and frowned at the display of paintings, lyres, wind chimes, and hairpins. He hated shopping. He hated buying presents. Unfortunately for him, however, he loved givingpresents, and that required the shopping and buying. With a sigh, the fifteen-year-old approached the door and slipped into the store, causing the bell to ring and announce his presence.

His entrance, though, went unnoticed by the shopkeeper, cashiers, and other customers. Igata's Gift Shop buzzed with excited and angry voices as men and women vied for items, bumped elbows, and waiting at the registers. Surveying the insanity with hooded eyes, Kankuro navigated the far left aisle, weaving around flustered mothers and screaming brats as he surveyed the shelves.

"Kaasan, I want candy!" one kid demanded.

"And if I've told you once, I'd told you a hundred times: No!" The plump mother was red in face, looking closer to murder than even the angriest kunoichi.

Kankuro slipped past them as the little monster started wailing and promised himself for the millionth time he would never have kids.

"I saw it first!"

Kankuro turned toward the raised voice to his right. A scruffy man exchanged glares with a petite woman, and each held one arm of a white teddy bear.

"I reached it first," the woman said.

The man tugged on the stuffed animal. "Are you stupid, lady? I got here first."

"But I picked it up first." The woman jerked back.

Christmas, Kankuro decided, brought out the worst in shoppers; the adults were more immature than the kids. He'd opted to leave his puppets at home, knowing the shops were small and crowded, but he still carried kunai and shuriken. He wondered if he'd end up using them.

Despite this frustration, Kankuro tried to stay in a good mood. His father had passed a law banning certain kinds of imported furniture, customs, and holidays, believing that Suna was sacred ground that outsiders would defile. True to his character, he had especially resisted the concept of a holiday that celebrated things like peace, joy, and goodwill among people. However, now that Yondaime Kazekage was dead — and rotting in some barrel, Kankuro thought with a smirk — the council had repealed the laws. And so Christmas had come to Suna . . . although, given the customers' behavior, perhaps not entirely with peace and goodwill.

Celebrating Christmas, Kankuro had learned, involved gift-giving, candy-making, and decorating one's home with odd things such as fake mistletoe, which was the best a desert town had to offer. Although he and his siblings preferred salty foods to sweet ones, Temari had discovered a candy recipe involving roasted chestnuts — one of her favorite foods. Kankuro suspected the kitchen was now a certifiable disaster area. Gaara, moody and thoughtful ever since the Konoha Invasion, was hiding in his room as usual. And Kankuro, determined to master the concept of Christmas gifts, was facing his onerous task: what to buy Temari and Gaara.

He passed by a shelf of delicate geisha dolls and assorted figurines. Being an artist himself, Kankuro could tell the dolls were finely sculpted, but Temari had never been girly. She'd started beating up her male classmates as soon as she entered the academy. He wondered briefly if she'd like a punching bag instead. If anything, it might save the life of the next guy to earn her wrath.

"I said I wanted a candy cane!"

The shrill voice caused Kankuro to whirl and stare at the little girl behind him. She couldn't be more than seven, he decided, but she had the lungs of a jackal. He marveled at her boldness; if he'd yelled at his father that way, he would have spent a week picking all his baby teeth out of the wall. This girl's father, however, held up both hands like he was placating a wild beast.

"Now, now, honey." The man's smile was sickly sweet. "If you have any more candy you won't have room for supper, and you know your kaasan doesn't like that."

"Candy! Now!"

Kankuro quickly turned the corner into the next aisle before he bashed the brat in the head. If these kids were the future of Suna, then the village was doomed.

With a deep sigh, Kankuro started down the second aisle. Lyres, wooden flutes, drums . . . no one in his family was musically inclined. The punching bag was beginning to sound like a good idea. He rounded another corner and dodged more screaming kids in the third aisle, which had paintings, wall scrolls, and vases.

"I'm doomed," he muttered to himself, turning the forth corner. Clocks, jewelry boxes, and picture frames. Nothing practical! And nothing that would hold his siblings' interest for more than two seconds.

He started to leave the aisle, but a cluster of women blocked his path. They pushed and shoved each other near a painted clock — the last of its kind.

"My daughter loves sakura-themed decorations." One woman elbowed her way to the front. "She must have this."

"Well, my daughter has never gotten such a lovely gift in her life, and I mean to get her the nicest one I can." A second woman stomped on the first one's foot. "Quit being so selfish."

The other woman howled in pain. "Bitch!" She hauled her silken purse-bag through the air, clobbering her attacker in the head.

Kankuro stared, then retreated from the pack of rabid women, deciding not even a shinobi would survive the brewing fight. Civilians always underestimated how vicious females could be; only those teamed with kunoichi understood the truth.

"Bringing my puppets next time," Kankuro whispered to himself, jogging back to the far side of the store. Spectators and employees converged on the forth aisle, and screams and hoots filled the air.

Kankuro rubbed one temple with his fingers and entered the first aisle again, intent on escaping the hellhole. He really, really, reallyhated shopping. He despised it almost as much as he did kids.

He wasn't in the clear yet, however. The scruffy man and petite woman remained in a deadlock over the teddy bear despite the fact all the other customers were watching the women clobber each other over the clock.

"Let go," the woman growled, gripping the bear by an arm and a leg. "You're going to rip it, and then neither of us can buy it."

The man grabbed on with both hands as well. "You let go. You're a woman. Can't you just sew one yourself?"

The death glare leveled on the man convinced Kankuro that the little woman would win the upcoming tussle. He decided to squeeze past them, then suddenly remembered that Gaara used to own teddy bears. In fact, Kankuro realized, his brother used to carry one wherever he went. He glanced at the shelf, found it empty, and frowned. The poor bear was the last one left.

Out of nowhere, a particularly wicked idea popped into his mind.

With an evil grin, Kankuro hovered behind the man, hiding his presence from the woman by using the man's mass as a shield. The man was too busy arguing to notice. Kankuro deftly attached his chakra strings to the bear and threw his voice like he often did when using genjutsu on Karasu.

The teddy bear turned its head and looked at the man. "Get your filthy hands off me, Gramps. I don't wanna go home with you."

The man shrieked and let go. "What the hell!"

Kankuro stayed perfectly still and swallowed a snicker. The woman seemed to freeze, her gaze locked on the moving toy. Kankuro flicked his fingers again.

The bear turned its head toward the woman. "Hey, lady, you almost pulled my freakin' arm off. If your kid is anything like you, then no thanks. I'd rather collect dust on the shelf."

Without a single sound, the woman dropped the stuffed animal and ran out the door. The man glanced at the bear and nudged it with his toe.

The bear stood. "Don't kick me! Don't you got any manners, Gramps?"

The man yelped and rushed toward the entrance, slamming the door as he escaped. Kankuro cackled at their retreating forms and picked up the bear using his chakra strings. "It's your lucky day," he told the toy and strolled out the door, leaving the brawling customers and shop workers behind. He'd go buy Temari's punching bag, then swing back and pay for the bear. The flustered shopkeeper would never know the difference.

Kankuro surveyed the boxes with a critical eye. His gift-wrapping skills were hideous. He'd underestimated the amount of paper needed and had to patch the bald spots, and despite retying them a half-dozen times, the bows remained limp and malformed.

"They better appreciate this," Kankuro told his puppets, which watched from his bedroom walls. "I nearly got trampled, got screamed at by some senile hag, and almost got my hand slammed in a door." He stood and grabbed the boxes. "Plus I wasted a half-hour wrapping the stupid things!"

The puppets offered no empathy, so he headed downstairs. Temari and Gaara sat half-tucked under the kotatsu table, the blankets wrapped over their legs. The desert night was especially unpleasant this time of year.

Kankuro padded across the straw, tatami floor and sized up the supper food: salted tongue, fried gizzards, kenchin soup, hamburgers, and amorphous chocolate candy. Kankuro smelled the scent of something burnt wafting from the kitchen, but whatever it was had apparently been thrown in the trash already.

"Merry Christmas," Temari said, waving a hand at the candy. "It looks gross, but it's good. Have some."

Gaara glanced over his shoulder. "Only if you like chestnuts." His gaze fell to the gifts. "What's that?"

Temari straightened as Kankuro set the boxes on the table and joined them. "Christmas gifts," he said.

"You didn't!" Temari stared at the malformed packages. "You jerk! I didn't know we were exchanging gifts. I didn't get you anything."

Kankuro shrugged; he knew better than to assume his siblings would think to buy gifts. As far as he could tell, he was the only one who cared about celebrating things like holidays and birthdays — and he always tried to play it down. "It's no big deal. It's our first Christmas, so I thought it just made sense."

Temari flushed, her brow furrowing. "Well, I'll have to get you something. It wouldn't be fair if I didn't."

"Whatever." Kankuro pretended he didn't care and pushed her gift across the table to her. "Here. Open it."

She paused, but her curiosity obviously got the best of her. "All right, all right." She tore the paper off and tossed aside the box lid.

Kankuro decided his sister hadn't even noticed the hideous wrapping job. "I wasn't sure what to get either of you, but — "

"Awesome!" Temari hauled out the punching bag, and a wicked grin quirked her lips. "I can get some serious mileage out of this."

Kankuro relaxed. She liked it.

Temari chuckled evilly as she turned the small bag in her hands, looking at the ceiling mounts. "For speed punching, huh?" Her grin was positively malicious. "I think I'll draw a face on it."

Kankuro snorted. "That's my sister."

Gaara silently stared at the entire exchange, then glanced at the other box.

"Yep," Kankuro said, pushing the gift to him. "This one's for you. Knowing my luck, you'll hate it, but you're impossible to buy for."

Gaara watched the box like it might suddenly explode. "A . . . gift?" A tense minute passed, then he frowned and unwrapped the box. Pulling off the lid, he reached inside and removed the much-abused teddy bear, which was solid white with a large royal-blue bow.

"A teddy bear?" Temari sounded like she'd laugh.

Although his expression remained impassive, all the color drained from Gaara's face. He jerked to his feet and left the room, carrying the bear with him.

Kankuro and Temari stared after him.

"That's not good," Temari whispered. "I think you pissed him off, although I'm not sure why."

Kankuro chewed on his inner lip. "I wasn't trying to."

"Why a teddy bear?" she asked.

"He used to love them as a kid. I remember." Kankuro stood and headed after his brother.

"He's not a kid anymore."

Kankuro halted in the doorway. "I know that." He couldn't help feeling irritated, even hurt. "I just . . . Never mind. There wasn't much to choose from, and I didn't know what to get him."

Temari's eyes widened. "Kankuro . . . I didn't mean that as an insult."

"I know that, too." He smiled wanly and left the room. It was a long-held secret that Kankuro was the one with the soft spot, and no one else in the family had ever understood it.

Then again, that's why the puppet master had crafted such a careful and terrifying mask.

Kankuro found Gaara sitting on the balcony railing, which was one of his usual haunts. A crescent moon shone upon the quiet village, illuminating Gaara's face, and a cold breeze whipped his bangs back from his forehead.

"Hey, man." Kankuro joined him and leaned on the railing. "Sorry I suck at picking out gifts." He tried to sound as off-hand as possible, not wanting his brother to take his mistake too seriously.

Glancing at the bear in his lap, Gaara frowned. "It's not that." Picking up the stuffed animal, he surveyed it like a bug under a magnifying glass. "I used to own teddy bears a long time ago."

"Yeah, I remember." Kankuro glanced at the domed houses below them; warm yellow lights shone in most the windows. "Father may not have let me see you often, but every time I did see you, you always had a teddy bear."

Gaara set the bear on his lap again and stared at his brother. "You knew?"

Kankuro couldn't decide if Gaara were surprised or disturbed, and he wondered if after all these months of peace he'd get his life threatened.

"Then you bought this on purpose?"

"Uh, yeah." Kankuro turned his stare to the bear. Temari's words rose in his mind and stung him. "I realize you're not a kid anymore. But I remembered your toys, and I had no idea what to get you, and . . ." His voice trailed off. Once again, he shrugged like it didn't matter. "If you don't like it, I'll donate it to the toy drive on Fukuzawa Street, and you can tell me what you'd prefer."

For a long moment, the only sound was the wind whipping across the balcony. Kankuro shivered as the cold pierced his clothes.

Gaara tucked the bear into one arm. "It's fine."

"You sure?" Kankuro couldn't keep the shock out of his tone.

"Yeah." He sounded stubborn, and his grip on the bear tightened. "But I don't know what to get you. What do you like other than puppets?"

Turning, Kankuro leaned his back against the railing and stared into the house. A solid minute passed before he could find his voice or meet his brother's gaze. He could have never guessed that such a small show of kindness or grace from Gaara would make him feel so warm. "I like lots of stuff." He paused, scrambling for an answer. "But I need a new wood file."

Gaara nodded once. "That's practical, and it shouldn't be difficult to find."

With surprise, Kankuro noted that his brother sounded pleased with his answer. "Yeah . . . quite easy to find, really."

"Very well." Gaara swung his legs over the railing and hopped down to the balcony. Still hugging the bear, he headed inside. "Come on. Temari won't let up until you try her candy, and she'll want ideas on what to get you, too."

So factual. Emotionless, actually. But Kankuro smiled at Gaara's back as he followed him. Gaara's mere acceptance of the gift and the way he held it to his chest told Kankuro everything he needed to know. "Sure," he replied. "And Gaara?"

His brother glanced back at him. "Hn?"

"Merry Christmas."

A/N: Thank you to Darkhelmetj for beta reading this and to everyone who reads and reviews! Written for a contest on DA.

And now for a bonus scene.

Description: Belated birthday fic for Gaara. Set post Konoha Invasion and pre-Shippuuden. 200-word drabble self-challenge.

A Time to Celebrate

Darkness permeated the Kazekage Complex when Gaara returned home. Having left before dawn with his first genin team and returning after midnight, he didn't expect to find anyone awake. Sure enough, when he entered the living room, he found Temari and Kankuro asleep at the kotasu table. What surprised him wasn't that they'd passed out at the table; they had done so before. No, what shocked him was that a three-layer white cake with fourteen candles sat in the middle of the table.

Kankuro and Temari stirred at his entrance, stretched stiffly, then smiled.

"Welcome home," Temari said.

"And happy birthday," Kankuro added.

Gaara stared at them, a warm wave of shock splashing through his body. "'Happy . . . birthday'?" No one had celebrated his birthday before.

His siblings grinned and motioned for him to sit.

"Surprise." Temari smiled at him softly.

Kankuro's grin was more teasing. "And you better like the cake! I spent a long time on that, jan."

Gaara felt a small smile tug at his lips and realized that his life was, indeed, changing. Perhaps his dreams were achievable after all. "Very well," he replied, his words taciturn but his posture relaxed. He joined his siblings, touched that they cared.