Author's Note: I thought about Gaara's transformation after losing to Naruto and realized some fundamental beliefs of his had to change. I also wondered how he would connect to his siblings.
One day, Gaara turned to him and said, "Kankuro…That voice inside my head…that's not Mother, is it?" He looked as though he were in pain, but he was trying to smile.
Kankuro was stunned. He felt a lump of ice inside his chest.
Gaara let out a small, rueful laugh, looking for all the world like an ashamed boy.
Kankuro regained his voice. "N-No…Gaara, it's not."
"Shukaku's playing games, isn't he?" Gaara's eyes shone with hope, desperation, and fear, all warring with each other. "Mother is gone."
"Mother is gone."
Gaara trembled and let out another low laugh, tinged with hysteria. "Then…Then I don't have to listen anymore. Because Mother's gone. Mother's not here anymore, so I don't have to listen. I'm not…not supposed to do those things the voice tells me to do. Am I?"
Kankuro warily but firmly shook his head. "No."
"Because it's not Mother."
Gaara's mouth twitched upwards at the corners in the start of a real smile. A flicker of relief entered his eyes. "I…I can stop. I don't have to be a good boy anymore." He clutched his head and squeezed his eyes shut. Gaara sucked in his breath through his teeth.
Kankuro was alarmed. He took a step back and almost ran away. His legs wouldn't move. Part of him rooted him to the spot. He's made so much progress. I can't run away now. What if he needs me to talk him down? He was just glad Temari wasn't here to drag him away.
"Mother…you're not Mother anymore. You're just a thing." Gaara cringed. "You're not real. You're just something Shukaku made up. Kankuro says that…" He flinched as if he'd been kicked. "Kankuro would know who his mother is! We have the same mother!" Gaara opened his eyes, gasping. He looked at Kankuro with a mixture of hope and longing. "S-Sorry…Please don't run away." He lowered his hands from his head shakily.
Kankuro was glad he hadn't run away. He shook his head. "I'm…I'm not gonna run away."
Gaara straightened, his eyes going wide. "You aren't?" He took a step forward. "You promise?"
Years of instincts tried to spur Kankuro into running. He fought his urges, the tenseness of his legs, and stood his ground. He smiled and held his hands out. "Nah. I'm not gonna run away. You're my brother."
Gaara took a step closer. He was almost within arm's reach. Kankuro could see desperation-fueled anticipation in Gaara's eyes. All of a sudden, Gaara took the last step.
Kankuro instinctively caught Gaara before they bumped together and knocked heads.
Gaara stared at him, stunned.
Kankuro took in their situation, felt Gaara's shoulders gripped in his hands, and made a decision. He pulled Gaara in and wrapped his arms around his younger brother.
Gaara stood perfectly still. His gaze was blank, as if he were seeing or feeling something else entirely.
Kankuro decided that he was going to hold onto Gaara, even if he died in the process. At least his last act would be a noble thing.
"Oh…" Gaara finally stirred, breathing. "So this is what a hug feels like." He tilted his head and looked into Kankuro's eyes. His eyes were suddenly calmer. The frenzied sea of desire and fear had passed. "I always wanted one."
Kankuro's arms went slack with shock.
Gaara stepped back, out of Kankuro's arms. "Thank you, niisan," he said seriously. Then he turned and walked away.
Kankuro wasn't sure what just happened. Did I…Did I finally make a connection?
The next day Gaara told Kankuro his dream.
Two months after Gaara started cycling through the different teams in Suna, Kankuro suddenly found himself facing Gaara again. Kankuro was outside, cleaning Kuroari.
Gaara walked up to him and stopped three steps away. He hesitated. "May we hug?"
Kankuro blinked. "Uh…"
Gaara smiled. The same genuine smile he had shown Kankuro the day he had told Kankuro of his dream to be Kazekage. "Shukaku doesn't mind…" He glanced at the ground, and then back up at Kankuro shyly. "I put him to sleep."
"You can do that?" Kankuro hadn't meant to say that, but that's what came out when he opened his mouth.
Gaara's smile widened slightly. "I made a box."
Kankuro considered that image. "A box in your mind, huh?"
Gaara nodded and took a couple steps towards him, inching closer. "So, it's okay? He's not going to attack you."
Kankuro put down his cleaning tools and disconnected his chakra strings from Kuroari. "Sure it is."
Gaara waited expectantly.
Kankuro recalled the last time and opened his arms.
Gaara stepped inside of Kankuro's range, almost touching his body to Kankuro's. He stood still.
Kankuro wanted to explain to Gaara that people receiving hugs could give hugs, too, but he decided it was better not to tax Gaara with that information yet. He folded his arms around Gaara.
Gaara's shoulders slumped. He exhaled with relief. "Kankuro…You are the only one who hugs me."
Kankuro didn't exactly find that information surprising. He searched for something to say that wouldn't make Gaara feel crappy. His brother was trying to win people's trust, after all. "Hey, I gotta trust you, jan."
Gaara looked at him with those little child eyes, and Kankuro found that he had to answer. "Because…I'm your niisan."
"Is that what niisans do?"
"That's one of the things we do," Kankuro said.
That answer seemed to satisfy Gaara for now. He sighed and stepped back out of Kankuro's arms. "Thank you, niisan." He walked away.
I worry about you, you know. Kankuro thought it, but he didn't say it. Kankuro wasn't sure how that information would be received. If Gaara interpreted that as an attack upon his sanity, then he might be angry. If he was angry, he might lose control of Shukaku again. Kankuro would do anything to keep Gaara from losing control of Shukaku again after being clean for so long.
Kankuro snorted to himself. Clean. As if his brother were a drug addict or something. But, Shukaku's bloodlust was a drug. He had seen his brother go crazy at the sight of blood in the chuunin exams. To go from that to this in such a short amount of time was a big step. He didn't want to screw it up for Gaara.
Look at him. He's finally happy. That was enough of a reward for Kankuro. Seeing that Gaara had a dream. His brother had a dream, and an aspiration. Gaara had a plan. He would do anything to support Gaara's dreams – even if that turned out to mean scrambling in front of a train.
For Gaara to have a dream. That was progress. Kankuro was impressed with how quickly Gaara had turned his life around.
A few days later, Gaara walked into the kitchen without Kankuro having to call him to come eat. Kankuro wouldn't be finished making dinner for twenty minutes yet.
Gaara sat down at the kitchen table in the chair right next to Temari.
Temari stared at Gaara with her mouth open, stunned. She scrambled for something to say. "H-Hey. What's up?"
Kankuro paused in the act of chopping cabbage, turned around, and watched, crossing his arms over his chest. He was curious.
Gaara looked at Temari. Not through her. He didn't look like he was trying to bore a hole through her for once. He looked at her with honest surprise, as if he had never seen her before. Kankuro thought Gaara also looked interested. There was a tilt to Gaara's head that suggested curiosity.
Gaara closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Kankuro saw that he had come to a decision. "Mother is dead. You and Kankuro are who I have now."
Temari looked completely disconcerted. "Uh…right."
"I must learn to appreciate you, for through you, I can stop being alone," Gaara said. He looked so completely matter-of-fact that Kankuro wondered how many times Gaara had rehearsed those words in his head.
Temari recovered from her shock and put on a smile. "That's nice."
Gaara studied her expression and then looked at the table. "Shukaku is asleep. You don't have to be afraid."
"Huh?" Temari stared at him, clearly reassessing who and what she was talking to. "Asleep? You put Shukaku to sleep? Gaara?"
Gaara glanced up at her. "Yes."
"Then you're…" Temari hesitantly reached out and put her hand on Gaara's shoulder.
Gaara looked into her eyes. "Me."
"You're you," Temari said softly.
Gaara waited. His brow was furrowed as if he were afraid something bad was going to happen.
Kankuro held his breath.
Temari's eyebrows lifted. "My little brother."
Kankuro let out his breath. Good, Temari.
Gaara gave her a little smile, still looking nervous. But Kankuro could see the happiness in his brother's eyes.
Temari looked at Gaara in wonder. "Gaara…"
Gaara looked away, unable to maintain eye contact with all the attention she was giving him. "Neesan?"
Temari looked concerned at Gaara's change of expression. "Yeah?"
"Do…Do you hate me?"
Temari gaped at him. "No. No, of course not."
Gaara looked at her warily. "Why not?"
Temari stammered, "When Shukaku was awake I could never be sure…I mean…I always thought that you…kind of…" She sweated it out nervously for a moment and then said it. "…died."
Gaara jerked back, his eyes wide.
Temari looked away, ashamed. "I thought there was nothing of you left, cause…you know. Because of what Father did to you."
A look of pain and distress crossed Gaara's face that made Kankuro feel as though his heart were being ripped out.
"I thought there was only Shukaku left, and anything he did that resembled a person was him trying to mess with us. I told Kankuro that." Temari shifted uneasily in her chair. "He never gave up on you."
For a moment, Kankuro thought Gaara was going to cry. Then, Gaara looked down at the table, his expression shifting to depression.
"I'm sorry." Temari reached out and touched Gaara's shoulder again. "I'm sorry that I gave up on you."
Gaara slowly lifted his head and looked at her. He stared at her for a moment. Then his brow furrowed. "It's okay."
Kankuro was surprised. What? He forgave her? Just like that?
"Huh?" Temari looked surprised as well.
Gaara frowned at her. "I'm not Shukaku."
Temari blinked at him.
"I don't get angry at people for making mistakes," Gaara said quietly. He examined the wood grain of the table. "Everyone makes them."
"Oh, Gaara…" Kankuro thought Temari was the one who was going to cry, now. "I just…I didn't know. You know? Shukaku was so awful – he was so awful to everybody. I never saw you laugh, I never saw you cry…I never saw you act like a human being. It was wrong of me. It was wrong of me, okay? I should have realized that Shukaku can't exist by himself. But you were…terrifying." Temari bit her lip. "I was scared of you, when you were walking around with Shukaku behind your eyes all the time."
Gaara's frown deepened.
"But I'm not scared of you now," Temari added hastily, spreading her hands.
Gaara looked up at her in surprise. "You're not?"
"No!" Temari leaned forward and hugged him.
Kankuro stared at her in shock. He didn't think he'd ever see Temari do something so bold.
Gaara looked shocked as well. The side of his face was pressed awkwardly against Temari's bosom, but he wasn't moving. He didn't look as though he could. He was too stunned.
When the hug went on, he unfroze a little bit and looked up at Temari's face. "A hug? For me?" Gaara looked totally confused. As if the ground had been ripped out from under him.
Temari laughed. "Of course. You're my ototo!" She beamed at him, gave him a squeeze, and then let him go.
Gaara sat in his chair like a lump. Finally, he blinked. "Does this mean you don't hate me?"
"Of course I don't hate you. That's what I've been trying to tell you, silly."
Kankuro raised his eyebrows. Silly? Neesan, I think that might be pushing Gaara a bit far.
To Kankuro's surprise, Gaara didn't say anything. He just looked at Temari thoughtfully.
"I want to be Kazekage," Gaara said.
Kankuro's jaw dropped. He's telling her, too? He's serious. Kankuro quickly covered up his surprise, in case either of his siblings looked at him.
Gaara's expression fell into worry. "Do you think that is something I can do?"
"Of course you can!"
Gaara looked startled at her response. "I can?"
Temari patted him on the back. "Of course you can! You can do anything you wanna do."
Gaara's eyes widened as if this were an unimaginable sight. "I can?"
"Of course." Temari grinned. "You don't have to let Shukaku weigh you down. Kankuro and I are here for you too. Aren't we, Kankuro?"
Kankuro nodded. "Yeah, of course."
Gaara looked from one sibling to the other. Then he smiled as if he might cry and ducked his head, cringing.
Oh my god, Kankuro thought. We might be a family.