First Steps


By Ariel D

Description: Gaara tries to figure out how to build a bond with his brother. Since he doesn't know what to do, it's all guesswork, and he's not sure how Kankuro will respond. Post Sasuke Retrieval Arc.

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: Set sometime after the Sasuke Retrieval Arc.

Thank you to all who fave and review!


Gaara still understood less about them than he liked, but he could only figure them out by building them. That did not come easily. The entire village was still afraid of him, a fact which had worried Kankuro when Gaara decided to ask for roving assignments. However, it was precisely Kankuro's show of concern that had inspired Gaara to take a chance on Naruto's observation about building bonds with those closest to him. So Gaara confided in Kankuro, telling him about his desire to become Kazekage. To his surprise, Kankuro had listened to his speech carefully. No smartass comments, no interruptions, no jokes, no discouragement.

Gaara's attention had been fully captured by this turn of events.

Now he pondered his next step in How to Build a Bond. From his position at the family kotasu table in the common room, he watched Kankuro slide open the door, kicking off his sandals in the process. He didn't yell the traditional "I'm home" as he entered; he didn't even look up, much less say hello. He stalked past as though oblivious, hauling his puppets with him. His footsteps were silent on the stairs, but moments later, a door slammed upstairs.

He's upset, Gaara surmised, eyeing the bowl of green tea ice cream in front of him. He preferred salty food over sweets, but he had a weakness for anything green tea-flavored. With slow bites he ate his ice cream, licking the spoon each time, and tried to determine what to do. So far his version of bonds had been his observations of Naruto cobbled together with his list of things he hated (in reverse). So far that part had been easy. He hated to be alone, so he determined that having a bond with someone meant spending time with them. He hated to be ignored, so he gave people his full attention. He hated to be interrupted and brushed off, so he let people finish speaking and never belittled any sincere comments. He hated to be called names, so he never called others names. He hated being lied to and patronized, so he always either remained silent or told the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it was. It was the best he could think of, and it seemed to be working well enough.

Figuring out what Naruto would do was trickier. Naruto, Lee, and even his opponent Kimimaro had all shared the characteristic of growing angry on behalf of those they deemed precious. Naruto single-mindedly fought to protect those he loved. Gaara could do the latter — or, at least, he could fight to protect those he wanted to build bonds with. The love and be loved was still yet to be seen. The part about getting angry if others insulted those he cared about was a mystery.

In this case, though, Gaara could ascertain what Naruto's mode of action would be: find out his friend's problem and try to fix it. He wasn't sure he could call Kankuro his brother — or rather he wasn't sure Kankuro would accept him as a brother — but he did hope they could at least be friends. Kankuro did seem to worry about his welfare, anyway. So he took his empty bowl to the kitchen, depositing it in the sink, and then headed upstairs.

When he reached Kankuro's bedroom door, he paused. Gaara had never been allowed in Kankuro's room. Once Gaara had finally been moved into the main house, their father had strictly forbidden him to enter his siblings' rooms. In fact, he'd been given a bedroom on the third floor of the west wing while his father and siblings had rooms on the second floor of the east wing. He had been allowed to enter the east wing for his meals, but past that, he had been relegated to either his bedroom or the mansion's dojo. Even climbing the stairs to the second floor seemed odd somehow, although their father was dead and couldn't punish him for trespassing. To actually try to enter his brother's room, though . . .

For a moment, past images assaulted Gaara's mind: kids running from him, adults throwing sake bottles at him, and doors slamming in his face as people yelled "Freak" or "Monster."

Knowing how unwanted he ultimately was, Gaara hesitated, reaching out with his chakra to check Kankuro's. Perhaps he'd been wrong; perhaps his brother hadn't been upset at all. However, his suspicions were confirmed — Kankuro's chakra was angry and bristled, bushed up like a hissing cat.

Running away doesn't help, he told himself pointedly. He knocked on the door. By this point, it hardly mattered; Kankuro would have sensed the chakra check.

"Come in," came the curt response, although it was muffled by the door.

Stunned, Gaara turned the knob and pushed open the door, stepping inside. Many times he had grown irritated and considered barging into his siblings' rooms anyway, but his father had been careful to never leave his children alone with Gaara. Their days had been carefully arranged so that they would barely cross paths unless either their father or sensei was present. Each day was over-planned and over-scheduled with training, missions, or supplementary education of some kind, all three of them kept endlessly busy until bedtime. Then Gaara would wander the mansion or streets alone while his father and siblings slept, knowing better than to approach the floor where his father was. His father had already tried to kill him several times; if Gaara gave him further cause or chance, he was bound to succeed.

And so Gaara was greeted with his first look at Kankuro's room.

To his surprise, the room was as spacious as his own; really it was two rooms with the wall between them knocked out. A twin-sized bed with a modest nightstand, chest of drawers, and bookcase was to the right; a kotasu table sat in the middle of the floor. To the left was a miniature workshop filled with puppets, tool boxes, and shelves. Kankuro himself was lying on his stomach next to the kotasu table, his legs bent at the knees and his feet dangling in the air. He'd already washed up and changed into black pants and a t-shirt. His face was free of paint. On the floor in front of him was a sketchpad; he was lightly drawing with a pencil.

"What's up?" Kankuro didn't glance at him. His hand moved across the page quickly in broad strokes, and he frowned at the paper.

"You're mad." It was an understatement. Kankuro's carefree body language was a blatant mask over the bushy, hissing chakra.

"I gotta work on that." Kankuro stopped sketching abruptly, turned the page, and started over. "A mask is useless if my chakra gives it away."

The angry cat impression dialed down from yowling stage to a mere growl. Gaara paused in the doorway, unsure if he was really welcome and taken off-guard by his brother's sudden attempt to quiet his chakra. "Masking it is unnecessary. You're home." He saw no reason to keep hiding when their father was dead; surely his siblings felt equally liberated.

"It bothered you," Kankuro pointed out. His pencil strokes grew short and quick; he still hadn't looked up.

"I'm not bothered," Gaara corrected, still hovering at the door. "I'm here to offer my . . . assistance." It was a bold offer, considering. Still, friends helped each other, if Naruto's behavior was any indication. "What happened?"

The "cat" arched its back and hissed again. The entire room vibrated with bristling chakra. "Ah, it's nothing, jan." Kankuro paused, glancing over his picture. "Dammit." He flipped another page, starting over. "You can come in, you know."

With a start, Gaara realized he'd only cleared the doorway by a few inches. He stepped further inside, noting with some surprise that his brother's room wasn't that messy. His bunraku outfit was strewn across his bed, and the workshop side of the room seemed filled with extra parts. However, it wasn't the certifiable disaster area that Gaara had always imagined. "You keep your room clean."

"Father never allowed anything else." Still not looking up, Kankuro swung one leg to the floor, then lifted it again, rotating his ankle slowly. "Right after he died I let it get messy on purpose. Temari rode my case about it. I considered leaving it that way just to piss her off, but it made me feel claustrophobic."

Gaara nodded once even though his brother wouldn't see it. "Is your new team okay?" He wondered if the new guys were the source of Kankuro's irritation. Kankuro had been incredibly reluctant to dissolve Team Baki, although Gaara wasn't sure why. It had always seemed to him that his brother resented being assigned to a team with him.

"Yeah, I guess." Kankuro shrugged faintly. "They're newbies. Really insecure. I've pulled three consecutive C-ranks as a result. That part sucks. I'm totally fucking bored."

Kankuro's charka had dimmed to the growling stage again, so Gaara intuited that he hadn't discovered the real problem yet. "Understandable." Like Gaara and Temari, Kankuro had graduated first in his class and had never been assigned a D-rank. He'd surpassed C-ranks within six months of graduation, so being returned to them would be frustrating.

Although he finally glanced sideways, Kankuro's gaze grazed Gaara's ankles instead of his face. "Sit. It makes me nervous if people just stand around in my room."

In a strange way, Gaara felt accepted; his brother seemed genuinely okay with having him around. At the same time, he still feared being ordered out. Physically he was safe since Kankuro was incapable of killing him, but the source of Gaara's pain had never been physical. Only emotional. And that Kankuro could deal out in spades, as he'd proven once or twice when they'd gotten into yelling matches.

With a slight pause, Gaara crossed the room silently, settling at the kotasu table and sitting on his heels seiza-style. "The mission itself?" He wasn't quite ready to give up on his self-assigned task. He didn't want to pry, but at the same time he had figured out that bonds could not be one-sided. He had confided in Kankuro, and he wished Kankuro would confide in him.

"Could've done it in my sleep." Kankuro stopped drawing and held up his picture, clearly judging it.

Gaara glanced at the sketchpad, curious. Unsurprisingly, the picture was of a puppet. Since it wasn't Karasu or Kuroari, he figured his brother was making up a puppet for his own amusement. "Your chakra is sharp enough to leave scratches," he commented, undeterred. Belatedly, he wondered if his comment would make any sense given that Kankuro couldn't know that he was mentally comparing his chakra to a cat.

Slapping down his sketchpad, Kankuro glared at the floor. "Man, you don't give up, do ya?"

Mentally bracing himself, Gaara prepared to be ordered out. He figured he would have to change tactics in the future, but since he didn't really know what to do, all he could do was trial and error.

"It was one of the bastards on the council." Kankuro flipped the page again, starting a new sketch. After a few moments, it took the shape of a dragon. A snarling dragon. With long fangs. "They wanted a verbal report. I gave them one."

Listening silently, Gaara wondered where this story was headed. Given that the dragon looked like it wanted to eat half the population of Suna, he figured it wasn't going anywhere good.

"It was fine. Really." Kankuro drew blood on the fangs, his gaze pinned on his work. "They got what they needed to know. Nothing more needed to be said. A simple 'You're dismissed' would've sufficed."

The chakra cat had arched its back high once more, fangs barred and claws slashing. Gaara sometimes wondered if his brother, with all his passion and hot temper, would eventually manifest a fire release. As angry as his chakra was, Kankuro could've spontaneously set the room on fire had he already mastered such a technique. "He insulted you?"

"He insulted you." Kankuro's pencil lead broke, and he cursed, throwing down the implement.

Gaara froze, stunned.

Kankuro sighed, shoving his sketchpad aside. "I knew they'd give you a hard time, but that guy was over the top, jan."

Unsure what to say, Gaara remained silent. In his mind, he saw Naruto, Lee, and Kimimaro, each one infuriated because someone had dared to insult or hurt someone they admired and loved. He couldn't imagine what it was they were feeling, precisely, but he had now seen it a fourth time. In his brother. For him.

"What?" Kankuro asked, glancing at him. "You don't care anymore?" Looking suddenly depressed and exhausted, he folded his arms and laid his head on them, facing away from Gaara.

Still flabbergasted, Gaara scrambled through his mental files, trying to figure out what to do. He hardly knew how to respond. He felt gratitude, certainly, but he had no idea how to comfort his brother over something like this. He knew the villagers all hated him. Kankuro had feared him equally much, apparently until now. "Thanks," he managed to whisper.

Kankuro didn't reply. The cat felt like it had run into a corner, from which it could glare out and hiss.

Stumped, Gaara reached out and laid his hand in the middle of his brother's back. He'd seen Temari and Baki press their hands to Kankuro's back when he was upset. He wasn't sure what it meant or what it did, but he felt he had to try.

The cat calmed down abruptly, its fur smoothing out and its back lowering. Kankuro turned his head so he could stare up at Gaara. "Thanks for what?" he finally asked.

For caring, Gaara thought but didn't say. He briefly wondered if chakra could purr and what he'd have to do to elicit such a response. He didn't remove his hand. "You of all people should understand the councilman's fear." Much had passed between them; until recently, none of it had been good. Gaara had either ignored his brother like he didn't exist or said hateful things to him. Several times he'd threatened his life.

Kankuro turned his head away again. "Things are different." He paused, then continued more quietly. "You protected me."

Not replying, Gaara stared at his thin, white hand pressed against his brother's black shirt. His fingers were cold, but his brother's back was warm. His words echoed in his mind: "Protected." Kankuro was referring to their last mission as Team Baki, during which one of their opponents had summoned a swarm of bees practically on top of him. Kankuro had been jittery around insect swarms since his fight during the Konoha Invasion, and the puppet jutsu wasn't well-matched against swarms in the first place. Gaara had reacted instantly and without thought, trapping the bees in his sand and crushing them.

It seemed obvious to Gaara, now, that he couldn't let his brother be stung to death. After all, although Gaara had chosen once to fight for and protect only himself, he had made the decision out of sheer rage that no one cared enough to defend and protect him. At the very top of the list of things Gaara hated was the feeling of being unloved, unwanted, unprotected, and endangered. Along with his goal to become Kazekage one day, he wanted bonds with his siblings, even though he didn't know how to show it, and he hoped he would learn to love them, despite having no idea what that was. Protection and safety were concepts that could be made concrete, however. Those he could offer. And apparently Kankuro wanted the same things. It meant they had something in common — something Gaara could understand and something Gaara could give. The thought provided him with a great deal of relief. "I will continue to protect you," he promised his brother, and when he spoke, his voice was so quiet and soft even he didn't recognize it. He wondered what it meant.

For a moment, Kankuro didn't respond, but under Gaara's hand, his muscles relaxed. The disgruntled "cat" vanished utterly. Kankuro rotated his head once more, looking up at Gaara and smiling. "Yeah, so. Expect me to get mad if people call you names, then."

Abruptly, Gaara understood that his brother wanted something from him, something abstract and intangible. When he looked back on it, he realized that Kankuro always had wanted something. It was there when he carried Gaara once he grew chakra-exhausted, but more importantly, it was there when Kankuro forgave him after his first apology. Without even knowing why or for what Gaara had apologized, Kankuro had offered forgiveness. With a flash of insight, Gaara realized that as hot-tempered as his brother was, he didn't hold grudges. And if he wanted something from Gaara in addition to not holding a grudge against him for the past, then they should be able to move forward. "Okay," he finally answered, unsure what else to say.

Kankuro smirked, suddenly the picture of confidence. "What? Don't think I can protect you, too?"

Gaara could never express just how much he wanted to be protected. "You can." It was the truth. If he wanted to, his brother could protect the one thing Gaara's sand could not: his feelings.

"Damn straight I can." Kankuro rested his chin on his folded arms.

A wave of unfamiliar warmth washed through Gaara, and he removed his hand, caught off-guard by the emotion.

"The bastard better keep his comments to himself," Kankuro added, grumbling.

A small smile threatened the corners of Gaara's mouth. Despite having no idea what he was doing, he still had managed to take the first steps toward building a bond with his brother. Maybe, just maybe, this would work. Maybe Kankuro would want him as a brother. Maybe his forgiveness could encompass all that had passed between them before. Surely it wasn't impossible; Gaara had made the cognitive choice to forgive both his siblings when he changed paths. Eventually his feelings had aligned with his choice. And now . . . Now, his brother got angry if people insulted him.

Kankuro picked up his sketchpad again, using a chakra string to grab a new pencil off the table. Taking a second chance in one day, Gaara lay down on his stomach by his brother, watching him draw. Gaara decided that if chakra could purr, his own might be. Then again, the room was humming with Kankuro's warm chakra now. Perhaps both of them were "purring."

Either way, Gaara had a little more hope for the future.