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Tsukumogami No Kankurou

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Kankurou is young when he meets them. Not quite yet five years old and in that undefined border zone between the growth stages of toddler and small child. Old enough to have a mind of his own, but still small enough that most of the adults around him were dismissive of his presence.

So Kankurou is overlooked when the adults that made up his father’s inner circle discussed teapots and secrets and demons in hushed voices. So Kankurou is clued in to the fact that he has a little brother, that he is not the baby of his family, and that the locked up storage room has something to do with it. So Kankurou makes up his mind, and walks off when his minder is looking the other way, occupied with one of Temari’s tantrums.

Kankurou looks up at the locked door with a frown. Not only is the storage room locked, the door latch is also too high for him to reach. So Kankurou, in a fit of brilliance, knocks politely on the heavy door.

The murmur of voices Kankurou had not even noticed hushed immediately.

Encouraged, Kankurou knocked again.

A brief argument could be heard through the barrier of the door. Then there was a crash of breaking pottery, and shouting that was drowned out by wild cackling that got louder as it got closer. A bang, the door vibrating in its frame under the force of the impact on the other side, and a scrambling noise like claws against tile escaped through the cracks.

The door creaked open, spilling smoke and stale air into the hallway, and Kankurou grinned. Manners really did open doors!

/…/

Kankurou is six years old when he starts to understand that he might not ever get to see his little brother as much as he wants. The guards keep people away from Gaara, even Kankurou and Temari. Even though he has never shown signs of inheriting the Kazekage’s kekkai genkai, Kankurou is still the Kazekage’s eldest son. He is always watched, and because of his prodigious skill with puppets Kankurou is a coveted resource. There are other pupetteers in Suna though, so after a little while the excuses given by Kankurou’s tutors to keep him from seeking out Gaara start to fall flat.

Keeping the siblings apart might make sense if Gaara had special lessons that kept him too busy to play with his siblings. Especially since Gaara was the only one to get their father’s Bloodline Talent. That reasoning was a lie though, because Kankurou knows that Gaara has never had the same lessons that his elder siblings took. Gaara has been left without any training at all, despite being the only one of Raza’s three children to have the Sand Release.

There is a conspiracy here, meant to keep Kankurou away from his little brother. He does not know why, he just knows that his father is being mean. Kankurou wants to see his baby brother. If only he could figure out where Gaara is being hidden…

Now that he has begun his shinobi training for real, it is harder for Kankurou to overhear interesting conversations. Harder, but not impossible.

Having help made it easier. Kankurou tucked the little brown bat puppet into his pocket, taking care not to tear the silky leather of the wings. His fingers trembled, Kankurou’s tension vibrating down the stings. It was hard to think through the rage and the panic, but Kankurou needed to stay calm.

Father had ordered Uncle Yashamaru to kill Gaara.

“That’s the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard!” Kankurou looks up to his left, already knowing what he will see. A balcony has grown out of the wall, made of dark stained wood that was a rare resource this deep in Wind Country. Heavy red drapes and raised vine carvings painted gold only highlighted the difference between the richness of the balcony and the dusty outer walls of the Suna building. The squat old man who had spoken spat to one side. “What’s he plan to do with the demon one the kid croaks? Ask nicely for it not to kill anyone? Ha!”

“No, this is great!” The equally old man in the other chair hunched forward, ghoulish grin deepening the heavy wrinkles of his face. “I haven’t looked forward to a show this much in years! A good action scene to break up all this soap opera spy versus spy crud!”

Despite knowing he was in public, Kankurou scowled at the old men and pointedly turned his back on them. Clicking gears and humming wires ran under the chatter of their heckling laughter.

The dust on the street rose up in thick clouds as Kankurou stomped away. Glaring at his feet, a soft shape caught Kankurou’s attention from the edge of his vision. Head lifting, Kankurou stared at the abandoned teddy bear that lay forgotten in the sand by the destroyed playground.

That was Gaara’s bear. His little brother had dropped it when he was yanked away. Did they really hate him so much that they would even take away Gaara’s teddy bear?

An idea sparked, and Kankurou grinned as he raced forward to snatch the toy up out of the dust. Try to kill Kankurou’s baby brother, would they? Well, Kankurou had something to say about that!

“Alright, everyone. Listen up!” Shadows gathered, casting strange inhuman shapes across the dusty ground. Kankurou turned and drew his fingers across the stings with deliberate care as glass eyes gleamed above carved grins. “I have a plan.”

/…/

Yashamaru had less than a second to realize that something was wrong with Gaara’s favourite toy. His purposefully clumsy attack paused mid-execution as his instincts warred between his new mission and the old mission. It was a second too long.

“WOCKA-WOCKA!” The bear cried as it stood up, shedding the illusion it had worn. Nearly as tall as a grown man, it was easy for the bear to carry Gaara with it as the wheeled-boots on its plush feet sent it skidding out of Yashamaru’s arm range.

“Prepare yourself for the GREAT GONZO!” A hideous blue ape with a long nose pulled out a firework rocket taller than Gaara and cackled as the fuse sparked.

“HII-YAH!” A pig dressed in a geisha’s formal kimono punched Yashamaru in the stomach hard enough to send him trough the wall of Gaara’s bedroom. Rolling to a stop, Yashamaru fought the dry heaves down and tried to struggle to his feet. An explosion blew him backwards again, arms raised to protect his head as shards of Gaara’s bedroom wall rainined down through smoke and dust.

A cheery tune accompanied the chaos that had begun to spread away from Gaara’s isolated home. Yashamaru looked up and stared at his elder nephew as Kankurou sat on a strange wooden riser, playing a shamisen without seeming to notice the alarms that were going off as the rest of the Village was woken by the attacking… were those puppets?

A massive ogre thumped across the street, a wide-eyed Gaara cradled in his arms. “For you.”

“Thanks, Sweetums.” Kankurou plucked a few more notes, and Yashamaru tried to see the strings his nephew had to be pulling. There was no way a child Kankurou’s age could make invisible chakra threads. The level of control needed was insane! In defiance to all logic and reason, the army of monstrous puppets continued to rampage, now with the addition of a cheerful song being belted out in chorus. Kankurou glanced at his uncle and stuck out his tongue to blow a raspberry before turning back to his puppet. “You can leave Gaara here and go play now!”

“Time to play!” The ogre chuckled and put Gaara down before thumping off down the street with a bellowing roar. A brick wall crumbled and the ogre vanished from sight, crashes marking the progress of its path through the Village.

“Hey, little brother.” Kankurou grinned at Gaara and leaned closer, pulling Gaara up against his side without stopping his playing. “How long do you think I can keep this up before they decide I’m even more trouble than you are?”

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