Kankurou will never say this out loud–and definitely not where Temari might hear him–but this is all her fault. (No, really.)
See, if she hadn’t faffed off to Leaf in order to marry into some other clan instead of telling that sleepy-eyed weirdo to marry into their clan then he and Gaara wouldn’t have been left trying to figure out what the hell to do when someone randomly tells them that hey, one of your ancestors somewhere along the line apparently had an illegitimate child, because we’ve found a kid who can use Magnet Release. Also, he’s an orphan–have fun dealing with this!
Technically, it should be Kankurou’s responsibility given that he’s older and clan leadership is passed down in birth order. But they’re called the Kazekage clan after all, and, well, Gaara is the Kazekage. It only makes sense for Kankurou to let the more qualified brother handle it.
And it’s not like Kankurou’s the one adopting an army of small children. (To be fair, there’s only two of them and Araya is a fairly mellow kid. Yodo’s the one who could put the entire Puppet Corps through the wringer, especially when she’s high on sugar from whatever sweets given to her by a certain someone who shall remain nameless. It would’ve been hilarious… if he hadn’t been tapped for babysitting duties that same day and realized he stabbed himself in the foot.)
So passing the buck it is.
He at least goes to pick up the kid–because Gaara does have an entire hidden village to run and, admittedly, Kankurou will be this kid’s clan head even if he won’t be this kid’s Father (the very idea of it makes him shudder; ugh, fatherhood, he can barely stand being an uncle)–and takes a nice, quiet solo journey to some tiny town in the middle of nowhere.
Gaara did offer to send some chuunin with him, but like hell was Kankurou going to put up with a bunch of brats just to pick up another brat. Never mind that most chuunin are about his age or even older. (And plus, it gives him some time to work on his playwriting without wind of it getting back to Sparky.)
He kinda has an idea of what he’s expecting of the kid–even though, beyond him having Magnet Release and being an orphan, the report didn’t include much. Not even a name which, what the hell, he’s going to bust someone’s balls for this. He doesn’t approve of shoddy work when it means he’s going into a situation blind. (Been there, done that, got the irritating friendships with Leaf nin to prove it.)
As it is, he ends up being completely wrong and, somehow, spot on. He maybe should have made Gaara come–or Sparky, even, given that despite having no blood relation and not even having met each other yet, this kid would fit in perfectly with her horde of hell-raisers. How someone could get into so much trouble in the boondocks is beyond him–but hell if Kankurou isn’t a little bit impressed.
(Shinki doesn’t mean for bad things to happen to the people around him, they just do. His first Mother had said that the things he could do weren’t bad, just powerful; all he had to do was learn how to control them.
But even with her own talents with metal–hidden in plain sight as the town’s blacksmith–she still looked at his ability with wariness and no small amount of fear.
He can’t remember what happened to his biological father, only that he disappeared one day and never came back.
That’s what Shinki used to think, anyway.)
The kid is nine years old and if Kankurou hadn’t grown up with the poster child for stoicism, he’d admit that the kid’s got a pretty good poker face. As it is, he can tell the kid’s about as nervous as Sparky in front of an audience older than Academy age–and, also, hiding something.
But despite being admittedly nosy, Kankurou stays silent on that matter; because he knows what subtlety is, unlike some people.
The shinobi dispatched from the nearest outpost meets Kankurou in the village and gives a rundown of the situation which for some reason wasn’t included in the original report.
“Bandits, most likely,” the chuunin says with a shrug, not bothering to temper his volume. Normally, surrounded by civilians, it wouldn’t matter, but from the small twitches on the kid’s face Kankurou can tell, even without the clan blood limit, he’s not just a normal civilian. “Tried to ransack the blacksmith’s shop, maybe to get supplies, and didn’t realize she was still in the forge. She put up a hell of a fight, though.”
Ah, shit. Poor kid, being forced to relive his mother’s last moments from the voice of an disinterested chuunin. But pity never helped anyone.
“Bandits?” Kankurou barks at the chuunin instead, edging it in a way that he usually doesn’t. Pity doesn’t help, but anger can, “This area is part of your outpost’s territory isn’t it? Were you just letting them run rampant?”
The chuunin straightens up at attention, suddenly faced with a superior officer not just a fellow shinobi. “No, sir. I mean, yes sir–I mean.”
“Spit it out,” Kankurou says, maybe amping it up because it’s possible there’s the smallest hint of a smile on the kid’s face.
“We’ve been gathering intel on them, trying to triangulate their base of operations. It wasn’t until the attack yesterday that we got enough to pinpoint it. We were going to do some more recon before requesting a team. But the, uh, witness seemed like a more important matter,” the chuunin reports, belatedly adding, “sir.”
“A team?” Kankurou scoffs, he’s a puppeteer–The Puppeteer what with being head of the corps, now–he’s basically a team all by himself. And besides, “Why do you need a team when you’ve got two scions of the desert?” he asks the chuunin, then nods in the kid’s direction, “Hey brat, you interested in getting revenge?”
What? Kankurou never said he was good with kids.
(A part of Shinki used to think that becoming a shinobi was inevitable. That even his first Mother knew it, too, despite not sending him to Suna when he turned six.
She had taught him what tricks she had learned from her own mother, and other things she had picked up or made up along the way. She had taught him about weapons and about tools, about the difference and similarities between them. About how neither could harm him–not so long as they were made of metal and sang like adrenaline in his blood.
He thinks she was preparing him for a future without her. He’s never sure whether or not he should be grateful for that.)
The bandits are a bunch of clichés–a group of twenty or so men all unwashed and rowdy, hiding in a cave. Kankurou is honestly a little embarrassed on their behalves. Or, you know, he would be if they weren’t the assholes responsible for murdering an unknown clan member and leaving the kid–Shinki, as he had huffed in response to being called brat–orphaned.
Okay, maybe Kankurou got a little attached. But he’s a good kid; keeping pace and falling in line and not at all rebelling and pulling some kind of bullshit impossible plan from out of nowhere that somehow miraculously works. (No doubt Sparky will ruin that given a few months, but he can appreciate it while it lasts.)
They meet up with another chuunin not far from the cave–who startles at seeing the head of the Puppet Corps and a nine year old accompanying his teammate, but maintains a sense of professionalism nonetheless.
“There’s two exits–this one’s the main one, big enough for horses and a cart, though I’ve only spotted two so far. The other one is around the southeast side of the mountain, pretty narrow, almost missed it, probably an emergency escape route.”
Unfortunately, cliché and filthy didn’t mean stupid.
“You two stay here, wait for the signal before you join us,” Kankurou says, “Us two will go through the other entrance. Catch them off guard, make sure none of them get away.”
“Uh, sir?” asks the first chuunin, nervously, “What’s the signal?”
Kankurou barely manages not to roll his eyes. Shinki and the other chuunin don’t bother refraining.
“The sounds of screaming, probably” Kankurou says deadpan, enjoying the way the chuunin flinches.
“Let’s go, kid,” he continues, before they waste more time on inanities.
The emergency exit is narrow enough that the three of them–Karasu included–have to go single file. The few traps are easily disarmed and Shinki’s silent nature thankfully extends to stealth.
Somehow, even though he’s on Kankurou’s six, the kid spots the bandits first.
Well, a specific bandit.
“That’s him,” Shinki murmurs, angry but still quiet, not stupid enough to give away their position.
Kankurou doesn’t need clarification–given the bandages hastily wrapped around the bandit’s torso and beginning to bleed through red, it’s obvious who he is.
“Stay here, kid. Any of them slip past me, you take them down, okay?” Like that’ll happen–Kankurou’s been too well trained (tortured by that old hag, more like)–but the kid doesn’t know that. “Let’s go sound that signal, then.”
Of course, Kankurou probably should have figured that the kid’s obedience would run dry at some point, because after only about ten minutes of fighting–most of the bandits incapacitated one way or another–he finds the kid standing over the prone body of a bandit. The specific bandit.
The kid’s shaking, the man is talking, and that’s never boded well.
“… I knew it. Should have known as soon as your mother brought you screaming into the world. Go on, demon, prove me right,” the bandit says, a sneer on his face for all that he’s the one at a disadvantage.
The kid has somehow ended up with a sword–poor quality, probably the bandit’s own weapon–but he shakes like he’s the one whose life is in danger.
“I-I c-can’t do it,” Shinki says, “I can’t.”
Kankurou sighs, waves Karasu closer to loom over the bandit who is finally beginning to look afraid. He puts his other hand on Shinki’s shoulder, turns him around. “Don’t look, kid.”
Shinki closes his eyes, presses close, and doesn’t look.
Neither of them mention it again.
(Sometimes, Shinki wishes his first Mother were still alive. Not that he prefers her over Mother–no, he loves this new family fiercely, wouldn’t trade them for the world. Even when he and Araya don’t quite understand each other, or he and Yodo get on each others’ nerves.
Sometimes, he wishes she hadn’t been afraid. Wishes that she had taken the chance to reach out, to be a part of this family.
He thinks she would have loved them, too.)
A/N: Kankurou, goddamnit, why can’t you stay on topic?
Technically this part ought to be third if we’re going chronologically, since I feel like Shinki would’ve been the last adopted (which kind of adds to his self-esteem issues re: succession and also his adoption sort of obligated because blood limit) but Kankurou is easier for me to write than Gaara. Which, yeah, spoilers I guess, Yodo’s part will from Gaara’s POV.