Kankuro never paid much mind to anyone outside of his immediate family. Well, other than Baki, but he figured Baki good as counted, he couldn’t recall a period of his life when the gigantic man hadn’t been there, silent and steady support to him and his. No, the puppet master had little room in his head for anyone who was not his Father, his sister, his brother, or Baki. Nor could he be bothered to feel guilty or selfish for his almost total lack of empathy towards anyone who did not fall into the above category; His father was the Kazekage, which practically made him royalty. More than that, his little brother was a breathing weapon with the emotional maturity of a seven year old, and he just happened to have spent about six years throwing a tantrum. A nasty, bloody, irrevocable, unstoppable, pretty well validated, homicidal tantrum, but a tantrum none the less. With his family Kankuro damn well didn’t have time or energy to spend worrying after anyone else. He supposed he liked it like that anyway.
This did not mean that there was not the rare occasion that somebody punched through, though. Hurtled headlong into his intentionally narrow world. Forced him to take notice of their existence.
It did happen, but it usually required the complete shattering of a thing that the puppet master had previously held as Truth.
It had happened once when he was fourteen. During the chuunin exam actually.
The Truth had been that his little brother was untouchable. Indestructable.
Nobody had ever hurt Gaara.
Nobody ever would.
Until there had been a crash. An explosion. An implosion. A something. A whir blur of motion his eyes couldn’t track, the sand couldn’t track and then it gave. Then it gave, it broke, it failed. There before his eyes it had failed and Gaara had been on the ground.
And the first half formed thought that had flickered through his brain, one he would forget before even really registering it, was
‘This kid is God. No, this kid is a Demon.’
But then Gaara rose, and he’d had that smile plastered on his face, and the thought he’d remember was
‘This kid is dead.’
But it didn’t play out that way. It played out with a battle he had never imagined, and there was the furious and familiar roar of sand and seething chakra and blood. But had also played out in a burst, an unexpected mind boggling shock of motion and chakra that left him wide eyed and shaking, and it had played out with Gaara on the ground again.
In the end the kids body was broken, his limbs shattered, but so had been the image of Gaara, Gaara the Demon, Gaara the God, Gaara the untouchable. So had been the Truth.
The blows had fallen in rapid succession after that. The Uchiha kid who forced Gaara into a desperate defensive, Gaara loosing control and succumbing to the Shukaku, the other Jinchuriki who had Beaten him, defeated him, defeated him even while possessed. He saw these, but it was not the same, it was not the explosion, because the illusion was already dead.
And so Kankuro had to take notice. The kid had a name. His name was Lee.
And Kankuro had to continue to notice, because not long after, Lee became more than the first person to injure Gaara, to survive Gaara, he became the first person whom Gaara had ever desired to protect. And he had, the first time Suna had sent aid to it’s new ally. He had asked for him by name.
‘I am going after Rock Lee.’
Lee existed, and Kankuro noticed. It wasn’t something he’d eventually grow out of. The Leaf wouldn’t simply fade and disappear. As the years wore by and the alliance grew stronger, he’d show up in the village from time to time, running messages back and forth, damn but the kid was fast, or to help on a mission or two. He was friendly, and useful, most everybody liked him.
Gaara liked him.
Gaara made time for the Konoha-nin when he was around. Gaara sparred with him, and seemed less unhappy, less tense. Gaara talked with him and seemed less distant. Above all, Gaara trusted him. Gaara had a friend.
It was good for him.
Kankuro was infinitely, if secretly grateful to Lee for that.
Lee was his friend too, and he supposed he was also grateful for that, even if he was too loud, and too hyper, and too damned naïve. Even if he did insist on keeping that bowl cut and wearing orange legwarmers. He was a hell of a back up on a mission, and surprisingly good conversation during down time, that is, when Kankuro could get him to stay still for more than thirty seconds at a time. He was also one of the only people the puppet master found he could rely on to drag his drunk ass home when he’d hit the booze to hard to celebrate a successful job, and sometimes when he was too drunk to walk on his own and being dragged down the street with his arm slung over Lees shoulder, or in the heat of battle where the lines between thought and action and instinct blurred away, or dozing in a cave during a mission if it wasn’t his watch, he started to be grateful for other things. Like the smile the Leaf always wore and always had ready just when the gloom or booze was threatening to overpower him, or the inhuman, effortless grace and nerve wracking power that flowed from him in a fight, or the way he always insisted on taking first watch, and then just watched straight through the night so the others could sleep.
He noticed these things.And even though Lee was not family, Kankuro eventually decided that maybe he could be bothered to care about one more person after all