The puppeteer isn't there; he's just part of the scenery. Kankurou's morning musings.
(Originally published 2/21/2005)
Nobody writes about Kankurou, so I decided to take a break from torturing Kakashi and remedy that lack. Amusingly, Kankurou and I share a birthday (May 15th). Maybe it was destiny. ;)
Sadly, this piece is a little rambly and pointless, but I look at it as just getting a feel for the character. (Needless to say, all the backstory is speculation on my part.) Set somewhere after the disastrous Chuunin exams, but before Naruto Part 2. There may or may not be a followup chapter.
Purple was for royalty.
When Kankurou awoke in the morning, the first thing he did was tie back his hair and put on his makeup. He wrestled the unruly dark mess into a ponytail (Temari always called it his rat tail on those rare days where he wore it down, because she was a well-trained professional bitch) and then into a bun at the base of his neck, slicked his bangs back out of his eyes, and then his face was ready to be painted. A quick wash with a damp, but not soaked, cloth -- water was precious in Sunagakure and not to be wasted -- and then he would take his mirror, apply his theatre white, and begin to draw the lines on. (Temari always teased him about using his standard-issue shinobi's mirror to primp like a girl. He usually responded that she could probably do with some more primping like a girl. She usually responded to that with a whack from the fan. Kankurou needed to learn to keep his big mouth shut.)
He was the only one out of the puppeteers of Sunagakure who was allowed to wear purple on his face, because he was the only one who was a son of Kazekage. The designation had never meant much in his life beyond his father's decision to give him to the puppet troupe in the first place, but it did mean that he got to use nifty purple makeup that clashed with his hair. Far longer ago than he could remember, when he had been 2 or 3 and a bit of political maneuvering gave him over to be raised by the troupe, he was told that at the time they hadn't even had any purple facepaint on hand, and had hurriedly had to mix up a batch just to herald his arrival. The very same day he had received his first markings. He couldn't remember a morning where he hadn't woken up and immediately begun his makeup, and quite honestly he felt more naked without it than he did without clothes.
Genkurou the fox, a sly but dangerous and driven creature, had been his favorite pattern for several years with its dramatic slashes and angry points; but lately, all things considered, he had been feeling calmer, so instead he wore his namesake. Kankurou, the other Kankurou, had been a famous actor and a great puppeteer. It was an honor to be allowed to carry on his name.
Once in a while he wondered what his name had been before he had been given to the puppet troupe, but no one seemed to remember, least of all himself, and the one man who could've told him was now dead by the hands of the Sound ninja (a feat for which he had idly considered sending Orochimaru some servants or artifacts or a fruit basket or something, but he'd figured he would just get back whatever he sent along with its deliverer's severed head, so he hadn't bothered). Kankurou had always been the curious sort, but still, he didn't suppose it mattered that much. He wasn't really interested in carrying on any name given to him by Kazekage, the conniving old geezer. Kazekage had just wanted to get rid of him, and he'd done it thoroughly.
Well, it wasn't like Kankurou had ever minded or anything. He wasn't hurt that he was the invisible middle son, overlooked by all concerned in favor of his brash sister or his frankly terrifying younger brother. It wasn't that he cared that everyone pushed him to succeed, yet never expected him to amount to anything. It wasn't that he resented that his personal triumphs and his quietly prodigious achievements among his troupe were all but ignored.
After all, you knew you were a truly good puppeteer when the audience forgot you were there.
When the lines were done and perfect, then came the color. He took up his sponge brush and began blotting it in, purple down his nose, over his lips, across his cheeks, around his eyes. The eyes were the hard part. It had taken many months of practice, as a child, for him to master the feat of keeping each closed eyelid perfectly still in its turn, even as the brush pulled across thin delicate skin and made him want to blink. When he was very young, he'd constantly colored outside the lines, as it were. But by now the process was second nature.
Once he was done and looked like himself again, with the thick purple stripes coloring his expression, he went to pull on his clothes. Black shirt with the crest of the puppet troupe, black pants, black sandals, black gloves over the purple tattoos on his palms. The hood came last, fitted carefully over his head and obscuring his hair. And then he was, as usual, invisible.
Puppeteers, he had been taught as a child, wore black because they did not exist. The audience was meant to see only the performance, the players and the stage, not the puppet masters pulling levers and strings behind the scenes. When Kankurou fought, the one who truly went into battle was Karasu. Against all but the most formidable opponents, the puppeteer should fade into the background -- unnoticed, safe, and free to collect information. It was a philosophy that dovetailed neatly with the traditional ideals of the shinobi, and Kankurou lived by it, not so much out of choice as because it seemed to be an inescapable fact of his life. The background was his place, and maybe it would always be.
Someday, he thought, when he was getting old for a ninja and barely middle-aged for a regular man and when peace of some measure had returned to Wind Country, maybe he would retire from the shinobi business. Spend the rest of his days in the theatre, perform with the puppets and maybe even with himself -- he thought he was a decent actor, when it got right down to it -- and maybe become the second famous Kankurou of Sunagakure.
But that was then and this was now, and Temari was going to bitch at him if he was late, so he shouldered Karasu and headed out to meet with his unit -- his family -- whatever, and take on their mission for today. Sunagakure was without a Kazekage, and it would be a while before the place was returned to any semblance of normal (not that he was sure he'd ever particularly appreciated Sunagakure's version of 'normal', but what it could become with a new Kazekage remained to be seen); right now they needed as many young ninjas as they could get for doing all the dirty work. It would probably be an espionage mission; their team got a lot of those. Or possibly a 'kill everybody really, really dead and don't leave any evidence' mission. They got a lot of those too. Trivial stuff with someone like Gaara around.
But Kankurou didn't mind. Every performer needed a chance to rehearse.