Well, well, what do we have here? If it isn't me.

I finally pulled my shit together and wrote a new chapter, even drew a cover image for the story. Only took me three fucking years.

Also, I've finally rewritten the story up to chapter 32, the rest is on its way. It's better now, I swear. Even threw in a few new scenes. If you feel like wasting another few hundred thousand words' worth of life, check it out now, or wait till I've fixed the rest. I'll let y'all know.

It started with an itch. It grew into a burn. And from there it broke into flames of hell. Though by then a familiar sensation, Gaara felt no less irritated when woken by it. His eyes shot open, lungs drew in a sharp breath and back arched in pain he doubted he'd ever get used to. Forced rigid by the agony, it took him several minutes to remind his body of its regular functions. His heart beat with a pace and strength that pulsed at the very tips of his fingers. And his breath, it seemed disinterested in his effort to move it either in or out, any direction at all.

It'd been three days since the incident that'd left him partially blind and unable to take more than a few steady steps at a time. Though his injuries had begun their journey towards recovery, the nighttime still remained close to intolerable. He would wake up every couple of hours or so, more often than not be forced to leave the bed along with the room and seclude himself into a space where nobody could witness him fight the episodes of pain. They left him shaky, breathless and overall pathetic. As much as he hated to admit, enduring it with dignity wasn't a matter of diligence. This time was no different.

Gaara glanced to his left. Naruto lay beside him, still fast asleep. The alarm clock stated the time as 4:46 a.m., which meant he'd woken up for the fourth time in the past three hours. A personal record, though not necessarily a wanted one.

It was especially challenging for him to get out of bed this time, likely due to the three he already had during that one night, but eventually did get on his unreliable feet. His exit from the room was a succession of stumbling, finding support in any solid object he encountered and a less than graceful descending of stairs. As always, the time it took him to make it downstairs and into the kitchen, all he could think about was how weak he felt and how much he hated it. Whatever little sense of success he could've felt upon making it there always drowned in the failure that followed as he collapsed against the wall and slid to the floor. And there he stayed, whether he liked it or not. With the last of strength still left in him, he reached into his pocket and took out his new best friend.

In the past couple of days, he'd developed a rather unhealthy habit. It did not matter how many pills he devoured, the nighttime pain seemed invincible. For that reason the first night at home had been unspeakably agonizing. But during the second, somewhere between the third and fifth time he was woken by anguish and utter hell, he'd felt desperate enough to try anything, anything at all, to ease the suffering. And just like that, out of the blue, the humiliating idea had come to him.

Fight fire with fire, he'd thought as he'd reached for the first sharp object in sight, brought it against his arm, and without hesitation, sliced into it.

It'd surprised him, the counteracting effect of it. The relief was brief, but it was there. The pain of cutting his own skin momentarily neutralized the unbearable ache of his wounds. And though he'd acknowledged the action's detrimental nature, he couldn't have cared less. It'd worked, and led him to assume that any form of pain would do the same. And it had. Were it a cut on his skin, the flame of a lighter or stabbing his leg with needles, it worked, and sure as hell beat the option of squirming in pain defenseless and pathetic.

Yet again in search for makeshift relief, he glanced at the jackknife in his hand, flipped it open and didn't hesitate to run it across his bare side. The sharp blade slit the skin open, fine and neat, leaving it to trickle with blood. The instant after, he could feel the tension in his muscles mellow into a mere twitch and all pain leave his body for a few crucial seconds. He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath while he still could and prepared for the pain to return. Unsurprisingly, it did. It always did. No matter how many times he cut, it always came back, only leaving of its own volition much later. So he cut again. He knew it'd likely scar him, knew it was unhealthy, but greatly preferred it over the constant sensation of being on fire. It was the lesser of two evils, in his opinion. Still, he hadn't told Naruto. Out of shame, out of respect. Out of self-hatred.

"Wha...the fuck?"

Gaara flinched, eyes opening. The relief of secondary pain was beginning to wear off again. He refused to face the man standing not a long way down the hall. Not because he'd been caught sitting on the floor, holding a knife to his side, but because the tremble returned along with the agony and its offspring, as he'd affectionately named the short breath and inability to even carry his own weight. He knew he had two options. He could either bite the bullet and endure the pain eating him alive, or he could ignore the horrified blonde and his feelings and cut again. He chose the latter. No matter what he chose, he was weak anyway.

Naruto winced. He saw the way Gaara glanced at him from the corner of his eye, saw the obvious struggle to choose between two options, eventually picking the gruesome one. He snapped out of shock at the sight of another cut. He ran the distance, dropped to his knees and pried the knife from the redhead's shaky grip. He barely put up a fight. Not because he didn't try, but because he couldn't.


The hoarse voice pierced his heart like a dagger. He could see the pain in his eyes, but as much as he wished to bend under his pleas, couldn't.

"Please, don't hurt yourself", he begged in return, hands moving to hold his face.

Every inch of the man trembled under his touch. He looked nauseous and even paler than usual. The defiance in his eyes was obvious, but body too weak to seize it. Not long after, Gaara admitted defeat, cast away his pride and begged for something he never had before.

"Help me."

It was but a sad little croak, but felt like a slap across the face. Never having imagined the redhead to accept help, let alone plead for it, it took Naruto a wastefully long time to react. Only a few seconds, all of which must've felt like an eternity to the one waiting. Though clueless of what he possibly could've done to help, he nodded, frantically.

"Yeah, I—I'll...", he stammered, glancing around and desperately trying to think of something. Anything. Only one idea came to mind. "I need to you to get up, okay?"

The mere thought petrified Gaara, but he didn't reject the effort to lift him. Though every inch off the ground felt like a thousand knives slowly pushing into him, he rose to his feet. Naruto was there to hold him on them.

"I'll help you. You'll be okay, I'll help you."

A set of nails sank into his shoulder. Reminded of the haste, Naruto placed the redhead's arm on his shoulders, wrapped his own around him and pulled him away from the wall. With slow and shaky steps, each one less reliable than the one before, Gaara let the blonde lead him down the hall. It felt like a small eternity, the journey downstairs and into the room at the very back of the floor. Were it for the pain or plain disinterest, he never questioned why he was walked into the shower as clothed as he was, or what purpose it'd serve. Naruto had neither the time nor inclination to explain, though his eyes closing tightly shut might've acted as a warning of sorts. Yet only he flinched when the water turned on.

It was like liquid ice and winter frost flooding over him, cold enough to numb his skin in a heartbeat. It left him gasping for air, as even his breath seemed to freeze in his lungs. Grasping onto Gaara as tightly as the man did onto him, he forced his eyes open to look through the falling water. The redhead seemed in no way bothered by the cold. If anything, he looked relieved. Slowly, his harsh grip loosened. His trembling eased and rigid body relaxed. Even the breath stuck in his throat finally lost its stubbornness. By the time Naruto's hasty breath calmed, the pain in Gaara's eyes had dulled into a mere undertone. Though cold beyond belief, he flashed a shivery smile and pressed his forehead against the redhead's. Every inch of him shook, voice included.


Had he been able, Gaara would've laughed. Better? He couldn't feel a damn thing. Nothing.

He closed his eyes and nodded. Slowly but surely, his body grew numb. Eventually he no longer felt the water hit his skin, but neither did he feel the ache. The only thing he could feel was the blonde trembling against him. Though the cold must've been painful for him, though he had no obligation to endure it, he stayed to the point of his lips tinting blue. Gaara decided that staying under the ice cold stream, no matter how wonderfully numbing, would quickly turn treacherous for both of them. For just a few seconds longer, he savored the feel of near nothingness, before reaching out and turning the water off.

The steady sound of it ceased, followed by the faint echo of a few belated drops hitting the tiles. Neither one moved, neither one opened their eyes. Unfortunately aware of the cold and wet clothes sticking to his skin, Naruto tried and failed to stop trembling. Gaara stood still and breathless, waiting for the pain to return. It didn't.

The half a smile, it visited uninvited, while his hand moved to feel the side of Naruto's face. He barely did. With lips as numb as the rest of him, he leaned in to feel shivery ones. A shaky chuckle fell into his mouth.

"I...can't feel you."

The mouth that never left his parted and closed around his lower lip. The warmth, it sparked a tingle and slowly banished the numbness it'd trapped. The tingle stayed even after the warmth retreated. He opened his eyes to see the ones laid on him, finding the look of them promising.

"Is it gone?"

A smile so thankful had never touched his before.

"It's gone."

Television. Perhaps the most vile and despicable invention of the modern world, one that'd long lost its initially useful and benign purpose, now only a hollow shell stuffed with equally as hollow content. It offered a glimpse, one nobody had specifically asked for, into a world of dirty fame, lackluster storytelling and staged reality, all of which the leading production companies force-fed down the throats of credulous consumers, none of whom could nor wanted to see behind the countless layers of deceit. An outrage, it was. An outrage.

Gaara was three hours into an unplanned TV-drama marathon, past one hour of hating it, and two hours deep in denial. In his defense, he was also bored out of his mind and high as a kite on painkillers.

Naruto had left for work at six. Given that his injured state had severely shortened the list of entertainment Gaara had at his disposal, the dreaded flat screen monster had quickly managed to seduce him with its effortless appeal. As the idea of staring at the ceiling for hours on end hadn't quite enticed, he'd done the unthinkable and reached for the remote. He'd spent the first ten minutes flicking through the same channels over and over, each time less impressed, eventually leaving on the channel upon which his patience to look any further reached its limit. Realizing that he was now in the company of a badly scripted TV-drama of the romantically nuanced kind, he'd immediately begun to hope a sudden nap would take him by surprise. Instead, the drugs kicked in.

After three hours of a hazy high paired with crap TV, he'd witnessed five episode's worth of an unrealistic romance develop between a poor, uneducated woman and a stupidly handsome, dirty rich heir to the crown of an undoubtedly made up country. During those five episodes three people had died, two more been kidnapped, one suffered amnesia, and the two lead characters been forcibly separated roughly eight times. Granted, his own life was at times unnecessarily eventful, but even to him it seemed excessive. Yet funnily, it did not hinder his drug induced craving to find out if the love interest of this dreamy prince would make it in time to stop his arranged wedding to the princess of another imaginary nation. It was at that crucial moment his own brother dared to wander into the room still half asleep.

"What...the hell are you watching?" grumbled Kankuro's weary voice.

Gaara raised his hand to shush him. "Shh. She's 'bout to ruin the wedding."

Kankuro's face twisted into a deeply confused, disturbed expression. He slowly turned to look at the back of his brother's head, stared for a while and then walked over to get a glimpse of the front. The redhead didn't as much as glance his way, only stared at the TV with glazed eyes.

"Are you high?" he eventually asked. Gaara graciously blessed him with half a glance.


Kankuro had nothing to say.

"Oh no", his younger sibling mumbled, slowly and incoherently. "They're cousins? That ain't good."

Kankuro released a lengthy sigh and snatched the remote to himself.

"Okay, baby bro, that's enough TV for you", he declared and turned off the device.

Gaara turned to look at him as if he'd slaughtered a herd of innocent ducklings. Which in itself was a clear symptom of something clouding his head, as he would normally not have given two shits about dead ducklings, let alone a television drama.

"What the hell are you high on?" Kankuro grunted, shaking his head. Gaara frowned, as if not entirely sure himself.

"No clue. Somethin' blondie made me take."

The older one huffed. "Painkillers. You're high on painkillers."

"Yeah", agreed the redhead, "probably that."

Kankuro rolled his eyes, his irises likely visiting the very back of his head. "C'mon. Your delusional ass needs coffee."

Roughly fifteen minutes later, Gaara sat by the kitchen's island counter, hollow eyes staring into nothingness and head filled with fragments of thoughts that did not fit together. He was slowly beginning to wonder if his decision to double the amount of pills recommended hadn't been the best of ideas after all.

"Here", Kankuro spoke, placing a cup of coffee on the counter.

Gaara blinked slowly, glanced down at the cup and mustered a low grunt as thanks. Or so Kankuro decided to interpret the primal noise. Taking a seat across from his younger brother, he sipped from his own cup and observed the groggy man. Given that the redhead was high out of his mind, no better chance to ask intrusive questions would come along in a while. It was a rare opportunity he didn't want to waste.

"So...what happened?" he asked, reaching for the pack of cigarettes forgotten on the counter.

Gaara frowned. It took him a good five seconds to process the question, another three to wonder what it referred to, and two more to decide he had no idea.

"The hell you talkin' 'bout?" He, too, reached for a cigarette.

Kankuro lit up. "Your face."

It was painfully frustrating to watch the redhead struggle to operate something as simple as a lighter. Not to mention that he was about to light the wrong end of the cigarette. Sighing, Kankuro snatched both the lighter and the cigarette from him, stuck the latter back into his mouth the right way round and lit it. Whether or not he'd remember how to go from there, Kankuro decided, was in fact not his problem.

"You still don't know?" the younger one muttered behind a thin curtain of smoke.

Kankuro shook his head. Though he'd been fairly well informed of the most pressing issues they were dealing with, such as confirming that Akatsuki's leader truly was the supposedly late terrorist, and planning a foolproof way to ensure their safety with newly obtained extortion material, he still hadn't asked why his baby brother's face looked like a patchwork quilt gone wrong. Partly out of courtesy, but mostly out of fear of ending up with a matching look.

"A bomb blew up in it", the redhead told, perfectly nonchalant. Kankuro's eyes widened with horror.

"A bomb? Where the hell did you find a bomb?"

"Inside the casket."

"...You said it was empty."

"No, I said there was no body."

Kankuro wished he'd been suicidal enough to slap the man. Only Gaara would forget to mention he'd dug up an active bomb.

"How...the fuck are you alive?"

The redhead shrugged. "Hell's booked full?"

"I thought you had a standin' reservation?" Kankuro sneered, earning himself a halfhearted glare.

"Yeah, well, maybe daddy don't want me home yet."

Kankuro rolled his eyes. "Only you'd call the devil daddy."

Gaara flashed a sarcastic smile. "What can I say? I'm his favorite."

"You're nobody's favorite."

The sound of a ringing phone saved Kankuro from another snarky comeback. The two men glanced around, then at one another, both assuming that the other would get up and answer. Several seconds went by before Gaara's glazed eyes cleared up with realization.

"Oh, fuck. I bought a phone", he remembered, struggling to get on his feet.

Though his step no longer was shaky with pain, it was like the stumble of a booze hound. He grabbed the phone, checked the number despite only one person knowing he even owned one and reluctantly answered.

"Myeah?" he grunted, stumbling back to his seat. Baffled silence followed.

"Are you drunk?" the other end finally questioned.

"No", assured Gaara, almost missing the chair when taking a seat. Kankuro sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, but saved his breath.

"Uh-uh. Sure", mumbled the caller, less than convinced.

"What you want, old man?" the redhead grunted, ignoring the doubt.

Jiraiya sighed. "Just checking if you're still alive."

It was Gaara's turn to express doubt. "Why would you give a fuck?"

"No idea. It's the polite thing to do?"

"Get fucked."

Jiraiya stifled a lengthy sigh. "You make it really difficult to like you."

"I ain't tryin' to make you like me."

"No, but I'm trying to make myself like you."

"Why?" asked Gaara, reasonably suspicious.

He found no reason for them to like one another. Though Jiraiya must've struggled with the reasoning too, he seemed determined to make one up.

"Because, surely by abusing some kind of black magic, you managed to trick the brat into playing for the wrong team. Frankly, I'd rather be the in-law of a voluptuous young lady, but since I'm stuck with a flat-chested criminal instead, I might as well learn to live with it."

With every word he heard, Gaara's scowl took a step closer to a nauseous frown. If entirely honest, he hadn't realized the old man really was the closest thing to an in-law he'd ever have through the blonde, and now found himself wishing he never had.

"Or not", he suggested, the disgust audible. "Just hate me. Don't make me beg for it."

Jiraiya released a mocking laugh. "Not a chance. Should've thought about it before you put your dirty hands on my innocent boy."

Gaara chuckled. Innocent?

"He started it, y'know", he claimed, putting out his cigarette. "Eager slut, begged on his knees."

Slight exaggeration, but silenced Jiraiya's amusement all the same. "Lies."

Denial was catnip to his spiteful nature. "Swallows, too."

Though silent, the old man's discomfort was tangible, as if he'd been in the room. Even Kankuro looked horrified at his lack of shame.

"Congratulations. I hate you more than ever."

"Good." Gaara grew bored. "Did you call just to talk bullshit?"

"No", sighed the other end, "I called to talk about the...bomb incident."

"What 'bout it?" Gaara sipped from his cup. The contents had gone cold.

"I can't just make it go away, an investigation is certain to take place", Jiraiya told, somewhat sorry. "But...if they need someone to blame, I'm taking it upon myself. You're safe."

The redhead fell speechless. Not having expected such a sacrifice from the old man, he didn't know what to say. Not apart from the obvious.

"Uh, thanks", he mumbled, then frowned. "Just...why?"

Jiraiya sighed, as if not entirely sure himself. "I— I guess I owe it to you. You did save my life. And...you really do care for the brat. Whether I like it or not, you two are happy together. I have no right to take that away from you."

This time, Gaara truly had nothing to say. Confused, yet strangely impressed, he said nothing at all. Jiraiya didn't blame him. He was as surprised by his own words as the redhead.

"To be honest...I'll probably never like you. But I want to learn to accept you. For Naruto's sake."

Gaara forced himself to say something, anything. "I...The fuck do you want me to say?"

"Okay, maybe?" Jiraiya supposed. "Or...Go fuck yourself. I don't know. Say whatever you want."

The redhead found himself in a position he'd never imagined he'd be put into. Did it really matter what he said? Did it matter if he said nothing at all? Realizing that what he did decide to say or leave unsaid would largely speak in behalf of what kind of attitude he was willing to adopt towards the old man. Though usually the type in favor of extremes, he surprised by choosing the middle ground.

"Okay. Now go fuck yourself."

Jiraiya spilled a laugh. He sounded...relieved?

"Fair enough. Good enough, I guess." A sigh followed, of the casual kind. "Try not to die. Pretty sure I'd be obliged to show up at your funeral and I really don't feel like wasting money on a new suit."

Gaara found the lack of hostility so unfamiliar it nearly cost him the ability to speak.

"I'll try."

Jiraiya smiled. He knew, because it was audible in his voice.

"Good. Tell the brat to stay safe." The man paused, drawing in an uncertain breath. "Bye."

The line went dead. Left to deal with feelings of confusion and surprise, Gaara took his time to lower the phone and set it aside. Even after he'd laid it down, his pensive gaze stopped to stare its way. He struggled to decide how to feel about the bizarre call.

"Who was it?" asked Kankuro to avoid silence. The frown on Gaara's face deepened.

"He's...Fuck, I don't even know what to call him", he mumbled, still stupefied. "I guess I'm his son-in-law."

Kankuro raised a curious brow. "So...Naruto's father?"

Gaara shook his head. "No. Not really. The next best thing."

"Oh. Are his parents...?"

"Dead. Yeah."

The older one nodded. Having run out of things to talk about, both of them sipped their cold coffees in silence, listening to the clock tick. It charmed with its tedious nature.

"Dad died", Kankuro suddenly stated.

"Yeah, I heard", Gaara muttered in return. "Was 'bout fuckin' time."

"You can say that again."

Another ringing phone saved their late father from other degrading comments. This time, it wasn't Gaara's. And judging by the look on Kankuro's face, wasn't his either. The redhead glanced over his shoulder. A sigh dared to escape. Naruto had forgotten his work phone. Lazily dragging himself up and over to the noisy device, Gaara put it on silent. He then paused to wonder if the call was one Naruto would regret missing. Given the name silently flashing on the screen, 'Wife-beating Dick 3', he might. Must've been a client, he assumed and slipped the phone into his pocket. Glancing to his right, he took notice of the sleek, black motorcycle helmet that'd sat in the same spot for two days by then, and the set of keys beside it.

"You drove your bike here?" he asked his brother, not bothering to glance the man's way.

"Uh, yeah."

Gaara nodded, picking the keys off the counter. "I'm borrowin' it."

Kankuro's eyes widened with objections yet to come. "What? No. No, no, no."

"Wasn't askin'", grunted the redhead, grabbing his jacket. Alarmed, Kankuro rose to his feet to emphasize his reluctance.

"You take that damn jacket off. You're still high out of your fuckin' mind, like hell I'll let you ride my precious baby."

Gaara didn't as much as glance at him, let alone listened. The jacket stayed on.

"Don't you dare put those shoes on", threatened Kankuro, as he watched the redhead do just that.

Again, his words fell on deaf ears. Gaara put on the shoes.

"Get away from that door, you stubborn little shit", the older one grunted as the younger went to open the door.

It was then Kankuro realized he had no hope of winning this embarrassingly one-sided argument. But there was one thing he was adamant to make happen. The redhead was already halfway out the door when Kankuro caught him by the arm. Annoyed, Gaara turned to send a glare his way, only to see the man stand there holding the helmet he'd deliberately left behind. He looked beyond determined.

"Put. It. On."

Gaara glanced at the helmet, glanced at Kankuro, considered arguing, but eventually released a defeated sigh. He grabbed the helmet offered, as annoyed as anticipated, and placed it on his head as told. Given his facial injuries, it felt uncomfortable, painful even. But as he lacked all desire to fight over the stupid thing, he bit the bullet and kept it. The open visor allowed him to give the older man a displeased stare, receive a content one in return, and most importantly, gave him the chance to flip it shut with a bit of an attitude. Pleased enough, Kankuro nodded and allowed his brother, who did not forget to give the finger, to walk out the door.

Gaara slammed the door shut behind him. On his way to the driveway he noticed that the drugs were beginning to wear off. At the very least, the high was. It was a good thing, he supposed. Lowered the risk of him crashing the bike, the one he expected to find around the corner. It wasn't there. The bike wasn't parked in the front yard like he'd expected, leading him to the garage instead. There he unlocked the doors and pulled them open. Gaara heard himself snort.


Ducati Streetfighter 848. Black, sleek, built from pure testosterone. Kankuro definitely was compensating for something or other.

It fell nothing short of a war. Two unspeakably strong wills clashing with one another, neither willing to back down, both equally as determined to achieve dominance and come out on top. Warfare between two wildly different forces, the ultimate fight of man versus machine.

"Print. Print, you piece of motherfuckin' shit."

It was the stuff of nightmares, this thing. This hideous, unsightly monster, feeding off of people's hopes and dreams, but most importantly, patience. Naruto had no trouble admitting his was hanging by a thread.

"You have one fuckin' job. One."

The printer, it refused to submit. It's vicious LED eyes stared defiantly back deep into his enraged ones. He'd taken off his jacket for this, rolled up his sleeves for this. That was the extent of his determination to overpower. By then the churning fury had turned his voice into a mere hiss.

"Print, or I'll throw you out the goddamn window and display your carcass as a warning for all the other printers in the building."

Nothing. Not a single beep, not as much as a sad little screech of paper getting stuck between the cylinders. Just, nothing. Naruto's angry eyes narrowed into thin streaks. The instant after, he finally snapped. Ripped the plug out of the wall, grabbed the printer with both hands and carried it next to the only opening window in the room. Without hesitation, he pulled the window open, laid one last glare on the uncooperative machine, and then threw it out of the building into a majestic trajectory. With a manic gleam in his eyes he watched it fall down all twenty-five floors. And once he heard the sweet sound of terrible Chinese mass production shattering against hard cement, he could finally breathe freely again. Chuckling, he stared down at the mess of cheap plastic and lousy electronics.

"You brought this upon yourself, cunt."

He wasn't dumb. As murder by flying printer wasn't what he'd strived for, he'd known to aim for the deserted area beside the sidewalk instead of right at it. But of course, the brutal end of his printer did attract several startled stares from passers-by. Even a car or two stopped to gaze at the mess, as well as a motorcycle, the driver of which then glanced upwards, undoubtedly noticing his smug face sticking out of the side of the tall building. He didn't care. He was free of the printer, thus the victor of their years long war, and nothing could convince him otherwise. Taking in a deep breath of relief and urban pollution, he took a while to admire the view with a smile on his face, before closing and leaving the window. He then reclaimed his seat by the desk, pressed a button on the intercom placed on it and from between grinning lips, spoke long awaited words.

"Hinata. Would you kindly order me a new printer? Thank you."

As his finger left the button, peace filled every last crevice of his existence. That was until the woman answered.

"What's wrong with the one you have?" asked her voice, dulled by the machine.

Naruto scowled, pressed the button again and brought his face unnecessarily close to the speaker.

"It had places to be and shit to do. Just order me a new one, woman. Thank. You."

He might've come across harsher than necessary, but in his defense, it was a moment he'd waited for a pathetically long time, and no one had the right to ruin it. No one.

The elevator came to a stop, reaching its destined floor. The doors slid open, revealing a pretentious view of glass and steel structures, among which sat a sad looking mess of lackluster office cubicles and a herd of workers. The stuffed air smelled of coffee, stress and over-achievement. Which wasn't surprising, given the soundscape of frustrated grunts and ringing phones. Perhaps even poorly suppressed sobs of an overworked employee somewhere in the distance.

Gaara scowled. Excluding prison, it was the most depressing place he'd ever stepped foot inside.

Though reluctant, he stepped out of the elevator and into the epitome of overrated life goals. Stopping before the doors sliding shut behind him, he wondered how he'd ever find Naruto in that maze of professional despair. The uptight lady downstairs had only given directions to the right floor, but nowhere beyond it. Supposing that picking any direction at all was better than picking none, he chose the hallway to his right. After a while of walking past glass walls and miserable attorneys trapped behind them, he found himself pleasantly surprised. Kind of. From somewhere in the short distance ahead, he could hear a familiar voice. Though somewhat distorted, he thought. Frowning, he walked the rest of the hallway towards a wooden door with a nameplate on the side of it. But by the time he was close enough to read it, he became interested in something entirely else. Something...mindbogglingly annoying.

To the left of the door, the one he'd walked towards, was a desk. And behind it, a woman. Attached to that woman was a face too pretty for its own good. Legs a mile long, tits larger than life. The whole ensemble. And with those stupidly full lips of hers she leaned down to speak into an intercom, her rack basically resting on the desk.

"What's wrong with the one you have?" he heard her ask, even from that fair distance away.

A familiar voice answered her soon enough, leaving Gaara to deal with feelings of denial and bafflement.

"It had shit to do and places to be. Just order me a new one, woman. Thank. You."

That was her? That was Naruto's secretary? That goddess stuffed into a pencil skirt and a blouse that only barely restrained the chest begging to spill over the plunging neckline? That was the friend he was supposed to not worry about?

The woman had a small frown on her face, one clearly born out of annoyance, as she glared at the intercom and mumbled profanities under her breath. Gaara stood there, not even ten feet away, staring like an idiot with a dumb look on his face. It wasn't until the woman turned to look at him in a strange way that he realized how stupid he must've seemed. Her questioning stare didn't faze him.

"Can I help you?" she asked, only to receive no reply.

Hinata's annoyed frown grew into a mildly uncomfortable one. Who was this strange man and why was he staring at her? And more importantly, why did he look so familiar?

He couldn't have looked more out of place. Dressed in all black, from the worn leather jacket to the ragged combat boots. Even his jeans, though fitting, looked like they'd been dragged through hell and back. But even then, his clothes were the least unbecoming aspect of him. His red hair defied gravity and tattoos covered everything but the face that'd taken an obvious beating from something or other. Maybe an eighteen-wheeler, given the state of it. One side of said face was badly bruised and apparently held in place by stitches, if the staples along his jaw were anything to derive from. Perhaps it was due to those harrowing injuries why it took her so long to recognize him.

Gaara saw it, the flash of realization in her eyes. But since he'd grown bored of staring at her by then, he did nothing to acknowledge it, and instead turned to look at the door. He knew there were exactly two ways to make an entrance. He had the option of marching in and making a scene about the man-eater Naruto's secretary had turned out to be. Or, alternatively, he could go in, pretend it didn't bother him and never bring it up. After a while of consideration, he shocked even himself by choosing the latter, less psychotic option.

Not sparing another glance to the woman on his left, he took a step towards the door. She was immediate to voice an opinion against it.

"Uh, I'm sorry, but you need to have an appointment to go in."

Not shockingly, Gaara neither cared nor listened and walked to the door despite her objection. Realizing that, she stood up and made a move to go after him.

"Sir, you're not allowed to enter", she firmly declared, only to go as ignored as before.

By the time she reached the door, he'd already opened it and stepped inside. Though instantly impressed with the size of the room, what actually piqued his interest was the desk by the wall-sized window and the office chair facing away from the door. Startled by the unexpected noise, Naruto spun his chair around, only to nearly fall off of it. Eyes growing as wide as anatomy allowed, he rushed to stand up and hiss words of disbelief at the unfortunately familiar redhead standing in the doorway.

"What the hell are you doin' here?"

Instead of answering, Gaara cocked his head, smirked, and kicked the door shut in the face of the woman who'd just reached it. Without glancing behind, he locked the door to keep her out.

"Hey, angel."

The look on Naruto's face was a sight worth seeing. He looked both furious and disbelieving. Somewhat nervous, too. He didn't seem at all pleased to see his better half, which Gaara could've taken offense to, but couldn't bother.

"Did you just throw a printer out the window?" he asked instead, making his way towards the blonde. Naruto scowled.

"Yes. Yes, I fucking did", he grunted, stare following the approaching man. "Now answer the question. What the hell are you doing here?"

Unlike expected, Gaara didn't stop by the desk, but instead went to stand in front of the window and gazed down at the street a hundred feet below.

"Came to see you", he replied. Naruto bit the inside of his cheek to keep his calm.

"That ain't what I meant, and you know it."

Before Gaara could even begin to wonder how to further avoid answering the blonde's question, Hinata's voice flooded through the speaker on the desk.

"I'm sorry, Naruto. I tried to stop him, but"

Before she'd even finished, the blonde grunted her a reply. "It's fine. I'll deal with it."

Gaara smirked, speaking before Naruto could. "Met your secretary. Pretty girl."

The blonde's already hostile stare turned only more so. "Are you fuckin' serious? That's what you're here for? Cause you're jealous of her?"

"No", chuckled Gaara, but frowned quickly after. "Well, wasn't till I saw her. Funny you didn't mention she's a walkin' cum magnet."

Naruto sighed, his arms crossed and eyes rolling to the back of his head. Eyes which he wished to claw out.

"I told you. I'm not attracted to her", he reminded, earning a ridiculing snort.

"You ain't?" doubted the redhead. Naruto raised a curious eyebrow.

"And you are?"

Gaara shrugged. "There's worse things I could stick my dick into."

Needless to say, Naruto was not impressed. "Well fuck you too."

"Fuck's sake", huffed the redhead, turning to face him, "I'm joking."

"That's a first", the other one mumbled, not finding the supposed humor.

Gaara merely rolled his eyes and reached into his pocket to take out the real reason behind his unannounced visit.

"Here. You forgot your phone", he grunted, offering it to the other one to take. Naruto glanced down at it, the scowl on his face lessening.

"Oh. Thanks", he said upon taking it.

"No problem", assured the redhead, walking past him and casually taking a seat on the man's chair. Just because.

Naruto sighed. "I said thanks, not 'take a fuckin' seat'. You can leave now."

Gaara feigned a thoughtful look, pretending to consider it. "Nah. I'm good."

He ignored the annoyed look given to him, instead searching for entertainment in what surrounded him. It was a boring room, really. White walls, each one unnecessarily far from one another. Though the room was spacious, not much was in it. Apart from the chair and desk, and the crap cluttering it, there was but a shelf, a few chests of drawers and a sectional couch with a couple of seemingly uncomfortable designer armchairs placed beside it. There was no denying it was a modern and expensive looking place, but good god was it boring.

"I got work to do", the blonde attempted to bargain, to no avail.

"Then work. I won't mind", Gaara promised, rudely pulling open and going through the desk's drawers.

The content was disappointing. Papers, files and staplers after another, the most interesting find being a half-eaten chocolate bar. Though not a fan of sweet things, he decided to bite into it, while continuing to violate the blonde's professional privacy.

"I can't. You're in the way", Naruto rightfully pointed out.

Gaara didn't answer, but instead scowled and gave up hope of ever finding anything interesting in the drawers. His curiosity didn't end there. Instead it took notice of the papers on the desk and compelled him to grab one to read. Gaara could only assume he was crossing a crucial line, as the blonde was quick to snatch the document from him and move to stand between him and the desk. Laying a firm glare on the pale man, Naruto sighed.

"That's classified. No touch. No look. No nothin'", he explained slowly, as if to a child. "Now, get out of my seat, fucker."

The redhead said nothing, merely leaned back in the chair and stared. He took another bite of the chocolate bar, only to make a face immediately after.

"This tastes like shit", he declared, looking at it with disgust.

Naruto snatched that away from him too. "Then don't fuckin' eat it."

Gaara didn't argue, definitely did not ask to have it back. But now he was bored again. He decided that law firms were tedious and attorneys no fun whatsoever. Not in their natural habitat of pretentious offices and piles of paperwork, anyway. Which, funnily enough, sparked an idea. A delightfully bad one, as implied by the smirk on his lips. Naruto dreaded to even ask.


His tone of voice couldn't have been more reluctant in advance. Gaara hardly let it bother. Smirk no less prominent, he finally did leave the seat, only to trap the blonde between him and the desk. Naruto found the gesture no more promising than the smirk. With good reason.

"Ever had sex in your office?"

Stupefied silence answered the brash question. Naruto stared at the man in utter disbelief, before bursting into a laughter equally as disbelieving.

"No, I haven't. And I never will", he assured, again slowly, as if to a complete moron. In fairness, Gaara didn't seem far off of one.

"Why not? Could be fun", the redhead mumbled from between lips that'd found their way on his neck.

"'Cause I work here, and would rather keep it that way", reasoned Naruto, not pushing the man away, but neither giving anything but the cold shoulder.

Judging by the supposedly subtle manner in which he aimed to unbutton the blonde's shirt, Gaara either hadn't listened or was miserly with his fucks to give.

"Don't be loud and no one's gon' know", he suggested.

Naruto grunted. "Wow, sounds like a fuckin' blast."

Gaara sighed, momentarily abandoning the mission to undress him.

"You always been this boring?"

"If you're lookin' to get laid, you're doin' it wrong."

"When have we ever fucked anywhere not boring?"

The blonde took in a breath as deep as the list was long. "The car, hotel maintenance closet, public bathroom, random parking lot, that time in the fuckin' woods-"

"Yeah, yeah, I get the fuckin' point", Gaara grunted, but wasn't satisfied. "Don't change the fact that I'll be walkin' out that door with a full salute. Cause that ain't shady at all."

Naruto raised an unimpressed brow, but couldn't help the crooked smile. "Don't know what you've heard, but blackmail ain't a turn-on."

"No. But I am", claimed Gaara, smirking lips stealing a kiss from the blonde who wished it'd been possible to deny one.

"So modest", he chuckled with sarcasm, yet found himself leaning in for another one. A kiss never killed no one, he reasoned.

"It's hard", replied the redhead, to which Naruto could only huff.

"You ain't even tryin'", he accused. Gaara cracked a smirk, inching away to display it.

"Ain't what I meant."

The blonde paused, frowned, glanced down and then back up again. Not about to admit that half of him had a mind of its own, one contradicting every word that fell from his mouth, he instead answered the question he knew would follow.

"No. You are not goin' to fuck me on the desk."

The statement certainly strove for finality, which Naruto felt a sense of pride for. And as the redhead said nothing, merely stared with a narrow gaze, he almost dared to assume the man would admit defeat and give up. That was until his smirk returned and jacket disappeared, shirt following suit immediately after. He could not have looked more obnoxious. Nobody could've.

"Are you sure?"

Not in the slightest, Naruto found himself thinking, as he stared at the reason behind most of his bad decisions, yet refused to admit it out loud. He felt it, the tingle of common sense exiting his body in one swift whiff. He stood there with his arms crossed as if aiming to seem indifferent, when in reality, he was just trying to keep his hands to himself. The plan was dead on arrival. It was downright embarrassing how quick he was to flip off every rule in the book, grab the shirtless man by the neck and smash his mouth against an obnoxious grin. Despite being halfway into removing his tie, he still made an attempt at condemning the redhead's dumb idea.

"You're evil and play dirty."

The lips against his smirked, while a pair of hands rushed to unbutton his shirt before he could change his mind.

"Ain't complainin', evil and dirty gets me laid."

Though uttered in a hurry and between mouthfuls of code of conduct violations, Naruto heard him just fine, yet did nothing to prove him wrong. Instead he eagerly unbuckled the other's belt while allowing himself to be backed towards the desk and eventually against it, hard enough for half a ton of clutter to fall over the edge. Since that was the case, Gaara found no problem in reaching behind him to clear out the rest as well, making convenient room on which to throw him on, but also resulting in a loud thud, a sound neither of them bothered to acknowledge. Someone outside the room certainly did.

"What was that? Are you okay? Did something happen?"

Hinata's unwanted participation did not hinder Gaara's mission to rip off the other's shirt, but did earn a frustrated groan from Naruto. Blindly reaching towards the intrusive device spewing out badly timed questions, he was forced to momentarily take a break from all things delightful and grunt a reply. Judging by the teeth on his neck, the redhead did not particularly mind.

"Nothing, yes, and no. I'm busy."

Dropping both the talkback as well as his interest in it, he went back to struggling out of his shirt and being teased with touches that deliberately missed their target. Annoying, by any standard. Yet, not as annoying as followup questions from someone who wasn't in the room, but might as well have been.

"Are you sure? Should...should I call security?"

Naruto opened his eyes and bit the inside of his cheek before grabbing the disruptive thing once more and snarling into it from about an inch away.

"No, you should not. I'm fine."

Barely a heartbeat went by before her voice was heard yet again.

"...Okay, but no need to be a di—"

Finally, Gaara grew tired of wasting time he could've spent with a dick in his hand on listening to the woman's endless inquiry and snatched the devilish speaker to himself to ripped out its cord. It went silent and he back to exploring the inside of a mouth too eager for its professional dignity. It met its end when the blonde suddenly paused, inched away and expressed doubt.

"Wait. You got—"

"—a mood killer?"

Gaara, not a fan of 'cock-choking latex prisons', as he exhaustively called them. Generally speaking, Naruto didn't mind, but spontaneously speaking, he definitely did.

"I don't care what you call 'em, I am not gon' let you blow a load in me in the middle of a workday."

The redhead scowled. Though not ecstatic, neither was he about to waste a perfectly good chance at getting laid. Thus he dug through the seven billion pockets men's clothing tended to include, hoping that luck was on his side, yet not forgetting to look displeased throughout the search. As a rare twist of fate, luck was on a good mood. Naruto looked less impressed than he.

"And how long's that been in there? Since the moon landing?"

"Don't know, don't care", grunted the redhead, ripped the thing open with his teeth and laid a demanding stare on the blonde. "Now shut up and let me fuck you dumb."

The blonde narrowed his gaze, but followed with a smirk and did nothing to object when turned to face the other way. Judging by the annoyed grunt behind him, Gaara was no happier about the rubber than he'd been a second ago.

"I fuckin' hate these things", he bitterly mumbled, causing Naruto to mock him with a chuckle.

"You gonna manage it?" he sneered, only to feel a hand grab a fistful of his hair. Not harshly, but firmly.

"Already did. Be less of a dick, it ain't attractive", Gaara scolded, unbuckling the other's belt.

Naruto laughed, head falling backwards against the redhead's shoulder. "Don't tell me that don't sound ironic to you."

Instead of replying, the man focused on undressing the blonde exactly to the point at which he no longer minded the general existence of his clothes, only then bothering to return the look given to him.

"You talk too much", he declared, stifling any potential comebacks the only way that'd proven itself useful.

Though the blonde at times questioned why he let this inconsiderate bastard anywhere near him, let alone inside, he was yet to disallow either. His persuasive methods of silencing might've played a part in it. And, perhaps, the hand working to ensure he wouldn't feel neglected. Still, spontaneity between men had its definite downsides, which he shortly found himself reminded of. In his annoyed opinion, the redhead could've at least warned him.

"Fuckin' cunt", he grunted, instinctively grabbing the edge of the desk.

"Sorry", mumbled Gaara, though didn't sound even distantly so.

"No you ain't", accused Naruto, shutting his eyes in mild discomfort. It didn't really matter how slow the man was with his inconsideration, it felt no less like an invasive surprise.

"Don't blame me. It ain't like you were any better prepared", the redhead argued, with a voice that was less words than it was air.

"The fuck did you expect? A barrel of lube next to my license to practice law?" hissed the blonde, still not exactly comfortable. A flinch per inch, was how he would've described it.

There were two things about sex that could only be learned through experience. Firstly, it was always a lot more about technicalities than it was about mindless desire and ingenious instinct.

"I'm expectin' you to shut the fuck up", grunted the redhead, less than thoughtful with his movements.

Secondly, technicalities didn't mean it wasn't at all about mindless desire and ingenious instinct.

"How 'bout you just go fuck yours—"

Surprised by a feeling much more pleasant, his sentence fell short of completion, instead ending in an unplanned groan. Which, of course, compelled the other one to smirk as if the winner of something or other.

"Happy?" he sneered. The reply was honest, if nothing else.

"If you stop, I'll throw you out the window too."

Eager to please, and to be pleased, he didn't stop. In return, he earned a few poorly stifled sounds, all of which reminded him to never again claim that nothing in life felt rewarding. While beyond pleased about every last little moan he managed to tempt out, they weren't exactly inconspicuous. Commenting on the noise a good five minutes into it might've been a little too late, but perhaps still better than never.

"You wanna get caught?" he mumbled against a curved neck, though did nothing to help the issue.

"Your fault, fucker", accused the other one, no less generous with his breathy sounds.

In fairness, he was right. Something he hadn't taken into consideration beforehand was the fact that the risk of getting caught might've made the whole thing just a tad too fun. Fun enough to turn him into a trembling mess of lust and add a sound to go with it. Neither of which was something that was known to make a man last very long.

"I'm one moan away from done, so shut the fuck up."

His hands too restless to find a place to stay were a testimony to his claim and kryptonite to the blonde.

"Don't you fuckin' dare."

Cruel cunt, thought the redhead, yet did his best not to be the easy one. A matter of dignity, really. In his less than humble opinion, he would've deserved a medal for every second of durability after the five minute mark. Anybody would've, had they spent those minutes thrusting into this stray bit of nirvana, a term he'd deemed fitting. Though perhaps a matter of dignity, there wasn't a shred of it attached to how he went about achieving it. Really all he could do was pretend he wasn't even in the room and silently pray his dick played along. With a success rate of four out of ten, the method wasn't exactly foolproof, and judging by the muffled profanity he heard fall out of his mouth, this instance wasn't one of those four. Neither was he self-contained enough to keep it a secret, a weakness he received no praise for.


Really? That breathy plead was supposed to solve the problem?

"Fuck you."

"You are."

Not much longer I ain't, thought Gaara for another minute, his nails digging into the blonde's side and stomach. Just as he was beginning to feel like he wanted to cry out of pure desperation, the other one suddenly jerked forward. Naruto could confidently claim, he hadn't seen it coming. Silent puns aside, he crossed a limit he hadn't been aware existed. In addition to the perfectly familiar feel of release, he briefly lost all control of his body and could've sworn he blacked out for a split second. Hadn't Gaara been smart enough to clasp a hand over his mouth, the entire building would've known he'd blown a load while on duty. Even while struggling to stay standing, he knew it wasn't a preferable reason to get fired for. Left in a strange kind of daze, he barely even registered the arm holding him tightly against a strong chest, hardly noticed the teeth sinking into his shoulder, and couldn't have cared less about the muffled cry that left the man who stopped pretending like he could've lasted a second longer. Undoubtedly a sound of great contentment, Naruto supposed, but still was fairly convinced that out of the two of them, he'd won this round.

Roughly five minutes and half-assed cleanup later, they both sat on the floor under a cracked open window, smoking cigarettes they really shouldn't have and blankly stared at the wall ahead. It'd been a quiet and baffled few minutes. Naruto had managed to throw his shirt back on, though left it unbuttoned. Out of laziness, more than anything. Gaara, on the other hand, had barely bothered to zip his jeans. He'd never been above indolence. About halfway through his cigarette, Naruto finally mustered the will to speak.

"I can't believe I just came on my desk."

"I can't believe I literally fucked it out of you."

The blonde pulled a frown, at no one in particular. "Didn't know that was possible."

The other one flashed a smug smirk, also at no one in particular. "Didn't know I'm just that fuckin' good."

"So modest", Naruto snorted, yet again.

"Modest don't fuck the cum out of ya."

"Okay, yeah, you made your point", the blonde grunted, rolling his eyes. "I'm just gon' call it dumb luck."

"Get fucked."

"Just did."

The two exchanged glances, both bursting into a laughter. Still chuckling, Naruto reached around the other one to chuck the burnt remains of his cigarette out the ajar window, before lazily picking himself off the floor. Kindly enough, he offered his hand to help the redhead up as well. Given that the last of the drugs were beginning to wear off, Gaara didn't even consider turning down the gesture. The ache was returning, but he found no real reason to complain. Though the high had worn off about halfway into the ride there, he'd still managed another kind of ride completely painless. Fair enough, in his opinion.

"How fucked do I look?" asked the blonde, sighing tiredly.

Gaara watched him with his head tilted to the side, wondering whether to lie or not. Supposing that Naruto didn't pass any mirrors for the rest of the day, he might not notice the messy hair, faint bite marks on his neck or the overall look of sin stuck to his face. But since it essentially was his fault, the redhead decided he might as well be direct about it.

"As fucked as possible."


Chuckling at the blonde's sour face, Gaara offered help by buttoning his shirt, which Naruto didn't complain about.

"I have a meeting in an hour, y'know", he told, only to be laughed at.


"And, I'll probably waste it thinking 'bout you, dickhead", the blonde admitted, hands finding their way on the other's waist.

"As you fuckin' should", claimed Gaara, fastening the last button but not letting go of the collar. Naruto huffed, half amused, half sarcastic.

"Or, maybe I'll just daydream 'bout the intern in charge of my coffee. He's got a great ass."

"You're playin' with fire, pretty boy", the redhead grunted halfheartedly and threw on his own shirt. "I gotta go. Got shit to do."

"Like what?" pried the blonde, struggling to get his tie back in order.

One would think that after years of wearing one every day, he would've gotten the hang of it already. Luckily Gaara was there, and for some unimaginable reason, better at knotting a tie than him.

"Like gettin' into this one guy's hotel room and makin' him do things for me", the pale one told, flashing a mocking smirk. Despite now wearing a perfectly knotted tie, Naruto looked less than impressed.

"You better be talkin' about Suigetsu, or your sorry ass is single", he grunted, running his fingers through red hair in a failed attempt to make it look even somewhat presentable.

"You started, angel", Gaara argued, fixing the blonde's collar while having his belt fastened without being asked.

"Whatever, psycho", mumbled Naruto and waited for Gaara to put on his jacket, before grabbing the helm of it and dragging the man to the door. "You got what you wanted. Now get out."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm goin'", the redhead promised, yet stopped him from opening the door. For no other reason but to push him against it, stealing a kiss to avoid objections.

It did its job silencing the blonde, giving him a chance to simply look at him. He aimed to smirk, but ended up smiling instead. He supposed he had no real reason to keep his thoughts to himself.

"I can't believe you're real."

His smile was returned with a confused one.


His reply, it wasn't irrational. Not to him.

"Because nothin' in the world was supposed to be perfect."

The blonde's lips parted. He looked surprised until another smile.

"Get out, before I marry you."

Gaara's smile finally turned into the smirk it'd been intended as and once more visited against a matching one, before he unlocked the door and cracked it open. And then he was gone. Softly shutting the door behind him, Naruto pressed his back against it and closed his eyes. The dumb smile wasn't something he could fight off. He felt like a lovesick teenager, but defended himself by doubting that many people got to be as stupidly in love with someone as stupidly charming. Every now and then, he felt luckier than he deserved to be.

Gaara heard the door click shut behind him. He stayed to stand in front of it, just a bit too curious not to glance at the woman still sitting to the right. She returned the look given, but said nothing. Neither one did. Openly staring at her, Gaara tried to figure out whether or not she knew what'd happened. Judging by the disturbed frown and piercing gaze, she might've. But they might just as well have been nothing but her general opinion of him. Clearly she'd recognized him, that went without saying. She didn't like him. Very few did. But as always, Gaara cared nowhere near enough to ask. He tore his gaze away intending to leave, but found himself pausing at the sound of her voice. She sounded...displeased.


He took his time to look her way, took even longer to reply.


The woman's eyes narrowed, annoyed by his vagueness.

"Why are you here?" she then asked, as direct as one could be.

Gaara took a moment to figure out which lie to pick from. Or if he even wanted to lie. In the end, he chose neither.

"Why do you think?" he asked in return, curious of what she'd say. Somewhat surprisingly, she had an answer ready and waiting.

"You want something from him. From Naruto."

He huffed, smirking. "Well, you ain't wrong."

"What is it?" she pried without shame. "And what are you holding over him?"

The redhead shrugged. "Why don't you ask him?"

Her firm gaze faltered, if only momentarily. "Because I know he wouldn't tell me."

At least she was honest about it. Which Gaara could've respected, but instead used against her.

"Then you obviously don't need to know."

Pleased by the almost angry look in her eyes, he gave the woman no chance to further waste his time and left her and her angry stare behind. The hallway leading to the elevator was a fairly lengthy one, but had a clear view all the way there. So, even from that distance, he could see the doors slide open and someone step out. Given his general disinterest in people around him, he gave them no acknowledgment and never intended to. But as they began walking down the same hallway as him, something about them caught his attention. They, a man with long, black hair and fair complexion, not quite as tall as him, yet taller than average. But most importantly, a man whose face looked too familiar to go unnoticed.

He'd seen him somewhere. But where?

The entire walk to the midpoint of the hallway he was free to stare without them ever looking his way. But upon reaching that midpoint, and the moment at which they passed one another, the man did glance his way, cracking a subtle smirk. The instant he caught the smirk from the corner of his eye, time suddenly slowed down. That one, single second stretched out to fit in a memory from years ago. A memory, and a man, he'd entirely forgotten about.

It was January 19th, 2002. It was his 16th birthday, to be exact. But unlike most sixteen year olds, Gaara wasn't surrounded by family, friends and pretentious festivities. No, he was surrounded by a family of criminals, friends he never learned the names of due to the high turnover, and festivities that had nothing to do with him. Armed with a semi-automatic tactical rifle, he stood by his mentor, guarding the man sitting a small distance ahead and fighting the inevitable boredom the task came with. Four long and slow hours he'd stood still as a statue and ready to shoot at any unwanted behavior, the way he was supposed to. Much of his work was just that, standing and waiting to pull the trigger. But rarely was it as painfully tedious as it were then. Though a yearly necessity, one he was well used to by then, it never seized to bore him to death.

The man he was there to guard was the man his entire existence revolved around. Pain, he was called. The leader of thousands of murderers, sex traffickers and dope distributors. The leader of everything that was wrong with the nation. But most importantly, the leader of him. Of all of them.

In order to keep his leadership a firm fact, the man would hold a lavish and haughty get-together for all of his most important acquaintances and followers. They'd get showered with booze, drugs, women and everything in between, efficiently making the whole show seem like a generous gesture, when in reality, it was but a theatrical manifesto of the man's absolute power and prestige. Gaara's armed presence was perfect proof of that. Pain didn't trust a single one of these pathetic fucks. Whether or not they bought the bullshit didn't matter. None of them were strong enough to fight against the primal lust and greed for everything the Leader had to offer.

Gaara didn't find the supposed temptation in it. Though they qualified as an occasional pastime, he wasn't there for the sex, the drugs, not even the money. He was there to pry life out of living beings. Perhaps that was why he was the Leader's favorite.

In four hours a wide variety of fellow sinners had come and gone, yet the number of them hadn't lessened in the least. Most of them Gaara recognized, making his job easier, and thus, more boring. His only entertainment was in listening to the occasional moron come up to the Leader and suck up to his supposedly holy ass in hopes of favoritism. Needless to say, it didn't cure his boredom. At the five hour mark, just as he was beginning to think that firing the rifle at his own mouth wasn't such a bad idea, he finally was given a reason to be more alert.

A man, one he didn't recognize, walked up to the Leader. Gaara could instantly tell, he wasn't like the rest of them. No, he carried himself with honest dignity, instead of pretentious pride. He had long, black hair, white skin and eyes as dark as night. He wasn't short, but neither was he particularly tall. Handsome, in his own right. Lean, almost delicate, yet looked strong. He was dressed smart, not flashy. For just a moment, one barely worth mentioning, the man's eyes found his. A flash of curiosity visited them, before they turned to look away. And Gaara couldn't help but feel intrigued.

There was something about him, something...morbid, that fascinated Gaara. And though he couldn't quite pinpoint the reason, it didn't stop him from discreetly leaning towards his mentor and speaking his first words in five long hours.

"Who's that?"

Sasori scowled, clearly not impressed by the boy's decision to speak, but decided to let it slide.

"Stand straight, face forward", he grunted, and only after being obeyed, replied. "He's...an old friend of the Leader's."

Gaara tilted his head curiously. "One of us?"

"No. Not really", told the older one. "He cleaned up his act. Went to study forensic science, of all things."

"Then why's he here?" the younger redhead couldn't help but wonder. Sasori smirked.

"Pain has a soft spot for him. And the information he can give. He's made it far up the ladder. Heard he's aiming to make president of the National Research Institute of Police Science."

"The fuck is that?" grunted Gaara, only to receive a disappointed glare.

"Exactly what it fuckin' sounds like", huffed the other one. "They study a number of things. Crime in particular. They possess a great deal of information, statistics, and knowledge of old and current cases. In other words, they know everything we wish we did."

Gaara was sixteen, barely. Thus Gaara yawned, even less entertained than before.

"You boring old fuck."

Sasori rolled his eyes. "Dumb child."

"Fuck you."

"Nah, you're too young. Better wait a couple years."

Gaara flipped the man off, and though Sasori cracked a mocking smirk, it didn't stop him from giving the younger one a firm slap on the back of his head.

"Stand straight. You're sixteen, act like it."

The stubborn redhead did as told, only then realizing what the man had said. He flinched, instantly losing his posture again. He turned to find his mentor facing forward, but smiling crookedly at the boy's surprised face, which shortly grew only more so.

"Happy birthday, Gaara." A tired sigh followed. "Now stand the fuck straight or it'll be your last."

The second passed, as did the flashback. The distant memory of his mentor, the Leader he'd murdered and the family he never learned to fit in, they all were gone. But that one face, the one he'd found worthy of morbid fascination at the mere age of sixteen, it was right there. And as they passed one another, gazes locking for that split second, he felt no less fascinated by him. Yet he didn't glance over his shoulder, didn't turn to watch the man go. The instant they'd passed each other, time returned to its natural speed of flow and Gaara back to reality. Suddenly riddled with questions he could not answer, he made his way to the elevator, pushed the button and watched the doors slide open. He then stepped inside, turned to face the opening and watched askance as the man disappeared from view. For half a heartbeat, he wanted to go after him, but didn't. And as he let the doors slide shut before him, he cursed the reason why.

It wasn't only the brief exchange of glances from fourteen years ago that explained why the man looked so familiar. No, more than anything, it was because his face wasn't one of a kind. Well, hadn't always been.

Unless he'd encountered a ghost, which he deemed unlikely, the man was the last living Uchiha.

There. There's sex. Y'all fuckin' happy now?