Chapter 1

Naruto would never forget the look on Gaara's face when he walked in late to the Gokage meeting, with Sakura and Sasuke in tow. Shock, at first, because Naruto hadn't told Gaara that he'd finally become Hokage – he had a flair for the dramatics and wanted it to be a surprise – when Naruto smiled and waved at him, Gaara smiled back, subtly, but his eyes were clearly beaming with pride. Naruto had been nervous, but every time he said something that was misinformed, Gaara would gently correct him or guide him towards a better version of his idea while being careful not to embarrass him in front of the others. Naruto was grateful, if simply for the fact that Gaara kept him from putting his foot too far in his mouth in his very first meeting.

Naruto noticed that immediately after the meeting finished, Gaara was the first to approach him to formally congratulate him. All of his friends back home had been really happy for him too, but there was something about the way Gaara took both of his hands in his own and murmured how proud he was of him that was so intimate, yet so out in the open that it nearly sent him into a tizzy. Thankfully he didn't have to try and respond, since the others were all swarming around him to give him compliments. Naruto was very flustered at first since he still wasn't used to all the attention from everyone, but as the others trickled out the door to go back the hotel they were all staying at until morning, he and Gaara launched into more casual conversation, each telling the other all of the things – both good and bad – that had happened to each other since they'd last spoken.

Naruto saw how impatient Sasuke and Sakura were getting, so he dismissed them and said he'd catch up later. Gaara followed suit with his siblings, but they lingered a little longer, not sure if it was the best idea to leave them. But Naruto discreetly nodded at them because he figured they were probably worried; he silently let them both know that he'd look out for their "little brother." It felt weird to Naruto to hear them refer to Gaara like that, but he couldn't help but wonder how much weirder it must have felt when one of them said it to Gaara for the first time.

Mid-discussion, Naruto hopped up on the meeting table and sat with his knees apart to get comfortable. He'd been trying so hard to make a good impression by standing and sitting up straight that it felt good to finally relax his posture. He leaned forward and propped himself up by resting his palms at the table's edge. He looked at Gaara as he spoke and noticed that like himself, Gaara had grown more and more comfortable as the others left and as it came down to just the two of them. Naruto took pride in that, taking it to mean that Gaara felt more at ease with him than with his own family, even.

Naruto watched Gaara closely as they spoke. When Gaara told stories about back home, he always had this distant look in his eyes, as if he was taking a part of himself back to that time. And he always seemed to make the end of each story have to do with their bond. He often put a hand over his heart for emphasis, to the point where Naruto usually had to look away to keep his composure. He couldn't control how much his face flushed, but he at least tried to control how much of it Gaara witnessed.

And when Naruto spoke, which was more often than not, Gaara always nodded and occasionally smiled slightly, urging him to continue. He didn't admit it to Naruto, but ever since this one time where Naruto confided in him about how he always felt like he annoyed people with his ramblings, Gaara had made it his personal mission to appear even more welcoming and interested in what Naruto was saying than he already was. He knew he had a knack for appearing off-putting, so he tended to overcompensate with Naruto. It had taken a while for the blond to get used to the intensity of Gaara's gaze, but he loved having someone that seemed to actually like listening to him chatter on and on. Naruto always looked forward to getting to spend time with him.

Naruto realized that he must have been daydreaming for longer than he'd thought, because Gaara suddenly trailed off from what he was saying, "… Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Naruto said, shaking his head to dismiss the concern that had seeped into Gaara's expression, "I'm just… We really did it, huh?" He said, flashing a grin, "We made it."

"Yeah," Gaara agreed softly, not needing Naruto to elaborate. They'd been talking for years about how they were looking forward to both being Kage together.

Before Naruto could register what was happening Gaara had walked closer to where he was sitting and embraced him loosely, resting his face against Naruto's shoulder. After an initial moment of surprise – and awkwardness at having Gaara between his legs – Naruto returned the gesture, hugging him tightly against his chest.

After a long moment, Naruto spoke, "I missed you so much, Gaara," he said, closing his eyes and leaning back slightly.

"I've missed you too," Gaara responded with a carefully placed tone, muffled into Naruto's shoulder, but Naruto could still hear the ache in his voice. Naruto squeezed him tighter in response and pulled up slightly on his lower back, forcing him to shift his weight off of his heels. Gaara let his fingers run through the hair that fell down Naruto's neck, and Naruto slowly moved one of his hands up and down Gaara's back in a soothing motion.

After about a minute, Naruto murmured, "We should probably head out." Naruto tensed as he heard his own voice crack.

Gaara agreed and pulled away, and Naruto could see that Gaara's eyes were a little puffy, which is also what he assumed his own eyes to be, "Were you crying?" Naruto blurted, and he blushed furiously as he realized that the question that was meant to stay in his mind had made it past his lips. He didn't mean to put him on the spot like that.

But Gaara didn't seem offended by the accusation, "Not quite, but I think I was on my way there," He replied blankly. Naruto's heart dropped into his stomach at the honesty. He hopped off the table and as Gaara turned towards the door, the former put his hand on his upper back to try and comfort him. Gaara turned his face to look at him and hesitated for a moment before pulling away and changing the subject, "Did you book a room in advance?" He asked, even though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.

"No… Why, do you think it'll be an issue?"

"It's supposed to snow a bit tonight; hopefully not too badly, but there might be more people taking shelter there than usual," Gaara explained.

"Oh…. Well hopefully Sasuke and Sakura were able to get there fast enough to get us a room," Naruto said, a little disconcerted. Gaara looked doubtful.

"If not, my siblings and I booked one of the two larger suites, so there's plenty of room for you all," Gaara said quickly, sensing Naruto's discomfort at the prospect of not having somewhere to sleep.

"Wow, a suite?"

"We like to treat ourselves every once in a while," Gaara said, but Naruto knew better than to think Gaara was the one who had much to do with it. He was a very simple person, and he imagined it must infuriate his siblings.

"Ah, thanks… Is it okay if I take you up on that offer either way?" Naruto asked, laughing a little, "I think if Sasuke and Sakura managed to get a room they might want to…. Well you know…"

Gaara didn't know, and it was apparent in his confused expression. Naruto made a crude hand gesture to explain, and Gaara turned his head away with a noticeable urgency, which made the blond laugh aloud.

Gaara reached to pull the door open and the moment it un-clicked the wind took it and threw it wide open, with Gaara's sand being the only thing that stood between him and a possible concussion. The wind pushed Gaara back violently and Naruto grabbed for him on instinct, keeping him steady, "Hopefully not too badly?" Naruto quoted him from earlier, laughing nervously. It was turning into a full-blown blizzard! Naruto struggled to get the door to shut again, and then leaned his back against it, "Should we just stay here?"

"We don't have enough food or water, and the others are expecting us..."

Naruto's stomach growled aggressively, agreeing with Gaara. The blond cursed under his breath, banging his fist against the door.

"I didn't think it was going to get this bad," Gaara admitted, "We should have left sooner, but I lost track of the time. I'm sorry…"

"It's not your fault, Gaara… I wasn't paying attention either; don't worry about it," Naruto thought for a moment; the storm was just beginning to pick up, so he figured if they were fast they could make it back, "The hotel's not that far from here, right?"

"Right, but I don't know how the visibility will be with all of the snow. We'd risk getting lost."

"Let's see… I can use sage mode to sense everyone's chakras at the hotel – that should help us with direction… As long as we don't freeze to death out there," Naruto joked with a nervous laugh, but after a moment he wished he hadn't tempted fate by saying it out loud.

"I'm okay with whatever you want to do," Gaara said without the slightest hint of doubt. Naruto felt his face get hot and suddenly found it too uncomfortable to maintain eye contact. He had started to get used to people trusting and putting their faith in him, but something about having Gaara – someone he'd always seen as independent and cautious – blindly trust him still threw him for a loop. He took a moment to think it over. It was certainly safer to stay there, but Gaara was right: they didn't have food or enough water, and Naruto was already really hungry. The storm would probably last all night and they'd be weak and vulnerable in the morning. And what if they were snowed in? He wasn't sure if the two of them would be able to dig themselves out if they were exhausted and malnourished. But from the few seconds the door was open the storm seemed pretty bad. Naruto assessed their clothing. Their arms and legs were covered but their hands, feet, and faces were mostly exposed.

"Let's go," Naruto declared, "We'll need to hurry," he elaborated, and Gaara nodded. They braced themselves as Naruto wrenched the door back open, and the two of them set off into the storm.