The wind whipped back and forth, frequently changing directions. The two walked briskly with their heads held down defensively, putting all of their trust in Naruto's sensory skills. Naruto only lasted a couple of minutes before the chill started to set into his bones, "I'm already regretting this," He said, wrapping his arms around himself. Gaara trailed slightly behind him silently. The meeting headquarters was already out of sight, so it wasn't worth going back.
"How are you holding up?" Naruto asked, trying not to sound too worried.
"I'm fine," Gaara responded, but his voice came out too quiet and was almost muted by the roar of the wind.
"Stay close," Naruto urged. Another few minutes passed and Naruto got the idea to try and use Kurama's chakra. It wasn't exactly a reliable heater, but the chakra gave off a little bit of extra warmth, and he figured that every little bit counted, even if it meant exerting extra energy. He split the red aura between the two of them and trudged onwards. He hunched over further and further as the wind's intensity increased. It tore at them violently, causing them both to stagger backwards before continuing. They were about halfway there, but the storm was quickly getting to be far worse than he had imagined.
Soon enough, Naruto spotted a run-down shack that was barely standing, most likely abandoned, "Want to stop there for now?"
There was no answer, "Gaara?" Naruto called out louder, turning around. He was nowhere to be seen, "Gaara?!" Naruto had been so focused on focusing on keeping track of Sakura and Sasuke's chakra sources that he hadn't realized Gaara's was getting further and further away. He sprinted back where they had come from, screaming out for him.
He nearly tripped over his companion, who had crumpled to the ground. Naruto knew it couldn't have been longer than two minutes that he'd been lying there, but he had already been covered in a thick sheet of snow. Naruto frantically yanked him to a sitting position by his shoulders, and the wind tossed the snow off of his clothes, "Gaara, are you okay?!" His eyes were half-open and he moved his lips, but if there was a sound it wasn't loud enough to Naruto to hear, "Shit, this is bad," Naruto thought aloud, panicking. He placed a hand on Gaara's face, his thumb brushing against his cheekbone, and he spoke to Gaara slowly and clearly, in case he could still hear, "I've got you… I'm going to find us some shelter, okay?" He didn't wait for an answer that wasn't going to come. He knew he didn't have the time to figure out how to untie the straps on Gaara's vest, so he grabbed his kunai and cut Gaara away from his gourd, leaving it behind. He slung Gaara over his shoulder and struggled to stand, suddenly realizing how weak he was getting. He quickly carried him over to the small cabin and went inside.
Naruto grimaced; it could barely even be classified as "shelter." There were holes in the walls, and there wasn't a convenient place to "huddle up" since the corners of the room were so drafty. Naruto found a thin ratted blanket on the floor, and even though he knew it wouldn't help much, he shook it out and wrapped it around Gaara. He pressed his back against the doorway adjoining the two rooms and pulled Gaara as close to him as he could, "Hang in there," he murmured. He knew they couldn't stay there long, and if he needed to carry Gaara all the way to the hotel he would, but he also knew that he needed a break from the wind if he wanted to get them both there alive, "I need you to try and stay awake, okay? You don't have to say or do anything but please try to keep your eyes open, okay? Just listen to my voice and try to stay with me," Naruto instructed directly into Gaara's ear. He kept speaking, hoping that Gaara was listening, and hoping that it would keep his own mind too busy to feel any colder. He pressed Gaara's face into his shoulder, trying to shield him from the wind that forced its way inside. He started off by telling silly stories and making jokes about what the others' reactions would be when the two of them finally arrived, but the more he sat there the more terrified he became of losing him, right there in his arms. It didn't help that Gaara's eyes were barely open, and Naruto could see him struggling. As he spoke, tears dotted the corners of his eyes, "I can't lose you Gaara… Please… Don't you dare leave me…" His voice croaked. He remembered the pain of losing Gaara before – that searing, gut-wrenching sadness… That hole that ripped through his heart. Gaara needed him, and more than ever he realized how much he needed Gaara. He couldn't let him die.
He didn't feel ready to move again, but he knew he probably never would. He roughly scooped Gaara up in his arms and charged back outside, battling the elements head-on, "We're going to make it," Naruto yelled over the winds. He kept repeating it, chanting it, as they grew closer and closer to the hotel. He could see it in the distance. Naruto beamed as he saw the lights from the windows. They still had power! He could practically feel the heat already. But as he raced towards the front door he felt his body grow heavier, and his movements became more and more sluggish.
Just a little more, Naruto reasoned, pleading with his body to cooperate long enough to get safely inside. But his legs wouldn't listen. His vision blackened and he tipped forward suddenly, falling into the snow and taking Gaara with him.
Naruto awoke with a start, bolting upright and startling his teammates that were around the bed, "Where's Gaara?" He immediately demanded, attempting to push his friends apart and get on his feet. He was met with Sakura's hand sharply pushing his chest back, practically slamming him back down on the mattress, "Lay down; he's fine. He just woke up a little while ago-"
"Where. Is. He."
Sasuke moved to the side, and past him, and the moment Naruto could see Gaara sitting on the other bed, he visibly relaxed. Gaara was wrapped in multiple blankets and being propped up by his siblings, who were both shooting Naruto vaguely threatening expressions. He knew he was in trouble for this one. He could tell Temari was pissed that he didn't bring Shikamaru as one of his guards, judging from the way her mouth twitched as she blinked repeatedly at Sasuke and Sakura when they first arrived, and now she had more ammunition against him. And it always seemed to Naruto that they both merely tolerated him for Gaara's sake. He could tell they found him to be obnoxious, and didn't find it as endearing as their little brother did. But Naruto started laughing uncontrollably, partly in the sense of overwhelming relief to see that Gaara was okay, and partly because of the fogged look on he had on his face; if he hadn't known better, it looked like he was suffering from a terrible hangover. Gaara tried to force a smile but it just looked like he was cringing.
"You think this is a joke? You two could have died out there!" Sakura scolded.
The lecture continued from there, with Temari and Kankuro occasionally piping in. Naruto zoned out until they were out of breath. He didn't take his eyes off of Gaara, "I'm glad you're okay," Naruto said finally, completely ignoring the others' criticisms. Sakura sighed loudly, tossing her hands in the air and standing up, "I'll be in my room," she said in an exasperated tone, and Sasuke gave Naruto a look to double-check that he was alright, which was met with a confident nod. He followed her out, closing the door behind him.
It took a long time for Gaara to convince his siblings that he was okay, but eventually they left and headed to their own beds for the night. He and Naruto talked quietly for a while, then Naruto peeked around the corner to make sure they were sleeping.
"What are you doing?" Gaara asked in a low voice.
"There's a bar downstairs," Naruto said with a gleam in his eyes. Gaara just blinked at him, so Naruto continued, "What I'm saying is: I want to take you up on your offer."
"What off-" Gaara started, and realized what he meant. Drinking at a bar wasn't exactly what Gaara'd had in mind when he first brought it up a few years earlier, but Naruto looked so genuinely enthused about celebrating his becoming Hokage, "I don't know when it'll be just the two of us again," Naruto added, and he truly wondered about that because of the night's events. It'd be harder to separate from the others now that they didn't trust him.
"Sure," Gaara said softly, standing up. His muscles ached with every movement, still cold. He kept it to himself, but Naruto could see through him, "Here," he said, holding out his jacket. Gaara went to say something, but Naruto's stare told him that it wasn't up for negotiation. He put the jacket on, and Naruto zipped it up. His hand lingered at the top of the zipper as they stood there for a few moments with their eyes locked. Naruto's heart leapt into his throat. Gaara knew this was the moment to thank him for the gesture, but he suddenly felt frozen in place. He couldn't even bring himself to breathe. The silence stretched between them.
"Uh…" Naruto started, suddenly pulling away with flushed cheeks, "Anyway, let's go," he mumbled, opening the door as quietly as he could. Gaara grabbed the key and followed him out. Naruto's heart pounded in his ears as he tried to wrap his head around what just happened between them. He mentally kicked himself for being so embarrassing. He wasn't quite sure where Gaara stood in his heart before, but throughout the course of the night it was becoming clearer to him. Had Gaara noticed, or was he just over thinking it? He wasn't entirely sure how much time had actually passed in that moment. Was his hesitation as obvious at it felt? He tried to re-picture the exact expression Gaara had on his face in that moment; had he felt something too? The idea of having a few drinks to calm down sounded more appealing to him by the second.
They entered the bar; it was dark, which was very inviting to Naruto, who knew his unsteadied emotions were probably written all over his face back in the well-lit lobby. He pulled out his wallet and snorted; he still wasn't used to actually seeing a decent amount of money in there.
Gaara placed his hand on top of Naruto's, "This is on me, remember?"
"Oh, right," Naruto murmured. He was so used to trying to scramble for money, especially now that he had some to spend. He hadn't had someone pay for him in a while. It gave him a feeling of uneasiness in his stomach, but he tried to remember that Gaara didn't seem like the kind of person to bring up favors he'd done later. In fact, he seemed to conveniently only remember the favors Naruto had done for him.
Naruto sat down next to Gaara as he ordered their drinks, nervous about being tipsy in front of him, "I'm actually pretty new to this," Gaara admitted quietly, as if reading his mind.
"Am I going to have to carry you back upstairs?" Naruto teased, and they both relaxed for the first time since Naruto had the idea to head there.
They got their drinks and Gaara raised his slightly, but Naruto interrupted him before he could speak, "Wait. Before we start, I wanted to… Uh…" Naruto immediately regret his decision to speak up.
"What is it?" Gaara asked, still patient.
"I know this is going to sound silly, but… I'm afraid to tell you this now, but I also don't want to wait until I have drinks on board to tell you something this important, y'know?"
Gaara stayed silent. He didn't know what he should be expecting. But he definitely didn't expect Naruto to suddenly give up on words altogether. He grabbed Gaara and leant in close, and – fell right off of his chair and onto the floor.
There were a few laughs from around the bar, but Naruto didn't hear anything from Gaara. He sat there, too mortified to get back to his feet. After a moment, Gaara's hand popped into his view. Naruto took it, still too embarrassed to look at him.
"I'm sorry-" Naruto started.
"It's okay," Gaara said softly, tilting Naruto's chin up with his hand. He pulled Naruto into the kiss he thought he'd ruined his chance for. Naruto loosely wrapped his arms around Gaara's waist.
When they finally broke apart, Naruto grinned, realizing he'd set up his own line, "I can you can say I really, uh, fell for you, huh?"