Disclaimer: I do not in any way own the series Naruto or any of its characters featured within.

My first attempt at a slightly Naruto/Gaara story. Just something that sort of came to me in a moment's introspection. No real spoilers. Hope you all enjoy.

A Mere Existence

The streets of Konoha were quiet and so very empty. Naruto should have been used to the silence, but it frightened him each time he encountered it anew. This time, he didn't bother fighting it, simply making his way through the cold, dark streets to his destination.

No eyes followed him; no hateful gazes tore at his back. It would be a relief if he didn't know what it meant. He tried to ignore it, but the feeling never left. Perhaps he shouldn't have come back this time. Did it really even matter any more whether he did? He liked to think so, and even if it didn't, it made him feel better. At least for a while.

A strong gust of wind blew at his dark robes, black cloth billowing around to blind him for just a moment, but a moment was all it took for everything to vanish.

A sea of deep green surrounded him, peppered with white and yellow. A thin straight trail lay before him, but that was all. There was no Konoha.

He really should be used to this by now.

Hokage Tower once stood in the centre of Konoha, a proud monument for all the villagers of the Hidden Leaf. Bustling markets and tall buildings stood nearby, busy with movement and echoing with laughter and delight. A white wall was all that remained, the Tower and Konoha buried beneath long grass and flowers. If you looked just over the top of the white wall the mountain range was still visible, framed by unbroken blue. If you stared at it long enough, the mountain almost stared back. Faces of ghosts haunted those who dared venture into the sacred ground.

Naruto stood before the wall, looking out at the range. Perhaps later he would go there and watch the sun set. For now, he sat before the wall, flowers in one hand, and a ceramic jug in the other. He removed his outer robe, the concealing darkness falling away to reveal the bright orange familiar to the village. A tired smile crossed his face, no longer lighting it up with happiness as it used to. Gloved fingers traced over engravings in the stone before they clenched and pulled away.

"It's not enough," he whispered, "But I hope you all rest well."

He poured the sweet sake stored in his jug onto the grass before the wall and placed the flowers at its base before kneeling and closing his eyes.

"You do this to yourself every year, don't you?"

Blue eyes snapped open in irritation before the emotion faded and Naruto turned to stare despondently at the intruder. "Yes."

"I never thought of you as masochistic. To me, the Uchiha seemed to embody that well enough on his own." A hooded cloak so red it appeared black was pushed back to reveal a pale face and darkened eyes. Gaara of the Sand tilted his head curiously. "And yet you don't weep."

Naruto got up and dusted off his pants. "I've cried enough." He picked up his robe and shrugged it on before turning to face Gaara completely. "I'd say it's a surprise to see you, but I'm only surprised I haven't seen you before this."

"We both had our demons to exorcise."

Naruto didn't reply to that. "Why now?" he asked instead.

"It was time," came the cryptic answer.

Naruto scoffed, for a second acting like his old self before he sunk into his new persona. "What clock have you been staring at?"

"Are you tired of feeling sorry for yourself yet?"

"I'm not feeling sorry for myself."

"Then what do you call this?"

"Remembering." Naruto turned his face to the wall again.

Gaara shook his head exasperatedly. "Continuing to remember death will give you nothing."

"I wouldn't expect you to understand," Naruto spat bitterly.

Gaara recoiled as though stung and lowered his head, calming himself before speaking. "Perhaps not," he whispered. "But that is only because I have not yet lost what is most important to me." Naruto's head snapped up in shock. "This is no life Naruto; do you think they enjoy watching you exist in this manner? You who embraced life with a passion unrivalled by any?"

"But how can I live without them?" Naruto clung to the sleeves of Gaara's tunic in desperation. "You say I had a passion for life? That was because of them – I lived for them! I lived to see them happy and loved, to see them safe. My life was dedicated to the people I loved, so who can I live for now that I have no one?"

"You have me."

Naruto gaped at the admission, desperately hoping it was not some trick. But Gaara stared at him so earnestly, his arms griping onto Naruto's as tight as he was holding. Like a lifeline. He closed his eyes and sank to the soft ground, pulling Gaara with him.

"We are all that's left," he mourned. "Is that all I am to you?" he demanded, looking up again. "A final option? An excuse?" Gaara glared, his teal eyes for a moment as cold and hostile as when the two first met. "I'm sorry. I don't want to be nothing more than a stick you cling to in the rapids."

Gaara nodded and unexpectedly smiled. "It might be cruel of me to say this, but I'm glad it's you that's left."

Naruto tried not to let his anger at the statement overpower him. "How so?"

"You changed my life," he said simply. "You showed me there was always something to live for." He watched Naruto carefully before hesitantly asking, "Will you allow me to return the favour now?"

Still staring at Gaara, Naruto's insides twisted painfully. He looked over at the wall, knowing exactly where to find the guidance he needed.

Iruka-sensei. A warm smile and a comforting embrace.

Kakashi-sensei. That little orange book and wise words – even if late-coming.

Ero-sennin. Fine Jiraiya-sennin. An irritated swat to the head and a deep chuckle.

Tsunade-baba. That tongue of fire and loving eyes.

Sakura-chan. An exasperated sigh and a firm shove in the right direction.

Sasuke. That look. Rolling his eyes as though to say "You idiot."

"I suppose eternity wouldn't be so bad with someone else around," he admitted without looking up.

Gaara chuckled lightly, causing Naruto to look up at him in surprise. "I hardly think you were ever alone, Naruto," he explained. "Someone like you isn't meant to live alone. They'd worry about you too much."

A small, yet true smile lit up his features. "They always worry too much," he murmured. Naruto grinned suddenly. "Of course with you around Gaara, I hardly think I need looking after." He stood up and helped his companion to his feet.

"I hope not."

"Nope, definitely won't need any looking after. Of course ..." Gaara stared at him curiously as he turned back to the wall. "I wouldn't mind a visit every now and then."

Gaara moved up behind him and wrapped his arms around him in a light hug. "I'm sure they'll do that."

"They better."

And the ghosts of the mountains agreed, smiling down upon them both.