Title: Expanding
Author: yue kato
Fandom: Naruto
Pairing: Naruto/Gaara
Rating: PG-13
Written: 311005
Notes: Inspired by 30hugs - #1. hazel eyes

Naruto has been visiting Sunagakure more these days, and he finds he doesn't really mind becoming Konaha's de-facto ambassador to the Hidden Village of the Sand. He figures it's one of the most important missions Tsunade could have assigned him - building up relations between the villages and fulfilling Chiyo-baba's dying wish.

He's getting pretty used to the sand getting into his boots, scratchy under his clothes, fine grains clinging to his hair. The wind that gusts across the desert is hot and primal, leaves no quarter and shifts the landscape in its wake. Nowadays, passing through the thick walls surrounding the village, he feels it like a welcoming embrace.

The Kazekage is there to greet him and the jolt still runs through him when he sees the stoic figure without his customary gourd. He doesn't analyse his emotions very well, so he reasons that the twist in this gut is just that (possibly indigestion, not guilt regret relief envy and thank god he's alive).

But Gaara's step seems lighter as they walk through the village to the Kazekage's offices. And he still doesn't talk much, but his silence no longer feels so oppressive and haunted. He knows he's not the only person to think this way - he can see it in the villagers' eyes when they look at their leader, and the spontaneous greetings offered by the younger ones. The more elderly hold back, still wary with the lurking memory of sand stained red, but he believes that with time, even that memory might erode away.

They bump into Temari, on her way to Konohagakure on yet another diplomatic mission. After the pleasantries, they continue on companionably, exchanging infrequent banter, and he thinks that sometimes there are benefits to the quiet that can exist between two people.

The coolness of the shade as they enter the Kazekage's offices is a welcome reprieve from the glaring midday sun, and he entertains himself by watching the activities of the villagers below him while Gaara attends to the most urgent administrative matters at hand. Afterwards, they head out to the training grounds.

Gaara never says it, but he suspects that part of the Sand shinobi misses Shuuhaku, in the same twisted, perverse way he knows he will miss the Kyuubi if he and the bijyuu were ever separated. He can see it in the deepening of a frown when Gaara narrowly dodges one of his attacks, almost forgetting that the sand will not automatically come to his protection anymore. Sometimes, Gaara stares up at the sky for too long and Naruto wonders if he is reliving the times when the sand buoyed him up and away from the contempt and rejection of a village that never really wanted him.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, a warm body will roll into his, and he'll stir to gaze sleepily at the slumbering features under rust-red hair. He'll trace the kanji on Gaara's forehead, pull him closer, and fall back into sleep.

It's not that he's stopped looking for Sasuke. That's still very important to him as well - keeping that promise he made to Sakura and himself. But he's finding that his world is expanding. Whirling blood red may still visit his nightmares, but these days, hazel eyes are what he sees most often in his dreams.