After Temari and Kankuro had eaten their fill, Naruto paid for their meal and escorted the siblings to the inn where they planned to stay for the duration of their visit so they could clean up and rest from their trip. Temari gave him a tearful hug, crying from worry over her brother and happiness knowing that somehow Naruto would help him. Over the years Gaara had turned into the best little brother she could ever ask for and she deeply regretted not acting like an older sibling sooner; now having something wrong with him wracked her nerves and she was thankful the blonde had returned.

If anyone could ever help Gaara it was Naruto.

Once he had finished reassuring the blonde sand nin that he would do everything in his power to help his friend, Naruto made his way out of the inn and back out to the forest, waiting for Gaara to be done with his meeting. "Kami what kind of a friend am I anyway?" He asked himself, wondering just what the fuck he'd been thinking by not going to Gaara sooner. There was some serious apologizing to do once the redhead was able to speak with him and Naruto could only hope Gaara could forgive him.

Honestly he couldn't believe he'd gotten so wound up in everything he was doing that he'd forgotten about the Kazekage. Yes the stuff he was doing was important but Gaara was one of his precious people dammit! What the hell kind of a Hokage could he be when he let one of his closest friends suffer for so long?

"Fuck maybe I'm the teme." He whispered to himself as he stepped into the old training grounds for Team 7. Disappointed with his actions – or lack there of – tried to settle in around him but he forcefully shoved it off, deciding nothing could be done to change the past and all he could do now was fix what he could and atone for his mistake.

Since he was already in the training grounds, he decided to run through some taijutsu since it was the only thing that didn't require chakra. Even though his chakra was hidden, he knew it wouldn't remain that way if he started using it. The amount of chakra he possessed and the strength of it was far too great to be completely masked if he used it. It was inevitable that if he used ninjutsu or genjutsu, his chakra would create a ripple effect of power and anyone would notice the charge to the air, even if they weren't ninja.

Not that it really mattered of course because in a few short moments, Gaara would join him and the two never passed up a chance to spar. Mass amounts of destruction and surges of energy were impossible to avoid when the two clashed, seeing as how both men were incredibly powerful. It had been years since they had been given a chance to test the others skills and Naruto knew without even a second thought that the whole of Konoha would be around them shortly after the first blow was thrown.

It was highly insulting to the both of them to 'go easy' when they sparred, so instead the two would throw everything they had into their matches, safe in the knowledge that if there was anyone in the world that could withstand an attack from one it was the other.

A solid half an hour had passed by, letting Naruto warm himself up thoroughly with taijutsu. In fact, he had warmed up to the point that he had stripped his torso bare, the mesh shirt he'd thrown on earlier that morning becoming soaked in sweat. He breathed deeply, letting the calming scents of the forest wash over him as he tilted his head back and closed his eyes, a gentle breeze toying with his long hair and cooling his body.

That was how the Kazekage found his friend, looking serene and peaceful. Gaara was unable to hold back the tilt of his lips at the soft smile that graced the blonde's face. Naruto was just a beautiful person and simply being in the same village as the fox was enough to quell the worries he'd held in his heart. Never before in his life had he imagined he would find a person anywhere like Naruto. There was just something about the blonde that made him want to be…better, nicer, warmer. It was quite a change from everything he'd grown up feeling and he would admit – only to himself of course – that he had been terrified of the warmth in his chest when he was around the fox container.

"You know, I think I missed this place more than I had thought I would, even if for no other reason than the peace." Naruto said, his voice low and quiet, washing over Gaara like a soothing balm.

"There is peace other places; places that would treat you better." The Kazekage replied calmly, his voice no longer so monotone and just a touch warmer.

Finally the blonde dropped his face from the sun and turned towards his friend, a sad smile tilting his soft lips, "I know. I just don't want to have to start all over again."

Gaara nodded his concession to the statement before speaking once more. "You are always welcomed in Suna. You are legend there already. My people would welcome you with open arms."

Cerulean eyes widened and Naruto's smile turned a little less sad, "Honto ne? Why would I be a legend?"

A ghost of a smile played on the redhead's lips as he took a few steps towards the blonde, "Yes, you are a legend. Have you no idea of how strongly you influence people?"

Naruto rolled his eyes slightly, his mouth quirking into a wry grin. "Oh yes. I inspire people to hate and fear. Wonderful thing really."

"Cynicism has never suited you. People in Suna regard you as something of a hero as it is no real secret that you are one of the reasons I accepted the position as Kazekage and the sole reason that I excel at it." There was only four feet separating them now and somehow, the closer to the blonde he got the happier Gaara felt.

A wistful smile settled on soft pink lips as Naruto tilted his head back to regard the sky once more. "They really think of me like that? I-I've never been a hero before. That's what Yondaime always wanted for me though. He thought the village would see not only the sacrifice he made of his life but also the sacrifice he forced on his son. The villagers don't seem to understand his wishes at all and yet they continually praise him."

Gaara shoved down the sudden urge to gape at his friend, completely taken by surprise that he was the son of the Fourth Hokage and still he was treated so horribly. Then a question burned on his tongue and he couldn't help but let it free. "They don't know do they? No one knows that you're his son."

The wistful smile turned sad and Naruto looked back towards him, "No. There really isn't any point in my saying anything. No one would believe me anyway. In fact, they'd probably just accuse me of sullying the Yondaime's great name."

He shook his head then, shaggy golden locks ruffling along broad shoulders, and let his melancholy smile melt into a grin, "Let's get started ne? There's a lot to do and it will take while."

A short nod was his answer but as the blonde turned and moved to the other side of the clearing, Gaara hesitated. "Are you sure about this? They'll know you're here."

His answer was a bright, genuine smile and something in his chest loosened.

"I know but I've already let you suffer too long. I still can't believe you never sent me a message to get my ass back to Suna and help. Besides, I feel like a complete ass anyway, just up and leaving when I did and not coming back to fix you." He completed his words with sticking his tongue out at the redhead, reminding Gaara once more of the boy he used to be.

"You make it sound as if I am broken." Gaara deadpanned as he shifted his feet slightly, resettling the gourd on his back.

Naruto threw him a cheeky grin even though his eyes were still sad, "If it makes you feel any better, I've always been broken."

Large, tanned hands curled and uncurled lightly at Naruto's sides as cerulean eyes watched the redhead like a hawk. Although Gaara never really moved from his position – as the sand would inevitably protect him – he was still tricky and Naruto knew that the Kazekage would hold nothing back. Even though the healing powers and stamina of the Kyuubi made dying nearly impossible for him – unless of course he was ripped to pieces – he still didn't relish the idea of ending up seriously injured.

Especially not when his real goal was to wear Gaara down and drain him of his chakra.

Of course, knowing this was his objective, Naruto was ready and willing to take a beating. The redhead used his chakra wisely at all times usually and since his sand armor didn't require much chakra, the blonde knew he was going to be hurting by the time he had his friend where he needed him to be.

Besides all that, it had been awhile since he'd had a really productive spar and there were only a handful of people that had ever given him a workout. Gaara happened to fall in that category so he planned to utilize every moment he could. He was snapped from his thoughts by the Kazekage's soft voice.

"He will know you are here."

Naruto sighed and closed his eyes, his head dipping down so his chin rested on his chest. Oh yes he knew, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that Sasuke would show up. Gaara wasn't being unreasonable in his statements and the blonde was both thankful and upset that he'd told Gaara so much.

The redhead was being painfully truthful about Sasuke and Naruto was really dreading seeing the dark-haired man again. Once upon a day, the Uchiha had been his best friend but their friendship had never been a normal or relaxed one and even with all the chaos involved on a regular basis, there was only so much any relationship could take.

As far as Naruto was concerned, having the man who was his best friend and secret love push a fist through his chest strained their already odd relationship a little too far. Even if the deadly blow hadn't done it, the Uchiha's parting words in the hospital would have.

He sighed heavily and then, "I know. I don't suppose I can avoid him forever anyway, if I plan to stay in Leaf."

Naruto's ears picked up the slight rustle of the redhead shifting his weight and the quiet inhale of breath that preceded his words, "You can come back to Suna with me and avoid it all."

The blonde barked out a laugh, the sound hollow and strained. "I suppose I could but I would never feel any closure if I did that." Tilting his head back again, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Do you know what the saddest part of it all is?"

He paused for a moment, even knowing Gaara wouldn't respond and was waiting for him to finish his thoughts. "Iruka said he thinks Sasuke loves me."

"How is that sad?"

Tan eyelids slid open and wise, ancient blue eyes regarded him thoughtfully. "It's sad because I don't want to see him. I don't want to know if he does love me or if he feels remorse or if he would apologize. I know – the part of my heart that still loves him knows – that if he did love me, if he did say he was sorry for everything, that I would forgive him."

"I don't know…I don't know if I want to forgive him. I don't know if I want him to love me." His words were quiet and reflective. Naruto knew them to be truth. He knew that if the raven waltzed up to him right then and there and poured his heart out, Naruto would take him back, would forgive him with warm, welcoming arms.

"He doesn't deserve that." Gaara's voice was hard, lined with steel and inflections of fury. Naruto didn't flinch.

"I know."

"Well!" The blonde exclaimed and he let his tall, strong body melt into a fighting stance as his cerulean eyes flashed with challenge and excitement, burning away the sorrow. "Let's get this party started!"

It wasn't often that anyone ever took the Godaime Kazekage by surprise. In fact, the only one ever really capable of such a feat was Naruto and there, in the training grounds for the blonde's former genin team, Gaara found himself surprised again. Strong, tanned hands with long, nimble fingers twitched at the blonde's sides and fifteen Naruto clones appeared before jade eyes, the fox never even making a sign.

Naruto was right about the effect of his chakra. Gaara could feel it swell around him and explode outwards, rippling and skipping across the ground and twisting around the trees and he knew within moments, the two would be surrounded.

Without a word, the cork fell from his gourd and sand flowed to his feet, tendrils of golden grains twisting around his ankles restlessly.

"Sasuke-kun!"

The raven bit back a groan of annoyance as Sakura hollered his name from the other side of his door. Was it really too much for the pink haired kunoichi to leave him be?

He'd woken up that morning, the feeling of a change in the air stronger than before and it both exhilarated him and made him edgy. For some unexplainable reason, the tingle in the air felt almost like an omen and the Uchiha had yet to ascertain whether it was a good one or a bad one. Knowing that something was happening had almost been enough to coax him from his house once finished his morning ritual. Only the lingering thought that he had no clue what could possibly be going on stayed his hand.

Uncertainty was something he'd hadn't dealt with much before and knowing he was uncertain about anything was more than sufficient to keep him within the walls of his home for the entire morning.

Now it was passed noon and Sakura was pounding on his door and calling out his name. With a bone weary sigh, he stood to answer the beckoning but took his time in getting to his destination. Once the door was thrown open, Sasuke glared at the medic nin in front of him. "What do you want?"

Sakura beamed at him. "I thought I'd come by to see if you wanted to train with me."

Just as he was opening his mouth to reply in his usual curt and cold way, a surge of power swept over him, causing his breath to still in his lungs and his eyes to widen. He sagged against the doorframe, relief caressing his heart and apprehension settling in his stomach like lead. Again it came and he heard Sakura's surprised squeak only vaguely. He licked his suddenly dry lips and his voice was just an awed whisper.

"Naruto."