Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Author's Note: …I haven't updated in nine months. I apologize. Please forgive me. –grovels-

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Guardian of My Heart – Chapter 7

Neji sat up again as Gaara came in the door, balancing a jug and some cups in his hands. "I made you breakfast." Gaara said. "Just let me get the rest of it…" After setting the stuff in his hands down, he went out the door again and came back with a tray, laden with pancakes and eggs and a little of every sort of thing someone eats for breakfast. Neji looked at the amount of food on the tray and gulped, hoping that Gaara would be eating too.

Gaara balanced the tray on Neji's lap before burrowing into the covers on the opposite side of the bed, settling himself so that they were facing each other over the food and both were covered by the warm bedcovers.

"You should put on some more clothes…" Neji randomly commented.

"Why? You're totally naked, and I'm not complaining." Gaara pointed out.

"Yeah, but I'm not the one running around the house cooking breakfast half-naked and tempting. I'm staying in bed, with the curtains closed, while you're out there with the curtains open." Neji pouted to make his point as he glanced at the tray, trying to figure out where the eating utensils were.

"Jealous?"

"What would you feel if I started doing that?"

Gaara thought for a second. "Good point. I'd want to…well. It's too bloody to mention right before we eat. What are you looking for?"

"Eating utensils. You didn't intend for us to eat all this with our hands, did you?"

"No. I'll go get some…" As Gaara jumped out of bed again and prepared to go into the kitchen again, Neji shouted, "Clothes! Put on some more clothes!"

"But Neji, what's the use of clothes when I'm just going to take them off again?" Gaara sped out of the room at that, and Neji could hear his rapid footsteps in the hallway. A moment later Gaara came back in, forks and knives and spoons clutched in his hands, along with napkins. "Here." the redhead said as he piled it all onto the bed next to the tray before he climbed in again. "Now we'll eat breakfast, ok Neji?"

Neji looked at all the delicious food and found he couldn't refuse, even though he was still petulant about Gaara continuing to run around the house naked. Oh well, there was time for one quick jab. "Well Gaara, since you believe in 'why should I wear clothes if I'm just going to take them off', then I don't have to wear clothes either, right? I can just go to work n-"

Gaara cut him off before he could continue by stuffing a pancake into his mouth. After swallowing, Neji laughed and laughed. "Jealous?" he mimicked.

Gaara sniffed in teasing disdain. "Extremely. Now stop talking and eat, or do I have to feed you your entire breakfast?"

Neji smiled and started eating. "That won't be necessary." They settled down into comfortable silence while they ate, and Neji marveled at the quality of the food. During a few seconds when they had both just swallowed, Neji leaned forward and gave Gaara a gentle kiss, saying, "Thanks for making breakfast, Gaara. Happy anniversary."

-----

Neji woke up the next morning before the sun rose from the horizon, but that was ok, because Gaara was still in his arms, and it seemed the redhead had dozed off sometime during the night. So Neji kept as still as he could in order not to wake the other, even though he wanted to stand up and stretch. He watched as the sun rose, illuminating the clouds and everything else, and he thought about how well-rested he was right now, even if he had fallen asleep with his back against the rough bark of a tree.

The sun hadn't quite made it all the way out of the horizon when Gaara woke up. Neji felt the redhead jerk into wakefulness, and watched as Gaara's eyes opened. They were like emeralds, he decided. Vividly green and sharp most of the time, even when he had just woken up. But Neji dismissed the sharpness in Gaara's eyes and gave him a good-morning kiss on the cheek, whispering, "Have a good nap?"

Gaara closed his eyes again and leaned back against Neji. "It was refreshing." he admitted. "A nice change from staring up at the stars all night, no matter how interesting they might be." A pause, then, "What time is it?"

"I'd say around 6." Neji answered.

"Hmm. Then I should get up, shouldn't I?" The question was voiced lazily, and Neji knew Gaara didn't really want to leave. A burst of happiness filled his chest and a burst of pink filled his cheeks.

"Do you have something important to get to?"

"Not anything I can't miss…besides, Temari will be glad to know I got some more sleep, so…" Gaara quieted, focusing on going back to sleep, even while around him the day was awakening. Fortunately, not a lot of people seemed to know about this particular clearing, or were inclined to walk into it this early in the morning, so Neji and Gaara and Shukaku weren't interrupted as the day wore on.

Shukaku woke up sometime around 7, the raccoon also astonished that Gaara was sleeping so soundly. He's so cute when he sleeps, don't you think?

Neji nodded. "Too bad he doesn't sleep like this more often." But then he looked up, because someone was coming into the clearing. It was a man, brunette and wearing a full suit ensemble. As Neji looked more closely, he saw something that looked like face paint on the other's face. He looked…familiar, somehow.

Kankurou! Shukaku called, and Neji was momentarily amused by the sight of the man (Sabaku Kankurou, it seemed he was) whirling around, trying to figure out where the voice was coming from, before walking towards them again, with a frown on his face.

"Who was that just now?" He asked in a deep voice. "The person who was speaking."

Shukaku happily ran up to Kankurou and looked up at him, proudly pronouncing, It was me!

Kankurou looked down at Shukaku, looked back up again at Neji, and asked, "Did you just hear the raccoon speak?"

"Yes. Actually, the raccoon is your brother's heart, Shukaku. I'm assuming you are Sabaku Kankurou?"

"Yes, I am. Who are you, and what are you doing with both my brother's heart and my brother? I believe he put his heart away for protection with a Hyuuga or something a few days earlier, or that was what he told me." Kankurou stared at Neji suspiciously.

"Actually, I am that Hyuuga, so that's why I have Shukaku, and last night, when I couldn't sleep, Shukaku suggested that I should visit Gaara, and he revealed to me that Gaara was an insomniac." Neji looked down at Gaara fondly. "He should sleep more often, I think. He looks so cute when he is."

Kankurou frowned again. "My brother doesn't let just anybody hold him like that, and he doesn't just sleep like that. You haven't…drugged him or something, have you?"

Neji looked shocked. "No! Of course not!"

"Then just who are you to Gaara?"

Neji slowly blushed, not answering the question.

"Well?" Kankurou prodded.

He's Gaara's boyfriend! Shukaku answered, bubbling with excitement. Neji and Kankurou both turned to look at him, equally shocked by Shukaku's easy use of the word.

"I'm…err, I'm assuming he isn't just saying that you're a friend of Gaara's that's a boy?" Kankurou voiced tentatively.

"No. I mean, I guess I am his boyfriend now...we just haven't identified ourselves with that word before."

"How long have you two been together?" Kankurou was curious as to how long Gaara had kept this from him and Temari.

"Um...I guess technically, a few hours, maybe a day or two. We just met a few days before."

Kankurou raised an eyebrow at the answer. They had known each other for only that long? Maybe this was Gaara's way to rebound from that Naruto kid, but even so, his brother didn't go into relationships this fast. But at least Gaara hadn't purposefully hid this from him and Temari. He just didn't get around to telling them yet.

"I see. And what exactly is your name?"

"Hyuuga Neji."

Kankurou blinked and wondered what had happened. Just two days ago Temari had said Gaara and Hyuuga Neji weren't on very good terms.

But he didn't get time to ask his question, because just then Gaara woke up, annoyed and glaring at the whole world in general. "Who's talking?" he grumbled, trying to get out of Neji's grasp.

"Good morning again. Are you always this grumpy when you wake up?" Neji let Gaara sit up properly.

Kankurou snorted. "You call this grumpy? See what he's like on a night without sleep. By then he's scary."

"What are you doing here, Kankurou?" Gaara mumbled, squinting up at his brother and the morning light.

"You made me and Temari worried when you didn't show up this morning, so I went looking for you in your usual spots and found you here. How did you forget to tell us you had a boyfriend?"

"Am I obligated to tell my siblings everything?" Gaara countered, not wanting to answer the question outright.

"Yes. Especially Temari."

"She usually manages to find out before I tell her."

"Yes, but if you have a boyfriend, we'd like to hear it from you, you know. This is something important."

Gaara rolled his eyes. "Fine. Kankurou, this is Neji, my boyfriend. Neji, this is my crazy-ass adopted brother, Kankurou."

Kankurou shook Neji's hand bemusedly before defending himself against Gaara's accusation. "Actually, I'm not crazy."

"Really? Just look at your face." Gaara drawled, fully awake.

"Hey! It's the perfect disguise! Whenever I don't want to be disturbed in public, I can just take the face paint off and no one will recognize me! You should try it, Gaara!"

"See? Crazy. And it'd never work for me, because everybody would recognize me anyways." Gaara stood up now, and walked forward a few steps so Neji stand up too without tripping. "And on that note, we should go before the park gets crowded and someone recognizes me. I do not wish to be harassed this morning." Just like that, Gaara started walking away, and Neji stifled a laugh looking at the redhead's mussed hair. He then grabbed the blanket and pillow and started walking after Gaara, Kankurou and Shukaku doing the same.

They reached the parking lot in a few minutes, managing to avoid any early morning joggers. Gaara glanced at the other car in the parking lot and stared at Kankurou in disbelief. "You took the limo?!?"

Kankurou shrugged, unrepentant. "Closest keys. And I wanted to get away from Temari's hysterics. You know how quickly they can induce a migraine, and I wanted to spare myself of that, thank you very much. Besides, the windows are very tinted. You made sure of that. No one will recognize you, Gaara. Don't worry about it."

When Neji shot him a questioning look, Kankurou explained, "Gaara's deathly afraid reporters will find out about his insomnia and come hound him during the night, so he discourages using the limo in the early morning hours 'cause it attracts too much attention."

"And you know of the rumors that someone's come up with a camera that goes through tinted mirrors!" Gaara added.

Kankurou rolled his eyes at his boss/brother. "Don't be so paranoid. I haven't seen anything like that yet. Besides, if you're so worried, you should get in, shouldn't you?"

"So are you going to drive my car while I drive the limo?"

"Only way to get them both back, isn't it?" But as Kankurou saw Neji walking out of the parking lot and not toward any car, he called, "Hey Neji-san! Where're you going?"

Neji looked back at the sound of his name. "Home!" he called back, raising his voice in order to be heard.

"You're walking?" Kankurou asked, puzzled. The Hyuuga family was rich enough to supply cars to all their members, weren't they?

"Yeah." Neji answered, trying to play it off as unimportant. "The Hyuuga Council of Elders all want me within calling distance so that I won't run off without their knowing or something. They still believe I hold a grudge against Hinata, just because I bullied her a little in school." He shrugged. "So I'm stuck with no car, and I have to get their permission to travel out of the country."

"But do you still know how to drive?" Kankurou questioned.

"Of course. My uncle didn't agree with the Council of Elders and made sure that I knew how to drive and got a license at the proper age. He even got me a temporary car when I went off to college, though I usually walked out of habit. It was too hard to find a parking spot most of the time."

Kankurou thought for a moment, before pronouncing, "You can take Gaara's car back to where you live. We'll both take the limo."

"No, that isn't necessary!" Neji protested. "I can walk!"

Gaara sighed and threw Neji his set of keys, which Neji caught without any problem. "Stubborn." Gaara said with a shake of his head. "You are my boyfriend. Shukaku is my heart. Take the car." He insisted. "I would have offered it before, if I had known you had walked here." When Neji still did not move towards them and the car, Gaara looked away a little and murmured quietly, "It's the least I can do to thank you for giving me a good night's sleep. Maybe tonight...we can do this again? Perhaps I will go to sleep again if I am with you."

"Sure." Neji happily agreed. "Of course we can do this again." He walked towards Gaara's car, Shukaku following behind him, the raccoon sporting a smug little smile on his face. Shukaku had just known this would work out beautifully. He could feel some of the wounds caused by Naruto's and Kyuubi's rejection fading already under Neji's tender love. And he could see Gaara was a bit happier too.

Just before they drove off, Neji shouted out from Gaara's car, "When should I return this?"

Kankurou heard him and replied, "Whenever you come to visit Gaara! Today is fine, by the way! I'm sure Temari would like to meet you in person!" That said, he drove off, and Neji did too. Shukaku was sitting happily in the backseat, whooping each time Neji turned and made the raccoon slip and slide on the leather seats.

"Easily amused." Neji commented with a hint of humor.

Shukaku nodded unabashedly. Of course! Especially when I'm happy!

Neji glanced at Shukaku's reflection in the mirror and couldn't help but grin, infected by the raccoon's good mood. Besides, he and Gaara had gotten together without a hitch, and Neji was practically humming as he parked about a block from his business (Shikamaru was here already and every other parking space nearer to his business was occupied) and walked up the sidewalk with Shukaku in his arms. Zabuza saw him and Neji could see him sigh with relief.

"Neji! We were worried that you'd been kidnapped or something!" Haku's expression of relief was a bit more prominent, as he ran out the door and practically tackled Neji. Neji stumbled back before recovering and walking through the door, slowly loosening the grasp Haku had around his neck.

"I'm fine, Haku, I'm fine." Neji smiled easily, his happiness bubbling over. "Don't worry about me."

"But where did you go? And in the middle of the night?"

"To a nearby park."

Haku snorted with amusement. "I'm not that gullible, Neji. Tell me the truth."

"But that is the truth! And Shukaku can confirm it!" The raccoon nodded in confirmation.

Neji went to the park last night because he couldn't sleep and saw Gaara there.

"Sabaku Gaara?" Haku seemed to have accepted some of the truth, but was still skeptical. "As in Shukaku's person."

Yeah. They slept together.

Both Haku and Neji paled. "N-Not like that!" Neji said quickly. "We…um, we shared a blanket and stuff, and slept together, but we didn't sleep together."

"Good to know." Haku commented. "Although I should've guessed that you never would've slept with such a bastard. No offense to you, Shukaku."

None taken. But I think Neji and Gaara will sleep together in the near future…

Haku frowned. "Really? Why?"

Neji cut off Shukaku before the raccoon could reply. "Because I'm in love with him."

Haku stared at him weirdly. "Really." He said flatly.

"Yeah. I-I mean, I think I'm in love with him." Neji blushed a little. "Don't look at me like that! I haven't gone crazy!"

Haku shook his head. "I know that, but…Sabaku Gaara? He made you cry yesterday, didn't he?"

"Um, yeah…but we've moved past that now."

"Does he love you back?" Haku questioned and watched as Neji colored. Then the brunette realized just what he had asked. "Oh, Neji! I'm sorry. I'm…don't answer, ok?" Haku couldn't believe that he had just reminded Neji about Loveless, right when Neji had told him he was in love. "I'm happy for you, Neji. It's great that you're in love." Haku smiled. "I'm sure Sabaku-san will make you really happy."

Neji tried to smile back but didn't quite make it. "Yeah. Do I have any appointments coming up, Haku?"

"There's someone coming in at 10, wanting to talk about setting up an account for their heart, and someone else wanting to withdrawal their heart this afternoon at 3. If you'll wait a bit I'll give you the names." Neji nodded and waited for Haku to get the names from his computer. When Haku had found and given the names to Neji, Neji walked into his office and sat down in his chair wearily. Just now the position he had slept in last night caught up to him, and Neji's back ached.

Hey Neji?

"Yeah Shukaku?"

I was going to tell you before, but stuff got in the way.

"Yeah?"

I think you should change your pants. There are a couple of grass stains on them.

"Oh." Neji had thought whatever Shukaku wanted to tell him would be more serious than that, but now he smiled. It was good to get a reminder of everyday life. "Thanks for telling me. I'll go upstairs to change. You wanna stay here?"

Shukaku shrugged. Sure. I'll have some fun sliding around in your swivel chair.

So Neji got up and Shukaku hopped onto his swivel chair. Neji swung it around once and as it started to turn Shukaku squealed in glee.

Neji went up the elevator and into his room, changing his clothes quickly and dropping the dirty ones into his washing machine. He was about to go back downstairs, before he looked in the mirror and he froze. He stopped before the mirror and touched his forehead, where the cursed seal would've been had it been activated. Neji thought of putting some bandages or a headband or something over his forehead, because he wouldn't be able look at his forehead now without thinking of the seal.

Neji sighed while going back downstairs, wondering just when his good mood had evaporated.

-----

"Hey Neji?" Both Neji and Shukaku looked up as Haku stuck his head into the office. "I'm taking my lunch break, k?"

Neji nodded. "Remember to lock the door behind you." He called after Haku as he was walking out.

"Uh huh," Haku said, and waved a little in goodbye. Silence descended on the room after Haku walked out, except for the scratching of Neji's pen as he completed more paperwork.

Neji? Shukaku asked after a little while. He was hungry…though not exactly stomach-hungry. More like…soul-hungry.

"Yeah Shukaku?" Neji didn't look up from his work.

Do you ever take a lunch break?

"Hmm, not really…I just eat a big breakfast and maybe have a snack in the afternoon. I skip lunch most of the time. Don't have anybody to eat it with anyways." Neji murmured, still without looking up.

But now you do! Gaara, remember? You can eat lunch with Gaara! Shukaku insisted.

Neji had looked up at the mention of that name, and Shukaku was satisfied that he had captured Neji's attention. "But won't I be interrupting his workday?" The brunette asked with worry.

It's probably his lunch too, you realize.

"Hmm…I could call his office before I go. Just to make sure he doesn't have any appointments. Then I can return his car too, so it doesn't look like I'm just desperate to see him…"

Shukaku blinked once, then smirked. But you are desperate to see him, aren't you?

Neji crossed his arms and refused to answer.

Aww. You're being so cute, Neji!

Neji sighed at the comment. "I'm 24, about to turn 25. I'm not supposed to be labeled as cute. Or to be this desperate, for that matter."

Of course you are! It's a part of love, isn't it? And cute isn't necessarily a bad thing!

Neji smiled at that. "I suppose not. Cute can't be a bad thing, considering just how cute you are." He scratched Shukaku right behind his ears, the little raccoon uttering a purr of appreciation. But Shukaku was not about to be deterred from his point.

Anyways, he continued, struggling to get out from under Neji's tickling fingers, you should call Gaara's office now, shouldn't you? To see if we can go visit him.

Neji smiled, stopped scratching Shukaku, and picked up the phone. Cradling the phone with his shoulder, he looked through the files on his desk for Gaara's file and looked through it for his office phone number. He dialed it with one hand while holding the folder with the other, and waited while it rang.

Put it on speakerphone! Shukaku urged. So I can hear too!

Neji pressed a button, put down the receiver, and they both heard Gaara's sister/secretary pick up and say, "Sabaku Gaara's office, how may I help you?"

"Hello, Sabaku-san, it's Hyuuga Neji. I was wondering if your brother is on his lunch break right now?"

"Gaara, you mean? Not Kankurou."

"Ah, yes, Gaara."

"Why do you want to know?" Temari already knew, of course. Kankurou had gleefully come into the office and announced the fact Gaara now had Hyuuga Neji as a boyfriend, which had made Temari scream in shock. And now Temari's mind was spinning with possibilities, and she was rushing to get Gaara's schedule in front of her.

"Ah…I would like to go to lunch with him? Of course, if has an appointment already, I'll just try to come another day."

"No, no!" Temari protested, finally having Gaara's list of appointments up on the computer in front of her. Hmm, his whole afternoon was filled up, but Temari knew Gaara's two-o'clock had canceled, and if she could move his one-o'clock back to two, Gaara could have a whole hour to eat lunch with his new boyfriend. Though…Gaara's one-o'clock was Sannin Tsunade, a very important person in Konoha, and Temari didn't think she would appreciate being pushed back just for Gaara to spend time with his boyfriend.

Heck, Gaara probably wouldn't appreciate having Tsunade being pushed back just so he could spend time with Neji. Gaara was always a stickler for work. But Temari decided she didn't care. This was Gaara's first real boyfriend, and he wasgoing to spend real time with Neji if Temari could help it. Sannin Tsunade would understand, wouldn't she? Temari was pretty sure she knew Neji somehow, and that she would understand.

"You can come right over." Temari said cheerfully. "Gaara has an appointment right now, but he'll be finished in a few minutes, and you two can eat lunch together then. You'll have an hour with him, is that enough?"

"Yes!" Temari smiled at the evident happiness in Neji's voice. "It's more than enough! I'll drive over now."

And then he hung up, and Temari hung up too, now much more cheerful than before the phone call. Neji really did seem like a very nice person, which would be a good thing for Gaara.

Temari started humming a cheery little tune she couldn't identify, filled with glad hopes for the future.

-----

Gaara waited until his appointment was over and gone before giving a small yawn and letting his eyes flutter shut. This was a side effect of actually getting sleep – he was sleepier during the day than he'd be if he'd stayed awake the whole night. He would stave it off, of course. Coffee wouldn't help anymore (hadn't helped for years), but pinching himself did help, to some extent. Gaara sighed, unbuttoning and reaching inside his suit to a place on his upper arm that was already dark with bruising and had constantly stayed that way for years (ever since coffee and other forms of caffeine had stopped working, actually). Gaara knew he wouldn't ever build up a tolerance for pain, and was glad of it – this way he would always have a way to stay awake. He pinched the dark bruise mercilessly, tensing up at the pain and then relaxing with a long sigh as the pain faded away and turned into alertness.

Oh, what he'd give to have a semblance of a normal life, with all the normal accoutrements such as sleep and…happiness. Gaara rubbed his eyes, feeling tired all over again. He had known for some time that he wasn't normal, at least in the socially accepted sense, but it hadn't made him feel this depressed for a long time. Mostly because…of Naruto, probably. Naruto had stayed up with him on a lot of his nights: talking with him, watching movies with him, taking long walks in the park with him and reassuring Gaara that he wasn't that much of a freak with every moment they spent together.

After all, someone like Naruto just couldn't possibly be a freak of nature, what with his happy smiles and bright blue eyes, and therefore Gaara couldn't be a freak of nature either, since Naruto seemed to like his company, right? Right. Even with the permanent dark insomnia rings around his eyes and the tattoo on his forehead, Gaara felt like he had…a semblance of normalcy and humanity whenever Naruto was around.

And, interestingly enough, he had felt that way last night too, when he had been with Hyuuga Neji. Oh sure, Gaara knew that he had set Neji up to be just a replacement for Naruto, but it had been strangely…comfortable with the Hyuuga last night. Maybe it had just been the liberating feeling of being freed from heartbreak with Shukaku in the Hyuuga's protection, or maybe it was the fact that he knew Neji was definitely in love with him (and therefore would not hurt him), but Gaara felt…different, surer in this relationship. But then, that was only because of the love potion, wasn't it? Gaara sighed again. Nothing in his life ever happened the normal way. Probably nobody would've fallen in love with him without being forced to.

He buttoned up his shirt again and right on time too, because just then the door to his office opened and, to Gaara's surprise, Neji walked in. Wasn't Tsunade supposed to be meeting with him right now?

"Neji?"

To Gaara's surprise and not a little amusement, Neji's face turned red simply from Gaara's use of his first name. This was why he felt so secure in this relationship. There was simply no way Neji was going to hurt him.

"Hi. Um, your sister told me you were taking your lunch break now, so I thought we could go to lunch together."

Gaara frowned. "Lunch break? I don't take lunch breaks. In fact, I have an appointment scheduled with someone right now, so I don't know what my sister's talking about."

Temari stuck her head in at this point, having heard Gaara from outside (she'd been listening for it, after all). "Oh hey, your two-o'clock canceled, Gaara, and Tsunade-san called to say that it'd be better for her to come later, so I moved her back to two. So now you have an hour to eat lunch. After all, we don't want you to starve, right?" She chuckled nervously, hoping that her little brother would just accept her not-so-well-hidden meddling and go eat lunch with his boyfriend.

Gaara looked unconvinced about Temari's rather weak explanation, but to her relief didn't question her. "Hmm. I see. Then I suppose we'll go out to eat lunch somewhere? I do have an hour to spare."

Neji, who had looked dejected only a few moments go, now brightened up again, and Gaara noticed that he had perfect teeth (braces earlier in life, perhaps?). "Where do you want to go?"

Gaara blinked. "I don't know. Where do you want to go?"

Temari took in the awkward atmosphere with a glance and realized that although Gaara had a boyfriend that cared for him, they still didn't know each other very well, which meant that spending time together was even more important for them. "There's an ice-cream shop about a block away." she offered. "Gaara really likes it, and there's a sandwich shop nearby, so you could buy sandwiches and ice-cream and eat that somewhere."

"I do not like ice-cream!" Gaara protested. It was a guilty little secret he had, along with his love of bubble baths.

Yes you do. Shukaku, who had been staying quiet in one of Neji's shirt pockets, now stuck his head out to have his say. You love ice-cream.

Temari nodded in agreement, and Gaara started to fume when he saw Neji was laughing a little at him.

"Fine, so I do like ice-cream. What's wrong with that?"

Neji laughed a little more. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with liking a little ice cream. So, you wanna go?"

"Sure. Just let me call Kankurou to drive us there."

Neji frowned at this. "Temari-san, are the shops really that far, or can we walk there?"

"Oh, it's only a few blocks away, so I'm sure you can walk there."

Neji looked at Gaara again, a hopeful expression on his face. "Then can we walk there instead? I'd like it if it were just the two of us."

Gaara looked at that hopeful face and found he wanted to agree to Neji's suggestion. He stifled the feeling, because he hadn't clawed his way up in the world by assenting to any and everybody's little whim. Although…Neji was his boyfriend, and this seemed to be turning out to be a date, and besides, if Kankurou came along he'd just report everything back to Temari and then they'd both tease him. Maybe it would be better to alone with Neji.

Gaara nodded. "Then let's go."

But just then, Shukaku leapt out of Neji's pocket and onto the floor. Have fun. he cooed, walking over to Temari.

"You're not coming?" Neji asked, confused.

Nah. You two wanted to be alone, didn't you?

"But you're part of Gaara!"

As true as that is, I'll just stay here with Temari. Shukaku smiled as much as a raccoon could smile. Don't argue. Just go eat lunch.

Hesitantly, the pair of them went, striding out of Gaara's penthouse office. Shukaku watched them go with an amused chortle. Even though I'm Gaara's heart, I know I'd still be considered as a chaperone if I went with them. They should spend some time truly alone with each other.

Temari agreed with a nondescript murmur. "How perceptive you are." she praised, hoping that her brother and his new boyfriend would have fun.

-----

The walk to get lunch was awkward, to say the least. Apparently neither of them wanted to start a conversation, didn't even know what to start a conversation about. They didn't really know anything about each other at all, Neji realized. Well, he knew that Gaara had been in love with Naruto for a long time, and that his heart was broken, but those weren't really topics for casual conversation. But maybe they could talk about ice cream…as childish as that sounded.

"What's your favorite ice cream flavor?" Neji asked, glancing over at Gaara from the corner of his eye.

Gaara looked startled to be addressed, but answered nevertheless. "Um…Double Chocolate Chip-"

"-Rocky Road?" Neji finished.

Gaara nodded, confused. "How did you know?"

Neji looked down at the sidewalk. "That's…Naruto's favorite ice-cream."

"Oh. Yeah…"

Well, that was even more awkward. Neji wondered how much of Gaara's life had revolved – still revolved – around Naruto. Gaara probably didn't have many friends, and most likely a lot of his good memories involved Naruto. Well. Neji would just have to make sure that Gaara had new good memories, ones that didn't involve Naruto. And he would start now.

"My favorite ice-cream's vanilla." Neji stated. "Well, sort of. My very favorite ice-cream is Cardamom, which is basically the spice cardamom added to vanilla, but it's not very common in ice-cream parlors, so my default favorite is vanilla."

Gaara had thought the conversation would stop right after he'd mentioned Naruto, which had been a faux pas on his part if anything was. If he'd thought before he opened his mouth, he'd probably have realized that it was a mistake to mention the person who he'd liked for the past ten years to his new boyfriend. He often made these social mistakes without thinking, and usually, the conversation ended right after. Not this time though, it seemed…

"Is vanilla good?"

Neji stared at him, and Gaara realized he might've made another social mistake.

"You've never had vanilla ice-cream?" Neji asked incredulously.

"No…" Naruto had been the first one to introduce Gaara to ice cream, and Gaara had never tried any other flavors throughout the years besides Naruto's favorite flavor.

"So you've eaten nothing but Double Chocolate-Chip Rocky Road?"

Gaara nodded anxiously. What would Neji say now?

Neji sighed and shook his head. "You poor deprived child."

Gaara winced, taking it as an insult. Then he drew in a gasp of surprise, as Neji took his cold hand in his much warmer one.

"You see," Neji started explaining, still holding Gaara's hand, "Double Chocolate-Chip Rocky Road is good for holidays and celebrations and such, but it gets too rich if you eat it all the time. Now, even though vanilla's such a common flavor, the taste of it sticks with you. You grow to like it more and more with time, and even though you might switch to more elaborate flavors once in a while, you'll always come back to vanilla. That's why it's so popular."

Gaara blinked. "I see."

Neji laughed. "No you don't. You won't until you actually taste it."

They'd reached the shops by now, so they each bought their own lunch and sat down around one of the small tables outside the ice-cream shop. Neji stared at Gaara as he took his first lick of his vanilla ice cream cone, and asked, "So, how is it?"

"Good." Gaara responded. "…Simple."

Neji laughed as he took a bite of his own ice-cream cone. "Well, good. I'm glad you like it."

Gaara stared at the little bit of Double Chocolate-Chip Rocky Road on the corner of Neji's mouth. "Why aren't you eating vanilla?" he asked a bit accusingly. "It's your favorite, isn't it?"

Neji smiled. "It is. But I told you: Double Chocolate-Chip Rocky Road is fine for celebrations."

Gaara frowned. "What are you celebrating?"

"I'm celebrating the fact that my new boyfriend is the most adorable and perfect person in the world."

Gaara blushed.

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