Disclaimer: Property of Kishimoto, yo. If I owned it, I wouldn't have to write fanfiction! Also a spoiler warning for the manga, since the anime is still stuck on gawdforsaken fillers and hasn't caught up yet.

Pairing: a bit of Gaara x Naruto, don't like then don't read. If you flame me for you're just an idiot for reading somethiing you supposedly hate and will be laughed at. Reviews and constructive criticism are always welcome, though

konpeitou: I started this a while back when the manga chapter was new, but for some reason I stopped it and only recently thought to finish it. I do hope then that I managed to retain a decent flow to the story. Another gift for my dear friend doragon, who is the single greatest Gaara (as well as GaaNaru) fan that I've ever heard of. She is my muse in this fandom and I aim only to please her and those who likewise adore these two tortured boys.

EDIT: Fixed a couple typos. I hate how I always find such little mistakes after I upload the file. :gonk: I hope I got them all this time.

Never Let Go

It was surprisingly cold at night in the desert. He didn't know why, but he always assumed that since the desert was excruciatingly hot during the day that it would at least be warm at night, too. The three campfires a small distance away provided a welcome bit of warmth and light in the desolate night. His jacket was thick enough to keep him warm, at least, so he left his blanket draped over the burden partially lying across his lap; not that he minded in the least, though.

The shifting of the sand from footsteps coming in his direction caused the clear blue eyes to rise again towards the newcomer, unconsciously wary. A moment's once-over confirmed the identity at a glance and he relaxed as the leggy blonde finished her trek to stand beside him. "Hey Temari," he greeted cheekily, "what's up?"

She frowned slightly at his manner but shifted her glance instead down to the bundle nestled across the other blonde's thighs. "How's he doing?" she asked by way of greeting, getting strait to the point of her little visit. Naruto looked back down at the pale and drawn face that was currently lax in sleep, as it had been for the last several hours. If it weren't for the steady rise and fall of the slim chest under the blanket, it would be easy to mistake the boy for dead. Just earlier that day he was dead, and that was a thought that still sent chills down the blonde boy's spine.

"He's fine." Naruto murmured back, resting a hand gently on the slim chest and finding some small comfort in the rhythmic movement and beating below his palm. "Just sleeping..." If the Sand kunoichi said anything else, Naruto didn't hear it as he slipped into thought, recalling the day's events as he watched the boy in repose on his lap.

He had been terrified when he had finally gotten him back, keeping a steady flow of power to the clones protecting the unresponsive body. He kept thinking that he was too late, that he hadn't been strong enough, that he hadn't been fast enough, that it was all his fault.

And then he came back.

Naruto wasn't really sure what he was doing when he gave some of his life to the prone boy, frantically thinking only that the old woman was failing and he couldn't let that happen, there was no way he'd allow that to happen! It was a small price to pay, to save his friend's life. Things had been a blur, after that, mind racing over and over with the simple thought 'he's okay'.

They had tried traveling back to the village, but they couldn't get very far with such a large contingent of shinobi as well as weak and wounded. Naruto half-carried the slender boy the whole time, refusing for some inexplicable reason that he didn't want to think about too deeply to let him go. Admittedly the other teen had tried to protest, but he was weak and had no choice but to accept the arm wrapped around his waist to help him walk. The blonde remembered, distinctly, when some of the Sand shinobi had tried to take his place, to take their leader into their own care, but he wouldn't let them. He had tightened his hold on the dizzy teen and glared at the people trying to take him.

There was no way he was letting him go.

Temari had been the first to understand. She had been the first, along with her puppet brother Kankurou, to try to carry the Kazekage, but Naruto wouldn't let her. For a moment she seemed very very angry about that, after all... who was he to keep her from her baby brother? She matched the glare, ready to argue... but she stopped, stared into the wild blue eyes of the boy who had fought so desperately to save the wounded boy in his arms, saw the aching need buried somewhere in the swirl of emotional reds and blues, and she let him have his way. Naruto decided then that he liked the girl; he also resolved to try not to get on her bad side...

The group hadn't gotten far when the strain was too much for the newly revived redhead and he passed out, too drained and too stubborn to even call for a stop, caught from an ungraceful flop on the sands by the arm still wrapped around him. Naruto took the initiative and enforced the stop himself. His teacher wasn't looking too good draped over Gai-sensei's back, anyway, so it hadn't taken much convincing. It was frustrating trying to fend off all the random shinobi who tried to take control of the unconscious boy, and it took Temari barking orders in that scary female way to get them to back off and set up a hasty camp.

Things had calmed down since, and that left Naruto free to sit a little off to the side and away from the main entourage, with a sleeping boy resting across his lap that he used to think was dead. He brought a hand up to rest against the pale brow, brushing some dark red hair out of the way in the process, but found no fever. Satisfied, he let his mind wander again as his hand slipped down the side of the face to rest against the other boy's cheek, pausing for just a moment to brush his thumb over the curious trademark scar in passing. He let his finger tips drift across the temple - was he dreaming now, he wondered? - and down to the jaw, following the path or the ridge up to the point of the chin - when was the last time he got to speak? - where he flipped his hand, brushed his thumb over the slim lips with the barest hint of contact - was he hungry or thirsty? what did he want? - and up the cheek again to follow the angle of his cheekbone to the outside corner of his eye where he traced a careful circle around that hollow, fingertips running along the dark edges - would those disappear, now that he could sleep?

"I think this is the most rest he's ever had in his life." The quiet voice, laced with concern and radiating fondness, snapped Naruto out of his daze and he looked up in confusion at Temari with a blush; he had quite forgotten she was there, and now felt inexplicably embarrassed for his actions. But she only smiled kindly, knelt down to brush back the dark bangs and place a kiss upon the cool pale forehead before standing again. "Get some sleep, Naruto. You're no good to him if you can't even carry yourself." she chided as she walked away. He wanted to protest that he was stronger than that, that he could handle it, but it was too late and she was already gone.

He had woken to the feel of something brushing along his face, but being unaccustomed to the act of waking, didn't immediately understand what was happening and was slow to put the pieces together. The sound of his sister's voice startled him slightly, but neither the one touching him - he at least knew her voice was too far away for it to be her - nor the elder girl seemed to notice. Tired and still groggy, Gaara decided to keep his eyes closed and feign continued unconsciousness. It was hard, with those fingers brushing lightly along his skin. He wanted to squirm away from the unfamiliar and personal touch, but didn't want to give himself away; he wasn't in the mood to talk to Temari just yet. And yet… somehow the touches were comforting, so he tried to concentrate on that aspect of it. The young Kazekage almost jerked in surprise when he heard his sister's last words, barely noticing the footsteps retreating away in the distinct whisper of sand Naruto?! This is Naruto? The revelation surprised him, but somehow not very much and he was curious as to why the thought comforted him slightly. Letting the silence stretch a little longer, he reveled in the strange new feeling running soothingly through him.

"I know you're awake," Naruto murmured after a few quiet minutes. "Your breathing changed." Well, there was nothing more to be said about that, so Gaara abandoned pretense and cracked his eyes open slowly, blinking to adjust to the low firelight. "Sleep well?"

"Hn. I guess." Considering I've never slept before… the redhead thought dryly, but kept the words to himself. He probably should have asked why he was lying on the other teen's lap, he probably even should have been trying to move, but honestly Gaara liked where he was and didn't particularly care to vacate. Might as well leave well enough alone, he thought, and slipped his eyes closed again.

"I didn't mean to wake you, we stopped for camp so that you could rest." Naruto's voice continued, amazingly quiet all things considered, just above. "Since you're up we might as well get you settled in your bed so you don't wake up later, right?" Gentle arms began to lift his shoulders and the drowsy Kazekage stifled a grumble of irritation. So instead he let himself be pulled up and led towards his own tent. How pathetic, I'm getting put to bed like a child he scoffed to himself. Still, he couldn't deny that he liked, to some degree, having Naruto help him. It was nice to feel cared for.

So outlander ninja helped the other teen get settled in his tent, carefully setting him down on the bedrolls that had be laid out, easing him back until the red locks spilled against the pillow, pulling the blankets up and tenderly tucking the edges around the slim shoulders. Everything was done in silence, a heavy silence that neither knew how to fill, and yet Naruto's movements weren't rushed at all. He took his time, because even though he didn't want to admit it to himself, he didn't want to leave. But he had to, and when the silence stretched longer while he knelt by Gaara's side, feeling the silent green gaze on him, he admitted defeat and stood to leave. He opened his mouth to murmur some form of goodnight, make his excuse and escape, but the voice that shattered the air inside the tent was not his own.

"Where are you going?" Naruto looked up, surprised, because the question was asked in a rush, almost urgently and for a moment he wouldn't help but stare.

"You should get some rest…" he forced himself to say at last, figuring that it was rather obvious, given that it was true. Green continued to stare, desperately, and somehow willed the blonde to continue. "I'm sure Sakura has already gotten our tents set up by now, so I'm just going to check around and then go back to my tent so you can rest. Don't worry," Naruto added hurriedly, feeling oddly flustered by the sudden need to explain himself, to reassure his friend, "I'll make sure that I'm close by, and I'm sure your brother and sister are too. I won't let anything get past me, and then tomorrow we can finish getting back to Suna Gakure so… don't worry, ok?" It was pitiful, and he scratched his head in nervous habit to show his confusion as he trailed off. At a loss, he turned and reached out to open the tent door, but again was stopped when Gaara called his name. He turned, happily and reluctantly at the same time, and 'hmm'd his attention.

"Stay?" It was just a word, a simple request, but even Naruto could see how much it pained the young leader to have to ask. He shifted his feet, unsure what to do.

"Sure… for a while, Gaara." There was a small sigh of relief at his response, but it wasn't enough. It was blatantly obvious that that wasn't the answer the redhead wanted, but obviously wasn't going to argue. Naruto collapsed his legs and sat at rigid casualness at his friend's bedside. Once again, silence reigned.

"You should rest," he tried to say again, looking for anything to break the silence. A small part of him wished Gaara would so he could escape this uncomfortable feeling that had settled around them, and at the same time he felt guilty for it; because he never wanted to lose Gaara again. He didn't notice when the other boy shivered in response to his words or how dark lids drooped over the pale green eyes. He only noticed the voice. And the fear.

"I'm afraid to sleep," he whispered, almost as though to himself, "I don't know how…" It was silly, really. Most kids grew up afraid of the dark, afraid of what the darkness held. Kids like them became shinobi, later, and easily discarded such fears. But not Gaara. Gaara wasn't afraid there was a monster lurking in the darkness to get him, because he had always known where the monster was. He knew that if he slept the monster really would come out, and that's what scared him. He learned to get over it, of course; he was a very powerful ninja, and it helped that he trained himself not to sleep. But it was all different now.

He lost himself in that fear, that deeply buried childhood terror that he'd thought he'd destroyed but was now dipping its claws into his mind. A small part of him noticed that his breathing was becoming harsh, that he was no longer seeing what was around him, but the rest didn't know. All he could focus on was that he didn't want to sleep! Then there was a weight suddenly on him, around him, making things better and worse and for an agonizing moment he thought that his demon was finally getting him.

When his eyes focused again, it was splashes of black, orange and vibrant yellow that filled the thin green irises. "Wh-what?" It was a gasp, full of fear and confusion. Gaara felt so lost and spared a moment to hate himself for it. He was a powerful shinobi, Kazekage of the Village of the Hidden Sand, he was not going to panic!

"I'm sorry…" It was a murmur, so quiet he wasn't sure he heard it, and then the weight was moving, disappearing and in that frightened moment of loss he reacted on instinct and reached out to pull it back, to keep the other presence there, to not be left alone.

An exhaled oomf of surprise broke past his lips as Naruto's body, startled and unbalanced, toppled back onto Gaara in a rather ungainly sprawl. The other teen struggled to adjust himself, muttering something that could have been a curse or an apology for all that the redhead was listening, but found himself stuck by the pale hand wrapped so tightly around his sleeve that the knuckles were ghostly white. Gaara let his eyes close, his body tensed and strained and mouth open a touch as he breathed short ragged pants, trying to focus. He didn't see Naruto, didn't see the way the clear blue watched him with confusion and worry. He wanted to explain to the other boy, tell him what he wanted, tell him not to leave, but he couldn't. He had already asked and the young Kazekage could not bring himself to show such… need again. But when the blonde spoke his name, he couldn't seem to refuse the unspoken request in the voice and forced his eyes open, peering through his lashes up at the tanned face as though he could still continue to hide if he just didn't look head-on.

"It's okay," he murmured finally with a weak smile, levering himself a little more off the prone teen's body. In a rare moment of insight, Naruto seemed to understand what Gaara's eyes and body screamed, even if the voice would not. That simple, desperate don't leave me! was so intense that even the most thickheaded ninja in all of Konoha could not miss the plea.

Slowly, haltingly the blonde levered himself back onto his feet, gently prying Gaara's hand from his sleeve with a weak smile of reassurance before carefully climbing over the other boy, watching warily for any sign that his actions were disturbing or unwanted, and laid down behind his friend. Gaara turned enough to look questioningly over his shoulder as the blonde timidly spooned himself behind him and draped his arm over Gaara's own so that they both rested across his narrow chest, a thin blanket and their clothes all that separated them. Even at that, the redhead shivered, because he could feel the careful distance that Naruto was leaving between them. Even with their bodies in the same position so close, there was a tangible empty space between them, an awkwardness that separated them. It hurt, that feeling; it hurt to feel like Naruto didn't really want to be near him, didn't want to touch him. In that moment, all the loneliness of his entire existence seemed magnified and brought to the fore, and to his shame he felt his eyes burn and squeezed them tightly shut lest any traitorous tears dare escape. He hated being weak, he hated anyone seeing him weak, and he very much abhorred the idea of Naruto seeing him be weak. He hated that his body trembled in his effort to not break down.

"I'm sorry," Naruto muttered after a long moment, loosening his arms and shifting to move again. "I'm making you uncomfortable. Sorry."

"No." Gaara choked, and immediately hated his voice for betraying him. But the blonde stopped and at least for a moment he wasn't getting further away. "You're not. But I understand if you don't want to…" the redhead trailed off, unwilling to voice it.

"Don't want to what, Gaara?" he asked, damn him he had to make him say it. The paler ninja curled up a little tighter and closed his eyes tightly against the godforsaken tears that kept fighting to spill from his eyes. He was suddenly torn between wanting Naruto to stay and wanting him to leave so he wouldn't have to admit any more weakness and need. "Gaara…."

"If you don't want to stay with me." There, he said it. Another hit to his pride, another mark down as he continued to sink into pathetic neediness. Why should he expect the blonde to stay, anyway? Maybe that connection he thought he felt between them was just in his imagination… it wasn't like he had a demon anymore, after all.

"And people call me an idiot." That was all the warning Gaara had before Naruto once more settled behind him, but this time that distance, that painful space was filled and the body around him felt close and warm and comforting in a way the ex-vessel never knew existed. A small gasping sob broke past his chapped lips from the overwhelming contentment the simple action brought him. "Hey, it's okay. There's no one here but me and I won't tell a soul. I swear on my ninja way."

That was all it took to break the final barriers he had and Gaara sacrificed the last shreds of his dignity, flopped awkwardly under the blankets until he was facing Naruto so that he could wrap his arms tightly around the broader chest and hide his tears against the trademark orange fabric. He let himself be shuffled around so that the blonde's arm was under his neck and both arms were wrapped tightly around the shaking shoulders. The fox boy held on tightly, rubbing small soothing circles on the other boy's back, and trying not to think about how much he himself was enjoying this. It made him feel guilty and ashamed, to be enjoying the benefits of holding someone when they were in such pain. But still he couldn't escape the fact that he didn't want to let go, he still never wanted to let go… he was afraid that if he let go then next time he'd really lose Gaara for good.

"I'm useless now," the pale boy murmured, voice muffled by the jacket that he was clinging desperately to. "How can I defend my village now? I hated Shukaku, I really hated the whiny bastard, but I was able to protect the people I cared about… I was finally able to atone." The arms tightened and Gaara tried in vain to bury his face further into Naruto's chest. "I'm useless now, a worthless Kazekage."

"Hey now, none of that!" the blonde chided and tightened his own hold. "You're not useless orpowerless. You are still a shinobi, and the will to fight is all you need. That is your ninja way, right?" It hurt, honestly, to see the redhead like this… and guilt ate away at his soul for the suffering Gaara felt. If only he had been faster, if only he was stronger he might have saved him before he lost his demon. It was his fault that Gaara was miserable. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I couldn't save you Gaara." He held the other close and hid his own tears in the mass of bloody-red locks tucked under his chin.

"Idiot. You did save me, remember? I was dead until you saved me." He looked up, intending to glare a little at the blonde for saying such stupid things, but he hadn't realized Naruto had angled his own head down and suddenly their faces were very very close. Both pairs of eyes widened and an awkward flush stained their cheeks as their breath mingled between them. "It seems like you're always there to save me."

"I was almost too late this time," the Konoha ninja admitted in a pained voice. "I don't ever want that to happen again. I was terrified that I'd lost you."

Gaara was shocked by the admission, completely and utterly. Maybe it wasn't so one-sided he thought in a daze. He was also incredibly touched that the ninja he respected so much cared so much about him. So he did the only thing he could think of to adequately express his feelings on the matter; he leaned up and kissed the blonde squarely on the lips.

"Ga-Gaara!" Naruto stammered, flushing hotly and staring incredulously at the minty eyes that just seemed to look back in confusion at his reaction. "What the…?"

"That's how you express affection, isn't it?" the young Kazekage asked innocently, honestly confused with an increasing feeling that he was missing something, judging by the other ninja's reaction, and never before had he felt quite as young as he did right then. "Was that wrong?"

"Yes. No. I mean…" he trailed off and took a slow steadying breath. Gaara was just glad that even if he had done something wrong, the blonde was still holding him as tightly as before and that was enough. "You really care about me?" he asked finally.

"Very much." Gaara confirmed, frowning as though it should have been obvious. Wasn't that's what a kiss was for? Maybe he was supposed to do more to show how much he cared…


"Good?" the redhead echoed, confused. Naruto just smiled cheekily.

"Yes, good. Because I care about you too." He moved a little, hesitated, then finished the motion and placed a kiss atop the 'ai' scar. Gaara felt himself blush in response and didn't know quite why. "All I know, and all I need to know, is that I never want to lose you. I never want to let you go again."

Gaara smiled, the action feeling tense and awkward but somehow pleasant nonetheless. He didn't reply, just buried his face once more in the jacket, still slightly damp from his tears but smelling distinctly like the crazy fox boy who wore it. I don't care if I lost Shukaku, he wasn't who I am… I'll prove once and for all that I'm not my demon. I'll get stronger, strong enough to protect you, too. With that last determined thought pale eyes fluttered closed as exhaustion finally caught up to him. The pair shifted again, getting a little more comfortable, but ultimately fell asleep tangled together in a tightly woven mass of limbs, Gaara's head tucked up under the darker boy's chin with his red hair fanning along the jaw and Naruto resting comfortably on the dark crown, snoring softly. It was that sight that greeted Temari when she peeked into the tent to check on Gaara, and what finally gave her the faith to believe that her baby brother would really be all right.