This is set a few months after the Rescue Gaara Arc so if you don't know the basics of what happened then you're probably going to get confused by this.
Will to live
Naruto looked on apprehensively along with Temari, Kankuro and Kakashi as Sakura examined the unconscious Gaara. The young Kazekage had been like this for a whole week now according to the Suna medical ninja and they could find no reason for it. The council of elders had become so worried about their leader that they had decided that they needed to ask help from Konoha. That was why Team Kakashi was here, waiting with bated breath for Sakura's diagnosis.
Eventually Sakura sighed, her face grim as she turned to the spectators. "I'm sorry but I can't find anything wrong with him. I can't detect any poison or injuries that would keep him from waking up. It's almost as if…"
"What?" Kankuro asked quietly, knowing he wouldn't like what he was about to hear but asking anyway.
"It's almost as if he doesn't want to wake up; as if he's lost the will to live." Her words were met with stricken silence. Sakura took a deep breath before asking, "Do you know of any reason for this? Has Gaara been depressed lately? Have there been any big changes in his life recently?"
"I don't know – Kankuro and I have been really busy recently with clearing up the damage Akatsuki did and preparing the finals of the Chunin exam; we've not really seen that much of Gaara," replied Temari, her expression one of grief and helplessness.
"I'm sure having Shukaku removed counts as a big change in his life," said Kakashi coolly, only his one uncovered eye showing his concern for the redhead.
The silence that followed Kakashi's words was interrupted by Naruto. "You'd think getting rid of Shukaku would make Gaara happy instead of making him want to die," he whispered morosely. Then, because everyone was being too sombre for his liking, Naruto laughed half-heartedly and said, "Maybe there isn't anything wrong; maybe he's just trying to make up for all the sleep he's missed in one go!"
Sakura shook her head at her friend's optimism. "I don't think that's it Naruto. Tsunade-sensei told me about some of the ninja she's treated who went into comas after a battle. They weren't necessarily injured it was just that the whole experience had traumatised them and the only way they could cope and block out the world was by not waking up."
"You think that's what's happening to Gaara?" asked Kankuro gravely.
Sakura nodded. "His mind can't cope now that he and Shukaku are no longer connected so his body just shut down." She turned around and pointed to his closed eyelids. "See that flickering? It means he's dreaming; his mind is probably creating dreams so that he can resolve his problems."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Naruto asked as he stared at the unmoving form of his friend.
"Unfortunately it's a battle he has to fight on his own," Sakura said softly, giving the young redhead a sympathetic glance even though she knew he wouldn't be able to appreciate her concern in the state he was in at the moment.
Naruto ground his teeth together in irritation, his fists clenching. It was always the same with Gaara – he always had to do things on his own. The Kazekage had been alone all his life because nobody could see that he was a human being instead of a demon. He'd been feared and shunned by all; had never know friendship or kindness or compassion and it made Naruto so angry to think that there was someone out there who had a worse life than him. He couldn't blame Gaara for being a bloodthirsty psychopath when that was what those around him had made him. He'd wanted so badly to help the boy who had been living in that lonely hell for so long but once again he had fallen short of the mark. He couldn't help his friend and he hated himself for that.
All occupants of the room looked on in surprise as Naruto stormed out of the room. Sakura made to go after him but Kakashi stopped her and shook his head. "Don't Sakura – he'll only snap at you and then feel guilty afterwards for doing so. Naruto just needs some time to calm down and then I'm sure he'll be keeping a dutiful vigil at Gaara's bedside."
Sakura nodded silently and turned back to Gaara to see that the redhead's eyelids were flickering much faster than before.
Gaara felt strange as he lay down on his bed, shifting awkwardly under the covers. He'd never been in a bed before since for the past fifteen years he had not needed to sleep and now that he did it felt extremely odd. The softness was nice and beckoned him to the land of dreams. Even though his body screamed for sleep he was still fighting it. The old fear of having his personality devoured if he fell asleep still lingered in his mind even though Shukaku was gone. If Gaara had had his way he would be drinking coffee and pouring over his work trying to fight off his human need for sleep. His siblings had other plans, however, and had forced him to go to bed.
Now, to Gaara's great displeasure, he was fighting a losing battle trying to stay awake while lying in a comfortably warm bed. He cursed his siblings as his eyes became heavier and heavier, his resolve to stay awake weakening as the seconds ticked past.
The next thing Gaara knew he was awake and the early morning sun was shinning into his room. He rubbed at his eyes to confirm that the room he was in was exactly the same as it was when he'd fallen asleep – Gaara had not been up causing death and destruction in the middle of the night.
It was with a relieved sigh that Gaara closed his eyes and fell back onto his fluffy pillow. As he floated in the knowledge that he could sleep without losing himself to the monster within, Gaara found contentment and within that contentment he found sleep, only waking again when the sun was fully risen and it had become stifling for those covered by blankets.
As Gaara readied himself for breakfast flashes of memories came crawling back to him. Only, they weren't memories because some of the things he saw in his mind's eye couldn't possibly have happened – they were far too ridiculous. Then Gaara realized they were his dreams and nearly smiled because dreaming was such a human thing to do. He was a human, not a demon, a human who slept and dreamed and lived.
In his excitement Gaara didn't notice that a lot of his dreams contained a certain blond haired shinobi.
"Good morning," Gaara said coolly as he entered the kitchen.
"Can't talk Gaara – I've got an assignment and probably won't be back for a week or two," Kankuro said as he shovelled his breakfast into his mouth while running around to make sure he had everything.
"She left earlier for Konoha." Gaara nodded as Kankuro shouldered his pack. Kankuro grinned at his little brother as he waved and said, "See you in a few weeks!"
Gaara stood still for a few moments after he was gone. The house the three siblings shared was eerily quiet with the two loudest occupants gone. Gaara felt his good mood rapidly deteriorating as a deep sense of loneliness settled over him. The people he cared about the most were gone.
Gaara mentally shook himself. They were only going to be away for a few weeks – he could cope for that long without them. He also cared about Naruto and he'd been able to survive not seeing him for two and a half years so two weeks shouldn't be a problem.
Nodding determinedly Gaara began to make breakfast.
It was only now that Gaara needed to sleep did he realize why the other Kages complained about paperwork so much. Having an eight hour longer day than everyone else had given Gaara plenty of time to finish off all his paperwork but now that he was able to sleep he had lost those extra eight hours.
Gaara pinched the bridge of his nose in irritation as another huge stack of papers was placed on his desk. Being kidnapped by Akatsuki had gotten him behind in his paperwork and by the looks of it he would never be able to catch up. It pained Gaara greatly to think that he would need to pull another all-nighter just to finish off the important documents that needed to be signed for the next day, let alone the ones that were due right after. Now that Gaara had gotten over his fear of sleeping he had decided that he greatly enjoyed the relaxing experience that brought dreams of happiness and blond demon carriers.
Gaara quickly shook himself before he collapsed onto the desk. He had gotten distracted and started daydreaming again. Gaara sighed in irritation and exasperation, wishing more than anything that he could just go back to bed. Unfortunately sleep was not an option so instead he ploughed on with the paperwork.
Gaara's third eye watched the council of elders with interest while Gaara remained hidden from them.
"Having Shukaku removed has weakened the Kazekage," said one of the elders in a low voice.
Another elder nodded. "If the village was to be attacked again he would not be able to defend it."
"Perhaps we should consider replacing him with someone more capable to act in the best interests of Suna."
"The only reason we even agreed to make him Kazekage in the first place was because we thought it would be easier to control him that way."
Gaara decided he didn't want to see or hear any more of this conversation.
It wasn't long after that that the nightmares started. Gaara was forced to relive his lonely childhood, the constant assassination attempts, the death of Yashamaru, the excruciating pain he felt during Shukaku's extraction, the bleakness of death. Every night he would wake in a cold sweat, tears cascading down his cheeks. He'd quickly brush them away and get dressed before rushing desperately to his office to immerse himself in his paperwork, to focus his mind on something other than the images of his past.
He didn't tell anyone about the nightmares. If someone asked if he was ill he would tersely tell them that he was fine and continue working. His fear of sleep was slowly returning to him because it was only when he slept that the nightmares came.
Gaara started pulling as many all-nighters as he could so that he could avoid going to sleep as well as get on top of the paperwork. He needed to prove to the council of elders that he was a good Kazekage so that they wouldn't replace him. Being the Kazekage had become his dream ever since Naruto had shown him that true strength come from friendship. He wanted his village's love and respect; he wanted to be able to protect his people just like Naruto wanted to protect his own village.
It didn't seem like Gaara would be Kazekage for long though. The council of elders had had another secret meeting and Gaara was sure it was about him. He hated the fact that his own advisors were plotting behind his back but he didn't know what he could do about it short of killing them. If only one of his siblings had been there, they would have known what to do.
Gaara sighed as he buried his head in his hands. The existence he had built seemed to be falling apart all around him and he didn't know what to do to save it. It was so tiring fighting all the time just to be needed by somebody. Gaara wanted to be able to stop struggling to exist but he knew it was never going to happen.
Gaara knew he needed to sleep when he had to suppress a yawn. He couldn't sleep though, not when he had important documents to sign. He'd take a nap then – close his eyes for a few minutes and then finish his work. Gaara folded his arms on his desk and rested his head upon them, dropping off to sleep almost instantly. Gaara's nap was a lot longer than he ever imagined it would be.
-End of Gaara's Flashbacks-
Naruto pounded his fist against the wall to let out all his pent up frustration. Gaara was practically comatose and there was nothing he could do to help him. Naruto hated himself for being useless once again. He hadn't been able to save Sasuke and now he couldn't save Gaara – he couldn't do anything for the two people who were closest to him.
Naruto ceased abusing the wall, his arms falling listlessly to his sides. He pressed his forehead against the wall as he tried to regain his lost breath.
His most precious person. Naruto had reserved that position for Sasuke for a long time because they were like brothers and Sasuke seemed to know the pain of being alone just like he did. But then the bastard had ruined everything by dedicating his life to revenge; by living in the past instead of the present. Now Sasuke could never be Naruto's most precious person.
Gaara on the other hand…Naruto swallowed hard as he remembered their parting handshake and the smile Gaara had graced him with as thanks for saving him from Akatsuki. Naruto loved that smile and would do anything to see Gaara smile again.
It had been a strange thing to come to terms with. Naruto had known for awhile that his crush on Sakura was becoming less and less potent but he hadn't realized it was because he had found someone else. It had taken awhile for him to realize that he liked guys as much as he liked girls but when he did he found that there was one guy in particular that he liked, whose smile haunted his dreams of faraway places and whose name always seemed to slip into a conversation in some way or another. Naruto was certain that Gaara was his most precious person and that was why it pained him so much to know he could not help the redhead.
Naruto sighed, his anger finally gone. He ran a hand through spiky blond hair before muttering, "I guess I'll go sit with him until he wakes up."
With that Naruto headed back to Gaara's room. When he pushed open the door he found that the others were gone. A quiet murmuring of Naruto's stomach informed him that they had left to get lunch. The blond shinobi was tempted to follow their example but then he caught sight of Gaara and he decided there was no way he was leaving the redhead alone.
Pulling up a chair, Naruto took a seat by Gaara's bedside. The young Kazekage appeared to be sleeping peacefully; the only indication that he wasn't merely dead was the constant flickering of his eyelids.
Naruto sighed, not liking the almost total silence in the room. "I wonder if he can hear me," Naruto muttered to himself. "They say people in comas can hear things but I don't know if this is a coma or not. Sakura said he was sleeping but aren't people sleeping when they're in comas?"
Naruto shook his head, deciding he didn't care if Gaara could hear him or not – he needed to break the oppressive silence that suffocated the room. "So how have you been since we last met? I see you've discovered the joys of sleeping. I don't really blame you for not wanting to wake up – sleeping is great isn't it?"
There was no answer to his queries. Naruto shook his head, trying to think of a new topic to move onto. Naruto still liked to talk and be the centre of attention but he had lost his habit of babbling on about the first thing that popped into his head. For once he wished he still possessed the talent to ramble on about nothing.
"I never got to ask you what it's like to be a Kage did I? I also never got the chance to say that I'm proud of you Gaara. I mean, I've wanted to be Hokage practically all my life so when Temari told me you were Kazekage I was pretty jealous as well as being impressed. You gave me hope that my dream was reachable since if they would allow a demon host to be the Kazekage why shouldn't they allow one to be Hokage? I want to thank you for that. Hope isn't something people often give me; it's something I've always had to give myself. Everyone always did their best to ignore me or distance themselves from me. I had to make myself hope that it would all change – that they would change – that I would one day be accept for who I am because if I didn't I'd go mad…like you did."
Naruto gazed with sorrow filled eyes at the sleeping Kazekage. "You stopped hoping that people would accept you and let yourself be the monster everyone saw you as. Why was that? Did someone hurt you or did your hope just run out? Either way, I'm impressed that you've changed. It makes me so happy to think that part of that change is because of something I did or said. I'm glad I gave you hope, Gaara, and I want to continue to give you hope because you're my most precious person and I want to keep you safe and happy. I love you."
Naruto leaned forward and pressed a tender kiss to Gaara's lips before slowly drawing back. "I love you and will always love you, even if you don't love me back." The blond ninja smiled sadly as he took Gaara's pale hand in his more tanned one, his other hand running through blood red hair. "Wake up soon Gaara."
It was cold and dark and empty. Nothing substantial existed around him; Gaara himself was not substantial. Only emotions existed here and Gaara was encased in the loneliness and despair he had felt for most of his life. He had lived in darkness and now he was deceased in darkness. It was true – he really was destined to be alone.
Suddenly, something apart from despair entered Gaara. It was…warm, comforting. It started in his chest and slowly seeped into his entire being. The feeling made the loneliness recede and a feeling Gaara had never felt before surfaced.
He was a child again, crying because everyone hated him. They stood before him, the villagers of Suna, with their backs to him. They shunned him for what they had done to him in their lust for power. He didn't like it, had never liked it; he just wanted to be loved.
Someone was running towards him. They were calling his name and it wasn't out of fear. The little blond boy was waving at him with happiness in his eyes and a large grin on his face. Who was he? He seemed familiar and yet…
Gaara sat up in confusion. He was alive. After all that pain he was alive and…
The young Kazekage turned his head and saw the little blond boy who had grown into a very handsome young man. All Gaara could do was stare at Naruto – the only one who had ever reached out to him, who truly understood the pain he had been through. He had tried to kill the blond shinobi and yet the other still smiled at him with relief; he was glad that he was alive.
The warm feeling in Gaara's chest grew. Naruto's hand was on his shoulder in a comforting gesture. Physical contact was not something Gaara was use to but it felt very nice. It made him want to smile, made him want to voice his appreciation in some way or the other. He didn't know how though, he had never been good at things like that. All Gaara could do was sit and stare at Naruto, his saviour.
-End Gaara's Flashback-
The little blond boy was back again. His face hovered above Gaara's as he half sung half whined, "Gaara! Time to get up!"
Gaara, also young again, closed his eyes in defiance. "I don't want to get up."
"But we miss you!"
"Nobody misses me because nobody cares."
"I care about you."
Gaara cautiously opened one of his eyes. "Really?"
The blond boy nodded seriously. "You're my friend and I don't want you to sleep forever. Wake up so that we can play!"
"But what about all those other people?"
"Does it really matter? Isn't being my friend enough of a reason to wake up?"
"I guess it is."
Gaara's eyes snapped open and he sat up, the covers falling to rest around his waist. How long had he been sleeping? Where was he? What had happened while he was unconscious?
As all these thoughts raced through his head he was deaf to the sound of a chair scraping. He was only pulled out of his daze when a hand landed on his shoulder and a familiar voice whispered, "Gaara..."
Gaara turned his head to see Naruto staring at him with curious and joyful eyes, a smile slowly spreading across his face. Gaara was reminded of when he was resurrected as that warm feeling spread through his chest. He was happy beyond belief that it was Naruto here to welcome him from his slumber; that the blond was once again here for him.
Before Gaara knew what had happened Naruto had kissed him. It was short, fleeting, but left Gaara stunned all the same. He stared at a blushing Naruto for quite some time without saying a word.
"Sorry about that but I couldn't help it. I'm just really glad that you've woken up," Naruto said sheepishly.
Gaara blinked until he had brought himself out of his trance. "Don't be sorry," he said quietly. He then looked about while asking, "How long have I been asleep?"
The only indication of Gaara's surprise was a slight widening of his eyes. "It was only supposed to be a short nap."
Naruto laughed at that. He stopped when he noticed Gaara was looking at him strangely. "What?"
"I like it when you laugh; it makes you seem so happy and alive." Gaara tipped his head slightly to the side before adding, "You look very handsome when you laugh."
This time Naruto's laugh was embarrassed and slightly nervous. Was Gaara hitting on him? Was it such a bad thing if he was? "Thanks. You're very handsome too."
Was it Naruto's imagination or was Gaara blushing? Naruto couldn't stop the lecherous grin from slipping onto his face at the thought that he had caused the infamous Gaara of the desert to blush. Naruto also couldn't stop himself from seeing if he could make Gaara blush again.
"You're even more handsome when you smile – you should do that more often." As Naruto had predicted another spot of colour appeared in Gaara's cheeks. Naruto's grin widened as he leaned closer and teasingly asked, "Are you blushing Gaara-chan?"
"No," was the defiant answer."
Naruto chuckled. "Are you sure? Because it definitely looks like you are."
The look on Gaara's face was too adorable for words. Naruto leaned even closer, internally cackling as he noticed Gaara shift uneasily as his personal space was well and truly invaded. "Do I make you feel…uncomfortable?"
"Naruto…" Gaara whispered, his breath coming in short gasps as his heart hammered away in his chest and his cheeks started glowing.
"Yes?" Naruto whispered back, his face only inches away from Gaara's.
The gap was easy to bridge. All Gaara had to do was move forward ever so slightly and they were kissing. One fluid movement and he could feel Naruto's soft lips on his, the connection making his lips tingle ever so slightly.
The sensation was still there when Gaara leaned back. He looked into deep blue eyes and felt his insides melt. His head felt fuzzy and it was disorientating him. In that moment all Gaara wanted was to have Naruto hold him and kiss him and make him feel like he was wanted, needed. He wanted Naruto to whisper three simple words to him so that he would know for sure that life was worth living because there was someone there who truly cared for him.
Naruto was almost as disorientated as Gaara. His most precious person had kissed him, had returned his affection, and now stared at him longingly with those beautiful green eyes. Naruto could hardly control the joy that spread through him as he cupped Gaara's cheek and the redhead leaned into the touch. No words had been spoken but there seemed to be a mutual understanding between them. They needed the other to be whole, to be truly alive; they needed the warmth and compassion they had been denied as children. They needed love.
Their eyes slipped shut as lips connected again in soft tenderness. Gaara wrapped his arms around Naruto's neck while Naruto placed one hand on the bed to steady himself and the other around Gaara's waist to draw the redhead closer.
Their lips disconnected as Naruto gently pushed Gaara down onto his back. Gaara followed the silent command, his fingers still entangled in Naruto's hair to ensure the blond would follow him. Naruto ran his tongue over Gaara's bottom lip before kissing the Kazekage again. It was still a simple kiss but neither male could do more as the emotions behind the kiss were creating chaos in both their minds and hearts.
The kiss ended and the two teenagers stared at each other in awe. It was then that they heard the voices right outside the door. Naruto stepped back just as Temari walked into the room. Temari's eyes widened in surprise when she saw that her baby brother was awake. "Gaara!" she cried out in relief, attracting the attention of those behind her.
Gaara sat up just in time to be hugged by both Temari and Kankuro. Naruto smiled as he watched the siblings rejoice. He envied Gaara for having a family that loved him unconditionally. Naruto hoped that one day he too would have a family like that.
As Kankuro and Temari continued to ask Gaara if he was feeling alright, Kakashi quietly sidled up to Naruto. He leaned in so that only the blond could hear him and whispered, "I hope we didn't interrupt anything."
Naruto tried to force down his blush as he answered nonchalantly, "You didn't interrupt anything, I was just checking to see if Gaara was alright."
Kakashi nodded, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Of course you were. The fact that you're blushing only supports your story."
"Shut up Kakashi."
Team Kakashi stood outside the gates of Suna with their bags packed. Their mission had been completed so it was time for them to return to Konoha. The Sand Siblings were there to wave them off and to apologize for wasting their time. "It seems Naruto was right when he said Gaara was only catching up on lost sleep. We're sorry that you came all that way for nothing," Kankuro said apologetically.
"Don't worry about it. It has been a pleasure to see old friends again," Kakashi replied lightly.
The Sand ninja smiled, happy that they were considered friends instead of mere allies.
"We better get going," Sakura said as she lifted her pack onto her shoulders.
Naruto nodded before grinning at the siblings. "See you guys next time Gaara needs rescuing!"
"Naruto, wait," Gaara commanded before stepping forward.
Naruto faced Gaara and wondered what he was going to say. Ever since he had woken up they had not been able to have a private moment together and therefore had not been able to discuss their kissing session. Naruto dearly hoped that Gaara was not going to mention it now because if he did Naruto was sure he would be teased constantly about it on the way back to Konoha.
"Naruto, I want to thank you."
Naruto blinked. "For what?"
"For lots of things, the most recent being telling me to wake up." When Naruto continued to look confused Gaara continued, "When I died you were the little boy that called me back to life. When I was asleep you were the boy in my dream that convinced me to wake up. You saved me Naruto."
Suddenly the sand swirled around them and moulded itself into Gaara's Ultimate Defence. Hidden from the prying eyes of the others Gaara was able to show Naruto his gratitude in a way that only Naruto was meant to receive.
Naruto grinned as Gaara leaned up to kiss him. The blond ninja wrapped his arms around Gaara's waist and kissed him back knowing that this would be the last kiss they would share for a long time.
Gaara's lips were pressed against Naruto's ear as he whispered, "You don't need to wait until I need to be rescued to come back."
With that Gaara's Ultimate Defence crumbled. Naruto chuckled at the looks of confusion on the spectators' faces. He and Gaara were now standing apart as if nothing had happened; he wasn't surprised that the others were confused.
Naruto turned back to Gaara and said, "You can always visit Konoha too you know."
Gaara nodded in response to the invitation. He then surprised everybody again by smiling a genuine non-psychotic smile. Naruto found the smile infectious as well as cute. In fact, Gaara looked so adorable that Naruto couldn't stop himself from leaning forward and kissing the redhead's 'Ai' tattoo.
When Naruto realized what he'd done he instantly blushed and sprinted off into the desert, shouting his goodbyes over his shoulder. Sakura and Kakashi also said hurried goodbyes (Sakura also apologizing on Naruto's behalf for molesting the Kazekage) before rushing off after the retreating blond.
Kakashi chuckled as Sakura screamed at Naruto to slow down. He had been completely right in assuming that there was some chemistry between Naruto and Gaara and now they had shown it to the world! Well, not the world, but it was still a pretty big step to reveal something like that to your closest friends and family.
Kakashi wondered if he should tell Tsunade about Naruto's little love interest. He was sure the Hokage would get a kick out of it and might even take pity on Naruto and come up with some mission or other to send him back to Suna. Kakashi chuckled again at his evil little plan, ignoring the looks of annoyance Sakura shot at him.
Meanwhile, Gaara was still frozen in astonishment; his fingers lightly touching the place Naruto had kissed him. The blond had just broken their unspoken rule of no public affection but for some reason Gaara didn't mind. It was probably because Naruto had made real that unspoken promise that they were 'together'. They might not have said aloud anything about this new relationship but both males knew there was one. When they first kissed a new, strange, bond had been formed. Neither knew exactly what to call it so didn't name it, just lived it.
Gaara smiled again as happiness flooded his entire being. He silently watched Naruto's retreating form and hoped that they indeed would see each other again very soon.