This is what Naruto remembers:

Traveling the long distance had made his legs ache. Jiraiya was unusually silent when he requested what had been on his mind for most of the duration of the trip, and then began to lecture him on goals and straying away from them and all those things he had already been taught and had memorized and agonized over for days after days in his past. But it was a simple request, he thought, and it wouldn't take long – not too long – long enough that it wouldn't cut terribly into their set time of training. Two and a half years could spare a day or two, he had mused.

This is what Gaara remembers:

Standing by the tiny window and watching the sun rays that indicated another day of blistering heat, his hands lax at his sides, telling himself not to tense up because there was really no threat here. The presence at the door was light and a little anxious, but sincere, and just sensing it made him want to turn and run in the opposite direction before he could be pulled into another situation where there was no control again, no control of his words or their words or what he was feeling when they said them. The kind of chaos in which one has to face an uncertain future.

"What are you doing here." he asked simply, and it was not a question more than it was a neutral greeting. But Naruto answered regardless;

"I came to see my friend."

- - - - - -

The Hidden Sand was far different from the Hidden Leaf, and Naruto was counting the ways as they walked together among it. Everyone wore protective clothing against the heat and sand, and their faces turned away whenever he glanced in their direction. Gaara moved slowly, seeming to contemplate the act of what they were doing, simple though it was, so he took smaller steps to accommodate and racked his mind for things to talk about.

"So." he said lamely after what seemed like an eternity of strolling under the awkward atmosphere hanging over the two of them.

"Yes?" Gaara asked, not looking up.

"So, um, you got plans and stuff?" He stumbled out at last, the question completely spontaneous. "Me and Ero-sennin are going training." he said thoughtfully. "And we were passing through here, so…" he added for the umpteenth time, although the fact had already been clearly established to Gaara earlier.

"I'm surprised you are here." Gaara replied evenly. Naruto shrugged his shoulders and kept walking, watching the solid earth disappear beneath his feet. "You have no reason to be here." he continued, and Naruto wondered if he should have been offended or if this was just a simple spoken truth.

"Yes I do! We were passing by." he insisted. "So I came to say hello to you."

Gaara stopped walking. Naruto took a few steps and then backtracked, peering up into his face with a calculating look. He had a very white face, smooth and flawless, and his eyes were bright orbs of color, seeming all the more characteristic when framed by those dark bars of inky blackness.

"So….hello." he finished awkwardly.

"…hello." Gaara answered tonelessly.

Naruto felt his face heat up the slightest bit and straightened his back, beginning to walk again and hoping that Gaara would follow his lead. A presence soon joining his side relaxed him, and he watched the boy's dark mop of red hair from the corner of his eye.

"You have no reason to be here." Gaara repeated again, but now his usually emotionless voice carried something else; a stubbornness, and distant bewilderment, as if he was expecting something more or wandering why he deserved a visit at all.

"Well, I'm here, aren't I?" He replied cheerfully, and that seemed to bring close to the subject, as Gaara closed his eyes briefly, giving the strange illusion of two broken butterfly wings across his face.

"You are." he acknowledged, and for the time being, that seemed to be that.

- - - -

This is what Naruto remembers:

When he was younger he used to buy flowers for Sakura, and she used to always refuse them and scold him then that it was not him she wanted to receive roses from. He had always thought it would have been nice, to get flowers from someone, even if they were a friendship offering or a present from Iruka or something of the like. Of course, only girls wanted flowers, but still, it would have been nice, his brain insisted. Back then, any sign of acknowledgements would have been nice, and flowers was up there on his list of some day's hopes.

This is what Gaara remembers:

The delicate contours of a desert rose being pressed into his hands was an unfamiliar sensation. He looked at the thing in silence and mild surprise, at it's delicate petals that were as soft as velvet against his fingers, and Naruto standing in the background, a bright splash of oranges and blues, grinning lopsidedly and rubbing at the back of his neck in an awkward gesture.

- - - -

Gaara asked; "Is this part of saying 'hello?'"

- - - -

It was not customary for Naruto to sit and think for too long, but sometimes being with the right sort of person would do just that. He knew he was not alone now – Jiraiya was with him, after all, and didn't abandon him when he swore he'd chase Sasuke in spite of what a shinobi should logically choose. Iruka was always his surrogate father, and he believed that with all his heart. And he had friends – many friends, so many that thinking of their faces in such a blur made his heart swell until he felt he was about to cry. When he thinks of Gaara, however, he thinks of their fight in the past, and how alike he had realized they were.

We're the same.

"Are you still lonely?" he asked without thinking, staring straight ahead with his hands knotted behind his head. Beside him, Gaara flinched a little (if he could really call it a flinch, it was the barest movement of muscles, really, an acknowledgement of something uncomfortable) and said; "Is that why you came here, to pity me?"

"No…no!" he sat up suddenly, realizing it may have been the wrong thing to say. "I stopped by because you're my friend!"

Gaara turned his head enough to fix him with a piercing stare, and Naruto took a breath and stared right back at him. Finally, the other boy looked away, and a strange sense of accomplishment overcame the blonde, as if the right message had finally been portrayed.

Then; "I'm not lonely."

Naruto wondered if it was a lie, and suddenly wished he was more like Sakura – more sensitive, able to detect things like that. But he also knew that Gaara was Gaara, and he probably wouldn't go spilling his soul on every given opportunity, especially to someone like him. Any confessions on his part, Naruto thought sadly, would probably go to his sister or brother, since they should rightfully be on the best speaking terms with him.

That's how things were. Right?

- - - -

"You're leaving early." Gaara pointed out bluntly. The desert rose was tucked into the folds of his attire and seemed rather out of place against the threatening, sand-shaded gourd and the dark hues of his flowing uniform.

"Yeah, Jiraiya's gonna kill me if I mess around any longer."

Gaara shifted his weight to one foot, then the other, his eyes still on Naruto.

"I don't understand." he said at last.

"What?"

"Is this what friend's do? Stop by and say hello and give gifts and then just leave? Is that how bonds are formed? You said you would stop by only to say hello."

"I meant…" Oh, damn. Naruto made a meaningless gesture with his hand, one that seemed to only bewilder the sand ninja further, then embellished; "I meant to see how you were doing and all. Yeah, I guess, friends do that. I mean….yeah."

"Friends." Gaara repeated, testing the word in his mouth. "Bonds."

"Yeah, bonds." Naruto repeated, his smile nervous. But at the same time, it was kind of cute, the way Gaara stood there, mulling over the possibilities and the angles of what the blonde had just said, all those simple words that had just spilled out of his mouth without regard. He hoped they were the right words.

"Well, I have to go." He decided at last, and then, he did something purely instinctual and not intentional in the least. He leaned over and gave the other boy a short hug, a bare touch of the hands to the shoulders while leaning in slightly, careful not to touch the sand gourd by accident. Gaara stiffened, Naruto pulled away, and then the reality of what he had just done hit him and a hard ball of lead seemed to materialize in his stomach and weigh him down to the floor.

Shit.

Gaara was looking at him as if he had never seen anything like him. "An embrace?" he said slowly.

"Yeah…" Shit, shit, shit… "Friends do that." he added hopefully.

To his relief, Gaara's strange expression softened. "What else to friends do?"

"Uh…"

"Is this the 'goodbye kiss?'" he asked bluntly. Naruto stared at him. "Goodbye…kiss?" he repeated, wondering if he had heard right.

"Women in the village often kiss each other on the cheek when they depart. Is that what this is like?"

"You want a kiss?" Naruto said before he could stop himself.

Gaara merely looked at him.

"Okay…" he muttered, and leaning in, he placed a quick kiss on the red-head's cheek. Gaara didn't move, and Naruto lingered for a moment, feeling his face getting hot.

"And what do you do." Gaara whispered at last, "When you don't want to say goodbye?"

"I guess that makes this a hello kiss?" Naruto said with a small, nervous laugh.

"Well." He murmured, green eyes blinking in thought. "'Hello', then."

"Hello." Naruto agreed, and leaned in for another kiss, this time on the lips.

- - - -

This is what Gaara remembers:

The instinctual need to draw away or push the blonde was immediate, but beside that was a strange comfort in the way their lips touched. Bonds, he thought, must be like this all the time, and he tried to let the tiny ball of warmth in his stomach grow as much as it could. He wondered briefly if anyone was watching and analyzing the scene, or if this was considered wrong, or if this was something they were used to seeing, a hello kiss between friends. He let himself breath and waited until the blonde was finished the strange exchange, a little more than a brush on slightly parted lips, but not enough to make his stomach jolt or his mind insist that they must stop, stop, stop. It was right, he decided, and to deicide such a thing so easily was, in the end, good enough.

This is what Naruto remembers;

He had never given a kiss before, although he had often thought about who he wanted to give one to and where and when and why. Gaara didn't taste of anything other than a dry, sweet sort of warmth. It wasn't as if he had done anything wrong, of course. It was a kiss between friends, although perhaps it was a little too close for friends, as he blushed imagining doing such a thing to Sasuke or even Sakura. But it was a hello kiss, he thought at last, and hello kisses were special like that.