Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

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A Christmas Interlude

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"Good morning class!" said a cheerful Kakashi sensei.

"Good morning," the students answered obediently, if less enthusiastically.

"We're lucky it's still morning at all, with him being so damn late," Kiba grumbled.

Naruto grinned to himself, shaking his blond head. He knew it wasn't that Kiba was so anxious to start learning. He just didn't think it was fair that he had to come in so early when they weren't even sure whether the teacher would arrive in ten minutes or two hours.

"Come on now. It's Friday and there's only one last week before Christmas break!" The sensei tried again. "Where's your enthusiasm?" A chorus of non-committal grunts answered this question but Kakashi just smiled all the wider.

"Well then, it appears that we're all lacking in the holiday spirit, doesn't it? Luckily I have just the remedy for that. I have already placed all of your names in this nice, festive little box here and you are all going to get to pick a name out. Whatever name you pick out, you will be that lucky person's Secret Santa!" The better portion of the class groaned though a few people seemed fairly excited by the idea... mostly girls.

"Isn't this fun boys and girls?" Kakashi chuckled evilly as he moved up and down the aisles letting each student pull a little slip of paper from the box in his hand. "You all have the opportunity to either give or do something to make someone else's Christmas a little brighter this year."

Naruto hesitated for a second when Kakashi got to him, before reaching gingerly into the box. Who's name would he get, and what would he do for them?

It was a good thing this was supposed to be anonymous. Because he wasn't exactly the most popular guy in the school and things could get painfully humiliating for him really fast if he had to publicly present a gift to the wrong person.

Kakashi moved on as soon as he had the paper in hand and he stared at it blankly for a moment, twirling it in his fingers before finally opening it.

...Gaara! He had gotten Gaara's name. A blush immediately began to spread over his cheeks and he snuck a peak toward the redhead, who sat at the back of the room with him and Kiba, earphones on and distinctly ignoring the rest of the class.

Naruto had had a crush on Gaara for few years now. Most people shied away from the boy, thinking he was strange and scary looking but Naruto liked how different he looked. He didn't mind the redhead's silent nature that other people took for stand-offish-ness and where everyone else seemed to assume that Gaara wouldn't welcome any sort of company, Naruto saw a lonely, forgotten person like himself.

Besides, Gaara was sooo hot! He really couldn't understand how anybody could prevent themselves from staring at those piercing coal-rimmed eyes. That blood red hair was such a distraction for the blond and the way it contrasted that smooth, pale skin was just amazing. Then there was the tattoo on his forehead. Naruto would love to congratulate the artist who had somehow managed to match the color of his hair so perfectly. It looked positively delicious. No seriously! Naruto often had the urge to just lick it.

He couldn't believe his luck! Honestly, luck wasn't usually a friend of his. But today he had actually managed, by sheer chance, to pick the name of the person he would most like to do something nice for.

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Gaara sighed inaudibly and reached into the stupid box, pulling out a small strip of paper. He didn't really want to participate in this farce and was debating whether to open it anyway or just leave the name a mystery and toss the damn thing out right now. Before he could come to a conclusion, the annoying pink haired girl who sat near the front snatched it out of his hand.

Sakura had opened her paper to find, to her disappointment, that she hadn't gotten the name of her beloved. Undaunted however, she immediately went off on a search through the class to find the person had gotten the gorgeous Uchiha Sasuke.

Ino, realizing what her rival was up to began searching from the other end of the room and Sakura knew she had to kick it into high gear. By the time she reached the back of the room she was in too much of a hurry to be intimidated by the red haired boy as usual and she hastily grabbed his paper from him. An exclamation of joy left her lips as she unfolded the small paper to find the name Uchiha Sasuke printed neatly across it.

"Yes!" cried Sakura.

"Nooo!" whined Ino as she heard the triumph in her rival's voice.

Sakura cuddled the bit of paper protectively to her chest and tossed her own paper carelessly to the redhead as she skipped back to her seat. Gaara frowned at her rude treatment but then he just shrugged. It was all the same to him really. Ino, who stood beside him now, was fuming.

"Now what am I going to do with this?" she sneered holding out her paper like it was diseased or something. She picked up the one that Sakura had discarded on Garra's desk, which the redhead hadn't touched, and opened it.

"Hmm, Shikamaru huh? Well it's better than this one at least." Gaara watched, silent and impassive as another paper fluttered down to the desk top, landing open in front of him. The name Uzumaki Naruto, was displayed before his eyes.

"I mean really... who in their right mind would want to be Naruto's Secret Santa?" Ino muttered as she stalked off to her own seat with Shikamaru's name in hand.

"Naruto," Gaara thought to himself. He was that unpopular blond guy that tended to glance Gaara's way and smile shyly at him whenever their eyes would meet. Nobody else 'ever' smiled at Gaara. He really didn't know what to think of the blond, so he tried not to think about him at all.

Oh well. It didn't matter. Gaara was not about to be bothered with this Secret Santa crap. It was just a load of bull. There was never any of that fairy tale festive cheer and family togetherness shit in his home. Never had been as far as he could remember. He firmly believed that Christmas was nothing but a consumer driven hoax.

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"So who'd you get Naruto?" asked Kiba quietly as they left the class.

"It's supposed to be a secret Kiba," Naruto reminded him.

"Well is it me?"

"No."

"Then it's ok to tell me right?" Kiba reasoned. "It's just me. You know I won't go and tell anyone else."

"Alright... I got Gaara," Naruto whispered his confession with a slight blush.

"The Psycho!!"

"Be quiet Kiba!" hissed Naruto. Getting over his surprise, Kiba had begun to laugh.

"Man! Good freakin' luck! That guy's got less Christmas spirit than the Grinch himself. Don't get him anything too expensive whatever you do. He'd probably just set fire to the box without even opening it."

"You don't know that Kiba," Naruto protested. "You've never even talked to him. For all you know, he might be a really nice guy. There must be some present he'd like. I'm sure I could cheer him up for the holidays somehow."

"Yeah that's right man. You just keep tellin' yourself that. Think positive and all," Kiba chuckled. "Tell me how that works out for you."

Naruto smiled back but, Kiba's attitude had actually gotten him a little nervous about the whole thing. He was going to have to start putting a lot of thought into what to do for his red haired crush. Thankfully it was Friday so he would have some time to ponder it over soon enough.

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Monday morning, Gaara wasn't in the best of moods. He hated Monday's as much as the next person and his sister had wasted so much time in the bathroom this morning that he had just barely had time to get ready to go.

He seriously hated feeling rushed and he depended on his shower to fully wake him up in the mornings. A quick sponge bath was all he'd had time for today and he was still mentally grumbling about it as he dragged himself reluctantly into the classroom.

When he got to the back of the class and approached his usual seat, he looked up and stopped dead in his tracks. Sitting on his desk was a gently steaming cup of coffee. A couple of packets of cream and sugar rested to the side and propped against the cup was an envelope with his name scrawled across it.

Suspicious as he might normally be, at that moment Gaara could've almost sworn that a halo of heavenly light surrounded that cup of coffee while a chorus of angels rang sweetly in his ears.

He slowly sat down at his desk and picked up the envelope that was addressed to him. Opening the card inside he read the hand written note.

"Here's to the warmth of the season!
I thought you might enjoy a little of that warmth right now.
With sincerest wishes for a joyful Christmas holiday,

Your very own
Secret Santa"

"Wow, who knew this whole secret Santa idea would actually have it's perks," thought Gaara. He inspected his coffee and gave it a sniff before deciding to go ahead and risk it. Tearing open both sugar packets, he dumped them in, ignoring the cream and gave the cup a little swirl before taking a sip. Aaah, perfect...

Naruto grinned to himself as the frown that had creased Gaara's brow when he entered the room slipped away. The redhead let out an almost unnoticeable sigh of contentment while he slowly drank his coffee and Naruto felt for a second that his heart might be visibly glowing through his chest.

The easy reception of his first overture was very encouraging. His concerns about the plan he'd come up with were beginning to melt away. Yes, he would be ready to execute phase two tomorrow.

Gaara was slightly surprised at the end of the day when he thought back and realized how a morning that had started out so badly had actually turned into a fairly decent day, as far as school days went. That simple cup of coffee had seemingly acted as a complete turning point and his mood had remained relatively light as the hours passed.

Vaguely, he wondered who this Secret Santa was. It was a good question. He had a hard time imagining who would do something nice like that for him, even as an assignment. Especially considering that nobody else had received anything from their Secret Santa yet. Well except for Sasuke but that was to be expected.

Maybe he could get something for that little blond guy. On the other hand, he snorted, there was no point in making too much of a simple cup of coffee. Just because some keener had drawn his name didn't mean he had to get all choked up and start spreading Christmas cheer.

On his way out of the building, he could hear Sakura bragging about all the gifts she had bought for Sasuke and trying to rub Ino's face in it.

"You don't have to have a stupid little name tag to be able to get Sasuke kun a gift Forehead Girl!"

"Maybe not but now you have to get something for some other loser. Who's name did you get anyway?"

"Shikamaru," Ino huffed.

"I thought I gave Shikamaru to that guy," said Sakura.

"You did. Then I traded Naruto for him."

"You had Naruto?" the pink haired girl laughed. Ino tossed her long hair.

"I figure it works out this way. Gaara wouldn't have gotten something for anybody. And nobody would have gotten something for Naruto anyway. It's a perfect match right?"

Both girls giggled hysterically as they strutted off down the street, leaving Gaara to contemplate their words.

"Hmm, I suppose he won't be too disappointed then," he thought.

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Tuesday morning Gaara was more than a little surprised to find another cup of coffee sitting on his desk. This time there was a small cutely wrapped package, along with another envelope. As Gaara sat down he very nearly let a smile loose as he notice that this time there were only the two packets of sugar and no cream. Looked like his Secret Santa was paying attention. Adding his sugar, he took a satisfying sip before opening the envelope.

"Good morning once again.
I always knew you were a warm person underneath.
How about some of those soothing sounds of the season
to help lull you into that Christmas spirit.
May your music be ever merry!

Your very own
Secret Santa"

"Oh gee," thought Gaara with a sarcastic smirk as he picked up the small gift, "I wonder now, what it could possibly be."

Tearing through the paper, he revealed a CD as expected. His eyes widened at the label. Electronica House Christmas. All electric all instrumental, with no annoying choirs or pop singers. Amazing, someone actually bothered to figure out his tastes... in both coffee 'and' music.

Naruto discretely watched from the corner of his eye as the redhead put his ipod in his bag and pulled out his discman, placing the CD inside and pressing play. His pale face was the picture of cool consideration for a few moments. Then when his head started nodding minutely to the beat, Naruto knew he'd picked a winner.

The blond inwardly cheered his success. So far this was going great. Now tomorrow was going to be a little more tricky but hopefully it would go just as well.

Gaara couldn't believe that he'd actually spent a whole day listening to Christmas carols. He was honestly getting quite curious about this Secret Santa person. He wondered what would happen if they met.

Would he be disappointed? Would they be so nice to him in person or did the anonymity give them a courage they wouldn't otherwise have? Did they really enjoy just doing nice things for him out of the goodness of their hearts? Did that kind of person really exist?

"Oh, excuse me," came a gentle male voice as Gaara felt something bump into his shoulder. He looked over automatically, to see a shock of blond hair. Big blue eyes shone up at him and whiskered cheeks became a light pink right before his eyes.

Someone had probably rudely shoved Naruto out of their way... again, and sent him straight into Gaara. The blond bit his lip until Gaara gave a slight nod, to show that he wasn't angry. Then one of those cute smiles spread over his face and his blush darkened a little. He ducked his golden head and hurried forward to push open the big door of the main exit, stopping to look back just before stepping out.

"Bye,"

Gaara followed at a sedate pace, noting when he got outside that the blond was nowhere in sight. He caught himself wondering if maybe he would get some kind of pleasant feeling of satisfaction if he were to do something nice for that Naruto guy like his Secret Santa did.

But who was he kidding? What would he do? Naruto seemed nice enough, if a bit strange but he didn't know the guy at all. He didn't believe he should feel obligated to give gifts to anybody. Teachers really had no right to demand such a thing in the first place.

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Wednesday morning, Gaara walked into his classroom to find yet another steaming cup of coffee sitting on his desk. This time it was standing alone. How odd. It had seemed as if the mysterious gift giver was working up a pattern. Perhaps they had run out of ideas or funds... or enthusiasm. Gaara gave a mental snicker.

Picking up the cup, he realized there were no sugar packets to accompany it. Giving a slight frown, he tasted the dark liquid gingerly. Ah, they'd already added the sugar. Mmm, perfect. When he looked down at his desk, he caught sight of a little note on a Christmas themed post-it, which had been covered by the cup before.

"Wait for it," it said.

Well now. He really did smile this time, just a bit before wiping it off, but a certain blond had managed to catch sight of it anyway and gave a smile of his own.

By the end of the school day however, the wait seemed to have been fruitless. Gaara tried to convince himself that he wasn't disappointed by the lack of some dumb little surprise and the average person might have believed that he succeeded quite well. With a mental shrug, he left the school grounds without even a glance backward, heading to the dojo where he had his martial arts class every Wednesday.

After sufficiently tiring himself out at the dojo Gaara had almost forgotten about the promised surprise that never came, and he made his weary way back home. When he reached the house where he lived with his irritating siblings, he stopped short and simply stared in awe.

There, in front of the house, the fir tree that grew in the yard had been utterly transformed. Someone had strung lights and hung decorations all over it, creating the perfect traditional Christmas tree, complete with a star on top. It was beautiful, sparkling like a jewel in the darkening evening.

Gaara instinctively spun around, casting his gaze about to see if there was anyone nearby. When he found nothing else out of the ordinary, he turned back to the tree and couldn't help but smile, a true unsuppressed smile at the amazing sight.

Slowly, he walked forward his neck craning to look up the tree as he came closer. Finally standing directly in front of the tree, he caught sight of the envelope with his name written in familiar handwriting across it. Opening it almost dazedly, he read the note inside.

"May your days be merry and bright!
I hope this brings a little light into your life.
That's yet another part of what the holidays are all about.
Was it worth the wait?
Sweet dreams to you, tonight and every night.

Your very own
Secret Santa"

Naruto beamed from his hiding place at the oblivious redhead, watching avidly as the rare smile actually grew even wider at the words in the card. It was the most perfect sight he thought he'd ever seen and he was incredibly happy that he'd brought the camera along to capture the moment. It had taken a lot of work to get that tree decorated like that in time, but every second of it had been more than worth it to see that reaction, as far as Naruto was concerned.

That night Gaara watched a cute, cheesy Christmas special that he normally wouldn't have looked at if you payed him and then went to bed, staring at the tree out his bedroom window until he drifted into a wonderfully restful sleep.

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Thursday morning, Gaara was in an unusually good mood, which only increased when he saw that cup of coffee waiting for him at his desk. Oh how he was coming to love that coffee.

Somehow it wasn't just the heat and the taste and the caffeine boost. Seeing that coffee right now, actually made him feel as if someone cared. That was the best part. His Secret Santa might never become his friend for real. Heck they may well forget all about him after this week was over. But even knowing that, he couldn't help enjoying the feeling that this small gesture gave him.

There was a package with the coffee this time and as Gaara sat and took a sip from the cup, (without bothering to check it for sabotage and wasn't that a novel sense of trust?) He opened the card first as usual.

"Hope you enjoyed your surprise last night.
Now let's see. We've covered bright, soothing and warm.
I suppose that brings us to fuzzy
May all your future holidays be blessed with that warm fuzzy feeling.

Your very own
Secret Santa"

Gaara blinked and carefully repressed a chuckle. His Secret Santa was sweet, observant and creative... but cheesy. It seemed to fit in well with everything else though. An almost fond feeling was rising in his chest. He had a thought for just a moment that if it were possible, this might be one person that he wouldn't mind having as a friend. Then he attempted to sweep such thoughts and feelings aside and reached for his present.

Inside the box he found a warm soft fleece scarf and a matching pair of gloves, all black with skulls and crossbones on the back of each glove and one end of the scarf. A hint of the grin he wanted to make showed through as he tried on the gloves to find a good, snug fit and held the scarf out in his hands, noting that it kind of looked like a ridiculously long Jolly Roger. Refolding the scarf, he put it back in the box and looked down at his gloved hands. They looked cute 'and' sorta creepy. It was perfect.

He wondered if his Secret Santa was watching him right now. Were they enjoying his reaction? Did they really do any of this stuff because they liked him or were they just some Christmas obsessed freak?

And oddly, he found himself wondering if they would realize that he wasn't passing on this Christmas spirit and what they might think about that. What would they think of him?

Well, it probably was just about Christmas cheer for them anyway, which meant they wouldn't have really thought particularly well of him in the first place right?

When lunch hour rolled around, Gaara headed to the cafeteria, reaching into his pocket for his wallet, and froze. He checked a different pocket reflexively, knowing that he would find nothing. He only ever put it in 'that' pocket. Frowning, he let out an inaudible sigh as he accepted the fact that he'd forgotten it at home.

Finally moving, he swerved away from the line-up and kept walking through the cafeteria toward the outer doors but then something caught his eye. There, at his usual lonely table, was a brown paper bag with a familiar festive post-it stuck on the side facing him.

"Merry Christmas Gaara!" he read as he drew near. He cast a glance around but there didn't seem to be any sign of someone who was paying more attention than normal. Hesitantly he sat down and opened the bag. Inside he found a cup of ramen, an individual carton of milk and two gingerbread cookies.

"My Secret Santa likes ramen and cookies and milk," he thought randomly as he got up to put some water in the cup and toss it in the microwave at the island in the middle of the room.

It was strange, this feeling of being taken care of. He was now beginning to believe that maybe this mystery person really did like 'him' and not just Christmas in general. And maybe there really was something to all this good-will crap.

Naruto heaved a sigh of relief. That had been a close call. He'd happened to look over at the redhead at just the right moment and immediately realized that he must have forgotten his lunch money. Then he'd had to make a snap decision, write the quick note and sneak his lunch bag onto Gaara's table and vacate the vicinity before he could get caught.

Now he was lunch-less himself but all things considered, he felt pretty good about that. Especially when he saw the stoic, scary Gaara eating cookies and milk.

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The next morning Gaara trudged into the school at an even slower pace than usual. Today was Friday. The last day before classes let out for Christmas, and the last time he would hear anything from his Secret Santa. He may not know who this mysterious person was, but he'd come to like them all the same. Whoever had done those things for him was kind caring and funny, and actually payed attention to him and seemed to accept him with little difficulty.

He'd never even dared to believe that such a person might exist, much less right here in this school, in this class. In the past few days his cynicism regarding the holidays had been slowly lightening. It made him wish that he was more like this Secret Santa of his.

He was sort of regretting that he hadn't done anything at all for Naruto. From what he understood, the blond could have appreciated a friendly gesture as much he had. It was too late now though.

He was still half heartedly pondering the question of who his Secret Santa might be. For the past few days, he'd been on the look-out for a likely suspect, but nobody appeared to be paying him any attention, except for Naruto, who glanced over now and then and smiled but that was nothing new.

Part of him wished that he knew who the mysterious gift giver was, but another part was afraid that might ruin it. Heck, there was still a chance that all of this meant nothing. It could turn out to be an elaborate gag at his expense. The anonymity would give the perpetrator the perfect opportunity to prank him without getting caught. But after what happened at lunch yesterday, that option didn't seem nearly as likely. A joker needn't have bothered to go that far. They would have just stuck to the plan.

Entering the classroom he found his desktop was graced with one last cup of coffee, just the way he liked it, along with one last gift. This time, he sat and simply savored the coffee right down to the last drop before making any move to open the envelope.

"We've come to the end,
and while that is a sad thought, I have saved the best for last.
Perhaps the most important part of a good Christmas experience
is the memory.
I wish you a very merry Christmas,
and may we never forget.

Your very own
Secret Santa"

Carefully, Gaara removed the red paper from the package and opened the box. Another of those post-its was stuck to the back of what looked like a picture frame. It said; "I always knew you'd have a beautiful smile."

He gave a puzzled frown and lifted the frame out of the heavily tissue padded box. In the frame was an enlarged photograph of himself standing before the decorated tree in his yard, reaching a hand hesitantly toward the beautifully lit branches with a positively angelic smile on his face.

Gaara was completely floored. He couldn't believe that he was capable of looking like that. It looked like an image that aught to be on damn Christmas greeting card!

He felt a warmth well up in his chest at the thought that his Secret Santa had called him 'beautiful'. Or his smile at least. He wondered if they had really meant it and found himself inclined to agree that they had indeed saved the best for last. Now, no matter what, he at least had this image of a perfect moment captured forever, to remind him that once upon a time, someone had been kind to him and his feelings had been important to that person. Once, for a short time he had felt that child-like wonder. He had felt like he had a friend.

The loud rustling of paper and exclamations of surprise and pleasure from the other people opening their gifts filled the room. Only one lone blond boy was without a gift.

Gaara glanced over at Naruto's empty desk and inwardly cringed a little. The sight made him feel like he wasn't worthy of the good deeds that had been lavished on him this week.

Big blue eyes lifted at that moment to meet his and Naruto smiled cheerfully at him. Gaara blinked in mild surprise. That guy really could smile through anything, it seemed.

Honestly Naruto couldn't be too upset over his lack of a gift. Sure he kinda wished that whoever had gotten his name could have shown him some tiny measure of consideration. He was human after-all and it would have been nice if someone had remembered that, just this once. But then he'd half expected that this would happen anyway and he was too focused on Gaara's happiness to worry so much about his own.

It felt so good to be able to do these things for his crush. He supposed the copy he had of that picture of Gaara would have to be present enough for him. It was sooo cute! He knew Gaara had a soft side. All the redhead needed was a chance to show it.

After this week Naruto felt like they'd connected in some way, even without speaking directly. He liked to imagine that unlike most people, Gaara would be willing to give 'him' a chance as well. Maybe given the right situation, they could really be close.

The excited chattering of the students was cut short when Kakashi sensei came in and cleared his throat meaningfully. The silver haired sensei smiled at them all as they quieted down and turned to look at him.

"Well class, it's nice to see that you've done your best as Secret Santas to bring a smile to the faces of your peers. That kind of exemplary behavior deserves some acknowledgment, doesn't it? It's time to have our big reveal!"

The students all looked around with widened eyes. Nobody had said anything about revealing themselves. Gaara's sat up straighter. He was going to find out who it was after all?

"Now now," said Kakashi at the sight of all the confused faces. "I never told you that we'd be taking the secret to the grave with us. Let's start at the front and work our way back, left to right. I want everyone to say whose name they got."

The names started coming quickly but Naruto didn't really hear them. He was beyond nervous. It was stupid to be nervous, he knew, but he couldn't help it. He really didn't want to have to draw attention to himself like this.

There had been a time when he'd been quite loud and boisterous and had made a real effort to make friends but by the time he'd reached high school, he'd learned that it was a lot less painful and humiliating for him to just fade into the background.

Even if all he said was the one word, he should be prepared for a certain amount of taunting and sneering. Especially since he was pretty sure that everyone had noticed the daily coffee and various gifts that Gaara had received. Besides, things had turned out so perfectly as it was, and as long as Gaara never learned who he was, he could keep imagining that he would have been accepted.

"Psst! Naruto!" Kiba's whispered prompting snapped him back to attention to realize that it was his turn.

"I, um... I had Gaara," he admitted quietly. The expected jeering came and Naruto looked over at the redhead in an attempt to block it out. Gaara's eyes were wide with surprise and Naruto smiled tentatively, waiting for a reaction one way or the other.

Gaara thought he felt his heart stop. Naruto was his Secret Santa! Naruto had done all those nice things for him!

In the back of his mind he asked himself why this should be so surprising. The blond 'was' the only person who was nice to him on a regular basis. He 'would' be the type of guy to put a serious effort into a thing like this wouldn't he?

And suddenly it was his turn to confess which name he'd gotten... Oh no. They were waiting. Naruto was still smiling that sweet smile at him... Crap.

"Uzumaki Naruto," he said. Simple and deadpanned.

Naruto blinked. The realization flickered through his eyes. The smile dimmed and disappeared, replaced with a blank look. Gaara felt his chest tighten and struggled not to show it.

"Stupid!" Naruto thought as he finally broke eye contact with the other boy and stared down at his desk. "I'm such a moron!"

What in God's name had ever made him think that Gaara was different from anybody else. Just because the redhead was quiet and unpopular, didn't mean he would be any less likely to see Naruto as a loser and shun him as much as the rest of his peers. Just because he felt like he could relate to him didn't mean that Gaara would feel the same. Naruto had just found a fascination with the red haired boy and wanted to believe that he was different.

Since it was the last day, Kakashi had sat down behind his desk, propping up his feet and taking out his little orange novel that everyone strongly suspected was porn. It was essentially a silent announcement that he was planning to ignore them for the rest of the day and they could do whatever they pleased and Naruto quickly took advantage of the implied privilege. He stood up, slung his backpack over his shoulder and started for the exit amid the cruel taunting that had increased dramatically since Gaara had spoken his name.

The other students had found it extremely entertaining that even an outcast like Gaara, would refuse to have anything to do with Naruto. The fact that Naruto had apparently gone to a lot of effort for Gaara made it all the funnier. They made certain Naruto knew that they thought he was an incredible idiot.

"They're right too," Naruto silently told himself. He had built up this stupid dream that Gaara might be able to understand and accept him. Only an idiot would let themselves believe in a ridiculous fantasy like that. He deserved this moment for being so stupid and he should accept it as his due. But still, there was no worse pain in life than disillusionment.

Gaara watched the blond coming closer to his desk on the way to the door. Naruto paused ever-so briefly beside him and smiled. Not like before. This one was painfully fake.

"Merry Christmas Gaara," he murmured so quietly that Gaara could barely hear it over the laughter of the other students. A moment later, Naruto was gone.

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Gaara couldn't believe how dense he'd been. He had wondered if such a person could exist and who they might possibly be, and the answer had been staring him in the face the whole time! He'd been looking around for someone who was behaving oddly and hadn't given a thought to the one person who was already nice to him anyway. He felt like a fool.

And all this time, even before the Secret Santa thing, he'd been wallowing in his cynicism, convinced that kindness was a myth and there was no one out there that he could possibly connect with. He could have had someone all along, if he'd just taken his head out of his ass and recognized Naruto's friendly overtures for what they were. If he'd just reached out and... God, he could be stupid sometimes!

He was worse than a fool wasn't he? He was a hypocrite. He told himself that everyone else was selfish and nobody really cared about other people. That's what was wrong with the world. Now, clearly, he was no better.

He had selfishly taken what pleasant experiences he was given without bothering to pass that feeling on and share it. It didn't matter whether Naruto had been the one to do all those things for him or not. He should have done something for him. Anything! to show that he had thought of him and considered his feelings, in 'some' capacity.

Whether he had been Gaara's Secret Santa or not, Naruto was a person, a good person who didn't deserve to be treated as if he didn't matter at all. It should have been enough for Gaara that he had never said an unkind word to him. That should have been reason enough to show him a little respect if not care. The blond was the one person who had always smiled at him, regardless of the season. He had tried, in his own small, shy way, to make Gaara's day a little bit nicer. He wondered if he would ever get to see that smile again now.

He sighed as he looked down at the picture in his hands. The picture that Naruto had created, captured and given to him out of the goodness of his heart. A picture of himself with a true, honest smile. He frowned at the thought that Naruto had made him smile and in return he had wiped the smile from the blond's face. He couldn't leave things like this. Naruto deserved a merry Christmas, more than anyone. He owed the blond a gift.

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The mall was busy this evening. A lot of people were still shopping for somewhat last-minute Christmas gifts. Gaara had searched nearly the whole mall over and he was still having a lot of trouble deciding on anything. Nothing had really seemed right. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't remember ever having bought a gift before in his life and he had a feeling that even if that weren't the case, it probably still wouldn't have been his strong suit.

Heaving a frustrated sigh, he dropped onto a bench to rest and looked up at the huge display in front of him. There was a massive Christmas tree, surrounded by grossly over-sized presents with shiny paper and giant candy canes that stuck up out of piles of fake snow. In the middle of it all was a big red and gold sleigh where some guy in a Santa suit was sitting and receiving a long line of children one by one, to hear their wish lists and have a picture taken.

Gaara watched as the Santa spoke to the child on his lap, nodding and laughing and then posed quickly for the camera. An elf came along with another child, helping one kid down and the other one up. His eyes narrowed. That little blond elf seemed familiar.

The elf turned around to escort the departing child back out of the display and Gaara's eyes shot wide open. It was Naruto! He stared on, dumbfounded as Naruto delivered the little boy safely back to his mother, offering him a smile and a candy cane before waving him off.

Gaara sat there for quite some time, forgetting about his quest for a gift as he watched the small blond teenager interacting with the children and joking with the man playing Santa. He really seemed to enjoy his job. He was bright and energetic and... so damn cute in that elf costume with his little hat and his little elf shoes. Gaara wasn't normally one to take pleasure in 'cute' things but some part of him wanted to just squeeze the daylights out of the adorable blond!

This was what he'd been missing all this time. This was what he'd been ignoring. This was his sweet, quirky, generous Secret Santa. The cute, cheerful, but lonely and misunderstood boy in his class who went out of his way to make people smile and didn't mind dressing up like an elf to make a bunch of children happy. This was Naruto.

Gaara felt like he could watch him forever.

Eventually, Santa's shift had to end. A tired looking Naruto put up the sign and a few last stragglers were dragged off by their parents despite their protests. Realizing that Naruto would be leaving soon and moreover, that the crowds had thinned out, decreasing his cover and he could be spotted at any moment, Gaara vacated the bench and quickly made for a certain shop down the hall.

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"Goodnight Naruto. You get to sleep in tomorrow right?"

"Yeah, thank God!" chuckled the blond elf. "Goodnight Iruka." He waved lazily to his favorite Santa Claus. Iruka waved back and disappeared in the direction of the washroom. Naruto slumped into the padded seat of the sleigh with a quiet groan. He was exhausted. It was harder work than one might think being an elf. Walking all those kids back and forth and lifting them up and down from the sleigh.

"Any more of this and I might just wear my little elf shoes right out," he mentally joked, letting loose a wide yawn. At the faint sound of a throat clearing, he picked his head back up and opened his eyes to find possibly the last thing he expected to see.

Gaara was standing by the sleigh, looking up at him.

"Gaara?" he whispered. He wasn't sure how to react to this. Should he be upset, to see the redhead? Should he be happy that he had bothered to approach him?

Gaara shifted on his feet in the vaguest of nervous gestures and hesitated a moment before placing a hand on the side of the sleigh to show his intention and then looking at the blond and waiting for a response. Naruto gave a nod and shifted over on the seat while Gaara stepped up into the sleigh.

The redhead sat down next to the blond and stared straight ahead for a few seconds. Then his hand lifted up and held out a steaming cup of coffee in front of Naruto. Naruto just blinked in confusion and Gaara turned to look at him when nothing happened.

"I didn't know what to get you... I'm really bad at this."

Naruto's gaze flicked from the cup to Gaara's face and he noticed that those normally pale cheeks were starting to turn a light pink. The corners of his lips twitched up and slowly the smile took over his whole face. Carefully, he reached up and took the coffee cup from the redhead's hand.

"Thank you."

Gaara stared as bright blue eyes were shaded by lowering lashes and the blushing blond raised the cup in both small hands to take a sip. He almost wished for a camera but he was sure he wouldn't forget the sight of those pink cheeks and the lopsided elf hat over ruffled golden hair anytime soon.

Naruto lowered the cup and smiled again and without a thought, Gaara leaned forward and brushed their lips together in a soft gentle kiss. He pulled back again just as quickly and a very surprised Naruto brought his fingers to his lips in disbelief.

"Merry Christmas Naruto."

A warm, wonderful feeling, flooded through blond boy at these words and he leaned back comfortably in the seat. Gaara followed suit and they sat in companionable silence, broken only by Naruto sipping on his coffee now and then, content for this short while to just watch the stores closing up and enjoy the warmth and closeness of the other beside them.

Fin


(A/N; I didn't really mean to write a Christmas fic especially when I have no time to even work on the one I've already got going. I just suddenly thought of one out of the blue and it came pouring right out of me. I imagine it's about as cheesy and ooc as any other Christmas story. But what the heck! Merry Christmas everybody!!)