Disclaimer: Naruto is hisself for Kishimoto hisself, in all 'isselfiness.
For someone like Naruto Uzumaki, the freedom he was experiencing surpassed that of anything but his dreams. For the first time in his life, he was to spend a night without limitations that would ever have him looking over his back. No disgruntled hunter ninja would drag him back to his crumbled abode, and the trust of the hokage set alight a confidence in his chest that warmed him even further in the haze of the summer evening.
Even in the newfound liberties the boy was enjoying, without the watchful eyes of the village elite on him, Naruto was bound by the importance of altering what was to come. After thinking about his next move for a short while, the young ninja had easily plotted a vague course of action. In the events that would play out, there were several key people he had to reach.
Naruto returned to Iruka's house for a short amount of time to leave a note, but left before the hapless chuunin could hear of his young charge's induction into the encroaching examinations. It outlined a plan to train through the night at a nearby park, and was followed by a promise to come back with the dawn, if not before it. Now, while the note was a lie, it wasn't without some elements of truth. The Uzumaki would, in fact, be out all night. The object of his nocturnal travels through Konoha's darkened streets was one that was known only to the hokage and himself, however, and was to start with a quick scan of the areas that had been granted to the foreign ninja for lodging.
Entire fields were transformed into campsites for the more rugged guests on Konoha's soil, but others stayed in buildings that normally served for more trivial purposes, like meetinghouses and old dormitories. To Naruto's dismay, his search was not to be made easy by specific markers for guests of any kind. There were no maps to his quarry, and many of the foreigners shared the traits of both being a better trained shinobi than the hapless genin and being very distrustful of their surroundings. It was all Naruto could do to skirt around in the trees. After a few close calls, however, a new strategy was in order. After mussing up his clothes with some dirt, and letting some sweat settle in his hair, Naruto began to run in plain sight on the ground. The new approach caused a few glanced in his direction, but somehow, a genin sprinting vivaciously in the nighttime hours was much more acceptable than one sneaking about.
It's ironic. After all our training, the best way over an enemy's defenses is sometimes, well, just acting natural. Still, the genin was more than aware that a more solid approach to becoming a part of the camp's backdrop so that he could slip in and out was in order. Certain that the opportunity would present itself, Naruto grinned, taking care to look more exhausted than self satisfied as he heard a group of familiar voices.
"No, Temari, all I'm sayin' is that Gaara needs to report in with us the moment we wake up." Came a tired but exasperated voice from the outer walkway of a building to his left. Averting his eyes just enough so that he could see Kankuro from the corner of his vision, Naruto sent a clone of himself running forward and then ducked into some shrubs.
"Listen, Kankuro, you know full well that he doesn't answer to us. He never has. His only responsibility is to our teacher and Hiding-in-Sand." Temari's voice sounded both put off and mournful, and much younger than he had ever remembered it.
"I still wonder about him sometimes, though… he is our brother…" Kankuro's body, much like his voice, became more obscure as he continued down the walkway. Soon, the duo came to a door, and the black-hooded sand ninja was obliged to open the door for his female sibling. Mentally, Naruto marked the doorway they had entered and re-emerged from his hiding place to run anew. The first step of his plan was completed, but now he had to find a valid reason to approach the place in which the Sand siblings currently dwelled, as the penalty for not having one would probably be a very painful one indeed. Still, he had to keep in mind his current state and body. He was no longer a teenager, and as someone who was still on the younger end of the genin roster, he would have more room for error. So, the question persisted.
Why would I bother those three? I can't use the hokage as an excuse, but I really need to see Gaara…
Naruto stopped his sprint without leaving the area, disguising his scheming with a mask of sudden physical exhaustion. Falling to his knees and breathing heavily, the boy carefully surveyed his surroundings. Predictably, shinobi from the sand were walking all around him, all varied in rank and age. The genin watched a few trios of his own age leaving a supply station with clean sleepwear, but his eyes fell instead on the old man running the stand. The guy was only a little bit taller than Naruto himself was, and his eyes had bags under his eyes that didn't bode well for his physical performance.
Naruto watched the elderly man's hands move as he opened and sorted crates, and even as the man carried a few up a flight of stairs. The man's hands were starting to shake, and his face was red from the effort. The occasional stagger gave away the senior laborer's fatigue. Between his curiosity and compassion for the old man, an opportunity presented itself when the stranger fell sideways, dropping a crate that he had been carrying to a washroom door.
With a deep breath, Naruto feigned dragging himself to his feet to help the stranger do likewise. With a concerned smile, the Uzumaki took the old man's load.
"Need some help, Gramps?" Naruto asked, regarding the elderly man's less than fortunate state.
"Sorry, kid. This is Suna's station… you're looking for…," the old man trailed off when he saw the hiatae upon Naruto's forehead. "You're not supposed to be around here right now, and I'm certainly not supposed ta' talk to you."
"Sorry, old man. I didn't mean to bother you. I always run around here when I can't sleep," the boy lied, but with enough actual concern for the old man's health that it seemed as honest as could be. "I just saw you there when I was taking my break, and since I've got the insomnia really bad tonight, I thought maybe I could assist."
"I'm really not supposed to share work with anyone until my relief shows up at three," the old man responded, but without any conviction. The thought of help had weakened his resistance.
"And it's around eleven now, right? That's four hours, gramps."
"You might get me in trouble if you hear something you shouldn't, boy." The man sputtered, trying to take the load out of Naruto's arms, but lacking the strength. After a second or two of this struggle, the man's shoulders sagged.
"Look, grandpa. It's either this or a lonely night of running around. I promise I won't get you in trouble… Just say you hired me. I'll keep a low profile."
"I can't pay you, kid." The elderly servant countered.
Naruto shook his head with a kind smile. "Don't worry about it. Just tell me where to take these things."
The night wore on, and Naruto busied himself with getting acquainted with the setup of the Sand encampment's dynamics while doing menial tasks. He noted every detail of every face he came in contact with, and every jutsu he saw employed for any reason. Mostly, however, he searched for signs of red hair and sleepless black-rimmed eyes.
It wasn't until close to the end of the shift that Naruto found the enigma he had been seeking sitting on the deck, staring sternly off into space. Acting as casual as he could manage, Naruto carried his load of clean towels up to the boy's position and held one out in front of the grim shinobi's face.
"Need a towel for the morning?" Naruto asked. "I'm taking these to the corner over there, but if you're gonna wash up tonight, these are still warm."
Gaara furrowed his hairless brow and didn't even bother to look to his side. He simply ignored the intruder to his bleak world without grace. They often left eventually. To his disdain, however, this one was persistent.
"No." Gaara deadpanned, unsure as it what it was he was dismissing, but equally certain that he didn't care. This was no battlefield-there was no purpose to his involvement in it.
"Wait, wait, you're that Gaara guy, aren't you?" the irritator's voice asked, lapsing into a conversation that Gaara had obliged once before to a rude messenger from another village.
"And if I am?" Gaara responded blandly, turning his head to glare at the newcomer. His eyes were greeted with the familiar figure of the genin that had taken Kankuro not a whole day prior. A bridge connected in the sand demon vessel's brain.
"Are you following me?"the redhead asked darkly.
"No, I'm helping with laundry." Naruto answered staunchly, appearing as confused as he could manage.
"I didn't know they were letting Konoha's genin assist with that." The sand ninja countered, his eyes narrowed again.
"Eh, I just happened to be passing by. The guy working right now isn't doing too well."
"Don't you sleep?" Gaara grumbled, looking away from Naruto once more. The suspicion was still very much in place.
"Yeah, but I sometimes just can't. Why, don't you?" the Uzumaki asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
"No." the youngest sand sibling responded, moving his face as little as possible. To his surprise, his visitor didn't act the least bit disturbed. Instead, he seemed more curious than before.
"Hm. You must be either very overworked, or very bored."
"Aren't you supposed to be washing something?" Gaara asked, strongly hinting at his disdain for human company.
"I volunteered for this. I'm not SUPPOSED to be washing anything." came Naruto's rebuttal.
Gaara turned back to face his unwelcomed guest yet again, his expression unreadable. "Really? And does your village know you're here?"
Naruto shrugged. "I'm an orphan. Nobody bothers, usually."
Hearing this, Gaara again sealed his lips tightly. His thoughts, as always, were unreadable.
"I didn't mean to bother you-" Naruto started.
"Then leave me in peace."
"…I didn't mean to bother you, but I never told you my name earlier." Naruto pressed on, smiling as he went.
Gaara regarded him blankly, suddenly confused as an arm with an open hand presented itself.
"I'm Naruto Uzumaki. Hope we get along, Gaara."
For a split second, Naruto watched as the future Sand Shadow's eyes changed. The indiscriminant spite melted away to show hope, and then, discomfort. Gaara stiffened and stood up, his eyes locked firmly on his uninvited companion. The handshake was shunned, and eventually the gesture was dropped.
"Were you going to watch the sunrise out here?" Naruto asked congenially, placing the towels beside him and taking a seat.
For a while, the two sat in an uneasy silence.
"Uzumaki, you are most unwise." Gaara stated suddenly. "Go back to your home. You shouldn't be here."
"Why not? I'm going to be in the exams too, you know. Besides, our villages are allies."
"There is a reason that your delusions of friendship are not shared by our village councils." Gaara blurted out, bitterness evident with his voice.
"The councils, huh?" Naruto laughed wryly. "Those old hoagies that spend all their time yelling at me, you mean?"
"You?"Gaara scoffed under his breath, as he was unsure of what sort of council would even bother to try to talk to an idiot like the one who was taking up space nearby.
"Gah!" Naruto jumped, looking at the towels. "I have to get back to work!" he exclaimed, running down the stairs, leaving Gaara behind at last. Not before lifting his head up to wave, an act that Gaara spurned.
The rest of the shift continued without any trouble, but Naruto could feel the drowsiness seep he returned from his escapade, the genin went straight into Iruka's house and slept for the little time he had left before having to meet with the other members of his team. A sleepless night did have consequences, regardless of how productive it may be.
A/N: College. Nuff said.