I tried to tell myself that it was his strong presence that shook my resolve and not his penetrating turquoise gaze that seemed to see into my soul, my heart. His unwavering countenance only seemed to make it more clear how unsteady my own was. We were alike and yet, in this moment, I was deftly aware of how different we were. Even though his mouth never once moved, he seemed to be asking something of me.

Help me end this sadness…Cure me of my despair.

I still can't figure out why I kissed him.


"You must really care about Gaara," Sakura said with a smile as we left the Sand Village. When I turned to look behind me, he still stood there, brother and sister on either side of him, face devoid of any emotion, refusing to show how he truly felt.


That overwhelming anguish he had suffered was finally beginning to quell. He was now surrounded by so many people who cared for him. And yet…


I felt like I was the only one who could hear it, that heart-breaking word. Was it him calling out to me?

Kakashi's voice tore me from my thoughts. "Naruto and Gaara are linked by the invisible thread of fate. They share a rare bond that only develops when one truly understands and cares for another."

"Oi," I said, grimacing and chewing on my lower lip. "Putting it like that sounds weird."

"But I'm right, aren't I?"

I looked up at him quickly, but his masked face revealed nothing, nothing but mischievous eyes that seemed to smile on their own. Could he read my mind? One could never tell what he was thinking. I was glad when Sakura once again spoke up.

"You know," she said, tapping her lower lip in contemplation. "There was something really—I don't know—humbling about your goodbye to Gaara; it really moved me." And then she seemed to regret her words, turning to face me quickly. "Ah, sorry Naruto. I'm sure you're sad to be leaving so soon. You didn't even get to spend that much time with him at all."

"It was a hasty departure," agreed Kakashi, "but we do need to return to the Village. "Some of us need medical treatment, eh, me included."

"Hey, hey," I stammered. "I'm happy for Gaara, and besides, people part ways all the time." I saw Sasuke's retreating back for an instant. "Gaara's strong…He doesn't need me."

For some reason, that last sentence came out sounding extremely sad. I remembered Gaara's face when we left, that cool demeanor as I flushed and struggled with the right words to say. He watched it all, wordlessly, with eyes that didn't judge. For some reason, I hadn't wanted to shake his hand. Why was that? Oh yes…

I would have to let go.

The sand that ran through my hand soon after felt strangely warm. I knew what I had to do, but I didn't want to do it. Why was that? Had the bond I had forged with him grown so precious so soon? When I had learned of Gaara's capture, something inside me threatened to boil over. I was overcome with the desire to protect him. Somehow, nothing seemed to matter but seeing him safe again. I put my all into that cause, and, for a moment, it all seemed to be threatened when I saw Gaara's lifeless body.

I wanted to cry so badly.

Before I had even realized it, he truly had become an important part of my life. It wasn't fair…for people to be handed such similar lots in life and end up so different. I wasn't going to let him suffer such a cruel fate…not alone. But really, what could I do? We weren't from the same land; we weren't of the same rank. We really were too different after all.

Still, he guided my hand to his own with the warm sand, and as his delicate fingers curled around mine without hesitation or words, his eyes seemed to speak volumes to me.

Thank you, they seemed to say with a weary resolution. You've done all you can; I don't expect more.

I smiled sadly, unable to look into those penetrating blue-green eyes. Even so, I still heard the sad voice that only I could hear.



"Ah," Gai said, shrugging Kakashi off into the sand. "Time for a break."

We had only been traveling for little more than two hours, so I was surprised when we suddenly stopped. I could have traveled for another ten hours. We had arrived in a small oasis with trees that provided slight protection, and a pool of water which looked extremely inviting. A bath did sound really good.

I moved to strip off my jacket, but Kakashi quickly interrupted me. "Ah, Naruto, you can't jump in right now. I have a mission for you." Once again, his eyes seemed to be smiling. "Now, now, don't get mad just yet. I think you'll find this mission to be quite beneficial, and it's something only you can do."

"Eh?" My surprise was evident, but my mind suddenly started leafing through all the possibilities. "You mean, like a secret mission, Kakashi-sensei?"

Kakashi seemed to ponder this for a moment. "Hm, I guess you could say that." Cryptic as ever. "You see, I forgot to have the Kazekage issue an official Mission Report. Tsunade is kind of a stickler about these things, so could you return to the Sand Village and retrieve it for me?" He even folded his hands. "Pretty please?"

"How is that something only Naruto can do?" Sakura asked, clearly confused.

"He's the only one that could make it back to our Village in time," said the former ANBU member. "Listen Naruto, I don't mind if you play around for a day or two, but you must meet me back in Konoha in three days, understand?" He waved three fingers in the air to reiterate the details.

I just stared at him, utterly baffled, and at the same time, inexplicably happy for some reason.

Rock Lee stood up straight and saluted. "I could go if Naruto declines—"

"Ah," I faintly heard Kakashi's voice say as it grew more and more distant. "There he goes."

I was sure his eyes were smiling.


"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun," the woman behind the desk at the Sand Shadow establishment said. "The Kazekage is not in right now."

"Oh," I said, hanging my head slightly. "Do you know when he'll return?"

"I can't be certain of that either. Things have been a little hectic due to Chiyobaa-sama's funeral and the recent attack on the Village. He could be a few hours, or even a few days."

A few days…Those three words seemed to stab right into my heart, yet strangely, I understood. Gaara's duties as Kazekage were both important and necessary, especially now. Other people needed him. I wouldn't be able to see him.

Folding my arms behind my head, I forced a goofy smile onto my face. "Can you give him a message for me?"

The girl behind the counter smiled back. "Of course."

"Tell him Uzumaki Naruto stopped by."

"All right—"

"Uzumaki Naruto?" a familiar voice repeated behind me.

I pivoted slightly, coming face-to-face with Kankurou. The purple paint was washed off and he looked ready to retire for the day. It was somewhat strange seeing him so at ease, so normal. It was hard to believe that he was the same boy who had implored me to save his brother and shown genuine thanks when I had done so. He now looked so confused that he even scratched his head, blinking at me as if to prove I was real.

"It is you," he said finally. "Did you forget something?"

"Yeah, er—kind of…" It wasn't really me who had forgotten, but that point was irrelevant. "But it doesn't really matter now since the Kazekage's not in."

"Gaara?" Kankurou said, blinking again slightly. I prayed he wouldn't see through my fake smile. Then suddenly, his demeanor changed, and he smiled as well. "Follow me."

As I followed Kankurou throughout the large Kage estate, I finally became aware of the stifling desert air. My jumpsuit was beginning to feel sticky, and I already felt dirty from the previous battle with Deidara, as well as the sandy air.

The inside of the Kazekage mansion was nothing spectacular, but it still held a curious beauty. It was barren, like the sand, but, like the sand, it was a marvel in and of itself. At first, I couldn't help but think that Gaara probably liked it here, but as I looked around at the numerous rooms and seemingly never-ending space, I couldn't help but wonder if he was often lonely.

"Gaara must be happy here," I said to Kankurou, putting voice to my thoughts.

"You think so?" asked the puppet-master, facing me for a brief moment. "Sometimes I wonder…"

I would have asked him what he meant by that, but he stopped and directed me finally to a large, oak door. Turning the golden handle, he pushed open the door revealing rather lavish sleeping quarters.

"This is the Honored Guest Room," Kankurou explained, leaning in the doorway as I stumbled inside. "It connects to a small meeting room, which in turn connects to Gaara's bedroom."

"Wha—?" I stammered, a little confused. Kankurou pointed and I followed his gaze to the solitary door on the wall to the left. Then I gaped at the enormous room I was currently standing in. "Wait…I'm not going to sleep here, right?" I emitted a nervous laugh, but the Sand ninja faced me with a calm expression.

Was it just me, or were his eyes smiling, too?

"Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 6 PM to the adjoined Meeting Room. You will dine with the Kazekage at each of the previously specified hours. Promptly. If the Kazekage does not show, don't worry about it; however, if you are late or fail to show, it is considered a great dishonor. You are also to share a Peace Cup with him before bed, and the same rules apply. You'll find clothes in the dressers, and you can ask a maid for anything else you need."


"Oh, well, you should consider yourself lucky. Whenever the Kazekage washed, it used to be required that the Honored Guest help bathe him. We no longer oblige such customs, but if you care to soak a little, it's down the hall."

"But I'm not an Honored Guest!" I tried to counter; however, Kankurou waved my words away and started to leave.

"I'm sure Gaara would like it this way."

And then he was gone.

I blinked there dumbly for a minute or two before scratching the back of my neck. Was this really happening? At least my situation had improved—I would be able to see Gaara at dinner or the Peace Cup…whatever the latter happened to be. It wouldn't be long before I was issued the Mission Report Kakashi had sent me to obtain. My face was split with a huge smile that I couldn't subdue; it was strange. But, it wasn't bad. I was happy to be able to spend some time with Gaara. We'd never really had that chance before.

Glancing around, I was impressed by the large, four-post bed draped in carefully embroidered sheets. Looking toward the door to the left, curiosity drew me toward it. In an instant, I was before it, my hand on the golden doorknob. With a swift turn, it opened, and I was floored by the intense beauty of that which was the Meeting Room.

It seemed to mix the styles of many ages. Four marble pillars marked the corners of the rectangular chamber, emerald ivy climbing their seemingly unmarred surface. In place of a window, a large, Japanese screen covered one wall allowing one a subtle hint at the time of day outside. It was covered in bright green, red, and blue paint that spelled out words of endearment in Chinese characters. The floor was covered in a massive, black-fur rug that looked incredibly soft, its size and shade threatening to pull one into a void if they dared to cross its surface.

The arched ceiling revealed a story frozen in time, elegant brushstrokes giving life to a grotesque beast which filled most of the ceiling, its presence threatening to destroy anything in its path. Yet, it was kneeling before a young boy who fearlessly placed his hand on the cheek of the monstrosity, his eyes showing nothing but kindness. Most surprising was the last part the painting revealed…the boy was not a boy at all, but a monster himself.

I couldn't seem to look away from it…Something about the painting on the ceiling spoke to me, something marvelous.

Something heartbreaking, too.

"Oh, so you really are the Honored Guest…"

I looked down quickly to face the eldest of the Sand siblings, Temari. Her expression was one of repose, which I found surprising seeing as she was dressed only in a towel. More surprising, though, may have been the fact that I felt no response to her revelation of curves and skin.

"Kankurou told me you were here. I suppose that will be a fine surprise for him; he probably didn't think you'd ever come back. He's been trying to keep himself busy so he can keep his mind off things."

"Kankurou?" I asked, slightly confused.

"No, silly," Temari said with a subtle shake of her head. "Gaara." Glancing at the ornate clock that hung on the wall opposite the Japanese screen, she adjusted her towel and started to leave. "I just needed to borrow a towel from Gaara, so I'll be going now. There's still an hour until dinner, so you should take a dip in the springs. They're located just down the hallway." Bowing at the door, she disappeared back into Gaara's room and was gone.

I sighed and decided that a bath sounded like a good idea.


"Oi! This is amazing!" I exclaimed when I walked into the hot springs at the end of the hall. The steaming water looked deliciously inviting and took up the expanse of the room. It was like a gigantic bathtub, and I was extremely pleased because that was just what I needed at the moment.

Dressed only in a towel, I glanced around, making sure there was no one else present, and took off at a wild sprint. When I ran out of floor, I launched myself into the air, tucking my head, arms, and legs close to my body before slamming into the water. The dramatic change in temperature gave me a slight thrill, and I was sure my stunt had sent a cascade of water everywhere. I didn't care, though; it felt good to finally be able to let loose. My body felt wracked with tension, so it would be a good chance to relieve some of it.

When I resurfaced, I shot a fist into the air and grinned. "Cannonball—eh?!"

Oh dear…

My fist still hung awkwardly in the air as I opened my eyes to face none other than Gaara. He sat a few feet away, his face and hair now thoroughly soaked, and his expression looked as though he were contemplating whether or not to kill me. I couldn't blame him…I had almost drowned the Kazekage.

"Ah, sorry about that," I said nervously, rubbing the back of my head and smiling. I supposed I hadn't checked the room thoroughly enough. Bowing deeply, I clapped my hands together in prayer-like fashion. "Please don't kill me."

There was no sound or movement until he extended something toward me, and when I looked up, I was confused when I saw the towel in his hand. His gaze was averted away from me.

I could feel my stomach begin to churn. Oh lord; I had messed things up. "Do you…want me to leave?"

Something in my tone caught Gaara's attention, and he finally faced me with those black-rimmed, turquoise eyes that both haunted and hypnotized me. Still, his composure was little shaken. "I simply thought you might want this back."

I looked again at the towel in his hand before mild shock set in and I glanced downward. Releasing what was probably too much of a girly scream, I covered my exposed lower half and sank into the water until only my eyes could be seen above the water's surface. It seemed the force of my earlier acrobatics had proven powerful enough to strip one of their own towel.

"Thank you," I bubbled out under water, taking the towel from his hand and securing it once again around my waist. Only Gaara's presence stopped me from drowning myself in my shame. Looking up at him, our eyes locked and, for once, his eyes were readable. He was truly confused. Had he not been informed of my arrival?

He didn't let our gazes match for long. Turning slightly, he didn't hide the small smile that graced his lips, however shortly. I decided he had a very charming smile.

"You scream like a girl," he said finally, and I decided his smile wasn't as charming as I had thought. "We have the same parts, so I don't know why you threw a fit."

I poked the rest of my head above the surface, ready to argue, before settling with a dark leer. Threw a fit, indeed.

Feeling my eyes on him, he slowly turned to face me. "What?"

I wanted to yell out some carefully-planned rebuttal, but my face acted on its own and I couldn't help but smile. "I missed you, Gaara."

Gaara's face looked genuinely surprised before morphing back into its stony composure when he turned away. Water still dripped from his hair, which I was sure had been dry before I'd joined him. Feeling guilty, as I must have been a nuisance, I waddled over to him, stopping right in front of him, and reached over his right shoulder to grab one of the semi-dry towels that lay there. Staring into the water, his eyes seemed to reflect their mysterious depths. The water droplets that fell from his hair landed on his cheeks and cascaded down them like tears. Even though he didn't look sad, he made me feel that way.

What was it? What was this sudden urge to comfort him? Why did his somewhat shorter height suddenly make me feel like protecting him?

My face was probably brimming with concern as I pressed the towel to Gaara's cheek. His expression never changed. That invisible wall, like his protective sand, was back up, and I would not be able to cross the space between us.

Why? Why wouldn't he let me closer?

Gaara's eyes looked up into mine, telling me everything once again, telling me what I didn't want to hear.

Thank you.

He took the towel from my hand and the unbreakable self-control was painfully evident in his impassive eyes.

"I have some matters to attend to, so—"


The space between us suddenly seemed endless, and I wanted to close it. Without even thinking, I pulled Gaara into my arms. The towel in his hand fell into the water, carried away by an invisible flow. Gaara's body was stiff in my arms; either he was shocked or displeased.

"Naruto," he said, and his voice revealed everything. He was overwhelmingly surprised.

"…Sorry," I said, circling my arms around him and bringing our bodies even closer. Gaara's arms hung limply at his sides, and his cheek was pressed tightly onto my chest. Having him so close…it sent a chill through me, even though the water was warm.

Why did I react to him and not Temari? Gaara's body was thin and small, like a girl, so I tried to chalk it up to that, but somehow I knew that wasn't right.

Unsure of what my body might do next, I pulled away from him, arms still secured on his shoulders. He didn't even look the least bit fazed. Did I mean anything to Gaara?

"Oi," I said, trying to take my mind off my thoughts. "How about I help wash you before you go? You know, like the Honored Guest used to have to do?"

Gaara's wall was so fortified this time that nothing I could do or say would affect him. "It's no longer a requirement."

"Yeah, but that's not fair. A lot of the other Kazekages got this treatment, right?"

"…They changed it when I became the Kazekage."

I'm sure my grip on Gaara's shoulders tightened painfully in that moment, but he did not wince. Did he think things would be okay if he remained impassive about them? I, on the other hand, could barely contain my anger. Why was it always Gaara? Even now, certain rules stopped him from being like everyone else.

But…was Gaara like everyone else to me? As I thought about it, I knew he was not. No, I held him much higher than many of the people I knew. To me, Gaara was unique. My bond with him was special, and I cherished it more than I realized.

Did I…love Gaara?

I almost laughed aloud when I considered this, not because the idea was preposterous, but because it was so plausible. Maybe I had fallen in love with him long ago and never realized it.

Gaara looked at me patiently, and I suddenly felt nervous beneath the stare of those eyes. If he knew what I was thinking, what would he think?

Pushing all of the current thoughts from my mind, my hands dropped from his shoulders and I grabbed him by the hand. He didn't resist when I pulled him away from the edge of the springs and said nothing as I led him to sit in the more shallow area of the bath.

"Well, I plan on performing my duties," I said with a wink and a grin. "Required or not."

It took a moment to unclench my hands and even longer to finally touch him. Incredibly patient, Gaara stared forward, seemingly through me, and I was simply glad he didn't look me in the eye. His pale skin was surprisingly soft, and as I ran my hands over the creamy expanse, it reminded me of the way silk felt. Cupping my hands into the heated pool, I brought a handful of water up and released it over his shoulders, massaging it in as it trickled down his arms and chest.

He didn't even tense; he might as well have been somewhere else. It wasn't fair. Even as my hands traveled over his toned upper body, I found myself wanting to touch him more. With his attention drawn to some unseen place, I was finally able to look at him without him noticing.

He was beautiful.

Why hadn't I noticed it before? Two and a half years had certainly been kind to him. The fine curves of his face made even more enigmatic by his black-rimmed eyes gave him a majestic look, like something from another world. His deep, turquoise eyes threatened to consume one within their depths and never let them go, and even I felt myself being pulled closer and closer and more assuredly under their spell.

Would he notice if I touched his face? Would he figure me out? Cautiously, my hands fell upon his neck, slowly traveling upward until they rested on his face. The ghostly caress of my fingers was masked with the cover of washing his face. My left hand cupped his cheek while my right hand brushed over his eyes. His lids slowly drifted closed under the ministrations of my fingers, and I took this chance to lightly touch his lips.

My pointer finger had just landed upon his lower lip when he opened his eyes and faced me. I'm sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He had caught me; I was found out. I only prayed my blush wasn't visible.

When I felt cool hands touch my back, I nearly jumped. "It was reciprocal," Gaara said.

"What?" I asked, confused by his sudden words.

Gaara moved closer to me, dipping a rag into the water and dragging it down my back hard. I inhaled sharply, involuntarily arching my back and steadying myself by threading my fingers in his brick-red hair. "When the Honored Guest bathed the Kazekage, it was customary for him to return the favor."

He dropped the rag, and I winced as his nails raked up my sides before sliding back down more gently. When I looked down at him, he was staring at me, but his eyes were not kind. They seemed to accuse me and rebuke me for my previous actions. He didn't believe me to be sincere. I tried to tell him with my own eyes how I felt, that I did care about him, but his eyes lost all their feeling and once again became like blank slates. Once again, he stared forward, his face level with my abdomen. His hands still lightly gripped my waist, and I prayed my body wouldn't do anything stupid.

There it was again…that gap between us. Maybe there really was nothing that I could do.

Gaara seemed to sigh before his eyes softened and he leaned forward. I watched in confusion as his lips just barely brushed the seal on my stomach. "Why?" he whispered, his warm breath and the movement of his lips on my skin sending strange sensations throughout my body.

I squeezed my eyes shut and gritted my teeth, silently begging my body not to respond. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I was suddenly aware of the intense heat of the water. No, it wasn't the water. It was my own body. Opening my eyes, I saw that Gaara was once again facing me. His eyes were unreadable, but they seemed to hold a strong patience within them.

I tried to tell myself that it was his strong presence that shook my resolve and not his penetrating turquoise gaze that seemed to see into my soul, my heart. His unwavering countenance only seemed to make it more clear how unsteady my own was. We were alike and yet, in this moment, I was deftly aware of how different we were. Even though his mouth never once moved, he seemed to be asking something of me.

Help me end this sadness…Cure me of my despair.

I still can't figure out why I kissed him.

Leaning down, my lips covered his in an instant, the space between us closing. His mouth was soft and pliant, and it seemed to match mine perfectly. Opening his mouth to gasp, his teeth grazed my lips making me shudder.

What on earth was I doing?

Somehow I gained a small fragment of sanity and pulled back. Gaara faced me with a level gaze, his eyes betraying nothing of how he felt. I looked back at him timidly, my cheeks burning and heart beating wildly. In this moment, he looked more tolerant than ever. It reminded me of our departure when he had guided my hand to his. His lips were still wet from the kiss, however short, and as he removed his hands from my waist, I saw that barrier slowly begin to rise. There was nothing I could do this time. It was my fault the wall was going up, and I didn't have the right to try and stop it.

"Lord Kazekage," a servant said, bowing deeply before entering the room.

I looked at her without really seeing her, my mind replaying the foolish move I had just made. I would've said sorry, but it wouldn't have been sincere.

"Lord Kazekage," the servant-girl said again, handing Gaara a sumptuous white robe. "The elders are calling for you. They would like a full report of what you recall after you were kidnapped."

Gaara exited the bath and slipped the robe on, seemingly unshaken by my hasty actions. I almost wished he would show some kind of reaction, anything to at least prove my existence in his life. Maybe I really did mean nothing to him. I had put so much worrying into him that I never considered his feelings for me.

Gaara had other things to worry about. He had a Mission Report to complete…the same thing I had been sent to retrieve. What on earth was I doing? I wasn't here to make moves on the Kazekage, I was here to complete my own mission.

I watched as Gaara turned to me and bowed; that wall unrelenting as ever.


Bowing back, I became painfully aware of the odd lump that had formed in my throat. When I looked back up, Gaara was gone. I tried to laugh off my actions as idiotic, but that only made me feel more miserable.

…I had just ruined everything.

o-o-o-o-o TBC o-o-o-o-o

Be forewarned: This story is rated M for Mature. By reading you are aware of and accept all that may imply...

I hope you enjoyed it. If you care to know my extensive thoughts regarding this pairing, story and/or discussion, visit my LiveJournal (link in profile; you don't even need an account to make posts there) in about a day. I'll finish my classes tomorrow before doing the write-up. This is actually a completed oneshot, but the story was too long to post all at once, thus it has become a three-part fic. Consequently, it's going through a good bit of editing so that you may view it in the upmost condition. Please review and tell me what you thought. This story is very dear to me, but I was rather hesitant to post it.

Thanks so much for reading!

&& Silentz

Next Chapter: The "Peace Cup". Mightn't it involve alcohol? And whoever said that ninjas have a high tolerance? Say goodbye to inhibitions…