Chapter One



"But love is blind and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit;
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush."

--Shakespeare 'Merchant of Venice'

This story is dedicated to Crazy Toffee. Some lines were reworded but borrowed from her LJ story Haven. If you ever get the chance to, or the wild hair, please read that story.--Blade

Two weeks ago...

Gaara watched with almost unfeeling eyes as the blond before him stared down at his feet and spoke.

"I...I guess this is the part where we're suppose to shake hands and say goodbye..." He paused, moving to scratch his face and smile slightly... nervously perhaps. "...but I suck at that kind of stuff so--..."

There was a long, but friendly silence as Gaara held his hand out towards someone who'd seemingly dropped everything to help him. There was no smile on his features, but nothing suggesting anger or hate either. He watched as Naruto held his mouth open in small surprise. Like him, it seemed, he expected little of others at times and perhaps a bit too much of himself.

No one held their breath in fear as they watched the duo stare at each other with a mixture of confusion... and something else you simply couldn't place.

Naruto made a small sound of surprise as the sand wove about his open hand, and led it to Gaara's. He shook slowly, smiling only slightly as an unexpected blush tinged his features. Nothing was said as he released his hand and turned. Nothing needed to be said as the Konoha ninja began to walk home.

And yet... Gaara couldn't help but feel as though he'd gained and lost something at the same time; in just that one small moment. His eyes softened a bit. He stayed there, even as his siblings left, watching until he could no longer see Naruto in the distance.

ooo

Present

Cold teal eyes stared out from the top of the Kakekage tower, over the desert as his thoughts drifted back to that one moment. Even now, that feeling was welling within him as it had that day. It was... unusual as he had begun to allow himself to feel for his siblings and his village. It was hard. So many new emotions he'd blocked out before were assailing him because of Uzamaki Naruto. He wasn't angry at him. He'd chosen to allow himself this new life because of that moment many years ago when they were both much younger. When he had questioned why someone so much like himself could give to people who shouldn't care about him. Who's parents had shunned him because of the being within him.

"You seem lost in your own thoughts, Kazekage-sama." A soft voice echoed through his ears from behind. He didn't need to turn around to know it was Temari. She came forward, placing her hands on the balcony bars as she looked out into the endless sea of sand beyond the village with him.

He looked over at her, face expressionless, endless depths trying to read her smiling features. When he spoke, his voice was much the same as it had always been, soft... deep... and yet... ragged this time. As if emotions were surfacing.

"I feel... " He stopped. When one went so long not feeling anything or trying not to, it was hard to word what one felt. Because... how could you know what it was if you'd never felt it... or asked about it...?

Temari arched a brow, leaning her forearm on the bar as she turned her body to face her younger brother. "Yes?"

He was still quiet for a moment, the wind from the desert rustling his hair and burgundy clothing. He placed a hand on his heart, gripping the clothing as if trying to, in some small way, express what he couldn't word as he spoke. "I want something... I've never... wanted anything before. I've..."

Temari watched her brother, not really sure if she should speak. It had been difficult getting use to this new side of her brother. He wasn't there yet... but he'd changed so much in the last few years because of one small boy in bright orange with a stubborn streak to match a bull. When he stopped saying anything, she took that as he cue to try and help. Her voice was just as soft as earlier, if not softer.

"What do you want, Gaara?"

He turned from her to speak, but was turning his face back to look at her eyes. They were filled with a care he'd never noticed until a few years ago. A strew of emotions he still didn't understand himself.

"I feel a weight. Here." He took her hand this time and placed it on his chest. "It doesn't hurt. It doesn't feel empty... it just... slowly... aches. I think."

"It aches?" She was surprised he'd let her touch him, much less took the initiative. But it had been something else he'd been working on. Physically expressing himself through touch. She slowly pulled her hand back and watched her brother. He'd never... ached before. "Do you think it's because you lost Shukaku?"

Still facing Temari, Gaara shook his head. "No."

She sighed, wishing to help him, but had so little to go on. "What are thinking about when it aches?"

He paused for a long while, staring past her, but not at her. Another gust of wind brushed errand strands of dark red across his forehead. "The day they left." His voice was almost too quiet.

"Who left, Gaara?" His past had been so littered with loss and misplaced promises of love Temari didn't want to start guessing and injure him. Or worse, have him clamp up entirely and try to forget this whole conversation when he realized he'd begun to open up more. Gaara was learning, but he was still taking very small steps.

"The Konoha shinobi."

Now it was Temari's turn to be quiet. Her brother looked away and back into the desert. Her braced his forearms on the bar and leaned forward. She watched him as her mind tried to pin point why he would ache because they left. They'd come before and helped or vise versa. But, he'd never ached because they left. She could question it further, but, if he didn't even know... well...

She sighed, placing a hand on his shoulder very gently. She was internally happy when he didn't stiffen under her touch. "We'll figure it out, Gaara." She began to walk away, leaving him to his thoughts and then called back to him before going downstairs. "Dinner is almost ready. Be down at seven, little brother." And then she was gone.

Gaara didn't leave his place at the tower until the small chime of a bell reminded him dinner would be served shortly.

ooo

Kankuro was leaning over a small table in his work room, trying to design a new puppet. Since his fight with Sasori he'd realized making something of his own, something that only he knew the weakness of because he built it, was better than going through that again. Despite the fact that he knew his younger brother was much better than him when it came being a shinobi, he still hated not being able to protect him. A message that had rattled through him when he'd lost to the puppetmaster and failed Gaara.

His chest was bare as a loose pair of black pants hung around his tones hips. His makeup was gone and his hair soaked in sweat. The room was large, and cool being underground, but it was still hot. They were in the desert after all. Any idiot should have expected to sweat like this at some point.

He heard the door creak open. Half expecting to see a servant call him up to change for dinner, he started to speak, "Oi, I'm busy right now! Tell Temari I can't make it to--." he stopped as he turned, looking at his sister. "Well, nevermind then. What brings you down here?"

She sighed and closed the door behind her. "Dinner's going to be late, the bell hasn't rung yet. I think something was burned because of the new maid." She arched a brow at him. It was a rarity to see her brother so unclothed and without his make up. And especially with so much sweat dripping off of him. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Working?"

He nodded and put down a screw driver on the wooden table. The room was dimly lit by a few candles. And it was starting to cool down after she'd closed the door. He was surprised to find her handing him a bottle of water. Cold too. He took it, drinking greedily. Sighing in relief, he set it down and watched her lean against the wall.

"I'm pretty sure you didn't just come down here to tell me dinner would be late."

She smiled sadly. "No, I didn't. I'm worried about Gaara."

"Nothing new there. Aren't we all?"

She sighed and closed her eyes. "He talked to me today about his feelings. At least he talked to me about what he could figure out on his own."

Kankuro blinked a few times. "That's new. What'd he say?"

That sad smile was reappearing on her features. "He said he ached. He told me he didn't know why. So, I asked him what he was thinking about when he ached. He told me he was thinking of when the Konoha shinobi left." She looked over at her brother then. "Why would he feel that way about them leaving? I thought to myself. It's not as though he ever felt like before. We've been to Konoha and left many times in the past. He never expressed he ached then. So, what was different?"

"Are you asking me?"

She shrugged. "I don't expect you know any more about it than me. But, yes, I'm asking."

Kankuro sighed and scratched the back of his head. To many people he might come off as... brash and sometimes unintelligent. Thinking and acting too quickly. However, Kankuro was far from it. It didn't take brawn to operate puppets. It took thought and lots of practiced strategy. So, when Temari had come to him, it wasn't just because Gaara was his brother, it was also because he might figure it out easier than her.

"He died, you know. And lost Shukaku. Are you sure it isn't about the one tail?"

She shook her head. "I asked him that already. He said it wasn't about the beast. It was something new."

Kankuro growled and placed his hand on his chin, holding it. "A fuck, Temari, I dunno. Maybe he's in love with someone? Haven't you ever been in love?"

Temari, despite her gracing age and mature stature, blushed unexpectedly. But, she didn't deny it. "Have you?"

Kankuro shook his head and sighed, "How would I have time to fall in love when I've got our little brother to worry about? Besides, if you haven't noticed, I don't exactly inspire feelings of want in the opposite sex."

She grumbled. "You're not much help. What are we suppose to do about this?"

Why did she always expect him yo have the answers? Meh, maybe it just seemed like that at moment. He was as frustrated as her. And worried just as much. "The exams are in a few weeks aren't they?"

Temari narrowed her eyes a bit. "Yeah? So?"

"It's hosted at Konoha this year. Gaara will have to go to oversee the events. Maybe between now and then we can find out what's wrong with him."

"And? How will a trip to Konoha help?"

"Well, he started having this problem when the shinobi left, yes? Maybe when he goes, he'll figure it out for himself."

Temari kept her eyes narrowed. Not that she hated the idea, but it did very little to help her confused and frustrated little brother. "Can you at least talk to him? You're much better at weeding things out when it comes to complicated matters."

Kankuro blinked. "I'm not good with emotions, Temari. I'll just end up confusing him."

"Please, Kankuro."

She looked at him with those pleading eyes. The same ones she use to use on him as a child when she wanted something. When it didn't work on father. He rolled his eyes at her childish manipulation, but nodded. "Fine, but I make no promises. And if I fuck it up, don't bitch at me."

Temari said nothing as she smiled and left him to his work.

ooo

Meanwhile, in Leaf...

"So, are you?"

Naruto blinked, cerulean eyes staring down as his food. He'd been lost in thought, but turned up to look at his friends. They were all gathered tonight. Sakura, Lee, Neji, Tenten, Choji, Ino, Shikamaru, Shino, Kiba and of course Hinata. You might have expected all of them to try and squeeze into the ramen shop; however, they were eating in at a long table. The restaurant wasn't expensive, but it was above the standard of being an open aired eatery.

He once more looked down at his burger and fries before realizing someone had asked him a question. It was Sakura. He should have blushed as his mind thought perhaps, for a moment, she might be asking him out after all this time. But, he didn't. Again, much to his own surprise.

"Going to what?"

She frowned. "Are you going to take the exam? You're still a Genin. I was wondering if you were going to take it this year or wait till next time."

Naruto smiled, no, grinned. But, he thought about it. Something he found he was doing more of late. "I'm not sure. I spent so much time with Ero-Senin, I forgot the levels really mattered. It'd be nice to be a Chuunin. But, it's just a title, eh? If I don't do it this year, I can wait."

Sakura was blinking at him as well as half of the table, which was chatting up loudly a moment ago, was in utter silence. "Why--" she started to ask, but was cut off as he explained.

"Sasuke. He's more important, isn't he? I should be worried about him. Worried about getting stronger so I can bring him home. I'd love to be Chuunin... but, it just doesn't seem right to focus on going up a level when your best friend is..." He stopped, not really seeming to finish.

No one knew what to say for a moment. Everyone felt sympathy, but no one understood save Sakura. so, it was no surprise when she smiled and said, "Becoming a Chuunin is becoming stronger, Naruto. So people will see you. So you can become Hokage and protect the village. This is your dream."

Naruto wanted to argue. To say that becoming Hokage seemed pitiful if he couldn't save one friend. Wasn't it?

Hinata surprised them all when she spoke up. "You can't help Sasuke if you can't help yourself, Naruto-kun."

It was Ino who laughed and said. "Oi, everyone quit being so melancholy. Naruto will take the exam and bring Sasuke back. In the meantime--Choji!" She stopped mid-sentence to narrow her eyes on the man.

Choji blinked, dumbfounded. "What?"

She frowned, pointed at the food. "You're eating everything again! Leave some for the rest of us. Eash!" She grumbled and he grinned at her.

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Quit picking on him like your his mother, Ino. Either that or marry him so you have the right to, eh?"

It was Ino then who blushed three shades of red while Choji, of all people, coughed on his food.

"Eh?! What are you trying to say?"

Tenten laughed softly next to Neji who was next to Naruto. She patted Choji who was on her other side, trying to help him quit coughing.

Naruto faintly heard Shikamaru mutter 'troublesome' as Ino continued to deny anything involving marriage to Choji. It was during this large distraction that Neji nudged him and Naruto looked over in surprise. "Hm?"

"Are you alright, Naruto?"

Now he was really confused. Neji never asked him anything. Granted, he had tolerated him than anyone else on numerous missions, but he never inquired anything to him. He even recalled the mission to the Star Village when Neji put up with his brash and quick-draw behavior. Even taking the time to explain things where other just face-palmed and sighed. Yes, Neji, tried and true, had always taken the time to explains to Naruto, no matter how upset the blond was. Part of him wondered why, but he never questioned it. Perhaps he just felt a bond within since they'd fought in the Chuunin exam.

Still, he answered while everyone was caught up arguing, talking, or trying to get people to stop arguing. He sighed, and spoke, "I've felt like this since we left Sand."

Neji arched a single brow. "Like what?"

"Like I can't save anyone. Sure, we brought Gaara back. But, we did it just barely. I don't want to do it 'just barely'. I want to be able to bring Sasuke back. I don't want to worry about failing... like..."

"Like you almost failed with Gaara?"

Neji could be surprising insightful. He smiled at the Hyuuga. "Kami, I'm so depressed. I won't be good to anyone like this." He stood up and pushed his seat in and everyone seemed to stop for a moment. "I'm leaving, it's getting late." He was again surprised when Neji stood up as well.

"I'll walk you home, Uzamaki."

Everyone just sorta smiled, waved goodbye and went back to talking. It wasn't getting late persay, but it was getting darker out. Naruto shoved his hands into his pockets and looked forward as Neji walked next to him.

People were still running about, doing last minute shopping for dinner. He was wrong earlier. He wasn't depressed. He was... questioning himself at best. He looked over at Neji and found himself saying, "How do you put up with me, Hyuuga?" His voice gruff, serious, and yet held humor in it. Like he was talking to an old friend who, in one respect knew him better than most. Sakura knew him best as much as Ero-Senin did... but Hyuuga understood him in a very different way. You couldn't put your finger on it no matter how hard you tried. But you knew he did.

Neji surprised him again--how many times was it now?--when he smiled and laughed a bit. "It's not as hard as you think, Uzamaki. You seem to forget you have a way of changing people. Tsunade said it once... you make people want to place their hopes on you."

Naruto smiled, and blushed, not because Neji had made him feel anything towards him, but because he didn't always know how to take a true compliment when facing it. Sure, he'd yell to world how great he was. Puff out his chest like a rooster and show the world how great he thought he was. But, when someone else stared him in the face and gave it to him strait, he didn't always know how to deal with it.

"Shut up, Hyuuga."

Neji just chuckled. "You need to quit beating yourself up. It's not going to help you get back Uchiha. You taught me that, Naruto. Letting something, anything, eat you up inside is just going to make it harder for you to get him back."

"But Gaa--"

"Oi, Gaara wasn't your fault. He's ok and safely back to running his village." As they stopped at his house, Hyuuga stopped him with one look and said, seriously, like he always was, "Take the exam, Uzamaki. Get one step closer to you dream. Become Hokage one day. Being yourself and never second guessing your actions got you this far. So, don't change."

Naruto frowned at him. "Why are you helping me? You're so out of character I'm not even sure how to react, Hyuuga."

Neji rolled his eyes, and cross his arms over his chest. "We're growing up, Uzamaki. All of us. And with that comes change. Even from me. But, if you tell anyone about this, I will hurt you."

Naruto cracked a grin. "I'll take you anytime, Hyuuga. Just name the place."

But he was already walking away, waving his hand half hazardly. "Go home, Uzamaki. Think about what I said. You've only got a few weeks to make up your mind."

"Bastard," Naruto muttered, not meaning it and went up to him room.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Author Note: Up until now I've never written a Yaoi fiction and I've yet to finish the other two I have posted. But, most likely the Inu Yasha fic will be pulled down since I don't have the heart for it anymore. I don't watch it anymore, never finished it and well... I really just can't. As for my Buffy fic I told myself a long time ago I would finish it. It's on the back burner, but I will.

As for this fiction... well, I've slowly started to love Naruto. And since watching episode 32 I've been dying to do this. One, because there are so few good M rated Gaara/Naruto fics. They're either incomplete from years ago, horribly out of character... ect. You get my point and I'm sure you feel my pain. As much as I think Sasuke/Naruto fics are... interesting... (that word will do, yes?) I just don't think Sasuke understands Naruto like Gaara might. And he doesn't want to. But, those fictions are good. and I enjoy them well written.

I wanted to write this because no one really knows Gaara's true sexuality, so it's possible in that respect. He holds a candle for Naruto, even if--in my mind and in this fic for now--he doesn't understand it completely. But, you must admit that Naruto is the one person he's shown the most affection for. And I really can't see him with anyone else. Sorry if I offend.

Be assured, if you write me a long review or write a question in it I will answer it in my fic. I enjoy input and sometimes incorporate said input into my fictions. That being said, I hope you enjoyed Chapter One.

-Blade

P.S. The title of this fiction was inspired by 'What About Now?' By Chris Daughtry.