The sun shone, sparkling against Konoha's main river, and the wind blew softly, gently blowing a few stray strands of hair into Uzumaki Naruto's face. He stood on the river's bridge, holding his face in his left hand as he studied the sparkling river. It was a beautiful scene, but it was not what he wanted to be looking at. He had been waiting for his 'supposed' date, Haruno Sakura, to meet him over an hour ago. Naruto was not normally the patient type, but it was Sakura he was waiting for. After a whole month of asking, she had finally agreed to go out with him. They were supposed to meet at the very bridge Naruto was standing on. But Sakura was over an hour later. He was beginning to think she wouldn't show.
Sighing, the dumped and hurt blonde backed away from the bridge's rail and turned around, ready to leave. He had waited long enough; Sakura had fooled him, made him look like fool as he stood there and stared at his own reflection for over an hour, waiting for her to show. What a food he had been, believing that Sakura was actually interested in him. From the very beginning, she had led him on, making him believe that there was a chance - albeit it had always seemed microscopic - that she shared his feelings and wanted to be with him. But it was a lie; she had hated him from the beginning, just like all the rest. The entire village of Konoha despised him, even if they seemed not to on the outside. And who could blame them? He was a monster, after all.
Tears sprang to Naruto's eyes, and he had to fight to keep them at bay. He was not going to cry over loneliness as he had as a child; he was sixteen now, and big boys didn't cry.
Someone else stepped onto the bridge then, causing Naruto's heart to leap into his throat with anticipation. He whirled around on his heels, excitedly beginning, "Saku - " but stopping again. The person he had heard wasn't Sakura - it was Temari. Anguish filled within Naruto's heart. His suspicions had been correct; Sakura did not intend on meeting him today. Fighting through the pain wrenching his heart, Naruto stuttered, "O-oh, hello, Temari-chan."
Temari smiled lightly before answering, "So you finally remembered my name, Naruto-kun?" She laughed lightly, but her happiness quickly dissapeared when she noticed Naruto's obvious despair. "What's wrong, Naruto-kun?" She asked softly, resting a hand on his shoulder. "You seem really upset."
Naruto shook his head, not wanting to express his woes with someone as distant as Temari. It was actually a coincidence that he had remembered her name. More anguish bubbled up inside, and Naruto found his depression uncontrollable. A certain redhead flashed through his thoughts then, spurring him on to ask, "Where's Shikamaru-san? Doesn't he normally escort you?"
"He said something about being sick when I sent for him," She paused for a moment, studying the blonde intently before asking, "Why?" Her gaze was intent, calculating. As always.
"Well..." Naruto began softly, only to find his vocabulary fading away. Temari retrieved her hand and backed off slightly, giving him space. Taking in a breath, Naruto managed to continue, "It's just that..." he put his hand behind his head in confusion, trying to finish what he was saying. "Well...You have no one to escort you back to Suna now, right?" Temari's eyes narrowed, and Naruto sighed. "I want to go see Gaara," he whispered, looking away from her piercing gaze.
"He has been asking about you lately," Temari murmured, brightening a little. "and I hate traveling all that way alone...But don't you need Tsunade-hime's approval before you can go anywhere?"
Naruto groaned at that. Lately, Tsunade had pressed tight barriers around him, limiting his movements and even keeping him under tight surveillance. He wasn't allowed to be out past eleven o'clock, couldn't go anywhere alone, and could only go on C and D rank missions. The only reason he was let alone today was because he was supposed to have a date with Sakura. "Don't worry about what the old lady says. When we get there, Gaara can just send over a message saying he needed me urgently, right?" He looked into Temari's eyes, hope in every ounce of his.
Temari was silent for a long while, which caused Naruto's heart to jump into his throat in anticipation. "He might be able to do that, yes. But with the tight surveillance you've been under lately..." She shook her head lightly. "I don't think it's wise. It could get you and Gaara both in serious trouble. Besides, he's always busy these days, especially with the Chunin Exams coming around again. It's not like he can just take a day off. Anyway, how would you get past the border patrol?"
"I sneak out of the village all the time," he lied. In truth, he had run away when he was younger, only to find himself returning a few hours later. He was a monster, and so his absence was not noticed. But now, with his movements being so carefully monitored, it would be harder to sneak out. Temari had a point there. "Oh, please, Temari-chan!" Naruto begged, getting onto his knees and holding his hands together. "Please, please, please let me go see Gaara! You yourself said he wants to see me! Pleeasee?"
Gaara's sister was silent for another long moment, in which Naruto seized the oppertunity to get onto his feet again. He waited a moment before Temari sighed, closing her eyes, and answered, "Fine. I'll let you escort me back to Suna." Naruto cheered, but Temari continued on, "But I will not help you sneak out. I want no part in it. Understand?"
Naruto nodded vigorously. He was pretty sure the whole in the gate was still big enough for him to fit through. If things went well, and he was careful, it would be easy to sneak out of the village. Thing was, he wasn't normally a quiet or sneaky person. But there were always possibilities. "Got it! Arigato, Temari-chan!"
Heaving a sigh, Temari answered, "Let's get going, then." Nodding again, Naruto called a Kage Bunshin and sent it forwards, to the village gates. "What are you thinking?" Temari asked softly, studying the Kage Bunshin as it hopped away.
"I'm going to use a clone of myself to distract the guards so that I can sneak out," he answered with a laugh of glee. It was one of his better plans; the Kage Bunshin would distract the guards, allowing the actual Naruto to escape. If he was both careful and quick, the guards would never notice him as he snuck by. Why hadn't he thought of something so simple - but effective - before? Naruto recalled dozens of times when a technique like this could have proved useful.
They reached the gates then, and Naruto temporarily abandoned Temari as his Kage Bunshin obscenely insulted and distracted them. As if invisible, the real Naruto ran past the quarreling knot of people and through the gates. Something about the escape seemed too easy, and so Naruto continued to run through the forest - hopping through the trees - until he could no longer hear the sounds of the quarreling. He made the Kage Bunshin run away from the guards and back into the village, dissapearing when he was sure it was out of the guards' sight. Now all he needed to do was wait for Temari to catch up.
She did eventually, panting as she stopped at the branch he was perched on. "Kuso, Naruto-kun, you're fast..." Temari collapsed into a sitting position, panting in exhaustion.
"Did the guards suspect anything?" Naruto asked quickly, nervous.
Temari shook her head weakly as she answered, "They just watched...the Kage Bunshin...run back...into Konoha and...turned their attention to me. I don't think they saw you at all. That...was a good idea, to keep...running and all."
A pang of guilt washed over Naruto as he realized the force Temari had to use in order to keep him from waiting too long. "Gomenasai, Temari-chan. We can rest as long as you need." Naruto dangled his legs over the edge of the branch, looking down on them as they swung. "I didn't mean to make you run so fast. But you could've taken as long as you needed, dattebayo. Sakura-chan kept me waiting before..." his voice drifted off as anguish wrenched at his heart yet again. His eyes burned suddenly, but he refused to let Temari see any tears.
Panting a moment longer, Temari replied, "Ah, so that's why...you were waiting at the bridge, hmm? Sakura-san stood you up...didn't she?"
Naruto groaned, burying his forehead into his palms. Temari was the last person he had planned on confessing to. Why did she have to be so damned intuitive? "She made me look like a fool," he whispered. "Made me - "
"Stop," Temari ordered, resting a hand on his shoulder. "You don't want to tell me about this. You want to tell Gaara. So wait until we get to Suna and tell him."
Surprised, Naruto studied the Suna kunoichi. Her cheeks were still a little rosy from running, but she was no longer panting. Her navy eyes held a soft determination, but no hatred. He was a Jinchuuriki - Why didn't she hate him like all the rest? "Temari-chan..." he began softly, unsure of what to say.
"Come, Naruto-kun," Temari ordered softly, standing and outstretching a hand. Naruto took it, bewildered. People despised him because of the demon he carried - why was Temari being so nice? Surely it was not because her younger brother, Gaara, was a Jinchuuriki once before. Didn't she hate her brother for being such a monster? Why was she being so kind? As they jumped through the trees, Naruto voiced his questions to her. "Perhaps the rest of the world does," she began slowly, "but I do not hate the Jinchuuriki. Why hate someone less fortunate than yourself? Besides, my own brother was once a Jinchuuriki for the Shukaku. I love Gaara with all my heart - I would do anything for him, Shukaku-possessed or not. I have never loved him any less."
Naruto remained silent for a long while, thinking over Temari's words. She loved her brother even as a Jinchuuriki. Then, if that was possible, perhaps someone loved him for who he was? Perhaps Sakura didn't hate him, but only found him a nuisance. Perhaps those of Konoha had grown to love him, even if they had hated him in the beginning. People changed their ways overtime, so maybe he had a chance of being loved. "It's good that you love him," Naruto murmured. But why is it that he's so cold towards others? he thought. If Temari expressed her love to Gaara properly, he wouldn't have been so troubled as a kid. Suddenly, Naruto felt a deep hatred for Temari and Kankuro both. If they loved Gaara so much, why had he been so troubled and alone?
Because they never expressed their love.
If Temari and Kankuro had showed Gaara what love was from the beginning, he wouldn't have turned out to be such a monster as a child. It took Naruto - a stranger - to show Gaara how important relationships were. Thinking about it, Naruto realized that he would have been the same way if he had never made friends. Naruto told himself to ask Gaara if he had friends.
The two blondes continued on their trek silently for a long while, continuing late into the night. Above them, the moon shone brilliantly against the night sky, their only source of light. They continued on for a while longer before stopping for the night. Silently, Naruto made a bed for himself and stared up at the night sky. "If we keep going at this rate," he heard Temari say, "we'll be there by tomorrow night."
"Ah," Naruto barely acknowledged. He rolled over so that his back was facing her and closed his eyes.
Naruto awoke the next morning just as the sun was rising. Sitting upright, he scanned the surrounding area and realized that Temari was still asleep. Part of him wanted to wake her and get going, but another part felt guilty at the prospect. Temari was risking some serious trouble by illegally escorting him, so it would be rude and inconsiderate to cruelly wake her from her slumber. But he wanted to see Gaara as soon as possible. By now, the old lady at Konoha would probably have noticed his absence. They needed to keep moving.
Biting his lower lip in indecision, Naruto finally decided to wake Temari. "Temari-chan," he called softly, shaking her shoulder a little, "Temari-chan, get up."
He backed off when Temari opened her eyes. "Time to leave already?" she asked softly, sitting upright and stretching. As she scanned the area, she asked, "Why so early?"
In a hushed tone, Naruto explained the situation to her. "I'm sorry for waking you," he apologized. "I know it's rude and all, after what you're risking for me. But by now the old hag probably noticed I'm gone and sent out people looking for me, dattebayo."
Temari nodded, and they both stood. "It's fine. But you shouldn't talk about your Hokage like that." They collected their things and jumped off, beginning the day's trek. "If we continue at this speed, we'll be at Suna's border by nightfall." She told him.
"Good," Naruto answered with a nod. He wanted to get there as fast as possible, so that he would have more time with Gaara. It was only a matter of time before Tsunade began to suspect something and sent someone knocking on Suna's door.
Then, an idea struck him. Why not abandon Konoha for Suna? If Sasuke could do it for Oto and be forgiven, then surely Naruto could try. And even if he wasn't ever allowed within Konoha's borders again, it would alright if Gaara accepted him as a Suna villager. All he had to do was ask when they got there. But then again, he would be classified as a rogue ninja in Konoha. However, it he was accepted by Gaara, then it wouldn't matter. His actions would already boil him alive, so why not go for the best possible option? If he was foinf to betray Tsunade's orders, he might as well betray them to the fullest possible extent.
Naruto voiced none of this with Temari as they continued on. It was none of her business, put bluntly. He didn't want her to know because he feared she would try to stop him. But he was determined - the only thing that would stop him was Gaara's rejection of the idea.
The two blondes continued on for the rest of the day, stopping occasionally to allow Temari a chance to catch her breath. This happened several times, and - although she would apologize profusely for her weakness - Naruto found himself annoyed at her slow pace. Why couldn't she travel any faster? She was supposed to hail from Kaze - the wind. People referred to her as 'Kaze no Temari' because of her fighting style. If she was so good with wind as a weapon, why was she so dreadfully slow?
Gulping down the black thoughts of Temari's slow rate, Naruto put on a false facade and assure her that it was alright, that he wasn't angry with her in the least. Truthfully, though, Naruto already had a few reasons to find her distasteful: she claimed a false love for her younger brother but never pledged it; she was Kage no Temari but ran at a pace that should have labeled her Kame no Temari. Temari herself was a good person, but something about her struck Naruto wrong. But Naruto was not the type of person to treat someone so disrespectfully - besides Uchiha Sasuke, the teme - and so he never let his distaste for Temari known. It wouldn't have been fair.
Eventually, though, the two blondes made their way to Suna's borders, the sun just beginning to set below the horizon. Naruto followed after Temari as she weakly led the way to Gaara's palace, each step taking her breathing to a sharper height. Inwardly groaning with inpaitence, Naruto asked, "Would you like to rest?" He tried to sound as sincere as possible, but he was already annoyed.
Temari shook her head once, then forced, "No, thanks. We're almost there anyway." She gestured to Gaara's palace - the one with the kanji for 'Wind' written on it as Tsunade's palace held the kanji for 'Fire.'
Naruto nodded, excitement quickly overwhelming him. "Alright, if you say so."
They continued on silently for the duration of the time. Temari, having caught her breath, calmly explained to the guards who Naruto was, expertly lying his way inside. Once they were safely away from any company, Naruto thanked her breathlessly. Had he misjudged her? "It's nothing," she answered him. "Just remember that your name - to them, at least - is Akahoshira no Hikari." Naruto nodded once as she turned to a door on their left and knocked on it lightly. "Gaara?" she asked softly.
"Hn?" Came the answer, sending excited shivers down Naruto's spine.
"Temari," she murmured, "reporting back. Permission to enter?"
There was a moment's pause, then, "Granted."
Adrenaline rushing through him, Naruto ran inside before Temari could, a wide smile plain on his face. Taking a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm himself down, Naruto waved to his Jinchuuriki opposite as if he were a mile away. He could not contain his excitement.
At first, the Kazekage had a surprised look on his face. But his face instantly warmed into a smile that stopped Naruto's breath. He spoke in a velvet voice that made Naruto confused. "Oh, hello, Naruto." Naruto didn't care that Gaara had failed to give him an honorific - he counted the previous-Ichibi as a close friend, and so he didn't mind. "What brings you here?" he asked as Temari finally made it through the door.
"I'll be leaving for Konoha the day after tomorrow," she told the both of them, "so you only have two days, Naruto-kun."
Before Naruto had a chance to scowl like he wanted, Gaara said to his sister, "You may leave now, Nee-chan." Temari frowned, but left without a word of dissent. When she left, Gaara turned back to Naruto and calmly repeated his question.
"Oh yeah!" Naruto remembered with a smile, fighting to get his breath back, "Live in Konoha was getting too strenuous for me, so I decided to go on a little vacation and see my good friend Gaara!" He held his smile in place weakly.
Gaara's warm smile returned - a smile Naruto saw only when they were alone - as he stood and walked around his deck. "But, my good friend Naruto, you're leaving something out." It wasn't a question.
Naruto's smile dissapeared as the anguish and pain of two days ago came rushing back in one mad torrent. He looked away, the pressure on his chest back. Taking a deep breath, Naruto whispered, "That's what I came here for. No one in Konoha understands." He looked back to Gaara and gave a weak smile. "But I knew you would."
Gaara stared at the blonde for a moment, his smile softer now. Naruto's heart hammered against his chest in nervousness and anticipation. What would Gaara say now? The Kazekage had always been a mysterious type of person, and so Naruto had never been able to guess his responses to things. He always go nervous when Gaara fell silent, because he feared negative reactions. But Gaara never spoke too harshly or gave Naruto reason to be upset. He was truly a good friend. Gaara's gently smile held firm as he draped an arm over Naruto's shoulders and led him to the oval window behind his desk. Naruto's heart sputtered at the warm touch; he forced his gaze out the window and not at the redhead. "Do you see this village, Naruto?" Gaara asked.
Naruto nodded weakly, unable to look over at the Kazekage.
"These people were not the slightest bit decent towards me when I bore the Shukaku within. Even today, most of them believe that I cannot be trusted because of that, although I saved them from an attack by the Akatsuki. 'Once a crazy, always a crazy.' I heard a man tell his young daughter once. This upset me very much, but what could I do? I cannot get the support of everyone in the village.
"It was worse, though, as a child. The Kazekage had me put under a tight surveillance, watching every move I made. My mission activity was limited, along with my movements. The villages either feared or hated me, but you know all of that.
"So now, as the Kazekage, I am faced with a decision: do I scorn those who wronged me - and wrong me still - or do I rule equally and fairly? Who would stop me if I chose the former? What would happen to me if I chose revenge? Then I got to thinking: who would I rule over if everyone of Suna was executed? Yes, I have followers, but most of my people aren't my people. Most of them want my power over Suna stripped and me thrown into a dungeon.
"But what does it matter when I have so many friends? Why risk everything when I've already been blessed with so much?" He exhaled in contemplation and looked back to Naruto, his aqua blue eyes shining.
"You're saying I'm throwing away too much, aren't you?" Naruto asked glumly, frowning.
Gaara nodded silently, watching him?
"Why is it you can always see right through me?" he murmured, his frown deepening, "And yet you're a complete mystery."
His counterpart chuckled slightly. "A gift, I suppose." He relinquished Naruto's shoulders and turned away.
"B-but can't I please stay here for at least a little while?" Naruto begged, spinning around to look at Gaara again.
Naruto watched in amazement, his jaw dropping, as Gaara took his robes off in another room, revealing him in nothing but boxers. Heat swept over Naruto's face and chest, but he didn't understand why. He had seen plenty of other males in their boxers before and felt nothing. Now, women in bathing suits - that was another matter completely. Naruto envisioned someone hot - Ino, perhaps - getting out of a pool, soaking wet in a tight bathing suit...
And felt nothing.
An odd sensation washed over Naruto from the very pit of his stomach to every inch of his body. He held his belly lightly, looking down at it in confusion. Why was he feeling for Gaara what he used to feel for women? More importantly, why wasn't he feeling anything for girls anymore? Had Gaara put him under a genjutsu? No, that wasn't one of Gaara's skills. Then what was going on?
Naruto looked up again, into the connected room Gaara had dissapeared into, but saw nothing. Where'd he go? He thought as he ventured into the room. "G-gaara?" Naruto stuttered, holding the door frame with his right hand and his stomach with the other. His heart raced as beautiful images of Gaara rushed through his thoughts. Suddenly, the clothes concealing his body felt as though they were choking him. He found himself wanting nothing more than to strip off his clothes, so that he could breathe. "Gaara?" He called again, louder this time.
This time, he was rewarded with an answer. "Gomen. I wanted to wear something more comfortable." That was when Gaara stepped into view, nearly giving Naruto a nosebleed. The redhead was now wearing comfortably-fitting jeans, but no shirt. Without realizing his actions, Naruto greedily took in the perfectly-toned structure of Gaara's chest. He wasn't too skinny or too toned, but a perfect combination that made saliva collect in Naruto's mouth.
What the hell? Naruto asked himself, tearing himself away from Gaara's chest. "O-oh, okay." He felt Gaara's scrutinizing gaze on him, and he groped his thoughts for something to say. "Erm...Do you have an extra room for me to borrow?" Naruto just barely managed to look up at his counterpart.
Gaara studied him for a moment longer before slowly answering, "There's another room connected to my office on the other end. It has a full bathroom, as well."
"O-oh, okay. Domo arigato." Naruto felt the urge to leave Gaara then, but his feet were glued in place. A heavy, thick silence fell. Naruto couldn't hold his own against such a quiet battle; he looked to the ground and stepped away from the doorway. Gaara followed after him, his unnerving aqua gaze never failing to make Naruto's heart flutter in anxiety.
Someone knocked on the door, but Gaara told them to leave, that he was busy. They left without a word of dissent.
The redhead turned back to Naruto, his gaze scrutinizing. Naruto was powerless against the fierce blush that attacked his cheeks. He looked away quickly, feebly covering his face a little as he stuttered, :U-um, I-I think I'll g-go to bed now. Oyasuminasai." With that, he whirled around on his heels and ran into the room, slamming the door shut behind him before Gaara had a chance to react.
Panting heavily, Naruto leaned up against the door for a moment, then slid to the floor. He ruffled his hair as his ocean blue eyes blinked in confusion. He had never felt so...nervous around someone before. It were as it he was afraid he would bring harm to Gaara. As if Gaara was holding Naruto's heart in the palm of his hand, controlling its beats. Not even Sakura had made him fell so out of place in his own body.
It was almost as if he was beginning to fall for the redhead.
Naruto chuckled at that. No, he thought to himself, there's no way that could happen. I'm probably just subconsciously fantasizing about Sakura-chan. He was emotionally hurting; the sudden burst of uneasiness he had experienced was most likely a reaction to that. There was no possible way he was attracted to Gaara - Gaara was his friend, not his crush.
Exhaling at his foolishness, Naruto stood again - smiling - and opened the door to his borrowed room. He peered out at Gaara's office for a moment, frowning slightly as he realized that Gaara had gone to bed for the night. "Might as well do the same," he whispered to himself, craving some sort of noise to rupture the deafening silence throughout the place. Carefully, Naruto clicked his door shut. Weariness suddenly overtook him, and he was almost asleep before he hit the pillows.
Arigato - Thanks
Gomenasai - I'm very sorry
Dattebayo - 'You know' not 'Believe it'
Kunoichi - Female ninja
Jinchuuriki - 'Power of Human Sacrifice.' Those bearing Tailed Beasts
Shukaku - Another name for the Ichibi, Gaara's tailed beast.
Kame - Turtle
Teme - Bastard
Akahoshira no Hikari - Light of the red stars
Nee-chan - Older Sister
Gomen - Sorry
Domo Arigato - Thank you very much.
Oyasuminasai - Good night
Another pairing that I am absolutely falling in love with :) JINCHUURIKI LOVE!!