AN: Inspired by a NaruGaa fanfiction called "Parallels" and a NaruGaa doujinshi called "Boku no Hikari." Parallels was what actually first introduced me to this pairing.
Naruto sat up in bed, dazed and aggravated with the itchy and dry chill of the Sunagakure night air. As much as he enjoyed having new surroundings, he just couldn't understand how anyone could willingly live there. He swung his legs over to the side of the bed and stood up, knowing that sleep would successfully evade him for the remainder of the night. He threw on the clothes that he had worn earlier that day and had tossed carelessly on the floor while getting ready for bed. He left his hotel room, leaving his headband behind. After rescuing Gaara and bringing him home that evening, he and the others decided to stay in a hotel for the night to rest up for the long journey back to Konohagakure that began the next morning. Originally, Gai had planned on getting a head start that evening, but Gaara and his siblings insisted that they stay the night since the sun had already set.
Naruto assumed that Gaara was a little embarrassed that they had to go through all that trouble for him, although, despite what Gaara had believed about the Konoha recruits, they didn't mind helping him at all. In fact, he couldn't speak for the others, but Naruto was more than glad to. After all, it was an excuse to see him again. But the restful sleep that Gaara had insisted on wasn't what Naruto was going to be getting anytime soon.
Naruto crept down the dark and deserted hallway outside of his hotel room, taking special care not to wake the others and cause a scene. He snuck out of the hotel and started mindlessly roaming the streets of Suna, taking in the sights. He gazed up at one of the taller buildings and discovered that in the starless night, he couldn't spot the top of it.
Naruto cringed as the desert winds tore at his face and other uncovered skin, but his legs remained in motion, leading him further down the deserted street. He paused, noticing that there was a narrow path branching out away from the main street. It looked like it was rarely walked upon. It looked rather dangerous as well. But he took it anyway, his curiosity getting the best of him and leading him up the steeply inclined and dangerously narrow path.
Naruto cringed again and struggled to maintain his balance as the strong winds threatened to throw him off of the path. His breath caught in his throat as he came way too close to falling down the cliff edge. He gazed out towards the center of the village and discovered how high up he was getting; the building that he couldn't see the top of before was now level with him. As he climbed the updraft became stronger, and he had to grip the bottom elastic of his jacket tightly to keep it from blowing up in the wind. He climbed higher still, wondering if he should just turn back to be safe. The moment he started thinking that, a wave of exhaustion washed over him; his body was craving sleep and looking for any excuse to turn around. But he kept going, really curious to see what was up there after going through all the trouble of walking.
To his relief, the path slowly became wider, and the incline disappeared. He soon found himself out of breath, and standing on a very high cliff. Naruto froze. A fantastic view of miles and miles of the empty desert beneath the cloudy black starless sky could be seen. A gigantic almost full moon loomed overhead, the only light in the still darkness of the night. But neither the view nor the moon was what brought Naruto to a sudden halt.
There, dangerously close to the very edge of the cliff, was a human figure, standing completely motionless, appearing to be gazing out into the dark horizon. In the dim moonlight, Naruto couldn't quite make out who it was. He went to call out "Hello," but he suddenly tensed up and clamped his hand over his mouth to stop himself, remembering that he was a foreigner. Back in Konoha, he had always taken for granted the fact that he knew and loved almost everyone there. He realized that running into a stranger from another village in the middle of the dark night might not be the best thing, and he could find himself in a tight situation very quickly if the person wasn't as cheery as Naruto had a bad habit of assuming people to be. He couldn't be so totally careless like he always was back in Konoha. He took a step back and nearly jumped out of his skin when his footstep made a louder thud than he had planned.
The figure spun around at the sound, and Naruto prepared to either run or fight; he wasn't quite sure which yet. He put his arms up in front of him like he was about to spar. But when the figure took a step towards him and the moonlight reflected against his ghostly pale skin, Naruto was able to recognize whom it was. Even with half of his face being shadowed by his bangs, the unmistakable ruby red hair and ringed eyes were enough. Sand hissed at his ankles, ready and waiting.
Naruto put his arms back down by his sides and let out the breath he'd been holding, relaxing a little. "Gaara!" He called out, the relief and warmth apparent in his voice. He stumbled forward, grinning widely.
"Naruto?" Gaara questioned, but his voice remained clear and calm, sounding more like a statement.
"What're you doing all the way up here?" Naruto asked while walking closer to him, stopping just over an arms-length away from him, sensing Gaara's personal bubble.
"Shouldn't I be the one asking that?" Gaara shot back, though there was no hint of aggravation in either his voice or his face; just a distant expression. He had been deep in thought before Naruto interrupted him. If it had been anyone else Gaara would have asked them to leave, but he didn't mind Naruto's company.
"Oh… Umm… Well, I was just wandering around and-" he stopped, trying to get to the point, "Well, I couldn't sleep."
"Me neither," Gaara murmured, but his half-intended humor went right over Naruto's head. He turned back around, his toes resting on the very edge of the cliff. Naruto followed him, standing at his left side, slightly angled towards him. He felt his heart beat faster when he peeked over the edge of the cliff. He couldn't even see the ground, just a black abyss. He stared hard at Gaara, who not-surprisingly wasn't even fazed by the danger.
"It's nicer up here," Naruto decided aloud, smiling through his obvious fear. Even though the height he was at was a bit overwhelming and the wind refused to let up, the breathtaking view and the fact that Gaara was there with him more than made up for it. He paused for a moment, waiting and hoping for a response from Gaara, but none came. He laughed nervously, and the lumbering silence was crossing the bridge from uneasy to painful.
Naruto leaned over to see Gaara's face and saw that he looks a little uncomfortable too, which made him feel worse. He really wanted his friend feel more open around him. The two of them had so much in common, and Naruto had so much he wanted to tell him. Things about Sasuke, about his past and his future… He wanted to completely spill his guts; he wanted him to know everything. Because Gaara wasn't like his other friends. Naruto felt like Gaara would never judge or tease him. And then there was so much Naruto wanted to ask him, too; there was so much more he wanted to know about him, inside and out. Gaara's vague and questionable monologue during the chuunin exams wasn't nearly enough for Naruto. He had always felt like they could validate each other's struggles by talking about them and comparing them, and comfort each other with their companionship. But for Naruto it was even so much more than that. He was a little nervous about getting close to Gaara, though, considering what happened with the last really close bond he made, but he wasn't about to let that stop him. Gaara was someone he related to, and they understood each other on a level that no one else could reach. They needed each other. And Naruto could feel that he was within reach of him, they were so close, and yet so far…
"I've missed you…" Naruto finally murmured, smiling sheepishly, "It's been such a long time…" He put a hand on Gaara's shoulder, and Naruto immediately saw that the gesture was too sudden, since it made Gaara flinch and pull away slightly. He stared at Naruto, looking on edge, and to Naruto's surprise, he almost looked… afraid.
Naruto tried to think of how vulnerable Gaara must have felt, losing the demon inside of him. Sure, it was definitely a relief to finally his thoughts and emotions to himself, after fifteen years of being urged and manipulated by it. But the demon had always offered another layer of strength and protection to him, even when he wasn't actively using it. As dangerous and unnerving as it felt to have something that dark lurking within him, eager for Gaara to slip up, it was accompanied with a feeling of safety, especially once it became under control and could be called on carefully. Naruto understood that better than anyone. He remembered all the times that the Kyuubi's power had saved his life. He couldn't even imagine the discomfort of having that safety net taken from him, no matter how dangerous it was.
Naruto bit his lip and sat down, his eyes apologetic and suggesting that Gaara should join him, which he did. They sat side by side, within a foot of each other, in total silence. Naruto kept glancing over at Gaara, looking for something to say, something to do. He always pictured Gaara and himself growing extremely fond of each other, but he didn't know how to get from here to there. Gaara stared out at the dark horizon again, but Naruto could see that he had a pained expression in his eyes that wasn't there before. Naruto felt a strong urge to make physical contact, maybe take his hand, ask him what was wrong, and tell him everything was going to be okay. But he knew he had to be very careful with Gaara; it was very easy to overwhelm him, and Naruto was terrified of losing him again. He could still see Gaara's lifeless face every time he closed his eyes and he wondered with an ache in his heart how long it would take for that image to go away. But hurt him even more to know how big of an unspoken barrier there was between them. He could practically feel the force of it pushing him away.
"So… Do you come up here a lot?" Naruto asked softly, and upon hearing his voice crack, he realized how upset all of this was making him. He knew Gaara had a lot to say, but it was just a matter of getting him to open up a little, to trust him, and to let down his guard. Gaara merely grunted softly in agreement, avoiding eye contact with the blonde. From what Naruto could see of Gaara's face, he looked like he was fighting something.
Naruto's chest suddenly felt heavier, "Gaara… Gaara, what's wrong?" he asked sincerely. He slowly took Gaara's hand in his own, "Is this okay?" Naruto asked gently, stroking the top of Gaara's hand with his thumb.
Gaara was quiet for a moment, considering it, "Yeah," he finally responded, but he still looked uncomfortable.
Naruto paused, staring at him for a moment, "That wasn't very convincing," He muttered, giving him a doubtful yet sympathetic look. Gaara looked back at him again, and his eyes held such a strong feeling of anguish that it immediately transferred to Naruto. He could feel tears welling in his eyes. He wished it wasn't this hard for them. Gaara was right there, right in front of him, and he still couldn't reach him.
"Why don't you trust me?" Naruto questioned softly.
Gaara stayed completely silent, unable to find a response.
"Gaara…" Naruto paused, not quite knowing what to say. An image of Sasuke flashed in his mind. He couldn't reach Sasuke…. And he almost lost Gaara forever… He wasn't about to give up on Gaara; he swore to himself that he never would.
Gaara just stared at him expectantly as Naruto started talking again, "I know you've been through a lot… We both have… And I want to help you. I really do," as he said this, he tried his best to smile, "If there's anything you want to talk about… I'll listen. I swear… I'll…" he paused, thinking of something to say. Gaara looked like he wanted to say something, but hesitated.
"There's… You and I have both noticed the connection between us, Gaara… I want to create a strong bond with you… But you've got to believe in me… You've got to trust me," Naruto pleaded, trying to keep his voice steady.
Gaara's frown deepened, "Naruto… You're an amazing person. I've known this since I fought you, years ago… You've changed me, and I've become a better person… I've tried so hard… But I still can't," he muttered. He refused to make eye contact with the blonde. Naruto squeezed his hand, and Gaara's body screamed for him to let go, but there was this desperation in Naruto's touch that made Gaara's chest feel warm. He was reminded of how starved he was for affection and how wonderful it felt coming from someone like Naruto. He wanted so badly to believe Naruto wouldn't hurt him. But Yashamaru had been just as convincing, all those years ago.
"Why not?" Naruto asked, and his voice was soft and warm, making sure not to challenge Gaara's words, but just urging Gaara to relax and stay open. He lifted Gaara's face with his right hand, and looked him right in the eyes, smiling, fighting back the urgency he was feeling to keep from startling him, "I swear… You can trust me, Gaara…"
Gaara turned his head away, "I thought I could, but I can't… The last time I…" he stopped, reliving his memories of his uncle Yashamaru. It was still so vivid to him. "I just… Don't want that to happen again… It hurt me so much… It still does…"
"This is different, Gaara… I… I'm not like that… Any of those people," Naruto tried to stay vague, not knowing one hundred percent what Gaara was talking about, "I promise… And you know me… I never go back on my word," he grinned as he said that, and Gaara nodded the slightest bit, "I care so much about you. I can't let you go on like this… You know I would never try to hurt you like that, right? I'm not that kind of person. There are a lot of people that aren't like that, actually. More than not. You've just been too afraid to open yourself up to them, and for good reason," Naruto reassured him.
But Naruto stopped himself, realizing he was about to go on a tangent talking about his own friends, "But things are different now. Your siblings care about you so much. I could see it when we were all trying to rescue you. They were so worried about you, Gaara. And you're very important to me, too," he paused, seeing Gaara take a breath like he wanted to speak.
"But what if something happens to you?" Gaara asked in a dark tone, and Naruto could tell it was a serious question, "I could see how much it hurt you when your friends were injured. How much it still hurts you. What if…? What if I was to trust you, and then I lose you? I don't know if I'd be able to handle it."
"That's the risk you take," Naruto murmured, reaching and taking Gaara's other hand so that he was holding both of them. He leaned closer, staring into Gaara's eyes, "But it's worth it. To know that there are people out there thinking of you and caring about you, it's so worth it, Gaara. I wouldn't trade it for the world. And when you're around each other, you look out for each other. And when you're not, you just have to have faith that they'll be okay. You just have to have faith in me. I have faith in you, Gaara. I need you in my life. It'll be okay. I promise," Naruto said, wearing a light smile. He could see that Gaara truly believed his words. He touched Gaara's face and paused for the reaction, but Gaara didn't pull away. Naruto tucked a tuft of his crimson hair behind his ear. He pulled him closer still, never for a moment taking his eyes off of him.
Gaara felt an ache spread through his entire body. He'd never felt so close to someone before, both emotionally and physically. It was painful, but exhilarating. He admired Naruto with so much of his heart, and Naruto had so much faith in him. This… What he was having with Naruto, was everything he had ever desired. He wanted someone to appreciate him, to need him. Naruto needed him. He needed Naruto. So why did it hurt so much? Why was it still so frightening?
"Naruto…" Gaara murmured, barely able to form a real word.
"I promise I won't let you down… I promise," he repeated for emphasis, "You can always count on me." He leaned his head closer to him, and Gaara looked back at him with a tentative expression on his face. Naruto suddenly let go of Gaara's left shoulder and pulled Gaara's face towards his own.
The kiss was meant to be short and sweet, but when Naruto went to pull away Gaara suddenly grabbed him and held him tightly. Tears rolled down Gaara's cheeks and wet Naruto's face when Gaara finally broke the kiss and pulled him into a tight embrace. Naruto could feel Gaara shaking violently, and he soon realized that it was because he was sobbing, stifling the sound as best as he could but still experiencing the convulsions.
"Oh, Gaara… I'm so sorry," Naruto whispered, "I didn't think it would-"
"No," Gaara croaked, his voice muffled by Naruto's jacket, "Don't apologize… It was wonderful," he clarified, giving Naruto a squeeze. There were still tears leaking from his eyes but he was slowly getting back his composure.
"Whew…" Naruto sighed, keeping Gaara in his arms, not wanting to ever let him go, "You scared me for a minute there… And that wouldn't be the first time today," he added, laughing a little.
There was a long pause, and Gaara slowly pulled away, bringing his face back to Naruto's level, "You should probably go and rest before you leave in the morning." Gaara wasn't used to sleeping, and it was very apparent that he didn't plan on trying it anytime soon. He planned to make up all the work he missed while he was gone, starting as soon as Naruto and the others left for home. Naruto helped Gaara back to his feet, but as they began to walk back into the village, Gaara stopped him, grabbing Naruto's hands in his own. Naruto smiled; he liked being so close, and it was reassuring that Gaara seemed to like it as well, initiating physical contact with him. They stood facing each other, just inches apart.
"Don't make me regret this," Gaara murmured, and Naruto tensed, his face flushing wildly; he had no idea how to react to that, "Because you're very important to me too, Naruto," Gaara continued, feeling an amazing rush as he said it, and Naruto's shoulders relaxed. He needed Naruto, and he knew that Naruto needed him too; there were people in his life that truly cared about him. There were so many things he didn't know and was still unsure of, but at this point, everything just felt so right, and that was the only reassurance he needed.
The next morning, Naruto had to leave with the others to head back to Konoha. Neither of them mentioned what happened the night before. In fact, until Gaara reached out for his hand, and Naruto saw the acknowledgement in his eyes, he'd been afraid it had all just been a very elaborate dream. But with Naruto having to leave and the distance between them being so far, would be a while before they saw each other again. But they both knew that this was just the beginning.