Title: One Way to Form a Lasting Alliance
Series: Naruto
Rating: M
Warnings: some language, an OC, mild manga spoilers, a bit of sex, a lot of fluff
Pairings: GaaNaru main, mentioned KibaHina (and Hinata's crush on Naruto, but that's canon)
Setting: canonverse, a couple of years to the future (don't want to specify how many exactly, but not too many).

Chapter One: I Recognize The Symptoms –Do You?

Contrary to popular belief, thinking was not a condition Naruto Uzumaki was immune to –in fact, he had fallen to it very frequently in the past two and a half days. Part of the reason was the lack of anything better to do while traveling, but he was doing it too much to be able to convince himself it was no big deal his train of thought was so unfalteringly headed to the exact same place he was nearing physically.

It was not that he didn't want to go to Suna. Were that the case he wouldn't hog every Wind Country-bound escort mission he could get regardless of rank. No, he was always happy to go see his friends there, and didn't mind in the least that Tsunade made him stay a week after every mission to assist and observe the Kazekage at his work –since he was planning on becoming Hokage and all– and to just plain hang out with him.

Basically, as the journey there and back took six days and he had people to protect for only half of that time anyway, most of his pay came from making sure Gaara had a social life, and those were pretty enviable terms.

He was pleased to say his redheaded counterpart had made a lot of progress in that field. Naruto no longer had to worry that between his visits the only people Gaara made even remotely casual conversations with would be his siblings. And when he did visit, he was never a representative of an ally nation having a diplomatic meeting with the man in charge of the whole Wind Country army.

Not that he ever had been, but Gaara was better at expressing it now. Funny how when all of a sudden you lose the reason to react to others the way you always have, it's like for a while you just have to learn the reactions themselves all over again. Laughter for one sure came in different contexts now than it had when the two of them had first crossed paths, and while it was still scarce, even the times when it was at his expense counted as good in Naruto's book. Anything to make Gaara slip up and let an unfiltered emotion escape to the surface.

So what was the problem?

There was one, that much he had at least managed to conclude. Or perhaps 'problem' wasn't the right word after all, but there was something he didn't quite understand and was beginning to want to, now that his mind wasn't so completely occupied by how to make Sasuke-bastard stop being a bastard.

Naruto quickly snapped himself out of his unproductive internal monologue when one of his charges stirred in their sleep. This was no time to lose track of his surroundings, these people trusted him with their lives. Not that an assassination attempt was likely, and they weren't so rich they attracted thieves with a wide-spreading scent of easy money, but he was on a mission, and his watch was nowhere near through yet.

Slowly, he sank back into his thoughts, determined to keep at least half a mind on the current situation, even if the other half wanted to tie itself in a knot around the issue he apparently was having with tomorrow.

Tomorrow, around noon, they would be at the gates of Suna.

Once they'd be rid of their clients, he and Kiba would find themselves rooms from the guest quarters of the Kazekage mansion like him and his companions always did, and go about their separate business. Kiba would probably be off literally running around aimlessly with Akamaru, and at some point he would track down Kankuro, with whom he had become good friends. Naruto would no doubt go straight to the village leader's office to see if he would also need his nose to find his good friend from behind the piles of books, documents and scrolls (Which he had come to assume found their way to that particular desk mostly of the Kazekage's own volition. He couldn't remember having ever seen Sandaime do any paperwork, and Tsunade had only been positively buried under it when she had started out as the Hokage of a village that was bureaucratically in a state of chaos. Had Gaara ever attended a ninja academy, he would have probably been even bigger an A+ student than Sakura-chan).

And then they would talk.

Why was that what worried him? Wasn't Gaara the one more awkward with social interaction? It wasn't like Naruto was nervous about getting into a conversation with Kiba (during their travel, whenever he wasn't completely lost in his thoughts, the two of them hardly shut up –much to their clients' annoyance), or even his teammate Shino, despite of the guy having such an odd way of speaking and a low threshold to being 'bugged' (Naruto smiled at his pun, feeling bad he was only telling this to himself so no one else was there to appreciate it). And Gaara and he were perfectly comfortable around each other, right?

At least when he talked enough to not do much of what he was doing now –thinking. When he didn't stop to consider what he should do or say and if he was possibly making a fool of himself, being with Gaara came very naturally to him, and he was sure his friend appreciated this openness to the point of wanting to be more so himself.

They understood each other, after all. It wasn't just having had similar pasts and knowing what it's like to have a voice inside your head besides your own. They were more to each other than that.

So why did Gaara sometimes cause him to hesitate and overanalyze some simple gesture as if the Kazekage of Suna was so fragile a single wrong choice of words or too careless a touch from his best friend could make him crumble? The same Kazekage who trusted him, always listened to what he had to say without judging him, and in return told him things he probably didn't voice so uninhibitedly to others. Who had offered him his hand and finally encouraged him to take it while Naruto had been busy stuttering, blushing, and staring at him like he couldn't believe those eyes that used to scare him and remind him of his own lonely gaze could look at him so affectionately.

That any two eyes could.

He had no reason to worry about forcing on Gaara an amount of physical contact he couldn't handle. Or to assume Gaara would start thinking of him as an idiot not worth his time, no matter what he did.

There was no reason for things like feeling guilty for hugging him a little too long the last time he had. It had felt good –why wouldn't it have? Naruto didn't get hugged too much either. It wasn't like Gaara had been in any more of a hurry to break the contact, even if the first of the exactly four times Naruto had put his arms around him, he had been about as responsive as one of those wooden training poles (which probably got more hugs, and hopefully more kicks and punches, than the Kazekage had been subjected to).

No reason to feel guilty about wanting to hug him again. In fact, he should do that as soon as he got to Suna.

Why wasn't it already a habit for them to greet each other with a hug?
Waking up Kiba for his watch shift, Naruto made a mental note to change that.