Part I: My Happy Ending

'Fair mirror and true! now tell me (for thou canst)
A tale - a pretty tale - and heed thou not
Though it be rife with woe.'

There comes a point in every relationship where it must end, in the time between, one must take solace in the knowledge that the time they spent with another was their happiest and most fulfilling moments. One does not really know the coming of the end until it is really there... there is, however, no justifiable reason that explains the ignorance of the truth... at one point, whether the hearts involved in the relationship accepts it or not, feelings wane and there is nothing left. In some instances the love lasts for years before interest and uniform rituals become tiresome, then signals the time to move on. Other situations calls for weeks, maybe months before the couple finds themselves incompatible in the game that most people so articulately call love.

This case was unique, in a sense, and special above all others.

For, didn't one have to spend a set amount time, factoring hours, days or weeks, to fully comprehend the compatibility of their personalities? If so then how can one tell, immediately that their connection was not absolute enough to say that they will be together for many minutes, discarding, refusing to take into consideration the days and years any simple minded heart could ever wish to obtain with the one they loved. Was it in this person's place to ascertain, after only a moment, that love between them could not, would not be understood and thus never have worked?

Gaara certainly hoped not. In all degrees of seriousness, he hoped the other was joking, he knew the mischievous ways of the boy, he thought that maybe it was not uncommon for him to play practical jokes on the human heart as well. But the solemnity of the others face gave subtle reminders that it was he, Gaara, who had been pulled aside, he who had been forced to endure the mind numbing and nerve wrenching tension while the other found the voice with which to speak his own feelings. It made him smile in the least, even though his mask of natural calm hid it, and hid it well. But what confounded the young kazekage to no end was what the other proclaimed, in a voice twice as shaky as it should have been and filled with more fear than the jinchuuriki would have imagined possible for the blond.

"... But something like that could never work out now." His hand fisted and clenched at his side. "People don't understand these kinds of things really, and I rather not put you through the embarrassment of the petty gossip and gripes from your own people." His voice was decidedly dejected and he refused to look into the eyes of his company, apparently already giving up. In another time, there would have been a moment, a fleeting passing of time in which it was said Naruto could never, ever be discouraged. Naruto would never hold a look of severe discomfort or defeat. Naruto would never, ever give up.

Time proves even the most fool-hearted and stubborn wrong. This, the situation, was one Gaara was having vast difficulty accepting and as he stared incredulously at the person whom, just moments before expressed his intense like - not love, for the feeling was foreign enough to not have been recognised within the Konoha ninja - for the Sand village leader, Gaara entered the slightest state of panic, fear that this was the end, before they had even begun. Naruto waited not so patiently for a reply, pulling at his ear in an absent-minded habit of nerves.

Gaara cleared his throat, searching for the words that would correctly portray his feelings pertaining to the situation. He searched carefully, mind you, wanting to express his... perplexity in a way that would be clear to both him and the blond. He replied stoically, expressionlessly, though a cluster of thoughts and emotions danced within his mind, as always, but he had trained his features to project the opposite of what he was feeling inside: Nothing at all.

"I don't think the ideals of the public should influence matters involving you and me." This was said monotonously... but hopefully. Naruto's eyes softened, matching the tone of his quivering voice.

"It's that same public that you lead, what if their vision of you is shattered? What will they say: The great and powerful leader of Sunagakure shares his bed with... a man? What will become of your reputation then?"

"In case you haven't noticed, my reputation has not always been the most pristine." He said as-a-matter-of-factly, inclining his head some. He continue when the blond had nothing to add to the statement. "It will be as it is now, I know what the people whisper behind their hands, I'm no child, Naruto. People will talk, they did then and they do now, there is not much I can do to stop that; their personal interests and discussions are their own."

"But now, you will consciously be giving them a reason to talk behind your back. What if a rival country were to find out and you were thought to be, gods forbid, weak. What then?" He asked placing his hands in his pockets tilting his blond head to the side, studying the kazekage with his ever watchful sapphire blue eyes.

Gaara faltered, if only a little, but still resolute. "What does it matter? Wasn't it you who said, 'I don't go back on my word', isn't that your nindo? Your ninja way? You claim to have these feelings for me but you contradict yourself in saying we are in the wrong. Why do you doubt yourself? I am fully comfortable and ready to embrace the reactions of my family and village if and when they are to ever find out about us."

"There is no us yet, Gaara."

The kazekage gaped at his companion and, on some levels, friend, hoping that he had indeed misinterpreted the shinobi's words. After the hesitant words of profound affection, this new discovery sent a new shock into his system. He didn't understand, he couldn't understand. How could he, the enigmatic signs the blond threw on the table were gaining more and more in complexity and it was against Gaara's wishes to fully understand their meaning. He sunk into one of the dark brown guest chairs that decorated the front of his office, too weak with confusion to stand any longer.

"What do you mean? ... Then what was that, just now? Were you not proposing that I... that we...?"

"I merely told you my feelings, something I've been wanting to do for a very long time now. I'm saying we have potential, but until I sort out my... uncertainties, there can't be an us."

His last words stung, like the lingering sensations of a fresh burn, it tickled his flesh, causing a nauseous tremble to shake the kazekage's pale frame. Naruto paced forward, closer, so that he knelt in front of the red head, eyes burning with regret.

"Gaara?" He asked reproachfully, watching the others pale, handsome face.

"This isn't fair Naruto, you come here and mock me with sweet words... what high do you get from this? You dangle something worthwhile in front of my eyes while saying I cant have it, I can't help but to feel as if you are taunting me..."

Naruto was stunned, he didn't even think the red head would accept his plea... but worse, he was looking forward to the arrangement. He only had to say so, and he could have the very powerful Sabaku no Gaara to himself, in the most intimate way possible. Both body and spirit. The mere thought of it filled his head with a heighten sense of power that he both praised and mourned. He had wanted this so bad, he had prepared for the worst, but he never believed Gaara would agree - agree and offer to go against his village and family, if needed - to his impromptu proposition. He had it there, in his hands, but his idiocy made it so it was just out of arms reach, although however regrettable, it was necessary.

He was still unsure about things. But one thing was certain, Gaara meant the most to him.

"I'd never do that Gaara!" His eyes begged for the other to understand.

Gaara laughed bitterly, shaking his head. "So you tell me you care for me and that's it, you just walk away? I don't understand, Naruto, please help to understand because this situation is becoming ever more tiresome." His green eyes shone with a weary emotion, Naruto couldn't begin to think what was rambling through the others mind. He smiled hollowly, wishing he could just disappear, if only for a moment.

"I guess I'm not really getting my point across then, huh?" He shook his head, standing as the red head still seated on the small guest chair regarded him with, what he thought was, mixed emotions. "I've never really been good with these kind of things," scratching the back of his head aimlessly, he continued. "I want to be with you, Gaara. Hell, I wouldn't wish for anything else in the world if I could be by you all day, all night... always."

"But..." The perplexed kazekage offered, drowning in the words, but doubting them nonetheless. There had to be something holding him back, and Gaara greatly doubted that it was the fear of ruining his already marred reputation. His business was his own, so what if he chose to accept a male lover; love, as they say, conquers all... it knows no shape or form, cupid is painted blind... yes, love was a deceiving emotion.

"...but, " Naruto began absently, licking his dry lips, Gaara watched his face curiously. "... there are some emotions I need to work out within myself. That's why I didn't come forward to you before, why I waited so long... I want to try us, see what will happen... when I'm ready. Today I wanted to let you know that, I wanted to inform you, if nothing else, you are at the center of my attention, but there are things dragging me away from my focus."

"Uchiha Sasuke."

He didn't have to guess, anyone who knew Naruto didn't have to guess what (or who in this instance) was focused on his mind. No, Gaara did not have time to guess, he knew, he knew very well, and he couldn't help that shimmer of envy that crossed his mind at that moment.

"Has it ever occured to you that we can not all be saved? He is in a dark place, unreachable even for you; had he wanted to return to your village he would have done so a long time ago."

Blue eyes turned icy, reminding the red head of the oceans of the north, spine-tingling and bone chillingly cold. The topic was as taboo as they come, like all discussion that had to deal with Sasuke as the primary subject. He knew he had overstepped his boundary, but he couldn't bring himself to care. How could he? When the absence of said Uchiha was the only thing that kept him away from the one thing he wanted, the only thing, in his mind, he felt he truly deserved.

"I will bring Sasuke back, don't forget that. He may be in the dark, but so were you once and if... if I was able to save you, then I can save him. I have to believe that, I have to believe it. Believe in myself, otherwise there would be no point in me trying anymore. Doubt can cripple even the most powerful warrior; when the old pervert told me that, I didn't understand, but I do now. I have to keep focus and once I rescue Sasuke, I will come back for you." His face had gotten closer and closer to the speechless and quite stunned red head until he could feel the others breath on his cheeks. Gaara frowned turning down his lips in calm frustration.

"And I'm supposed to wait?!"

Naruto took a step back at the vehemence in the red head's voice. He spoke cautiously. "Gaara, don't be like that..."

Gaara made a small sound of disbelief, he stared at the leaf nin as if he were some kind of puzzle that could not be solved. And indeed Naruto was a difficult person to understand than Gaara would have hoped. There was nothing before that could have warranted this kind of behavior from the blond, honestly it still made absolutely no sense to Gaara, he chuckled softly.

"I don't know how else to be, Naruto. You're not giving me much choice." He paused to gather the words he needed, then said, "I find it amusing for you to think I will sit and wait for you like some child while you play hide and seek with your precious Sasuke."

Naruto's face twisted into a disappointed frown. "You are first in my mind."

"Am I?" The red head defended, seriously doubting what he knew was going to be the Konoha ninja's answer.

"Gaara..." Naruto stepped forward, Gaara stood.

"Obviously there is someone who has already taken that spot, your mind has yet to focus on your main priority. So I think the best course of action for us to take would be to pretend that this conversation never happened."

This is for the best, he thought. Cut it off now before anyone else is hurt. Stupid Naruto... Why does he have to be so difficult? Why can't he just let things - people - go? Why does he have to be so stubborn? Idiot.

Naruto's brow creased into an angry/confused frown. "What do you mean? What are you saying...?"

"Apparently there is no chance between us until you sort out your feelings for the Uchiha and until you completely grasp what it is that you want from me..." Gaara willed his voice to cooperate with him, but it began to shake with the fresh tears that were now threatening to surface. He bit his lip to keep it from quivering. But he was determined. If Naruto had the gall to do it, then so did he. He was strong, he needed to be, because he felt so helplessly weak as he stood there in front of the Uzumaki. "I want no ties to you." He continued shakily, but still controlled. "It would be better to resume our friendship, because apparently something more is not guaranteed, ne?"

A single tear rolled down Gaara's pale cheek, he moved quickly to wipe it away.

Naruto looked hurt, as hurt as Gaara felt, but he doubted the fox carrier felt the same way that he did. Even that would be solace in his distressed condition.

"I want you, Gaara. All of you." He pleaded.

"And I am not content with only half of you!"

"I..." Naruto didn't like where this was going. He tried to find the right thing to say, something to tell the village leader that he was wrong, that he had him, all of him, since the day they met and everyday after. He stood quiet for a while, studying the bare floor of the Kazekage's office as it swam before him.

"So there is nothing you can say to that?" Gaara misunderstood his silence. In his mind he interpreted the lack of words as confirmation that the boy was only half serious about his proposal. It was a joke. "Why did you come here?" The shaky edge was back in his voice. He didn't want to believe it, but he was given little choice.

"Gaara, listen..."

He shook his head. "I've heard enough." Even to his ears he sounded defeated.

"Don't do this..." The blonde begged... begged, any other time, Gaara would have been happy to jump into his arms.

Not now.

Probably not ever again.

That realization hurt more than the goodbye. Another tear broke through his defense. He was angry now.

"Do what? You were the one who un-did it before it was even done. There is no us, remember."

Naruto gave a heavy, shaky sigh as he too tried to keep the tears at bay. "Yeah, it hurts to hear it like that."

"I'm glad you understand how I feel."

"Then... goodbye, Gaara."

No more words were exchanged, Naruto left, returned to the keep of his temporary guardian, continuing their journey back to Konoha after so long. Gaara, despite his feelings, wished him well. He hoped that he found the Uchiha and brought him back to his senses. That or killed the man for being a traitor for so long. In any instance, he hoped for Naruto's happiness... even if that cost him his.

That week he learned the true threat of the Akatsuki.