After finishing Pranksters, I really didn't plan on writing any lengthy Naruto fics for awhile. And then Ednama requested something that simply refused to stay a one-shot. It's been awhile since I wrote them in their ninja-verse. Hopefully this total improvisation goes well...
Summer in Suna
Naruto glanced out the small window of his guest room, waving the small uchiha rapidly to cool the sweat dripping down his neck and chest. He growled in frustration and shrugged out of his jacket, tossing it down onto the floor.
"Kakashi-sensei, why is it so hot? Can't we go swimming or something?" Naruto pulled his mesh tank over his head, dropping it to the floor with his jacket.
His teacher sat on his bed calmly, cool as a cucumber despite the long sleeve turtle neck and vest he was wearing. One eye smiled at him from the top of Icha Icha Tactics.
"Don't fight the sweat. Just let it happen." He glanced back down at his book and continued reading. Naruto huffed and sat down on the bed. He peeled off one shoe and then the other, leaning back on the bed and putting his feet up.
"It's sooo hot," he said, feeling his already warm body heat up even more next to the thin cotton sheets. He sat up again, wishing he could peel off every article of clothing and sit in front of an electric fan.
"It should be cooler at night," his teacher offered as compensation. Naruto glanced out the window, but night was still far away.
"Argh!" Naruto sat up again. He pulled his shoes on and put on his jacket hurriedly. "I'll be back later," he said, pocketing his room key and exiting the guest quarters allotted to them. Kakashi waved calmly behind him as he closed the door.
Naruto set down the hallway in search of the Kazekage only to be stopped by a guard who didn't quite believe that his message was urgent.
"What do you MEAN I can't see the Kazekage!" Naruto raised his voice. "I'm his guest! Why should I have to wait?" and so the argument went on. They paused when the office door opened, and Gaara's head poked out of the doorway to see what all the commotion was about. Naruto crossed his arms and scowled at the guard for not allowing him entrance and the sheepish guard muttered something about no interruptions. Gaara dismissed him calmly and beckoned Naruto inside.
"How may I help?" Gaara said, sitting in his stiff backed chair. Looking at Gaara, in his kage robes, at his desk like Tsunade-baba did every day, Naruto smiled a bit sheepishly and scratched his chin.
"Maybe urgent was an exaggeration," he admitted, staring down at his feet.
"You felt it urgent enough to find me," Gaara said diplomatically. Naruto nodded and felt a little embarrassed by his impetuousness.
"It's just that, it's really hot here in Suna and I was wondering if there was maybe a pool somewhere or someplace I can cool down."
Gaara glanced at the window, at the afternoon sun glaring down harshly on the village. He nodded sympathetically.
"You are unaccustomed to our summers. I fear water for a pool is a luxury we don't have. Our solution to the heat has always been to sweat more." Gaara looked down at his clothing.
Naruto frowned and nodded.
"When the sun lowers I will visit the training grounds. Come. My shinobi will enjoy a good sparring match. It will take your mind from the heat." Gaara's lips curved softly into a smile. Naruto found himself grinning and held out his hand. They shook on it and Naruto left with a bounce in his step despite the sweat still beading his skin.
He returned to the room where Kakashi was still reading and took off his jacket again. He kicked off his sandals and, with one eye on the horizon, began to practice his drills. Kakashi spared him a glance after a few minutes of slowly moving through his punches and kicks.
"No pool?" he asked. Naruto didn't spare him a glance, focusing on balancing on one foot while his other kicked high into the air. He shook his head and swiveled his hips.
"The Kazekage promised me something even better," he smiled, moving through the kick again.
"Oh?" his teacher prodded. Naruto ignored the hint of amusement in his voice.
"When that sun hits that horizon I'll be sparring with the Kazekage himself. Which means I have a few hours to warm up before I get to kick his ass."
Kakashi chuckled and went back to his book. Naruto threw another punch and smiled. He liked to think that the laugh wasn't directed at him.
Naruto arrived at the training grounds before the sun touched the village's high gate. An early crowd had already gathered, standing along the edges of the dirt field. Naruto noted that many of them were shinobi, Suna hitaite proudly displayed. A few were civilians in plain clothes and small children watching him curiously.
"He doesn't look that tough," one kid said to his mother who pressed a finger to his lip and told him to shush.
"He saved our Kazekage," she said and the child's brown eyes turned to him again with wide-eyed reverence. Naruto smiled and began his stretches, not at all self-conscious despite the onlookers trickling in.
Naruto held his pose, pressing against his ankle to stretch his legs. His legs felt clammy beneath his knees and the drops sliding down his back tickled their way down. Naruto tried not to grimace and shifted his body to stretch the other leg. He resisted the urge to take off his jacket, aware of how foolish it was to give up any sort of protection.
The sudden bout of clapping caught his attention and he glanced up to see Gaara step onto the field. His kage robe was missing and he stood in his long coat, vest strapped on with his giant gourd perched on his back. Naruto wondered how someone so small managed to carry something nearly as big as him all the time, but looking at the multiple straps on the vest, he realized it was built for support.
Naruto grinned and climbed onto his feet. He hadn't fought Gaara since he was twelve when he was still new at using the fox's power. He had learned a lot in the past five years, but then again, so had the Kazekage.
Naruto stepped forward to face the opponent and smiled. He realized he was looking down more than he used to and tried not to let that small detail fill him with pride. A throat cleared itself next to them and he turned to see Kakashi standing there. He lifted both hands and from each dangled a small bell.
"I feel it is best to impose some rules on this sparring match of yours. It would not do to destroy the property of the ones hosting us nor to hurt any civilians." He looked pointedly at Naruto.
"No land altering jutsu or killing blows. No more than two kage-bunshins or bunshins at a time." Naruto opened his mouth to protest, but paused and crossed his arms instead. "No use of sand other than what is in the gourd," he looked at the Kazekage. Gaara nodded once to agree to the terms. He grabbed one bell and attached it to a strap on his vest. Naruto swiped the other and looked down at himself trying to figure out where to put it. Now was a good time to be wearing a belt, which he didn't have. He settled for tying it to one of the loops at the waist of his pants. He gave it an experimental tug to make sure it wouldn't fall. Satisfied, he looked up and smiled.
"First one to capture a bell or to force the other off the field will be declared winner," Kakashi announced. He took a few cautionary steps back. "Fighters, bow," he said and Gaara dipped his head forward. Naruto did the same, keeping his eyes on his opponent. Kakashi took a few more steps back before bringing his hand down in a chopping motion. "Start!" He scurried back to the edge of the field, occupying a spot between Kankuro and Temari. Sakura pushed her way forward just as things began.
Naruto rushed forward straight for the Kazekage. Sand rushed out of the gourd to put a wall up before him and Naruto's hands flew to make the right seals. One bunshin approached from above, the other behind, but Naruto had nearly forgotten about the sand barrier around the kage's body. Both shields lashed out and stopped his bunshins from getting close. He dashed across the wall the way he had seen Lee do before and relied on his speed to avoid its stinging blow. It ticked him off that Gaara still hadn't moved a single step and just as he managed to sneak up behind the other man, the sand pushed him away and he fell to the floor.
Naruto wiped away the sweat at his brow with the sleeve of his jacket. He got back onto his feet and rushed forward again.
Naruto lost track of time, but as the sun sank lower behind the gate his body was starting to feel the heat. His face burned with exertion and his jacket was damp with sweat. Even with his hitaite on it became harder to see with the sweat rolling down his face into his eyes. He ignored it and focused on the slightly blurred figure in front of him. He panted heavily and he surveyed his surroundings. The most he had managed was to push the Kazekage one step forward. He needed to think, but the sand was not so patient. He called his bunshins forward again and they all glanced at each other conspiratorially. They grabbed one and shot him into the air. Naruto gave the other a boost and the Kazekage's attention instantly shifted to the two bodies approaching him from different directions.
Naruto stayed on the ground and shifted out of the kage's line of sight. He would have to be quick and he closed his eyes focusing on the chakra in his feet. He still wasn't so great at this move, but it had been his father's and as his son, he thought it his duty to master it. He waited for the moment when the sand struck out at the two bunshins in the sky. Gaara still struggled to tell the difference between the copies and the real body. He had resorted to catching them all before exerting any pressure. As the sand shot out, Naruto let the chakra in his feet explode. He dashed forward toward the bell dangling from the vest, careful not too get close enough to trigger the instant shields around the kage's body. His hand darted out and his fingers just managed to grasp the bell.
A sand fist shot out and punched him. He went rolling into the dirt, the small granules sticking to his sweaty skin. He sputtered and spit and he could feel both bunshins disappearing in an instant. He jumped to his feet and raised the bell triumphantly and then Gaara's blurry figure went dark and the ground rose up to meet him.
Gaara found himself smiling when Naruto held up the bell. It had been a long time since a spar had forced him from his spot. Even that one step was a concession. And then the shinobi was falling to the ground and Gaara threw up sand to catch him and ease him to the floor. He rushed forward to grab him, his hand coming away with sweat from the red face. Sakura appeared on his other side and the shinobi opened blue eyes and peered at them curiously.
"Hey guys, what are you doing up there?" he asked. He smiled at both of them as though nothing were wrong. Sakura's hand glowed blue with chakra as she held it over her teammate's body. She gave a sigh of relief and shook her head.
"It's dehydration, nothing serious. We're not used to training in this heat," she said. Gaara nodded and looked down at Naruto with concern. Kakashi stepped forward and pulled out a canteen.
"I was worried he might do this. He practiced from the time the Kazekage promised the match right until it started." He held the canteen to Naruto's lips and told him to drink.
Naruto gulped it down greedily and threw his head back with a satisfied sigh.
"Come on you knucklehead," Sakura said, tugging his arm up. Gaara grabbed his other side and pulled him onto his feet. It was difficult with the weight of his gourd, but he tossed one arm around his shoulder and Kakashi grabbed the other.
"I'm fine guys, just a little dizzy," Naruto said. "I'll be fine with a little rest." Their audience clapped as they exited the field, Gaara smiling at them as they left.
"Is he okay?" Kankuro trotted up to them and pointed a thumb at the slumped over shinobi.
"Dehydration," Gaara said softly. Kankuro snorted. Temari's worried face relaxed a little. They followed him back into the infirmary where Sakura wiped down his sweaty brow and gave him a glass of water.
"Drink slowly," she said. Naruto nodded and when he started to gulp she took the glass away. "Slowly!" her face twisted. She gave the cup back and Naruto sipped it this time.
"So," he said, lowering the cup to his lap. "Did I win?" he glanced around the concerned faces and smiled.
Gaara's lips quirked up and he nodded. "You're much faster than the last time we fought."
"It was well done, Naruto," his teacher praised him. Gaara caught the look of pride in his one visible eye.
"I haven't seen that before!" Sakura was suddenly excited. "That's not one of Lee's moves. Where did you learn that one?"
Naruto glanced up at his teacher appreciatively. "Kakashi-sensei. It was my father's signature move."
Gaara glanced from the copy-nin to Naruto in surprise. Naruto had never spoken about his family. He had never said anything about a father.
Naruto paused to look down at himself and note the sand still clinging to his sweaty body. "Oh man I'm a mess." He lifted his arm slightly and took a tentative sniff. He wrinkled his nose and looked away. "And I reek. Any chance I can be deemed healthy enough to bathe?"
Sakura frowned and looked at her teacher. "Well yes, but I prefer that you not go alone. I don't want you drowning after you faint in the bath tub." She glanced at her teacher hopefully.
Gaara found himself stepping forward before he could accept. "I'll take him. The kage is afforded the luxury of a cool bath." Kankuro opened his mouth to say something, but one look from Gaara and he stopped, closing his mouth and looking down.
"Sounds great!" Naruto said, hopping onto his feet. His hand reached out to the hospital bed to steady himself before he stood up. "I'm fine. Really!" he said when Sakura narrowed her eyebrows. "Just getting up too quickly is not a good idea." He stepped forward and threw an arm around Gaara's shoulders casually. "So where is this mini pool of yours?" he grinned.
Gaara wondered if it was guilt that prodded his sudden willingness to share his bath with the leaf shinobi. He grew slightly nervous as they approached his private bath, feeling his heart beat unusually fast. His brother would question him about it later of course. To other shinobi it was only normal for teammates to share a bath together. There was nothing unusual about the communal experience, but for Gaara, he couldn't remember sharing a bath with anyone. The sand around him resisted water automatically, often shying away every time he stuck his toe near the water as though it refused to get in with him. Taking a bath had therefore always rendered him rather vulnerable, comparatively speaking, and so for the majority of his eighteen years of life, Gaara had bathed alone.
Naruto's weight leaned against his shoulder. The taller shinobi walked awkwardly next to him and Gaara struggled to hold him up not because of his weight, but because of their height difference. When they were kids he could have sworn he was slightly taller, but the younger teen had quickly caught up and even if he discounted the two inches added by his spiky, blond hair, he had to admit that the other man had a good lead on him.
Gaara paused by the door and pulled a key from his coat pocket. Naruto stood up on his own, allowing Gaara to unlock the door and slide it open. Naruto was ushered into the clean white tiled bathroom. There was only one small stool and bucket, but Gaara didn't mind.
"You may go first," he said as Naruto too noticed the single bath set.
Naruto unzipped his jacket and tossed it into one of the storage baskets lined along the wall. "I can kneel. I'm the one intruding," he smiled, gripping the mesh tank top and pulling it over his head. A necklace, caught on the fabric, pulled free and a clear crystal fell to his chest. Gaara nodded and tried not to feel self-conscious as he undid the clasps of his vest.
"Getting dressed must be a real pain," Naruto smiled. Gaara's cheeks grew warm as he undid the next clasp. He tilted his head and wondered about that.
"I'm used to it," he reflected, for really he didn't think much of strapping on the vest in the morning. He had to be ready for battle at all times. A few severe backaches in his youth let him know early on that he needed strong support to carry his increasing reserve of chakra-infused sand. He slid off the vest and placed it neatly in his basket. He undid the top clasp of his jacket and slid the zipper down to the bottom.
"Isn't it hard to move in that?" Naruto asked. The small bell jingled at his waist as he undid his fly and tugged his pants down. Gaara averted his eyes, catching the other shinobi place his pants next to his shoes in his peripheral vision. He turned away to hide the warmth in his cheeks.
"My style of fighting does not require flexible clothing. I need protection more than the ability to move." He pulled off the long sleeved mesh shirt folding it and placing it over his vest.
"You don't look very sweaty," Naruto said. Gaara glanced at him in surprise and quickly averted his eyes as the shinobi tugged down his green boxers. "Ugh, I'm sweating like a pig," he said. Gaara untied the straps on his legs. He pulled off his shoes and paused.
"I never have very much. I believe it's the sand that prevents it. Or absorbs it," he offered. His fingers hesitated at his waist. The water sounded and when he glanced over, Naruto's naked backside was to him, sitting on the stool and filling the bucket with water. He picked it up and poured it over his head, sighing aloud as it dripped over him. His spiky blond hair stuck to his head where the water was poured.
"Much better," he said before turning to glance at Gaara over his shoulder. "I guess that's handy," he paused, thinking about Gaara's words. Gaara took a deep breath and slid down his pants. He folded them and placed them with his clothes. Naruto had grabbed the soap and lathered up his body cheerfully, like nothing bothered him. Gaara realized that it was normal for fellow men to bathe together, that he had probably done it many times before. But Gaara couldn't help feeling uneasy. Naruto glanced up at him, hands in his hair foaming with shampoo.
"Are you waiting for me?" he asked. Gaara shook his head, but he realized he was. He was hoping Naruto would finish quickly so he could bathe alone as he usually did. "It's okay, I'm almost done." Naruto scrubbed his toes hurriedly, scrubbing up his legs and then between them. Gaara glanced away and listened to the water filling the bucket again and the water splashing repeatedly.
"There, all set," he said cheerfully. Naruto's arm brushed his slightly as he reached for a towel in the racks next to the clothes. He draped it around his waist and pat Gaara on the back. "It's all yours," he said. Gaara turned and watched him disappear behind the dyed curtain, his tan legs headed for the baths.
Gaara took a steadying breath and removed his underwear. He sat on the stool which was still warm from Naruto's body. His cheeks felt warm and he shook away the thought, turning on the water to fill the bucket. As he held the bucket over his head, the sand slid from him, rustling in annoyance as it usually did. Gaara smiled and poured the bucket over his head. A few grains still stuck to him stubbornly and he lathered the soap in his hand and washed himself with the gentle sponge. His skin always felt smooth to him when the sand left. He washed away the smell of sweat, scratching away the dead skin. He rinsed himself and held up a hand, telling the sand to pause as he stood and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his waist.
He stepped into the bath area and looked around only to pause when he didn't see Naruto anywhere. His heart beat quickened a little and he stepped forward anxiously wondering if had indeed fainted inside the tub. He reached the edge when a hand shot forward, but before it could grab his ankle the sand raced toward him gripping the thick wrist. Naruto's face popped out of the water, grimacing in pain.
"I was kidding, it was just a joke!" he yelled and Gaara bid the sand to let go. Naruto rubbed his wrist and grumbled to himself and Gaara slipped a foot into the water and sat down on the edge.
"My shield doesn't share your sense of humor," he said. Naruto scowled at the cloud hovering over them.
"Tell me about it. Does your brother get the same treatment?"
Gaara shook his head. "I usually bathe alone. I'm unaccustomed to worrying about pranks while I bathe."
Naruto glanced around at the empty tub as if noticing his surroundings for the first time. "You mean you get this whole place to yourself? Nice," he nodded.
"You're the first to see me without my shield," Gaara raised his arm and studying the bare skin.
"You mean you're human like the rest of us now?" Naruto grinned. Before Gaara could retort that he was indeed and has always been human, Naruto's head disappeared beneath the water and Gaara felt a tug on his ankle that had him nearly falling backward. Strong hands tugged his feet out from under him. He slid into the water none too gracefully, his sand unwilling to protect him and took a belated breath that had water shooting up his nose as he was dragged to the bottom of the tub. He stood up sputtering, one hand wiping his eyes, the other grabbing the towel threatening to float away.
Naruto threw his head back and erupted into laughter. "You should have seen your face! I've never seen you look so terrified."
Gaara tightened his now soaked towel around him and climbed back onto the edge of the tub. "Few are brave enough to tease the Kazekage." Naruto smiled and stood up. Gaara's eyes trailed down his chiseled abs before he could stop himself. He reached the wiry hair just above certain anatomical parts when he averted his eyes, feeling the summer heat bear down on his body. He wondered if dipping himself under the water wasn't a good idea.
"Don't be embarrassed," Naruto teased. He stepped forward, seemingly unaware of his nakedness. "Here, we'll shake hands. I won't tease you anymore."
Gaara tried not to look, and carefully turned his head, trying to keep his focus above Naruto's neck. He stretched out his hand and took the other shinobi's rough palm into his. Naruto tightened his grip and suddenly Gaara was flying into the air and colliding with the warm body. He was too shocked by the sensation of the other man's skin against his, forgetting to breathe and choking on the water as Naruto pulled them both under. His legs tangled with the other man's and his body reacted strongly when he accidentally brushed a certain part of the other's anatomy. Gaara kicked and struggled to stand up, coughing and snorting out the water burning his nose. He turned his back, all too aware of certain bodily responses he did not want to share with his companion.
"Enjoy the baths. I'll let Haruno know you are feeling better." He kept his voice calm despite the worrisome development below his waist.
Naruto protested his leaving. He apologized, promising it was the last time and that he would not misbehave again. Gaara ignored the entreaties to stay, clinging to the heavy towel threatening to slip from his waist and wondering when the summer nights in Suna had grown so warm.