by kathlaida-princess

Summary: Summer is upon the Ninja World after peace has come, and the Kazekage is invited to spend it with his hyperactive best friend as well as his companions. But the presence of so many other people there (a certain dark-haired boy included) makes Gaara think that maybe he will be the one left out... GaaNaru Fluff, Shounen-Ai and Yaoi too (and Sasuke will play a good role)

Disclaimer: As usual, I'd like to say that the characters, universe and locations found here do not belong to me, they belong to Masashi Kishimoto. I just bring my ideas and plots to the story.

Author's Notes: Hello dear readers! Even with many other stuff to update, I bring you a small, three-chaptered story, one requested by a watcher of mine at dA. It will be centered around GaaNaru (I will use Gaara's POV), but there will be jealousy towards Sasuke (but there won't be Sasuke bashing). I liked the idea, and I thought of a plot that maybe brought some originality to it. Hope you enjoy!

On with the story!



"Train set and match spied under the blind

Shiny and contoured the railway winds

And I've heard the sound from my cousin's bed

The hiss of the train at the railway head…

Always the summers are slipping away…"

The Sand Village seemed completely deserted that day. Even though it was located in the desert, that was not a usual adjective for the Hidden Village, for many people regularly spent most of their time outside the sandstone walls of their houses: training, working or just hanging out.

But, after facing, even if just for a second, the environment felt there, you could clearly find a reason for such absence of human (and even most of the scarce animal) life: summer had arrived, spurring the scorching sun above to believe that now it was its job to turn the Sand Village into the Glass Village.

The sky was completely devoid of clouds and it was not blue, like you might think, it was of the shade of azure-ish white you could find at the base of a bright flame. The blazing air swallowing the village trembled in heat wrinkles and the small grains of sand covering all of the stone ground almost strutted and leapt restlessly.

Unfortunately, in this climate that would have made scientists reconsider if it really was a meteorite to have caused dinosaurs' extinction, some people had to put all their mind and heart in their job, a task that got a more complicated edge when they had to do so in a room where the windows wouldn't open, where the scorching air stood completely still and sank in slowly, smothering them.

Gaara of the Desert was one of those few people, and, as the Sand Village's leader, there was no way he could escape his fate. Several treaties, reports, complaint letters or just random sheets of paper covered with lazy doodles were scattered all over the surface of a very neat wooden desk, one that probably felt all too outraged with all the mess covering it. And, with his ruffled crimson hair between both his hands and with certainly no disposition to hear the desk's imaginary protests, was the Kazekage, trying desperately not to suffocate while anchoring his mind on his work and bringing some order to his work place.

The exterior layer of his robes was already undressed and thrown over his tall chair and his hands moved quickly from his hair to the mayhem of paper, gathering them all in a deformed pile. Gaara grunted lowly in sadness when he noticed that some of the papers were all over his pet cactus, a small yet lively plant that was given to him when it was even smaller, and he wanted to hit himself for having been so careless and the warmth for keeping him on edge. After most of the confusion was cleared out, the young leader put the small red vase that harbored his only companion on a safer spot, and then let out a long, desperate sigh.

It was not like he wasn't used to the heat. The redhead had lived in the Sand his entire life, anything slightly cooler than the desert would easily give him shivers. But that past week had crossed the line of what was humanly tolerable and Gaara, unlike what many could think, was human. And it was the human part of him that did all the Kazekage work.

Desperate to bring down the temperature even if just for a fraction of degree, the young man got up uncharacteristically rudely and browsed urgently inside the drawer of a bookcase nearby. After a while, he found what he was looking for: an electric fan.

For the first time in many hours, the grin of success played on his face as the redhead set the device on the desk and plugged it, hitting the on button afterwards. However, Gaara did not think the consequences of his actions through completely for, right after the wide propeller began swirling around and around in an increasing speed, all the papers previously ushered in some kind of reasonable order decided to wander off again, this time all in the same direction and considerably farther from the desk.

And, while the redhead had a minor inner outburst in time with the rustling sound of the sheets of paper, a rhythmical and rather cheerful melody banged on his office door, Kankurou's trademark, as he had learned throughout all those years.

"Come in…" Gaara's voice sounded annoyed and relieved at the same time. At least his brother would distract him from the mess his workplace had become.

However, the puppeteer did not come alone. Right behind him, a tall young blond woman with four ponytails springing from her hair in different directions followed, and both looked surprisingly amused AND cool.

"Hello, little brother!" Kankurou greeted him with a stretched, handsome smile, accentuated by the intricate facepaint. Ever since the three sand siblings had worked to strengthen their relationship, these greetings were not unusual at all. He was quick to notice the uncharacteristic chaos. "What happened here?"

Gaara remembered the fan still working all of the sudden and rushed to press the off button now, letting out a disgruntled sigh.

"Don't ask…" was the Kazekage's only reply as he harshly unplugged the useless machine and returned it to its origin. The young leader looked to both his siblings before asking himself, "Can I know why you're both here?"

The eldest of the three stepped forward rather careless of the important paperwork laying about and handed a small envelope to her youngest brother.

"This came with a falcon today," Temari informed. "It was addressed to all three of us, but we think you might find it more useful than us."

Curiosity looked a lot like worry on Gaara's face, and he was both when he took an expectant glance at the blonde and then held the already ripped envelope, retrieving a very regular folded sheet of paper from it.

"Read it," Kankurou invited.

And the redhead did so.

It was a very informal letter, a casual invitation actually. Gaara's eyes shone when he immediately recognized Naruto's careful handwriting on the paper (yes, unlike the Kazekage's terrible one, who was only forced to learn to start writing very late, the Leaf shinobi had a very good handwriting, especially because of his great desire to be acknowledged) and wondered what him and his siblings were invited to. But, as he kept going, the excitement progressively melted into an incisive frown.

Apparently, now that his village had been completely rebuilt from the Akatsuki's invasion (which took a long time and the help of other villages, the Sand among them), the Hokage, still Lady Tsunade, allowed the group best known as the Rookie 9 (or 13, when counting with Rock Lee's team and the new guy, Sai) to take some well-deserved summer vacations and spend them the way they wanted. Some of them had the idea of travelling backpacking-style all over the Fire Country to get to know it better, and so they decided to actually do so.

­"So, I was thinking," were Naruto's words written for him on the paper, "if we're ALL going, I would like it if you and your siblings could come too, since you kind of helped us a lot back here and I'm sure you'd like some time to relax and enjoy yourself and it would be great to have you here too! Just bring the stuff you need to be prepared and come to the Leaf Village. We'll all meet at the center and go together…"

The letter continued with the date of their departure and an inaccurate plan for their journey, as well as several advices on what to bring with him and the promise that it would be a wonderful time, with everyone. The goodbye at the end was very natural and quite affectionate, but despite the overall kindness of the invitation, Gaara's look of worry intensified as he finished reading.

"I'm not going," was all the redhead said as he threw the letter onto his desk, which remained there for once, since the fan was now long gone.

Both Temari and Kankurou stared dumbfounded at their brother.

"You're kidding, right?", Kankurou asked. "You're not refusing his invitation, NARUTO's invitation, are you?"

The young man understood the tone of the puppet-master clearly and did not like it one bit, especially since the heat was making him all sensitive again.

"I am," Gaara repeated, his face determined now. "First, I'm sure the only reason he sent this was for courtesy. You see, everyone else was already going so he HAD to invite us too. Second, I've left our village more than enough these past few months," all throughout the Leaf's rebuilding, the Kazekage made sure to personally help, "you see all the paperwork I have to do now, I can't possibly leave again this soon. Third, backpacking? I'm terrible at that, I'll ruin all the fun for them. And fourth…" the redhead averted his eyes from his siblings now, looking somewhat more somber, "… everyone is going. HE will be there. It's the first time they'll be in this kind of activity for a very long time and they need this time for themselves. I'd only get in the way."

Of course Gaara was talking about Sasuke. He remembered the confusion at the time: Naruto had been captured by Madara Uchiha after having defeated Pain; the Nine-tailed fox was out of control and the only one that could save the blond was another Uchiha. Gaara remembered finding out about Naruto's situation, the pain he felt when he saw his precious person in the same situation he had been before and he understood he was helpless, he could not repay his debt to Naruto. He remembered having one sole purpose: to knock some sense into Sasuke and MAKE HIM go save Naruto, since he was the only one capable of doing it. He remembered accomplishing that purpose. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end and Sasuke did return and rescued the blond, the both of them defeating Madara in the process.

But that only meant that Naruto's quest had finally ended, that Sasuke was back and whatever Gaara had been to the blond before, he was nothing to him anymore. Because Gaara was painfully sure that however kind and wonderful Naruto behaved when he was with him, however much Gaara wanted and dreamed it wasn't true, the redhead would never be nothing more than the Uchiha's replacement… And now the Uchiha needed not a replacement anymore and he was rendered useless.

Temari and Kankurou were very aware of what their brother thought about his relationship with Naruto, but they had a very different version, one that Gaara found too good to be possible. Of course they knew of his obvious feelings for the blond (like he did anything to hide them…), over three years of hearing full speeches about him from the Kazekage's mouth would make anyone suspicious, but they, on the other hand, were sure that Naruto did return some of those feelings. After Gaara's death and revival, his siblings would always talk about how Naruto's eyes would shine a different way whenever he and the redhead were together, how even his actions became more protective and tender, his words all mushy and unlike anything they had ever seen, how willing he always was to spend just a little more time with Gaara.

The Kazekage dismissed these facts as soon as they reached him. He knew they were not true, they were just a way his brother and sister had to make him feel better.

Temari, however, seemed ready to pick up their theory again and break down Gaara's reasons for not going, "Oh, Gaara, you know all that is bullshit! Naruto does nothing for courtesy: you know him, he is not a polite person. Just look at the way he treats his HOKAGE, Master Jiraiya, Kakashi! If he invited you it's because HE WANTS YOU THERE!"

The redhead wanted to retort with something about Naruto's personality, but the blond woman was too inspired with her speech to stop, and she actually scared Gaara a bit with it (it always surprised him to see how much their roles changed with the years…). So, Temari carried on…

"And don't get me started with the Sasuke thing again! You were at Leaf all this time. Sasuke and Naruto were there too. Naruto could have spent all the time he wanted with the Uchiha, he would not avoid him, but he didn't, now did he? Naruto spent all the time with you and believe me, he did not look like he wanted to be anywhere else… So how can you tell me you'll get in the way when there's no way for you to get in?"

Gaara desperately had no reply for that one, but he was still sure his sister was wrong about that. Still Temari continued, onto more pragmatic aspects.

"Backpacking is not the end of the world. You are the Kazekage, for God's sake, and you are one of the best shinobi I've known. Backpacking is a lot like going on distant missions and you are good at those!..."

One more irrefutable point…

"And to make your worries with your absence disappear, me and Kankurou are not going." Both the young men turned their heads to their sister, surprised.

"We're not?" the middle child sounded to Gaara like Naruto after being told there was no more ramen.

"No," the wind wielder replied. "So WE can take care of everything."

The youngest sibling was even more stressed now. His sister should be the one to go, she and the lazy ninja already had a steady relationship and all, and Shikamaru would surely be there to receive her…

"Then if you're not going why should I…" the Kazekage begun, but Temari shut him up one more time.

"You're going! And by the look of you and of this office, I'm sure you're dying to get rid of all this heat too. You know the Fire Country has a much more merciful weather during summer. I would take advantage of that."

"I would too…" was Kankurou's sour addition, right before he received a death glare from his sister.

"So?" she finished. "You don't have a single valid reason not to go."

And Gaara was well aware of that… But one of the things he got from Naruto over the years was his determination (or stubbornness, like most people unfairly called it), so before he gave in, he picked up the letter one more time and read it all over again, trying to make the solution for his problem appear there by miracle.

And it did.

Successful smile making its second exhibition, Gaara held out the letter for his siblings to see and pointed at the line where the date of departure was written.

"Yes, I do. They're leaving by dawn tomorrow. I'm still here. I'd never make it, the journey takes three days," the redhead gloriously explained, never having felt that happy for Naruto's involuntary mistakes. "Even a falcon would take a day to get there."

But somehow neither Temari nor Kankurou seemed intimidated with his logic.

"You'll take the train," was the puppeteer's sole reply.

And once again the Kazakage's determination melted, just like the city around him.

The train, how could he have forgotten about it when he had followed the entire process of its construction? Its railways, which connected the Five Great Ninja Countries, could lead the train to all five main cities with an impressive speed and they were practically always available. If he took the train that day, even if at early night, he would get to Leaf in time. These thoughts now played on Gaara's mind with obvious annoyingness. Especially when he knew there wouldn't be another miraculous escape for him to use.

So, the redhead nodded in unsatisfied defeat, "Fine, I'll go then…"

But before he could move to go pack his things, Temari approached him once more and, placing both her hands on his shoulders, forced eye-contact between them. The youngest was taken aback by the genuinely concerned and caring look on hers eyes.

"Listen, Gaara, we want you to go, but you have to believe us when we say it will never be as bad as you're thinking…" she spoke again, this time much more tenderly. "Naruto is truly your friend. And we know this better than you because, well, when you were killed, we were with him, and we saw him do things for you that… that would make you smile forever…" Gaara noticed that at some point Temari's voice began trembling. "I never want to be in that situation ever again, but I was really grateful for having Naruto with us all the time. That kid adores you. And if he invited you to go him with and if he promised you'll have a great time, then you must believe him. I shouldn't have to be the one telling you that." A smile now. The redhead heard Kankurou chuckle from nearby. The Kazekage could not find the will in himself to refuse both the blonds' pleads, not after his sister's words. So, there was really just one thing left to do…

He smiled too, bashfully squeezing the woman's cheek. "Thanks, Temari. I'll go on my free will and I'll do my best to have fun. I'm sorry if I was impertinent before."

Temari, on the other hand, gingerly pulled her younger brother into an embrace and laughed impishly, replying, "It's okay, baby brother. Let's get you ready then."

And, after nodding and chuckling into the embrace, Gaara regained his composure and followed his siblings to his own room.

Now, Temari soon set some ground rules. Kankurou was not allowed to help Gaara packing, because she wanted to have a very serious conversation with him that would not require the middle child's assistance. The puppeteer tried to protest his way inside the room, but his efforts were in vain. The eldest of the Sand's siblings quickly made herself comfortable in the Kazekage's private chambers, browsing one wardrobe for a huge backpack (well, for Gaara it wasn't that huge, probably just as difficult to carry as his gourd) and searching almost every drawer for items of clothing and travelling of all kinds.

Gaara stood still by the door as he watched his sister work, efficiently, energetically and to the point, like everything she did. He was amazed to see everything getting ready before him in such speed, and he only spoke when Temari was done gathering and began organizing.

"Well Gaara, do come closer…" she asked. And he diligently obeyed. "These…" Temari pointed to several items of clothing which, to the redhead's slight displeasure, were all t-shirts and shorts, the ones that exist according to their name, "… will be your clothes. You'll be walking and it's summer, you need something fresh and comfortable or you'll die, just like in here. The fabric on them is really good, it breathes, so you shouldn't have any problems."

After the small explanation, she put them all neatly inside the backpack.

"Those…" she pointed to another pile, but this time Gaara interrupted her, "Yes, I know what those are. The camp material and the provisions. And these here are the hygiene products. And there's the money. It's okay, Temari, I only needed help with the organizing part."

The other nodded. "Alright. Well, then I'll take care of that while you get dressed." And with that, the blond picked up a random t-shirt and a pair of shorts and handed them to her youngest brother.

Gaara automatically took them and undressed, naturally, in front of his sister. But, while he did that, he noticed Temari attentively observing him, as if registering the results of an important experience…

The redhead was now over seventeen years old. Two years helped him grow a little tall and made him look much older and Gaara knew that that, allied to the many other seemingly appealing characteristics he retained from the past, turned him into a powerful romantic attention magnet among many people.

But he was not expecting that from his own sister. Of course she wasn't looking at him with passion or lust, but it was making him feel uncomfortable. However, as soon as the t-shirt and the shorts were on, Temari nodded in satisfaction, as if the results from the experience had been completely positive.

Gaara looked over himself. The t-shirt was very similar to the ones he wore when he was twelve: black, with netted fabric at the end of both sleeves. The short shorts were black as well, and they left too much skin showing for the Kazekage's taste. He stared at his own legs. They were the reason he had never worn shorts before. They were hairless and had this thing about them that made them weird, and Gaara did not like that one bit.

"See, you look great!" was Temari's sudden statement.

The redhead stared at her almost as if pouting. "You cannot be serious."

"But I am!" she insisted, approaching her brother and looking him over too. "You should have used these sooner. They do wonders for this area…" she pointed at his stupid legs, but apparently she saw nothing stupid in them, "and this area too…" she, of all places, pointed to his bottom.

And that was just the drop that made the bizarreness glass spill for Gaara.

"Temari, why are you talking like that? Why does any of that matter?" he asked. He then remembered the serious conversation she had spoken about before and that kept Kankurou out of the room and he inwardly shuddered at the thought. What did he get himself into?

The blond woman, finding herself cornered, sighed and sat on Gaara's bed, patting the spot next to her, beckoning her brother to join her.

When he was soundly settled, she began.

"I know you're still trying to convince yourself that Naruto is really your friend, but while you're in it, most of us have already realized that it's not really just friendship that runs through his mind." She gave no opportunity to be interrupted. "I'm not trying to convince you of that too now, that is something only yours to find, if it's really true. But I'm your sister, and I care about you, and I know how you feel about the Uzumaki kid, and if being with him truly makes you happy, I want to help. So I'm telling you this now: see this vacation as an opportunity. If you love him, fight for him. He is okay and he will never get anyone better than you, that's for sure. And, believe me, being well-prepared does help you get somewhere. So, please do this, for me…"

This wasn't looking good. It was the third time Temari shook his convictions and broke him out of his shell that day. And he could do nothing about it.

But those words, above all surprise and desire, hurt him, deeply. They made a part of him he could not identify hope for a reality the rational part of him could never hope for, and that was painful in every sense. How could ever Naruto want him when he could have so many others? The Haruno girl. The Hyuuga heiress. Uchiha…

However, as a small retribution for all things his siblings had done for him, all words of advice, of tenderness, of care, Gaara decided to trust them, and follow Temari's (even if painful) words. Because, if he could not trust the people who truly cared about him, what would he be more than the younger compulsive killer Gaara?

So, he would ride the train for the Leaf Village and he would go backpacking with Naruto, his friends and Sasuke Uchiha. He would wear all those t-shirts and shorts his sister carefully chose for him and he would use them proudly. He would fight for Naruto's attention, even if it was a hopeless effort to him.

He owed it to them, to all the people who made him happy.

And (he let himself daydream for a while) maybe another person would be added to that list precisely because of that…

He nodded to Temari and she happily finished up.

Gaara languidly took a seat inside the train, letting the vehicle drive him to a place he was somberly sure to make him unhappy.

His siblings and Baki had taken him there and said their goodbyes, giving some last-minute recommendations too. Apparently, according to Baki, the outfit chosen by Temari, other than being very appealing, was a very good disguise, which didn't allow anyone to recognize the Kazekage among the black short clothing, the absence of the gourd and the red hair which had grown enough to cover the love mark upon his forehead. The young leader was glad to hear that. It made the reasons for wearing it much more agreeable to him.

The last things he received from Kankurou were ruffling in his hair and some words of confidence (was he aware of the advice his sister had given him before?) while Temari hugged him once again and handed him a small envelope. For Shikamaru, she had said. And he agreed to deliver it. She did not have to explain a thing, he was sure it had to do with her absence from the trip.

Then he climbed onto the train, which was just as comfortable and just as annoying as he thought, with the fluffy seats and the depression prospects of his destination.

And now, after having taken said seat, Gaara waved at his loved ones through the window one last time, while the wheels of the machine began swirling in a very similar way to the propeller of his electric fan and picked up memento, thrusting into movement with a rough feeling of inertia. The train's speed increased surprisingly fast, and soon the Kazekage's siblings and teacher had disappeared from view, as well as the entire train station, just to be replaced by the arid, scorching, unforgiving desert landscape.

And, just like that, Gaara found himself with ten hours to kill.

He tried all kinds of activities, from observing the few other passengers to just stare out the window, passing by rummaging his backpack to see if his clothes looked more acceptable, taking short naps and buying salty treats from the dining cart. Outside, even if imperceptibly if you were constantly watching, the background became progressively friendlier, adding some (dark, since it was already night) shades of green to the barren sandy color.

The young man also remembered about Temari's envelope several times, considering the possibility of opening as he held it, afraid that it might contain an excessively detailed report for the reasons why the eldest of the sand siblings was absent, the Naruto-related ones in particular. However, Gaara refrained himself every time. It was bad enough that his sister wasn't there, he would not violate her privacy just like that. Many years of effort to become a better person do that to you: they forbid you to ever make another mistake again. And Shikamaru was the laziest person the redhead had ever met. Spilling embarrassing facts to Naruto and seek out trouble could never have a spot in his "to-do" list.

Still, even with the plethora of activities available for him, Gaara found himself with little patience for them and spent most of his journey shifting in his seat, nervous. More than the possibility of failure, just the reality of seeing Naruto again, even if only little time separated his last visit, filled his head with a weird, tingling emotion, one he wasn't sure he liked…

Because the blond too had grown in these two years. And if he had stared at his best friend dumbfounded right after he revived, now the Leaf shinobi was even more stunning. They were still about the same height, but while his frame had always been the delicate, almost frail one, Naruto's was steadier and beautifully rugged, and Gaara made sure to take in all those details whenever he was with him, in a way so tender he was sure no one else had ever used it. Oh, the redhead knew (despite what their siblings might say) that other people noticed how esthetically appealing the Fourth Hokage's son had become (even more than his own father). But of one thing he was completely sure: in no one else's realization was Naruto more beautiful than in his.

And it was with this image in mind that Gaara felt himself closing his eyes and smiling; it was with an image of a heart-melting grin surrounded by whiskers, two luminous sapphires and an array of golden spikes that the Kazekage fell into a peaceful sleep, only to wake up when the train reached its destination and the last traces of desert had been long ago swallowed by an explosion of green.

When stepping out of the train, backpack in his rightful place, the same tingling feeling inside and refreshment motivating him, Gaara felt like a true tourist.

That thought made him smile as he went towards the village center, where Naruto had told them all to meet. Looking around, the first sleepy rays of light curiously teased the redhead's face. It was already sunrise, he would have to hurry not to be late.

But even in a rush, the Kazakege did take in the environment around him: the freshly built tall homes, the fences and the electric equipment everywhere sprinkled with several green trees here and there, and somewhat all that made him feel more alive. Even though the Sand Village had evolved a lot under his care, he was sure it would never have the same energy as the Leaf Village.

It didn't take him long to make his way to the place he was sure Naruto considered the center of the village. The small stand came into view only a while after its distinguishing scent and, when it did, Gaara saw everyone already gathered there, some with a slightly annoyed look on their faces. He had been late after all.

Still, as he approached, several kind smiles were directed at him (it was always surprising to see how these things changed, and he was sure Naruto's hand was somewhere in the middle of it…), his teammate's, the Haruno girl, among them.

"Look, Gaara is here!" she informed.

The rest of the group noticed him too. Sasuke was already there, and he did not seem very amused. But, as Gaara looked the gathering over, there was no blond there, none other than the long-haired girl he knew was Haruno's rival. Where was Naruto?

However, his question was soon answered when the new member of their team, the one who was, technically, THE Uchiha's replacement, got up and went towards the ramen stand, calling out, "Hey, dickless. Your boyfriend is here."

And while Gaara was trying to make some sense of the load of information he had just received, Sasuke's expression changed into one of pure shock, the Sai boy's face found its soulmate on Haruno's fist and a very embarrassed and blond head poked through the fabric flaps of Ichiraku's, yelling, and blushing, "You idiot, what have I told you about calling me dickless in front of people? And I have no boyfriend, you…" but his ranting came to a halt when his eyes saw there was more red than usual around.

For just a second, both just stared slightly puzzled at each other, Naruto probably trying to understand why Gaara looked so different, Gaara trying to understand how it was possible for Naruto to have grown even more handsome, or at least just his head. Then, the rest of the blond emerged from his hideout and, still blushing just a little, approached his friend, awkwardly summoning them both into a shy embrace.

"Gaara! I knew you'd come! And I'm so happy you did!" the whiskered shinobi half-yelled, half-mumbled into the hug. The redhead knew other places in his head other than his hair were slowly turning red and he felt strangely happy about it. Although part of him wanted to hit himself for ever doubting of Naruto's integrity when inviting him.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," and as he replied, those words changed from lies to unquestionable truth. "I just apologize for arriving late. I only received the letter yesterday and needed to ride the train."

The hug lessened into them just holding hands and then Gaara had time to finally analyze the other fully. Naruto too had cooked up an outfit just for the occasion: he still had a headband wrapped around his forehead, but this one was beige and served no shinobi purpose; he was wearing a sleeveless shirt of a non-blinding shade of orange and dark green shorts just as revealing as his were. But the blond's clothes showed well-sculpt arms and legs with honey skin while his just imposed his stupid legs with stupid cadaveric skin to the world…

However, the redhead's musings were interrupted by an unfamiliar voice, coming from a boy with brown hair, narrow eyes and red marking over his cheeks, followed by a white dog as big as a bear, "Ah, don't worry, we were actually waiting for him," he tilted his head to Naruto. "The moron decided it was a good idea to go eat ramen first thing in the morning…"

Gaara side-glanced at the blond with a half-smile, as the other finally let go and replied to the brunette, "Shut up, Kiba! You wouldn't understand, try being away from Akamaru for an entire season and then we'll talk!"

Oh, now he remembered. Kiba, the boy with the dog. But when had the dog grown so big? Or so scary? And as he involuntarily came closer to Naruto for protection, he looked around once more, just to know if he remembered those people there, all of them once introduced to him by the blond.

Next to Kiba was the Hyuuga heiress, with longer hair and with much more determination added onto her shy looks, extremely comfortable with her intimacy near the dog and his owner. Hinata was her name, and now she appeared stronger than ever.

There was another man next to them, one with tall, thick and curly hair, pale skin and round sunglasses, one who Gaara did not recognize right away because he was, like him, dressed in relatively much more showy clothes. But he was definitively Shino, and he didn't change at all.

Rock Lee, Neji and TenTen were easy for him to find, even with the summer garments. They had been there for his revival, and that was enough for him to remember them forever. Neji and TenTen seemed very worried with each other but Lee just sent a sparkling thumbs-up on his way.

There was the blond girl from before, Ino, as well as Sakura Haruno, Sai (still recovering from the blow he took) and, of course, Sasuke Uchiha, who seemed to be interrogating the former rather incisively. About what, he couldn't tell. But he had a bad feeling about it.

However, counting with Naruto, who was with him, there were only eleven people there. They were Leaf's Rookie 13. Two were missing.

"We're still waiting for someone, right?" Gaara asked the blond.

"Oh, not at all!" he replied, heading back to the ramen stand and beckoning Gaara to follow him. When the redhead poked his head inside, he saw the two remaining members of the group. The chubby boy called Chouji had been following Naruto's example and was too having some ramen (even though a considerable pile of bowls was already next to him). The other one, who he surely knew to be Shikamaru, had his head rested against the counter and his eyes closed, apparently finding this a terrific opportunity to regain his lost hours of sleep.

But both of them were drawn out of their activities with a loud yell from the leader of that peculiar mission, "Come on, guys, what are you waiting for?? Gaara is here already!"

The two roughly bounced back to reality in an instant, Shikamaru suddenly returning to an upright position and Chouji slurping the final rests of his noodles.

"Oh, what a drag…" the laziest of them protested while stretching. But he then saw Gaara there and didn't see the rest of the family with him, so he asked, "Oh, you came alone?"

"That's right… Where are your brother and sister?" Naruto asked as well, finally remembering to whom more he had sent his invitation.

At this, all three pairs of eyes were fixed on him, which left the redhead a bit ashamed of what he was about to say.

"It was… complicated. We had to make an agreement, because the Sand Village couldn't be left without a capable leader." Gaara reached out for the envelope and gave it to Shikamaru. "There. Temari left this for you. I'm not sure, but it must have a better explanation to this than the one I can provide."

Shikamaru listened to it all, took the wrapped message and nodded. "I see." He stood up, still with the envelope in hands, and was the first one to begin leaving the stand. "Well, at least I'll have reading material. And aren't you coming too? I thought you were in a hurry…"

And after the food was paid, all of them reunited outside, picking up their backpacks, checking their things one last time and then finally heading together to the massive entry gates of the Leaf Village. Starting from then and without an end of it in sight, Gaara felt weirdly observed by both Naruto and Sasuke, but both their observations were different, and a complete mystery to the redhead. His legs, in particular, were frequently assaulted by a blue, blue gaze.

All these bizarre facts aside, the group took one last long look at their beloved, thriving home, saving all the memories for the journey and, at least Gaara, wondering if they would find any place as beautiful as the Leaf. From the many events brought up just by the meeting, he could tell this would be promising.

After all silent goodbyes were said, Naruto let out an impish chuckle and threw his arm into the air, shouting "Let's go!"

And with that, they went into the forest outside and into the whole world of possibilities beyond it.

Summer vacation had officially begun.

If past Gaara had decided to stay at home and roast in the desert furnace, the present Gaara was sure he would do anything to go back in time just to make the other regret his decision for the rest of his life. The redhead never thought his trip would be quite like this.

Sure the weather was hot, and the young Kazekage would find himself constantly sweating as he walked with the others, but while the desert was barren, hopeless and empty, the Fire Country's forest was thriving, dynamic and exploding with life. Gaara had never been surrounded by so much life, and the feeling, above all things, was reassuring, soothing, refreshing and extremely motivating. To take in all the action going on there (and he was able to do that because they were walking like normal people and not like ninja for once) was enough to plaster a silly grin onto his face for hours, to fill his heart with a type of courage he could not put in words. Was that the will of fire people spoke about? It maybe was…

Travelling with a group didn't have any of the problems Gaara had imagined. He was never left alone. One constant of his trip that he did not expect but was greatly happy about was Naruto's company. Whether he had been leading the group or staying behind, the blond seemed drawn by the redhead's enthusiastic curiosity on the environment around him and he would always join him in it, and the two would constantly talk, Gaara would ask all kinds of questions and Naruto would answer them the best he could, about the forest, the plants and the animals, and even about what happened to the other while they were absent. There was still the same indescribable look upon the blond's eyes (the one that sometimes diverted to somewhere in the Sand shinobi besides his jade eyes), but all that mattered to Gaara was that he was there, and now he could see what his sister had meant: the whiskered man did enjoy talking to him as much as he did.

However, when their conversations became too interesting or when Naruto was unable to answer one particular question, other members of the Rookie 13 would come to them, and Gaara enjoyed all the time with them as well (he was just a bit disappointed in himself for never having noticed the niceness potential in that group).

Kiba and Akamaru (the Kazekage was sure to keep a safe distance from the big dog) were outstanding in locating ripe berries for them to feast in, the kind of berries that would melt into a paste of sugar, salt and spice inside Gaara's mouth and would make Naruto giggle at the redhead's satisfied expression afterwards.

Shino actually smiled when he found out that Gaara remembered him well through a conversation, and the Kazekage explained that it had to do with his former student, Matsuri, who every once in a while went to Leaf too and spent all her time with the bug-user, talking very well about him when she returned. The redhead was secretly happy with Matsuri's crush on Shino: that meant he could be finally left alone.

Lee was ecstatic to find Gaara one day wearing a t-shirt he had given to him on his birthday, one that Temari found appropriate to pack next to all the black ones, that was as green as the forest around them and had just the word "YOUTH!" written on it in bold.

Sakura, Ino and Hinata, since all of them had had some training with their Hokage, Lady Tsunade, were all there to answer all their flora-related doubts, and since both Gaara and Naruto had a liking for growing plants, their conversations would stretch almost endlessly.

Other interesting conversations were the ones the two ex-Jinchuuriki had with Neji, all extremely philosophic and pertinent, but TenTen was quick to think the Hyuuga had been far away from her more than enough and went to retrieve him in the most interesting parts, making Naruto pout.

Sai was always genuinely curious about Gaara, asking all kinds of embarrassing and non-embarrassing questions without any sort of sugar-coating, and the redhead, understanding that the ANBU meant not to hurt him, knowing that he was even more incapacitated than him when it came to good sense, enlightened him the best he could.

There was not much Gaara could talk about with Chouji, but with Naruto there, food was the only topic of analysis, and the Sand ninja found a kindred spirit in the other's common likeness for salted tongue and gizzard.

Apparently, Shikamaru had been very fast to read the letter addressed to him and, once he did it, he approached Gaara and spoke these words privately to him, "I now see why you're here instead of Temari. In a few written words, she was perfectly clear. And I agree with her, you might be pleasantly surprised throughout your stay with him. Just tell her I actually miss her." Gaara nodded and smiled, replying with, "Thank you. I hope you are right. And I will indeed tell her that." And then he returned to his spot near Naruto.

Overall, the redhead began changing his mind slowly with the many good omens presented to him, even allowing himself to hope for the first time, an optimism that certainly gave more shy kindness to the looks directed to the blond. Only Sasuke's glare made him uneasy, and since he was the only one not to talk to him, he felt that was a real threat.

But not even the Uchiha's angry eyes were match for the well-being other events gave.

Other than just the trees and the animals, there were beautiful hidden surprises in the forest, rivers and lakes, mountains and caves, small towns also bubbling with joy, bright and fresh, endless fields of thick grass and summer flowers. There were camps to be set for them to sleep, food to be prepared.

All those activities were new to Gaara in that context, and he was sure to make the most of them, the best he could. And Naruto was always there, teaching him (because the blond was good at teaching these practical things), helping him, making them memorable.

Gaara learned that some blades of grass were perfect to make whistles, which Naruto blew on an endless symphony to everyone's almost despair, now followed by the redhead. Because of that, the Kazekage was told off for the first time in his life, by an extremely angry Sakura who wasn't sure if she still liked the new intimacy of the two young men.

On every exploration, whether inside a cave, a dense forest or in search for a good spot to set up their camp, Naruto always made sure to tag along Gaara's team and stick with him through all hardships, even when they got lost, the both of them were scared and the blond was positive ghosts would come and get them. The Kazekage was the one to reassure him those times, squeeze his hand and tell with a wicked grin that he had defeated huge, fat, insomnia-inducing spirits before. That seemed enough to encourage the Hokage-wannabe.

The first small town they visited was hosting a festival, having hordes of people attending it. Everyone made sure to wear a kimono, the girls even helped Gaara choose one to buy, since Temari did not remember that detail. By the way they looked at him after he put on one that had the same non-appealing characteristics as his summer outfit, the redhead, scared, felt like they had the same plan as his sister in mind. Still he decided to buy that one, but he wasn't sure if the half-dumbfounded look on Naruto's face when he saw him in it was good or not. Needless to say, the blond wore his flawlessly. Neji, however, was the most affected with unwanted stares, making TenTen react violently to every girl (or boy too) who lingered their eyes just a little too long on the Hyuuga.

The group scattered to try out several of the festival stands. While Lee tested his strength with a hammer ("Gai-sensei will be so proud!!"), TenTen proved her accuracy skills on the darts and most of the others just socialized, Naruto lead Gaara, along with Chouji, to the ramen stand of that town. The blond excitedly ordered the same thing for the three of them, and the kind man serving them did that with extra care, because of the whiskered man's enthusiasm.

However, once the three steaming bowls of noodles were presented to them and Naruto mercilessly began digging into them, he also began finding all the several traits that set this ramen apart from Ichiraku's, and the excessively repeated "the broth is too watery", "the noodles aren't boiled enough" or "where is my narutomaki?" quickly changed the kind man's disposition, who eventually yelled at all three of them to get out, making Gaara almost burst out laughing while Chouji complained about still being hungry.

On that present day, however, away from the town, the kimonos and on a region where farming marked the land with several colored patches, Gaara saw something that truly surprised him. Feasting upon a gathering of tall grass nearby, were a small group of large animals, with black and white spotted fur, a shy pair of horns and an extremely friendly and laid-back expression. The redhead only recognized them by the long always moving tail and the pink breasts pending beneath it, and when he did recognize them, he tapped Naruto on the shoulder and asked him, wide-eyed and incredulous, "Are these your country's cows?"

The blond, turning his head to the lazy animals and then to Gaara, giggled and replied, "Yup, they are."

"They look beautiful. I've never seen cows this big. Our cows always look skeletal, and because they're always hungry, they're not at all friendly," the other explained, still amazed at them.

Naruto noted this and merely suggested, "You can pet them, you know. These are friendly."

And, charmed with that possibility, the Kazekage slowly moved towards one of them with an enthusiastic grin, just to set one hand gently on her side and rub it reassuringly. Even the fur felt softer. The cow, certainly pleased with the gesture, responded it by suddenly running her tongue all over Gaara's face to the young man's great surprise, which made Naruto laugh mischievously and out of control.

After that, the redhead spent the rest of the hour wiping his face while his friend kept giggling something about "Gaara getting tongued by a cow".

At late afternoon, the group stopped near a lake to catch some fish for dinner. The water was shallow and the animals were fidgety, yet it was worth a try. But Gaara did not have swimming shorts with him either, neither did he know how to swim. Those facts were soon communicated to Naruto, who was quick to reassure him that he would not drown on those waters and to lend him his spare swimming shorts. After stripping off his t-shirt and shorts and wearing the borrowed clothes (obviously orange) over his own boxers, the redhead felt like he was wearing raw energy, never-ending light itself, and, after taking a glance at the blond, he could tell the other was as excited as him (and still looking awkwardly). One single thought popped into the Kazekage's head, one that made him blush perversely: now he could tell he was on Naruto's pants.

Anyway, the two of them soon joined the others in the fishing, some of them finding the redhead's new attire quite bizarre (or suspicious), and when Gaara got carefully inside the water, he was relieved to notice it reached only just above his hips. Naruto, however, splashed inside the lake-pond in a less fashionable way, the two of them promptly beginning the fish chase.

But one universal fact was that two ex-demon hosts are more than enough to scare all animal life from a confined space (especially when both have little abilities in capturing said animal life), and the failure of their mission earned them another reprehension and the brand new task to set camp instead.

So, while the others went to definitively get dinner, Naruto and Gaara stayed behind to mount the tents and the fire, shivering every now and then, whenever the summer breeze sped right past their still wet lower bodies and there was hardly any sun left to dry them up.

Apparently, the Kazekage was a much better camper than his blond friend, because he soon finished his part of the tasks and still had to help the other. And, as the redhead worked to create a small circle of rocks to start a fire in the middle of it (it seemed that Naruto, although he was a man from the Fire Country, did not deal well with fire at all), he felt once more the whiskered man's desirable stare upon him, but this time unhidden, intense, expectant. So, it came with no surprise when Naruto opened his mouth and spoke, almost in a whim, "I don't think I had ever seen you in shorts before, Gaara."

The redhead stopped what he was doing for a while to stare back at the blond, certainly blushing as he replied with a smile, "I never wore them before. It was Temari's idea."

"Well, then you should wear them more often, you look kind of handsome in them…" was the other's response, right before he averted his eyes and turned slightly red too.

Gaara's smile could not help but widen as he said, "Thank you, Naruto."

And the blond now had taken a deep breath and opened his mouth again to go on talking when the rest of the group suddenly arrived, scaring him into silence. Gaara's heart twitched in disappointment and he could see clearly the freshly-arrived-Sasuke's frown directed at them, which had been following their actions throughout the entire day and now seemed very keen on the red color painting their faces.

The Uchiha was the one to start the fire with a simple jutsu, placing the fish everyone else had gathered there to roast.

The meal was not spent in silence, but all next words exchanged between them had not the intensity or the feeling of before behind them, although they were spoken with a different tone, in some other sort of tenderness. The moment was gone.

Once they were all finished with their dinner, the night was already perfectly installed, as noticeable by the pitch black sky and the symphony of crickets, owls, far away wolves and the silence of all other birds. Like all others, Gaara crawled to his tent, still with Naruto's swimming trunks on (now dried with the help of the fire) and laid down to rest for the day.

He was lulled to sleep by the soothing sounds outside and by the small reminder of the man he loved hugging his lower body, but, above all, it was the growing possibility of that reminder becoming something more real that really made him peaceful, content, relaxed. His heart was sure that Naruto was about to say something very meaningful before, something he dreamt hearing for such a long time now. Like Temari had said, he had to fight for it. And, tomorrow, he would do all in his power to recreate the same confiding environment that had allowed that miracle that day.

Yes, tomorrow would be the happiest day of his life.


Finally!! I hope the other two parts don't get this big…

Well, enjoy anyway and tell me what you think!

kathlaida-princess logging out…