Title: New Wind Nation ~ 新風国

Chapter 1: First Mission ~ Go! Fight for your dream!

Summary: Naruto finally graduates to become genin of the Hidden Hidden Sand. Unfortunately, no one except Naruto believes he'll last long – especially not when he volunteers to become Gaara's teammate.

Notes: Revised 07/2014. Opening theme is Chase the Wind by Dynamite Shige.


At a small hidden shrine on the very outskirts of the Hidden Hidden Sand, a strange gathering was taking place. The Kazekage, devoid of his usual retinue and having shed his hat and robes in favor of a plain black outfit, stood waiting impatiently, half in shadows.

Nearby, a young woman with long red hair rested against a stone pillar, a tiny blond boy curled up against her side. Though still quite a beauty, she was pale and exhausted, the signs prolonged declining health clear. Just breathing appeared to be taking all the strength she had left.

"What's taking that hag?" the Kazekage demanded.

The woman chuckled weakly. "Yeah, if she doesn't hurry up, I might keel over before I can keep up my end of the bargain."

The little boy's hands tightened, grasping at her clothing. "I don't want you to go, Mama," he whimpered.

"Mama's sorry for making such a bad joke. I don't want to go either, Naru-chan," she murmured, stroking his hair. "But it's almost my time." 'At the very least, I'll make sure you have a place in this world,' she thought, glancing at the Kazekage.

A dry, cackling laugh echoed through the darkened chamber. An old woman hobbled into the circle of light cast by their lanterns.

"Now, now, talk like that is for us old people," she chided. Suddenly growing serious, she peered at the young woman with intelligent, beady eyes. "Though you do look like you've got one foot in the grave, girly."

"It's an honor to meet you, Chiyo-sama," the young woman said, her lips twitching. "I am Kushina Uzumaki."

"Uzumaki? It's been a long time since I heard my husband's old name," Chiyo mused. Turning to the Kazekage, she demanded shrewdly, "So this is why you dragged me out of my retirement so rudely? Her fuinjutsu?"

"That's right," the Kazekage said flatly. "This woman is here to make a deal. She will assist you in strengthening the jinchuriki's seal in exchange for her son's citizenship."

"Oh? What about your precious Hidden Leaf? I recognize you, you know," Chiyo said.

Kushina looked away, her expression pained. "I couldn't stay there anymore," she said quietly. "I had hoped to find a place for us, perhaps find some of my lost clan, but…"

A heavy silence settled over the group, until it was broken by two sets of footsteps. A young man and a redhaired boy stepped into the shrine, the latter clinging to the former.

"Gaara, Yashamaru," the Kazekage called out coldly, "we've been waiting."

"My sincerest apologies, Kazekage-sama, Chiyo-sama," said the man, Yashamaru, bowing deeply.

"Father…" Gaara mumbled, hiding further behind Yashamaru.

"Well, let's get to it before one of us really does kick the bucket," Chiyo grumbled, hobbling into the ritual circle drawn in the middle of the chamber.

When Kushina tried to stand, she stumbled, only held up by Yashamaru, who caught her arm. She gave him a wan smile before mustering her strength and turning to look down at Gaara.

"Hello, Gaara," she said gently. "I'm Kushina."

Gaara smiled shyly up at her.

"Now, Chiyo-obaasama and I need your help with a very special ritual," she continued. "Can you go to the center of the circle and take your shirt off?"

"Okay," Gaara whispered and scrambled up to Chiyo, who seemed to regard him a little less coldly than the rest.

Kushina stumbled after him, supported heavily by Yashamaru, as the Kazekage watched expressionlessly and Naruto hid behind a pillar. She collapsed more than kneeled, beckoning Gaara to lay down with a pained smile.

Placing a faintly trembling hand over his eyes, she said softly, "Now, just relax. Good boy."

Slowly, black markings appeared on his chest and stomach, thick curling lines almost like vines. Kushina breathed out heavily.

"What a mess," she muttered, before catching herself and glancing up at Chiyo. "Um, no offense…"

"It's been a long time since my husband taught me his clan's fuinjutsu," Chiyo said almost wistfully. "And since I watched him seal Shukaku in its second host."

"I'm not sure how much I can do," Kushina admitted. "Well, at least maybe I can let him actually get some sleep…"

"For your child's sake, I hope you show some results," the Kazekage said coldly as he watched over the proceedings. "I believe, after this, it will be time for a test." His eyes met Yashamaru's, some secret message passing between them.

"You know, Mito-sama told me something," Kushina said, her eyes narrowing at the implied threat. "'The vessel must first be filled with love.' That matters more than any seal."

The Kazekage snorted quietly, gesturing to the Yashamaru, who brought forth a set of supplies. Shaking her head, Kushina turned to her task.


'Mom, I finally did it. I'm a shinobi. I have a headband and an ID number, and everything! But somehow, it's not like I imagined...'

Naruto Uzumaki sighed as he pulled out one of the nails he held in his mouth and centered it. Lifting the hammer, he began to hammer the nail in. The task was almost painfully mundane and boring — even if he was doing it while using chakra to cling to the side of a building three stories up.

As a genin, he had been hired for a quintessential D rank mission, to help a business put up a new sign, after the old one had been torn down in the latest sandstorm. Since graduating, Naruto had done more such missions than he cared to remember — when he was doing missions at all.

Naruto sighed again, now down to the last of his prepared nails.

There was no denying that the Hidden Sand was in bad shape. There was nowhere near enough missions to go around, despite the village cutting back heavily in their training programs. Most of the kids Naruto had been trained with had been dismissed long before they graduated, but even so, as a new genin, he still hadn't been able to go on a single C-rank.

Maybe he should have been more grateful to even have D ranks to do, as a steady if paltry source of income, but the sheer monotony was grinding on Naruto's last nerve.

Finished with his task, he gave the newly mounted sign a testing shake and, satisfied with its sturdiness, released the flow of chakra to his feet. As Naruto landed neatly in the mostly empty street three stories below, the elderly shop owner stared up at the sign critically.

"It'll do," he allowed finally, with a disdainful sniff. "Well, don't dilly-dally, boy, come along. The sooner I can report the mission finished, the sooner I can get back to my shop!"

Naruto waited until the man's back was turned to stick out his tongue. 'That's it! No more D ranks! No matter what it takes, I'm getting a better mission!'


Once the old shopkeeper signed the mission complete form and submitted the payment, Naruto was free to receive his cut. The chunin behind the mission desk looked up in surprise as he realized that Naruto was still there and seemed to have no intention of leaving.

"Please give me a C-rank mission!" Naruto exclaimed without preamble, slamming his hands onto the desk.

"Che," the chunin scowled and turned away. Over his shoulder, he called back irritably, "We don't have any for you! Get lost, kid!"

"Any mission is okay! Anything at all!" Naruto insisted, leaning in until he was practically lying flat across the desk's surface. "Please, just no more D ranks! I need to do something, anything else!"

"I already said we don't have anything!" the chunin snapped. "All the missions are already assigned, to shinobi far more deserving than you, you brat. The entire village is facing hard times, you know! Don't think you're going to get special treatment just because Kazekage-sama ordered to take you in!"

Naruto scowled, hearing the same thing that was always whispered behind his back. Outsiders were rare and naturally distrusted in a Hidden Village, and the fact that the Kazekage himself had ordered Naruto to be accepted into the village and into the shinobi training program had always caused a great deal of suspicion — and resentment, from those that felt the resources spent on him would have been better used for a native child of the village.

All that talk of favoritism wasn't even true. Naruto could only vaguely remember seeing the leader of their village that one time, while his mom was still alive, and never again after that. Whatever deal Kushina had made with the Kazekage, the man had felt his duty fulfilled and put Naruto out of his mind afterwards.

It was infuriating, to always have that talk follow him, but Naruto refused to rise to the bait. "I don't need to get paid or anything," he insisted through gritted teeth. "I just want to get some experience in the field! Like shadowing on the job, you know? Any mission is fine, just please let me tag along!"

The chunin behind the desk seemed to be reaching the limit of his patience, if the twitching of his face was any indication. "Listen here," he hissed, "either you get out of here now, or I'm going to file you a suspension, you hear me, you little—"

Before he could finish his threat, his partner laid a calming hand on his shoulder. "It's alright," the other chunin said. "If he wants a C-rank, I think I have just the mission for him. A team led by jonin Baki will be departing from the western gate tomorrow at dawn. I'm sure they'll be happy to have you tag along."

His smile was very suspicious, and not just because very few people smiled in the Hidden Sand. The startled look the first chunin shot his partner did nothing to make Naruto feel less like he was being set up, especially when that look slowly morphed into startled understanding, a flash of fear and a great deal of uncertainty.

However, Naruto refused to be put off. This was his one chance to actually advance on his goal of becoming a great ninja, and he couldn't let it pass him by just because it might be a setup. Squaring his shoulders, he announced boldly, "Got it! I'll be there. Thanks!" He added the last part over his shoulder, as the few manners Kushina had managed to teach him reared their head.

As he hurried out of the admin building, he could hear the first chunin whisper to the second, "Hey, is that really a good idea? I mean, that mission is…"

"It's fine," his partner assured him. "The kid'll get a good scare and run off, that's all…"


Looking around the empty area in front of the small western gate out of the village, Naruto sighed. 'I think I came a little early though,' he thought sheepishly. The sky was just beginning to lighten, the rising sun hidden by the cliffs around the village, so at least he knew he was on time.

'I hope they didn't tell me the wrong place and time just for kicks,' Naruto thought unhappily. 'Mom, you said this place would be my home now, but sometimes, it's a little hard…'

"But I won't give up!" Naruto declared to the daybreak sky, getting carried away in his attempt to cheer himself up. "I'll make everyone trust me! That's right, I'll become a great shinobi and everyone will respect me!"

"What are you doing?"

Naruto glanced down in surprise at being addressed, only then realizing that he had climbed onto a boulder to pose dramatically, a fist thrust toward the sky in determination. Flushing a little, he quickly hopped off and laughed sheepishly.

The one who had caught him was an older man in a jonin uniform, with one half of his face hidden by a scarf, the other lined with red markings. He regarded Naruto stoically, with only a faint gleam of suspicion in his visible eye.

"Um… Could it be that you're Baki?" Naruto ventured, cursing his luck as the man's eye narrowed, the small suspicion growing. Of all the people to catch him doing something stupidly embarrassing, it just had to be the jonin he would be asking for a favor and hopefully working under.

Baki's gaze darted to Naruto's Sand headband, but he finally nodded curtly. "What is your business with me?"

Dropping his head in a deep bow, Naruto begged, "Please let me come on your mission!" In the stunned silence that followed, he rushed on ahead, "The guys at the mission desk said it was okay! I don't need a cut or anything. I just want to get experience and see what a C-rank is like. I promise I won't get in the way!"

The silence stretched, long enough for cold sweat to begin to gather across the back of Naruto's neck. Swallowing heavily, he glanced up nervously to see Baki staring at him blankly.

Finally, Baki sighed in exasperation. "They told it was alright at the mission desk?" he said. "Someone must have been playing a very cruel joke on you. Either that, or trying to get you killed."

His blunt assessment made Naruto squint in confusion. "...So you're not going on a C-rank?" he asked. Belatedly, he realized, 'I guess it would be weird to send a jonin on a C-rank mission. This mission is probably way too hard for me...'

"No, this is a simple C-rank," Baki said. "A band of bandits have been attacking caravans heading to the Land of Birds. We are to accompany the next caravan and dispatch the bandits… But that is not the issue. Rather, the other ninja assigned on this mission..."

"They don't like kids?" Naruto suggested. "I'll be super quiet! They won't even notice me!"

"That's not it," Baki said, beginning to get annoyed with Naruto jumping to conclusions "He's—"

"What are you doing? It's time to go."

The cold voice that cut through the still morning air made Baki tense and pale faintly. As he turned, his hands clenched as if about to form handsigns or reach for a weapon.

Naruto only blinked in surprise and studied the boy who had spoken. This, he realized, must be the other member of Baki's team — Gaara, the Kazekage's youngest child.

Like everyone in the Hidden Sand, Naruto knew about Gaara. However, he had never actually met Gaara face to face, that he could remember. He didn't think they had ever so much as passed each other in the street. It wasn't surprising. Gaara was feared, kept isolated and privately "tutored".

Naruto's first impression of Gaara included three things – 'Mom, he's got hair like yours, all red!', 'He looks really skinny. How is he holding up that huge gourd thing?', and 'He sure is pale, for living in a desert.' All three were almost ridiculously mundane, and none included the most common and relevant reaction — fear.

'Oh, I see! So that's why a jonin is taking a C-rank!' Naruto thought, grinning happily. 'He's Gaara's jonin sensei!'

"Hi!" he waved, smiling. "I'm Naruto. Is it okay if I come along on your mission? I get that it's your mission, and I don't want to steal your thunder or anything! It's just, I don't have a jonin sensei myself, and I'm sick of all the D rank stuff. So I asked at the mission desk, and they told me to tag along with you guys—"

"Shut up," Gaara said flatly, interrupting Naruto's monologue. Although Naruto fell obediently silent, he still didn't seem perturbed. But then, people telling him to pipe down was normal. Most of them sounded much angrier and some even threw things at him.

After a moment of silence, Naruto prompted, "So is it okay?"

Gaara looked at him expressionlessly and said, "If you get in my way, I'll kill you."

Letting his flat gaze sweep over his "team", Gaara unceremoniously turned around and made his way toward the gate out of the village. .

Baki turned to study Naruto with a thin-lipped frown. "I don't know how aware you are of Gaara's reputation and abilities," he began, "but Gaara is highly volatile and very skilled. He is able to control sand at will and does not hesitate to kill, even among allies. If you are still insistent on coming," 'if you're stupid or insane enough to volunteer on a mission with him,' "try to avoid actions that may rile him up."

Naruto nodded absently. He had heard all this before, from people whispering to each other in the streets. 'Kills at will? This is starting to sound a little tougher than I expected… But I won't give up, just like you taught me, Mom! Don't worry about me. I won't waste my big chance!'

"Okay!" Naruto said brightly, saluting. "By the way, I'm Naruto, rank: genin!"

Baki was eying him oddly again. "Naruto," the instructor said seriously, and Naruto felt a happy thrill at being addressed by name, and by a jonin no less, "this is your last chance to back out. If you change your mind out there, you will have to make your way back to the village alone."

"No way!" Naruto declared easily. "I don't back down, ever!"

Baki shook his head, but let it go. He privately thought the boy would either run screaming or die before long, both outcomes being rather unfortunate. 'Idiot or not, he was trained as Sand-nin. It would be a waste for him to due so quickly.'


They rendezvoused with the caravan at an oasis that served as a popular lay-over for traders and travelers. Naruto looked around excitedly, peering at the many tents set up amongst the palms and shrubs. Catching a glimpse of shimmering water, he almost stumbled into Baki's broad back in his distraction.

Naruto laughed sheepishly. "Sorry, sorry! I just love seeing new places. There are so many interesting things and people here!" he said brightly, his attention momentarily distracted as a young woman in a strange robe and a veil walked past. Tearing his eyes away, he turned to Gaara and asked, "What about you? You must have already been on lots of mission out of the village!"

Gaara glanced at him without any interest or expression. "No," he said flatly.

"We should get souvenirs," Naruto decided, forcing the conversation onward despite Gaara's clear disinterest. "What would be good? A scroll? A bracelet?"

"Pointless," Gaara cut in, his voice terribly flat. "I have no need for such a thing."

Naruto laughed, putting his hands behind his head. His smile had become a little strained. 'I guess I'm same,' he thought. 'I don't really have anyone to give them to.' Their conversation, if it could be called that, petered out.

Fortunately, Baki returned shortly. After a quick exchange with a rotund man with an impressive mustache and a red turban — their client — he made his way back to the genin. His serious, professional expression made Naruto pull himself up straighter.

"We'll be setting out shortly," Baki announced. His eyes lingered a moment Gaara, as if to make sure he was not (yet) covered in someone's blood, before he gestured sharply to Naruto.

Leading him aside, Baki said quietly, "Stay on the defensive. Focus on protecting the traders and their merchandise." He looked back over his shoulder at their last teammate's unmoving figure. "Gaara will take care of anyone who attacks, but he will not spare concern for the clients." Hesitating for a moment, Baki added, "If he begins to go out of control, run."

"What about the clients?" Naruto asked.

"The village put a great deal of effort into training you," Baki replied with a frown. "Don't waste that."

Nodding slowly, Naruto asked instead, "What about Gaara?"

The look Baki gave him was something between surprise and pity. "Gaara does not need anyone's concern. If something is capable of harming him, you will need all your concern for yourself."


The raid they had been expecting came as the caravan entered a lifeless stone ravine.

Sensing the attack before either of the genin, Baki yelled for everyone to get down, and Naruto dropped like he had been trained, pulling the nearest trader down with him. Arrows rained down on the caravan, tearing into the wagons.

The bandits appeared a moment later over the edges of the ravine, their shapes dark against the pale sky. There were a lot of them, Naruto noted. Shaking himself mentally, he focused on his mission — protecting the people, and their stuff.

Dragging the nearest trader by the scruff, Naruto shoved him under a wagon and ran forward to the pack animal. It was already near panicking and Naruto quickly cut the restraints, figuring it would be better to track the animal later than to have an out of control cart now.

He had been at the end of the caravan; now, he worked his way forward, cutting all the pack animals loose and doing his best to maneuver the civilians into somewhat safer positions. Luckily, the bandits had much bigger problems than hunting down the traders. The screams had already started.

Naruto thought it best not to look too closely at what Gaara was doing. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of wildly flailing sand, bodies being easily tossed aside, and blood — that was enough.

It was enough for many of the bandits as well. Leaving their comrades to distract the sand and its wielder, a small band ran for the first wagon, intent on using it to escape with at least some spoils.

"Hey! Stop right there!" Naruto yelled, noticing their escape attempt.

The bandits barely spared a glance over their shoulders, before turning away and continuing to run. Naruto thought he saw a sneer on their faces, but that might have been his imagination.

"Don't ignored me!" he yelled, scowling furiously. Clapping his hands together, he called out, "Futon: Reppusho!"

A violent gust of wind tore ahead of him, cracking several boards on the wagons between him and the bandits and sending an unlucky trader to the ground. Unlike most Wind Style techniques, "Gale Palm" had no cutting edge. Naruto liked it mostly because it didn't require handsigns. It was intended to add force to projectiles. He hadn't thrown anything, but Naruto watched with immense satisfaction as several stray rocks of various size were dragged along by the gale and slammed into his opponents.

The bandits stumbled and finally turned to look at their attacker, making Naruto grin victoriously.

Following up, he had whipped out several shuriken out and sent them flying, hitting two of the bandits. In a moment of confusion, several others charged at him, perhaps thinking to take care of him quickly and believing their chances would be good against a mere child, while others continued on ahead.

For a few chaotic moments, Naruto found himself brawling with those that had remained behind — before he managed to make short work of them, since a few lousy bandits were no match even for a genin. As the men dropped to the ground unconscious, Naruto flipped away and continued his pursuit of the rest.

However, at the head of the caravan, he found himself suddenly brought up short. The last bandits had wisened up and taken a trader hostage.

"You bastard! Let him go!" Naruto yelled, trying to stall for time. He glanced uncertainly between the terrified trader and the bandit. He didn't know what to do; he didn't have time to think; he was afraid someone was about to be killed — him or the trader. This, Naruto realized distantly, was what a real mission was like — his life was on the line, and failure would mean a whole lot more than a scolding and a cut paycheck.

The bandit sneered, his own gaze darting somewhere behind Naruto. That was all the warning the genin had, before one of the man's comrades slammed something heavy into the back of his head, making him stumble.

"I thought you might be a monster like the other one," the hostage-taker sneered, "but it looks like you're just a brat. You should've stayed in your little village, kid, instead of playing ninja."

Naruto's vision swam from the blow, and although he could hear someone moving to attack him again, he couldn't get his limbs to move. '...Mom...' Naruto though desperately, just before the next blow landed.

Then, like a bolt from the blue, sand surged behind him, engulfing the bandit who had hit Naruto and heading to the one with hostage. Relief flashed through Naruto, but remembering Baki's words — Gaara wouldn't care about collateral damage — he forced himself to stumble forward as well.

As the sand wrapped around the bandit's arm, the man flailed his sword wildly. Wincing as one careless strike made a shallow cut across his shoulder, Naruto grabbed the trader and pulled him away. Both of them more tripped than dodged and rolled aside. They could only watch as the sand climbed further across the bandit, completely covering him and then squeezing.

Wincing, Naruto looked away.


It was over quickly after that. Depressingly quickly. There wasn't anything left of the bandits except some bloodstains and abandoned weapons, Naruto noted as he looked over the caravan. Distantly, he realized his hands were shaking. 'So this is a real mission,' he thought dazedly. '...It's not like I expected.'

Naruto jumped when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. Looking up, he met Baki's calculating stare. "Any wounds?" the jonin asked. Trying to swallow, Naruto realized his throat was impossibly dry. Unable to squeeze the words out, he just shook his head.

Baki looked down at Naruto again, his expression still forbidding, but he gave the boy's shoulder a faint squeeze. "Go gather the animals. They should still be nearby."

"Y-yeah, okay," Naruto replied, stammering a little. He looked around, still a little shaken. His eyes focused a solitary figure. "What about Gaara?" Naruto wondered. "Is he—?"

"Leave him," Baki instructed. "He's most unstable after a battle." His gaze lingered on Naruto to convey the seriousness of the order, and Naruto nodded, swallowing heavily. After one last look at his teammate's tense back, almost obscured by his gourd, Naruto turned to help the caravan.

The border town where they parted ways with the traders was another new sight, all wide streets, colorful shopfronts and large warehouses. But Naruto's enthusiasm had been dampened. While Baki made the final arrangement, Naruto stood lost in thought in a small alcove, out of the way of the bustling traffic. 'I made it through my first C-rank,' he thought. 'I didn't do much though. They really didn't need me, and… it was pretty scary...'

"Hey, kid. Kid!"

Naruto's head snapped up in surprise as he was pulled out of his thoughts. A man stood in front of him, wearing the same colorful turban as the traders they had just escorted. It took Naruto a moment to realize this was the same person he had saved from the bandits, the one who had been taken hostage.

"Oh, hi! Is something wrong?" Naruto wondered. "Baki-taicho should be getting the completion receipt now..."

Shaking his head, the trader held out a small packet wrapped in wax paper. Accepting it gingerly, Naruto peeled back a corner. His eyes brightened. "Thanks, kid. I guess not all you shinobi are so bad," the traders said gruffly.

Naruto beamed. "If you ever need help, hire us again! I'm Naruto!" he said with renewed cheer.

'Well, I suppose I wasn't totally useless,' Naruto thought, humming to himself.


They entered the village through the same gate they had departed from, a lesser used, small side one. It was deserted, just as before, which was probably the entire point — given Gaara's reputation, every effort was made to keep him from coming into contact with the rest of the population more than necessary.

"Since you were not officially assigned to the mission, there is no need for you to file a report," Baki told Naruto. "However, I will mention your performance. While you need to review the procedures for hostage situations, it was overall acceptable."

Naruto beamed at the praise, no matter how small. "Thank you!" he exclaimed, bowing sharply. Straightening again, he scuffed his sandal against the dry ground. "Um… Is it okay if I come with you next time too? I mean, if it's another C-rank like this?"

"...It would be with Gaara again," Baki said, looking at Naruto oddly.

"Yeah, I figured," Naruto replied blankly, forgetting to be polite as he tried to figure out what Baki was getting at.

After a moment of confused silence, Baki shook his head. 'There's something not right about this kid's head,' he thought. 'But I suppose he'll either die or figure out to stay away soon enough.'

"Fine, I will have the mission office notify you the next time we have a mission," Baki said shortly.

Beaming, Naruto waved as the man shunshined away. "Isn't that great, Gaara? We'll be a team from now on, so—" Naruto began to say to his last teammate, only to realize that Gaara had already turned around and begun to walk away. "Wait up!"

Surprisingly, Gaara waited, glancing back as Naruto ran to catch up to him. The mission — and the slaughter he had caused — had put Gaara in what passed for a mellow mood with him. Falling into step, the two of them began to walk toward the village proper.

"I wanted to thank you for helping me back there. I would've really been in trouble if you hadnt come along. So thanks!" Naruto chuckled, but Gaara only continued to watch him impassively. It was honestly more than a little unnerving, but Naruto was too stubborn to back down so quickly. Casting around for a moment, he suddenly exclaimed, "Oh! I remember!" Reaching into his pouch, he pulled out the packet he'd been given. "One of the clients gave me this as thanks! Want some?"

He proffered the open packet to Gaara, taking one of the daifuku sweetpaste-filled rice cakes for himself. As Gaara continued to watch him expressionlessly, Naruto nibbled on the treat, until Gaara finally gingerly picked up a sweet as well.

Naruto was starting on his second one by the time Gaara took a small bite. At first, the redhead's expression remained stoic but slowly, minutely, it began to shift into… disgust?

"What's wrong?" Naruto asked. "Bad flavor?"

For a few moments, Gaara was silent, but Naruto was beginning to get used to the pauses and steeled his patience. "Red bean paste," Gaara finally said quietly and without inflection. Still, he somehow managed to make his disgust absolutely clear.

Naruto scratched his head. "You don't like bean paste? Ah, sorry about that. Hm, guess dango is out too, then. What kind of food do you like?"

Eying the sweet still in his hand oddly, Gaara finally said, "Salted tongue and gizzard."

"You know, I don't think I've ever had any of that," Naruto said thoughtfully, finishing off his daifuku. "How about we get some next time?"

"...Next time," Gaara repeated. It wasn't quite a question.

Naruto nodded absently. "Yeah, after the next mission. Baki-taicho said it was okay for me to come again." Realizing that Gaara was still staring at him blankly, Naruto added, a little uncertainly, "U-unless you don't want me to? I guess, if you hate being on a team with me…"

Finally, Gaara looked away. "I don't hate it," he said. He seemed to think for a moment before nodding to himself. "...I'll kill you last."

He disappeared in a swirl of sand.

"Um, well, thanks," Naruto said to the empty street. Shaking away his confusion, he laughed. 'I really have a team now! Actual teammates! And I'm going on real missions! Mom, just watch, I'm going to become a great shinobi! I swear!'



What's with the spelling/names/locations? Okay, so, I'm actually watching Shippuden through Crunchyroll, so I tried to use their way of referring to things, such as "Hidden Sand" and "Land of Wind," and so on. Otherwise, I went for consistency. All long vowels will be written as short, except for rare exceptions. (Thus, chunin, jonin, etc.) Jutsu names are in Japanese just because there are so many different English names for everything. Some terms also remain in Japanese (fuinjutsu, jinchuriki, etc.) because the translations can get awkward. I also use some suffixes, such as sensei and obaasama for Chiyo.