by kathlaida-princess

Summary: This is my version of how Naruto and Gaara got together (not Trains, Trains was just a request), and how they made their connection work. After Madara is defeated, Sasuke returns and Leaf is rebuilt, Naruto finally becomes Hokage. Peace is here, but that only gives other quests room to grow, ones of self-development. The story of the entire group as this quest unfolds, centered on Gaara and Naruto, but with everyone's participation. From their very first kiss till they die, going through happy events, rough times, embarrassing experiences, marriages, birthdays, funerals and birth of children, a long distance relationship, everything. Swimming Lessons is an outtake of this story. It will be very, very long, but hopefully different from anything you have ever read. My heart will be poured into every chapter, as well as all of my love for this pairing (OTP 3).

Main purposes of the fic: provide a complete mixture of life experiences, make this not only GaaNaru but also GaaNaru + their environment. Bring humor, sadness, fluff, sensuality through this amazing couple. Use efficiently and the most IC possible all the characters. Make you fall in love with this pairing all over again. Make Gaara and Naruto Happy ^^

GaaNaru (this is the main pairing)

Minor pairings: SasuSai, KankuSaku, LeeNaru(ko), NejiTen, ChouIno, ShikaTema, KibaHina, ShinoMatsu, past JiraTsu, SuiKarin, past ItaKisa, past Baki x Fourth Kazekage, BakiGaiKaka, ShizuAnko, Nir x Aiko (both OCs), Konohamaru x Pora (OC)

Warnings: Shounen-ai and eventual Yaoi (M rated for a reason, there will be several lemons…), Shoujo-Ai, Het, some crack, sometimes a little dose of angst, poor humor, unbearable amounts of fluff, sap, long story-line, cheese, maybe some OOC-ness (but I will do my best to avoid this, if it happens, it's not on purpose…), a bit of AU because some characters don't die here, lots of imagination, Spoilers up to chapter 457 of the manga.

Disclaimer: Most of the characters and locations belong to Masashi Kishimoto. The rest are at my own risk and liberty.

Author's Notes: Hello, dear readers! After many, many months in the planning and in the making, I finally let out the beginning of the story closest to my heart. If you've been reading this from the beginning so far, you'll understand the care that I've put into this and will continue to put with every chapter. With this story, my version of a GaaNaru Ninja world is complete: whatever won't fit in this story, will find its place as a drabble inside the I Love You series or will become an oneshot with the code MEOH (Make Each Other Happy) on its summary (Swimming Lessons being the first one).

Before I begin, I want to thank everyone that has been following my GaaNaru works so far, for the growing support and the so amazing community! :D It really means a lot to me…

I just hope this story has a similar (if not better) impact, that it can show, through my eyes, why this couple is so perfect.

I shall not waste any more of your time ^^

Let's begin!




It was with immense amusement but no surprise that Gaara of the Desert received that not-so-very formal invitation from the newest Hokage. Amusement, because he could not control how his insides (and, eventually, his lips) looped in a grin at the wonderful news. No surprise, because he had known, right from the moment he was convinced by him of so many new realities, that Naruto Uzumaki would become the Village Hidden in the Leaves' next (and best) Hokage (ever).

With these points known, the acceptance of the invitation for his nomination ceremony was immediate from the Kazekage's part and, before the brave and fearless Takamaru (the best message-carrier falcon the Sand Village had ever had) could even rest after such a long ride, he was sent back through wind, river and fire once more, carrying Gaara's just as not-so-very formal yes.

The redhead's preparations for his departure were quick and efficient and, by his non-discussable order, so were his siblings' and escorts'. Naruto, in the condition of his best friend (a title well-earned after the many experiences following Madara Uchiha's defeat, Sasuke's return and a very special mission), had personally requested him to be in Leaf at least one day before his nomination ceremony, to help him and guide him through all formalities, even though Gaara had been pretty much at lost when he had to go through the same himself. The Kazekage did not refuse the blond of his company though, he too would have appreciated the other's presence at the time: even if both were unknowing of what to do, just the company of someone who was a perfect mirror of ourselves was more than enough to make us feel like we belonged.

With uncountable necessary (and some of them unnecessary) contraptions strapped to his travelling robes and gourd (being the quite unfashionable Kage hat the most superfluous of all), Gaara left his village with two very displeased Kankurou and Temari (who were his escorts as well), just a tad bothered that their departure had to be so rushed. They had truly been quite grateful of Naruto's influence in their little brother's life throughout the years, but it seemed that, as for late, maybe that influence made him act a bit too impatiently, or obsessively. There was no time (or place) to object, though, as they progressed all too quickly through the (fortunately) calm desert.

Their journey towards the forested Land of Fire actually took half a day less to make under those circumstances, since the Kazekage didn't feel much need to sleep with that overwhelming dose of excitement running through him (not only because Naruto had fulfilled his long-dreamt dream but also because he was, as a consequence, seeing him again), making the trio stop only when Gaara's siblings complained too much for him to ignore their pleas or his reason beat his heart for a few seconds and made him realize that he too needed some resting sometimes.

Even so, Naruto seemed to have guessed that his Kazekage friend would want to fulfill his guarantee of presence in record time, for he was already standing by the gigantic red gates of his village as the sand siblings arrived, wearing his usually eye-damaging orange clothes (after all, the official ceremony would only take place on the following day and only then would he test his Kage robes) and the most thrilled friendly grin Gaara had seen in his life.

For quite some time now, Naruto and Gaara's greetings would go as follows: as soon as the line of the horizon rose and took the shape of their silhouette, the two of them would stop pretending they weren't dying to see each other again (as if they were doing a good job at that anyway…) and would speed up their step (or start walking) towards the other, colliding somewhere in the middle with an embrace of variable strength (which depended both on how faint the ghost of the previous embrace was in their care-deprived arms and on which motives led to their encounter), with light chuckles and polite (yet quite personal) hellos. Then the blond would do one thing of which neither of them spoke but felt important to do: kindly brushing aside the (increasing) locks of vermillion hair covering the love-shaped scar, he would replace them with his own lips, humming in approval as the warmth from the redhead invaded him, assuring him that Gaara was alive and healthy, never again lifelessly cold or endangered.

They had gone past their just-an-handshake phase immediately after their first one, when Naruto understood Gaara wouldn't crumble beneath him if he touched him and realized this was one friend he would never mind having this close, close enough that he would be embarrassed if it were anyone else. But that did not surprise them: both were eternally grateful towards the other due to the many joys mutually granted over the years, and it seemed that Naruto becoming Hokage was one more to be added to the list…

Well, considering the present situation, that day's embrace was remarkably strong, strong enough for Naruto to squeeze Gaara quite tightly against him and even lift his lesser weight off the Kazekage's feet in his joy. Kankurou and Temari (and the other escorts as well) suddenly felt like they should be somewhere else, wishing the two quite embarrassing friends would remember they were not alone, exchanging bothered looks and then slapping their foreheads with their hands.

"You sneaky sandman!" was Naruto's polite hello for the day as Gaara returned from his airborne experience. They still hadn't let go, though. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? Grandma Tsunade told me it was you, this entire Hokage thing, it's because of you!" The blond's grin widened, if that was even possible, when he eyed the Kazekage.

The redhead knew exactly what his friend was asking about. After their last mission together, one that involved breaking up a terrorist group about to threaten the new-found peace of the Ninja World and was a success (in many, many ways, including bringing the two of them closer), Tsunade had requested a conversation with him in private and asked him if he thought Naruto was ready to accomplish his dream already. Gaara's answer was a very honest and elaborate yes, based upon the experience from the mission and from all other events before it, which made the woman smirk.

She had gained her title back when she recovered after Madara's (and Danzo's) defeat, but she couldn't ignore the time passing by her anymore, and it was probably the moment to choose a new leader for the village, a revolutionary one to match the drastic changes that had been happening. Tsunade had accepted Gaara's reply and added, quite mischievously, that, in the light of his words, perhaps the Kazekage would have to return to Leaf very soon, to take part in a celebration… That had been about a year ago.

Reminded of that event, Gaara grinned back at Naruto (even though his lips could not possibly convey the same brightness) and presented his defense, "I merely spoke the truth. Lady Tsunade would do it anyway. Everyone knows you have been prepared for this for quite some time now, especially considering you ARE the Fourth Hokage's son. And…" at this point, the redhead's smile gained somewhat of the wild edge from his younger days, "… I did not tell you at the time, because I did not want to miss that look in your face now."

A very fair point.

Naruto squeezed his friend once more instead of failing at wording his emotions and then, after finally letting go, he did notice all others, offering another cheeky grin as he waved at Gaara's siblings.

"Hey there, Kankurou, Temari!" The blond made sure to learn their names after their last awkward encounter. "You do look tired…" he side-glanced at Gaara at that, suspecting his responsibility in the matter. "Let's all go inside, Grandma Tsunade has prepared you all some rooms!"

And the Sand nins, carrying scrolls, a gigantic fan and other weapons, passed by the two of them, some of them whispering sincere "thank you"s at the prospect of a proper night of sleep, the sand siblings themselves muttering annoyed "finally they noticed us…"s. An orange and red aura already crowned the green forest around them, signing sunset, and the orange and red friends faced each other again when the others left.

"Anyway, you'll be staying with me, right?" Naruto asked, beckoning Gaara to follow him inside, their steps taking them to his apartment. "I have so much to tell you, so many ideas to get me started! And you know there's no one best to hear me than the Kazekage himself AND my best friend…"

"Of course," Gaara merely replied, but the light in his face spoke enough for his gratitude, the warmth in his heart appreciated the blond's words all too much, even if the spot of being his best friend was shared with a character he was not all that fond of.

As they walked home, the redhead couldn't avoid marveling at the amazing work everyone had done while rebuilding the Leaf Village, not only practically copying what it was before but also making it feel more alive, happily chaotic and thriving, a place that inhaled worries and exhaled peace. Many people passed by them and greeted the both of them, in respect for the Kazekage and in anticipation for Naruto's nomination ceremony the following day. The blond was visibly thrilled with that, not at all containing himself as he trembled with excitement, breathed in shudders.

Even Naruto's house, when they arrived there, stood mostly the same (though the whiskered man cheated considerably during the construction process and had it built a tad closer to the new, and improved, Ichiraku's Ramen), it still felt like home as the two of them entered it.

Because Gaara was now showing his tiredness (he was finally living the purpose of his journey, and one's body tends to sigh in relief when such happens), Naruto decided against them talking on his balcony (as was their habit) and just pushed an extra mattress into his bedroom, having forced Gaara to lay on his own bed before he ran off to make them both instant-ramen-dinner and slumped onto the extra mattress, slurping down the boiling noodles as he watched the redhead fiddling curiously with his. How Naruto managed to also put on his loveable orange t-shirt-and-shorts pajamas (highly appropriate for a man in his early twenties) in the meanwhile was beyond Gaara.

After the redhead himself dined, he changed his own clothes for his black pajamas, both the t-shirt and the pants large enough to have belonged to Kankurou before. The blond then watched him pleasingly snuggling against the bed covers, with such contentment that made Naruto warmly smirk at the sight. What a surprise, Gaara loved sleeping, finally using his (or any) bed… The surprising part was on how much he showed that love, how pleased he looked as his slender frame molded against the fabric and the cushioned material.

Naruto had to smile at that, at the adorability of the situation, while he too spread over his improvised bed.

The rest of the night was spent in lazy conversation and, finally, peaceful sleeping, which was usual with them, even when they were in the balcony and sharing the same mattress (on those times, Naruto was the cover against which Gaara snuggled).

However, Naruto did most of the dreamy talking that time. Gaara listened with the shadow of a sleepy smirk as the future Hokage shared with him his most immediate wishes, changes he'd install in the village as soon as he got the hat, and it was with immense pride that the Kazekage realized that not one of those ideas had anything to do with ramen, other food or women. In fact, all of them sounded poetically fair, like the correction for all the injustice people like the blond and himself had suffered over the years. Gaara's admiration for Naruto wouldn't stop growing.

"You already speak like a wise man," the redhead breathed out, his words muffled by his pillow.

Smiling appreciatively, Naruto carried on, but this time taking Gaara's hand into his own, another ritual gesture of affection. That rough yet kind hand was the one to rescue him several times, when it punched him, reached out for him, rested on his shoulder or squeezed his, and Gaara liked feeling its contact, even if to just relive all that once more.

During the last part of their conversation, though, the blond informed him of something he was not aware of: right after the Hokage nomination, they would host an official welcome back for Sasuke, even if the Uchiha heir had returned to the Leaf Village over five years before. It was actually something Naruto held as an obligation, the right thing to do to finally end his long-ago promised mission, and Gaara could understand that.

Bringing Sasuke back from wherever he was took a lot of everyone's effort. With all his determination set in breaking the famous cycle of hatred, Naruto faced him one last time as he was prepared to kill Danzo, and he managed to get through to him, since they now shared an equal pain for the loved ones they lost.

Naruto was able to convince Sasuke not to carry on with the violence of his actions. It was difficult, because the Uchiha heir had never had a real purpose in his life other than to kill his own brother, but the blond was there to assure him that Sasuke wouldn't be alone anymore, he had people who (surprisingly still) cared for him and weren't going anywhere, and the Uchiha heir could find his place in this changing world by their side. Everyone else present contributed, helped Naruto in his cause, all those who had been changed.

Gaara, as someone changed and present there at the time, helped as well, sincerely. The redhead had felt firsthand how the blond's words could change a life, any life, and made perfectly clear to Sasuke that if he hurt him one more time, if he wrongly refused his help, then he'd leave him in such state no one else could help him. If Gaara had had the luck of knowing Naruto for the same time Sasuke did, he wouldn't have wasted it like that… Maybe Sasuke was surprised to see Gaara so changed, but he was affected by him nonetheless. The Kazekage might have grown kinder but not any less threatening. And he didn't obey the general order to kill the missing nin, but he didn't let him escape, he fought him, immobilized him. Gaara had a debt to Naruto, for his life, so if he had the chance to help him with that mission, he would do it at all cost.

Fortunately, unveiling Madara's plans (and learning that Sasuke had been fooled by him) had definitively helped Sasuke change his opinion, and he ended up fighting willingly by Naruto's side against the (much) older Uchiha. The Nine-Tailed Demon Fox rose with its full power during that battle, but the younger Sharingan-wielder was there to control it, and together they held enough force to defeat Madara.

Just as fortunately, Sasuke decided to remain in the ruined Leaf Village after that battle, and everyone else (more or less reluctantly) accepted him back, as well as his Team Falcon companions and one of the few remaining members of Akatsuki, his brother's partner, Kisame Hoshigaki. Danzo suffered his own punishment as well, but through means other than death. Liking the idea of behaving like a human, Sai left his place in the Root division, becoming a regular ANBU.

Throughout the five years since his return, while the others were busy rebuilding the village (even some members from other villages helped, moved by Naruto's unique methods for peace, including the Kazekage), the last remaining Uchiha took care of his ruined mansion and started his inner journey in search for his main purpose. Not much changed regarding the way Naruto would approach his friend. Having been humbled and proved wrong, Sasuke's ego took a powerful blow but still remained, so he still would only accept the blond's help if it held nothing of charity or pity, and the two of them would still (quite often) engage in "healthy" discussions. After all, he was still an Uchiha, and the name came with an associated sense of respect. However, help was there when he sought it (and Sasuke did learn to seek it, after the long process of understanding he needed it), and slowly the wounds were healed. Every once in a while, Sasuke would approach Naruto and ask him if a certain job would suit him, and the blond would give him his honest (and friendly) opinion. So far, nothing seemed to have appealed to the Uchiha enough though…

At least, not on the purpose-searching area. Against all odds and after an experience Neji deemed the most traumatizing of his life (the disadvantages of the Byakugan…), the Uchiha heir surprisingly found a quite intimate (and carnal) relationship with Sai, probably upon realizing that they had the most things in common, including the looks, being those most likely the main reason that brought them together.

All these things aside (and Naruto was now less worried with his friend's emotional scarring because, well, Sai would be taking care of that from then on), it is when the dust settles after a battle that we look at the ones who have always stood beside us, so while Sasuke was delivered to his fate, Naruto used the remains of the time to thank everyone for their help: brave Hinata, confident Kakashi, dear Sakura and Gaara…

After sorting out his feelings for both Hinata and Sakura as friendship (albeit a strong one, with admiration mixed inside, since it had been developed from a crush), the blond was ready to thank Gaara for his constant support, to which extent, only time could tell… For now, the redhead was his confidant, his mental journal, his most precious advisor. A wonderful friend he never thought he'd have.

Gaara was, in a way, his most precious treasure, the best thing about him. He had helped him almost by accident, but now all the faith and belief he was getting from the Kazekage had been the main reason to keep him going. Gaara was Sasuke, if the latter had heard him from the beginning, Gaara was the guarantee that, after all, Naruto was actually worth something, his effect on people did have a pleasant meaning. If Gaara had truly died, would have Naruto found the hope in himself to bring Sasuke back? The blond shivered just thinking of it… After all, little by little, he did learn to connect to the boy everyone else feared, perhaps much more than what he intended in the beginning… But he had no reason to complain, not at all… Gaara had only brought with him good things, including Sasuke (if we looked past all the stupidity, the hurting and the emo-ing).

Which led us to the present moment…

Right before the two drifted off to sleep, connected by hand, Naruto asked one last curious question.

"Gaara… are you… are you happy that Sasuke is back?"

He noticed the redhead was quite taken by surprise (hell, even he was a bit wondering why he had asked it), but he didn't take long to respond.

"He would be a fool if he did not return. I would be inconceivably mad if he didn't. But he is back and therefore you are happy. That makes me happy. So, yes, I am happy that Uchiha is back."

Naruto took his time processing those words.

"So… you're happy because I'm happy?"

Gaara nodded.

"I believe you can put it that way, yes."

"But…" the blond kept thinking the Kazekage didn't actually answer his question, "… are YOU happy? If you don't think about me, that is." Little Naruto knew that not thinking about him was becoming more and more difficult for the redhead.

Obviously, Gaara was even more surprised with that question. Even now, it was very rare for someone to ask about his feelings, so this reply took longer to come. That, and his feelings towards Sasuke were greatly mixed, especially with the blond inside the equation. But it did come.

"I am," he began, "if you promise you'll still be my friend."

At that, Naruto had to look the other in his wide-opened eyes, and it pained him a little to see that, sometimes, hurt and fear of loneliness still swam in their cool ocean, sometimes the successful confident adult still became the abandoned helpless child. But the blond grinned, squeezed the hand entrusted to him once more as he spoke, "Gaara… I will ALWAYS be your friend. Sasuke has nothing to do with that, although I'll always be his friend too. You are my precious person, my special person. My perfect project. Bastards can't ruin special. I don't let them!"

That made the redhead smile uncharacteristically brightly and nod. Uzumaki-promises were the ones he'd always trust with his life.

"Thank you, Naruto. Then, yes, I am truly happy that Uchiha is back, and to have you always as a friend," was his final, content answer.

One final nod, one final squeeze and slumber eventually took its toll on them.

The right question can unveil a beautiful gem. The right reply to it can forge something so powerful you'll only notice much longer (but it's there).

Naruto and Gaara slept with connected hands. They wouldn't remember their dreams by the morning, but tomorrow a dream would finally come true.

In the morning of the day of an important event, people usually set up alarm clocks, make sure to go to sleep earlier to wake up in time, ask someone to wake them up or, if they have a reasonable biological clock, they can be trusted to wake up naturally. Anyone can make these techniques work.

However, Naruto and Gaara (still sleeping together while the sun slid up over the azure sky) didn't have an alarm clock set up, had fallen asleep quite late, didn't have anyone else home and were both devoted heavy-sleepers (the slob and the ex-insomniac): a recipe for failure.

The redhead eventually woke up before his friend, hand slightly askew from the more tanned one's grasp but still in its haven, and upon realizing the sun was too high for them not to be late, he frantically shook Naruto off his dreamland and into the world of the sourly awaken, a faint trail of drool being his last trace from his unconsciousness. The nomination ceremony was supposed to begin by midday, which left them with very little time to get ready, and formally dressed.

On the verge of panicking, Gaara ushered Naruto to take a shower while he got everything ready, went to fetch the red and white Hokage robes and put his Kazekage ones on (Gaara's body, being him from the desert, was built to feel less need to bathe, he'd do so after the celebrations). Once the blond was finished, dried off (fluffed up hair thick in every direction, as if Naruto were wearing a golden sheep over his head) and with his usual clothing on, Gaara ordered him to take off his jacket and began teaching him to wear the robes. First, the red thin tunic. Then, the beige belt and long coat. Finally, the long white scarf around the neck and shoulders.

Once that was finished and the two of them were staring at Naruto's reflection on the mirror, neither of them could avoid a look of astonishment on their faces, then a grin of pure agreement. He was, indeed, his village's Hokage, the Fourth's legacy and the promise that it'd be well-succeeded. The clothes suited him perfectly, Gaara had arranged all pieces of clothing to make him look older and, under the burden of all the red and white, no one would doubt he'd have the strength to protect them all at all cost. Only the square hat was missing, but that was the point of the whole ceremony: Tsunade passing the hat onto him.

"Wow. Good morning, Lord Hokage," was Gaara's only comment.

And Naruto's stomach bubbled with excitement at the words.

But there was no time for extra considerations because midday was on them and, if they listened carefully, they could already hear the crowd at the center of the village, awaiting their newest leader.

With that said, the two youngest Kages of all times ran their way to the ceremony, through the empty city streets. However, before they could enter, Naruto stopped Gaara from doing so, putting a hand over his shoulder.

"What is it? We are already late, let's go!" the redhead reacted, confused.

"Not yet…" was the other's answer. "If we're already late, you must arrive with style… Otherwise, people would think it was unplanned and it won't be cool! This is something I learned from both Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke-bastard!"

It was outstanding how Naruto still spoke like a child quite often… Gaara rolled his eyes at that, mentally hitting himself for, even then, trusting his friend's judgement.

"So, what are you planning to do?" he asked.

"Why of course…" a smug grin, "… entering with style!"

In years to come, neither of them would remember exactly what precisely had been Naruto's idea of a "stylish entrance" (they would believe it had had something to do with shadow clones and sand, but they wouldn't be sure…), but they'd remember how it backfired, how the new Hokage tripped over his own robes and feet and entered quite disastrously, attracting everyone's attention (and laughter) and raising Tsunade's level of annoyance even more than his late arrival. They'd remember it and laugh, because it wouldn't have been Naruto's Hokage nomination ceremony if he hadn't given it his personal touch, if all guests hadn't connected through laughter.

However, the Fifth Hokage herself was quick to break up the confusion and to give Naruto a rapid (yet quite efficient) reprehension, while Gaara was joined with his siblings and escorts after over half a day of absence and the rest of the crowd rejoiced at the sight of the blond all suited up and pretty (even if a tad disgruntled with the running and the tripping…), ready to lead them all.

After him being told off, both Naruto and Tsunade stood on the balcony of the Hokage building, and the ceremony began.

The medical shinobi made the nomination official with a long speech regarding her decreasing strength, the "winds of change" and Naruto's growing capacity, Minato Namikaze's legacy, a long speech that almost no one heard fully. Gaara, for instance, used the opportunity to analyze the excited blond fully from afar, to make sure his siblings had been fine after he left them, to see who else made the crowd he was inserted in.

Practically the entire village was there. The Kazekage saw the teachers and the other Jonin, Kakashi, Gai and Yamato among them, all of Naruto's Academy colleagues (his own team there, with Sasuke boringly sipping on a drink while Sai exhibited his ridiculous smile too close to the Uchiha and Sakura stared dreamingly at Naruto) and Lee's team, the young boy that had faced Kankurou so long ago and his own Sand shinobi, the most prominent villagers too (Gaara recognized the man from the ramen stand, who had began to tear up) as well as Sasuke's own companions when he was away. Quite a reunion, a happy one too.

And all of them had their attention more or less diverted from the main event right up till the moment Tsunade stepped aside and Naruto took the spotlight. When that moment arrived, no one dared to look away as the blond spoke a few more words, trembling with anticipation, completely silent, and when he was finally handed the hat, placing it almost religiously over the sheep on his head, the air was flooded with raw, powerful, almost fiery applause, the entire crowd whistling and clapping their hands together as if the manifestation of the will of fire itself was invading them…

In that moment, Gaara saw in everyone, even in the ones who had always mocked Naruto of his dream (Sasuke, Kiba, even Tsunade, once upon a time…), of his efforts, he saw in them the belief and sheer faith, and because of that he couldn't avoid applauding harder as well. He had no doubt in his heart that an important step had been taken that day, for the world's rightness, for his own future… Or hadn't the future been entrusted to the two of them not long ago? He applauded with everyone as Naruto shone like the sun with his smile, the hat being the last piece to make him look perfect and exactly where he was supposed to be, his index and middle fingers rising to the air in a large V of victory.

But of course the ceremony did not end there, and neither did the embarrassing moments. Right after the official ceremony, Naruto returned to the crowd and received all their compliments and congratulations gladly (and rather smugly). The blond came rushing to Gaara to ask him how he had behaved, but many people would cross their way and divert it, and Naruto found himself constantly moving here and there to greet completely unknown people, entangling his robes everywhere (with greater chances to make him slip again) and not getting where he wanted.

Soon, a photographer came and started taking pictures of random people with him. Naruto managed to get one desired one with his entire team (Kakashi, Tenzou, Sai, Sasuke and Sakura sharing the spotlight) and, thankfully, the photographer suggested he should take one with Gaara as well, after all he was the Kazekage. However, as he was motioning to join the redhead for said picture, Naruto did manage to trip over his robes once more, but he this time had a softer landing, right on the Kazekage's lips, with his own, just when the man with the camera decided to press the magic button.

One magnificent moment to immortalize, indeed, as well as its aftermath, while a beet-red Naruto apologized profoundly to a quite flustered Gaara and his teammates laughed at them in the background, noting that the blond seemed to have some sort of genetic predisposition for such encounters… Nothing too serious though, for the redhead had forgiven him immediately and one more celebration had to be held: Sasuke's official return.

Naruto was still blushing when he returned to the balcony, a very familiar headband resting on his hand, one that was scratched over the leaf symbol, and the Uchiha did nothing to hide his mocking snickers as he joined him there.

And, to prove just how much their relationship hadn't changed with the latest years, while Naruto gave Sasuke his headband back with a highly ceremonial handshake, the Sharingan wielder began mocking the new Hokage about his most recent embarrassing experience and the two started exchanging words of a hostile nature. By the end of that highly symbolic and sacred moment, both Naruto and Sasuke managed to connect a fist to the other's face rather poetically, symmetrically and powerfully, that moment too immortalized by the photographer and profoundly frowned upon by both Sakura and Tsunade, who had to separate the two young men before two more punches were thrown at each other.

However, when no one could see them, Sasuke did admit he was happy that Naruto hadn't given up on him and the blond confessed he was glad to have his favorite bastard back (the two of them even shared a very awkward, lame and plain disastrous man-hug then), and that would always be, to them, the REAL welcome-Sasuke-back ceremony (with the sore faces and everything).

Like I said: it wouldn't have been Naruto's Hokage nomination ceremony if it hadn't had these small treasures…

By the time all formalities were over (and that did take longer than expected), the real celebrations were ready to begin, over a long, magnificent dinner.

Naruto dragged Gaara away from his siblings and sat him right next to him and his team, reminding him that the friendship deal was for life and for all occasions. From the most important table of the wonderfully filled room, the redhead could see everyone's joy and his best friend's well-being, rejoice with that as well. From there, he could even realize that Matsuri had indeed come with his ninja squad and was actually sitting at the furthest table, accompanied by one other shinobi he identified as Shino. The two of them so imperceptible and ignored. It felt… poetic.

When the meals began being served, Gaara had yet another pleasing surprise. The waiter set a gigantic bowl right between him and Naruto that smelled wondrously, and the redhead could immediately identify all the ingredients…

"Naruto…" he breathed out, his contentment too much to contain. "You really didn't have to…"

"Oh yeah, I did!" was the blond's reply as he parted his chopsticks and began digging in. "You did all this, you deserve this… And if you leave most of the noodles for me I'll let you have most of the gizzard… thing."

Gaara chuckled and followed the other's movements, prodding the bowl with his own set of chopsticks. Ramen with gizzard. A combination they had thought up during the special mission that made that moment possible and they would prepare in these rare occasions. A combination that pleased the both of them equally.

"You saved my life, Naruto…" Gaara went on, swallowing down a first (and divine) serving from the bowl. "We are far from even…"

"No. If I hadn't saved your life, if you weren't in my life, then none of this would have mattered to me… You were very much important for today, Gaara… And I want to thank you for that."

And the redhead found himself with no reply once again, so he merely went on sharing the bowl of ramen… their ramen…

The rest of the dinner seemed to have passed by too quickly, because not long after, his siblings came to take him, saying that it was already time for them to return home. Gaara knew he had to go, and he was already set out to leave the dinner with the original group, but Naruto stopped him before he took off, wishing to say his goodbyes conveniently (now that he had learned too).

"Did you have fun, Gaara?" he asked.

"More than I would have guessed at the beginning…"

"Oh…" Naruto chuckled, "a-and I'm sorry about the whole kissing thing again… Stupid Kage robes…"

"I understand."

"Well, at least it was you I kissed and Sasuke I punched. After all, I have punched you and kissed Sasuke before…" And his mouth sometimes still reeked from the traumatizing experience.

A few moments of silence.

"Now we both have the hat, Naruto. Do you remember what that means?"

A huge smile.

"Of course! We'll be making Granny Chiyo proud from now on! And that means we'll be seeing each other more often too!"

Gaara mirrored the smile. Finally, the Kage meetings would cease to be dull and full of elders. Of course elders were knowing and wise, but they usually got unbearably boring after the first minutes of meeting.

After the redhead nodded in agreement, the two friends approached for one last hug. But then the Kazekage noticed the purple bruise beginning to spread over Naruto's cheek and he involuntarily felt his fingers trace it gently.

"You're still hurt," Gaara stated the obvious.

The blond let go of the embrace and touched the wound himself, cringing yet managing to giggle. "Yeah… dear Sakura kind of refused to heal both me and Sasuke-bastard as a punishment… I think all went pretty well though…"

The redhead nodded. "It did. You behaved brilliantly. If you take the off moments here and there." And his fingers left the tanned face.

Naruto was expecting his friend to turn around and leave after that, but, for the last time that night, one more surprise landed on him.

Gaara's lips were quick to occupy the space his fingers had just left and gently, almost imperceptibly, kiss it, a gesture that quite resembled their own greeting ritual.

"Back in the Sand Village," the redhead explained, drawing back, "this is the official farewell between male leaders. I am glad we are both finally Kages, Naruto. Farewell but not goodbye."

And then he turned around and left, leaving a dumbfounded Naruto stroking his cheek with one hand while he waved rather silly at the parting Gaara with the other.

Somehow, it hurt less to see him off that time. Perhaps it was the Kage powers, making him know that he would indeed see him again soon, and neither of them would be dead or endangered. Still, it was hard to be away from that friend, his peculiar ways, his deep yet kind words, his wonderful heart, fruit of such an arduous progress…

Naruto returned to the rest of his dinner happily, the bruise on his cheek hurting considerably less than before…


And this is it, for the first chapter…

Well, the special mission I keep mentioning here will be a companion story to this one, "Special Mission For The Kazekage"… I hope to get it started soon ^^ It's more about their friendship and the origin of all the rituals they have there (including the ramen with gizzard), but it should provide some entertainment too.

I am sorry if the Sand Siblings did not have enough time in this chapter, they will have more later (after all, this one was more about the ceremony and Gaara being all in a hurry to get there :P).

I hope I didn't invent too much, at least too eccentrically. I actually believe Naruto and Gaara could become this close and still be friends throughout the years after Shippuuden ended, as a consequence of the connection they developed when Naruto brought Gaara back from the dead and Chiyo practically "married" them. Even their "greeting ritual" is about that: if you saw a dear friend die, if you had held him cold in your arms, you'd probably be highly traumatized with that. The connected hands also came naturally to me and I added it.

I believe too the series could end like I explained. Of course Sasuke had to return, he is an important part of the story, but I still hate the idea of SasuNaru, and to me Naruto and Sasuke will always be a very peculiar type of friends (that is actually quite similar to brotherhood), nothing else. Still, even being a Sasuke hater, I couldn't bring myself to make him unhappy (and I wouldn't be a very good person/writer if I did that, now would I?). And I still believe Gaara will play an important role there, "repaying his debt" by helping Naruto when he needs it the most.

The idea of SasuSai should be easy to accept by anyone, the facts are there, they truly have the potential to forge an interesting relationship.

I won't apologize for the "gayest" moments and the impasses during the ceremony: this is about Naruto, and everything about him is unorthodox. The idea with the accidental kiss with Gaara during the nomination was with me even before I started shipping this pairing (it's probably some subconscious ritual Naruto developed to choose his best friends xD) and I think a welcome-Sasuke-back celebration would suit the theme well too (with the associated complications, of course). You'll hear about the pictures the photographer took soon enough.

OCs, I know people tend to dislike them and I can see why, and probably mine will have more or less the features that'll make you dislike them. But I worked on them with the same effort I worked on the rest of the story, making them human and not too important. Basically, they'll be just like any other character. I will have three main OCs, all from the Sand Village (because we don't know that much people from the Sand Village), and I hope that they'll be good enough.

Finally, the Sand Village's traditions. Gaara introduces the small kiss on the cheek on this chapter, but there are many more to come. Fire and Wind are two very different countries, being the Wind a huge desert. The two surely have all very different cultures, traditions, lifestyles and even languages. I refuse to think of the entire Ninja World as an immense Japan, although the ninja theme is, indeed Japanese. I'll introduce my vision of the Sand village, as well as my OCs, on the next chapter.

Well, I guess that is all… I'm happy that I've finally started this and I hope you can enjoy it as much as I do…

As a final note, happy birthday, Sasuke! (yes, it's his birthday today) I'm sorry I gave you a sore face on your birthday.

See you next chapter! (Off to update While the Earth Sleeps, now)

kathlaida-princess logging out…