Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

Author's Notes: This started out as a thought when I was browsing the computer this morning. I was starting to get annoyed with all these happy ending slash stories, so I went and wrote this.

Warning: Contains one-sided Gaa/Naru and possibly Sasu/Naru if you squint.

XXoXX

Three years.

Three long, long years.

Perhaps it had really been a lifetime that had passed before his wide unseeing eyes, and he had simply not thought to notice, not thought to think that maybe he was being deceived, and perhaps he ought to open his eyes.

Three long, long years.

And it was three years of hard ship and pain, of confusion, if not more. Three difficult years disbelieving the painful ache that hardly subsided, refusing to understand why his throat would suddenly feel thick, as if his very heart had taken up residence inside his throat when he heard his name, or when he watched a bright desert sun branching out into the early orange light.

Three years, wondering and debating, and three years of torture, between the paperwork, the suitors, and his wandering thoughts, three years of almost wishing Shukaku was back.

And when he finally understood, it was with a fear that grasped him during fitful night sleeps, a fear that plagued and disturbed and infected but had no cure.

Three years behind thick walls of earth and anger, both mental and physical. Three years of unforgiving solitude.

Until.

Until he'd come back. Embarrassment temporarily conquered fear, when he realized he had been foolish and childish. Foolish for hiding and refusing his feelings, childish because he'd thought it would work.

Finally there were no remaining excuses. There were no longer hospital visits to be occupied with, paperwork to trouble him, skirmishes to divert him.

And that was how, several weeks after the attack, Uzumaki Naruto was summoned to Sunagakure.

It had been hot, and dusty, and dry, but when the blonde ninja finally arrived, he was all smiles and cheer and mock excuses.

He'd let him talk, more for preparing himself than to catch up on their friendship, while he sat still, watching the blonde, feeling his palms cooling from the sake.

An end came to Naruto's long list of tales, and finally cerulean eyes turned to him. He did not look up for a long time, and it was only with several minutes of prodding that he spoke at all, eyes fixated to the warm ground.

"Naruto, there's something I'd like to say to you," his words streamed out, flushed out like a breath. Everything he wanted to say began to well up in the back of his throat, and finally he turned his eyes upward as a foreshadowing to the torrent.

But.

For the first time the sky clashed against the sea, and his words were torn from him in a violent tempest.

Naruto's eyes widened at Gaara's unspoken words, and it was with heart wrenching deliberation that he stood, stepped away from him. His mouth formed an 'o', and he fumbled for words, so many, many words, but only three had the strength to leave.

"Oh, Gaara, oh."

His hands were shaking as he held onto the rail. One reached for the redhead, flinched back, stilled at his side.

His voice was trembling. His knees shook. So many, many words. But, as before, only three reached him.

"Oh, Gaara, oh…"

He turned, walking first, but his gait became a sprint as he ran from the small covered balcony.

He sat still on the balcony. Slowly he managed to stand, and he exited the balcony, He refused the probing questions of his siblings as he took the steps, two by two, three by three, up the narrow stairwell.

Three.

He felt them, three cold pins, stuck deep somewhere. His heart clenched. His mouth quivered. His skin stung. In a pointless act of desperation he stepped into the dark bedroom and sank into the bed.

He stared at the small pictures on his bedside table. Him at a desk piled with paperwork on his first day as Kazekage, Temari and Kankuro laughing. Him and his first pupil. A worn and outdated picture of Team Seven, a gift from Sakura.

He watched it for a time until he realized he had picked it up. His eyes automatically gravitated towards the blonde, glaring at Sasuke.

Sasuke.

His heart sunk.

He realized his mistake, but it was already too late. Desperate, he turned his eyes towards the ceiling to seek an answer hidden inside the stucco but could find none.

And in darkness his tears fell, two by two, three by three.