Dedicated to Marley_Station, Dyaoka, Batty_angel, theheartless69, and yuuki_hiwatari

Persistence

or

The Hazards of Being Pursued By Uzumaki Naruto

Gaara's eyes slid open and readjusted to the soft glow of light filtering through his bedroom window. He breathed quietly, sighing against the nasal snorts of Naruto's soft snores- not the obnoxiously loud ones, but a softer almost endearing rhythm. The type that suggested his nose was stuffed up or he was breathing funny instead of dead exhausted. Gaara resisted the urge to pinch his nose shut to see if he would wake. He knew better than to wake his lover, having discovered the hard way that Uzumaki was surprisingly cranky if woken up before he was ready to get up. Instead he turned onto his side, pulled the sheet higher to cover their unclothed bodies and rested his head on the side of one hand.

Had it really been a year?

Mentally he began calculating the months, the days, the handful of meetings stretched out between the periods of long distance. He marveled at how they had managed to survive. But then again, remembering the days leading up to this, this understanding, as Gaara put it, Uzumaki's strength was his persistence.

It began in winter, if it could be called such. It seemed the snow fell year round on Iron Mountain. A perpetual winter, regardless of the seasons outside of its small world. Gaara remembered the cold and the chilliness of his hands. He remembered because Uzumaki was warm; warm enough to ease the chill in his bones even though Gaara was trying to do the comforting.

Even his tears had been warm and Gaara didn't know what else he could do. His companions, the other leaf, had brought no good tidings. None of them could ease his pain and so Gaara had done what he thought would help. He had put an arm around the other shinobi as Kankuro so often did to him. A brotherly gesture of affection, Kankuro would call it and then Uzumaki threw his arms around Gaara and suddenly his brotherly gesture evolved without him meaning it to.

In retrospect it was probably this moment that started it all. It was probably this moment in which Uzumaki's feelings for his teammate had unexpectedly transferred.

Of course, it was not so evident at first. There was not time for much once the war began. It started with words of encouragement, smiles, increased expressions of concern and the occasional sharing of good luck charms. His siblings found it endearing, a perfect point on which to tease him. Uzumaki became referred to as Gaara's "fan," or his "best friend" or his "admirer." It was this last term that should have tipped him off to what he could look forward to in the months that followed.

It was during a particular fight with the five tails that Gaara remembered getting hurt. After that he trained himself to block two things at once, remembering the explosion, the knock to his head and the sort of lapse in consciousness that followed. When he woke up, the first thing he saw was Uzumaki's teary face. He was dressed in one of Kankuro's ugly old sweaters and his eyes lit up with the same sort of amazement that made Gaara wonder if he had died a second time. His relief at Gaara's recovery from what apparently was some days asleep was enough to goad Temari into kicking him out on principle.

After that, there was no getting rid of him.

His flirtations were as subtle as a ninja who wears orange can be; all loud declarations and refusals to give up. Gaara was polite at first, discouraged at others, and though he admired Uzumaki's tenacity and idealism, there were certain creative visions he could not share (particularly where he was involved). During a summer visit to the hidden leaf village, he was invited to a group outing at the beach. Gaara quickly declined, citing his lack of appropriate attire to which Uzumaki smiled, rummaged in his pack and pulled out a suspicious parcel tied up with ribbon. He insisted that Gaara open it then and there and when the paper was pushed away, a suspiciously small pair of stretchy maroon shorts revealed, he was pushed into a bathroom and told to try it on.

To this day Gaara is grateful his brother was not around to see him when he emerged. The small stretchy fabric left less to the imagination than his bath towel. When he opened the door, Uzumaki was waiting anxiously, somehow divested of everything but a green pair of swimming shorts. His eyes visibly lifted and fell, his mouth hung open and he quickly clapped a hand over his nose, but not quick enough to stem a trickle of blood slipping down his face. Gaara recalls this as the first experience in which he actually blushed, particularly when the swimming shorts did nothing to hide certain other parts of Uzumaki that were excited.

Gaara accepted the gift, changed back into his regular clothes and when he arrived at the beach he wore something he had picked out himself; something that covered him from head to toe, leaving only his arms exposed. Uzumaki made no complaints.

Gaara was unaware that the beach was host to a series of bizarre courting rituals he was thoroughly unaccustomed to. When Nara offered to help his sister with putting on suntan lotion she reluctantly agreed. This apparently was license for him to run his hands all over her body. So when Uzumaki appeared before him, a bottle of suntan lotion in hand, Gaara politely told him he had already applied some to the parts of his skin actually exposed to the sun. Uzumaki laughed, held the bottle up to him and asked if Gaara could kindly get his back. His first reaction was something he now identifies as panic.

He could still remember the feel of that goop in his hands and the furious struggle to rub it into Uzumaki's tan backside after discovering the hard way that he had applied too much. His technique had been sloppy, but Uzumaki didn't seem to mind. He covered the shoulders, the back of Uzumaki's neck and even the backs of his arms after receiving such a request. He was careful not to let his hands roam too low, afraid of repeating his earlier embarrassment. And when he was done he felt the relief of one who has survived a rather dangerous undertaking. It was when Uzumaki turned and coquettishly asked him to get the front that Gaara lost his patience. And with a wave of sand, Naruto was projected in the other direction with the suntan lotion not far behind.

And then for a brief period, there was quiet. Gaara returned to his home and life returned to some semblance of normal until a delegation of leaf shinobi made their way to his gates with Uzumaki at the helm. It was that very night that Gaara saw Uzumaki's wallet for the first time; a large frog shaped object identifiable only by the words "Naruto's wallet" scrawled across the top. When Gaara asked if Uzumaki labeled everything of his the young man smiled and told him, "only the important stuff." Gaara still regrets pointing this out.

The first mark was discovered by coincidence. Poking the hole in one of his socks, he noticed the curious black lines across the bottom of his foot. He removed the sock quickly and was shocked to discover the words "Naruto's" scrawled in what must have been a rather stubborn sort of ink. He scrubbed at it vigorously, but it took a matter of days, probably as long as it took the actual skin to flake off, before the name was completely gone. For Uzumaki it evolved into a sort of game. Once one mark had disappeared, suddenly there would be a new one scrawled somewhere else. Gaara eventually resorted to carting in a full bodied mirror and would peer at every which way before going to bed each night.

And when the time came, he was never so happy to see the leaf shinobi return home.

Gaara had been careful to treat Uzumaki with cool disregard. He gave no indication that marks troubled him or even called attention to knowing they were there. The lack of a mark his final night had convinced him Uzumaki had given up and it was with a light heart that Gaara took a bath that night. His brother joined him for the first time since the markings had begun. Their conversation was pleasant until suddenly his brother's eyes bulged out. He clamped his mouth tight in the way he always did when he was trying not to laugh; but when Gaara tried to question him about it, he simply cleared his throat, shook his head and assured him it was nothing. But the twinkle in his eye was there for the rest of the night and as soon as Gaara returned to the privacy of his room it took him all of a minute before he was in front of the mirror. He remembered twisting and turning until finally he discovered a rather small, but neatly lettered name written high on the back of his left thigh. He had to bend over a little to view it properly and for the first time in many years Gaara thought it okay to start a war over a personal grudge.

Gaara traveled to Konoha as soon as his schedule permitted and requested the right to challenge a certain jinchuuriki. The hokage was polite, very encouraging even and said that things like honor were certainly worth fighting for. Hatake Kakashi summoned his pupil straight away and sent them off with his blessing.

There, not far from the grounds where they first fought so many years ago, Gaara demanded a halt to Uzumaki's ridiculous pranks. He demanded that the Konohan fight and give up his pursuit should he lose. It was best to confront each other directly to which Uzumaki surprisingly agreed.

Gaara will never forget the sort of serene look on Uzumaki's face, or the slow, confident walk across the considerable divide between them. He had agreed, wholeheartedly, apologized for previous immaturity and calmly declared that he loved the kazekage. Through his shock, Gaara failed to register what happened next. One moment Uzumaki was being a reasonable adult and the next their lips were touching. To this day Gaara can't decide which shocked him more.

And just like that, with one simple gesture, the Kazekage was once again defeated.

Gaara remembers this like it was yesterday; along with the trials of being loved by a man too dim to know how to quit. And since then he has discovered the many ways in which Uzumaki can defeat him. More importantly he discovered that he doesn't want to win.