Author's Note: The dead person in this story is Sasuke. Spoiler, I know ^^ But if you're anything like me (who doesn't like deathfics), I know you'd stop reading if you thought either Gaara or Naruto had died, so that's why I'm telling you. As for the circumstances of his death, they are unspecified in this story, but I'll assume that he and Naruto fought again, something went wrong and he somehow ended up killing himself (as much as I don't dislike Sasuke, I wouldn't put it past him to be honest^^ ).
Also, I began writing it while watching the Shitenshonin arc in the Naruto series (that's why Sai's missing), and haven't watched further than the reunion with Sasuke in Shippuden yet, so I apologise for any mistakes I might have made regarding storyline etc (for example, I don't know anything about that new war, so I disregarded it in this story).
Ah yes, passages written in italics are past events.
This is it for now. Enjoy the fic :)
"What a terrible rainstorm out there." Ino said and shook a few wet strands of hair out of her face as she entered the fairly narrow, but surprisingly crowded hall.
"Has he come out yet?" she asked the others, having just received the message from Sakura minutes ago, and was met with six individual ways of saying 'no'.
"Not since the funeral." Lee added.
"But.. that was yesterday..! He hasn't even been to the bathroom?"
"No.." Hinata, half hidden by shadows near the end of the hall, said meekly, "But he hasn't eaten or drunk any of the things we brought him either, so..."
"It's understandable, though, isn't it?" Neji, who was leaning against a wall and whom Ino hadn't even noticed before, piped up. "After all, it was -"
"Don't be so loud..!" Tenten chided him. "He'll hear you."
Behind the door the group was guarding, the boy lying on his bed could hear every word the others spoke about him. But he didn't care what they said, for they were wrong. They just didn't understand.
"Don't you die on me now, Sasuke! I said I'd bring you home! You can't die! Sasuke..?"
But the young man in his arms was dead.
It reminded him of one of the first missions they had done together. When this very same body had lain there, seemingly dead. But this time, it was for real.
"I never hated you..." Naruto shut his eyes, tears trickling down his face.
They found him hours later, still holding the corpse.
"At first I thought he just needed some time alone, but at this rate... Perhaps I should try and talk to him." said Sakura, lifting her gaze to the people around her.
"Then I'm coming too." Kiba chipped in, followed by several other affirmations.
Sakura nodded curtly before opening the door to her left and, accompanied by Hinata, Kiba, Shikamaru, Lee, Neji, Tenten and Ino, stepped into the completely dark room.
In the Country of Sand, the two siblings Kankuro and Temari approached their younger brother from behind, who was currently gazing at the sky in the dawn, seemingly lost in thought.
He didn't even react to his name, but the other two knew him well enough to know they had his attention anyway.
"Word from Konoha just reached us. Sasuke is dead." Kankuro said.
Gaara remained silent.
"How?" came it from him after a while.
"It didn't say many details, but it seems it was an unintentional self-destruction of sorts."
A sound of acknowledgement was Gaara's only response.
Kankuro nodded at his sister, encouraging her to go on. Temari took another step forward.
"Furthers, I've received a message from Shikamaru. Apparently, Naruto was there when it happened and.. he isn't feeling well."
Gaara's head jerked up momentarily, only to sink even further a second later.
"We can cover for you for at least two weeks, but you must not linger here any longer." said Kankuro.
"What..?" Gaara turned around quickly, genuinely surprised.
The older two just smiled at him.
Overcoming his initial bafflement, Gaara sunk his gaze to the ground.
"Why me? There are enough other people around him who have known him longer than I have."
"That may be true," Temari said "but not quite like you."
"The others may have had their pasts with him." Kankuro added "But if there is anyone who can trace his emotions into his innermost core, it's you, Gaara."
Gaara silently lifted his head to look at his two siblings' smiling faces.
"Go, before anybody notices." Temari urged.
"Thank you." was all he said before jumping from the sandy balcony and quickly making his way over the rooftops of Sunagakure.
"How are you, Naruto?" Lee asked.
"Is that supposed to be a serious question?" came the emotionless reply, though undeniably hinted with sarcasm.
For most of them, it was completely new seing the usually lively boy in such condition. Thus, also a bit scary.
"We understand that you're having a hard time, but you should really eat something. Or at least drink some water to keep yourself alive." Shikamaru frowned.
Naruto turned his head slowly to look at the others.
"You understand?" he asked quizzically.
"Well, yes.." Kiba replied.
When none of them spoke for a long time, Sakura decided to get right to the point.
"Naruto... I know you spent a lot of time and energy on him.. that you tried very hard... and I also know you believe it was your fault because you didn't try hard enough, but.. after all this time, what could you possibly have said or done that would actually have made Sasuke change? He wasn't the same as the one we used to know..."
This coaxed the first real reaction out of the blond.
Sitting up, he yelled at the top of his lungs "I could very well see that he wasn't the way he used to be! Just how stupid do you think I am?"
Everything was stunned to silence by his outburst.
Hinata even thought to see a glimpse of the nine-tails showing through Naruto's livid expression, although that was impossible.
"This is where you go wrong if you think you understand me." he added, glaring down at his hands. "I never thought we could just go back to the way it was like you used to do. There is no way any of you could understand how I'm feeling, so why don't you just let me be..."
After another short silence, Kiba gave a frustrated growl and turned around, saying "Fine! Then be like that." and stormed out the door.
Naruto laid back down again and resumed staring at the ceiling.
A tense quiet spread in the room.
"Okay, we'll let you rest some more. If you need anything, we won't be far..." Sakura said to Naruto with a saddened look, before gathering the others and exiting the room.
From outside, the blond could hear Kiba shouting "I don't get that guy!"
"I told you so." Naruto whispered to no one.
It was raining. On a day like this, it was always raining. There weren't many people around. The vast majority of the villagers had refused to attend this gathering, and most of those who did come did it for Naruto's sake rather than for the deceased one's.
"I told you I would take you back home, didn't I..?" Naruto asked the heap of freshly dug over earth. "Sasuke..?"
It had taken a lot of persuasion on the part of Naruto's friends to have Sasuke's body buried in their village's graveyard. Again, only out of sympathy for the blond.
Even so, they were only granted a simple tombstone, a mere rock, which now stood small and unsightly at the other end of the grave Naruto was kneeling before. A scratched forehead protector around it being the only thing left to reflect a whole life and everything it had meant to Naruto.
After the funeral, the boy didn't speak a word. Followed by some of his worried friends, he made his way home, into his dark room, onto his bed. He stared at the ceiling, unperturbed by other people's presence. And like this, he stayed.
It was the early morning of day three before Gaara arrived in the Land of Fire, approximately one hour before sunrise. And strangely, the moment he entered the country, the weather changed. It had been very nice in Sunagakure. As was the Land of Rivers. But here it was raining, and judging from his surroundings, he could tell that it had been like this for a while.
It was as if the whole country was waiting for its own sun to come out and shine again.
As a shinobi who worked with sand, Gaara wasn't very fond of rain, but he continued nevertheless. It took a few more hours for him to reach Konohagakure and Naruto's house. Five of said boy's friends were scattered around his front door, sitting on benches under a makeshift canopy to shield them from rain. They all looked up at Gaara in astonishment once they noticed him.
"G-Gaara..!" Sakura gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"Where is he?" was all Gaara said.
Gaara had a way of referring to Naruto only as 'he', so it wasn't hard for them to guess who he meant.
All five of them glanced up at Naruto's window.
"Thank you." Gaara bowed his head in their general direction before disappearing through the door.
It had been a while since Naruto had last heard the footsteps. Every once in a while, one or two of his friends would come in and ask questions regarding his state of mind, as well as his state of health. Whoever it was, Naruto made a mental note to tell them that he had drunk the necessary amount of water and that he had been to the bathroom as well.
When the door opened, the blond didn't even bother to see who it was. However, when that person entered his peripheral vision, he couldn't help but turn to look at him and sucked in a sharp breath.
But before he could even form words, Gaara cut him off.
"Why are you doing this? Lying in this darkness and refusing to come out?"
He took a seat on the chair Sakura had placed next to the bed days before.
"Is it because of Sasuke himself or the fact that you could not save him?"
The initial pang of joy Naruto had felt was gone. Snarling, he turned his head the other direction.
"You wouldn't understand. No one does."
Closing his eyes, Gaara let out a silent chuckle.
"You know, I am not like the others. I see the flaw in your reasoning. It's not that other people don't understand, it's that they don't see that in the end, you are a bit of a pretender."
"What!" Naruto shouted and sat up.
Calmly, Gaara replied "What I mean is that you will go out of your way to help others whether they want it or not, but won't acknowledge when you need help too. And your friends will either support you in that attitude or leave you be, thinking you will overcome the situation on your own. Simply because they can not believe that someone who works miracles on others so easily might need a push himself. But the thing is, we both know that nothing good can come out of it if one is left alone in your condition."
Naruto's face and shoulders relaxed. Pensively, he began to stare at no particular spot on his blanket.
"I.. I always said I'd bring him back. That I would save him. I told the others, as well as myself, time and time again, and I put my whole being into it. But.. it still wasn't enough. I couldn't do it. He was my best friend and I couldn't save him! No matter how hard I tried!" He clenched his fists and turned his head to face Gaara "What good am I as a person if I cannot achieve what I want the most? Saving Sasuke was my goal!"
Gaara fell into a short silence.
"..Goal? You shouldn't make all your life's happiness dependent on a goal. They change. I know that better than anyone. Because you taught me."
"Huh?" Naruto blinked.
"For years, my purpose in life was to kill. To love myself and fight for myself because I was convinced no one else was going to. Then you came. And not only did you change my life by simply being who you are, you fought for me as well. Do not question your value as a person. Without you.. no, I won't even go in this direction. What I am trying to say is, you should not make this big a deal out of an unreached goal."
Normally, Naruto would have objected to that idea, but he was too bewildered to say anything.
"You" Gaara continued "are the single most helpful person that I know of. You walk this world, easily taking on and solving other people's problems, and giving promises of which you, in fact, can not know if you will actually be able keep them. And while your confidence helps others immensely and you, amazingly, almost always are able to keep your promises, that alone has to be an unimaginable burden to you. Adding it to the fact that this is about a person who was also very important to you, what you are feeling right now is only natural. However, I can assure you that I will not allow it to stay that way."
By now, the only thing the blond could do was stare speechlessly with the widest eyes.
"Naruto. I began this new life - a life with friends, family, and true happiness - having nothing positive in me other than the words you had said to me. You showed me a life worth living, and now it is time for me to return the favour. I will not let the person who saved me go to waste because of someone who doesn't exist anymore." He gave Naruto a small, but genuine half-smile "And if you need a push to realise this, I am going to push you as far as I possibly can."
Said boy stood up and switched on the light. It was already forenoon, but the terrible weather had kept Naruto's room fairly dark until now.
"Now eat something, you must be hungry. I will wait in here. And when you're finished, you will step outside and see that there are many people who are willing to do anything they can for you. Because they need you. They need you to brighten the day. Need you to simply be the person you are. Like I did. Like I still do."
And for the first time in days, Naruto smiled.
"So, which of those would you like?" the redhead asked, settling himself on Naruto's bed and looking at the various instant meals the others had left there for him.
Gaara didn't even have time to blink before he felt a heavy weight against his chest. More specifically, one blond boy had his arms thrown around him, burying his face in Gaara's chest.
"Thank you." said Naruto.
Gaara had never thought about it before, but he realised that this was his first real hug. And it made him happier by the second. It was a feeling almost more powerful than joy. Was this the miracle cure his uncle had told him about? Was this caring? Was this.. love?
He tentatively brought his own arms around the other boy. After all, if this was love, the more he gave Naruto now, the sooner he would be able to forget about the pain Sasuke had caused him.
Naruto laughed quietly.
After a while, Gaara noticed that several rays of sunlight had begun coming in through the window.
"Look. The rain has let up." Gaara said.
Both turned to look out of the window.
"Yeah." Naruto smiled.
The Land of Fire's sun was shining again.
End Note: I don't know about you, but this is kinda like how I'd imagine a GaaNaru/NaruGaa relationship to start. Because, quite frankly, I don't think Naruto will ever be able to be in a relationship with anyone as long as there is a Sasuke to save. That is why I'm actually hoping for Sasuke to die at the end of the Naruto series. I mean, as long as the ending doesn't pair Naruto off with anyone for real, I think such a conclusion would be benificial for all the fans. Well, except perhaps the Sasuke fans... ^^'''